Saturday, April 30, 2011

474. Hook Norton Hooky Bitter

This is our first beer from Hook Norton Brewery, which is located in Oxfordshire, England. As the bottle informs us, Hook Norton is “where progress is measured in pints.” Now that’s my kind of measure.

Hooky Bitter pours a clear bright orange-ish copper with a minimal eggshell white head. The nose is a combination of fruit esters, grainy caramel biscuit malt, and some slight butterscotch and butter. In other words, it is very, very British. There could be a touch of bitterness behind that, but the fruit, caramel, and butterscotch effectively mask and cover it. That is, if it is there. Flavors start with a caramel graininess and biscuit malt mixed with generic fruit flavors, which I am guessing are from the yeast. The butterscotch comes in at the end of the front and carries into the middle, along with drying from the bitterness and a touch of cracker. As that fades, there are low levels of caramel mixed with a creamy turn that heads us towards the finish, which is dry, mineral-ly, and ever so slightly papery with some lingering butter and hop bitterness. Like I said, very British. The body is medium to light with a smooth creamy mouthfeel; the beer is pleasant and easy drinking—there is surprising body and complexity for the size of the beer. You could, quite easily, hit this all night long and have a rather pleasant and enjoyable session. Nice job, guys.

From the bottle: “Hooky Bitter is a subtly balanced golden bitter, hoppy to the nose, malty on the palate—the classic session beer, eminently drinkable. Cheers!”

ABV: 3.6%


Sunday, April 24, 2011

473. Stillwater/Mikkeller Our Side

The collabo is back. Well, it never really left, but I do like to occasionally up the ante on my rhetoric. You can consider it my ode to spring. Or something similar. After all, since spring is in the air, I’m feeling feisty. So suck it, post-modernism. But I digress. We’ve tried Stateside Saison from Stillwater, as well as Rauch Geek Breakfast and Simcoe Single Hop IPA from Mikkeller. Combined, they’re the two great tastes that taste great together! Go you crazy gypsy brewers!

Described on the bottle as “a collaborative gypsy ale,” Our Side pours a hazy and dirty gold, sort of like that girl in high school who always claimed she was blond, but really had more of an overall brown look to her hair. The head is mousse-y and white with very good retention, while the nose is a combination of the juicy, floral, and earthy components of a good Belgian yeast mixed with spicy and piney hops—there is more yeast than hops in the nose. You get some solid ridging from the head as you proceed with this beer. Flavors start with light malt sweetness coupled with a fair amount of yeast character—earthy and juicy—before the hop tang of the middle comes into play; hop flavor in the middle includes pine, spice, and resin. There is also a touch of caramel sweetness in front, while the middle features a fair amount of spicy pepperiness that blends well with the hop flavors. The finish is dry but juicy, as is wont with many saisons, and there is fair amount of lingering bitterness from the middle. There is a small amount of alcohol flavor and a decent amount of alcohol warmth in the finish—it works its way down the throat into the chest, lasting well past the hop bitterness. The body is medium; although it is dried out by the carbonation, the hops, and the yeast character, there still is some substance to it. The mouthfeel is bright and crisp—honestly, I find this beer quite refreshing and enjoyable, and Elli seconds these comments. The only potential downside is the alcohol at the end, which detracts from the overall character of the beer. My advice: if you have a bottle, sit on it for six months to allow the alcohol warmth to recede. After all, if this beer is true to its Belgian heritage, it will come out tasting brighter and fresher. While the delicate hop flavors might also reciprocally dissipate, you’ll get something far more enjoyable. Either way, however, a solid and enjoyable beer.

From the bottle: “Mikkel and Brian are two of the world’s most unconventional brewers. By designing beers at various breweries around the globe, they have found the freedom to experiment and innovate, resulting in unique beers that often blur the lines of definition. After having met at a festival in Bodegraven, NL the two realized that their first creations both were called Stateside. It was then an obvious decision to make the two recipes into a new product, packed full of piney, resinous hops, and backed by the esters of a farmhouse yeast strain.”

ABV: 7.5%

Good brewers, yes, but can’t you do something about the prose? Trite and smug, to say the least.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

472. North Peak Wanderer Session IPA

That’s right, bring on the session beers. North Peak is back, and it’s bringing me more of what I asked for—light, easy-drinkin’ interesting beers (more session beers!). Go Ron Jeffries, you crazed and inspired madman. As well, this is our third beer from North Peak; the last two were Diabolical and Vicious. And, yes, I’m referring to the beer. I once was lost, but now I’m found...

Wanderer pours a hazy golden tan—it looks bready in the glass—and has a generous white head. The nose is all American C hops, with citrus, grapefruit, and tangerine up front and smaller amounts of grass and spicy resin in the background. Also hiding behind the hops is a touch of biscuit and malt toastiness. Flavor follows aroma; the front is bready with a dry toasted malt character coupled with a light bitterness that quickly comes in. In the middle, the body dries out and a minerally, almost chalky bitterness comes to the front. There is also citrus and grapefruit hop flavor, although it is less prominent than in the nose, and the finish is dry (almost grainy) with a gentle lingering bitterness. The body is medium with a dry yet substantial mouthfeel, while the carbonation is bright but gentle; coupled with the hop bitterness, both contribute to the dry malt character of the beer. Wanderer has an excellent balance between malt and hops, and a depth of flavor that was a pleasant surprise—while small, there is still body and character to the beer. It is also bottle-conditioned, or at least that’s what the sludge in the bottom of the bottle would indicate. By far the best of the North Peak beers we’ve tried; I look forward to more of this one.

From the North Peak website: “More info coming soon...”

ABV: 4.2%
IBU: 45


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

471. Bruery Autumn Maple

“I yam what I am.” Ralph Ellison Invisible Man

Another from the Bruery, the brewery I love to love. Previous victims of my overbearing and slightly creepy love include Humulus Session, 3 French Hens, Saison de Lente, Rugbrød, Hottenroth, Orchard White and Saison Rue. I guess I don’t know when to stop, do I?

Don’t look into the light...

Autumn Maple pours a deep, rich mix of orange and copper—we’re gonna call it caramelized yam—with an initially fluffy tan head that lingers decently with a thick ring and some small islands in the middle. While the beer doesn’t quite have legs, it is thick enough that the carbonation moves slowly through the beer on the way back to the surface—the effect is pleasant to watch. The nose is certainly Belgian; besides the Belgian juicy floral yeast character, it reveals hints of brown sugar, maple, caramel, and what I am going to assume is sweet luscious yamminess. There is a touch of spice in the background, but only minimally. The delicate blend found in the nose disappears in the body, however, and the spices attack the palate once the beer touches the lips. And we get all of them: cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, mace, and clove. They may not need pumpkin, but they certainly got the spice. Some of the yam makes it through in the front, along with a sweet breadiness, but mixed with the spices, it strikes me as more fruitcake than breadiness. It is not until the middle that some of the maple and brown sugar flavors break through the spice blockade, and the subtle yeast character peeks out from behind everything else as well. The spice returns a bit in the finish—well, it never really fully leaves—along with a fair amount of caramel sweetness and even more alcohol warmth and heat. As the beer warms, the finish gets sticky, and even a bit cloying on the palate, and there is a fair amount of lingering harsh alcohol on the back of the throat. Overall, Autumn Maple comes across as uneven and out of balance. I was told it would get better with age (this is from August 2010), but this bottle tastes like it need more than another year or so in the basement. As well, I’m not sure that the spice flavors will ever drop enough to allow the other delicate and more interesting flavors lurking in the nose and the middle to shine on their own—I think this would be a far better and more interesting beer without them. But maybe it is partially my fault—I know I don’t like pumpkin beers, and I did foolishly imagine that trading yams for pumpkin would somehow make this a different beer. But it didn’t. I even saw the spices listed on the label, so I should have known. But I was seduced by that Bruery label. I was. So, if you like pumpkin beers, you’ll probably love this. As for me, I think I’m gonna officially swear off pumpkin beers for good. Except for Jolly Pumpkin’s La Parcela No. 1. Because sour trumps spice any day of the week.

From the Bruery website: “Brewed with 17 lbs. of yams per barrel (in other words, a lot of yams!), this autumn seasonal is a different take on the ‘pumpkin’ beer style. Brewed with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, vanilla, molasses, and maple syrup, and fermented with our traditional Belgian yeast strain, this bold and spicy beer is perfect on a cold autumn evening.”

ABV: 10%
IBU: 25
SRM: 15
Release: Fall


Sunday, April 17, 2011

APA Brewday

This is a remake of 73, which means that experiment was a whopping success. There are two differences with this version: this one is all grain, and this one ended up having a lower OG, mostly because I inadvertently spilled about two quarts of second runnings all over the floor. Color me smooth.

88. Single Hop American Pale Ale: Willamette
8 lbs. Dingemans Pilsen
1 ½ lbs. Dingemans Pale Malt
1 lb. Muntons 2-row
½ lb. Dingemans Cara 20° (CaraVienna)
½ lb. Dingemans Biscuit Malt

Mashed @ 152° F (right on) for 60 minutes w/ 3 ¾ gallons of RO water (168° F)
Sparged @ 168° F (166° F actual) for 20 minutes w/2 gallons of RO water (188° F)

Added to brew kettle, brought to a boil (70 minute) and added:
w/70 to go: 1 ½ tsp. gypsum
1 ¼ oz. Willamette leaf 4.8% AA

w/15 to go: 1 tsp. Irish Moss

w/10 to go: 1 oz. Willamette leaf 4.8% AA

w/5 to go: 1 oz. Willamette leaf 4.8% AA

w/0 to go: 1 oz. Willamette leaf 4.8% AA

Cooled wort, racked to carboy, and pitched on Wyeast 1332 Northwest Ale

Brewed: 4/17/2011 @ 66° F
Secondary: 5/13/2011 @ 1.010
Bottled: 5/14/2011 w/ 3.25 oz. Turbinado cane sugar @ 70° F

OG: 1.038 (spilled at least 2 quarts of second runnings on the floor)
FG: 1.010

Tasting Notes: Pouring a hazy light copper brown reminiscent of bread crusts and with a prodigious white head, Single Hop Willamette has candy sweet malt nose mixed with a dry indistinct hop aroma—it is earthy and lightly spicy, but also rather minimal. There is also a slight fruit character in the nose—again, indistinct and minimal. Flavors start with biscuit and candy malt and a slight fruitiness—I’m not sure if it is malt or hop derived, but I’d guess yeast. There is some slight bitterness in the middle along with a touch of spicy hop flavor, but as an APA, the hop presence is mainly MIA in this beer—it works better as a ESB or a SOB, but not an APA. There is a touch of biscuit and caramel in the final third heading into the finish. That, coupled with a slighty creaminess and a faint touch bitterness, lets the beer finish easy and light. The body is light and balanced, and the mouthfeel is crisp and clean, but it is missing some of the intangibles that set the last version apart. A decent beer, but something of a let down compared to its predecessor. The last version was better. I know I shouldn’t take it personal, but I do.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

470. Heavy Seas Small Craft Warning Über Pils

Our sixth beer from Heavy Seas, including Smoke on the Water Imperial Smoked Porter, Heavy Seas Cabernet Barrel Aged Below Decks, Clipper City IPA/Loose Cannon Cask and Loose Cannon 420 Cask. My initial thought when I saw the beer at the store was that “Über” signified good, as in the adjective indicating a person (or beer, in this case) that exceeds normal limits. When I got home and realized I had actually grabbed a 7% pilsener, it dawned on me that Heavy Seas was more interested in using “Über” as an adverb that designates having a specified property to an extreme or excessive degree. I know, I know, silly me. See what an English degree gets you? An inability to follow even the most basics of beer advertising. And yes, that fragment is intentional.

Small Craft Warning pours a crystal clear golden copper—let’s call it an über gold in keeping with my grammar lesson from above—with a decent white head that lingers and lightly laces. The nose is sweet and malty with the appropriate noble hop and lager character, although the malt character is more dominant and thus uneven in comparison. As it warms, a spicy and earthy hop aroma emerges that offers better balance. Flavors start with toasty and honey malt sweetness; the middle dries out, featuring biscuit and hop bitterness. The finish has the lager tang and a touch of citrus flavor, along with a slight touch of alcohol flavor, although it is light and unobtrusive. The lingering hop bitterness washes part of the alcohol away, but not all of it. While as a whole the beer is a better than I expected, the mouthfeel is a bit cloying and sticky, especially as the beer warms. The increased hop presence as the beer warms helps, but not quite enough. Drop the grain bill to make this a 6% beer while leaving everything else the same, and I think you’d have a much better beer: sharper hop character, drier profile, and crisper finish. Still, this six pack won’t go to waste.

From the bottle: “Unofficially the original American Über Pils, Small Craft Warning is a rich. Golden bock lager with big malt flavor and a crisp hop finish.”

ABV: 7.0%


Thursday, April 14, 2011

469. Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier

Spring is finally here! And I mean this in terms of weather in addition to merely the marking on the calendar. This is our second beer from Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan in Freising, Germany—the last one was Weihenstephan Dr. Fritz Briem 1809 Berliner Weisse, a collabo with Doemens Institute. Oh, yeah, and I forgot: world’s oldest brewery. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Mr. Clever.

Young Fresh Ferns...

Let’s just start by noting that Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier pretty much sums up the style. Bells are ringing, school is in session, and bit-players are getting handed their marks. Don’t come back knocking on that door, y’hear? Word. Now that we’ve cleared that up, Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier pours a hazy dull straw/gold with a luscious creamy white head; in addition to the excellent head retention, there is pretty substantive lacing left behind on the glass. The head was thick enough initially to leave nice ridges behind on the opposite side of the glass after the first several sips. Aromas include a soft candy wheat malt sweetness mixed with banana and clove and some additional mild fruitiness. In this particular bottle, the clove slightly trumps the banana, and this continues on into the flavor profile as well. The beer opens with sweet wheat gumminess that is quickly followed by clove and banana flavors; the middle is slightly drier, with the carbonation whisking away the sweetness and emphasizing the wheat character. In the finish, there is a slight bubblegum flavor followed by a return of sweetness and a light lingering clove citrus fruitiness. The body is medium but dry—it tastes like it should be lighter, but maybe the cloudy yeast is enhancing the body—and the mouthfeel is both creamy and crisp. In other words, this beer is god-damn delicious. It drinks easy, goes down smooth, and is simultaneously light, refreshing, and yet suitably complex. It’s like Mike Tyson versus Michael Spinks. And Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier is Mike Tyson.

ABV: 5.4%


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Hoppy Belgian Pale Ale/Saison Brewday

Today’s beer is something of an abomination, at least in terms of brewing strictly with style in mind: we’ve got an American hop profile, a Belgian pale ale malt profile, and all this is getting dumped on a Wyeast 3711 cake that was spiked with brettanomyces from a bottle of Saison de Lente. But since I’ve always been one to flaunt style, we’ll say to hell with it and get down to brass tacks. The goal of this beer is to make something nice and hoppy that will develop some funkiness with age. I’ll keep you posted...

87. Hoppy Belgian Pale Ale/Saison w/Brettanomyces
9 lbs. Dingemans Pilsen
1 ½ lb. Dingemans CaraVienna 20°

Mashed @ 152° F (probably closer to 154° F) w/ 3 gallons of RO water for 60 minutes (@ 168° F)
Sparged @ 168° F (probably closer to 165° F) w/ 2 ¾ gallons RO water for 18 minutes (@ 181° F) (@1.034)

Added to brew kettle, brought to a boil (60 minute) and added:

w/60 to go: 1 oz. Simcoe Leaf 14.1% AA, 2 grams gypsum

w/15 to go: 1 tsp. Irish Moss

w/10 to go: 1 oz. Centennial Leaf 11.5% AA

w/5 to go: 1 oz. Simcoe Leaf 14.1% AA

w/0 to go: 1 oz. Willamette Leaf 4.8% AA

Chilled, racked to carboy, and pitched on yeast cake from batch 74 (3711 and Saison de Lente dregs)

Brewed: 4/7/2011 @ 67° F
Secondary: skipped
Bottled: 5/12/2011 w/5 oz. table sugar

OG: 1.042
FG: 1.000

Tasting Notes (10/12/2011): The beer pours a hazy gold with an effervescent white head—lots of small tiny white streaming bubbles constantly stream up the side of the glass. The nose is developing a game-y funky edge—it is earthy and spicy while still maintaining a slightly spicy hop aroma. It also has a slight fruitiness that smells like cherries. Basically, it’s the best of all worlds here—funky and hoppy and fruity all in one happy package. Flavors start dry and sharp—there is a touch of sweetness that tastes yeast derived and also a carbonic bite in the front. The funk begins in the front; there are slight barnyard and mineral characters that start in the front and continue into the middle. Also in the middle is a fleeting yet enjoyable cherry fruit flavor—it took me half of the beer to identify it, but now it seems self-evident and I feel dumb for having missed it earlier. The spicy hop character comes in towards the tail-end of the middle, and lingers through into the finish, blending well with sharp dry brettanomyces character. The finish has a touch of sweetness and a combined lingering funk and bitterness on the palate—I don’t mean to be overly effusive, but this beer is a sweet delight. The body is bone dry and the mouthfeel is dry and lightly mealy. There is also a touch of alcohol warmth; it does, however, mix well with the other characteristics, and is not surprising given the FG. The lingering funkiness in the roof of my mouth and the overall complexity of this beer tells me I should already be mourning the inevitable disappearance of this beer. And I am. But right now, I’m drinking it, and it is all good. Damn.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

468. Cigar City José Martí American Porter

I wish to leave the world
By its natural door;
In my tomb of green leaves
They are to carry me to die.
Do not put me in the dark
To die like a traitor;
I am good, and like a good thing
I will die with my face to the sun.
A Morir [To Die] (1894)

There is poetry on the label. No wait, I don't think you heard me. Poetry. On the label. And as José Martí informs us, “A grain of poetry suffices to season a century.” This is our first beer from Cigar City Brewing, which is located in Tampa, FL. And it was the beneficent gift of Jeff Fortney, who spent last week in Florida, and thus returned strapped with fancy beer. Jeff and Jeffrey came over and joined Elli and myself for an evening of beer sampling and discussion, along with some homemade bread Jeff brought as well. We also got to try the White Oak Aged Jai Alai IPA, which has a fantastic oak and vanilla nose balanced by a caramel malt body. Which is to say that it was delicious. But we’re here for José.

Named after my favorite Cuban revolutionary (and yes, I am serious—sorry Che), José Martí American Porter pours a deep rich chocolate brown with a lush tan head. Initial aromas include roasty coffee sweetness; as the beer warms, slight chocolate and brown malt scents emerge. Flavors start with roasted sweetness mixed with chocolate; the mix is rather delicate, and while the roasted character is very upfront and direct, the beer has the mouthfeel to carry and balance the big roasted character. The middle dries out slightly, which allows the dry bitterness to come to the forefront even though there are still plenty of chocolate and coffee flavors to round and carry the beer. The finish has a touch of chalky dryness followed by a lingering roastiness that ends rather clean. José Martí has a rich, rounded mouthfeel that combines creaminess and roastiness. While the roasty components do seem a bit out of character for a porter—even an American porter—the bitterness and body helps to balance the beer, making it very drinkable. And, regardless of style, it is damn good drinking, Chalk me up for more of this beer—it is a Top 10 Best for the year all the way. Mix in the poetry on the label and the picture, and this beer has the total package.

From Rate Beer: “An aggressively hopped robust porter named for the Cuban national hero who also spent a significant amount of time in Tampa and gained prominence in Latin American literature from the poetry, essays, and publications he contributed to in his lifetime.”

ABV: 8.0%


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

467. Stoudt’s Pilsener

It’s been a while since a Stoudt’s came across our radar—December 2009 was the last new beer from Stoudt’s, although we did try a 2004 Fat Dog Imperial Oatmeal this last December. We scored a growler of this from the Trolley Stop because they didn’t have any of the Hazed & Infused that they are supposedly running as a special all month. Big supposedly. Our run down of Stoudt’s includes Fat Dog Imperial Oatmeal Stout, Oktoberfest, American Pale Ale, Scarlet Lady ESB, and Heifer-in-Wheat, making this our sixth Stoudt’s beer. Say that six times fast.

Stoudt’s Pilsner pours a crystal clear light straw with an abundant and long-lasting white head that also decently laces the glass as I worked through the beer. The nose is a mixture of graininess and sweetness, although balanced mostly towards the graininess, along with a light hint of corn. There is no discernable hop aroma or bitterness in the nose, but the finish more than makes up for it. The beer starts out with a soft, fragile sweetness that is coupled with a fair dose of graininess—it is almost husky, but not quite astringent. The graininess carries into the middle before giving way to hop bitterness, which lingers well past the finish. Stoudt’s Pilsner has a bright crispness in the finish, a combination of the lagering and carbonation. There is a bit of a hoppy metallic sharpness left on the palate after the flavors depart, but this strikes me as more from the volume of hops than anything else. The body is medium; the residual dextrins contribute to a pleasant mouthfeel that helps balance the bitterness, although the beer is still shaded towards both bitterness and graininess. A good example of an American pilsner, although the graininess does seem a bit overly pronounced; we do both prefer the Victory Prima Pils, but this one is certainly worth trying.

From the Stoudt’s website: “Reflective of the traditional German style, Stoudt’s Pils is delicately dry with firm bitterness. The crispness of Saaz hops and a dry malt finish make the Pilsner an excellent aperitif.”

ABV: 4.7%
IBU: 40
Malts: 2-row & Wheat
Bittering Hops: Perle & Warrior
Aroma Hops: Saaz


Friday, April 1, 2011

The Session #50: How Do They Make Me Buy The Beer?

Another month, another Session. On April Fool’s, no less. This one is hosted by Alan McLeod at A Good Beer Blog, who asks, among other things, for us to ruminate on the conscious and unconscious mental calculations we use to purchase beer. In other words, he gets to play Freud to our collective nuerotic and hysteric beer drinking Dora. Good thing I get to drink beer while I wax poetic about my personal beer math.

I’m an easy sell. If they make the beer, I’ll certainly consider buying the beer. After all, I like trying new beer, and I like brewers that are willing to experiment. So I’ll pretty much try anything once. For example, the massive influx of saisons over the last two years has been a real boon to my palate, as not only did I get to try numerous different examples, I got to compare them with the Old World examples that defined the style. That, my friends, was some good drinking. However, the litmus test for a second purchase of the same beer comes down to the quality of the product as well as the brewery’s ability to consistently repeat my experience—it doesn’t necessarily have to perfectly repeat the experience, but it does need to be consistently enjoyable. At the same time, there are certain experimental beer varieties that have already worn out their welcome in my book. Like pumpkin ale. This year, I tried Jolly Pumpkin’s La Parcela, only because I knew it wouldn’t be the standard fare. But Jolly Pumpkin is one of the few breweries that has a carte blanche signed by yours truly. They could make a Tiger Blood beer and I’d buy it with no questions. Actually, Jolly Pumpkin could probably go far more extreme, and I doubt I’d bat an eye. Which I guess means that my thoughts on a brewery also count in the accounting.

I can, however, be turned off by the advertising choices of breweries. I do on occasion make snap judgements about beers, mainly based on labels, which on occasion impedes my beer sampling. Sometimes this bites me in the ass. My initial reaction to Bear Republic’s Hop Rod Rye was to dismiss the beer because of the dorky hot rod-themed label. Yes, that was a mistake on my part, one that I rue to this day. My bad. Other beers, however, earn and actually deserve my scorn. Beer labels that objectify women’s bodies, or that use racially or sexually charged language (or in many instances, do all three) don’t deserve my business. I’d say they don’t deserve anyone’s business, but the engrained nature of sexism and racism in the global economy is a conversation pretty much no one likes having—for most people, socially conscious beer means enviromentally friendly beer, not examining their own belief patterns. After all, that might take the fun out of beer. And as the beer math goes, for most people that doesn’t compute.