By Alex Wilking
BU News Service
A large grocery store is the last place you’d expect to find good craft beer. So when I learned that Trader Joe’s had it’s own brand of beer called “JosephsBrau,” and sold it exclusively through its stores, I couldn’t help but wonder what it tasted like.
So I bought six.
But shortly after buying my JosephsBrau beer, I learned that Trader Joe’s sold four other brands of beer exclusively through their stores. While I won’t focus on them here, I wanted to note them: Trader José, Mission Street Line, Boatswain, and Kennebunkport Brewing Company. If you find these brands while you’re out shopping, stay woke.
These names, much like JosephsBrau, are pseudonyms for real breweries. They contract brew under false names just for Trader Joe’s, who hopes to lure in prospective drinkers with the bait of new beer. While Trader Joe’s doesn’t personally brew the beers, they’re often considered the primary producer. Tampa Bay Times did a great round-up/tasting of the other contract breweries listed if you’re curious. But for this piece, I’ll just be focusing on JosephsBrau.
JosephsBrau beers are brewed by Gordon Biersch Brewing Company out of Broomfield, Colorado, but I don’t know enough about that brewery to let it impact my opinions here. Each beer cost about a dollar, so a six-pack with six varieties cost about $8 with tax — not a bad haul. Here’s my breakdown:
Plznr Czech-style Lager (5 percent ABV): Had a great Czech yeast dankness upon opening, which is arguably the biggest benchmark for that style. It’s hard to tell if they actually used Czech yeasts, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. Strong pilsner flavors and quite crisp. It’s pretty thin in both body and color, but that often comes with the territory. Solid beer, but not particularly noteworthy.
Heller Bock Golden Beer (7 percent ABV): Well, this one calls itself “outstanding” on the back label, so good start. I mean it’s all right — a little boozy, a little malty. Golden beers are easy to mess up, often failing to be more than a blonde ale, but it looks like someone at Gordon Biersch their homework. I can dig it.
Dunkelweizen Unfiltered Amber Wheat Ale (5.2 percent ABV): Essentially a dark wheat beer, this one tastes like liquid rye bread. Which is how this style should taste. This beer uses a Hefeweizen yeast, so there’s a nice clove taste that works well with the deep dark malts. A little thin for a darker beer, but I’m impressed with how true to character this one is.
Bohemian-style Lager (5 percent ABV): “Bohemian” and “Czech” are usually synonymous in the beer world, so I was confused well before opening this one. And rightly so — it tasted almost the same as the Plznr lager. This beer had a pinch less pilsner flavor than the other beer, and is lighter in alcohol, but that’s all I noticed. You tryna’ trick me TJ?
Vienna-style Lager (5.7 percent ABV): Another day, another lager. This one claims to be an amber on the back of the bottle, but it didn’t taste very malty or full-bodied (aka the characteristics of an amber ale). I’d argue this one is too balanced — I’m having trouble discerning anything out of it. Probably my least favorite of the batch.
Spring Prost Maibock-style Lager (7.3 percent ABV): I’m a huge fan of Maibock beers. The style is meant to be consumed when summer blooms (i.e. May), and the flavors reflect that — alcoholic, spicy, and drinkable. This beer nails each really well. If I had to pick a favorite out of the bunch, it’d be this one.
I wasn’t expecting any of these beers to wow me, but I came away from this impromptu tasting surprised at the quality of each one, especially for the accessibility and price point. If you find yourself thirsty and in Trader Joe’s, these brews have a thumbs up from me.