Saturday, August 25, 2012

Doom-tastic Saison w/ EKG Brewday

Today had several highlights. First, I got the new MF Doom/Jneiro Jarel album, Keys to the Kuffs, in the mail (well, technically, it showed up yesterday, but I wasn’t home, so I had to go to the Post Office this morning and sign for it). Along with the album in the package was the newest Frank 151 featuring MF Doom. And on top of all of that, I brewed—listening to the new Doom, of course—with East Coast Yeast for the first time. So everything’s coming up roses. Oh, and Jeffrey, I poured off a bit of the excess fluid in the yeast to taste, and it has the same sourness yours did. Another sweet bonus in an already fantastic day.

125. Doom-tastic Saison w/EKG
4 lbs. MFB Pale
4 lbs. MFB Special Aromatic
1 lb. Breiss White Wheat
1 lb. Acidulated Malt

Mash @ 150° F for 70 minutes w/ 3 ½ gallons of RO water & 2 g. gypsum; collected 2 gallons @ 1.076
Batch sparge @ 158° F for 20 minutes w/ 4 gallons RO water & 2 g. gypsum; collected 4 gallons @ 1.024

Collected 6 gallons; brought to a boil (60 minutes), & added:
w/60 to go: 1 ½ oz UK East Kent Goldings leaf 5.41% AA

w/15 to go: 8 oz. Turbinado Cane Sugar & 1 tsp. Irish Moss

w/10 to go: 1 oz. UK East Kent Goldings leaf 5.41% AA

w/0 to go: 1 oz. UK East Kent Goldings leaf 5.41% AA

Chilled, racked to carboy, & pitched East Coast Yeast ECY08 Saison Brasserie

Brewed: 8/25/2012
Secondary: 9/4/2012 @ 1.016 
Bottled: 9/22/2012 w/ 4 oz. table sugar

OG: 1.054
FG: 1.006

Tasting Notes: So I can now definitively assert that I understand the effects that come from stressing yeast via pitching low cell counts. I let this vial of East Coast Yeast sit around a little too long, and since I was pressed for time, I decided to skip making a starter to build up the yeast numbers. This beer is cost of that decision. While it is by no means undrinkable, the perfume-y and phenolic yeast character gives this beer an almost plastic/adhesive taste—it is bleeding phenolic and ester characteristics, which is completely unlike 126.Saison w/ Comet, the beer after this one that was pitched on this yeast cake. The difference is, well, pretty remarkable. Although I will confess, I do like it—it verges into Hennepin on crack, where all the banana fruit flavors and clove have aggressively taken over. Plus, it is dry and crackery on the mouth with tang from the yeast by-products and also the carbonation—the combination is crisp and delightful. But some more concrete details: the beer pours a pale hazy straw with a profuse white head that lingers and laces the glass. It also has lots of streaming carbonation up the sides of the glass—you can almost see it in the picture there was so much at the beginning. The nose in banana cream pie and perfume coupled with a peppery phenol that is lighter than clove but heavier than black pepper: I think the over-the-top yeast character Hennepin comparison might actually hold up, although this beer is drier in the body and mouthfeel. Flavors open with cracker and bread crust along with a touch of creaminess; the yeast flavors start at the tail end of the front, but blossom in the middle before continuing on into the finish. There is light, delicate fruit, like banana and pear, as well as spice and pepper; the bitterness comes into play in the middle, but is covered over in part by the yeast. The finish is yeast esters and perfume—it is floral and rose-like—before the banana creaminess reasserts itself. There is also a touch of tartness in the finish, and lingering hop bitterness in the back of the mouth. The beer starts soft on the tongue in front, but quickly dries out and is accompanied by a cracker-y carbonic bite from the bright carbonation. It is a good beer, but the yeast character would put a fair number of people off; I do like an aggressively dry and Belgian saison, but 126. Saison w/ Comet is just so much more balanced with the flavors (both hop and yeast) and intangible yeast characteristics that it makes this beer pale in comparison. I can say, however, that I do love this yeast. Maybe not as much as Wyeast 3711, but if it can knock out beers like these on a regular basis, we might have a fight on our hands.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Beer & Sweat Beer Judging

So this was the year. I finally hit the rite of passage that is Beer & Sweat, a keg-only homebrew competition run by the Bloatarian Brewing League in Florence, KY. Never you mind the threat of bed bugs and the weird medieval theme of the Drawbridge Motel. Because nothing says excessive like 250+ kegs of homebrew all gathered in one room (they had 268 this year, by the way). Any-who, the event begins with beer judging in the early afternoon—the vacant excuse as to why I was in attendance—and then turns into an evening of drinking and, well, debauchery. After all, what else would you do with all those kegs of beer? Host a yard sale?

I rolled down from Dayton with Jeff, Jeffrey, and Darren—we were all sharing a room. Judging began at noon, but we got there a bit earlier as Jeff had entered four kegs. I was judging category 16. French & Belgian beers; there were three sets of judges to work through 27 beers (or something like that), with a lot of Saisons, a fair number of Belgian Specialty Ales, and a smattering of the rest. Overall, it was a pretty solid flight—some of the Saisons could have been better attenuated, and there was the usual forgetting to include the appropriate information for the Belgian Specialty Ales that you find in most beer judging competitions, but if these are my worst complaints, I’ve already scored a big gold star on the day. After helping out with the mini-BOS (I poured for the three judges doing it—I’m not that cool), there was some pizza and a few fancy beers back in the room (thanks, Darren!). We also swapped stories about judging—my favorite was from Jeffrey, who was sitting next to a table with Gordon Strong. Gordon’s judging partner kept obsessively apologizing for not judging beer as quickly as Gordon; at a certain point, the compulsive emphasis on apologizing led Gordon to quip “Less apologizing, more beer judging.” Grandmaster ouch! I’d have felt sorry for the guy, but he’d made an off-color remark to us earlier that Jeffrey handled with a crushing aplomb, leaving Captain Dipshit both clueless and speechless and with nothing to do but walk away. Thus Jeffrey’s story was just more of that deserve-ed icing on the cake.

After our proclaimed recovery sortie, it was time for the main event. And even then, I’m not really certain I was actually ready for the maelstrom of beer and people confronting me when we headed back downstairs. Still, due diligence was the rule of the evening, not that I would (or could) try everything before me, although we did meet one hearty soul who claimed to have tried all of the beers pouring that evening. I went for quality over quantity, although at one point I did get talked into drinking down a row of the kegs, hitting a small sample of each one. I blame you, Jake and Sarah, for that one.

Highlights from the evening include getting to try four different Berliner Weisses in a row—yes, you read that sentence correctly—as well as the all of the various sours, lambics, etc. littering the event. The brewer who brought the blended 1 and 3 year old Gueuze deserves a hearty congratulations (sorry, I don’t know who it was, although I know it was tap number 120 or 121—it was right next to a Rauchbier named “Bacon Fucker,” which I managed to take a picture of in my drunken stupor, but not the blended Gueuze I returned to several times—I blame stupid drunken Tom). But my 
more ham
favorite beer of the evening by far was Brandon Cooper’s Funk Plums, which was described as starting “out as a classic Berliner Weisse and was fermented with lactobacillus and sccharomyces. It was then secondary fermented on 2.5 lbs. of plums per gallon and brettanomyces lambicu was added. The result is something between a fruit lambic and a fruit beer that I call Funk Plums.” It got an Honorable Mention in the flight I judged (the Saison that won that flight, by the way, ended up taking the Best In Show honors), but Funky Plum hit all of the right marks for me—it was fruity dry brettanomyces magic. And I did return to this beer again and again. I even ran into Brandon when he was breaking down his kegs, and asked if I could have one more glass for the road, to which he happily complied. I could be wrong, but I think his actions might qualify him for sainthood.

The beers Jeff entered did well overall: he won category 23. Specialty Beer with his Black IPA, Midnight In The Forest, and second in Fruit Beers for Experiment #6. We got to drink Midnight In The Forest further into the evening than any of the other winners—the balloon that was attached to all of the flight winners got disconnected from his beer, and no one ever fixed it. So drink on, good sirs! Still, it got cashed before it was time to call it a night. As the event began to wind down, many of the people—myself included—headed towards the hotel’s outdoor pool to conclude their evening. Shenanigans, drinking, and discussion continued on. I finished the day by jumping in the pool, somewhere in the vicinity of 2 am. Isn’t that how all evenings should end?


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Vienna Pale Ale Brewday

So time for another random experiment; this one was inspired by both the Mad Fermentationist’s Vienna Malt Session IPA and the bag of MFB Vienna sitting in the closet. I cut out the specialty grain from his recipe, though, and went straight Vienna. And, in keeping with the Franco-Belgian theme (maltster, not malt itself, wise-acre), I’ll be pitching a left-over mason jar of Wyeast 3522 Belgian Ardennes from my recent yeast experiment schenanigans. The hopping, though, is pretty much straight American. We’ll just call this beer stylistically awkward, and leave it at that. Just like puberty, huh?

124. Vienna Pale Ale
10 lbs. MFB Vienna Malt

Mash @ 154° F for 60 minutes w/ 3 ½ gallons of RO water & 2 g. gypsum; collected 2 ¼ gallons @ 1.074
Batch sparge @ 166° F for 20 minutes w/ 3 ½ gallons RO water & 2 g. gypsum; collected 3 ¼ gallons @ 1.026

Collected 5 ½ gallons; added ½ gallon to bring to 6 gallons, brought to a boil (60 minutes), & added:
w/60 to go: 1 oz Chinook leaf 11.3% AA

w/20 to go: 1 oz. Amarillo leaf 10.7% AA

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. Amarillo leaf 10.7% AA

w/0 to go: 1 oz. Citra leaf 13.4% AA

Chilled, racked to carboy, & pitched mason jar of Wyeast 3522 Belgian Ardennes from 122. American Pale Ale Yeast Experiment

Brewed: 8/11/2012
Secondary: 9/1/2012 @ 1.012; dry hop w/ 1 oz. Citra leaf 13.4% AA
Bottled: 9/22/2012 w/ 3 oz. table sugar

OG: 1.052
FG: 1.012

Tasting Notes (2/21/2013): This beer was an experiment to see how a pale ale made with all Vienna malt turned out. And the answer is pretty darn good. While it is currently a bit long in the tooth, is still holds together pretty well—the hop flavor has receded, but the overall beer is still pleasant with a lightly doughy and chewy body. The beer pours a dusky and lightly hazy gold with a thin but persistent white head that does lace the glass nicely. It is also lively in the glass—lots of small, tight bubbles dancing around. The Centennial is still evident in the nose; there is a sour, mineral tang along with some dry spiciness and soft floral lemon, which is the Citra and maybe some of the Amarillo. The Chinook is surprisingly absent in the nose, although there is a touch of the harsher Chinook bitterness that lingers in the finish. There is also sweet candy and bread dough from the malt that blends and holds up the hop aromas. Flavors open with a spicy sour resin hop tang coupled with bread dough and a touch of creaminess; the bitterness picks up in the middle, and is dry and mineral-tinged, while the finish is lightly caramel sweet with lingering bitterness that is harsher than that in the middle. There is also a touch of pine hop flavor in the finish that works well; it comes across almost as alcohol heat, but I think that is the trademark Chinook harsh bitterness putting its two cents in. The body is light to medium, with the bitterness and carbonation lightening the beer as a whole on the palate. As a whole, a solid beer—this is an idea worth pursuing further, although I would swap out the Chinook for something like Magnum to see if that created a cleaner, easier finish. I will say that while there is some roughness in the lingering bitterness, it does fit with the beer profile. Beer, why are you so delightfully good?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

529. Great Divide 15th-18th Anniversary Wood Aged DIPA

Obviously, we’ve been sitting on these for a while—just a touch over three years, to be precise. But it is small verticals of beers like these that make cellaring an enjoyable and fruitful endeavor. As those of you who are avid readers know, we’re partial to Great Divide, although that partiality may have waned a bit. Nonetheless, this collection of beers was an excellent addition to the Great Divide beers we’ve experienced in the past: Grand Cru, Yeti ’08-’10, Smoked Baltic Porter, 16th Anniversary Wood Aged DIPA, Hercules DIPA, Wild Raspberry Ale, Hibernation, Samurai Rice, Hoss, Espresso Oak Aged Yeti, Fresh Hop, Double Wit, 15th Anniversary DIPA, and Denver Pale Ale. Dag. We’re getting up there.

Described on all four of the bottles as “quintessential” and “commemorative,” 15th-18th Anniversary Wood Aged DIPAs all pour a similar shade of tan and caramel—except for the bottle of 16th, which was notably lighter colored. Clarity also varied; all were pretty good, but 18th was stunningly clear, while the rest had different levels of slight hazing. All were squarely in the Great Divide family of beers, with a depth of malt flavor and body that supported the other components of the beer. I’m pretty certain I’ve said this in the past, but it bears repeating: the malt character of these strikes me as more British than American. And since we’ve tried some of these before (a while ago, admittedly), I’m going to focus mainly on the differences in flavor and mouthfeel—the color run down above pretty much sums it up.

15th Anniversary, bottled on June 29, 2009: Surprisingly, this one still had a fair amount of hop character to it—we could taste the pine and evergreen, although the bitterness was more hidden by the body. There was also a fair amount of oak still present, albeit it balanced by the chewy malt character—one of my notes calls it “chewy wood.” Some slight oxidized sherry and paper flavors were present as the beer warmed, but in a complementary manner. The vanilla flavors balanced well with the body, and the mouthfeel was creamy, rounded, and smooth. There was some lingering tannic bite still in the finish, along with a touch of warmth, although it was at this point low and very even and smooth. Age had served this beer well; the hop flavor, though, was something of a surprise here.

16th Anniversary, bottled on June 25, 2010: The lighter color corresponded with a different malt character—there was more butterscotch and caramel, although the beer had a chewy mouthfeel like the rest of them. There was less alcohol warmth than the rest—this one was by far the smoothest and cleanest of the group. The tannic oak character and bite was there in the finish, but it also dried the tongue and palate. There were less oxidized sherry notes, and less oak as a whole, apart from the tannic presence in the finish. I’d call this beer better and more approachable than the 15th—it is more even, cleaner, and has more depth and subtlety.

17th Anniversary, bottled on March 29, 2011: The oak flavor tasted younger, sharper, and more aggressive in this beer—the tannic bite was still a bit much. There was not much in the way of vanilla from the oak, which was somewhat surprising. You could also smell the creamy bitterness in the nose, and taste it more clearly in the body of the beer. As well, the alcohol heat was more pronounced than the last two, which is not surprising, given the age, but the contrast between this and 16th, which had less alcohol presence than 15th, made the effect more pronounced. With warmth, the evergreen hop flavors emerged more explicitly, pushing the previously noted bitter flavors. Besides the chewy malt, the creamy, rounded mouthfeel stood out in this beer in relation to the other components. With warmth, there was better balance achieved between malt chewiness and alcohol flavor—this one came on at the end.

18th Anniversary, bottled on March 21, 2012: The chewy malt character of this version featured rich caramel flavors. As well, the oak tasted even younger and greener than in 17th; there was a touch of vanilla—which was missing in 17th—and tannic bite and tang. The alcohol was hotter and younger tasting, and there was more warmth on the tongue than any of the previous beers. As the beer warmed, pine and evergreen hop flavors became much more apparent, the last portion of the bottle, which had some yeast dregs, further accentuated the hop flavors.

Several of the distinctions drawn above were mainly apparent from trying the beers next to one another—I’m certain the oak character of 17th and 18th wouldn’t have seemed as aggressive if they weren’t being directly compared to the smoothness (or absence) of the other two. And the same goes for alcohol warmth and flavor—the smoothness of 15th and the even smoother 16th made the distinctions that much more evident in comparison. As well, the malt flavor and character in all four continued to round and get chewier as the beers warmed, although not always with the exact same results, and evergreen and pine hop flavor also emerged with warmth. I’m still not sure which of the four I liked the best, although I do know that 18th needs more time. The cleanness and smoothness of 16th was its strength, but I liked the slightly bolder oak and hop flavors of 15th, and as noted above, once 17th warmed up, it became a completely different—and much better—beer. I’m not sure it completely turned the corner in comparison, but choosing between 15th and 16th would require favoring one distinct set of characteristics over another—they are, I think it safe to say, that different of beers at this point. I’m pretty sure the vast majority of those sampling would give the nod to 16th—I know Elli does—but I’m going to take the higher (and by that I mean lamer) road and abstain from choosing.

From the bottle: “Based on our award-winning beer, Denver Pale Ale, this copper-hued treat is a celebration of everything Great Divide does best. Plenty of malty sweetness provides a backdrop for earthy, floral English and American hops, while French and American oak round off the edges and provide a touch of vanilla. Thanks to everyone who’s supported us for the last 15-18 years—here’s to 15-18 more!"

ABV: 10.0%

P.S. Oh, and Jeffrey, when it comes to beer, I’m hard pour.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Book Review: Brewing in Cincinnati, 1885-1985: 100 Years Hudepohl Brewing Company

Lee Oberlag’s Brewing in Cincinnati, 1885-1985: 100 Years Hudepohl Brewing Company was “written and published to commemorate the Hudepohl Brewing Company’s 100th anniversary of brewing in Cincinnati” (inside back cover). While Oberlag was the advertising and PR director for Hudepohl—after all, Hudepohl published the book—this small book is chock full of interesting information regarding  Cincinnati brewing history, specifically in relation to the larger national brewing scene. The writing does at times smack of 80s advertising patter, but the wheat is in there among the chaff. For example, Christian Moerlein, a “super premium beer” produced by Hudepohl for the local market in the early 1980s “as a salute to the fine history of the brewing industry in Cincinnati” and designed “to honor a brewery that ‘died a noble death’ due to Prohibition,” was also “the first American beer to pass ‘Reinheitsgebot,’ the stringent purity law of Germany, in 1983” (16). The combination of history—honoring a former competitor by naming a beer after them—and claiming this same beer as the first American-complaint Reinheitsgebot beer is a part of U.S. beer history certainly worth knowing. Christian Moerlein mentions something similar in the history of the brewery on their website, failing, of course, to mention who actually made the beer. As to whether the second part of the story is true—that is of course another story. And no, I don’t know the answer. But it does have the ring of something that I wish were true, specifically as the desire to acknowledge a larger brewing history existing outside the United States sets Hudepohl apart from the other competing national-scale macro breweries of the period. You know the ones I mean. But let’s jump back to start at the beginning, which, I hear, is a very good place to start.

The story of Hudepohl Brewing Company begins, as do many in this country, as an immigrant story. In 1838, Ludwig and Agnes Hudepohl immigrated to Cincinnati from Malgarten, Hannover; he was one of many Germans emigrating to the United States in general, and the Ohio Valley in specific. As Oberlag’s text recounts, the increase in German population led to a boom of breweries in Cincinnati: in 1848 there were 11, and by 1860 there were 36 (1). So in other words, growth was on par with the current microbrewery boom. Ludwig II was born in 1842, and thus came of age during this period of explosive growth. By 1877, two Cincinnati breweries had become national-level producers, with “Christian Moerlein, the 13th largest brewery in the U. S., and Windisch-Mulhauser Brewing Company, the 20th largest” (1). In 1885, Ludwig II and his business partner George Kotte “bought the Koehler Brewery, which became the Buckeye Brewery because it was located on Buckeye Street near McMicken” (1). By 1890, Cincinnati “had gained world-wide recognition as the ‘beer capital of the world,” consuming 40 gallons a year per capita (the national average was 16) (2). In the 1890, Hudepohl and Kotte sold “about 40,000 barrels of draft beer, including the brands Buckeye, Muenchener, Dortmunder, and Hudepohl” (3). When George Kotte died in 1893, his wife was a partner until Ludwig II bought her out in 1900, at which point Ludwig renamed it the Hudepohl Brewing Company, enlarging and modernizing the brewery, introducing Golden Jubilee, and expanding sales to surrounding states (3). His sole ownership was short lived,
from here
however, as Ludwig II died in 1902. His family retained ownership (well, until 1986, after this book was written), with various members running the business, beginning with his wife, Mary Elizabeth, and later his son-in-law William A. Pohl. 

World War I had an adverse affect on Cincinnati’s German-American communities, as did the temperance movement, although Cincinnati “was not as affected as other areas of the country due to its tradition of beer-drinking” (5); following close on its heels however, Prohibition and the Volstead Act (January 20, 1920) finished the job. Twenty five breweries closed in Cincinnati; Hudepohl stayed open “by making ‘near beer’ (½ of one percent alcohol), vichy water, and soft drinks” (6-7), although near beer production by Hudepohl ended in 1928. After the repeal of Prohibition in December 1933, only four previous Cincinnati breweries re-opened: Hudepohl, Bruckmann’s, Foss-Schneider, and Schaller (7). I do also feel compelled to note that prior to the “official” repeal of Prohibition, “3.2% beer was declared ‘non-intoxicating’ by Congress,” and sold starting on April 7, 1933 (7). While I do laud the duplicity of the declaration, as it parched all those dry, dry throats several months early, I also mark this as the moment America officially began its dislike of session beers. Thanks, Congress.

Hudepohl’s first year success allowed them to purchase the idle Lackman Brewery, which was needed to keep up with production; until 1958, they ran two different breweries (8). Shifts in packaging also contributed to post-Prohibition production and consumption. Packaging beer in cans, which began in 1935, shifted consumption towards the home: “In 1934, 75 percent of beer sold was draft; in 1941, 48 percent was draft and 52 percent was packaged” (9). The 27% drop reflects an almost 4% drop for each of the seven years, signaling a significant transformation in the way Americans were thinking about and consuming beer; as with Prohibition, it further limited the social and cultural elements that accompanied drinking, transforming the public act into something private. Nonetheless, Hudepohl produced “almost 900,000 barrels in 1947” (8), pointing to their continued growth.

Pictures of all cans from

In the 1950s, Hudepohl pioneered the 14-K brewing process. Here’s how Master Brewer Peter Marcher describes 14-K in 1953: “Under Process 14-K, each brew is sampled and checked daily, from the beginning of the brewing operation in the mash tubs and kettle, through the thoroughly controlled and unhurried fermentation and lagering periods. The final blending of lagered beer and the filtering processes are accurately controlled and supervised by Hudepohl’s well-trained brewing technicians. The exact brewing and blending and filtering produces a uniformly fine finished product which passes the rigid requirements of 118 separate laboratory tests. Hudepohl’s master Brewers augment all the ancient skill of the Art of Brewing with modern science and a new technique, which we call Process 14-K, and gives you a golden grain treasure of drinking pleasure” (12). Golden treasure indeed. I wonder how long PR had to work with Marcher to get him to remember to include the rhyme in the last sentence?

Hudepohl continued to grow; in 1973 they were able to buy the label rights to rival Burger Brewing Company when they closed (12). However, sales were declining via the competition with large national brewers who were looking to consolidate their national markets; this was the same time that regional breweries were being purchased by the likes of Anheuser Busch and Miller. Hudepohl continued to fight the good fight; in 1978, Hudy Delight, Hudepohl’s first light beer, helped stabilize brewery sales (13). As well, Hudepohl was a long-time supporter of the Cincinnati Reds, dating back to the mid-1950s, and even producing a commemorative can for their 1975 World Series championship (see above also) (18). In 1983, they also produced Pace Pilsner Beer, “America’s first reduced-alcohol beer” (20). This history, as Oberlag concludes, means that “Hudepohl offers beer-drinkers an alternative to mass-produced domestic beers and continues to gain respect and admiration throughout the United States and European brewing industry” (20). Sadly, for both Oberlag and Hudepohl, in 1986 Hudepohl was sold to Schoenling Brewing Company; beer continued to be brewed at the Hudepohl brewery until 1987, when all production shifted to the Schoenling plant. Hudepohl-Schoenling was an independent brewer until they were bought by the Boston Beer Company in 1997. For some previous comments on Hudepohl, see our entry on Bürger Classic Beer, made by the revitalized Christian Moerlein, although under contract elsewhere.

Oh, and one last delicious anecdote regarding the 1894 ceramic Christian Moerlein bottles I hadn’t heard before: “Although the bottle was beautiful—and extremely popular—the manufacturer failed to glaze the bottom, and beer seeped through and leaked. About 5,000 unfilled ceramic bottles were discovered in a storage cellar under the K. D. Lamp Company of Elm Street, a building once owned by the Moerlein brewery” (16). While I had previously heard of these bottles, and had certainly seen them trumpeted around in the brewing histories of Cincinnati (like on the cover of Michael Morgan’s Over-The-Rhine: When Beer Was King), I always wondered why all those bottles were down there in the first place—certainly they hadn’t been forgotten, had they? As this story indicates, they weren’t forgotten, they were abandoned as useless. Problem solved.


Sunday, August 5, 2012

528. Ommegang Biere d’Hougoumont

Ah, Ommegang, how we’ve missed you. We drank this while watching eleven hours of the Olympics on fast forward. How else are we supposed to fit it all in? We’ll add this to the list, which includes Tripel Perfection, Zuur, Three Philosophers, Hennepin, Bière de Mars, and Witte. Bring on more.

Described as a biere de garde aged on maple and oak wood staves, Biere d’Hougoumont pours a brilliantly clear amber and has a white head that is small, tight, and fine with excellent staying power. The nose opens with a distinct cellar must and cork character (yes, I’m going with that; that phrase came to my head while smelling the beer, and it seemed appropriate, so I’m sticking with it) followed by candy malt; as the beer opens up, the candy sweetness comes to the forefront and the must disappears. There are also hints of caramel and perfume from the yeast esters. Flavors start with a dry biscuit and cracker malt, giving way to caramel and pleasant spicy yeast phenols accompanied with just a touch of hop bitterness. The finish is sweet, creamy, and dry at first; a touch of alcohol flavor and warmth emerge as the beer rounds in body. Bright carbonation blends well with the dry, slightly creamy but chewy mouthfeel; as noted above, there is some alcohol, but nothing harsh or sharp. This is a well-balanced beer as a whole, although it does become less even as it warms—the youth of the beer starts to come out with some time spent in the glass. Surprisingly, there is not much discernible in regards to the wood presence in the beer. As it stands, it is currently a good beer for not having any real distinct character—there are no flaws, but nothing really stands out. And I would agree with the language on the bottle indicating this beer is a good candidate for aging, as a couple of years should give this beer depth and complexity, making it splendid.

From the bottle: “Hougoumont is brewed with French ale yeast, eight malts, French Strisselspalt hops, and aged on wood. A traditional biere de garde style, this malty French-styled farmhouse ale is brewed to be aged. The name honors the Hougoumont farmstead at the pivotal center of the Waterloo Battlefield. Napoleon repeatedly failed to take the farmstead, then lost the battle, and ‘met his Waterloo.’”

ABV: 7.3%

And sorry, I forgot to take a picture. Really, you’re better off that way.


Friday, August 3, 2012

The Session #66; or Highlander’s Beer-y Revenge

So there can be only one, huh? That means making some choices. And when it comes down to it, I want a beer that is bright and refreshing when young, and yet able to age gracefully into something subtle and complex. I want it to combine Old World know-how with New World innovation. In other words, I want a beer that can be all things to all people. And that beer? An American-hopped Belgian Pale Ale/Saison with Brettanomyces. When young, it offers citrus, pine, and resin hops backed by light candy sweetness, bitterness, and bright carbonation. And when older, the earthy straw and loamy tang of funk sparkles crisp and tart on the tongue. Really, it’s more like two beers for the price of one. Which, in part, may be the best thing about this beer: just when the hops begin to fade and disappear, the Brettanomyces (and/or other potentially appropriate souring organisms) starts picking up. I call that win-win. And while some may quibble that my combination of BPA and Saison is cheating, we’re basically just talking a lighter, Pilsen malt-based beer here—the American hopping takes the potential differences between the styles in hop types and schedules. Sure, the specialty grains are different (well, kinda), but I can always use the Saison designation as justification to throw pretty much anything that I want into the mash-tun anyway. At least that’s what Phil Markowski tells me. Plus, like any good American, I reserve the right to use whatever yeast I deem necessary at a given moment—as long as it is appropriately attenuative, of course. And don’t forget the reciprocal bugs to finish off any lurking fermentable (and unfermentable!) sugars. I mean, who wouldn’t like a BPA made with Simcoe and Wyeast 3522 Belgian Ardennes? Toss in the White Labs Platinum Series WLP 644 Brettanomyces bruxellensis trois, and you had me at Belgian.

Not surprisingly, I’ve tried my hand at a couple different versions of this beer. The Dandelion Saison with Brett B was delicious enough that it was hard not drinking it all young (sure, I went light on the hops, but that was so I could discern the dandelion). An earlier version of this beer used the dregs from a bottle of the Bruery’s Saison de Lente. I currently have a Cherry Saison with Brett B that, almost four months in, is still slowly bubbling away in the carboy. By far the best version, however, is the Hoppy American Belgian Pale Ale I made with yeast cultured from a bottle of Jolly Pumpkin’s Bam Biere. I have four bottles left, one of which I drank while typing this post (see picture above). Damn, that beer is good. And I’m not alone. I’d consider the Bruery’s Saison de Lente and Anchorage Brewing’s Galaxy White IPA with Brett professionally-made versions of the beer to end all other beers offered here; there are undoubtedly others, like Goose Island’s Sofie, as well. Saison de Lente undergoes a delightful transformation in the bottle—one year later, it is nothing like the beer when fresh, and yet both are a delight. Next year, I’ll have a three-year vertical to try, and I’m excited to see how it continues to change. And when I had a bottle of Galaxy White IPA in San Francisco in May, it was bright and citrusy, just developing an underlying funky tang; the bottle I had earlier this week had decidedly shifted towards barnyard funky deliciousness, with the hop flavor all but disappeared. My first thought when trying the second bottle: that’s the one.

The Session is a monthly first Friday beer blogging event; this month is hosted by Craig Gravina at drinkdrank. Drink and blog, y’all.