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.


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

Friday, June 1, 2012

Beer & Mythology, a pairing for the ages

Ever notice how many beers are named after gods from mythology or crazy creatures from old fables? A LOT of them. As part of the Philadelphia's Weekly's annual edition celebrating Philly Beer Week, I penned a spiffy little feature about this link between beer and mythology called "There's a Reason So Many Beers Are Named After Myths, Gods and Monsters." Take a gander at an excerpt:

Drinking beer: It’s an act that transcends mere enjoyment, isn’t it? Throughout history, we’ve had an almost spiritual connection with our beer, one that leans toward the most fierce, primal part of who we are as human beings. Whereas wine is seen as civilized, refined, and at times erotic, beer conjures up something quite different—something wild, something untamed.

In ancient days, triumphant warriors returned home from a day of plunder to down their ale while bragging of victory—intoxication swelling each boast into a bloated, fantastical account of deeds that defy human abilities. Small wonder, then, that so many modern beers are named for creatures and heroes out of myth and legend. Osiris Pale Ale. Storm King. Griffin’s Bow. From Egyptian gods to hidden beasts seen only in fleeting glimpses, we attach a level of EPIC to our brews that no other beverage can match. The idea of Odin’s Beard coffee or Serpent’s Tail orange juice would strike us as silly, but when it comes to beer, it just seems natural.

Part of the reason is that beerlike beverages go back at least 9,000 years, predating recorded human history. In a sense, they have been with us for as long as there has been an “us.”