Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Favorite Beers of 2012

With the 2013 fast approaching, here is a list of my favorite beers from 2012. 

Heady Topper - The Alchemist 

John Kimmich, The Alchemist, has a created a truly spectacular Imperial IPA. Heady Topper provides blast of bright tropical fruits: pineapples, mangos and oranges that provide a taste unlike any other bitter beer that I have tried. With just enough malt to maintain some ideals of balance, Heady Topper drinks almost like fruit juice, which could be quite devilish at its 8%ABV. For all the hopheads out there, this beer rivals Pliny the ElderHopslam and many of the unbelievably hoppy beers brewed by the Alpine Beer Company

Mycernary - Odell's Brewing Company

 The aroma of the Myrcenary is amazing. It is bright, rich, citrusy, and mildly dank. The clarity of this Imperial IPA is reminiscent of pilsner or kolsch, which to me, shows the brewer's craftsmanship. The taste is everything you want in a Double IPA: massive hop character with just enough malt backbone to keep it from becoming a hop bomb. Tropical fruits are abundant from beginning to end with pineapples and mangos dominating much of the flavor. The ability to have this beer super fresh, at the taproom in Fort Collins, COL., undoubtedly enhanced the beer's character leaving a truly long lasting impact on my taste buds to this day.

On the Wings of Armageddon - DC Brau

My brother-in-law, Baumbusch, recently graduated from The George Washington University in Washington, DC. On our last trip to the nation's capital (graduation in May), he introduced me to a new (at the time) brewery that he loves, DC Brau. At the ChurchKey, I tried On the Wings of Armageddon and was absolutely blown away. This 100% Falconer's Flight hopped beer wafts an intense-aromatic nose that is slightly bready. The head retention is one of this beer's best characteristics, refusing to break, but when it does, intricate lacing covers the glassware. When in the nation's capital, be sure to check out the brewery, I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Edward - Hill Farmstead Brewery

During Extreme Beer Weekend in Boston, I was fortunate enough to attend a Hill Farmstead tap takeover at Lord Hobo in Cambridge, MA. Edward, Shaun Hill's liquid homage to his grandfather, is the best pale ale that I have ever tried. At 5.2% and 85IBUs, Shaun Hill has created an unbelievably drinkable, yet aggressively hop forward pale ale that delivers on all levels: sessionability, flavor and enjoyment. Its tropical fruit characteristics and piney-spicy finish make it truly unforgettable and a must try for all craft beer enthusiasts. 

Kipling - Thornbridge Brewery

On BeerAdvocate, Kipling, is classified as an English Pale Ale. I disagree with this classification because of the hop varietal, Nelson Sauvin that is used exclusively in this beer. This New Zealand hop varietal imparts pineapple and tangerine qualities to the beer that balance very well with the Maris Otter Malt creating a truly distinctive pale ale, neither English or American; Its Thornbridge. At 5.2%ABV, this beer has become my favorite, "somewhat" readily available session beer. I hope to have this beer on cask some day soon, so I can further gain an appreciation for well-designed and tasty real ale. 

Indra Kunindra - Ballast Point Brewing Company

Have you ever had a moment where you had to convince yourself about something continuously to make sure that it's true? Well, the first time I sampled Indra Kunindra, I had such a moment. I had to keep telling my brain that yes, I am drinking beer. This Foreign Export stout is brewed with a plethora of exotic ingredients that created a tasting that flowed from coconut to lime ending with chile spiciness. Holy crap! This is a very unique beer and I hope Ballast Point continues to experiment with very exotic ingredients to the success of this product.

Grande Cuvee Baltic Porter - Les Trois Mousquetaires

Winner of the 2010 World Beer Cup in the style of Baltic Porter, The Three Musketeers have a created what many believe is the prefect porter. Almost fully opaque, this robust full-bodied ale abounds with flavor. Bitter chocolate, hints of smoke and subtle cherry blend for an amazing tasting experience with flavor-upon-flavor. If you love porters and/or stouts this beer delivers on all levels and deserves to be sought out. When you find it, buy it!


Petite Sour - Crooked Stave     Artisan Beer Project

Chad Yakobson and his wild yeast strains have developed an almost cult following among beer geeks. This beer poured very cloudy, reminding me of a classic witbier. There is a wonderful, puckering sour that almost overwhelms the back portion of the palate. Lemon is the dominate flavor, but other fruits, grannie smith apples and lime, compliment the lemon very well. The "Brett" control in this beer was very well done because it didn't overpower any of the other flavors. A fantastic sour ale from an ingenious beer blender and cellarer. 

Westvleteren 12 - Abbey of Saint Sixtus

The highlight of my beer consumption this year, Westy 12 may be the most complex ale I have ever tasted in my life. Instantly, dark, rich fruits: prunes, dates and figs coat the palate. In balance with these dark fruits were the grains creating hints of toffee and caramel. The mouthfeel was very creamy and contained an appropriate level of carbonation. At 10.2% ABV, this beer is unbelievably smooth. The alcohol content is so well hidden, you feel as though this dark ale is sessionable. As crazy as that sounds, its true. If you ever have the opportunity to share this truly great beer, please respect and cherish it!

I had a great year of beer consumption with friends and family. I hope you had an amazing year as well. 

I cant wait to see what 2013 holds for innovation, collaboration and acculturation for the craft beer community.



Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Kiuchi Brewery - Hitachino Nest Beer: XH

With winter bringing it's cold, blustery winds and blankets of snow (and ice, and slush), I start to reach for "warming" beers. Many of these beers will be spiced with flavors of the holiday season: nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, etc. or barrel-aged in whiskey, bourbon or wine barrels. With my distaste for over spicing in beer (ie. my dislike of pumpkin beers), I definitely reach for barrel-aged products. The Kiuchi Brewery, makers of the Hitachino line of beers, easily grabbed my attention with their Belgian Dark Strong Ale, Hitachino Nest Extra High (XH). This is the only beer that I have seen where the brewmaster has matured an ale in distilled sake barrels. Instantly, my mind began thinking about the taste possibilities; I needed to try this beer.
This beer pours a beautiful, dark shade of burgundy that produced a one-finger head. I expected ample head retention for this Belgian ale, but the head subsided much quicker than I would had anticipated. Within the body of the beer, many tiny particulates (yeast) were moving with the flow of the beer. These particulates created a less than desirable clarity for the style.
During my first sniffs, the aroma was very one-dimensional: malt sweetness. Due to the one dimensionality, I was a little perplexed because I was expecting floral notes from the sake and oak and vanilla from the barrel. I decided to let the beer for 10-12 minutes allowing it to warm, hopefully opening new aromatics. As anticipated, I opened a pandora's beer. The traditional smells of the Dark Belgian Ale, dark fruits: raisins and prunes, came to the forefront. Nestled within these fragrances, English hops presented themselves adding a pleasant, dry bitterness to balance the sweetness. Finally, the oak and vanilla were present, but still not at the level I anticipated.
The tasting parallels the aroma very closely. The malty sweetness bursts instantly upon contact with the palate. This sweetness quickly relinquishes its hold on the taste profile and oak, vanilla and hop character make their presence near the back of the palate creating a dry finish. The aftertaste was the only place that I was able to detect sake within the tasting. A faint, floral bouquet washed over the palate, but didn't linger long enough for true enjoyment.
This Nest Beer, a medium-bodied ale with a slight chewiness, contained a moderate level of carbonation which I believe create the initial burst of flavor within the taste. At the lower end of the alcohol level spectrum for Belgian Dark Strong Ales, Kiuchi Brewery has created a "session" ale within this style category. This beer is full of subtle complexity, but I was hoping for the sake component to play a more prominent role because I don't think I will see an aged product akin to the XH ale in the very near future.



Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Top Beer Podcasts

In my relentless pursuit of beer knowledge, I would like to share with you my top-three beer related podcasts. Over the past couple of years, I have listened to or watched numerous podcasts settling upon a core nucleus of five to six podcasts that currently deliver excellent knowledge to their audience. My listening ranges from information and techniques for the homebrewer to podcasts founded upon interviews with brewers, distributors or other working members of the craft beer market.
Following list is in no particular order.....

1. Beer Sessions Radio

Beer sessions radio is facilitated by, Jimmy Carbone, of Jimmy's No. 43 in New York City. Along with Mr. Carbone, there many reoccurring podcast members, most notably, Dave Broderick and Jen Schwertman of Blind Tiger. Along with these members, Mr. Carbone will normally have three to four other guests which promotes great discussions and sometimes disagreement between the podcasters. Each podcast is devoted to a specific beer-related topic. I really enjoy the specificity of the show because it keeps Jimmy and his guests on topic with little derivation into tangential conversations. If the show begins to slide into minor disarray, Mr. Carbone has shown great ability to re-focus his guests like a teacher in the classroom, allowing for optimal dissemination of knowledge for the audience.

2. New Brew Thursday

A video podcast, New Brew Thursday is the brainchild of Stephen Johnson, John Holzer, Brad Kohlenberg and "Dr." Bill Sysak. For reasons unbeknownst to the author, Brad Kohlenberg had to leave the show and he was replaced by Matt Becker. The current members of New Brew Thursday take the audience through a tasting of a particular beer giving commentary, opinions and reactions to the beer. I appreciate their constructive criticism regarding a particular product along with the bantering that normally takes place between the podcasters. This bantering creates a synergistic judging of the beer or a particular topic their are discussing. A perfect accompaniment to this triumvirate is Master Pairings, a beer and food pairing segment lead by "Dr." Bill Sysak. This Master Cicerone and Beverage Coordinator of Stone's World Bistro provides the audience with intimate knowledge of stylistic flavor profiles and how to best pair these differing flavors with food elevating the drinking and eating experience. Simply Brilliant! My only criticism of this podcast is the periodic childish behavior that derails the opportunity to succinctly and cogently discuss a particular part of the craft beer world.
(if you like this podcast, John and Matt's zymurgical knowledge is on display in NBT Brewing).

3. BeerSmith Homebrewing

A podcast dedicated to passing along brewing techniques and processes, historical references and recipe formulation strategies, BeerSmith, facilitated by, Brad Smith is a forty-five minute podcast for the beginning or avid homebrewer. The format of the BeerSmith podcast is a traditional interview with Mr. Smith asking his guest questions related to a very specific homebrewing topic. His guests are well-respected craft beer brewers or awarding homebrewers. For example, the November 13th, 2012 episode was a discussion with Mitch Steele, head brewmaster of Stone Brewing Company about everything IPA. I really enjoy how Mr. Smith can take a very technical or scientific aspect of brewing and articulate his knowledge or reiterate his guest's answers in approachable, easily understood manner. If you enjoy the podcast, the BeerSmith software is a fantastic resource for the homebrewer because it can calculate sparging water, hop bitterness, water chemistry for a particular, etc. (almost anything you can think of during a brewday) removing almost all brewing anxiety.

Hope you enjoy the podcasts. Please pass along any other excellent beer related podcasts.

Honorable mentions: Basic Brewing and Brewing Network's Sunday Session.



Saturday, November 3, 2012

Sierra Nevada Brewing Company - Sierra Nevada Porter

Over the past two months, I have had to endure what I feel is the most arduous beer season, Fall and Pumpkin beers (I have excluded Marzens and Oktoberfest). These beers are spiced in such a manner that I find them most unpalatable leading to contorted facial expressions and a longing for a delicious dark beer or an aggressively hopped IPA. This longing lead me to Sierra Nevada's American Porter an offering that I overlooked for far too long.
Sierra Nevada Porter pours a very dark brown (not black) with lighter mahogany hues near the side of the glass. A creamy, one-finger head conjured up images deliciously brewed lattes. There was very little lacing, which was somewhat puzzling due to the structure and retention of the head. I think the lack of lacing is attributable to either temperature or cleanliness of the glass. Due to Hurricane Sandy, my wife and I dropped the temperature in our fridge to protect food if we lost power, but inadvertently caused the temperature of the beer to be too low for ideal consumption. As for the glassware, there could have been soap residue left from cleaning inhibiting the formation of lacing.
The malts provide a roasted coffee aroma that is not overwhelming, but compliments the subtle hints of chocolate very well. As the beer warmed (over 30ish mins), the roasted coffee quality of the beer weakened allowing the chocolate to become more prominent. With the chocolate becoming more prominent, this porter began to resemble the aroma of mocha.
The taste of this porter was in direct contrast to the aroma. The taste contained much less coffee but a substantial increase in chocolate. These two components delivered a quick burst of flavor that didn't linger for very long. Not being a coffee drinker, this quick burst of flavor didn't provide any astringency, but a nicely balanced dark beer. At the end of the taste, this porter's 32 IBUs entered rounding out the profile nicely. As the beer warmed and the roasted character of the beer subsided, the hops began to dominate the finish of the beer, which I really enjoyed.
The light to medium body of this porter enhanced its drinkability because it didn't feel heavy or oily on my palate. Along with a nice amount of carbonation, this porter was somewhat crisp and surprisingly refreshing. At 5.6%ABV and brewed with great restraint with dark malts, Sierra Nevada's robust porter is excellently crafted and deserves to be mentioned alongside the great porters brewed both in American and across the atlantic. 



Saturday, October 20, 2012

Williams Brothers Brewing Company - Grozet

Scotland, specifically Edinburgh, has long been at the top of my traveling "wish-list" for the past couple years. This affinity to has ballooned thanks to a friend, we'll call, Bob. Bob's maternal family is from the northwest coast of Scotland and has told many tales of hiking, fishing, and "real ale". I cant wait for time when my wife and I are able to live out these tales.
The perfect place to begin living these tales would be at the Williams Brothers Brewery where I believe Bob's triumvirate of Scottish tales are both born and told. Williams Brothers Brewery specializes in real ale or cask ale in various Gruit styles. Gruit, an ancient beer made with herbs and spices before the introduction of hops, is indigenous to Scotland and the Williams Brothers are revitalizing this style of ale both within Scotland and abroad in the United States (Bruce Williams has appeared multiple times on Beer Sessions Radio promoting cask ales).  
Recently, I noticed a Williams Brothers product, Grozet that I had never seen before. Upon further inspection, this gooseberry infused ale sparked my interest so I decided to indulge. The beer was much lighter than I anticipated. It resembled a straw colored Berliner Weisse with its high level of carbonation. The two-finger head was light and bubbly with little retention leaving wisps across the surface of the beer.
I found it difficult to detect a substantiative aroma, which is most likely due to a cold serving temperature (stupid fridge!). The components of the aroma that I was able to detect were a slight musty fruit (grape?) that provided a wine-like quality and very light tartness.
The taste profile was very unique. An earthy bitterness overwhelmed my palate during my initial sips. This bitterness conjectured up images of fungi and decaying leaves on the forest floor. As my palate adapted to very unique bitterness, I began to search for the gooseberry. Unfortunately, the gooseberry was not as dominating as I would have hoped leaving me searching for almost non-existent tartness. As the beer warmed, the taste changed dramatically from a weird over-powering bitterness to a crisp, refreshing ale with a hint of lemon tartness. Having never experienced a bitterness in a beer like the one present in this gruit, I decided to do some research. This distinctive bitterness was the result of Bog Myrtle a natural herb in northwest Europe. Although this herb is an unique beer ingredient with an interesting flavor profile, I think Bog Myrtle and beer is dysfunctional partnership.
This gruit had a very light body with  an ample level of carbonation. Without this carbonation level, my overall impression of the beer would have fallen slightly because as the beer warmed the carbonation allowed the gooseberry to enter into the taste. I recommend this beer for the hammock on a hot and humid summer day without any time in the fridge allowing its real ale roots to shine through.



Saturday, September 29, 2012

Thornbridge Brewery - Jaipur IPA

Lately, I have been trying to buy and sample products that I would never have brought a year ago. This new found ambition to explore craft beer has a recurring theme, English Ales and breweries. After walking past Thornbridge Brewery's, Jaipur, countless times, the provocative statue finally won out and I picked up a bottle at Craft Beer Cellar.
The Jaipur IPA poured a rustic-straw color conjuring images of bucolic Prince Edward Island, Canada. The very light, airy head popped quickly leaving wisps across the surface of the beer. Before pouring, I assumed this beer would have a high level of clarity, however this IPA was more opaque than I anticipated.
The aroma was full of bright citrus notes. The dominating components that I detected were lemon zest and pineapple. Of the two, pineapple was the "class bully" overpowering the lemon zest, which I really enjoyed because pineapple is my favorite fruit. If I smelled this IPA blind, I am certain that I would not have chosen English as its origin, but rather a more well-known hop forward country like the United States or New Zealand.
The brewers at Thornbridge have created a very well crafted beer. The taste begins with punch of lemon zest that quickly flows into the succulent pineapple that was very apparent in the aroma. From here, the beer transitions into a vegetal, almost herbal bitterness, that coats the palate and lingers for an unexpected length of time.
At 5.9% ABV, Jaipur IPA is delicious and highly drinkable. The combination of light carbonation and body allow the flavor components to be savored because one doesn't feel a scrubbing sensation on the palate from the carbonation or feel a heaviness from the body. Although I haven't sampled as many cask ales as I would like, I feel that this IPA would a fantastic choice for "real ale". Its brightness and flavor profile would be enhanced from the residual sugars and fermentation in a firkin making it even more intoxicating. Hopefully, the transatlantic commute doesn't inhibit the brewers from sending cask ales, and maybe, just maybe, they could end up at my local pub.
One can wish....


Monday, September 3, 2012

Homemade "Randall"

While at work on Wednesday, I received a somewhat vague, but intriguing text from RandumInk. It read, "I have a great idea and I think we should try it out." That night he explained to me that he had read an article about the use of a french press as a homemade Randall for the possibility of enhancing hop aroma and flavor in IPAs.
This experiment was to enticing to pass up, but to make it a reality we needed fresh, whole-leaf hops. Luckily, our friends, Kate and Suzanne, just happen to grow their own hops, which they graciously donated for this experiment. The Cascade hops were picked from the vines during the morning hours on Thursday, August 29th, 2012 and collected up later in the day. The hops needed to be dry for use in the french press, so I placed in the oven at two-hundred and thirty five degrees for ten minutes then let them air dry for twenty four hours. The french press was disassembled into its various parts and cleaned three times with generic dishsoap, before getting a hot rinse in the dishwasher.
To perform the tasting experiment, we filled the french press about two-thirds with hops and poured in three-quarters of a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. We choose this beer because as the websites explains it is made with, "generous quantities of premium Cascade hops..." and is readily available. Before placing on the plunger and filtration device we allowed the hops to steep in the beer for ten minutes along periodically swirling the mixture with a knife to distribute the hop oils.
After the ten minutes had elapsed, RandumInk carefully inserted the plunger and began methodically pressing the filtration device pushing the hops to the bottom of the french press. Before we tasted this newly "hopped" up version of this classic American brew, we sampled the Pale Ale straight from the bottle. The hop character had a very pleasant, floral aroma. This pleasant aroma was complemented by a controlled bitterness with a hint of spice.
The french pressed pale ale had lost most of its carbonation causing the beer to become flat with hop "pollen" floating across the surface of the beer. The aroma of this version was bursting with hop character, almost to the point of excessiveness. The aroma of the beer was much better than the taste. The pleasant spiciness had been transformed into a vegetal quality that contained much less bitterness. We hypothesized many reasons why this transformation had taken place, but ultimately they only conclusion that we could agree upon was that the original Chico version was superior to our french pressed experiment.
Although this experiment didn't produced the results we had hoped, we did learn about the power of dry-hopping during secondary fermentation. I hope to use this newly acquired appreciation for dry-hopping by incorporating it into more of my homebrew recipes creating more aromatic products.  I enjoyed this experiment and hope to it again in the future was other pale ales or IPAs and different hop varietals.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Wormtown Brewing Company - Hopulence

In an earlier post, I stated my adoration for Wormtown Brewery's, Be Hoppy. At the time of the post, it ranked as my fourth favorite beer brewed in the Commonwealth, so when I saw, Hopulence, Wormtown's Double (Imperial) IPA, I quickly snatched it off the shelf.
This double IPA pours a pure copper color, without the luster. The body of the beer was somewhat cloudy allowing just enough light to penetrate the beer making my fingers visible through the glass. There was very little in the way for head retention or lacing* which is somewhat disappointing.
The aroma has an abundance of malt sweetness, which was unexpected. I anticipated a full bouquet of hop aromatics wafting endlessly, but this double IPA contains little hop aromatics. The hop presence that is detected is full of grapefruit character with undercurrents of floral earthiness. Also, there are hints of a warming sensation due to the high alcohol content of the beer.
The beginning of the taste is dominated by a malt sweetness. As this sweetness subsides, there is a sharp and aggressive bitterness the does not linger on the palate for very long. The bitterness is full of grapefruit that parallels the aroma, but I was hoping for some notes of other tropical fruits: pineapple or mango. As the beer warms, the hop bitterness becomes more dominate in the taste profile creating a balance of bitterness and sweetness.
The mouthfeel is medium-bodied. It is somewhat chewy and slick. At 8.5% ABV and 120 I.B.U's (is this possible?) this is a BIG beer, delicious, but not Be Hoppy. It is bordering a sweetness level that is a little cloying in a double IPA. The website boasts,

"Once we started hopping this beer stopping was impossible. Emphasizing Amarillo, Horizon, Summit, and Glacier hops with support from 5 other American varieties. Hops were added in every conceivable part of the brewing process. Whole leaf in the mash, hop forwarded (lautered through whole cones), hop backed, first wort hopped, kettle hopped with pellets and extract, and dry hopped in the fermenter and brite tanks." 

Even with the exuberant amount of hop additions, the hop aroma and flavor left me somewhat perplexed. Well, not really, I just wanted more hop character in this double IPA. I have great fondness of the Wormtown Brewery and products, but this beer left me longing for bolder, more flavorful interpretation of the style.


*Recently, I found a homebrewing podcast, Basic Brewing, where the host, James Spencer spoke with homebrew guru, John Palmer. They discuss how soapy glassware can disrupt head retention and cause other unwanted tastes in the beer.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Best Beer Night of my Life....Best Beer Night of my Life, so far....

I love to attend beer festivals. They provide an opportunity to try new or unique products or to give thanks to breweries that you have come to deeply appreciate. As fun as it is to spend time with fellow beer geeks, there are some disadvantages of the festival environment: long booth lines, extremely overpriced food, and the inevitably full men's room. To alleviate these obviously inconsequential disadvantages, my friends and I decided to throw a tasting party for visiting family members and ourselves. What started at as a conversation to hang out, listen to records and imbibe with craft beer turned into the greatest night of drinking since my transition into the craft beer environment.
The night begin with a growler of Cambridge Brewing Company's, Me, My Spelt, and Rye. How we obtained a growler of this draft only collaborative release is another story, but it was the perfect way to begin the evening. This collaborative effort brought Chad Yakobson of Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project, Yvan De Baets of Brasserie De La Senne, Luc LaFontaine of Dieu De Ciel and Will Meyers of Cambridge Brewing Company together to create, as Meyers states on the company's website, "an old-school saison." Normally, the fermentation with a saison yeast will create flavors that have been called: funky, farmy, horse blanket, earthy, etc. These same descriptors have also been used to articulate the flavor profile of the wild yeast, Brettanomyces. So naturally, these innovative brewers decided to ferment their newest creation with both a French saison yeast and multiple strains of Brettanomyces. The resulting product was a full-flavored beer with a distinctive cereal quality that flowed nicely into hints strawberry and raspberry while finishing very dry.
Next, before our palates were subdued, we decided to work through portfolio of the Saint Sixtus Abbey, better known as Westvleteren. Although these monks only brew three styles for purchasing, you must make the journey to the Abbey's doors to purchase these highly coveted ales. Since I have never been to Belgium, we will leave how we obtained these Belgian specialities for another day. We began our Westvleteren tasting with the monk's blond ale, Westvleteren 6. This creamy and hazy beer had an assertive brightness that contained hints of lemon and a subtle belgian yeast character. The complexity of this delicious blond ale made it harder to truly pull out any other distinct flavors. We discussed this beer thoroughly, dissecting it and trying to pull out other flavors, but eventually we decided that underneath its complexity, its most important and appreciated character was its drinkability. It was a truly great beer.
Following the six, we opened a bottle of Westvleteren 8. This Belgian Dubbel was a deep ruby color with a very bubbly-airy head. The taste contained a very pleasant light, candy sugar, not cloying at all. Dark fruit characters, predominantly a raisin quality, came second in the taste. The taste finished with subtle warming from the 8.0% ABV.
To complete our Westvleteren tour, we opened a Westvleteren 12. This Belgian Strong Dark Ale (Quad) was similar in color to the Eight, but upon further inspection, we decided that it was higher on the SRM scale (the higher the SRM number, the darker the beer). This beer may be the most complex ale I have ever tasted in my life. Instantly, dark, rich fruits: prunes, dates and figs coated the palate. In balance with these dark fruits were the grains creating hints of toffee and caramel. The mouthfeel was very creamy and contained an appropriate level of carbonation. At 10.2% ABV, this beer is unbelievably smooth. The alcohol content is so well hidden, you feel as though this dark ale is sessionable. As crazy as that sounds, its true.
After our Westvleteren tasting session, the night took a very different turn, a "sour" turn. The, Petite Sour, from Crooked Stave was the first of many sour ales. On the label of the beer, it classifies the Petite Sour as a table farmhouse, but the taste profile delineates from this categorization. The beer poured very cloudy, reminding me of a classic witbier. There is a wonderful, puckering sour that "attacks" the back portion of the palate. Lemon is the dominate flavor, but other fruits were detectable: sour apple and lime. I truly appreciated the  Brett control in this beer. The Brett is present, but doesn't take away from the other components of the beer. Chad Yakobson and his wild yeast strains have developed an almost cult following and I am sure that his beers will continue to gain in popularity while pushing the brewing process.
While Chad Yakobson has his Reserved Society and his many cult followers, Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo have a nation of beer geeks longing for their extremely hoppy beers: Pliny the Elder and the very limited Pliny the Younger and their Sour ales SupplicationConsecration and Temptation, just to name a few. The first of three beers that we would sample from Russian River over the evening was Sanctification. This beer contained a very high level of carbonation with bubbles quickly penetrating through its golden color. There was a very dominant yeast character in the aroma (Later, I found out that primary fermentation is completely performed by Brett). There was a distinct sourness at the front of my palate that finished very dry creating a very crisp and refreshing golden ale. After the beer had time to warm, a biscuity, oaky quality developed during the finish.
Quickly finishing the 750mL bottle of Sanctification, there was a large, bright green bottle of Cantillon Gueuze and we couldn't resist. This "Classic", not "oude" gueuze, was a light copper color with a very airy head. There was a little sour that reminded me of weak vinegar. Also, there was a "diesel" quality that was strange, but digestable. Finally, as the beer warmed a tannic character begin to develop creating a very unique and distinct sour ale.
After taking some time to eat some delicious Cantillon Gueuze cheese and artisanal baguettes, we took a break from Russian River and opened Tart Lychee from New Belgium. Another sour ale, Tart Lychee is infused with cinnamon and pureed Lychee fruit. This beer is light gold with an aroma that displays the cinnamon nicely, but if I didn't know that lychee was used as a fruit adjunct, I probably would have guessed raspberries. During sampling, lychee is more prominent creating a slightly sweet taste character. Within the taste, cinnamon doesn't dominate as it did in the aroma; it was balanced with the fruit. The sourness of this ale was mildly acidic nothing remotely close to the puckering capability of the Petite Sour. As we were drinking this beer, a conversation started about a possibly forced complexity to attract buyers. Questions swirled about the addition of cinnamon to a sour ale to pushing brewing boundaries and ideas of what beer can be. Either way, the consensus was that this sour ale would be perfect for a lazy day of reading while lying in a shaded hammock.
The second Russian River beer we decided to try was Redemption. This barrel-aged blonde ale had a much lighter mouthfeel then its brethren, Sanctification. This lighter bodied ale was full of a very distinct belgian yeast character and a bready maltiness. The finish was short, but very dry creating very refreshing and drinkable beer.
Upon completing the Redemption bottle, we decided to uncap and uncork the most anticipated beer of the night, Fantome's Extra Sour. This beer had the most unique sourness of the night. It contained a spiciness and yeasty character normally associated with farmhouse ales or saisons. Along with these two characteristics, a very prickling acidity from an extreme level of carbonation added more depth and complexity to a very delicious beer. After the beer had time to warm, an earthy quality crept into the taste that reminded me of mint or wintergreen. At 10% ABV, the "ghost", Dany Prignon, has created a simply stunning sour ale with no hints of its alcohol content.
The final beer of the night was the third from Russian River, Damnation. There was a definite citrus and floral aroma. The taste was full of belgian character like Duvel or La Chouffe and incorporated a honey sweetness that balanced the beer beautifully. This beer had a ever-lasting finish that lingered on the palate. Full-bodied and silky, Damnation was an excellent way to finish our epic beer tasting.
The collection of beer that flowed during this night is probably the best I have ever seen in one place including beer bars and festivals. I know a night like this may never happen again, so I am grateful to the residents of 70 Park Ave for their generosity and impeccable tastes.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

New Belgium and Lost Abbey - Brett Beer

The exponential growth of craft beer has lead to many developments within the industry, most notably the teamwork of breweries to create and brew collaborative recipes. These partnerships have created a subtle division amongst craft beer enthusiasts, those who loathe the anticipation and hype of these collaboration beers, versus those who can't wait for their favorite two breweries to make their perfect beer. As for myself, I straddle this line because my exposure to these corporative efforts has been minimal. To gain exposure to these beers, I was very happy to indulge and pick up a bottle of, Brett Beer, which brings together the brewing minds of New Belgium and Lost Abbey.
After a very delicate pour, trying not to disturb the yeast settlement on the bottom of the bottle, the beer was  golden-straw colored, but still had many "floaties" creating a sense of murkiness. There was a very light and airy head that reached one-finger height. The height did not last long, quickly subsiding leaving a thin film of very small bubbles across the surface of the beer with no lacings.
The aroma of this beer was very difficult for me discern. After multiple sniffs and the assistance of my wife (yes, I really struggled with this beer and she has an excellent palate) we were able to delicate a slight spiciness along with an apple quality. We let the beer sit for a moment and then agitated it. This re-swirling allowed Emily to detect an earthy characteristic not present earlier in our review. I think the inoculation of Brettanomyces is responsible for this herbal component.
The taste profile of this beer mimicked the aroma. The apple entered the taste first followed immediately  by a quick and subtle earthiness. This beer is quite sweet, not cloying, but this sweetness was unexpected because I thought the Brettanomyces would create a dry, funky finish; it did neither. This beer lacked any true finish and Brett character. It is possible that this beer was sampled to young, not allowing the funkiness from the Brett to develop, maximizing its flavor.
The mouthfeel was very light. It was reminiscent of a very light Belgian Pale with little carbonation.
The collaborative efforts of New Belgium and Lost Abbey did not coalesce on this particular project. The name, Brett Beer, was alluring and I fell for the hype, however the hype was not matched by the quality of the beer. With that being said, I look forward to trying more collaborative beers as craft breweries continue to work together to spread the good word: NO CRAP BEER!


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Boulevard Brewing Company - Unfiltered Wheat Beer

First, I apologize for the length delay between posts. My wife and I were on vacation in the Southeast United States visiting friends and family. I look forward to getting back into my writing and today I will commence my summer blogging with a review of Boulevard's Unfiltered Wheat.
While on vacation, Boulevard started sending parts of their portfolio outside of the Smokestack Series to Massachusetts. When I entered, Craft Beer Cellar in Belmont, MA, I was greeted with an expansive display of Unfiltered Wheat and Single Wide IPA. Since it was quite warm, I decided on the wheat because this style generally offers thirst quenching capability while be very refreshing.
This wheat beer pours a very hazy, golden-straw color. Atop this eye-appealing body, sits a light and airy one-finger head. This head did not linger, vanishing quickly into a thin, bubbly film across the surface of the beer. Even with murky quality, small carbonation bubbles are visible floating towards the head of the beer.
Unsuspectingly, the aroma was very faint and I found it difficult to discern its individual characteristics. After multiple sniffs, I was able to detect a weak scent of banana and virtual no spice that I am accustomed to when sampling wheat beers. A nice amount of grain that is detectable along with a mild-citrus sourness.      
The taste profile is quite short and mimics the qualities found in the aroma. It begins with the grain up front on the palate followed quickly by whispers of banana, finishing with a hint of citrus sourness. The only new characteristic that deviates from the aroma is a light hop bitterness just before the sourness invades.  
The mouthfeel is light to medium in body and the carbonation is quite nice. The level of carbonation just tingles the tongue creating a very crisp finish. 
At 4.4%ABV, Boulevard's Unfiltered Wheat is drinkable with an ability to be quite sessionable. This is an excellent beer to introduce friends and family into craft beer culture. However, the uneventful taste and weak aroma didn't endear itself to me. Although I am glad I tried this offering, there are many other  wheat beers on the market that I would reach for first. 


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Top Three's from Colorado

Here is a list of my favorite taprooms, breweries and beers that we, RandumInk and myself, visited and sampled during our trip to the picturesque state of Colorado.
If you have visited any of these places or sampled any of these beers and disagree with my assessment, please feel free to leave a comment. I look forward to reading your comments.

Favorite Taproom

1. Dry Dock
2. Odell
3. New Belgium

Favorite Boulder Bar/Eatery

1. West End Tavern
2. Illegal Pete's
3. The Kitchen Next Door

Favorite Boulder Brewery

1. Avery
2. Mountain Sun
3. Upslope

Favorite Sour Beer

1. Avery's Bad Apple
2. Avery's Ross' Mom
3. New Belgium Tart Lychee

Favorite Colorado Brewery

Favorite Beer

1. Funkwerks - Ron Burgundy
2. Odell - Myrcenary
3. Dry Dock - Apricot Blonde
3. Avery - Lilikoi Kepolo


Friday, June 22, 2012

Fort Collins Brewery Tour

If you ask a beer drinker what the greatest beer city in America is, most answers will include: Portland, OR, Asheville, NC and San Diego, CA. After visiting Fort Collins, CO, I believe it deserves to be mentioned with these other great beer cities. Nestled against the beautiful backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, Fort Collins is home to eight innovative breweries.
The first of the eight breweries that RandumInk and I visited was New Belgium Brewing. The New Belgium brewhouse and taproom is more reminiscent of a ski lodge or ranch home than a brewery. It is a breathtaking building with its bay windows, giant 4 x12 pillars and substantial size. As we entered the taproom, I was shocked at the beauty from old memorabilia (bikes and pictures), the endless enthusiasm from the staff, and the engineering marvels of the draft set-up. I think this was the first time that I saw draft lines come down from the ceiling, but to make things even cooler, the draft lines ran through two giant support pillars. 
After my shock and awe dwindled to the point where I was ready to read the draft list, I decided to get Billy’s Beer, while RandumInk chose the Tart Lychee. Billy’s Beer was essentially an Imperial Hefeweizen or Weizenbock even though they didn’t call it either. At 9.1% ABV, Billy’s Beer was dominated by alcoholic phenols suppressing the traditional banana, clove, and bubble gum qualities. The Tart Lychee, the newest member of the Lips of Faith series, was a delicious sour beer with overtones of lychee and notes of cinnamon. The tartness was accentuated by medium level carbonation, allowing the fruit to resonate up front and through the finish. On a ninety-degree day, this beer truly hit the spot.    
We each decided to get two more tasters. I selected the Valentine Ale and the Cascadian Dubbel and RndumInk selected the Pink Peppercorn IPA and another Lips of Faith beer, Cocoa Mole. The Valentine Ale, a raspberry saison, looked and smelled just like raspberry Kool-Aid with a light, pillowy head. The taste was nice, but it had an artificial quality that didn’t quite jive with my palate. The Valentine Day was a very interesting take on the style, but I think the fruit adjuncts overtook the traditional yeast and funk that most people expect, and enjoy, from saisons. The Cascadian Dubbel was very dry and exploded with roasted malt character. I really enjoyed this American hybrid because the Belgian esters and American hops were nicely balanced.  All-in-all, New Belgium is a drinking experience that I will never forget, but it was time to head to our next stop, Odell Brewing Company
We didn’t have to drive very far from New Belgium to reach Odell’s--thirty seconds was all it took, as Odell's was just down the road. The Odell’s taproom had a much different vibe then New Belgium. While New Belgium was bursting with energy and a visibly business savvy design, Odell’s was more traditional and pub-like, which I really appreciated. Since I didn’t select a hoppy beer at New Belgium, I decided to try the Myrcenary Double IPA, while RandumInk continued to build on his love of sours with the Footloose Blonde Sour Ale. The aroma of the Myrcenary was amazing. It was rich, citrusy, and mildly dank. I was surprised at the clarity of this ale because of its grain bill and hop additions. The taste was everything you want in a Double IPA: massive hop character with just enough malt backbone to keep it from becoming a hop bomb, this ultimately became one of my favorite Double IPAs, and I would place it alongside Sculpin and Double Sunshine
After finishing our pints, we ventured to our third stop, Funkwerks. From the outside, Funkwerks looked more like a Mexican cantina than an all-saison brewery. Its stucco walls are painted bright neon green, a very eye-catching yellow, and hypnotic light blue. Funkwerks, as the name implies, doesn’t make traditional beer or have a traditional beer portfolio. Instead, they specialize in developing and pushing the limits of saisons. We were really excited to taste the ingenuity and creativity of the brewmasters behind this funky beer style. Having watched New Brew Thursday’s interview with the owners, Brad and Gordon, I had envisioned a much bigger facility, but it seems I'd let my imagination get the better of me. Funkwerks, although small, produced arguably the best beer during our Fort Collins brewery tour. 
We decided to get the tasting flight, along with a ten ounce pour each. I was excited to try the Codename: Ron Burgundy. Goulet!!! On the website, it says that the Ron Burgundy is based upon an Oud Bruin recipe, but fermented with a saison yeast and then aged in French oak barrels for several months. The taste of this beer was very complex. Fruit characters, roasty malts, and woodiness all came together each sip. It was absolutely delectable. RandumInk settled upon the Alchemy for his ten-ounce pour, a play on the Belgian tripel that was very light and contained an abundance of citrus notes. I think Emily, my triple expert, would have loved this combination of two Belgian beer styles. We completed our Funkwerks experience with the flight of samples. My two standouts from this five sample flight were the Codename: Farmhouse and the Flagship Saison. Each was a standout for completely different reasons. The Codename: Farmhouse contained a malty character that reminds me of British ales, which complemented the saison qualities very well. Their flagship Saison may be the best American saison I have ever tried. It was the perfect mix of citrus notes, peppery spiciness, and just enough hop character to remind you that it is an American interpretation of the style. It was a fantastic beer from an outstanding brewery. 
To complete our Fort Collins tour, we left Funkwerks and headed into downtown to Equinox Brewing. Equinox Brewing was a very small and intimate brewery. With twelve beers on tap, I needed time to survey the taplist, and I decided to end my tour the same way I started it--with the Supergiant Imperial Hefeweien, Equinox's take on an Imperial Hefeweizen. This wheat beer far exceeded my expectations. It burst with banana flavor and finished dry, which I really enjoyed on the ninety-degree day. The mouthfeel was very creamy and silky, reminding me of Ayinger’s Weizenbock. When compared to Billy’s Beer from New Belgium, the Equinox version was far superior because it contained all the traditional elements of a Bavarian Wheat beer along with American brashness to produce a very bold and unique product. 

I am extremely grateful to RandumInk and his Pops for the tour of a great American beer city. If you love beer and have never made it to Fort Collins, I highly recommend it. You will not be disappointed!