Friday, December 30, 2011

505. Fremont Brewing Bourbon Abominable 2011

Today’s goals were modest: check out a couple of things in Seattle, go shopping at REI, and then head to Fremont to tour the Fremont Brewery. After all, breweries in Seattle are like Simpsons reruns: ubiquitous and yet silently informing our national consciousness. (Note: I spent 20 minutes trying to come up with an appropriate simile involving Dayton, but I failed miserably. My only consolation: Elli couldn’t come up with one either. Jeffrey and Kevin, the ball is in your court.) Which means that we need to choose carefully. Fremont Brewing is at the top of the list—after I tried the Harvest Ale, they jumped to the front of the line. Damn, that beer was good. Plus, they decided to tap a keg of their Bourbon Abominable Winter Ale today, which is the regular Abominable Winter Ale aged in bourbon barrels. Thank you, beer gods, for always making me feel like a rock star.

Fremont Brewing’s tasting room is located on the edge of the brewery—our table looked down a row of the fermenters. While I chose the Bourbon Abominable (try saying that 10 times fast, by the way), Elli went with Interurban IPA, which was super-fresh and yummy—the hop aroma itself was worth the price of admission, and the rest of the beer followed suit. Bourbon Abominable, or B-Bomb, pours a rich, deep chocolate with a long lasting tan head. The nose is bourbon and chocolate mixed with burnt sugar, vanilla, and a touch of oak. The front features flavors of caramel, burnt sugar, toffee, and vanilla, while the middle exudes creamy bourbon and chocolate. The mouthfeel here is also slightly slick, like you would find in an oatmeal stout, and the finish features a touch of roasted malt with chocolate and coffee, followed by vanilla and oak. The carbonation is light, while the mouthfeel is chewy yet slick—the medium-heavy mouthfeel is simultaneously rounded and smooth while also rich, even, and creamy. There is some alcohol warmth and flavor, but this is still a young beer. The key element to describe this beer is balance—while it is a big beer, it is far smoother and more evenly balanced than many other similar bourbon barrel-aged beers. Part of this might be via the winter ale body, but I think it also has something to do with production—there is bourbon flavor, but only as it complements the beer. A damn fine beer that will only get better.

From the Fremont website: “Lovingly referred to by Fremonters as the B-BOMB, this bourbon barrel-aged edition of our winter ale has a warming spicy aroma and rich carmelly notes of bourbon, wood and vanilla added to dark roasty chocolatey malt flavors and subtle hopping.”

ABV: 9.5%
Malts: Pale, Crystal, Munich, Roast Barley, Chocolate & Carafa
Hops: Centennial, Willamette & Goldings

I also tried the Universal Pale Ale Shandy cask—this beer featured their normal UPA, but had a bag of ginger and lemon zest in the cask. The nose was lemon and lightly hoppy, while the front was a mix of lemon citrus and ginger bite, leading into a gentle bitterness that rolls into the finish—flavors were fresh, clean, and sharp. While there was a slightly astringent note that lingered on the tongue, the beer as a whole was pleasant. The one criticism would be that this beer might not be best served as a cask—it would be better with some brighter, spritzier carbonation. But I was told that this was day 2 on the cask before I got it, so I was given due diligence.

Oh, and I do feel compelled to observe: B-Bomb is just more proof that West Coast breweries invented and perfected the Winter Ale. So suck it.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

504. Lost Abbey Red Poppy Ale

It’s been a while since we had a beer from Lost Abbey, so it was nice to come across a bottle of this during our sojourns through various NW beer retailers. Described on the label as a “malt beverage brewed with cherries and aged in oak barrels,” Red Poppy gets added to a list of Lost Abbey beers that include Angel’s Share 2010, Serpent Stout 2009, Carnevale Ale and Avant Garde Ale, making this one lucky number five.

Red Poppy Ale pours a crystal clear reddish brown, which Elli says is burnt sienna. The head is thin and eggshell, hanging around briefly but rousing easily, while the nose is a mix of fruitiness, tartness, mustiness, and cherry. Maybe a touch of funk thrown in for good measure. Flavors start sweet and sharp, with competing tart and vinegar sourness palate sensations—the body is thin and dry like we expected, but also lively on the tongue. There is a fair amount of cherry in the middle, along with a more even sourness and some mineral dryness. Red Poppy finishes dry and musty with the lingering flat cherry flavor common to beers with cherries—slightly acidic in its own right, accompanied by a touch of tongue curling astringency. As noted, the body is bone dry with bright lively carbonation on the tongue. The beer is delicious—hell, it’s from Lost Abbey—but the cherry flavor does limit and impede the traditional complexity we connect with Flanders red, specifically in the middle of the beer—the cherry sweetness covers and minimizes the dry puckering sourness that makes beads of perspiration emerge on my cheeks. Still, we’d happily drink more—we’re just saying that while the overall effect of the cherry on the beer is delightful, it is still slightly overwhelming.

From the Lost Abbey website: “Perhaps no country embraces the use of fruit in beers more so than Belgium. Numerous traditional as well as regional specialty ales are infused with every sort of fruit imaginable. In this way, the flavor of the fruit becomes especially prominent. Red Poppy Ale is a veritable celebration of Sour Cherries in an explosion of aromas and tastes. Brewed from a brown ale base and aged in our oak barrels for over 6 months, this beer is not for the faint of heart.”

ABV: 5.0%


Monday, December 26, 2011

503. Widmer Nelson Imperial IPA

Alright, it is time to get down to brass tacks. We’ve been in Seattle for a week (yes, we’re in Seattle—I know it is so hard to keep track of our incessant shenanigans), and have been lollygagging around. Much like another Lolli I know. Anyway. Widmer. And the Nelson Sauvin hop. It is all the rage with the kids now-a-days. Or something. This beer comes from the 924 Series, which when I searched the Widmer site came back with nothing. So it’s like the Rotator series, but more secret. Again, or something. Surprisingly, only our second beer from Widmer—the last one being Drifter Pale Ale, way back in ’09. How far you going back? Way back. As we go a little something like this...

Nelson Imperial IPA pours a hazy copper, much like a bright shiny penny, with an eggshell colored head that sticks around rather well. The nose is a mix of hop spiciness and caramel malt, with the caramel standing in for the more delicate aromas. A small amount of fruitiness does peek out from behind the caramel, however. Elli describes it as “banana-like fruitiness—not the banana-clove, but the starchy sweet banana aroma of fruit.” I get tropical fruit, but have little to offer besides that. Aromas are more perfume-y as the beer opens up, allowing the tropical fruitiness to come out in the beer. Flavors start with the caramel sweetness and hop spiciness of the nose, although it is still soft on the palate. The tropical fruitiness starts to emerge in the middle, along with a gentle bitterness, leading to the bright floral finish—there are touches of apple and pear, and more of the tropical fruit leading into the concluding bitterness. Nelson Imperial also finishes lightly spritzy; while it starts rather heavy on the palate, it finishes lighter and brighter. There is a good amount of lingering bitterness, albeit of a gentler variety—no sharpness or harshness. A decent beer overall, but it does strike us as rather unbalanced—there is an abundance of caramel malt that covers over the more delicate components of the Nelson Sauvin hop. Or, as Jeffrey would describe it, this is something of a caramel bomb. We’d like to see someone make a light, easy-drinking APA with a boatload of Nelson Sauvin so we can experience the nuanced descriptors ascribed to this hop. Because a caramel-heavy Imperial seems the wrong route to nuance—this beer doesn’t earn its size. Maybe that’s just us. But I doubt it.

From the Widmer website: “Take your taste buds on a journey to the far side of the world. New Zealand’s legendary Nelson Sauvin hop gives us a powerful hoppy character, but none of the heaviness you sometimes find in Imperial IPAs. The result is a big brew with a sweet, malty character that perfectly balances the intense hop aroma and flavor.”

ABV: 8.6%
IBU: 70
Malt: 2-row Pale, Carapils, Caramel 10L
Hops: Alchemy, Nelson Sauvin, Cascade, Willamette
Bottled: August 29, 2011

Didn’t expect the Cockney rhyming slang angle, did you?


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

502. Prodigal Son Christmas Carol(e)

When you’re on a long road trip, an interesting destination along the way makes the time pass faster. Our destination: Prodigal Son in Pendleton, OR. And since we’ve never been one to let a little thing like 2,147 miles get in our way of fun, off we went! Only one problem: when we got to Prodigal Son, they were featuring a whole slew of guest taps by Terminal Gravity, which is in Enterprise, OR. Foiled again. Or, in the immortal words of Homer Simpson, d’oh! Prodigal Son did, however, have their winter warmer, Christmas Carol(e), on tap, so we started with that, followed by Terminal Gravity IPA.

Christmas Carol(e) was served in an 8 oz. glass (ahem—we did have to drive another 300 hundred miles, thank you very much); the beer was copper brown with a long-lasting tan head. The nose was super-delicious—it was a mix of fruit and esters with a touch of alcohol—and it pretty much embodied the “old ale-like” character Elli pointed to last week in the Ill-Tempered Gnome. Christmas Carol(e) starts with a mix of fruit and bread, specifically fig, pear, and apple, mixed with bread and caramel malt; in the middle, there is a lighter fruit character and a touch of alcohol. There are also hints of malt chewiness, but it tastes a bit too young to come fully through, while the finish is clean with a touch of heat and alcohol lingering on the palate. The mouthfeel has a corresponding light alcohol warmth that fits with the lighter, gentler carbonation. Christmas Carol(e) is good but young; I’d love to see what this turns into next year at this time. A good first impression. I would have loved to try Bruce/Lee Porter (one of the reasons we stopped here), but I guess it wasn’t meant to be. Maybe on the way home.

From the Prodigal Son website: “The Christmas Carol has arrived–A seasonal winter warmer featuring Golden Promise and French Aromatic malts. Dark Crystal and Belgian Candi sugar mingle with herbal Noble Hop bitterness, creating a beer which is ideal for any celebration.”

ABV: 9.0%
IBU: 62

Terminal Gravity IPA came in an imperial pint glass (nice touch, Prodigal Son), and was a hazy caramel—it looked like liquid Werther’s. The head was thin and white, but hung on like the dickens, while the nose was a delicious mix of spicy and resin hop aromas with a touch of floral in the background and clean hop bitterness. This beer was also super fresh and tasty—the hop aroma jumped out of the glass, and flavors really danced on the palate. Flavors started with restrained bread and biscuit malt, along with floral and citrus hop flavors mixed with a slight fruitiness that tasted yeast derived, although we could be wrong. A pleasant clean bitterness also began in the front and continued into the middle, which also contained a faint hint of caramel malt followed by spicy hop flavors. The finish saw a return of the bread flavors before concluding with a lingering clean bitterness. The body was medium as was the carbonation, although it was bright on the palate. The breadiness builds on the palate as the beer warms, as does the hop spiciness, revealing a touch of alcohol warmth. There is also a slight astringent/vegetal note that emerges as the beer warms. Nonetheless, a delicious, approachable, and super-drinkable beer. Too bad we couldn’t stick around for more. But the sweet siren song of the road was calling....

From the Terminal Gravity website: “Terminal Gravity’s ‘India Pale Ale’ is pale copper in color but big in flavor with a heady hop character. It is a true beer drinkers beer and brings a smile to many a face. We use spring water and snow melt from high in the Eagle Cap Wilderness! This is the beer that was named Beer of the Year by the Oregonian.”

ABV: 6.9%
OG: 15.2° P
FG: 3.2° P

Funny side note: all of this photos were shot blind. I broke the viewing screen to our digital camera some time during the first two days of the trip. Color me smooth. Turned out alright, though.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Rockit Cup Alt Brewday

It’s time for more Rockit Cup action. And I’m getting a purposeful head-start on this one, since I’lll be incognito for a couple of weeks traveling for the holidays. Plus, this way, the recipe is posted somewhere. Or at least a partial version, since I came in below the 1.054 OG, and I mashed for 90 minutes instead 60. So sue me. But I blame that on the Post Office, and the damn long lines. Yes, I ran to the Post Office while mashing. It’s called multi-tasking. And at least I’m brewing, dagnabit. You hear me, DRAFT?

107. Rockit Cup Alt
10 lbs. Weyerman Dark Munich

Mash @ 149° F for 90 minutes w/ 5 gallons of RO water; collected 3 ¼ gallons @ 1.068; first wort hopped w/ 4 oz. German Hallertau leaf 3.3% AA—added to boil pot before running hot wort from mash into it, and left them there for the entire boil
Batch sparge @ 168° F for 20 minutes w/ 3 gallons RO water; collected 3 ¼ gallons @ 1.022

Collected 6 ½ gallons; brought to a boil (60 minutes) and added:
w/15 to go: 1 tsp. Irish moss

Chilled & racked and pitched Wyeast 1007 German Ale

Brewed: 12/17/2011 @ 68° F; dropped to 62° F by morning
Secondary: ——
Bottled: 2/2/2012 w/ 3.0 oz. table sugar

OG: 1.048
FG: 1.012

Tasting Notes: I wasn’t here for this Rockit Cup, although I passed a six-pack along to Jeffrey for the judging, which came down to Jeffrey and myself. According to the story I heard, Jeffrey had Tim judge the two beers, who dubbed mine to have an off-flavor in the finish. So Jeffrey won. According to Jeffrey. To quote my favorite 1980’s anti-communist propaganda flick, Red Dawn (hello—what else would it be?): “Son, all that hate’s gonna burn you up, kid.” To which our high school commie-killing hero, C. Thomas Howell, replies “No, it keeps me warm.” Now that’s some classic teen angst and ennui, 80’s style. But as per usual, I’ve allowed my love of bad film to distract me from the task at hand. Which is doubting on Jeffrey. Take that, the Freshinator.

Rockit Cup Alt pours a warm copper infused with orange—one might call it an almost luminescent burnt umber, but I wouldn’t—with a thin white head that hangs around in wispish small islands. There are also some inviting garnet highlights that come through the glass on the table. The nose is toast and bread crust with hop bitterness in the background; there are also some beguiling biscuit and malt fruitiness that is quite tantalizing—this wasn’t appropriately lagered, so I do feel compelled to note that the yeast esters are probably “not to style.” But that Dark Munich malt does something fantastic. Flavors start grainy and lightly fruity with plenty of bread dough and biscuit malt flavors before giving way to bitterness and malt sweetness in the middle—it is simultaneously dry and rounded on the mouth. The sweetness drops in the finish, although there is a touch of fruitiness as the lingering bitterness washes over the palate. Dry, clean, and delicious—the body is medium, as is the carbonation, while the bitterness and sweetness are well balanced. I do like the 100% Dark Munich grain bill—the malt complexity in this beer is delightful and delicious, and something I do hope to revisit soon. Go Rockit Cup!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Saison w/ Brett B Brewday

Mostly more of the same, sans dandelion. But might as well stock up while the getting is good. And/or the yeast cake is waiting. I switched up the grain bill a bit, mostly to compare the residual flavors that were left over after the brett worked its magic, and upped the hopping rates, bringing it more in line with both 87 and 93, two versions of funked beers that were dee-licious. So we’ll see. Hope hope.

Monkeys brewing beer? That’s ridiculous!

106. Saison w/ Brett B
4 lbs. Muntons Pale Malt (Pearl)
2 lbs. MFB Pilsen
2 lbs. MFB Aromatic
1 lb. Breiss White Wheat
1 lb. Dingemans Cara 20
1 lb. Acidulated Malt
¾ lb. Weyerman Light Munich

Mash @ 150° F for 70 minutes w/ 5 gallons of RO water, 4 g. gypsum added; collected 3 ¼ gallons @ 1.064
Batch sparge @ 168° F for 20 minutes w/ 3 gallons RO water; collected 3 gallons @ 1.028

Collected 6 ¼ gallons; brought to a boil (60 minutes) and added:

w/60 to go: 1 ½ oz. Magnum pellet 10% AA

w/15 to go: 1 tsp. Irish moss

w/10 to go: 1 oz. Simcoe leaf 14.1% AA

w/5 to go: 1 oz. Centennial leaf 11.5% AA

Chilled & racked onto cake of Wyeast 3711 French Saison & Wyeast 5112 Brettanomyces bruxellensis from 102.

Brewed: 12/16/2011 @ 70° F

OG: 1.050

Tasting Notes:

Thursday, December 15, 2011

501. Oakshire Brewing Ill-Tempered Gnome Winter Ale

“I appreciate the bitterness. From the nose, I thought it would be a bit sticky sweet, but it’s not.” Elli

Our first beer from Oakshire Brewing, located in lovely Eugene, OR. Damn, I miss Eugene. Can anyone tell me if Frog is still around? I found one of his joke books in my last move, and that took me way, way back. But I digress; Oakshire started in October 2006, well after my time there. Still, it makes me nostalgic, as Oakshire pretty much has their rhymes right and their game tight.

Ill-Tempered Gnome pours a mix of orange and mahogany, with a light tan head that rouses rather easily. It appears mostly clear in the glass, although there might be a slight chill haze. Aromas combine brown malt and candy sweetness—it’s a mixture of English and Belgian, with the elements Elli describes as “old ale-like” winning out. There are also hints of biscuit malt and fruit hiding in the back. As it warms, Elli’s “old ale-like” character increases—there is a bready fruit component that strikes me as figgy bread pudding. Flavors start sweet and bright (and yes, I find that an odd description as well) with biscuit and brown malt; there is a hint of caramel and molasses in the middle before the sharp, clean bitterness takes over. Some of the brown malt comes back in the finish—present as a touch of roast and almost but not quite chocolate—but it is in a losing battle with the bitterness, which lingers pleasantly on the back of the throat. As Elli notes above, the body is lighter than expected—it is medium, with the hop bitterness further contributing to lightening the beer on the palate. The bitterness does pick up as the beer warms, but that’s almost petty to note—this is a winter ale we can both get behind. And, as I am sure Jeffrey is just waiting to blurt out in the comments, no one should be surprised by that. Because as we all well know, West Coast breweries both invented and perfected the winter ale. And yes, that is a fact so transparent, it needs no justification. Now if they’d only do something about all those damn pumpkin ales. Nice work, Oakshire.

From the bottle: “Take a little gnome home this winter! However, don’t put him in the front yard. The neighbors might steal him & he’ll definitely lose his cool! He’s a malty, hoppy brown ale of pure winter deliciousness. Enjoy!”

ABV: 6.8%
IBU: 65
OG: 15.5° P


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

500. Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien 2006

Our 500th beer. Dag. Well, I guess it’s time to go fancy. Described on the label as a Swiss Ale de Garde aged in oak barrels, this bottle of Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien was brewed by Jérôme Rebetez at Brasserie des Franches-Montagnes in Jura, Switzerland. Which also makes this our first Swiss beer, unless I am mistaken (and upon checking, I’m not, although I did make a sweet Switzerland joke here).

Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien pours a hazy and slightly muddy caramel, although chestnut might also be appropriate. It also has some red hints to it as well. The head is thin and white, and barely hung around long enough for this picture. A thin ring is maintained around the edge of the glass by the tiny white bubbles wending their way through the beer. The nose is tart and sharp—it made my mouth water just from smelling it. There is also some dark fruit behind the acetic sharpness, and a touch of alcohol. When we first opened it, there was a brief perfume-y spiciness that dissipated quickly. As it warms, the vinegar becomes more pronounced, but also merges more with the fruit to offer a delightful olfactory treat. Flavors start sweet, sharp, and dry—a pleasant combination of yeast, oak, and age. The acetic acid sharpness is balanced by the residual sweetness in the body, taking on an almost sherry quality as the beer warms. As the initial vinegar tang wanes, the beer further dries on the palate in the middle, allowing both oak and alcohol to emerge in the finish; nonetheless, the sharp tartness continues to linger on the palate well after the other flavors have disappeared. The initial tart bite is enough to bring a slight flush to my cheeks after a couple of sips, allowing the sharp initial snap to blend with the gentler lingering sour flavors and creating a delicious harmony. The alcohol is well-hidden but evident; there is, after all, only so much you can do with a lighter-bodied 11% beer. Elli thinks it would be improved by lowering the alcohol a bit, which I agree with, and that the lingering vinegar sharpness is annoying, which I don’t. Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien could also use an increased complexity of flavors beyond the acetic tartness. While the acidity is subtle and complex, it does get a bit one-dimensional by about two-thirds of the way through the bottle, and added warmth tends to further flatten the other characteristics. Nonetheless, a solid and interesting beer—some of the 2010 just turned up at Belmont Party Supply, so I may have to buy a bottle of that to salt away for future posterity. And here’s to 500 more!

From the Brasserie des Franches-Montagnes website: “L’Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien, Strong sour ale, 11% vol. est un réel OVNI, c’est une bière brassée en l’honneur de l’ancienne chatte de la brasserie, sanctifiée lors de sa disparition. Cette cuvée aux reflets rouges-ambrés est mûrie pendant de longs mois dans des fûts de chêne ayant déjà contenu du vin ou des eaux-de-vie. Ces fûts donneront des arômes très complexes à cette bière. En bouche, elle rappelle la trame d’un vin rouge fruité avec une acidité très marquée.”

ABV: 11%
No. on bottle: 00276
Brewed: 2006
Blended: April 2007


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

499. Founders Nemesis 2010

Nemesis is a beer Founders makes once a year, and every year (well, all two thus far) it is different; as it says on the label, “every batch diabolically brewed to decimate ordinary-average-run-of-the-mill tasting beer.” Sounds about right for Founders. Make it big, make it meaty, make it for Michigan’s brutally long winter. How else do you end up with a 12% beer with 100 IBUs? How else indeed! Fittingly, this is our tenth beer from Founders, including Newaygo County Cherry, Devil Dancer, Pale Ale, KBS (as a bonus beer), Centennial IPA, Black Biscuit, Harvest Ale and Breakfast Stout.

Described on the label as “anti-establishment ale,” Nemesis 2010 pours a rich deep chocolate with ruby highlights; it is crystal clear, albeit dark, and has just the waftiest skiff of tan foam with miniscule almost invisible bubbles slowly climbing through the viscous fluid. And, not surprisingly with the 12% ABV, this beer has visible legs on the glass. The nose is interesting—there is a fair amount of caramel and molasses mixed with spiciness, dark fruit, and chocolate, which simultaneously works and doesn’t work. I’m leaning towards works right now, but I reserve the right to change my mind. As it warms, alcohol also becomes evident, although more as a floral accompaniment than as anything distracting. Flavors start soft and delicate on the tongue, with first the light caramel and dark fruit—raisin, fig, and cherry—followed by chocolate as it heads into the middle. There is also a fair amount of bitterness in the middle, but it has to work pretty hard to fight through the viscous fluid and heavier flavors, although the hops could be the source of the spiciness in the nose—either that, or some rye malt. Bitterness is also evident in the finish, coupled with a fair amount of caramel sweetness; the effect is very similar to the bigger, thicker DIPAs and Imperial IPAs, including the light alcohol warmth, but the residual chocolate and nutty flavors set it apart. The body is thick and chewy, but at the same time surprisingly clean—I expected more stickiness from this big a beer. My guess would be the lighter effects are created by wheat or rye in the body that couples with the slight warmth from the alcohol to brighten the whole. Further warmth produces some sherry-like fruit and alcohol flavors that bring further lightness to the palate, mostly in the middle and finish, but also in the nose. To be honest, Nemesis 2010 is both darker and better than I expected—there is balance and subtlety developing in this beer that will be even better in another couple of years.

From Ratebeer: “The 2010 release of Nemesis is best described by our brewing team as ‘a dark barley wine that pours black with a subtle mahogany hue. Brewed with 5 malts and no shortage of hops for a pleasantly bitter booming flavor. Roasty and toasty with a multitude of tastes that melts on your tongue.’”

ABV: 12%
IBU: 100


Friday, December 9, 2011

Ohio Breweries: Book Review

Ohio Breweries, by Rick Armon, is the latest addition to Stackpole Books’ Breweries Series that features, most famously, several works by Lew Bryson. And like Bryson’s books, this one is a nice asset for those who want a quick and useful reference guide to the breweries in Ohio. Its strengths include clear organization and helpful information: it provides all the details for when and where to go, as well as how to contact the necessary people. Additionally, many of the stories about individual brewers and breweries regarding their start in the business are interesting and told with an eye for the story—I am now much more interested in visiting Rust Belt, Indigo Imp, and a couple of the Erie Island breweries via the personal experiences Rick describes in the entries for those breweries. Rick’s book also includes some details I didn’t know, like that Ohio is “one of the largest beer-producing states in the nation,” ranking “in the top five” in terms of overall production (5). This is especially hard to take living in Dayton, which currently has no local beer production—Wooden Shoe and Rivertown are both far enough away to make Tom a very sad boy.

The weaknesses are few, but I feel compelled to mention them. The self-referential Cleveland in-jokes feel forced: “Let’s dispense with the Cleveland jokes. No humorous elbows about the ‘Mistake on the Lake’ or the burning Cuyahoga River or anything like that” (17). This assumes a familiarity with the area and the jokes describing that area that I don’t have, creating an effect that felt mainly off-putting. And they continued. As well, in a book that relies on a craft beer drinking audience, he fawns a bit too much over Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors. Sure, “Ohioans love Anheuser-Busch” (7-8), but all those Bud Light drinkers ain’t buying your book. Finally, he notes that “Columbus finally got its first major professional sports franchise in 2000 when the Columbus Blue Jackets hockey team arrived,” and then continues one paragraph later that “the city also has been home to Major League Soccer since the mid-1990s” (83). Ouch! Calling hockey the “first major professional sports franchise” in Columbus means one of two things: either you hate soccer or you have an over-inflated sense of the relevance of hockey. Neither of which, might I add, is good. Oh, and he also quotes Casey McAdams, which means I’ll have to hear about that for the rest of my god-damn life. But that’s more a personal problem than a flaw on Rick’s part. Still, regardless of few downsides, it is a useful reference guide for the breweries around the state—I’ll be taking it with me the next time I head north to Akron and Cleveland.

See also Alan McLeod’s review. Check-it-check-it out.


Thursday, December 8, 2011

498. Victory Headwaters Pale Ale

Let’s start with the obvious. Headwaters drops science like Sean Morgan talks game. Or drinks beer. Or flim-flams. You get the picture. That’s right, I’m bagging on ol’ Mercury. Because today, he officially got older. And if you don’t get the reference, you can check with this guy. Anywho, Victory is back. Not like they went anywhere. Our other encounters with Victory include Yakima Twilight (since renamed Yakima Glory), Saison du Buff, the collabo with Stone and Dogfish Head, plus Prima Pils, Baltic Thunder, HopDevil, and WildDevil.

Headwaters pours a light, clear copper; it has only a slight haze, and a thin but consistent white head with profuse small bubbles rising through the beer—which is just another way of saying that Headwaters is pretty. The hop aroma in the nose is delightful—citrus—including lemon zest, orange and grapefruit—coupled with spicy resin and a dank mustiness. At the same time, however, it is bright and floral, followed by a touch of biscuit malt. Flavors start dry and lightly spicy; the biscuit malt flavor comes out in the middle, along with the resin and a slight hint of evergreen that follows through into the finish. The bright bitterness builds gently across the profile, contributing to the dry, biscuit-like, almost cracker-y finish. Bright, crisp, dry, and bitter, yet carrying plenty of subtlety—this beer is top-notch. I’d drink Headwaters all the time if I could actually find it on a regular basis; my best bet is to follow the example of my current mild experimentation, and get busy crafting myself a light, easy-drinking APA that goes down like this luscious liquid gold. Not that I’ll be topping Headwaters anytime soon. But I can certainly give it the ol’ college try, can’t I?

From the bottle: “Malted barley, hops, and yeast are the building blocks of beer. But none of these elements would exist with water, the essence of life. The waters that feed our brewery begin just over a dozen miles away, making for spectacularly pure and vital water for brewing. Having worked with watershed advocacy groups since our inception, we value our headwaters, our source, in many ways. We think you’ll value them as well when you taste this firmly crisp and aromatically arousing pale ale. Cheers!”

ABV: 5.1%
Malts: imported German 2-row
Hops: “whole flower American”—what the hell does that mean? My call is Citra
First release: Feb. 15, 2011

Happy Birthday, Sean! Get that drink on, my man!


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

497. Smuttynose Winter Ale

I’m not the biggest fan of winter beers and ales, unless they’re of the West Coast variety, which normally means more hops than spice—think Sierra Nevada Celebration, think Red Hook Winter Hook, or even think Anchor Steam Christmas Ale, which, while falling more into the traditional winter beer category, makes use of spices in a restrained and controlled manner. Read: the beer doesn’t taste like potpourri in a glass. But I am a fan of Smuttynose. So I decided to give this one a run. Or, better put, Elli decided to give this beer a run, since she bought the six pack. We’ve been hitting the Smuttynose IPA pretty hard as of late, so she decided to flip the script but keep the same crew in play. And as should be somewhat obvious by now, I’m always game with beer. Our earlier excursions into the land o’ Portsmouth include S’muttonator, Big A IPA, Old Brown Dog Ale, Baltic Porter, Imperial Stout, Shoals Pale Ale, Finestkind IPA and Farmhouse Ale. Scoring at home? That’s the kind nine.

Smuttynose Winter Ale pours a rich deep raisin-colored chocolate, something that looks chewy and inviting and decadent. For that reason, I am officially dubbing the color of this beer “figgy chocolate bread pudding.” How’s that for a name? It also appears rather clear, but since I can’t actually see through it, I’m not really certain. Works for me. The head is an off-white/eggshell cream color, but it rings rather rapidly, leaving me staring at the small skiff of cream and the luscious figgy goodness of my delicious repast. The aroma is mainly chocolate—more cocoa than milk—backed up by caramel sweetness, cracker-y biscuit notes, and even fainter spice and fruitiness. My fig and raisin gamboling might actually have some merit here. Flavors follow the nose pretty closely, although not in the same order—dry cocoa and chocolate into caramel, raisin, fig, and fruitiness. There is a possible touch of cinnamon and nutmeg spice lurking in the middle and the finish; either that, or some yeast phenol/spiciness. If forced to choose, I’d lean towards the latter. These flavors come across with the biscuit dryness in the middle, which blends well with the drier cocoa flavors that also return in the finish. While the flavors contribute to dryness of the beer, the beer does have some body on the tongue—it is slightly chewy even though the flavors run counter to that. The carbonation is gentle but present, and helps accentuate some of the biscuit and cocoa flavors in the final third of the beer. All in all, this was a very pleasant surprise. Thank you, Smuttynose, for the balance and restraint in this beer. If you were attempting to curry my favor for your previous failings (ahem! Big Beer! ahem!), consider it a job well done.

Hand-drawn map of Smuttynose Island from here

From the Smuttynose website: “Smuttynose Winter Ale is a full-bodied, amber beer brewed with a special Trappist ale yeast. Stylistically reminiscent of a Belgian Abbey Double, it features fruity aromas and flavor, balanced by soft Crystal hops. Warming, mellow & pleasantly complex, Smuttynose Winter Ale is your perfect cold weather companion.”

ABV: 5.1%
Best before: 4/17/2012

So it seems that the lesson here is that I like Winter Ales that really aren’t Winter Ales.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

496. Kriek De Ranke

Our second beer from Brouwerij De Ranke in Wevelgem, Belgium—our last one was Cuvée De Ranke. I do like the pink label on the bottle—this label far surpassed our last pink Belgian beer label, and the beer is, well, light-years ahead.

Kriek De Ranke is described on the label as a “70% Belgian sour ale fermented with cherries with 30% lambic added.” It pours a faint maraschino cherry red—faint because it is lightly pink-hued, and not as deep of a red as maraschino cherries are by themselves. The head is thin, white, and pink; it quickly fades, although there is a fair amount of small streaming carbonation up the sides of the glass to keep a faint ring along the edge, while the nose is a mix of musty cellar, tartness, and old mown hay. Basically, it is all the good parts of your grandparents’ basement, and, might I add, none of the bad. I find the aromatic nuance of the nose beguiling, while Elli queried as to what I meant by old mown hay. To be honest, I’m not completely certain, but it strikes me as close a descriptor as I can muster to describe the beer’s bouquet. Flavors start sharp and bright; the initial cherry flavor is mixed with citric tartness—repeated tasting and contemplation brought a light flush across my cheeks. The tartness rises in the middle, with the mineral brightness coming to the foreground, and the prickly carbonation helping push these palate sensations to the forefront, allowing the tartness to dominate and finish the beer. A delicate cherry flavor lurks on the back and sides of the tongue as the main thrust of tartness drops away, resulting in a clean yet tantalizingly subtle finish—the cherry flavor is reserved but adroit, coming across far gentler than the color might indicate. Elli notes she would like a bit wider range of flavor, and I mostly agree. Nonetheless, the sparse composition is a study in understatement; while the ethos behind this beer runs counter to a fair amount of American brewing ingenuity, it is something I wish that brewers on this side of the pond considered in greater depth.

Love the highlights...

From the Brouwerij De Ranke website: “Kriek De Ranke is a 7% vol. Alc. Kriek that’s unique because the composition is based on two different styles of sour ales. Being the red-brown style from the Roeselare/ Kortrijk/ Oudenaarde-region and the Lambic style from the Pajottenland-region, close to Brussels. We produce and acidify the red-brown ale ourselves, after which we add 25% sour cherries. These cherries stay in the ale for 6 months. Once fermented, the cherries come out and we add Lambic from Brewery Girardin. After this the ale matures for a while before being ready to drink. It’s an explicit thirst quencher, that contains nearly no sugar.”

ABV: 7.0%