Archive for the ‘Strong Beer’ Category

12 Beers of X-Mas: Sam Adams/Weihenstephaner Infinium

Monday, December 26th, 2011

Sam Adams/Weihenstephaner InfiniumThe largest American craft brewery, Sam Adams, and the oldest brewery in Germany, Weihenstephan, have teamed up to produce a prize beer called Infinium. They are awfully secretive about the supposedly novel process used to make this beer. The end result is not that unlike champagne, or in fact, DeuS, another bright, bubbly golden ale. They may not have intended this to be a winter beer, but it will fit nicely into your holiday celebrations.

Infinium pours a very hazy golden yellow with a copper tint. The off-white head is thick and solid. A spicy nose greets you immediately, featuring cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. A sweet bready maltiness follows, reminiscent of challah. This beer has the sort of mild yet complex aroma that makes you sit back and contemplate, content taking only a whiff.

The flavor of Infinium is likewise sweet and spicy, with some cinnamon and plenty of cloves. There is a significant alcoholic bite (reasonable, given it’s over 10%) which is restrained but invigorating. There are some floral and grassy noble hops as well. The palate is light, lively, and effervescent, but still rich and serious.

I shared several bottles with my family tonight, and here are some of their comments.

  • “Mild, yet wheaty…”
  • “…piquant…”
  • “…evolved…”
  • “…the smoothest ever…”
  • “A great dessert beer. Pairs well with chocolate.”

+Samuel Adams/Weihenstephaner Infinium

4.4 (5-9-7-4-19)

Two More Sixpoints

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Yet another post of beers made here in Brooklyn, though a purist would point out that these cans were not. Kelso, the smallest of the three Brooklyn breweries (and necessarily the subject of my next post), is the only one making all their beer within the borough limits. The selections I’m trying tonight were made by Sixpoint, the bigger of those “other” two Brooklyn breweries, but brewed in a facility in Pennsylvania. I’m not opposed to contract brewing, but as adamant as Sixpoint is on the superiority of Brooklyn it sure seems out of character to brew out of state. Anyway, on to the beers.

Sixpoint The CrispThe Crisp is Sixpoint’s lager, a brilliantly clear straw colored beer. The off-white head is ample, largely because it is supported by a serious effervescence. The hop nose is significant. A loud wet-hop character is joined by the herbal aroma of noble hops. Though not entirely unpleasant, it leaves no room for the malt to come through, a major detriment to any lager.

For a beer whose name is “The Crisp” the flavor is anything but. A lingering sweetness makes the body too full, even from the first sip. But that’s the only real influence of the malt. The promise of the nose is wantonly fulfilled — the strong herbal and wet-hop flavors are almost overpowering. There is virtually no hop bitterness to balance, nor malt flavor to justify, the thick body, though warming it becomes somehow a bit more balanced.

Sixpoint Bengali TigerNext up, Bengali Tiger. Though Sixpoint makes no effort to pigeonhole their beers into standard styles, by the name and numbers this is clearly an India pale ale (with a Blake reference on the side). The Bengali Tiger is a beautiful persimmon color and barely translucent. The off-white head is so creamy it’s left a lacing on my glass before I’ve even taken a sip. The nose is richly hoppy, but never sharp. It forms a gentle tapestry of a multitude of hop flavors from several varieties as well as significant malt character. The hops are mostly that Pacific northwest citric, with mango and orange and lime. But a significant earthy and pine character is present, too. The malt adds biscuit and caramel to the picture, and there may also be a yeast fruitiness.

The taste follows rightly from the nose. Rich malt flavor and a hearty hop character appear at first, blending in to the serious bitterness. But the full body and malt keep it from ever seeming sharp. Herbal and floral hops as well as pine back up the bitterness, supported by the faintest citrus flavor. Caramel and toast malt and earthy hop flavors linger, so the lasting bitterness and sweetness are not without company.

It is hard to imagine a greater polarity among beers made by the same brewer.

+Sixpoint Bengali Tiger

4.2 (4-8-8-4-18)

+/-Sixpoint The Crisp

3.0 (3-7-6-2-12)

Sixpoint Righteous Ale

Monday, June 27th, 2011

Tonight I will continue to represent my new town with a beer from one of the “other” Brooklyn breweries, Sixpoint Craft Ales. Sixpoint is one of those places that’s two parts good beer and three parts mystique. But they know how to hide a good pun. And they have cans. I’ll taste the Righteous Ale, a beer which marries the flavor of hops and rye.

Sixpoint Righteous AleRighteous Ale pours a ruddy caramel color, quite hazy, with some creamy tan head. The spicy rye character is prominent in the aroma. Fruity and herbal hop notes compliment it well. Just a hint of caramel malt sweetness adds to the remarkably complex nose.

The flavor is likewise quite complex. The rich spiciness of the rye blends assertively with the hop bitterness. A solid malt backing supports with bread, caramel, and toast flavors. The herbal hop character leads the tongue right back to the rye, forming something of a flavor cycle. The body is just a bit too heavy, with a sweetness that lingers on the tip of the tongue, where the rye bite should be.

+Sixpoint Righteous Ale

3.8 (4-8-7-3-16)

Brooklyn Local Two

Monday, June 13th, 2011

Tonight I will continue tasting my local Brooklyn beers with another numbered selection from Brooklyn Brewery, this one called Local 2.

This Local pours a barely hazy, deep copper color with a thick, off-white head. The nose is lightly spicy. Coriander and cinnamon aromas meld with the nuttiness of the dark malts, and just a bit of alcohol spiciness rounds it out. Overall pleasant, but just a bit mild for a nine percent beer.

The light spiciness seen in the aroma is more fully featured in the taste. Caramel and toast flavors from the malt and brown Belgian sugar form a springboard that the yeast character jumps off of. Black pepper, coriander, and nutmeg flavors explode in your mouth, accompanied by a significant alcohol warming. This is a big, rich beer, wholly unlike its little brother One. The palate is just right: full enough to support the flavor, light enough to stay out of the way, and dry enough to drink another glass.

+Brooklyn Local 2

3.8 (4-6-8-5-15)

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)

Anniversary Ales, Volume One

Monday, April 11th, 2011

Tonight is the first installment of a very long term two-part series. I picked up two bottles of each of two ales celebrating the anniversaries of two breweries. I will try one of each tonight; the other bottles will go in my cellar for a year. The breweries are Sierra Nevada in Chico, California, and Boulevard in Kansas City, Missouri. Sierra Nevada is celebrating their 30th trip around the sun, Boulevard their 21st.

For this occasion Boulevard has chosen a pale ale brewed with fresh hops. I anticipate this will be tasty today, but the hops probably won’t stand up to a year in the cellar. Sierra Nevada went with a barleywine, a style much better fitted to ageing, given its strength and body.

The 21st Anniversary Pale Ale is a deeply hazy rust-colored beer. The sandy brown head is quite creamy, but there just isn’t very much of it. The nose is quite elusive. A light pepper and tangerine hop aroma comes first, followed by a variety of spices including cinnamon and fennel. Some straw and a light breadiness from the malt before more hoppy citrus comes as oranges and lemons.

The flavor is likewise ephemeral. A rich spiciness from the hops just seems to be asserting itself as it fades into citrus and a malty sweetness. This, too, passes, leaving just a bit of a lingering bitterness and perhaps some of the spice. Coriander, black pepper, and anise make up this spice, and lemon and tangerine the fruit. There is enough residual sugar to give a bit of a body, but it is remains very light. As the beer warms, the flavors linger longer and the bitterness becomes a bit more pronounced.

Now the barleywine. This is actually part of a series Sierra Nevada made in collaboration with four pioneers of the craft brewing movement. Unfortunately this is the only one I saw around here. If you have one of the others I’d gladly trade for it. Jack McAuliff (of the legendary New Albion Brewery) came out of retirement to brew this barleywine with Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada.

Jack & Ken’s Ale pours a black most dark, with a generous creamy bronze head. The nose is rich and sweet. A strong roasted malt character and rich nuttiness meld with a caramel malt sweetness and just a bit of fruit from the hops. The alcohol comes through with a faint bite. This beer is exactly what an American barleywine is supposed to smell like.

The flavor is likewise big and roasty, but the hops will not move aside for the malt. The rich nutty and roasty taste is balanced by the strong yet supple alcohol character. The blend of coffee and alcohol flavor and full bodied creaminess make this beer taste quite a bit like a white Russian. The acridity of the roasted malt and sweet hazlenuts and toast remind you that it is, in fact, a beer. Subtle grapefruit flavor from the Cascade hops marks it as an American one. Though the palate is full and the malt rich, there is just a bit too much alcohol flavor, making this beer taste excessively boozy. With another year I would imagine that will subside.

+Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary Jack and Ken’s Ale

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

+Boulevard 21st Anniversary Fresh Hop Pale Ale

3.8 (3-7-8-4-16)

Brau Brothers Scotch Ales

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

In 2005 brothers Dustin, Trevor, and Brady Brau decided to move brewing operations out of the Lucan, Minnesota brewpub they had ran since 1998, founding Brau Brothers Brewing Company. Their family name could only be more appropriate if it had the umlaut – bräu is the German word for brew. Tonight I will be trying two Scotch ales made by Brau Brothers. Both are made with peat-smoked malt, but only one is labeled peated.

Peat is compacted, decaying organic matter that forms naturally in the bogs throughout Scotland (and other high latitude areas), the first stage in the formation of coal. Because of the high energy content, peat is harvested and dried for use as fuel. For many years peat was the primary fuel used in malting kilns in Scotland, used to make malt not just for beer, but also for Scotch whisky. Nowadays, malt kilned over peat lends its characteristic smoky flavor to many types of Scotch as well as Scotch ales.

First up, a beer simply called Scotch Ale, which pours a nearly clear caramel brown color. There is not much head, just a few off-white wisps. The nose is malty, with a prominent nutty sweetness. Caramel and light toast add to the malty complexity. There is a hint of smoke that contributes an almost mesquite character to the aroma. Delicate and wonderful.

The nose is not very smoky, but the flavor certainly is, though not on the order of a German rauchbier. A rich caramel malt sweetness compliments the smoke, and the taste of hazelnuts and an herbal hoppiness round it out. The peat character dies away much too quickly, leaving a sweet, almost cloying aftertaste. More smoked malt would disrupt the careful balance, so the only solution would be to modify the recipe to create more fermentable sugar; were it a bit drier, this 7.3% beer would be dangerously quaffable.

Now I will move on to the Bàncreagie, labeled a peated Scotch ale. A clear, caramel-colored brew with some off-white head, much like the regular Scotch ale; the aroma of this one is actually milder. A bit of malt and some smoke character, but mostly a watery nose (if that’s possible?).

The flavor is also much milder than the above, which I was not expecting, given that this one is half a percent stronger and specifically labeled peated. The clean maltiness of this beer is more like a northern English brown ale than anything Scottish. The rich bready character of the Golden Promise barley is evident. A mild unpleasant character of fusel alcohols mingles with almost imperceptible smoke. As you drink the Bàncreagie it gets easier to tell yourself that all of that flavor is from the peated malt.

There is one thing this one does much better than the first – body. Where the Scotch Ale was sweet to the point of cloying, the Bàncreagie is dry enough to drink but sweet enough to prove the malt bill. Now if only there were a significant peat smoke flavor.

+Brau Brothers Scotch Ale

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

+Brau Brothers Bàncreagie

3.5 (3-6-8-4-14)

P.S. I know what day it is. I’m Scottish, not Irish.

Peace Tree Imperial Stout

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

Tonight I am going to try the new imperial stout from Peace Tree Brewing Company in Knoxville, Iowa.

The Imperial Stout pours a deep, dark black color, with a generous amount of creamy, sepia-tone head. The nose is very light. A bit of caramel malt, and some roast malt adds a burnt character. There is a bit of a fruity yeast aroma as well.

The flavor is much cleaner than you would expect from an imperial stout. The malt flavor is sweet to the point of being cloying. Much too much caramel malt and far too little roasted barley makes this beer just sweet and not very stout. The only strong flavor is the yeast fruitiness, entirely inappropriate for the style.

This beer is lacking any real character, and the sweetness makes it unpalatable. Do yourself a favor and just get the Gumbo Stout or the Imperial IPA instead.

-Peace Tree Imperial Stout

2.8 (4-7-5-1-11)

Thirsty Bear Brewing Co.

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

Last week was SF Beer Week. I understand there were a few good events all over town. Unfortunately I left just before it got started.

Also, all month long is the Strong Beer Experience at the Magnolia Pub and the 21st Amendment Brewery. I did stop by the latter for the three drinks I was allowed (it seems like a good idea that they have set that limit) and enjoyed them. It was a bit too crazy in the bar to take good notes, but I know I was a fan of the Imperial Jack, a beer which I understand was guest brewed by the folks at the Elizabeth Street Brewery.

The next night I had a few drinks around the corner at the Thirsty Bear Brewing Company. This certified organic brewpub also serves Spanish food that looked quite tasty, but unfortunately I was not at all hungry by the time I got there. The two vessel brewhouse and six fermentation tanks occupy the place of honor protected by a pane of glass behind the bar. They are situated in a depression in the floor that simultaneously puts the neatest parts of each tank at bar level as well as keeping the dirty operations from the eye of the visitor. They also have flamenco here! (though not the night I visited.)

I had two beers while at Thirsty Bear, a gravity-served stout and the IPA. The Cask Stout was absolutely pitch black, a black hole shade of black. The long-lasting creamy head was a deep ochre hue. First on the nose are light roast notes from the dark malts. This is followed by hazelnuts and nutmeg, and subtle aromas of toast. Overall light, but with an intriguing fruitiness.

Toasted and burnt bread flavors and some smokiness betray the roasted malts, but the smooth creamy palate is much lighter. As it is a cask beer, the carbonation is very mild, allowing the roasty bitterness to become somewhat more astringent.

The bartender recommended the Howard St. IPA, and I can’t refuse a hoppy beer. This one is brilliantly clear, the color a beautiful ruby tinted amber. It has some creamy head and an herbal nose with hints of citrus.

The hoppy bitterness is strongly herbal, bordering on the character of a California common ale, but there isn’t the same long lingering bitterness on the back of the tongue. The herbal hop flavor leans towards minty. The flavor is just a bit green, dirty but not very earthy. It has some body, but is perhaps a bit thin for an IPA.

Thirsty Bear Howard St. IPA

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

Thirsty Bear Cask Stout

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

A Few Madison Brews

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Tonight I’m trying a couple beers I picked up last time I was in Madison. The first two are from Capital Brewery out in Middleton, and the third was brewed by Ale Asylum on the northeast side. Capital is renowned for their lagers, so I’m trying their märzen as well as a new beer that just might wholly embody badger nation. Ale Asylum, on the other hand, is known for beers overflowing with hops, so I’ve got a double India pale ale to round out the night.

The golden age of the supper club may have come and gone in most places, even in Wisconsin. But these eateries still grace the occasional roadside of the cheese state and remain on the mind of badgers young and old. There is no better testament to that than the newly released Supper Club, a “true American Lager.”

The Supper Club looks about what you would expect, crystal clear, a golden straw color, with some bone white head. More head retention than your average American-style lager. The nose is very subtle. Some bready malt and the faintest herbal hops are balanced by the right amount of sulfur. Right for the style, that is, but still too much for my taste.

The flavor, too, is remarkably average. A decent malt character, but nothing to write home about. Again, the noble hops work themselves in, but almost imperceptibly. The taste of sulfur adds some background noise that could come from the yeast, but perhaps it’s a veritable corn adjunct. The body is on the weaker end, even for this type of beer.

Overall, this beer would fit in nicely with many made in this country in times past, but I’m not sure it’s enough to warrant production by an otherwise respected brewery. Since it’s not as hoppy as PBR nor as malty as Bud, I just don’t see myself ordering it. I suppose it fits the bill, though.

Next up I will be trying Capital’s Oktoberfest lager. This märzen has a thick and pillowy off-white head above a mildly hazy, gamboge-colored beer (hardly the “fiery amber” they claim). The nose has that restrained maltiness that many Oktoberfest beers do, the sensation of bread and barley just under the surface, trying vainly to break free. The hops add a hint of herbal character to the aroma. As it opens up, the toast becomes more noticeable, but it is still much too restrained.

The flavor is richly malty. Bread, biscuits, and toast combine with the taste of my sister’s homemade pizza crust. This strong and supple malt flavor is backed with a reasonable herbal hop flavor, though for a style originally intended to exhaust all the hops for the season, it could use more. A light residual sweetness and mild bitterness tease the palate. Both disappear relatively quickly, leaving a sessionable beer, as any Oktoberfest should be.

Tonight I will be rounding out these relatively mild lagers with an aggressively hoppy double IPA from Ale Asylum. The Satisfaction Jacksin pours a very hazy mahogany. The pale golden ochre head is full and creamy. The nose is hoppy. Quite pleasantly hoppy. This beer exudes the citrusy character for which Pacific Northwest-grown so-called C-hops earned their place in the hop pantheon. No wonder it is so hoppy, as it has “over 3 pounds of Centennial per barrel.” I could sit here just smelling this all day.

But I have to try it. The taste is hoppy. Quite pleasantly hoppy. Rich floral and citrus flavors burst forth, backed up by a solid malt foundation. The caramel and toast flavors of the malt meld harmoniously with the grapefruit character of the hops. Amazingly, there is almost no perceptible bitterness, despite the significant hopping rate. A full and creamy palate certainly works to that end, balancing what bitterness was to be had, while remaining fresh and lively. This beer is like Cookie Monster: big, fuzzy, and sweet.

And one more note: if you search for this beer, do not click on the link for “Satisfaction Jackson,” that’s not what your looking for.

++Ale Asylum Satisfaction Jacksin

4.3 (4-9-8-4-18)

+Capital Oktoberfest

3.8 (3-7-8-4-16)

+/-Capital Supper Club

3.0 (3-6-6-3-12)