Archive for the ‘Strange Ingredients’ Category

12 Beers of X-Mas: Two Brothers Peppermint Bark Porter

Friday, January 2nd, 2015

From Two Brothers Brewing Company in Warrenville, Illinois, I’m tasting the Peppermint Bark Porter. I’m always a little wary of breweries adding weird things like peppermint bark to beer,Two Brothers Peppermint Bark Porter on the concern that they’re doing it mostly for the novelty, but I think Two Brothers makes some tasty beer, so let’s give it a shot.

The Peppermint Bark Porter pours a thoroughly hazy deep chestnut brown with ruby red highlights. The thick and creamy head falls to a rocky top and lasts a long time. The nose is light and intriguing. Dark toast, hazelnuts and chestnuts from the malt are most prominent. There’s only the slightest hint of peppermint – it might just be psychological.

The flavor is wonderfully balanced between a rich malty sweetness, the peppermint freshness and an alcohol warming. The malt comes through as nuts, toffee and a bit of caramel. The sweetness subsides quickly, yielding to the sprightly peppermint flavor. Since it maintains the full body through to the finish, the mint never grows too strong.

I’m simply amazed at how balanced and drinkable this beer is. It may have an addition of peppermint, but it’s still definitely a porter, and a great winter warmer.

+Two Brothers Peppermint Bark Porter 2014

4.0 (4-7-8-4-17)

12 Beers of X-Mas: Upstream Horse Feathers Rye

Friday, January 13th, 2012

Matt and Juliet gave everyone a craft beer or wine or gourmet coffee or milk, along with the promise to make a meal pairing the beverage. Such an inspired, ideal gift. For me they chose bottle #154 of Horse Feathers Rye. This strong rye ale is brewed by Upstream Brewing Company in Omaha and aged in former Templeton Rye barrels.Upstream Horse Feathers Rye To pair with this spicy beer they appropriately made a spicy Indian lentil dish and fresh naan.

The Horse Feathers Rye is quite hazy, a ruby tinted hazelnut brown with a creamy, off-white head. The aroma is strong with ginger, to the point where you could confuse it for ginger ale. But there is plenty of rye spiciness and Templeton sweetness to it as well. There is also some caramel, and plenty of vanilla from the oak.

The flavor is a remarkable balance between the competing forces of the rye, rye whiskey, and ginger. The malt adds a significant presence, so there is an overall sensation of licorice, caramel, and even cola. Lingering spice and sweetness are light enough to reveal a hint of the alcohol. The body is light and active, but full and rich.

Brewing a beer with the strong flavors from either rye or barrel-aging is an exercise in delicate balance, but both together, not to mention the heavy ginger addition, takes the challenge to a whole new level. Upstream delivers admirably.

++Upstream Horse Feathers Rye

4.4 (3-9-8-5-19)

12 Beers of X-Mas: New Belgium Super Cru

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

In honor of their 20th Anniversary, New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins, Colorado has released a mash-up beer loosely based on their wildly popular Fat Tire.New Belgium Super Cru This is part of the Lips of Faith series, which represents most of the worthwhile New Belgium beers.

The Super Cru pours a copper tinted golden yellow with the faintest of haze. The head is off-white, and while there isn’t much, what’s there sticks around. The nose is light and fruity: the Asian pears they’ve brewed this with really stand out. There is also a bit of an earthy spiciness and a fair amount of pale malt character.

The flavor is sweet, dominated by bready malt and fruity pear. A bit of spice follows, unfortunately timidly. The black pepper from the yeast and the alcoholic bite join forces here, but don’t quite measure up. The alcohol grows stronger and its sharpness lingers much too long, yet this fails to allay the cloying palate.

+/-New Belgium Super Cru

3.2 (3-7-6-3-13)

Sam Adams Longshot

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

The Boston Beer Company, makers of Samuel Adams, run a really neat program called Longshot. They host a homebrew competition with the top prize a chance to recreate the recipe as a commercial batch. Some percentage of the winners are various staff members at Sam Adams, showing the culture of innovation BBC fosters.

Tonight I will be tasting the three Longshot beers available this year. BBC employee Caitlin Declercq brewed a light ale with lavender and honey, Honey B’s Lavender Ale. Richard Roper crafted what sounds like a Belgian IPA, the Friar Hop Ale. Finally I will have Rodney Kibzey’s Blackened Hops, an example of the new style Cascadian dark ale.

First up, Honey B’s Lavender Ale. A dense off-white head sits atop this brilliantly clear golden straw beer. The nose is fairly strong, with the floral lavender being the most prominent. A rich herbal and citric hop aroma adds another dimension. However, it is all just a bit too sharp.

The flavor is very bright and spicy, almost like a ginger beer. The herbal lavender flavor and earthy hops create this rich spiciness. A bit of alcohol adds a warming sensation, and the honey brings just a bit of a tempering sweetness. Very refreshing, again like a ginger beer. However, just like with the nose, the flavor is a shade too intense.

Next, the Friar Hop Ale. This nearly clear copper-colored beer has some off-white head. The nose is a sweet combination of toast and caramel from the malt and spiciness from the yeast. A citric hop aroma rounds it out, but the spicy maltiness is significantly stronger.

The flavor is strongly spicy. Black pepper character from the yeast melds perfectly with the coriander spice addition and slight alcoholic bite. Citrus hop flavor likewise combines with bitter orange peel. A light caramel malt flavor supports it all, but a richer body would support it better.

Finally, Blackened Hops. This one finally has a generous, rich, creamy head. It is tan, floating on a nearly black beer. The nose reveals a big citric hoppy character. Rich lemon, orange, mango, and pinapple fruit aroma and just a bit of a resinous pine. Almost no malt character detectable.

The flavor is seriously bitter. Strong citrus and pine hop flavor contributes to that intensity. A major roast malt character is trying to break through, however, and does a decent job of it. This burnt bitterness doesn’t exactly mesh well with the citric hop bitterness. The palate is very sweet, to the point of being cloying.

One last note – if you homebrew, enter next year’s Longshot competition and if you win you just might have your beer reviewed on this very blog. To enter, head on over to

+Samuel Adams Blackened Hops

3.6 (4-8-6-2-15)

+Samuel Adams Friar Hop Ale

3.6 (2-8-7-3-15)

+Samuel Adams Honey B’s Lavender Ale

3.4 (3-7-6-4-14)

A Couple Weird Beers

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

There are a few kinds of beer that I don’t drink much of, often beers with strange ingredients. Well tonight I have two, Left Hand Juju Ginger and O’Fallon Cherry Chocolate beer. I’m concerned about the ginger lingering in my mouth, so I’ll taste the chocolate one first.

The Cherry Chocolate Beer pours a very hazy burnt orange color. Some creamy off-white head rests atop. The nose is strong with cherry and chocolate flavorings, like a plate of cherry pie filling and tootsie rolls. There is only a bit of malt character that comes off as graham crackers.

The initial flavor seems much like a chocolate-covered cherry, but right away you notice it is actually quite dry. A balancing hop bitterness actually makes this beer quite balanced. The chocolate flavor melds into the malt, and an herbal hoppiness proves that this is beer. The cherry flavor lingers just a bit, a bit too sharp and at odds with the rest of the menagerie. Were it not for this, the Cherry Chocolate would be very drinkable.

The Good Juju Ginger pours a nearly clear copper-tinted straw color. There is almost not head, but what’s there is white. The aroma is fairly mild, with some ginger character and just a bit of malt. It almost smells like a ginger soda.

The flavor is likewise quite mild and mostly ginger. The noticeable bitterness from the hops and the spiciness of the ginger meld together. There may be an herbal hop flavor as well, and there is just the faintest malt sweetness. The carbonation is high, reinforcing the impression of soda.

+Left Hand Good Juju Ginger

3.5 (2-7-8-3-15)

+/-O’Fallon Cherry Chocolate

2.9 (4-6-6-2-11)

Strubbes Chocolat

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

This is yet another entry I wrote notes for while in Germany that I am just now getting around to posting. Enjoy.

In the giftshop of the Chocolate Museum in Köln I picked up a bottle of Strubbes Chocolat, a beer brewed with cocoa. It’s made by Brouwerij Strubbe, who also produce Ichtegem’s Flemish beers and a few others.

The Chocolat pours a deep golden color bordering on amber, brilliantly clear. The white head is thick, creamy, and dense. The aroma is sweetly malty, with caramel and bread notes. The hints of cocoa and wheat have the sense of a breakfast cereal.

The flavor continues the cereal theme, lightly chocolatey and wheaty. It is a bit sweet with caramel and malt. The carbonation is a bit flat, making the sweetness more prominent and the body seem fuller than it would be otherwise. The Chocolat would be much better if it were livelier.

+/-Strubbes Chocolat

3.3 (3-7-6-3-14)

Spotlight Week: Goose Island Beer Company

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

2010-01-14-giIf you want an inspirational story about a brewery that pulled itself up by its bootstraps, you need look no further than Goose Island Beer Company. In 1988, John Hall opened the first Goose Island Brewpub, at Clybourn and Sheffield on the north side of Chicago. Though essentially in Lincoln Park, the brewery is not all that far from Cabrini-Green, which at the time was easily the most unsafe part of the northside. Over the years the brewpub built a community of beer fans and simultaneously played an instrumental role in revitalizing the surrounding neighborhood.

By 1995, the brewpub had grown enough that Goose Island opened the brewery on Fulton Street. This is the facility that currently produces all the company’s bottled beers. They have since expanded further, opening a second brewpub on Clark Street, half a block from Wrigley Field. Each of the two brewpubs produces their own specialties and unique creations. After a deal with Widmer (wherein Goose Island brews are sold by Anheuser-Busch distributors) the beer is now available nationwide, and also in England. It seems the plan has paid off, for in the last three years they have grown from 37th largest brewery to 22nd.

2010-01-14-matildaGoose Island produces five year-round beers: 312 Urban Wheat Ale (one wonders what exactly “urban” means here), Honker’s Ale (a regular bitter), India Pale Ale, Nut Brown Ale (formerly the more inspired Hex Nut Brown), and Oatmeal Stout. They also brew a variety of seasonals (some with more interesting names) and their acclaimed special reserves. Among the most sought-after craft beers these days is their Bourbon County Stout, a bourbon-barrel aged imperial stout that sells for upwards of $5 per 12 ounce bottle. Tonight I will try three others of the brewmaster’s specials: the Belgians Matilda, Sofie, and Juliet.

Matilda used to be brewed with Brettanomyces wild yeast. It is my understanding that they now only bottle with that infernal bug. It pours the color of a persimmon, crystal clear despite warnings of “a sediment”. The lace-inducing off-white head is not nearly voluminous enough. Matilda has a delicate fruity nose: mostly raspberries, cherries, and honeydew. There is a little spicy aroma and some clean malt as well. Perhaps some roses in the background.

2010-01-14-sofieThe taste is spicy with yeast character. A noticeable alcohol warming supports the peppery flavor. There is some strange fruit and caramel. A little dustiness and that strange fruit are all I get from the Brett. A bit of hop bitterness seems present but is quickly gone. Tastes just a little flat. Officially it is “dry and quenching”, but I don’t find it either. There is a prominent sweetness that turns cloying, leaving a coating on the tongue accompanied by a lingering astringency. Don’t drink this one now; sit on your bottles for two or three years.

Twenty percent of Sofie has been aged in wine barrels of undetermined varietal on a bed of orange peels. This has been blended back with the unadulterated version to yield a barely hazy, barely yellow brew. A decent amount of creamy bright-white head leaves a thick lacing on the glass. The nose is of orange peel, almost to the point of smelling like Gojo. Actually, it has the exact aroma of fermented Mountain Dew (not that I know that at all).

The taste continues the citric bomb with a tart lemon flavor. At first that character makes it seems like a Berliner weisse, but it is not nearly acidic enough and much too sweet. The lemon yields to pepper and a malt flavor. The sweetness lasts throughout and lingers on. This is a highly regarded beer, and frankly I don’t understand why. The flavor is flat and the sweetness cloying. As my brother (who likes it) said, people must like Mountain Dew more than I.

2010-01-14-julietFinally we get to Juliet, an aptly-named sour, aged in wine barrels of indeterminate variety on blackberries (at one point they were using gooseberries). Juliet is an opalescent burnt orange with some white head. The nose is deep. Fruit dominates the first level, mostly pie cherries, dates, blackberries, kiwi, and raisins. Then comes a dusty, barnyard sweetness. Deeper yet is a rich balsamic vinegar character. A complicated and intriguing aroma.

The flavor is likewise complicated. Seriously fruity at first, the sour character soon comes out. Berries, pomegranate, and a little more exotic fruit are present. A lemon tart and balsamic vinegar sour add a rich complexity. Some caramel flavor attempts a malty coup but the acidity fights on. The flavor continues to develop on the tongue for several minutes, eventually resting as a latent astringency. The sweetness and acidity balance each other initially but they both linger a bit long. An otherworldly berry taste is really the star of this beer.

++Goose Island Juliet

4.3 (4-9-9-3-18)

+Goose Island Matilda

3.6 (3-8-7-3-15)

+/-Goose Island Sofie

3.2 (4-6-6-3-13)

Furthermore Thermo Refur

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

This is quite possibly the strangest beer made by an American microbrewery (and I realize how bold of a statement that is), yet it maintains cohesiveness and drinkability. The sages of Spring Green Furthermore Beer produce something they call Thermo Refur. It has plenty of malt and loads of hops. (Not so odd.) They’ve added Brettanomyces wild yeast and lactic acid bacteria. (Okay, a pedestrian eccentricity.) Also black pepper. (Getting stranger…) Did I mention beets as well? Dwight Schrute would be so proud.

2009-12-10-thermorefurEverything I’ve heard has been to give the Refur plenty of air and time. This article over at the Madison Beer Review about Thermo Refur goes into great detail on the role temperature plays in sensory perception. This bottle (from January) has been poured, let’s let it breathe for a minute.

The Refur is ruby, an almost purple-colored brown which hearkens strongly to the beets within. Very active on the pour, it generates plenty of head, a creamy tan. Some of this lasts. The nose is initially very light, with a bit of a dark fruity character that comes across as plums and fruitcake. Some spices accompany this, giving it a clean, cool, peppery aroma. As it warms the fruit turns into pie cherries. Some dusty barnyard aroma is found hiding there.

A rich assortment of dark fruit flavors is revealed at first. Raisins, cherries, plums, and dates are joined by a vinous character. The pepper comes through, too, paired with the hop bitterness to leave a refreshing palate. A hint of sour comes out more and more with air and warmth. The fruit on the tongue opens up as well, revealing raspberries and a just a hint of cough-syrup cherry. A vinegar character grows over time. The carbonation is extremely lively but not at all sharp.

Thermo Refur is quite odd in design. If beer is made with four ingredients, three of the four are weird in this beer. Weird microorganisms: the usual yeast, plus some wild, and bacteria, too. Weird spices: hops but also black pepper. Weird fermentables: beets with the malt. Many breweries nowadays are content to simply throw strange things in a pot and let it go. Furthermore has gone fifteen steps further, crafting an opus of flavor. Despite the nontraditional ingredients this has a somehow familiar flavor. Strange and at the same time sensational.

+Furthermore Thermo Refur

3.8 (4-8-7-4-15)

Boulevard Two Jokers Double-Wit

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

The latest release in the Smokestack Series from Boulevard Brewing Company in Kansas City is a Belgian-style wit (meaning “white” or, alternatively, “wheat”) brewed to American-style strength. Reflecting this dual nature they have called it Two Jokers Double-Wit. This beer is loaded with weird stuff, and I don’t mean simply the coriander and orange peel typical of witbiers.Two Jokers Double-Wit They also threw in lavender, grains of paradise, and cardamom. For good measure they fermented it with a lactic-acid producing bacteria in addition to the usual wit yeast.

A huge pillowy head forms above the mildly hazy pale amber Two Jokers. The aroma is light, but much complexity is packed in. A swirl of spices is complimented by a delicate and refreshing acidic nose. Some fruit is noticeable (probably from the yeast) and a bit of wheat malt comes through.

In contrast to the nose, the taste is unabashed. The spices play a not-quite-too-agressive role, with especially the coriander and grains of paradise lending their unique flavors. There is but a hint of alcohol that is quickly covered by the acidity. A light citric fruitiness, of oranges and lemons, rounds out the flavor. The body is just a bit heavy despite the refreshing effect of the lactic acid.

The cornucopia of spices works wonders for the aroma but it might be a little too much on the taste. However, all in all a great wit.

+Boulevard Two Jokers Double-Wit

3.9 (4-9-7-3-16)

1337 Brewing

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

Researchers at Boston University deserve some sort of award. They have perfected control over flocculation, the process wherein the yeast cells clump together and fall to the bottom of the fermenter. By varying when (and if) the yeast flocculates you can exercise precise control over the flavor of the beer. If the yeast clumps together early and falls to the bottom it may leave a good amount of residual sugar in the beer and give it a sweet taste. On the other hand, if it fails to flocculate at all the beer will remain hazy and have a bready yeast flavor.

Anyway, James Collins led a team of synthetic biology researchers that have developed a kind of library of genetic “routines”. They have deconstructed much of the biological machinery that drives activation of genes. By using this library and lots of computer modeling they are able to assemble these component parts into what they call a gene network and have them behave in predictable ways.

So anyway, this team has used their library to produce a system quite analogous to an electric circuit that precisely controls the timing of yeast flocculation.

I wonder if anyone could get away with synthetic-yeast fermented beer?