Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Quick Sips: Weyerbacher Fireside Ale

I like me some Weyerbacher, enough so that I even toured the Weyerbacher Brewery. On the surface, this brewery has historically looked like shit because they had awful labels. Sorry, label guys, but it's true. You shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but in the real world people do, and beers as good as Weyerbacher's should not be subject to such awfulness as this ... and that's a mild example. I went with something easy to Google.

Thankfully they underwent a total label reinvention last year, so maybe now more people will start paying attention to their great beer.

Anyway, Fireside Ale is their take on a smoked beer. Best I can tell, this was last released in the fall of 2011 -- so yeah, this review is late to the party! (I drank this and took these notes in late winter/early spring 2012.)

The beer pours a rich brown with a modest, fizzy head. There is nutty, caramel malt in the aroma, but no smoke to speak of. I've had smoked beers that smelled like bacon (and didn't like them), so the approachable aroma was welcome.

And sure enough, the taste was smokey but approachable, too. Hints of smoke in the middle and finish, but not strong and not bacony, only just enough to give it a pleasant, Earthy taste. There is mild sweetness in the middle, but not nearly as much as the nose suggests.

I really liked this. This is an accessible smoke beer. One of the most accessible I’ve had, in fact. It pairs fantastic with meat and drinks nice. A "starter" smoked beer, maybe, but for someone who doesn't care for the deep smoke of high-octane smoked beers I really enjoyed this.

Too bad it looks like they don't make it anymore.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

HOMEBREWING: Summer weiss, one year later

In March 2011, I brewed a hefty summer weiss, a high(ish) gravity wheat beer fermented with Belgian yeast inspired by a recipe by Brewer's Apprentice. It was a beer intended for the summer months, something delicious and enjoyable for the warm weather, perfect for a fat slice of orange. And indeed, it was. I had brewed this beer two other times before to good results -- goes GREAT with an orange slice -- and looked forward to another batch.

Unfortunately, the beer was a dud. It never fully fermented out, leaving it overly thick and sweet, like a carbonated beer syrup. The coriander and orange peel I brewed it with were buried in all that sweetness. The result was that it was a beer I rarely opened because I just plain didn't like it.

That's why, some 15 months after I first brewed it, I still had a few bottles left. And amazingly, they were better more than a year after brewing than they were when fresh. Look how pretty it was:

This will not surprise some. One common theme you hear in homebrewing is, "Time heals all wounds."

That's not entirely true, of course. A bad beer is a bad beer. I've had lousy batches that stayed lousy. But the idea is, be PATIENT. Don't rush to judgement, and if you're not sure about your homebrew, don't drink it all right away.

With this beer, it was a much different beer than it was when fresh, so it's not as if it turned out the way I intended. It was far from the refreshing beer it was meant to be, but what it turned out to be was still good. It was an interesting, malty sipper with some compelling complexities from the Belgian yeast used.

Had I dumped this or given it away or rushed through drinking it just to be done with it, I'd never have known that the seeming dud I had would eventually turn out to be really good. And it's not the first time I brewed something that was ugly at first but that got tasty with time.

Homebrewers, be patient. Time doesn't actually heal ALL wounds, but it sure as hell heals a lot of them.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Quick Sips: He'Brew Funky Jewbelation blended barrel-aged sour ale

The He'Brew line by Shmaltz Brewing tend to be big and interesting, but few have been as interesting as this blend of six big fat ales aged in bourbon and rye whiskey barrels. A bunch of beers from their line (many limited) were aged anywhere from 3 months to over a year in these barrels, and then were blended together to make this beer.

Oh yeah, and for good measure, it's a sour beer, too.

When your blended beer outlines a bunch of brews that look like barrel-aged monsters stuffed into bourbon and rye-whiskey casks, the last thing you expect is for it to smell SOUR. Yet it does. Turns out the "funky" part of the name means it's a wild ale. Totally unexpected when I bought this! Maybe I should have read up on it first ... ?

Nah. Buying blind is half the fun of trying new beers.

Anyway, the aroma is like a boozy malt vinegar, but in a pleasant way (if you can imagine it). The taste follows suit. There is good sourness upfront with booze that quickly slices through. There is a lot happening behind this -- this beer is a blend of some tasty and imposing ales, after all -- but the taste finishes on rye whiskey that is, again, sour. Those two elements dominate everything else. The backbone of this beer wants to be a nice brown ale, but there is so much pure FUNK happening that all the brown is funked right out of it.

Throw in the whiskey and bourbon and it threatens to be a mess. At times it is, and at times it's a mess of joy. Hard to decide which, but I lean towards the former. This is an interesting, complex beer, but there might be a little too much going on for its own good. Hard to wrap my head around it with just one bottle.

If you like challenging beers and the idea of a barrel-aged dark sour sounds good to you, worth picking up if you can still find it. IF. I drank this (and wrote most of this) about a year ago.