Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Quick Sips: Avery Maharaja Imperial IPA

Big, big beer with big, big hops and big, big malts and big, big flavor that doesn't stray into being a burning hot alcohol despite its robust 10.24% ABV.

So yeah, Avery's Maharaja is a pretty intense beer. It's produced during the warmer months of the year, features aggressive doses of hops, and certainly puts the "Imperial" in Imperial IPA.

You want a mega IPA? This is it.

Not that Avery Brewing is a stranger to big beers. This is what they do. Their absurdly huge Mephistopheles stout and Samael's oak-aged ale and Hog Heaven barleywine and The Reverend quadruple are all gigantic, delicious beers. (And yes, friends who are reading this, all four are in my cellar; maybe you can coax me to break them out one night?).

Maharaja is a heavyweight champion at over 10% ABV, yet doesn't feel like it in the drinking. It's BIG, yes, but beers this big usually get strong hot alcohol as they warm. This one never did. Instead, it just felt like a massive sipping drink with a complex, pine-laden flavor, chunky but smooth malts, and an aroma that might as well have been oranges hanging from Christmas trees.

Monday, November 14, 2011

How strong can beer get? Really freakin' strong

People tend to think of beer as an easy drinking beverage you can chug all day long. And it's true, it can be that. But it can also be the slowest drinking booze you would ever want to grace the table. More rich and nuanced than the finest of wines or whiskeys. Utterly complex, sophisticated, and yeah, potent as frickin' hell.

How potent? I'm talkin' a tall glass of single-malt Scotch potent. Sometimes more.

Over here you can see a list of the strongest beers in the world. Take a gander at those numbers. They're HUGE. Almost 30 beers come in at over 20% alcohol, more than the most potent of wines you'll find on the shelf of your local shop. And that list doesn't even climb to the top. Absent is a beer called Start The Future, which claims to come in at a whopping 120 proof, or 60% ABV, but even so, look at that top 10. Did you ever imagine a beer could be twice as potent as a hefty wine and still not even make the top 10?

Though I have to be honest ... I don't consider these Super Beers to be beers at all. You see, they're made with a process called freeze distillation. It means they freeze off the water (which freezes at a higher temperature than alcohol) and leave behind a more potent beverage. How is that different than traditional distilling, which uses heat to boil off and contain alcohol (which boils at a much lower temperature than water)? In my opinion, it's not.

The highest alcohol real beers in the world, meaning beers made with traditional fermentation techniques and nothing more, are Samuel Adams super expensive Utopias series, and more recently, Brewdogs's (stupid, gimmick-driven) Ghost Deer. Both come in at 25%+ alcohol by volume.

Think about that for a moment. The average beer is about 5% ABV. So a glass of Utopias is equal to drinking almost six glasses of regular beer.


But then, these are high-end, stupidly expensive, richly complex beers that are as worthy of examination as the finest whiskey or port wine.

These mega-beers aren't always super expensive or difficult to find, either. Dogfish Head's obnoxiously large World Wide Stout clocks in at 18% ABV. It's easy to find, relatively affordable (about $9 a bottle), and will keep in your cupboard for decades. BrewDog's Tokyo* is another 18% stout that can be found in most better beer stores in America. There are many more. When it comes to beers as potent as wine or more, forget it. The list would run into the hundreds. In my cellar alone there are probably two dozen beers that will kick your Cabernet in the nuts and push it off the table.

Not that alcohol content is what matters. It's not. Not at all. What matters is taste and complexity and the overall drinking experience. The point is that beer is not locked into being the guzzlin' beverage it's often stereotyped as being. More than people realize, it can be much more than that.

Beer. Yeah, it's not just for Saturday softball anymore.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Quick Sips: Keegan Ales Mother's Milk Stout

I love milk stouts, so when I ran across this at the Asbury Park Beerfest, I was ready to give it a whirl. Both my wife and I liked it a lot, and liked it even more when the rep (whose name I do not recall) was super nice. So naturally, I looked for bottles when they became available in our area.

The brewery is based in New York, but from what I was told the founders are originally from central NJ and are trying to get their beer into their old stomping ground. That IS my stomping ground! So I bought.

The head pours frothy and brown, dissipating in a few minutes but not before a mildly milky (and slightly tame) aroma of cocoa and mlky coffee floats up. The beer itself is black with tight carbonation bubbles lacing the inside of the glass.

As you'd expect with a milk stout, Mother's Milk is creamy and smooth. There are subtle hints of subdued chocolate that reveal themselves as the beer warms, but it's not in your face. No real roasty flavor or coffee from it. Just smooth, milky dark malts. A lot of stouts these days try to be many things at once -- witness Founder's (excellent) Breakfast Stout, which they dub a double chocolate coffee oatmeal stout -- but Mother's Milk aspired to be one thing only: A good milk stout.

One important thing to note: Let this beer warm above fridge temperature before you drink it. When cold it's smooth but lacks taste. As it gets warmer, it reveals hints of cocoa and other flavors.

This is a very nice milk stout that compares favorably to crowd favorite Left Hand Milk Stout.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Quick Sips: La Trappe Isid'or Trappist ale

It's no great secret that I have a fondness for Trappist beers. They're considered some of the best in the world for a reason. I've made my way through every Trappist beer available in the United States (no, I have not had the elusive, difficult-to-get, available-at-the-brewery-only Westvleteren 12) and have rarely found them lacking. Even those that didn't thrill me were still top beers worth savoring.

So needless to say, I wasn't surprised when the La Trappe offerings I had were good. But I was surprised they were so off-the-charts good. Because damn. Wow. This was some fantastic stuff.

Wonderful aroma with all the banana and yeast you expect from a Trappist beer, plus some nice spicy notes. It was heady and herbal and inviting. Once poured (it generates an active, lively head) it drinks with a medium body and tastes of raisin bread, herbs, and pleasant sweetness balanced perfectly with mildly bitter hops. Hints of dark fruit tantalize throughout, though aren't as rich as, say, Rochefort's beers. All in all, this is like a delicious banana bread in a glass. Wait! If you've had this awful banana bread beer, please don't let the description dissuade you; the La Trappe is divine. This really is delicious.

Highly recommended. Got mine in a gift pack that included four bottles -- two of these and two of their Quads -- along with the lovely glass pictured at left.

Incidentally, the photo above won Beertography Photo of the Week on the beer photo blog of the same name. Cool! Go check them out.