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!