Archive for January, 2009

Goose Island IPA

Friday, January 30th, 2009

Another beer from Goose Island. I like reviewing their beers cause I get the impression many people have access to them and they tend to be of high quality. This one is their India Pale Ale.
Goose Island IPA
It pours a remarkably light-color, the straw shade of a cream ale. This is a bit strange, as pale ales tend to have caramel malts to provide a bit of sweetness in order to balance the hops, and caramel malts add those rich reddish browns. It is fairly clear but there is certainly a bit of haze. The off-white head is creamy and strong, but not very voluminous. The nose is strongly of Pacific northwest hops: the floral grapefruit and orange character that defines American pale ales.

The flavor is at once creamy and sweet yet robust and bitter. Strong hop bitterness leads the way and doesn’t let up, providing a throughline that the rest of the flavor dances around. The hops aren’t content to be a bit(ter) player, though. Herbal, earthy, almost vegetal flavors intermingle with serious grapefruit, mango, and citric hoppiness. Notes of light malt come through: a clean and malty, almost bready, flavor. This contributes a bit of sweetness that is frustratingly evasive. For a moment it almost seems balanced, then the bitterness rears its beautiful head.

+Goose Island India Pale Ale

3.7 (3-8-7-4-15)

Sam Smithathon

Saturday, January 24th, 2009

Samuel Smith’s is a large independent brewery in Tadcaster, England. They are probably the most well known (in the U.S. at least), despite not being as old as Shepherd Neame nor as large as Charles Wells. Well I’ve got a couple interesting bottles to try.

Sam Smith Old Brewery Pale AleThe first bottle I have is the Old Brewery Pale Ale, Sam Smith’s classic pale ale. It pours with a light, somewhat unearthly haze. The beer is a beautiful caramel and the tan head, though thin, is creamy and lasts. The nose indicates this bottle hasn’t lasted the journey particularly well. I can detect an herbal character from noble hops, but the strongest aromas are the cider and cardboard that indicate the progression of oxidation.

The flavor is much of what I expect from the aroma: a flat, cardboardy flavor with hints of cider. I also notice a bit of the buttery flavor characteristic of many English beers. There is an unpleasant astringent bitterness and a hint of corny caramel sweetness that is not nearly enough to balance it. The palate is just a bit sticky but for the most part is reasonably creamy and full.

-Sam Smith Old Brewery Pale Ale

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

Sam Smith Organic LagerNext up is the Organically Produced Lager. This is a brilliantly clear very pale corn yellow with just a bit of bone white head. Like the beers it is emulating this lager has almost no aroma, just a hint of cooked corn. A bit of malt comes through as well, proving this one has quality production.

The flavor is light and refreshing. Though there is a strong character of corn, there is also plenty of malt flavor and even a hint of hop bitterness. The palate is smooth and lively, but almost approaches cloying. Overall a well executed lager from somewhere already trusted to produce quality ales.

+Sam Smith’s Organically Produced Lager Beer

3.1 (3-5-6-4-13)

O’Fallon 5 Day IPA

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

O'Fallon 5 Day IPAFrom the O’Fallon Brewery in O’Fallon, Missouri I have a bottle of 5 Day IPA. It pours a very hazy golden orange. The head is quite creamy and off-white. The nose is delicate, a grapefruit perfume with some citric sweetness and a bit of herbal character.

A grassy, herbal flavor is not what you’d expect after the grapefruit aroma, but there it is. The hops are earthy with only a hint of grapefruit. There is some sweetness and a bit of caramel malt flavor. There is a noticeable but not prominent bitterness. The body is sweet and soft, playful, and lightly bitter and active.

Microbreweries tend to make their IPAs either much too bitter or much too weak. Here in America they tend to overuse the strongly citric American hops. It is refreshing to have a well-crafted IPA such as this that can strike a balance between the malt and hops and between the American and noble varieties.

+O’Fallon 5 Day IPA

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

Watou Tripel

Monday, January 19th, 2009

Watou TripelFrom Br. St. Bernard in the brewer’s town of Watou, Belgium I have a bottle of Watou Tripel. I am not exactly sure the difference between this and the St. Bernardus Tripel, but my impression is that this one is just a little milder. I hope they don’t complain that I’m serving it in a glass from another Watou brewery.

The Tripel pours a very hazy orange-tinted golden. It is quite active, and the bubbles push around some unpleasant-looking chunks. While the bubbles on bottom are a little large, the top of the head is quite pillowy and creamy. On the nose are notes of alcohol, some sharp fruity esters, a bit of banana and clove, and some black pepper. There is a hint of sweetness.

The taste is somewhat off-putting: a bit medicinal, with some sweetness, some banana, and strong alcohol. The alcohol comes off both as a peppery warming of ethanol (the good stuff) as well as strong characteristics of fusel alcohols, the longer chains of carbon that lead to hangovers. The sharp, solventy, slightly fruity flavor puts you off for a reason. It’s dangerous to drink too much. The palate is quite creamy, a bit sweet, bordering on cloying. I am relatively unimpressed by this selection.

+/-Watou Tripel

2.5 (2-6-4-3-10)

Ommegang Hennepin

Friday, January 16th, 2009

In upstate New York in an idyllic farmland lies a brewery that looks like it belongs a hemisphere away. If you went by without any context, you might not even realize it was a brewery. Unlike any other American brewery (at least any built in the last two decades), Brewery Ommegang looks beautiful. This appreciation of aesthetic is surely the future of classy beer, and something I am personally concerned with, but I digress.

From Brewery Ommegang comes a serious saison, Hennepin. This beer pours a light straw with just a hint of haze. The head, bone white, is soft and pillowy. This beer exudes a delicate but powerful aroma: slightly sweet and floral, balanced by mustiness and a bit of a pepper character.

The flavor is also somewhat sweet, but not too much so. It is floral, with a pronounced earthy, dusty flavor. The alcohol (7.7%) makes itself known to you with a significant warming sensation. The palate is creamy yet lively, full and round.

The brewery’s website claims that “[i]t’s true: no matter where you are, Hennepin is the perfect ale for all seasons.” It’s true. This beer is way too sessionable. I need that, given the negative whatsits temperature out.

+Ommegang Hennepin

3.7 (4-7-7-4-15)

Delirium Tremens

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

Delirium TremensDelerium Tremens is quite a beer. There’s alot I could say: I could mention how much my brother loves it and how many people refer to it as the “best beer in the world”. I could bring up the amazing cafe in Brussels with (according to the Guinness Book of Records) the most beers available for sale of any bar in the world. But I don’t really need to mention any of that to impress you.

Delerium Tremens (from Br. Huyghe) pours a lightly hazy golden yellow. The head is a rich and creamy bright white and lasts forever. The nose is strong with the usual heavy Belgian golden ale aromas: a dry, cidery character and some fruitiness. This beer smells much more like hard cider than I would expect.

The flavor is light and playful. The strongest aspect is dry white wine, with some other fruit: green apples, berries, banana, and some kiwi. There is a hint of sweetness that is somewhat confusing, but otherwise the flavor is quite dry and a bit dusty. The palate is assertive, carbonated enough to be very sharp. It is lively but not overpowering.

+Delirium Tremens

3.7 (4-7-8-3-15)

Ace Perry

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

Last night I took advantage of the Sanctuary‘s weekly three dollar “pint” special. Note these are not full 16oz pints, but rather on the order of twelve ounces.

I had a glass of the pear cider from California Cider Company (Ace) in the Sonoma region. Micro cider is starting to become a big thing. Just offhand I can think of four other cideries: Fox Barrel also in California, Sutliff here in Iowa, Warwick Valley in New York, and the Spire Mountain ciders brewed by Fish Brewing in Washington state. I’m sure I am missing scores of them. Perry is a cider made with mostly apple juice and some percentage of pear juice, and usually has a pretty strong pear flavor.

The Ace Pear Cider pours a brilliant yellow (I won’t mention what is also this color) with no head at all. Some ciders will pour a wimpy head that sits for a moment, but the Ace is entirely head-free. The aroma is very light, but I can surely detect fruit: apples, pears, and also berries. This cider is very active, with an almost painful carbonation. That did serve to bring out the light flavors of pear, but may not have been worth it. The taste is very cidery, with a clean, dry apple flavor and just a hint of pear (unfortunately it doesn’t taste at all like Bosc, the king of pears, and my favorite variety). Overall this isn’t that bad, but I, like many beer drinkers, really have to be impressed by cider.

+/-Ace Pear Cider

2.7 (2-5-6-3-11)

Brew Better Beer

Sunday, January 11th, 2009

DJ Spiess over at the Fermentarium has some tips on improving your homebrewing. Whether you are a newbie or you’ve been brewing for years the advice can be helpful. Many of his suggestions don’t require any more equipment or effort than you are doing right now! For instance, pitching liquid yeast instead of dry, adding specialty grains (such as roasted or caramel malt) to improve flavor and head retention, or oxygenating your wort. He also suggests the no-brainer of using a one step sanitizer such as Star San. The most important, yet perhaps least obvious, recommendation is that you drink as many different beers as possible. It’s only by drinking interesting beer that you can understand and appreciate the component flavors and their interactions.

Chicory Stout

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009

Dogfish Head Chicory StoutFrom the ever-interesting Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Milton, Delaware I have a bottle of Chicory Stout. This is rich dark stout made with roasted chicory as well as organic coffee from Mexico. Roasted chicory has a history of use, especially in Europe, as a coffee substitute. The interesting ingredients don’t end there, though. Sam decided to throw in St. John’s wort, licorice root, and oatmeal to make a robust and chewy brew. Let’s see how it is.

The bottle proclaims “Goodness beneath a bone white head.” I would say the head is much darker, but who is going to call them on that? It’s creamy and it lasts on top of the almost pitch black reddish stout. The nose is strongly roasty. Coffee and roast malt are prominent, but a dry, somewhat woody roast character is present as well. I am unfamiliar with that aroma, so I’ll attribute it to the chicory. The nose is subtle, with just a bit of caramel sweetness.

The flavor is rich, roasty, and robust. Dark coffee flavors mix with a playful bitterness that reminds me of tonic water. Some chocolate is hiding in there as well, a dark baking chocolate. An earthy, almost peppery hop character is noticable. The roast is strong and lingers, not too harsh, just in perfect balance. The creaminess helps there, with a full palate that is never cloying.

+Dogfish Head Chicory Stout

4.0 (4-7-8-5-16)

Finally Something Flemish

Sunday, January 4th, 2009

Duchesse de BourgogneI’m not going to hide my bias. Belgian beers are my favorites, and among them Flemish beers stand out as heroes among giants. I’m a sucker for anything funky: lambic and gueuze, Flanders reds and browns, saisons. The best beer I have ever tasted was a 1981 vintage Liefmanns Oud Bruin. So the fact that it has taken me this long to have one is insane.

From the Brouwerij Verhaeghe in Vichte I am trying the Duchesse de Bourgogne, named after Mary, Duchess of Burgundy. All beer is variable. Other than the very biggest guys breweries cannot recreate the exact brewing and fermentation situations, and even if they could, the raw materials are never quite the same. This variability is especially prevalent in a brewery that relies on wild yeast or one that does extensive barrel fermentation or aging. As is traditional in Flanders, Verhaeghe uses both these techniques. The Duchesse is the most variable beer I have had. Sometimes it is as flavorful and smooth as the best of them, and sometimes it just comes out a vinegary mess. Let’s see how this batch is.

The Duchesse pours an opal mahogany red-brown. The tan head, while somewhat wimpy, is creamy and long-lasting. The aroma is strong of acetic acid; this comes through as balsamic and cider vinegar. There is also a heavy oak vanilla character and significant fruitiness. Berries and rhubarb are complemented by mango, pineapple, and kiwi. There is a bit of a caramel note as well.

The flavor is overall quite balanced between the caramel malt sweetness and a cider vinegar pucker. Oak, green apples, and raspberries coddle the sourness and temper its potential for fury. The small amount of residual sugar lends a hand, coating the lips and roof of the mouth and enticing the tongue. This one is somewhat more bitter than I remember, lending a complexity but perhaps detracting from the lingering sourness. That’s the best part of sour beer, by the way. As the various organic acids are neutralized in the mouth the flavor takes on new and interesting dimensions. A sour beer isn’t done with your senses for many minutes after the sip. The Duchesse is very much like this, with a lingering character especially on the tip and back of the tongue. The oak and the caramel linger a bit as well, but not as long.

Certainly not the best bottle I’ve had of the Duchesse but a fine example of her.

+Duchesse de Bourgogne

4.0 (4-7-8-5-16)