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.