Archive for December, 2008

12 Beers of X-Mas: Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

Sierra Nevada Celebration AleAll good things must eventually come to an end. For instance, every night at 2 AM. Or The Riches. But in this case I mean my coverage of the 2008 holiday season. Tonight I am having the twelfth beer of X-Mas (does twelfth look strange to anyone else?): from Sierra Nevada Brewing in Chico, California comes their annual Christmas beer Celebration Ale.

If you couldn’t tell from the picture I shook this one up a little bit on my way home. Oops. Anyway, it poured a lightly hazy deep amber, almost tawny. The head is thick and creamy, with the color and feel of champagne. The nose is strongly hoppy with floral notes of potpourri and a citric herbal aroma like lemon grass. Playful and light yet complicated, the aroma can actually stop you on your way to take a drink.

The flavor is at first quite bitter, but it takes only a moment for the tongue to acclimate. Soon earthy and herbal hop flavors emerge, decorated with lemon citrus notes. A strangely light but almost cloying sweetness follows. Some malt is apparent as well: caramel and a bit of grainy flavor. The palate is thick but not too much so, the bitterness robust but not too much so, the sweetness cloying but not to much so. This beer is remarkably mild for its 6.8% legs.

+Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale

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

12 Beers of X-Mas: Hook Norton Twelve Days

Monday, December 29th, 2008

Hook Norton Twelve DaysFrom the steam-powered Hook Norton Brewery in Oxfordshire comes Twelve Days. At 5.5% alcohol this is a relatively weak English Christmas ale.

Twelve Days pours a dark ruddy brown. The head is a creamy tan, but the low level of carbonation makes it timid. A stale cidery aroma is all I can smell, almost like an old barrel. The flavor is somewhat sweet and significantly cidery as well. A bit of caramel malt comes through, and a hint of hops. This beer doesn’t seem like it travelled very well.

-Hook Norton Twelve Days

2.4 (3-4-5-3-9)

12 Beers of X-Mas: St. Peter’s Winter Ale

Saturday, December 27th, 2008

St Peters Winter AleSt. Peter’s Brewery located in The Saints, Suffolk, brews a number of good beers but doesn’t have the sense to put them in bottles that respect them. Respect Beer. Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea. See, their bottles are recreations of an eighteenth century one found near Philadelphia. Or, at least they used to be. Now the export bottles are a round version of it. The problem is that the glass is a very transparent green tint, which allows in unreasonable amounts of ultraviolet light. UV light facilitates a reaction between the riboflavin provided by the yeast and the bittering compounds of the hops that produces a very particular flavor compound. It is this compound that is the characteristic flavor and aroma of every green and clear glass beer, such as Heineken, Corona, and Tsing Tao. It is that import flavor known technically as skunking. All beer will develop this outside on a bright day if you’re not careful (give it a try, it’s fun. get something hoppy but cheap). I’ve heard from an inside source that one brewing company (I won’t name names…) has gone so far as to build a room in their packaging operations that exposes the beer to a measured amount of ultraviolet light to make sure kegs (which never see day) and anything else that doesn’t get much light will still have the proper amount of that skunky goodness.

Winter Ale pours a very dark mahogany that is almost black. The head is creamy and khaki. The nose is roast and skunky. Roast and caramel malts fight to be noticed behind the intrusive off-flavor. It is a little sweet, and I notice a bit of a spiciness. The flavor is strongly bitter at front, with a lingering sweetness. Roast malt tastes of coffee. There is a bit of noble hop herbal flavor as well as the omnipresent skunk. Very cloying.

-St. Peter’s Winter Ale

2.9 (3-6-6-2-12)

12 Beers of X-Mas: Petrus Winter Ale

Friday, December 26th, 2008

Merry Christmas.

With my family tonight I shared a bottle of Petrus Winter, the winter seasonal of Petrus beers from Brewery Bavik, brewers of Wittekerke. You can find English-language information at the Global Beer Network. There they note a possiblity I had also considered: that the Winter is blended with a bit of the Petrus Oud Bruin. The dry, lightly fruity, lightly musty aroma and flavor remind me a bit of some old browns I’ve had.

The Winter pours a barely hazy copper caramel color. On top is a thick, creamy, lingering tan head. I poured a bit too fast and the head came at least a centimeter out of the glass without spilling over. Taking a whiff is a pleasure: the aroma is light and complex. It is dry, fruity, and lightly musty. There is the strong aroma of red raspberries, and some caramel malt backing. It is playful and contemplative.

Noble bitterness balances the full palate. The flavor is fruity of mangoes and berries. As it reaches the back of the tongue it dries out, leaving spices, notably coriander and black pepper. Overall, quite dry and lively. The flavor is good, but I must admit that after the incredible nose it is a bit of a letdown.

My father, commenting on the strength (7.3% abv): “…if I have too much of the Tetris.”

+Petrus Winter Ale

4.0 (4-9-7-4-16)

12 Beers of X-Mas: Oppigårds Winter Ale

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

I know I have been slow with updates. Well… deal with it.

This evening I had a bottle of Oppigårds Winter ale. It is brewed by the Oppigårds Bryggeri in Hedemora, Sweden. It pours a lightly hazy mahogany with some straw head. The aroma is light: light with alcohol, light with hops, light with spices like coriander. There is also a bit of medicinal phenol aroma.

The flavor is refreshing and light, with a playful carbonation. There is a slight sharpness (perhaps alcohol) on the front and sides of the tongue. There is a strong hop bitterness on the middle and just a hint of sweetness at the back. There is a bit of a roast character as well. Overall the taste is balanced and smooth, a bit too smooth.

+Oppigårds Winter Ale

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

12 Beers of X-Mas: Gulden Draak Vintage Ale 2008

Sunday, December 21st, 2008

Belfry of Ghent

Belfry of Ghent

Gulden Draak, Flemish for ‘Golden Dragon’, refers to the gold statue atop the cast-iron steeple of the clock tower of the city of Ghent. The 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica describes it as, “…a gold dragon which, according to tradition, was brought from Constantinople either by the Varangians or by the emperor Baldwin after the Latin conquest”. The brewers, Brouwerij van Steenberge, go with Emporer Baldwin. They also add that it was originally a gift of Norse king Sigrid Magnusson to the city of Constantinople in 1111, and that the cities of Ghent and Bruges did battle over it. More details are found over at the Global Beer Network page: apparently Brugge stole it from Emperor Boudewijn’s hometown in Flanders shortly after it was retrieved from Constantinople. The citizens of Ghent waited over a hundred years to seek their revenge and take back the statue. Now this all seems a bit fanciful (I’m sure there were really other reasons for the battles) but it sure makes a good story.
Gulden Draak Vintage Ale 2008
So. Tonight I am having a Gulden Draak Vintage Ale 2008. This pours an opal deep auburn with some rust. The head is pillowy and thick, and the color peach-yellow. The nose is light and dry, with bit of clean roast malt aroma. I also note a hint of autolysis coming through as soy sauce. This is consistent with its classification as a barley wine, a style that often sees a bit of yeast autolysis. As the beer opens up more aromas emerge: mango fruit and a light alcoholic tinge.

The flavor is dry and spicy. The alcohol is noticeable right at first but never is unpleasant. Brown malt flavor predominates: caramel and toast, biscuits, even some chocolate. Some spices such as coriander, and a bit of a herbal character (hops?). I also am getting a bit of a musty cider flavor that reminds me of Brettanomyces wild yeast. I’m not sure if that’s other things confusing me or if they actually age this in wood or something (Van Steenberge has a very modern facility, almost everything’s been rebuilt since 1993, so I doubt it’s unintentional). There is just a bit of hop bitterness. The palate is playful and light. A teasing impression of sweetness and a strong effervescence create a lively sensation. It is a treat to drink and invites me to continue. At 7.5% alcohol that is dangerously easy.

I am surprised at how impressed I am by this beer. I would suggest this as a good beer to cellar; a few years would do great things for it.

+Gulden Draak Vintage Ale 2008

4.1 (4-7-9-5-16)

102-Year-Old Letter Found in Usher's Bottle

Saturday, December 20th, 2008

Workers expanding the Bowes Museum in Northern England have found a bottle containing a letter from the curator, speculating whether it will ever be read. The bottle was apparently from Usher’s Extra Hopped Beer.

12 Beers of X-Mas: Santa’s Butt

Friday, December 19th, 2008

Another Christmas beer from Ridgeway tonight: Santa’s Butt. The name is a play on the old porter designation ‘entire butt’.

Santa’s Butt is dark and thick, and smells surprisingly sweet. I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist. Seriously, it is a deep chocolate with hint of caramel. The head is sticky but the bubbles are large so it doesn’t last long and it’s a bit swiss-cheesy. The nose is a bit sweet, with strong roast malts which come out as coffee and baking chocolate. There’s a bit of a fruitiness as well, like gumballs.

Coffee and dark caramelized sugar (almost burnt) tastes come out from the roast malt right away. A light bitterness balances the flavor: it ends up quite mild. The palate is full and rich. It lingers just a little, though, so it ends up a bit too intense for a flavor this mild. Perhaps that would be a bit better colder.

+Santa’s Butt

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

12 Beers of X-Mas: St. Bernardus Christmas Ale

Friday, December 19th, 2008

I have been very slow with this beer series. Apologies.

From St. Bernardus in the brewing city of Watou comes the strong St. Bernardus Christmas Ale. St. Bernardus basically invented the modern Belgian “abbey” beer when in 1946 they took over the commercial production of the beers of abbey St. Sixtus. That is the monastery that produces Westvleteren Trappist ales, what many consider to be the finest beer in the world. Since that time beer brewed inside the walls of the monastery is available only to those who visit the brewery in person (or submit themselves to grey-market thuggery). St. Bernardus got the recipes and the moxy and ran with it, becoming a wildly successful commercial brewery. Until 1992 they were even selling it under the name Sixtus. They have quite a legacy: it is interesting to see today the wide variety of Belgian beer claiming association with this or that abbey that hadn’t existed for centuries before the brewery began, cashing in on the whole Belgian beer thing.

The Christmas Ale is very hazy and a deep dark mahogany, almost chocolate. The head is creamy and sticky, a pillow of wheat. The aroma is light and fruity but also noticeably cidery. A note of perry aroma as well. A bit of brown malt and a light alcohol tinge come through as well.

The flavor is strongly alcoholic – present but not sharp or overpowering. There is an exotic fruit flavor of passion fruit and papaya. A mild cider flavor and dustiness intrigue me. There is just a hint of residual sweetness. After the fourth sip or so I start to detect an oak flavor. There is some character that is just not right: it is all interesting but some fusel alcohol is really turning me off. The palate is creamy and full, perhaps just a little too lingering. But you’ve gotta hand it to Belgian brewers; for a 10% beer this is really very smooth.

+St. Bernardus Christmas Ale

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

12 Beers of X-Mas: Bell’s Christmas Ale

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

On the fourth day of Christmas my beer fridge gave to me a Bell’s Christmas Ale. This offering from Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo, Michigan uses all Michigan-grown barley and lots of Michigan-grown hops. It’s said to be brewed as a scotch ale, an amber-colored malty and earthy style.

The Christmas Ale is an opal persimmon. The head, the color of wheat, is pillowy and lingering. The aroma is lightly fruity and cidery. I barely notice a bit of dark malt as well. A small but persistent sharpness indicates alcohol.

The flavor is prominently bitter. Though overall it is not more bitter than many regular pale ales, the bitterness is earthy and flat and almost numbs the tip of my tongue. The palate starts out intense as well, and it is cloyingly sweet. On the middle of the tongue i note a spiced flavor: a combination of ginger and pepper. The earthy hops contribute, and some caramel and brown malt flavor as well. A decent Christmas beer, though I’m not sure it’s very Scottish.

+/-Bell’s Christmas Ale

3.2 (4-7-6-2-13)