Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Quick Sips: Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout

Aside from Sierra Nevada's classic Bigfoot,  there are few beers that have been an annual tradition in my life the way Brooklyn's Black Chocolate Stout has been. I don't even remember when I had my first. The late 1990s, maybe. I just remember it was INTENSE in a way beers had never been before.

I've been around the block a few times since then, but even so this remains an intense, complex, and utterly delicious beer.

First, take note: This beer is NOT made with chocolate! The "chocolate" in the name is all due to the roasted barley used in the beer. Once brewed, it takes on an amazing chocolate quality, but no real chocolate is present. The taste is just a miracle of the brewing process.

So anyway,  this amazing annual tradition, this big giant nearly 11% ABV stout that can last for years in your cupboard, how does it taste?

The nose is rich with dark malts and alcohol, with warm chocolate tones very, very faint beneath it. Smells boozy and sweet. And yeah, the taste follows through on the expectations. Big, fat dark malts with touches of chocolate throughout.

When it's fresh, you can taste the HELL out of the 10% ABV. A lot of modern American craft beers mask their alcohol content pretty well. Not Brooklyn's Black Chocolate Stout. When fresh, this beer tastes potent. Not a lot of roasty, coffee-like flavor here. Some dark chocolate, a lot of rich, black malt. and (when fresh) loads of booze.

But here's the thing: This beer ages well. It will keep wonderfully in your cupboard. In fact, having had this many times with six months, a year, or several years of age on it, I can say with experience that it only gets better with age. The alcohol mellows and the burn subsides. What comes out are rich chocolate tones, roasty cocoa, and more.

This beer is DELICIOUS. It's complex but young when fresh.  Buy a four-pack, but don't drink it until the NEXT year. You'll thank me for it. And buy the following year's four-pack while you do it!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Touring the Weyebacher brewery

I may be a beer geek, but to my great misfortune I don't tour a lot of breweries.

Part of that is because New Jersey just plain doesn't have many breweries to tour (though not a big complaint now thanks to Kane and Carton) and part of that (the bigger part) is that I like to build days around such tours, and those days involve BEER. The issue is that my region has awful public transportation options, and I prefer to play it safe whenever I can. Unlike, say, those in New York or San Diego or San Francisco, I have to get myself home but can't be expected to be helped along by buses or trains or taxis.

But when I got together with my co-host of the Year of Hitchcock podcast in the spring, we knew we were going to tour some breweries, have some craft beer, and do it all in the name of promoting our book on Alfred Hitchcock.

The weekend took a turn away from writing and a turn towards beer, however, thanks in part to Weyerbacher. How could we do any different in the wake of these amazing tanks?

Needless to say, we ended up doing very little promoting (read: zero), but plenty of beering. A quick glance through this blog will show you that I am a big supporter of Weyerbacher, so I shouldn't need to say more about whether or not I liked the tour.

But I will. How about, the people were super friendly the beer awesome, the location easy to get to, and the price of cases of limited edition beer at the time (thanks ENTIRELY to stupid Pennsylvania law) was so absurd they lost about $200 in business from my brief, visit? I hear the law has changed since then, so that's cool, but check in advance first. I loved how they'd keep pouring you samples of whatever beer they had, no matter how rare, as long as you asked. And if they didn't have it on tap, they'd open a bottle and pour it. Awesome!

Plus, check out their cool barrel-aging system:





It's not a lot compared to larger craft brewers like Firestone Walker, but when you yourself have only made a small number of beers in a whiskey barrel it sure is impressive.

Fun trip with some great people at the brewery. How could you NOT have a lot of fun going to a brewery that makes beers you love? Which is what makes me say, damn, why don't I do this more often?

And I should. If I'm to be a real beer geek, I should see where it is made more often (even if it is often made in my own home).

Friday, November 30, 2012

HOMEBREWING: Whiskey Barrel Imperial Stout

Last year, a friend and I put the whiskey barrel I bought to good use and brewed an imperial stout designed to be aged in said barrel. The recipe was, to say the least, intense. Easily the most expensive beer I have done to date, using a TON of specialty malts and in the end (thankfully) tasting comparable to Firestone Walker's Parabola, but here's the thing: It might also be the most delicious beer I've ever done. It's certainly the prettiest:



Looks wonderful, doesn't it? That's my co-brewer in the photo, and the beer is just a few weeks old (after a long primary and then secondary in the barrel). If you want the recipe, just ask. It's extract with specialty grains, so anyone can make it.

After the imperial stout, I did a honey porter in it, and the barrel currently contains a lambic, which will stay in the barrel for about a year or more. My plan is to blend small parts of that batch into future lambic and sour batches. (I currently have seven vessels with various sour beers, so the blending opportunities are endless!)

So here's the thing: Barrel-aging your beers is easy.

1) Buy a barrel! Just Google various phrases, there are TONS of sources. Spend between $70 and $120 (before shipping) for a 5-gallon barrel or you're getting ripped off.

2) Don't worry about cleaning it out. All that booze will keep it sterile. Just brew a big beer and put it in the barrel!

3) How long to age it? Keep the beer in it from two weeks to two years, depending on the beer. A weeks to two weeks is great for IPAs and Double IPAs, two to four weeks is ideal for traditional stouts and porters, four to eight weeks for barleywines and strong Belgian styles, and a month to two years for lambics.

4) Bottle, age, open, enjoy!

Yeah, seriously, it's that easy. I recommend bottling a few smaller sampler bottles so you can taste it over time -- barrel-aged beers tend to need some time to age into perfection, about six months to a year in my experience -- and going easy until it has aged into your taste. After that?

Cheers!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Quick Sips: Deschutes Black Butte XXIII

NOTE: This review is made nearly six months after the beer was enjoyed, so take any assessments with that in mind.

Deschutes. I'm a New Jersey guy, so their amazing beers are not available to me unless I trade beer. And that's exactly how I got Deschutes Black Butte XXIII, a big ass porter (almost 11%) brewed with cocoa nibs, orange peel, and with a portion aged in bourbon barrels, available exactly ONCE.

Wait, a portion aged in bourbon barrels? Nonsense! Because despite only 25% of this being bourbon barrel aged, it's BOOZY as fark! Anyway ...

Pour it and take a whiff. The nose is alcohol and chocolate with deep sweet breads. Even by the smell, this beer means business.

You need to drink the damn thing, though, so you pour a glass and despite the high alcohol some nice carbonation is there – this beer poured with a rich, frothy head that quickly disappeared – but it’s gone fast, giving the beer a silky, slightly slick feel on the palate.

The taste? Mild chocolate in front with some bourbon heat in the middle. Orange notes poke through in the end. This beer is 10.8% with some fairly complex flavors (bourbon, orange, chocolate, etc.), but most of them fight pretty hard for dominance. The beer could have used some time for all these elements to come together a little more smoothly. Deschutes recognizes this by putting a best AFTER date on the bottle of 6/15/12 despite this being a 2011 beer. (Who does that?) Despite the BEST AFTER, I drank this beer around July 2012, after their recommended date, and it STILL needed more time.

One thing that surprised me was the booze. The bourbon isn’t overpowering sure, but it’s far more present in the middle than you’d expect considering the barrel-aged portion makes up only 25% of this blend. And as this beer warms it just gets boozier and boozier.

All that said, it's easy to see why the special editions of Black Butte are sought after each year. This beer is complex and delicious, definitely worth sinking into if you're a beer geek, but take a pass if you just want a good beer beer.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Ride Ye to Wisonson!! The great breweries of Wisconsin

Wisconsin! I guess you should expect no different from a state that crowns its baseball team with the name the Brewers, but somehow I had never considered Wisconsin as being among the uber cool brewing states. There is California (1), obviously, Oregon (2), yeah, New York (3), sure, Michigan (4), no doubt, Pennsylvania (5), a surprising yeah, but Wisconsin?


YES!

I have had some Wisconsin beers before, especially the awesome brews by New Glarus, thanks to trading beer online. In fact, I liked them so much that when my buddy and coauthor Jim McDevitt went on a cross-country trip, I asked him to grab me some beer from this great state.

And yeah, even though he spent all of five minutes in this state, there was loads to bring home. In addition to a few beers I may post about later, Jim grabbed me a mixed pack of beers by New Glarus. This was the highlight of the BIG RIDICULOUS BOX OF BEER he brought home for me. (You write a book or two with someone, you're kind of tight, you know?) The pack had four beers, and they tasted a little something like this:

Spotted Cow – This is a pleasant, smooth beer that drinks like a lager but features a touch of ale zest. That’s because it has the softness of a lager, but more hopping and bitterness, albeit not MUCH hopping and bitterness. It’s very moderate, especially compared to today’s American ales. This beer is not worth going crazy to find – there is nothing particularly special about it – but it is a pleasant everyday beer that combines easy drinking with more taste than you’ll get from the big brewers. Recommended if you like Anchor Steam, Yuengling, or Fat Tire. 4.8% ABV

Totally Naked – This is your standard pilsner or light lager. Light, crisp, dry finish, light golden in color, a mild hop bite at the end of a mildly grainy but smooth draught. Fans of big craft beer flavor will be underwhelmed. Drinkers of Miller and Coors will like it because it will feel like home. I wouldn’t gravitate to this beer, but I sure would like to see it on tap instead of the latest product by the big guys. Recommended if you like easy-drinking macro lagers (Bud, Miller, and Coors). 4.25% ABV.

Two Women – A traditional German-style lager. They call this a pilsner, though it’s dark for the style. It has a malty smell with faint hints of dark breads, but nothing overwhelming. The beer has a nice, almost red ale-ish malt backbone with well-balanced, Earthy hops. It’s not HUGE on flavor, but it’s pleasant. Like the other beers in this mixer, Two Women drinks nicely but doesn’t make me say, “Holy cow, that’s good!” Recommended if you like Samuel Adams Boston Lager, Killian’s Irish Red, or Smithwick’s. 5% ABV.

Fat Squirrel – A traditional English brown ale that boasts all the hallmarks of one. A chestnut color and aroma. A taste of rich brown malts, nuts, and touches of caramel. A smoothness of character with just a bit of sharp roast at the end. This is a good beer and a good example of the style. Recommended if you like Newcastle. 5.8% ABV.

Overall – I have had a few of the fruit beers by New Glarus, and they were some of the best I have ever had. Seriously. BEST. So when I had this mix pack I had high hopes. Well, these beers are all GREAT for their given style, perfect examples of simple, drinkable brews. Which is to say, this is a BOOoooOOring mix pack for big beer geeks, but an AMAZING mix pack for people who either love awesome easy drinking beers or for beer geeks who appreciate the subtlety in making a good drinkable beer.

Verdict: If you are in Wisconsin or know someone who will be, get this mix pack. You'll be glad you did.



(1) - Stone, Russian River, Sierra Nevada, North Coast, The Bruery, Ballast Point, Green Flash, Lost Abbey, Firestone Walker, and a TON more. And when I say a ton, I mean a ton. Look at that long list, and realize I still left out 21st Amendment, Anchor, Lagunitas, and others.

(2) Deschutes, Full Sail, Ninkasi, Widmer, and the most overpriced beers in America, Rogue.

(3) Southern Tier, Brooklyn, Ithaca, Sixpoint, Ommegang, and more. (I did not forget you, South Hampton.)

(4) Founders, Bell's, Atwater, Jolly Pumpkin, New Holland, and more.

(5) Weyerbacher, Troegs, Victory, Yards, Lancaster, and the ever popular Yuengling, among others.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Quick Sips: 21st Amendment-Ninkasi Allies Win The War! winter ale

(Note: This beer was consumed and written about in the winter of 2011/2012, but is only being posted now. As of this posting, it's unclear if this beer will come out again in winter 2012/2013.)

Ahhh, yes, Allies Win The War. This winter beer is a collaboration between 21st Amendment brewery and Ninkasi Brewing Co. It's an English strong ale brewed with dates

The beer smells like winter spices, with sweet malts and minor but noticeable European hopping. The taste is ... interesting. There is some up front bitterness, but not nearly at IPA levels, with traces of dark fruit on the end. Not overly sweet; the hops balance that out. All that said, the dominant taste is spicing. LOTS of spicing. Winter spices hit you up front so that it takes a few sips to get used to them. A bit malty and thick, but tasty. And spicy. Not hot spicy, just ... yo, really? Did you need to go this nuts with the spicing?

And yet beyond all imagining it tastes fairly decent once you get used to it, almost like how Dr Pepper would taste if it was beer. The big ABV sneaks up on you. This beer masks the 8.5% well. Overall this is a good but not great winter beer. Try it, but know what you're getting into, 'cause this one ain't for everybody.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Quick Sips: Flying Fish Exit 8 Chestnut Brown Ale

I love Flying Fish. Maybe it's bias. When I was first discovering craft beer in the mid-1990s -- we called it "microbrew" then -- Flying Fish was not only one of the early breweries that caught my attention, they were actually local! A brewery from New Jersey! That was novel at the time, since the only beers being brewed in New Jersey were either Budweiser in Newark and stuff like Rheingold.

Flying Fish, though, they started making great beers and pushing into the local market. Before long they became a staple in my regular beer buying. Their core beers are all solid brews, but the fun stuff is their Exit Series, a series of beers brewed with a New Jersey theme. That might mean local ingredients, it might mean a local theme, or it just might mean a simple twist that makes it Jersey.

The latest in that series is Exit 8, a chestnut brown ale brewed with Belgian yeast, with Jersey chestnuts and honey. and other than their Exit 4 (one of the best American trippels on the market), it just might be their best beer.

Pour this sucker and a nutty, chestnut-laden aroma hits your nose, though it’s not the roasted chestnut I expected. The Belgian yeast gives it a muddy, herbal quality that spins the chestnuts you expect into new territory. Give it a taste and you'll find that the honey is a pleasant note in the background, right at the finish. It’s the nutty flavor that dominates. Quite tasty, probably IDEAL for a winter/holiday release rather than the spring release this beer got.

This beer tastes great, though I wonder how this beer would be without the Belgian yeast. The character of the yeast gets in the way of the interesting stuff going on with the chestnut and honey, which leaves me wondering if an English strain wouldn't let the beer shine through more.

That said, how can I complain when the beer is so good, especially since the FF people know what the hell they're doing and I'm just a dude with a blog? This is a great brew that competes not only with the best of the Exit Series, but also with the best New Jersey has to offer. It came out earlier in 2012 and was released in limited quantities, so grab it if you see it.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Beer can bring people together

Beer brings people together, and that's one of the big reasons why I love it. When I wrote for the Philadelphia Weekly, I tried to point out how beer has been interwoven with our history, both real and imagined, getting right down into our myths and legends.

But what's really important is how it is interwoven into our lives on a personal level.

A fantastic example is this news story about a mini-mart -- a damn Wawa, really -- that serves great craft beer and around which a community has formed. It's a mini-mart with beer. The guy who owns it focuses on great beer. And the people in the community have made it a rallying point. Just go read the story to see what I mean, because it's COOL AS HELL.

More than any single part of that story -- more than the rare beer and selection and prices and did I mention the rare beer? -- the part that I love, admire, and respect was this:

Chung had larger ambitions when he tapped that first keg in 2009. "I didn't want the place to be just a convenience store, or a stereotypical convenience store," he says. He'd come to this very store himself as a child. It was part of his upbringing. He knew it had been an understated presence in West Seattle since the 1940s. "You know the old-time general store -- a drugstore that was a gathering place?" he says. "That's the type of feel I wanted."

The community seemed to crave that, too. With their pints, more and more people started to linger. Now in one corner of Super Deli Mart sits a thick fallen-cedar table courtesy of a regular that would look more at home in some Northwest-chic hotel. A regular group of up to 20 locals gather around that table every Wednesday evening to argue beer styles and grouse about the Seahawks' latest disappointment -- as if Super Deli Mart was some postmodern Elks Club.

"My wife and I have lived in the same house for 17 years, and I've never known the people on my street until we started coming here and drinking about one-and-a-half years ago," Cary Schroeder, 43, said on a recent Wednesday while having a beer with his wife, Jody. "It really has brought the neighborhood together."


That's powerful stuff. It's the kind of thing every community needs. Whether a watering hole or community cafe or merely a general store where you see the same people on a regular basis, these are the kind of places that knit people together. You don't know you need a place like that in your life until you find one, or until you've had one and lost it.

I grew up in a small town where not only were there several such places in one tiny community, each watering hole itself was a micro community within an already tiny community. I loved the town so much I wrote a book about it.

These days I live in the midst of suburban sprawl. Subdivisons and strip malls. Places like the ones I describe are few and far between, especially if you live in a neighborhood like I do, where walking or biking to the nearest place to grab a drink or have a sandwich and read the paper involves crossing multiple busy roads.

The POINT, which I left a long time ago, is that beer probably lends more texture to your world than you even realize. Usually for the better. EMBRACE it. Go have a beer at your local watering hole, even if their beer stinks. The beer isn't the important part, it's that you'll be closer to your community and the people in it. And that's not a bad thing.

Cheers!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Snobbery, beer, beer geekery, and you

Beer is not a weapon to hold over someone's head or with which to judge them. It is a beautiful social lubricant that ties people together, even if they like beers "inferior" to yours.

And don't you forget it.

Like any niche community seeing increased mainstream attention, the craft beer community is populated by a small but loud segment of people who more than anything else are disgusted that Their Thing is reaching a wider audience. It's no longer their cherished secret, you see, and that kind of stings. Suddenly you're surrounded by strangers who are way into this thing you've been into for years and years. I've seen it in many other communities, music being the one that hits closest to home for me. It's unavoidable.

More than that, though, is that for many -- mostly the folks only a few years into their new interest -- it's easier to express disdain and negativity than it is to express positivity. It doesn't take much thought or energy to say, "Yuengling sucks." It's a little more difficult to bring your enthusiasm for something you love to other people and infect them with that same enthusiasm.

That's one of the reason why I think "ha ha ha coors light tastes like piss" jokes are tired and lame, even if I agree with them that Coors Light is tasteless. Because those jokes are mindless and easy. It's also one of the reasons why I'll always encourage celebrating the beers you love over slamming the beers you don't. Because getting other people excited about stuff you like is fun and enjoyable and rewarding, while running down beers you hate is nonsense better left to kids only just starting their beer journey.

Beer is awesome. Beer is social. You can become fast friends with someone over a beer. I've done it many times. Why would I or anyone else want to dwell on what sucks when there is so much that is AWESOME in the world of beer?

You don't like Dogfish Head or think The Bruery is highly overrated? That's cool. Then pour me one of the beers you like and we'll drink that instead. You don't really like beer and only buy Corona? Fine, stick in a lime and give me one. I'll deal. We'll talk badly about our jobs and boast about the size of our manhood and dream up an awesome business plan we'll forget by the morning.

Because I love beer, and I seriously don't give a damn about what beer you hate. I want to know about the beer you love.

And I want you to pour me some.

Cheers.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Quick Sips: Cricket Hill Reserve Series #15

Cricket Hill Brewery is one of New Jersey's little secrets. On a national level they don't get much attention, and heck, not even locally, what with Kane and Carton stealing all the recent spotlight and Flying Fish being seen as the gristled veterans.

But Cricket Hill is very quietly making some excellent beers, both approachable and experimental. One that falls in the latter category is #15 in their reserve series, a sour porter aged in bourbon barrels.

Allegedly, only nine cases or so were produced of this beer. I don't know how accurate the number is, but I do know I paid way more for this bottle than I normally would (mostly because I didn't check the price before getting to the register). It's limited as hell, so you'll pay for it. And take note, it came out last year, so if you see one GET IT because it's one of the last bottles in existence.

The beer is certainly intriguing. There is a sour tang on the aroma but it is not strong. It overpowers the porter -- no chocolate or roast to speak of in the nose -- but it doesn't overwhelm the senses. If there is some bourbon in the nose, it's subtle. The head retention is for crap, though. Ignore my photo. The head you see disappears quickly and doesn't stick around for long. While that's not highly unusual for sour beers, it happens particularly fast here.

But a beer is all in the taste, and this one ... is challenging. Challenging, but worthwhile. The sour in the taste is a wonderful balance between pronounced and yet not so dominant that it's all you can taste. It's sour, yeah, but there is brown malt that comes through in the middle, with a nice yet gentle wash of bourbon at the finish. There is sour dark fruit in here, too. Quite complex and for damn sure a beer you'll mull over.

New Jersey's craft beer scene is better than people give it credit for when it comes to nice, drinkable beers, but is low on the "wild and offbeat" list. Cricket Hill makes a good go at it with this beer. It's complex, challenging, tasty, but not for everyone.

(If this sounds like a beer you want to try, drop me a note or email. I can still get my hands on some, but not many bottles are left.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Flying Fish opens its new brewery on Saturday

New Jersey's largest craft brewery, Flying Fish, will be opening the doors of its new brewery to the public for the first time on Saturday. According to a story in the Courier Post:

Flying Fish plans to open its doors to its new neighbors on Somerdale Day, on Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Kennedy Boulevard.

“We’re going to do our first public tours for Somerdale Day,” said Muller. “Somerdale Day is going to be in front of our brewery, so we’ll open up that day and let the public take a peek.”

Flying Fish previously brewed in Cherry Hill (and as of this writing they're still operating there). Cherry Hill traffic sucks. I doubt that's why they moved, but it's certainly a big reason why I have never toured their old brewery. Scooping your left eye out with a teaspoon is more enjoyable than driving through Cherry Hill.

Anyway, they're moving because they're undergoing a major increase in capacity. In other words, they want to make more beer. Lots more. And that's cool, because they make good beer.

With all the (well deserved) hoopla surrounding Kane and Carton, two of New Jersey's newest craft breweries, both of which are winning raves, folks seem to be forgetting Flying Fish.

But Flying Fish has been here all along, churning out good beers since 1996, long before today's huge craft beer explosion. My personal favorites are the Exit Series beers, offbeat brews made with News Jersey ingredients. With the exception of Exit 4, an excellent American Tripel, these beers have been one-time brews that you have to grab before they're gone. I spoke to one of the brewers at a beerfest last year, and he told me the new brewery would allow them to bring back some of the best of the Exit series and package them in six packs. I can't wait!

A lot of people don't realize that New Jersey has a number of excellent breweries. River Horse is a personal favorite (look for their Tripel Horse, and in a few months their Oatmeal Milk Stout). High Point, aka Ramstein, makes traditional German style beers to much acclaim. Cricket Hill has been on a roll lately with their Reserve series. And Boaks makes big, interesting beers that are sure to turn your head (try their Monster Mash!). For good measure throw in Climax and you've got a good array of New Jersey beers to choose from, and that doesn't count the many brewpubs in the state.

And if you're not from New Jersey, find out who brews in your state. Try out their beers. Support your local brewers!

In the meantime, I'll be waiting for the next installment of Flying Fish's Exit Series ... cheers!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

From the Cellar: Weyerbacher Fourteen


Weyerbacher is great.They do a lot of really amazing beer that people miss because, frankly, up until the last few months their labels were TERRIBLE.

'Cause yeah, even though we know we shouldn't, we really do judge books by their cover. I've often said that Weyerbacher would be more widely considered a great brewery if their branding wasn't so bad. They wised up, contracted a new logo, and are now in the process of rebranding their whole line. Excellent!

So what does this have to do with a three-year-old brew put out for their 14th anniversary?  Nothing at all. Just thought it would make for a good intro.

Anyway, for the Weyerbacher's 14th anniversary they brewed a spiced up wheat wine, essentially a boozed-up barleywine but with wheat as a primary fermentable grain. These beers are BIG, complex, and age well.

And this 2009 vintage fits the description. After three years, the aroma is a boozy, murky mix of bread, spices, and a touch of caramel. Drinking it, though, you'd never know it was so strong. Despite coming in at a whopping 11.8% ABV, there is little alcohol heat to speak of here. It starts to show through as the beer warms, but even then it’s much less than you’d expect from a beer this potent.

Rather than bitterness, here you get spicing, with hints of rye, pepper, and summer herbs. As the beer warms this really ramps up, too, providing a surprising spice kick. Meanwhile, the wheat malts bring a smoothness to the beer that makes it go down better than any three-year-old, nearly 12% beer has a right to.

Overall this is a big WOW. If you have one, I suspect now is a great time to open it. If you see one, get it and drink it right away. 'Cause this stuff be gooawd.

BEER: Weyerbacher Fourteen
VINTAGE: 2009
TIME AGED: 3 years
NOTES:

VERDICT: This beer has laid down pretty well. If you're lucky enough to find a bottle, consider scooping it up.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Quick Sips: Monk's Cafe Flemish Sour Ale


Ahh, sour beers. This ancient Belgian style is sort of the trend these days. They are not THE trend in the way IPAs and barrel aging were, but they're definitely a hot commodity right now. (I will post what I think is the new up and coming trend soon.)

In the U.S., there are few places more renown for being a mecca for Belgian beer as Monk's Cafe in Philadelphia, a cramped, cozy little headquarters for some of the best beers on the planet.

And lo and behold, they have their own beer, Monk's Cafe Flemish Sour Ale! Well, sort of. It's actually part of the regular lineup of Brouwerij Van Steenberge, packaged with some Monk's branding. The nice thing is, this beer is affordable. Thanks to the care it takes to make, special facilities to separate it from other beers, and the required aging, sour beer is EXPENSIVE. Yet this one is in line with other pricy craft beers, expensive but affordable.

If you spot Monk's Cafe sour and want to drop the roughly $20 it will cost for a four-pack, you should expect pleasant tartness and acidity in the nose, with just a mild hint of the vinegar-like qualities common to some sours. The aroma is not going to impress.

Once it hits your palate, the sourness of this beer is only mild, very mild, accentuated a bit by the brisk carbonation but falling far short of mouth-puckering. A nice sweet note carries throughout the entire sip.

What this beer is is drinkable. It has some sourness, but it's not the aggressive sour pursued by sourheads. It has nice fruit and sweet flavors, in fact. Probably a great introductory beer to those new to sours, and in a way the ultimate session sour. You could put these down all day and your palate would be fine.

But once you've had a few sours, you'll drink this wishing your mouth would pucker. For me it scratches an itch, but only just barely.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Quick Sips: Southern Tier Pumking

Welcome to what might be the most sought-after pumpkin beer in the nation, Southern Tier's gigantic Pumking, a big ass imperial pumpkin beer. (Note, this review is of the 2011 batch.)

So, the thing about most pumpkin beers is that they don't as much taste like pumpkin as they do pumpkin pie. Which is fine. Think about it. Pumpkin on its own just tastes like mushy vegetable. Pumpkin pie tastes awesome thanks to all those fall spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, clove, and others.

That's what most pumpkin beers are. Spices. They are spiced like pumpkin pie -- and may not even have any real pumpkin! It's true. You don't need the pumpkin in the beer to make it taste like a great pumpkin beer, just the spices.

Anyway, Southern Tier's sought after imperial version of the style? Well, it smell likes nuts and butter and peanut butter. So how about the taste?

Nutty! That's right, nutty. It tastes like liquid peanut butter with some spices. VERY sweet. Almost sickeningly so. To drink a whole bottle of this on your own? Ugh. No thanks. I can't imagine doing it.

Word of mouth suggests this 2011 batch was off from previous years, a significant downgrade from what was made before. Having never had Pumking prior to this batch, I can't comment on that. I will say that if batches can vary that much from year to year, the otherwise exceptional Southern Tier has some quality control issues to worry about.

FULL DISCLOSURE:
This tasting is based on the 2011 batch, consumed and written in late February of 2012, and only posted now.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Does Dogfish Head live up to the hype?

Just like any breed of geek, beer geeks can be a knee-jerk lot prone to pounce before they've heard your entire message. (I like to think I know geeks, what with being a coauthor of Geek Wisdom and all.) So let me say this up front: Dogfish Head fans, I am a fan, too. I like their beer and will explain why. Dogfish Head critics, I am not a DFH fanboy. Their beer is often flawed and I will explain why.

So with that out of the way, let's just get into it. Let's try to take an honest look at Dogfish Head, a brewery with fans more rabid than even Stone and Rogue, and beers that are just as divisive as both.

DFH's shtick, to use a term more dismissive sounding than intended, is to break the rules. To do so-called "extreme" beers. To throw out the rulebook and, to paraphrase founder Sam Calagione, to let their freak flag fly.

That's not a bad thing. Hell, it's the thing I most admire them for and it's what makes their most interesting beers, well, interesting. They brew with ingredients people just don't brew with and resurrect ancient recipes (as best as they can guess them) and push things to extremes just to see if they can.

But it also means their beers can run very hot and cold. They can divide people like few others. When they do great beers they do fantastic beers. Their Bitches Brew (a big imperial stout blended with honey-based Tej), Palo Santo Marron (a giGANtic brown ale aged on rare wood), and Sah'Tea (an old Finnish beers with a Chai-based twist) are some of the most intriguing beers on the market. I'd put them up against almost any beer I've had. Yet when they're bad, let's be honest, they're bad. Beers like the ginger-laden Pangaea are overpriced and gimmicky (even if that now retired beer did drink okay), Black & Blue is an unlikable fruit drink that doesn't know if it's beer or champagne, and in my opinion Black & Red is the most disgusting, vile beverage ever put in a glass, a concoction of chocolate and mint that tastes like a mouth full of dank toothpaste. I genuinely couldn't even finish a 2 oz sample at their Rehoboth, DE brewpub.

Keep in mine, those are only my opinions. Part of the fun of all this is that people will disagree with my views, and strongly. With Dogfish especially, these beers are so far off the beaten path that there is rarely any middle ground with them. You love 'em or hate 'em.

In between the above extremes they have excellent beers that challenge and delight you, or gross you out, or leave you thinking they're overrated. The 90 Minute IPA is an example of the latter; some think it's divine, others say it's a hot, malty mess. For the record, I like it, but I also don't think it's a great double IPA. It's a strong ale ... but we're getting into geeky terminology here. The bottom line is, these guys experiment a lot and few brews are what you expect. If they do a beer, it's with a twist. If they do a Belgian, they muck with it. If they do a stout, they go big. (Really frickin' big!) If they go for an older style, do they a freakin' Aztec chocolate beer that tastes like no other chocolate beer on the market. Yeah.

And yep, sometimes this stuff falls flat on its face. Hard.

None of this is a bad thing. Not if you're willing to accept the bad with the good. Not if you're willing to accept the idea that if you experiment hard you'll sometimes stumble. These guys often take chances. They even rope respected brewers into it. Sure, even their basic quirks aren't always great. For instance, I love their 60 Minute IPA, but in the world of IPAs it's honestly just 'pretty good' rather that GREAT. Really well balanced thanks to their innovative way of adding hops, very tasty, but among the best IPAs in the country as some would have you believe? No.

Yet that doesn't matter. Not really. Because the whole point of checking out this brewery is to drink something way off the beaten path. To blow the doors off your expectations ... and yeah, to sometimes have something that sucks on wheels.

The bottom line is, Dogfish Head makes really freakin' good beers that are often unlike anything you've had before. And sometimes they make bad beers that are too damn hot with alcohol, or are too imbalanced with offbeat ingredients, or that are just plain boring for the price. It's true, fans. They really do. Some of their experiments suck.

And that's okay.

The reason we (meaning "I") admire them is for their willingness to experiment. Yeah, sometimes the results stink. And sometimes the cult of personality surrounding Sam gets to be too much. (That's a subject I avoided in this post like the coward I am, but for the record, he seems like a personable, down to Earth guy to me, the sort of dude you'd love to drink beer and talk music with. Especially music.) But DAMN, when they nail a good beer, it's really damn good!

So it's like this: It's okay to say they get too much hype among some beer geeks because that's probably close to true when you consider the many awesome brewers who don't get a fraction of the attention, but if you think they have nothing to offer when it comes to beer because they're all based on hype, you're wrong, wrong, wrong.

Cheers.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Hey brewers, DATE YOUR BOTTLES!

Dear brewers,

Please date your bottles.

It's a simple matter that means a lot. I will not buy your IPA if there is not a date on the bottle or if I don't know for sure it just got to the beer shop, i.e. it's a seasonal beer or I literally saw it come in stock. If I'm browsing bottles in a great shop and am eager to take home an IPA, yours won't even be in the running if there is not a date on the bottle. And don't you want my business?

I'm not nit-picking, I'm just a beer enthusiast who has been burned too many times buying IPAs that were past their optimal drinking date, getting the bland cardboard trash you certainly did not intend for your customers to drink instead of the awesome hop taste and aroma you wanted me to have.

So please date your bottles.

I love to cellar beer. I have a rotating "cellar" 200 bottles strong and love aging beer. But if your beer is not marked with a date, I may be inclined to choose some other barleywine or imperial stout or strong ale over it. After all, a few years down the road I'll at least be able to tell how old those other bottles are when compared to yours. And don't you want my business?

I'm not nitpicking. I'm just a beer enthusiast who loves to lay down beer for a few years but who isn't willing to piss away his money on laying down beers that don't have defined dates on them, given that cellaring beer is such an expensive hobby in the long term.

So please date your bottles.

The craft beer movement is exploding, and that is awesome. Craft beer has had its ups and downs before, but since the 1990s things have always gotten better, especially when it comes to informing beer drinkers. Informed beer drinkers make for beer drinkers who grow craft beer as a whole. Giving information to your customers grows your business. And don't you want my business?

I'm not nitpicking. I'm just a beer enthusiast who believes that the more information you give your customers the better. The folks at Samuel Adams started to make the idea of dates important before many others, and breweries like Rogue and Southern Tier offer detailed information on their bottles (though shame on Rogue for not dating those bottles). So why can't you?

Of course you can. It may be an investment for you, but it will also be an investment in the folks who buy your beer.

So please date your bottles.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

From the Cellar: Ommegang Abbey Ale

The Brewery Ommegang is arguably the best brewer of Belgian style beers in America. It's partially a cheat, of course, since Ommegang is owned by Duvel, who also provides them with their house yeast strain, practically making Ommegang a Belgian brewery located in America, but when confronted with such awesomeness that's little more than pedantic nitpicking. These folks make awesome beers. That's all you need to know.

Ommegang's flagship is probably Abbey Ale, a top-rated, super delicious beer roughly in the style of the dark Trappist beer made in Belgium. This fantastic 8.5% dark Belgian-style ale only costs about $7.99 for a corked 750ml bottle, so it's a bargain for a beer so good. In addition to price, it meets all the other key criteria for beer that is good to stash away. That's why I decided to grab one and stash it away. So after roughly a year and a half to two years in storage, how does it taste?

Pretty damn good.

The nose offers subdued notes of dark fruits (figs, etc) and a very bready sweetness, like black buns fresh from the oven. It smells distinctly like a Trappist ale such as Rochefort 6.

Carbonation has mellowed after 18 months or so -- sorry, can't pin down time; if the bottle is dated, I can't find the date -- making the beer a bit stickier than it is fresh, though it's nowhere close to flat. The taste reveals hints of caramel and barely noticeable fruit. The Belgian yeast character so noticeable when fresh is subdued here, while the alcohol is better hidden in the murk.

Overall I'm pleased with how nicely this beer matured, but feel like this experiment points to it being better fresh. That might change if a bottle was set down for, say, five years instead of two -- 18 to 24 months really isn't that long for a beer worth aging -- but I'm guessing this is a beer that wants to be consumed fresh.

Cheers!

BEER: Ommegang Abbey Ale
VINTAGE: 2010
TIME AGED: Roughly 18-24 months
NOTES: Easily available and affordable, so it's a cheap experiment. Try it yourself.

VERDICT: Okay to cellar this, as it lays down fairly well, but don't for for too long. It's better fresh.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Quick Sips: Long Trail Coffee Stout

For me, Long Trail has long been a great go-to for approachable craft beers. They make solid session brews that won't knock you on your ass but give you nice flavor. Many die-hard beer geeks don't consider Long Trail anything special, but those folks miss the point. Long Trail isn't aiming to reinvent beer or blow out your taste buds anything like that. They just make good, drinkable beer. It's why I like them

None of which is to say they don't play around with bigger beers. Their Brewsmaster Series is where they get a little bigger and bolder. Each year a few beers come out in this series, always in bombers (22 oz. bottles), and always for a reasonable price. The standout is always, in my opinion, their coffee stout, a robust brew that clocks in at 8% and that has always packed a nice punch of roast, chocolate, and java.

So why I am so lukewarm on this year's batch?

This has been a top-notch beer for me in the past, but this year's batch (2012) has a slick, oily coffee bitterness I don't care for. That same taste totally ruined a homebrewed coffee stout I made last year. Mind you, the taste is not even close to that bad here -- I enjoyed this whole bottle -- but it's a step down from the gorgeous roast of previous batches. The coffee is way up front, burying the rich roast that defines this beers.

I'm stumped. And disappointed. Because last year, I would have ranked this brew among my favorites. This year? Not even in the top 100.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Sierra Nevada takes us to BEER CAMP

For some years now, Sierra Nevada has been holding Beer Camp, an opportunity for industry people, contest winners, and others to visit their Chico, CA facility and brew some beer (on Sierra's equipment!) that would only ever be seen in the immediate Chico area. Over the years they brewed dozens of Sierra Nevada brews, often quirky, interesting beers that were never seen by 99.9% of Sierra Nevada drinkers.

In 2011, the brewery finally decided to make some of these beers available, releasing a Beer Camp mix pack that was, in my view, the very best mixer of the year. Every single beer was good, and several were phenomenal. Even something like the seemingly ordinary California Common, a style best known thanks to Anchor Steam, was amazing.

So needless to say, I was excited when it was announced that the Beer Camp pack would be back in 2012, this time with four totally new beers.

Here are my impressions of the four brews in this pack:

Floral IPA - This one is made with rose petals and rose hips, giving it a soft floral quality that parts ways with the pine-laden scents of Sierra Nevada's usual IPAs. This was my least favorite of the bunch, but not for the reason you may expect. The floral elements were actually well integrated. Where it fell short was in the overall balance. An uninteresting malt profile did little to intermingle with sharp hop bitterness. Though do keep in mind, unlike many American beer lovers, IPAs are not a favorite of mine.

Imperial Pilsner - I'm not sure why they went with the "imperial" tag, as this one comes in at 5.6% ABV, stronger than your average pilsner but not that much stronger. Regardless, for this this was the standout of the pack, and I say that as a guy who traditionally doesn't care for pilsners. This beer was bright, crisp, and refreshing, with a nice hop bite that gave it an edge over most pilsners. Utterly delicious and stupidly drinakable, if this came in six packs I'd be buying more of it.

Imperial Red Ale - Not a big fan of red ales. I can think of very, very few I've liked. Sierra Nevada almost gets me to like one here, with a great bouquet of hops and a robust malt backbone giving this puppy a solid 8.1% ABV, but yeah, this style continues to not be for me. If you like red ales, though, this will probably be a standout beer for you. It has bold hops coupled with rich malts and surprising chocolate notes. It's a big, big red that will please fans of the style.

Oatmeal Stout - A pretty modest name for a hefty 9% stout that is black as midnight and richer than a double chocolate cheesecake. WOWZA is this ever a desert beer. It SMELLS like desert! Huge, rich chocolate notes with the pure velvet of a great oatmeal stout. You'll taste the alcohol, making this one a decent candidate for laying down for six months to a year, but even now it's tasting pretty fantastic. Calling it a plain old oatmeal stout doesn't do it justice. This beer is huge and delicious.

All in call, Sierra Nevada's Beer Camp 2012 isn't quite as good as 2011's -- I liked all four of last year's and loved three of them, while this year I like three of four and love two of four -- but it's still a worthwhile mix pack that will expand your taste buds in good ways. Check it out while it's still available, because this will be off the shelves soon.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

What's on tap for Celebrating the Suds

This blog isn't updated as often as I'd like. If I had my druthers I'd post every day. Time doesn't permit, but that doesn't mean Celebrating The Suds doesn't have a slew of posts in the works. In progress we've got articles on how to acquire rare beers and how to get into the beer trading scene, along with commentary on Dogfish Head, bottle dating, beer snobbery, and mixed packs.

We're also going to be posting MUCH more on homebrewing, including how to turn recipe kits on their head, how to conserve water while brewing, aging your homebrew, and photos and recipes of our own misadventures in brewing.

We'll also be digging more beers out of the cellar for the From the Cellar series, including Old Rasputin, Dogfish Head's Raison de' EXTRA and Red & White, Weyerbacher Fourteen, Ommegang Abbey Ale, and several more.

And naturally, there will be plenty of Quick Sips. In the queue are Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye, Southern Tier Pumking, Deschutes Black Butte XXIII, Delirium Tremens, Long Trail Coffee Stout, and THE GREATEST FRUIT BEER IN THE WORLD, along with more than a dozen others.

Finally, after the success of Bell's Week, we've decided to do a few more themed weeks. Our focus is going to be regional breweries in the northeastern U.S., focused on New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, and Massachusetts. Right off the bat, I'll be aiming to get my hands on some flights of New Jersey brews (my home state) for themed weeks.

So yeah, much more to come. Cheers!

Friday, August 3, 2012

How to get those rare and limited beers?

Sometimes you might check out this blog and say, "Cool beer, how do I get it?" Then you realize the beer is not available in your state or, even worse, only had a very limited run. For example, a recent beer I intended to review only had about 100 bottles ever produced. Nonetheless, I got my hands on it. This is the beer. (Sorry for the lack of review, folks. Didn't get around to it. But if you want some, email me at ericsanjuan@gmail.com, because I think my local shop has some as of August 2012.)

And many beers I have reviewed -- and even more I haven't, like the upcoming AWESOME FRUIT BEERS I will review -- aren't even available in the state I'm writing from, New Jersey.


The good beers available in my state (and yours), that's easy. Just find the best liquor/beer store you can. Search around. Check hole-in-the-wall joints if you have to. Find a shop willing to bring in good stuff. And then be cool with the people there. I don't mean kiss up just so you can get good beer. That's lame. These are people, after all. I mean realize some of these guys are your fellow beer geeks, people you'd get along with anyway, so TALK TO THEM. Good shops will eventually remember you. If you're a good customer they'll set aside good stuff at your request. If you treat people well, they'll treat you well.

But what about stuff not available in your area?

Here's how I get beers like Son of a Peach, Russian River Temptation, Bell's Oarmans Ale, or Telegraph Gypsy Ale, none of which are available in my state. And it's simple.

I trade for them. And I get this in return (clock for a bigger view):



BOOM!

Yep. Trading. There is a robust beer trading scene online through which you can swap beers from all over the country, and sometimes the world. I've traded with fellow beer geeks from California, Georgia, Wisconsin and elsewhere to obtain beers I couldn't get elsewhere. (Wisconsin, for real, because WOW New Glarus sure is awesome.)

It's pretty easy. You get in contact with a trader offering something cool, offer them something cool in return, exchange details, and ship out your beer. Keep in mind, it's not legal to ship by the post office. Most traders ship by FedEx or UPS. But it works fine. Just operate in good faith and be smart enough to deal only with people who have a good rep and you'll be fine.

Anyway, here are some good tips to get you started. I trade through beertrade on Reddit, but many other communities, such as Beer Advocate, host even bigger trading communities. Just have some good beer available to you, get online, and start trading! It's pretty fun, you can get beers you couldn't otherwise, and opening a package of beers you've never seen before is AWESOME.

It really is. Imagine getting this package from Wisconsin:



You know it.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

It's National IPA Day!

Guess what, kids? Today is the second annual IPA Day! It's a day when beer geeks all across the world lift a glass and toast the style that just might be the most popular in craft beer today. While you're getting ready to crack a bottle and tip a glass, surf over to the official IPA Day website for some pretty fantastic recipes (because cooking with beer is almost always awesome).

When you're done, take a look at some of my favorite IPAs, including Bell's Two-Hearted Ale, Sixpoint's amazing Resin, and Stone's Japanese Green Tea IPA (which is sadly no longer available).

And then when you're done with that, take a look at this lovely photo gallery of just a few of the killer IPAs I've had the last year or so but haven't bothered to review. If you can't find one you love in there, you aren't trying hard enough.

Happy IPA Day, and cheers!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Lost Abbey crashes a beer tasting in STYLE

The Lost Abbey is an excellent went coast brewery known for their top shelf Belgian-style and sour beers. Their brews only became available in my neck of the woods within the last year or so, and based on what I've had so far they're well worth seeking out. Since hitting my state, I've been known to sip a fine Lost Abbey brew while engaging in some board gaming fun.

But no amount of board gaming is as cool as what happened to a group of beer geeks who had gotten together for a Lost Abbey tasting. As the host explained on Reddit, their goal was to gather some of the brewery's rare beers in one place so folks could get a chance to taste beers they otherwise might not have been able to get.

What they didn't expect was for Tomme Arthur, Lost Abbey's head brewer, to show up at their door with some of the brewery's most sought after beer in hand.

Check out the video by Lost Abbey:






The sound you hear is hardcore beer geeks weeping with envy. That is incredibly cool of the folks at Lost Abbey to do. Even just showing up would have been a treat -- brewers are fun people to talk to because they love talking about their craft -- but to bring those ultra-rare beers is just icing on the cake.

Makes me want to go get me some Lost Abbey beer.

From the Cellar: Dogfish Head Theobroma

Another entry into the From the Cellar series, this one showcases a bottle of Dogfish Head's Theobroma, a late spring seasonal beer that is part of their lineup of ancient ales. This rather unusual brew is made with cocoa powder and cocoa nibs, honey, chilies and annatto (fragrant tree seeds).

I happen to be a big fan of their forays into beer's past. They're offbeat and unusual, almost never what you expect from a beer, but they're almost always interesting enough to be worth a try.

One year isn't all that long to sit on a beer, especially one that boasts a big alcohol content and a hefty malt bill like this one, so I expected it would hold up fairly well. The first clue that it didn't was in the absolute lack of a nose. This beer was poured a bit cold, but not too cold, so the lack of aroma is surprising. There is some cocoa in the nose but it's faint. Not chocolatey at all. There are hints of dark berries here, too.

Hmmmm.

The taste is ... well, a year has done this beer no favors. Sure, it's a robust 9% ABV, so it's got the booze to stand up to time, but the delicate balance of chilies and cocoa and honey you get in a fresh bottle is gone. There is still a nice wash of honey there, dipped ever so slightly in cocoa, but the latter is too subtle to be of note. And the ancho chilies and annatto? Gone. Both are present when fresh, adding a hint of spice that rounds out an otherwise sweet brew, but they are nowhere to be found after a year. The primary taste is a silky honey. It's not at all unpleasant, but the complexity of the fresh bottle is gone. Also, as the beer warms the lack of spice contributes to an overly sweet character. Maybe, maybe that sweetness would turn into something nice with a few more years time, but it's doubtful it would top the interesting brew that this is when fresh.

Many Dogfish Head beers lay down pretty nicely. Beers like Word Wide Stout, 120 Minute IPA, and Burton Baton are known for aging wonderfully.

This one, alas, doesn't.

BEER: Dogfish Head Theobroma
VINTAGE: 2011
TIME AGED: 1 year
NOTES: n/a

VERDICT: Do not cellar. This beer is best enjoyed fresh.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Quick Sips: Telegraph Gypsy Ale

Right now, the trendy style among craft beer enthusiasts is sour, sour, sour. Here's one more for the list. This one is from Telegraph Brewing Company out of California ... and sadly, it's only available in California and Arizona. Gypsy Ale is brewed with rye, unmalted wheat, and locally grown plums, and is then fermented with Brettanomyces, which is a type of yeast commonly used in so-called wild ales.

Pour it and you can smell that it's a sour beer. Very funky, very sour nose. It's got a wild tang to the aroma. Take a sip and the 8% ABV isn't well hidden. There is some warming alcohol here, though it's not unpleasant. You can taste hints of light fruit cutting through the puckeringly sour of the beer. The beer is highly carbonated, maybe a little too much. Tickles its way through your mouth and diffusing some of the nice fruit hiding behind the tartness.

Overall, a nice beer that I'd like to have again. If I did ratings I'd probably call this one a 7/10. This beer is a seasonal typically available starting in the late summer.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Win one of my books!

If you follow my main blog then you know I'm not only a beer geek, I'm also an author. Well, I'm giving away a signed copy of a book I contributed to, Geek Wisdom: The Sacred Teachings of Nerd Culture (Quirk Books 2011). This book has been a huge hit among fans of all things science-fiction, comic book, fantasy, and just plain cool.

And it's easy to win one. Do nothing more than surf over to Your Awesome Editor on Facebook and "like" the page.
That's it. It's that easy. If you are not on Facebook and don't want to be, instead share this link on Twitter and post a link in the comments of this post (and let me know about it on Twitter while you're at it). From all "likes" received on Facebook or confirmed Twitter shares between now and Midnight, July 15, a winner will be randomly selected and contacted via Facebook or Twitter. And then you get your signed book.

I told you it was easy, didn't I?

Oh yeah, and for full disclosure, not only am I one of the coauthors of Geek Wisdom, I am also the founder of Your Awesome Editor.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Bitches Brew is on its way

Dogfish Head's Bitches Brew, a Miles Davis-inspired beer that just might be my favorite offering from Dogfish Head, will be returning in September. According to a posting on their Facebook page:

We're brewing the three threads of imperial stout for Bitches Brew today. The fourth thread (a honey beer with gesho root) was brewed on Friday. The threads will be blended and the 2012 Bitches Brew will be hitting retailers in September!

This is fantastic news! Bitches Brew is a real treat. The honey beer (actually an Ethiopian honey wine called Tej) works wonderfully with the hefty imperial stout that forms of the base of this brew, giving you a roasty, rich beverage that leaves you with a pleasant honey sweetness on the tip of your tongue. Delicious stuff well worth seeking out -- but grab it fast, because this beer always flies right off the shelves. If you know your retailer well, as them to save a bottle for you, because this beer often sells out within 48 hours.

In the meantime, I have some bottles stashed away from each of the last two batches. I may have to break one out for my From The Cellar series, hmmm?

Friday, June 29, 2012

Quick Sips: Dogfish Head Saison du Buff

This collaboration between Dogfish Head, Victory, and Stone is an odd one, a traditional saison turned on its head with heavy doses of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.

Yes, you read that correctly.

And it tastes how it sounds.

The aroma is herbal, more akin to smelling food than drink. It's as if you opened the herb cabinet and stuck your head in. The rosemary and sage jump to the fore, and though it's not included, I get bits of oregano and a touch of mint. It's just a big, swirling mass of aroma.

Tip the glass to take a sip and you get a dose of WOW, a huge blast of herbs and spices that simply BEG to be paired with a meal. The herbs and spices are so up front that any of the Earthy, spicy qualities of a traditional saison are difficult to spot in the aroma and all but impossible to lift from the taste. This may be called a saison, but the reality is, it's an herb beer.

Do not, do NOT, drink this without a meal. Paired with food it's strangely delicious. The first time I had this beer I paired it with seasoned fish, potatoes, and artichoke. This time I drank it while eating a few ears of corn on the cob soaked in butter, which came after chipolte pork ribs and perogies with onions. It paired wonderfully with the latter combo.

On its own, however, the beer is just too loaded down with herbs and spices to drink on its own. A few sips, sure, but not a whole bottle.

Saison du Buff is brewed and released separately by each of the three collaborating breweries, so expect slight differences in each release. Find out more about this beer at Dogfish Head's website.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Quick Sips: Fegley's Insidious Imperial Sout

Folks in the Leigh Valley of Pennsylvania may know Fegley's as the BrewWorks, a group of brewpubs serving towns like Allentown and Bethlehem. Fro beer drinkers outside that area, we know them as an up and coming craft brewer trying to gain attention on the nation stage.

Here we've got their Insidious Imperial Stout, their big honkin' entry into a big honkin' category best defined by big alcohol and HUGE flavors. Unfortunately, when compared to amazing and affordable entries like Stone Russian Imperial Stout, this one just doesn't hold up. For a big imperial stout (it clocks in at 9% ABV) the aroma is really subdued. Some sweet malts, but not much else. No notes of roasted coffee or sweet chocolate. Hmmm. Not expecting much from the taste, then.

And yep, what we've got here is a tasty enough imperial stout that is perfectly serviceable. The beer ain't bad, make no mistake. I'm happy to be drinking it. It's quite nice. Nice, but also unimpressive. Which, sadly, has been my experience with Fegley's. You get these gorgeous corked bottles and you want to be floored with an outstanding beer. Instead, what you get is pretty good beer ... which is great and all, but not what you hoped for for when you see that impressive bottle.

Though in all fairness, I should note that the prices on these Fegley's brews tends to be fantastic. For instance, this beer was about $7. Bargain city! In keeping with the taste, sure, but $7 for this corked bomber is a nice deal for what is a good but not great imperial stout.

So would I ever pass up this beer? Hell no. I wouldn't go out of my way to get it, but if it ended up in my glass I'd still be a happy drinker.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

New Jersey wines score well against top-rated French wines

The New Yorker is reporting that in a blind tasting against some of the world's premier French wines, New Jersey reds and whites were "statistically undistinguishable" from those top-ranked French wines. From the story:

The Judgment of Princeton didn’t quite end with a Jersey victory—a French wine was on top in both the red and white categories—but, in terms of the reassurance for those with valuable wine collections, it might as well have. Clos des Mouches only narrowly beat out Unionville Single Vineyard and two other Jersey whites, while Ch√Ęteau Mouton Rothschild and Haut-Brion topped Heritage’s BDX. The wines from New Jersey cost, on average, about five per cent as much as their French counterparts.

So by all means, spend three figures on a bottle of world-renown wine if it makes you happy, but if you just want a glass of something nice without breaking the bank, rest assured in knowing that even the experts can barely discern a major difference between high-end French wine and wine made in New Jersey, of all places.

Friday, June 15, 2012

From the Cellar: Dogfish Head Burton Baton

When I pull stuff from storage for the From the Cellar series, I don't necessarily expect much. For personal reasons I'm pulling some of this stuff sooner than I normally would, so a few of these aging experiments are not showcasing the vintages I had hoped to showcase when I first stored them away.

So when I get a pleasant surprise like this one, I'm pretty damn thrilled!

Dogfish Head's Burton Baton is an imperial IPA blend made up of a fresh double IPA and an English-style old ale, both aged in oak barrels for about a month. Though old ales age wonderfully, IPAs are generally not good candidates for aging. Hops and bitterness tend to be among the first things to fade from a beer. In most modern IPAs, being as little as six months out of date can leave you with a beer that tastes like sweet cardboard left in a basement.

With that in mind, on the surface Dogfish Head's Burton Baton, made up largely of a double IPA, doesn't seem like the ideal choice for a beer to be set down for over 12 months.

Still, it's loosely modeled after -- actually, "inspired by" is the more accurate descriptor -- Ballantine Burton Ale, an ultra rare beer that had been aged for decades in oak. This beer may well have what it takes to age well.

And it does. Fourteen months into the aging experiment, pressed for something to drink, I decided to crack one open. The beer did NOT pour as expected. First of all, it poured with a HUGE, thick, creamy tan head that lingered for the entire life of the beer. Completely unexpected for an imperial IPA that was over a year old. The head did not at all dissipate over the course of 45 minutes to an hour of drinking, remaining thick as a light cream throughout that time. Wow!

The aroma, unfortunately, left me worried about how this beer would taste. It was dominated with the musty, faded out hops common to IPAs that are out of date, in this case touched by notes of alcohol and wood.

Based on the aroma, this wasn't going to be good.

I was wrong.

In that first sip you get a mouthful of woody, creamy malt; it's thick and tasting of oak. You then get hit with subdued hops that are nonetheless nicely bitter, at this point perfectly in balance with the sweetness of the malt. I mean, perfectly. It's as if a year turned this into the beer it wants to be. Fresh Burton is a blast of pine hops, quite tasty indeed, but this ... this is just a damn good, utterly balanced beer with a lot going on in every sip. It's delicious. There are hints of oak in the finish, adding a pleasantly astringent edge, and, despite the big 10% ABV, nary a hint of alcohol.

I am impressed. After a little over a year, this. Beer. Drinks. GREAT. In many ways even better than it does when it is fresh. There is another bottle in my cellar, as well as a bottle of a much older vintage. I can't wait to see how they taste with a few more years on them.

Cellar this one? Absolutely!

BEER: Dogfish Head Burton Baton
VINTAGE: April 201l
TIME AGED: 1 year, 2 months (14 months)
NOTES: This aged brew would pair GREAT with a hearty seasoned fish

VERDICT: This aged FAR better than I expected given its origins. Grab a four-pack and put two away for at least a year!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Craft beer still a bunch of minnows swimming with sharks

You think there is a craft beer explosion in America, right? After all, it's EVERYWHERE. You look in this mainstream publication and there is an article on craft beer, you look at the tap list of that restaurant and you notice that they now have craft beer on tap. That's great! Even your formerly lousy beer shop now carries a great selection of craft beer. For craft beer lovers both aged and young, right now is a beautiful time to be a beer lover. We're in the midst of a revolution!

But are we?

To an extent, yes, we certainly are -- the craft explosion is awesome and inspiring! -- but before we American lovers of good beer get ahead of ourselves and think we're about to conquer the beer world for good, let's take a look at reality.

Craft beer still makes up just about 7% of the American beer marketplace as of August 2010. That sucks. This despite double-digit increases in craft beer for several years in a row. And it ain't no different now in 2012.

Anheuser-Busch InBev, the giant intermultinationalconglomeratejuggernautbeastcorporation best known for Budweiser, is a full 50% of the American beer marketplace. If you want good beer, that sucks. And it gets worse. MillerCoors -- and YES, seeming rivals Miller and Coors are a joint operation, and they are responsible for popular pseudo-craft beers like Blue Moon -- makes up another 29% of the market.

Go ahead. Chew on those numbers for a bit.

We craft beer lovers, we think we're taking over the world. All the evidence appears to be in our favor, too. Growler stations are now commonplace. People are talking about good beer. We can suddenly get decent beer all more easily than ever before. Even crappy beer shops at least carry mainstays like Samuel Adams and Sierra Nevada now, and in the vast majority of cases they carry much more. All of a sudden, being into good beer seems like the NORM.

But it's not. Statistically speaking, we craft beer lovers remain far more likely to encounter a macro drinker than someone who loves craft beer. We are, by the numbers, a deep, deep minority in the beer world. You see, despite the explosion of craft beer, most people (in America, at least) still prefer weak tasting, light lagers.

And that's a fact.

So what does that mean for us enthusiasts?
Not a damn thing. Doesn't matter what Joe Six-Pack drinks as long as we have a wealth of craft beer available to us.

Because dammit, just drink what you like. Enjoy it. SAVOR it. Tell others when they ask what you like and don't throw it in their face when their tastes do not match your own. And maybe, just maybe, you'll win a few converts.

That's all you can ask. 'Cause despite your perceptions, we craft beer lovers are still a HUGE minority. So let's not knock one another when there are bigger targets to knock.

Cheers!

Eric is this beer-drinking author. He is also the founder of Your Awesome Editor. You want some awesome text, he is your guy.