Archive for the ‘Wood-Aged Beer’ Category

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)

Thanksgiving Sour Ales

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

The Huffington Post has an article with Thanksgiving beer suggestions by Justin Philips from Beer Table. Three of the six are sour ales: Rodenbach Grand Cru, BFM‘s Abbaye de Saint Bon Chien, and the Leipziger Gose from Bayerischer Bahnhoff.

My family had Thanksgiving early this year, and it occurred to me that sour ales are particularly suitable for Thanksgiving. In many ways a sour ale is much like a fine wine, seeming to balance the food in a way that a lot of beer doesn’t. Also it’s a really good chance to challenge your family and friends’ expectations about beer. The large (wine-sized) bottles it’s sold in encourage sharing.

Here are several sour beers I think would make a good addition to a Thanksgiving table. Mariage Parfait, the oude geuze from Brouwerij Boon in Lembeek, Belgium, compares favorably with champagne. I’ve written about the rich aroma, which seems light but draws you in, and the bold yet approachable flavor.

Another good choice to match a Thanksgiving meal is Duchesse de Bourgogne from Brouwerij Verhaeghe in Vichte, Belgium. This is a richer beer, with a strong flavor reminiscent of balsamic vinegar. It also has dark fruit and port character. This is one of my favorites; you can read more about it in one of my two reviews.

My last suggestion isn’t actually sour, but it is brewed with Brettanomyces wild yeast. It’s Alive from Mikkeller, the gypsy brewer, also has a bright champagne-like quality. But It’s Alive is a little stronger and has a healthy infusion of hops to boot. The balance between the hop bitterness and the earthy character from the brett is masterful.

Two Red Beers

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

I picked up a bottle based purely on the style indication “French red ale”. I am hoping that this one is similar to Flemish red ales, one of my favorite kinds of beer. Red beers from Flanders are sour, aged in oak barrels which are infused with a cocktail of bacteria and yeast. The end result is a beer with a heck of a lot of character.

The French offering is called Gavroche, brewed by Brasserie St. Sylvestre in Saint-Sylvestre-Cappel. This hamlet, with just over a thousand residents, is in the far north of France, well within the sphere of influence of Flanders. The bottle has easily the most interesting closure system I have seen in a while: it is corked with a mushrooming cork, like many Belgians, but instead of a thin wire cage to keep it in, there is one hefty wire bar across the top.

I can tell from the nose that this beer isn’t sour, so I’m glad I’m trying it first. The Gavroche pours a beautiful orange-red, somewhere between copper and rust, clear enough to be brilliant, but with a satisfactory haze. The buff head is lusciously thick and creamy. The aroma is mild, dry and somewhat dusty. There is some toast and chestnut from the malt and a fair herbal and earthy hop character.

The flavor is much more assertive than the aroma would indicate, largely due to the alcohol. A rich nuttiness from the malt blends well with an alcohol flavor suited to a port wine. Both of these are supported by a solid body, which the beer’s strong effervescence keeps refreshing. Caramel and toast malt flavors come through on the back, along with a strong herbal hop character. None of it lingers very long, or even long enough.

The other red I will have tonight is brewed by Brouwerij Van Steenberge for the Monk’s Café in Philadelphia. This one is a sour, though Van Steenberge isn’t traditionally a sour beer house.

The Monk’s Café is a wonderful ruby red, lightly hazy, with a little bit of an off-white head. The nose is definitely that of a Flemish red: strongly woody, with a significant balsamic vinegar aspect. A rich nuttiness and some sweetness linger in the background.

The residual sugar is actually a bit more prominent than the organic acid. Caramel malt and some bread are followed by a balsamic vinegar flavor. Rather than evolving, like many examples, the depth of flavor somewhat falls away, leaving just a mouth puckering accompanied by residual sweetness. The mouth puckering doesn’t last long either, and the sweetness turns cloying.


3.9 (5-6-8-4-16)

+/-Monk’s Café

3.3 (4-7-6-2-14)

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)

Festival of Iowa Beers 2009

Sunday, September 6th, 2009

2009-09-06-prosI had a pretty good time at the Festival of Iowa Beers today. As always, the buzz and bustle was around the homebrewers’ tent. There were a wide range of beers on tap there: imperial this that and the other, a few sours, and several real ales served on a beer engine. The pros had a few interesting taps, but predictably most were pouring their usual fare.

There was plenty of gossip and news to be had, lots about brewery openings. The owners of Jasper Winery are apparently occupying the old Maytag factory in Newton with their new brewery. That’ll be running a copper 15 barrel two-vessel brewhouse. I also heard about a new startup that’s currently courting investors – they call themselves Grass Roots Brewing.

2009-09-06-hub-cityHub City up in Stanley is finishing the preparations on their new addition, featuring a 30 barrel brewing system. They will apparently be running double batches into 60 barrel (!) fermenters. That’s a huge increase in capacity, but apparently their distributors are working hard to keep that beer on the shelves. Hub City will also be releasing two small batch series: one of seasonals and one of high-gravity specials available only outside the state (thank you Iowa ABD!). More about those nearer to their year-end release.

I was able to try two of the beers B.J. from Hub City is developing. The first was the Russian Imperial Stout, the initial release in the out-of-state series. It was deep mahogany brown, lightly hazy, with a yellowed ring of head and a malty aroma. The taste is roasty with coffee and burnt toast. Thick and chewy, with a complex yet delicate flavor.

+Hub City Russian Imperial Stout

3.7 (4-6-8-4-15)

I also had a taste of a steam beer B.J. has been working on for the seasonal schedule. It has a light fruity nose, a pale yellow color, and almost no head. The flavor is a little sweet with a prominent yeast roughness and fruity hop character.

+Hub City Steam Beer

3.1 (2-6-7-3-13)

From the Burlington Makers of Beer (MOB) I had the cask-conditioned Mildly Interesting ale, an English-style mild. This is a near clear gamboge color with some frothy tan head. The nose is lightly malty and yeasty. It has a cider and caramel flavor, with just a bit of pomegranate.

The Ames Brewers League was one of many to bring an imperial stout aged on wood. Theirs is a Whiskey Barrel Russian Imperial Stout. It’s near black, with hints of brown and a ring of yellowed head. A sweet nose greets you initially, with prominent whiskey and rye. Thick and sweet, the flavor is toasty with a bit of roast and a strong alcohol spike. The sweetness and an astringency linger.

I had the Gruit beer from Cenosilicaphobia Brewers (a homebrew club out of Pella, Iowa). This one was labeled “NO HOPS”, and in red lettering “SOUR”. It is a hazy orange yellow with no head. The nose is lightly citric and a bit tart. The flavor is a clean lactic sour, with orange, grapefruit, and raspberry. There is just a bit of pale malt flavor. It is refreshingly tart, but not too intense.

Old Man River Brewery in McGregor, Iowa, is now bottling under the name Einfach Beer (“simple beer”). I tried both of the beers they brought to the festival (they forgot the Dunkel at home). The Oktoberfest is rich with malt flavor: toast, caramel, and bread. It is amber, almost clear, with a light malt nose. Sweet and smooth, decently authentic.

+Einfach Oktoberfest

3.0 (3-5-7-3-12)

The Helles is a clear straw with generous and creamy white head. The nose is light with corn, somewhat metallic, and a little toasty. The flavor is sulfury corn with a bit of sweetness. Actually remarkably authentic.

+/-Einfach Helles

2.8 (4-5-6-2-11)

2009-09-06-amsPowder Keggers is a women’s beer appreciation group in Des Moines, but they were able to muster up a few selections of homebrew to bring to the festival. (ed. note: this was meant to read “they’re a beer appreciation group, but they brought homebrew anyway” rather than “they’re a women’s group, but they could still figure out how to bring beer”) I tried their Lady Nessa’s Grand Cru. It was a very clear pale amber color with a little white head. The nose was malty with notes of grassy hops. The flavor is malty, with an alcohol tinge and a balancing sweetness. Some earthy hops come through. The body is thick but not cloying.

From the Raccoon River Brewers I tried an Oktoberfest. This one highlighted the difficulties brewing a good festbier. It was an opal amber with some off-white head. A lightly sweet, toast and corn nose led into a flavor of cotton candy and some bread. Sweet and cloying.

From down in Fort Madison the crew at Lost Duck Brewing Company brought a few interesting beers. The one I tried was the Duck ala Orange, an orange-infused lager. This one is light on flavor with an orange character that borders on synthetic. Very sweet, it’s a beer for those who appreciate Leinie’s Sunset Wheat. The redeeming quality is the bitter orange peel that comes through if you look for it.

+/-Lost Duck Duck ala Orange

2.6 (2-4-7-3-10)

From the MUGZ homebrew club I tried Little Brown Winkie. It claimed to be aged on sour cherries. Lightly hazy and reddish brown, the Winkie has some tan head. The nose is strong with pie cherries, I’d say montmorency. There is also just a bit of gym sock. It has a strong sharp pie cherry flavor with some malt. An astringency and sweetness linger.

Well, as usual I don’t think I was there long enough and I don’t think I had enough variety. But all in all it was a pretty good festival.

Oh yeah, and I took a look around the new brewhouse at Millstream. It’s coming along…


Sour Week: Grand Cru Bruocsella Cantillon

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

The term “grand cru” refers to a brewery’s finest product, and it is no different at Cantillon. After three years of fermentation the very best casks at the brewery museum are selected for the Grand Cru Bruocsella. This organic lambic is unblended, so it is essentially without carbonation and has a rich, mature flavor profile. Cantillon says this beer is intended to be “not drunk but savoured”.

2009-08-18-bruocsellaThe Bruocsella is a lightly hazy golden poppy. Just a hint of activity puts a spindly thread of straw-colored head in a ring around the glass. The nose is quite funky and sour: horse blanket, vinegar, and sour laundry. There is a bit of peanut butter. The aroma is dry and dusty. Like many lambics it is woody, but taken to a new level: it reminds me of the smell of my recorder from elementary school. Notes of cheese and gym sock. Paired with all this pleasantness is a delicate fruit character of mango, papaya, and red delicious apple.

A noticeable acidity leads the flavor charge, turning more potent as it moves back in the mouth. A sharp lactic tart is augmented by a bit of acetic sour. A funky, sweaty barnyard character rides the top of the tongue. Grains come out on the sides with wheat, pale malt, and some huskiness. A bit of a jelly bean fruit character.

The flavor is rich, the sour pungent, and the carbonation nonexistent, but somehow this beer is still quite drinkable. Oh, I’m sorry Jean-Pierre, “savorable”.

++Grand Cru Bruocsella Cantillon

4.0 (3-9-7-4-17)

What a long, strange week it’s been.

Sour Week: Urthel/Two Brothers Moaten and Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien

Monday, August 17th, 2009

Collaboration beers are all the rage these days: Avery and Russian River’s Collaboration Not Litigation Ale (a blend of beers both named “Salvation”), the Brooklyner-Schneider and Schneider-Brooklyner Hopfen Weisses (the latter of which I’ve rated), the new fruity and malty Van Twee from the minds of De Proef and Bell’s, as well as Flying Dog’s Collaborator Doppelbock, product of the Open Source Beer Project. I’m sure I’m missing scores of unique ones.

2009-08-17-moatenThe reason I mention this is that tonight the first beer I am trying is a collaboration brew from Two Brothers Brewing in Warrenville, Illinois, and the Urthel Brewery in Ruiselede, Belgium. Named Moaten (after the Flemish word for “friends”), this oak aged sour is brewed in the style of a west Flanders red.

The Moaten pours a lightly hazy rust color with some creamy off-white head. The nose is light and somewhat flat. A bit of caramel malt is evident but a dry, somewhat metallic character intervenes. I can detect hints of fruit, perhaps raspberries and oranges.

The taste is also flat but not as much so, with a flavor really representative of an American amber ale. Malt character is the strongest, toast and bread with some caramel. Some fruit is present, and some oak. Just the slightest hint of an acetic tart. Slightly cloying.

Not a bad beer, just not at all what the label tells me it will be. Anyway I had high hopes but low expectations for this one: both breweries are generally great but neither brews sours regularly.

Moaten is a beer that talks big but doesn’t quite deliver. Next up is a beer that makes no claims to style other than “Swiss ale de garde … aged in oak barrels”. However just one whiff and you know it’s a Flanders-style red.

One of the best non-Belgian sours I know of, the Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien is brewed by Brasserie Des Franches-Montagnes (BFM) in Saignelégier, Switzerland. This beer (named after the late brewery cat) is aged in wooden barrels that formerly held one of several wine varietals as well as a few used to age grappa, so the complexity should come naturally. My bottle is a vintage 2007.

2009-08-17-bon-chienA bit of creamy tan head sits atop the turbid, mahogany colored Bon-Chien. Not a lot of head but what is there lasts and leaves an artistic lacing. A rich aroma wafts out: fruit, wood, malt, funk, and sour. Cherries, raisins, and blackberries with a vanilla oak character. A light caramel malt sweetness balances an acidic, cider vinegar nose. Just a bit of sweat adds a funky interest. Great sweet and sour combination.

A dense and difficult flavor. This is a high compliment: the various tastes do not fight for attention, but they do alternately subdue and enhance each other. This beer requires contemplation. At first a sweet maltiness is paired with a significant bitterness. The bitterness is revealed to be an alcohol warming. The maltiness fades and is replaced by a cidery tart. The spicy and sour flavors bring out a strong fruitiness: red apples, cherries, and prunes and a hint of brandy and mulling spices. Some balsamic vinegar rounds out the sour taste. A lively carbonation, healthy tart, and restrained but definitive alcohol flavor.

A tour de force.

++Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien

4.6 (4-9-10-4-19)

+/-Urthel/Two Brothers Moaten

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

P.S. Thank you Peggy Sue for knocking half my glass of the Bon-Chien all over the desk and keyboard. I literally tried lapping it up before I realized it wasn’t any good anymore. I had to get a new keyboard in the middle of writing my post. Seriously!

Hitachino Nest Beer XH

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

From the Kiuchi Brewery in Ibaraki prefecture, Japan, I have a bottle of the Hitachino Nest Beer XH. This is a strong ale that they have matured in shochu (distilled sake) casks. These oak casks have imparted not only the rich character of this Japanese rice liquor but also passed on the little critters that were living in the wood. Because of this process XH is quite a complex beer.

The Nest XH pours an opal tawny (or burnt orange) shade that begs you just to look. Its head, the color of peach, is thick, creamy, and persistent. The nose is simply incredible. The first thing that stands out is the notable effect of Brettanomyces, no doubt prior residents of the wood this beer was aged in. The Brett gives it an old ale aroma, dry and musty, strongly reminiscent of Orval, the great Trappist ale. Hitachino Nest Beer XHI detect some strange fruit, almost like raspberries but not quite. There is just a hint of maltiness that comes through as a somewhat bready caramel aroma. Almost smells like a gueuze, almost like a dubbel, almost like a barleywine. Regular readers should know I’m an aroma fiend, and this beer really satisfies.

Now to let it in. As XH hits the tip of the tongue it is striking how mild and how mellow the flavor is. I can hardly taste anything until it rolls through the middle of my mouth with a musty, somewhat alcoholic punch. The character of the shochu comes out in force, the strong character of sake complemented by plums and raspberries. As it moves back I can taste more of the malt: medium-done toast, caramel, husk, and perhaps some molasses. It is at first apparently dry, but soon develops a caramel sweetness that lingers and balances the stronger flavors quite well. The body is full and creamy, perhaps even a little too much, as it is approaching cloying.

The look and nose of this beer is simply divine so it is hard for the taste to match up. Yet, the XH does a very good job keeping my interest with its complex flavor derived from aging in liquor-soaked, microbiologically fertile wood. Without a doubt a serious contender with the best offerings from Europe and North America. This one deserves the rare second thumb up, which, as my brother points out, requires that you put down your beer.

++ Hitachino Nest Beer XH

4.0 (5-9-7-3-16)