Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Quick Sips: Rodenbach Grand Cru

While IPAs continue to be the mainstay of the American craft beer movement, sour beers are trending upwards as the fashionable style of choice. That's in part because ardent beer geeks are looking for different different different, but also because sour beers are frickin' delicious.

The granddaddy of sours is Rodenbach, who have been doing traditional Flemish sours since 1821. They're also the most visible and easily available sour beer in the U.S., so if you want to try the style you'll probably start here or, more likely, with their classic red.

The Grand Cru is the big one. The beer pours a mahogany brown. It looks rich and complex ... and it is. The aroma is very sour, like cranberries and sour cherries stored for a few years in wooden barrels. Tones of red wine are present in the mix.

The taste is nuanced and layered. It is tart throughout, with a big sour finish. Not completely mouth-puckering, but close, especially as you work your way through your glass. A little bit of malt sweetness balances out the sour, and hints of oak at the end smooths out the edges.

Overall a tart, tasty jaunt into the world of sour beers. A perfect introduction to the style or a nice comfort beer for old vets.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Quick Sips: Russian River Temptation

Among beer geeks, it's hard to find a brewery more sought after than Russian River. They're tiny tiny tiny, but get acclaim across the U.S. despite being available mostly in California and a few connected states. (Philadelphia, PA is an exception.) Their best known beer is Pliny the Elder, a big double IPA.

But the beers the hardcore look for are their sours. Russian River are known for being one of the great brewers of sour beers in the U.S. Temptation is among them, a sour beer aged in French oak wine barrels.

The beer has a mild bready aroma with clear Chardonnay tones throughout. Looks golden, crisp, and kind of ordinary. When it hits your palate, however, it's something new. The tartness pushes forward in the middle – it’s sour, but not mouth-puckeringly so – with a very dry finish reminiscent of, you guessed it, Chardonnay. It's crisp, but only because it finishes so dry. Quite dry. The more sips you take the more it all smooths out until you're drinking a tart, effervescent, fruity beverage that manages to be more complex than the white wine it initially hints towards. As it warms the yeasty bread starts to come out to play and the tartness (unfortunately) runs and hides. Delicious overall, but slow to reveal itself.

But here's the rub: on the East Coast I paid $15 for a single bottle. One bottle. Worth it? Only for the adventurous, or if you love sours (which are sadly rare on the East Coast scene).

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Narrowly avoided DISASTER

I've mentioned before that in addition to liking craft beer, I also brew my own.

Well, near disaster on that front this morning.

On Monday I brewed a cranberry witbier. (Sadly, probably too late for it to be ready for Christmas.)

For those who don't brew, the basics of the process go like this: you brew your unfermented beer, put it in a fermentation vessel, toss in your yeast, and it ferments. A week to several weeks later, you have beer. During the process it kicks out loads of carbon dioxide. The vessel will have an airlock or some other means by which the CO2 gases can escape. It generally looks like this (note the CO2 escaping via the tube and jar of water):

So I get up this morning and before I get in the shower my wife says, "You might want to check on your beer. It's hissing and the top of the bucket is bulging."

Oh shit. This could be bad.

And sure enough, the lid of this super-sturdy, mega-hardy, thick-as-hell bucket is bulging out at an incredible curve. Never saw anything like it. The fermentation had gotten so active overnight, it pushed gunk into the airlock and clogged it. All that CO2 being churned out by the fermentation had nowhere to go. It was now building up pressure inside the bucket.

Left unchecked, this is pretty much a bomb.

I only exaggerate a little when I say that. I ferment in buckets. With them, the lid will blow off and gunk will splash out as high as the ceiling. Messy as hell, but not dangerous unless your face is over the bucket when the lid blows off. However, many people ferment in glass carboys. If this happens with one of them, they can explode with tremendous force, force enough to push glass through sheetrock walls.

In my case, because of the location of my fermentation bucket, a blown lid would have ruined our living room furniture, possibly doused several bookcases in gunk, and scared our cat.

Oh, and it would really, really annoy my wife. Here is what a bucket disaster can look like. Avert your eyes if you hate a mess:

So yeah, I didn't want that. Problem is, there is already a lot of pressure built up inside this thing. I can't just pop off the airlock to relieve it without risking muck shooting out. I slide the bucket under a table to catch any spray, form a shield around it with towels, and take off the airlock, preparing for a gusher.


Huge expenditure of gases as if opening a gigantic bottle of shaken cola, but thankfully no gusher. Disaster avoided!

But it was close. If that hadn't been spotted before the family left for school and work, BOOM, a living room doused in half fermented beer and yeast!!!

Remember, folks, beer is only a little less dangerous than war.