Archive for November, 2008

Stout Week: A Couple Oatmeal Stouts

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

Nothing could have rounded out stout week like the wet snowfall that has blanketed Iowa today. To wrap up the beer ratings I am trying two oatmeal stouts. Rolled oats are used to add body to beer, giving oatmeal stout a viscous palate often described as chewy. They also add proteins that are helpful to head retention, so these beers tend to have a thick moussey head.

The first example I have is a local one, Hub City Oatmeal Stout. Hub City’s beers tend towards the lower end of the carbonation spectrum, falling closer to real ale than many microbrews. Despite the lack of effervescence this beer pours a creamy fallow-colored head. The beer itself is a hazy auburn. I smell some roast malt but it is overpowered by brown malt aromas: mainly biscuits and caramel. There is a pronounced yeast fruitiness as well.

The flavor is quite similar to Guinness Draught: relatively mild, with some roast character and a strong astringent bitterness. The fruity notes (berries and mangoes) promised by the aroma come through as well, rounding out the flavor. The palate is much too thin for an oatmeal stout, and is bordering on cloying.

The second oatmeal stout I’m trying is The Celebrated Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout. The brewery this beer is produced in draws water from a 1758 well. The beer is fermented in what are called “Yorkshire Squares”, square-shaped fermentation vessels built from large slabs of local slate. Oatmeal stout had fallen extinct when Michael Jackson wrote about it in 1977, inspiring the founder of Merchant du Vin importers, Charles Finkel, to commission Sam Smith to resurrect the style. So (if you want to provoke a fight) you could say this is the original oatmeal stout.

This beer pours a near-black with notes of sienna and a fair tan head. The nose is strongly fruity with faint hints of roast and black malt. A cidery, almost vinous flavor greets you at first, with the roast malt and coffee flavor not far behind. The whole tastes almost of cotton candy. Some lingering sweetness helps that impression. While somewhat chewy, I would prefer if it were marginally thicker. Then again, if I had my way you’d have to floss after having an oatmeal stout.

Next time I do a stout week I’m getting a bottle of Lion.

+Hub City Oatmeal Stout

RateBeer: 3.2 (3-8-6-2-13)

+Sam Smith Oatmeal Stout

RateBeer: 3.5 (3-7-7-4-14)

Stout Week: Bourbon County Vertical

Friday, November 28th, 2008

This evening, after the family Thanksgiving celebration, Matt and I had a mini vertical tasting. This is when you open several vintages of the same beer and compare. We are both fans of the special reserve beers from Goose Island, so we’ve got a few still around from last year. Perhaps at some point we can do a vertical with Matt’s Matildas.

Tonight we had a 2007 and a 2008 Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout. This is a serious imperial stout, probably weighing in around 10 or 11 percent alcohol, before it is aged in bourbon casks for several months, bumping it up to 13%. The story goes that every year when this one is bottled the Goose Island top brass comes around to the packaging line to ensure they get their cases.

Bourbon County pours a thick hazelnut black with no head, just a few stray bubbles. Make sure you drink this out of a thin, clear, ideally stemmed glass, as it will reward you with an enchanting copper coating. The aroma is sweet and playful, with notes of black licorice, light oak, and some bourbon. The 2008 has a sharp alcoholic nose as well as something that smells like twizzlers. The roast aroma is more prominent in the 2007, which has an overall rounder, more robust nose.

Bourbon and roast malt ride the egg-nog thick wave of this ale. Caramel, licorice, and some anise round out the flavor. The 2008 is again just a bit too boozy. The palate is chewy and sweet but not at all cloying, and somewhat smoother on the 2007.

Overall both vintages seem very similar. Where there are differences I attribute them to the varied fermentation of the beer in each batch rather than to aging. Somewhat more care was taken with the 2007 batch, and whether it was the fermentation or barrel aging, it did not pick up the unpleasant sharpness of its younger brother.

++Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout 2007

RateBeer: 4.2 (4-9-8-4-17)

+Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout 2008

RateBeer: 3.9 (4-8-7-4-16)

Stout Week: Guinness Extra Stout and Draught

Friday, November 28th, 2008

Now I’ve got a bottle of Guinness Extra Stout, the much lauded export stout, and a widget can of Guinness Draught. One should note that this bottle of Extra Stout was brewed in New Brunswick while the can comes straight from Ireland.

The Extra Stout gives a thick, creamy head that is only the slightest bit spongy. The head is straw-colored and the beer itself a caramel-tinted deep black. The nose is delicate, with major malt character. A strong biscuit and toast brown malt aroma hearkens back to the porter roots of the style. Light caramel and roast add complexity.

The flavor has a similar detached bitter astringency as in the tap version, but there is also a significant contribution of flavor from brown and roast malt. While the roast still seems underbalanced for the bitterness, it is certainly much closer to ideal. In addition, there is a meaty yeast character that was entirely lacking on tap. The palate is thick and creamy without being cloying or undrinkable.

The Guinness Draught: I have to admit, this does pour exactly like Guinness on tap, with the thick milky head falling quickly in waves, settling with a creamy off-white meringue layer over a red-tinted dark brown. I can see (though I may not understand) why they spend so much time perfecting that aspect of the experience. Like on tap this has almost no nose, though the canned version does have slightly more toast aroma and a significant diacetyl note.

The taste confirms diacetyl, which actually serves to mellow out the unpleasant bitterness I’ve come to associate with Guinness. Unfortunately there’s almost no other flavor so it is a lost cause anyway. The palate is rich and creamy, and unlike on tap, it is not at all cloying. This beer is not bad, but it could be so much more.

+Guinness Extra Stout

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

+/-Guinness Draught

RateBeer: 3.1 (5-5-5-4-12)

Stout Week: Guinness on tap

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

I’m at The Sanctuary, a classy, wooden-clad beer bar in Iowa City. The four-inch lettering outside proclaims: “Over 130 Ales and Lagers”. I only see 106, but who’s counting?

Two varieties of bottled stout come out of the St. James Gate: Extra Stout and Draught. The “draft” version is made to emulate the wildly popular (though somewhat maligned) on tap version of Guinness Stout. Later this week I will taste both bottled versions, so today is some research.

Guinness on tap pours a deeply dark near-black with red highlights. The head is lusciously creamy and thick, reminiscent of meringue. This momentary illusion is shattered, as there is practically no aroma, just the faintest hint of caramel.

The flavor is somewhat bitter, but unsettlingly so. There is not any roast character to match the bitterness, and neither is there hop flavor as would be in a pale ale. The flavor really is noticeable only in comparison with the lack of a nose. The palate is creamy and light. Unfortunately the bitterness lingers too long. A slight sweetness lingers cloyingly.

It is amazing to see a beer do so well in every category but flavor and aroma. I look forward to trying Guinness Extra Stout later this week, as that might redeem the St. James Gate.

-Guinness (tap)

RateBeer: 2.2 (5-4-2-3-8)

Stout Week: Kalamazoo and Shakespeare

Monday, November 24th, 2008

In England, stout was originally a term for strong porters according to Ron Pattinson. In the U.S., it has come to be defined as a distinct style. Stout is one of the darkest styles, with beers ranging from dark brown to obsidian black. Roasted malt flavor and aroma are key, often as coffee and chocolate character. American ones sometimes are loaded with citrus hoppiness as well.

First off is Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout. The bottle proclaims this is a “stout brewed with brewers’ licorice” which I take to mean roasted malt. The Kalamazoo Stout gives a decent frothy copper head, but it doesn’t last long. That’s probably because it is not too strongly carbonated. The aroma is very faint, but what is there reminds me of dark roast coffee, dark chocolate, and caramel.

The flavor is quite mild as well. There is a certain roasty bitterness, much like coffee. Slightly sweet , hardly carbonated, and made with tons of dark malts, this beer still manages to be playful and light on the way down. A great example of a classic style.

Next up will be Rogue Shakespeare Stout. This pours a dark brown that can only be called bistre. Immediately there is almost no head and it fades fast from there, but what I can see is ochre. The aroma is quite prominently citric, with some roast character breaking through.

The flavor is actually somewhat unpleasant. The orange, citric hop flavors are fighting with the roasted malt. Roast bitterness does not mix well with fruity flavor. Here is what this flavor reminds me of: this morning, lacking a better vessel to hold OJ on my way to work, I put it in my old travel coffee mug. The palate is quite thin, almost frothy. The unpleasant bitterness lingers… unpleasantly. I should have drank this colder.

+Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout

RateBeer: 3.6 (3-7-7-4-15)

+/-Rogue Shakespeare Stout

RateBeer: 2.7 (2-7-4-3-11)

Dogfish Head Raison D’Extra

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

I just saw this review over at Legal Beer of Dogfish Head‘s Raison D’Etre. That “deep mahogany” beer has inspired me to pull out a bottle of their other, stronger raisin beer, Raison D’Extra. They haven’t released this since March of 2007 so this bottle has had a little while to age.

This one pours a thickly hazy dark reddish-brown, almost maroon, with some creamy straw head. On the nose is strong booze with a raisin character, quite reminiscent of port. Somewhat sweet, there are also major oak and caramel aromas. This is a thick, complex aroma you could study carefully.

The flavor begins with a sharp, but not unpleasant alcohol bite and a sweet, oak-raisin fullness. The bite fades to a warming and the sweetness to fruity yeast character and strong brown malt and brown sugar flavors: rich caramel and biscuit, some toast.

While D’Extra is quite sweet, it is also very strongly carbonated so it still seems relatively lively and light. The (18%+) alcohol invigorates every part of your senses: first the nose, then the lips and front of the tounge, and finally the roof of the mouth and the back of the throat. This is quite a beer to sip and share on a cold late fall evening such as this.

++Dogfish Head Raison D’Extra

RateBeer: 4.1 (3-9-7-5-17)

Rate Beer is back up!

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Finally, after a long wait caused by thoughtless crackers, RateBeer is back online. Let’s hope they can stay up this time.

Two Hearted Ale

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

Note that unlike every other beer made by Bell’s Brewery (other than those labeled Kalamazoo), this beer is not Bell’s Two Hearted, but rather simply Two Hearted Ale. It is an IPA brewed to 7% alcohol, but delicate enough to be sessionable.

Two Hearted pours a thoroughly opal gamboge, an almost mustard yellow color. The head is thick but lacy, straw-colored, and lasts quite a while, forming a mushroom in the center. The hop aroma is strong enough that you don’t even need to lean in. Supremely floral, strong rose and orange blossoms predominate. Some grapefruit shines through as well.

While the flavor is unmistakably bitter, it is not as intense as many American IPAs. Floral hop flavor, light citric fruitiness, and a faint tartness make up the immediate impression. The bitterness comes afterward with the liveliness of the carbonation and a slight sweetness to balance.

++Two Hearted Ale

RateBeer: 4.0 (4-8-8-3-17)

Hub City Amber Ale Release

Friday, November 14th, 2008

I’m gonna come right out and say it, Hub City is one of my favorite new breweries. Though their mailing address is in Stanley, Hub City is named after the sobriquet of Oelwein, Iowa. The brewery was started last December by the Knoke family, who built a bottling line and tasting room and converted their barn to a brewhouse. The son Brad is the brewer, and Brian and Gloria own it and run the business side of things.Hub City Amber Ale

If you are in the neighborhood I would highly suggest stopping by, as they are mucho friendly, their facilities almost futuristic, and their beer certainly worth the stop. I have been very impressed with their dark beers, not so much with their lighter selections. That’s why I have been anxiously awaiting this amber since I first heard about it back at the Festival of Iowa Beers.

Amber ale may be one of the most diverse styles. Alcohol ranges from ordinary 4.5 to 5% beers up to a normal strong beer (over 6 percent abv). The color can be pretty much anything darker than pale and lighter than brown. Some have an assertive hop bitterness, others are balanced or even malty. So it’s hard to know what you’re getting into. Let’s dive in.

Hub City’s Amber pours an opalescent orange-red, almost scarlet. Clearly this bottle is not carbonated enough, as the head is not quite there. What I see lasts a while, though. The nose is relatively malty-sweet, with some biscuits and a little caramel. I can detect a bit of butter as well, indicative of diacetyl. The taste confirms a bit of diacetyl. Frequently this is considered an off-flavor, but it’s almost requisite in English ales so I will refrain from attacking it at the moment.

Otherwise the taste is relatively balanced. Some maltiness with a light caramel character and a delicate yeast fruitiness. I can tell there were some hops added, but I think it could use just a bit more bitterness. As it warms, the taste gets rounder and fuller. This beer would be really great if it were somewhat more carbonated.

+Hub City Amber Ale

RateBeer: 3.2 (3-7-6-4-12)

Here's what I'm doing with my beer…

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

Inspired by olllllo’s recent post on beerporn, I have decided to take stock of my beer cellar. Unlike olllllo I prefer to keep most of my beer out of the fridge so that it continues to age. Only the weakest and most unstable of beers should be kept refrigerated.

If nothing else this post will give you a preview of some of the beers I will try in the coming weeks…

“Rule: A good brewer has hand-crafted beer.”

  • Two and a half cases of my alt
  • Four bottles of my Flood Water Bitter, as well as four bottles that I inoculated with Brettanomyces to give it an old ale character
  • Three cases of random bombers of really old homebrew (more than two years)

“Rule: A good brewer is a good beer host and has beer on hand for non-beer folks.”

  • 1/2 case Millstream Shild Brau
  • 6 pack Millstream Hefeweissen
  • 5 cans Wittekerke
  • Sam Smith’s Organic Lager and Old Brewery Pale Ale, Breckenridge Avalanche, Schell Firebrick

“Rule: A good brewer has research beers and beers to enjoy with other aficionados.”

  • New Glarus Edel Pils and Imperial Weizen
  • Tyranena Devil Over a Barrel
  • Lake Louie Dino’s Dark and Mr. Mephisto’s Imperial Stout
  • Central Waters Bourbon Barrel Cherry Stout
  • Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron and Raison D’Extra
  • Capital Maibock and an Autumnal Fire aged over a year by Jan of Steve’s Liquor!
  • Founder’s Breakfast Stout and Kentucky Breakfast Stout
  • Stone Oaked Arrogant Bastard
  • 4 Samiclaus 2006, 4 Orval, 2 each of the Rochefort 6, 8, and 10
  • St Bernardus 12
  • Aventinus and Aventinus Eisbock
  • J.W. Lees Harvest Ale and Harvest Ale aged in Calvados casks
  • A bottle of Lazy Mutt
  • Duchesse de Bourgogne and Echt Kriekenbier from Br. Verhaeghe Vichte
  • 4 bottles of 2008 Three Floyds Dark Lord
  • Panil
  • 2004 Cantillion Lou Pepe Gueze
  • de Rocs Grand Cru
  • 5 bottles of 2007 Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
  • Jolly Pumpkin La Roja
  • North Coast La Merle
  • Ambree Des Moines
  • Hanssens Oude Kriek
  • Taras Boulba from Br. de la Senne

I would go ahead and add another rule:

Rule: A good brewer has decent beer (other than their own!) to drink for themselves.

  • Case of Millstream IPA
  • Saison DuPont
  • Ayinger Brau-Weisse, Ur-Weisse, and Celebrator
  • Ommegang Rare Vos
  • Rogue Shakespeare Stout
  • Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout

Anyway, that’s not all the beer I have but I’m lazy and it can’t be all that interesting.