Belgium in Colorado, OR How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love a Trippel

Being out in Colorado, without a car, and basically limited to the resort town I live in (Vail) offers many great opportunities to hit the slopes… and not much else. As I’ve mentioned earlier, most bars here are catered to the generic apres ski crowd, so Bud, Coors, and Keystone (along with New Belgium’s Fat Tire) dominate the taps.

The only advantage of living here (Vail Valley specifically), in terms of beer tasting, is the alco-ma-hol stores have a great selection of CO Microbrews, and not just the common ones you see across the country, like NB’s Fat Tire, or Avery’s The Reverend, I’m talking the entire Odells, Oskar Blues, and New Belgium catalog, and a good chunk of Avery’s selection as well. While it does take me a bit of a bus ride to get there, and another one to get back: Worth it.

Today, I gathered a collection of three Belgian-style ales from CO, mostly because it’s not a style (or group of styles) that I generally drink, nor is it one of my favorite groups of styles, and getting yourself into a habit of only drinking a couple types of beers is going to diminish your palette, and we can’t have that, can we?

7.8% ABV

New Belgium's Trippel - 7.8% ABV

The first beer on the list was the New Belgium Trippel. This poured well, for a trip, a lingering sudsy head typical of the style that helped release the aroma of the beer. This picture makes it appear much darker than it actually is, which is a nice golden yellow. The aroma is dominated by the banana esters and maybe a hint of strawberry. Hop tones are light as is the coriander. I’d go so far as to say I had to strain hard to pick up on it.

The flavor also strongly featured the bananas with what I thought was a surprising amount of malt flavor. Sweet, but not so much as to prevent you (read: me) from rapidly consuming it. It did, however do a fantastic job of covering the flooring 7.8% ABV. I had one of these, and was definitely aware I was drinking a beer. The finish lingered enough to leave my mouth wanting another swig.

This is truly a great brew. I don’t really go out of my way to drink tripels, but I can see myself (frequently) getting a six pack of this again and enjoying a couple on the mountain for a mid-day picnic once the we start getting a little warmer around here.

Next on the list was New Belgium’s Abbey ale. This is a dubbel ale with a bit more color to it. On my first attempt at a pour, epic fail ensued, resulting in a five finger head out of my mug, with maybe half that height in beer. It faded enough to try again in about two minutes, this time with much more success.

7% ABV

New Belgium's Abbey - 7% ABV

Significantly darker than the trip (as one would expect), the Abbey’s head laces much more, and the head settles to a thin creamy cap on a deep amber transparent base. Fewer esters in the nose here, along with a bit more malt aroma. I also picked up a significant amount of tannins in the nose. I felt like I was about to drink some bizarre cab sav.

And on to the tasting: Boy, oh boy, getting suck in a style(or, more accurately, chronically avoiding a style) leads to some forgetfulness. My tongue doesn’t remember anything but a banana smoothie that has that much banana in it. The fruitiness of the malt hides some of the more basic sugar flavors you’d expect from something this dark. Normal for the style, not so normal for me.

Just as a side note, I’d like to voice my appreciation for these two NB bottles. It seems breweries are going to busier and busier labels. These are simple two tone bottles, with the name and style and a small, simple graphic. Beer doesn’t need to be show-y. It’s beer, you drink it. Hilariously, after buying both of these, I told Paul he’d like the design of the bottles. Paul mentioned he also had bought sixers of each, with a significant factor in his decision being the label design.

9% ABV

Avery's Salvation - 9% ABV

And finally, the bomber of Avery’s Salvation Belgian golden pale ale: The pour was excellent, with a soft one and a half finger head that subsided to a light dusting of eggshell white foam. Not the retention I was expecting, but the texture was decent, for a non-Belgian-aficionado like myself. The aroma had a sickly sweet fruit aroma, with a small mix of earthy and floral hop notes. It reminded me of our Lawnmower beers: a lot going on, but nothing really coherant. I know I’m not well versed in this style, but I don’t remember any Belgian anything smell like this. It’s hard to get past, maybe because of my bad memories of trying to choke down the Lawnmowers so we could put something else in our kegs…

Once I got it into my mouth, it seemed to normalize a bit, and I was able to track it down a little better, but I’m not sure that’s doing it any favors. The spicy pepper notes come through very strongly, drowning out most of the malt flavor. Floral hop flavor also dominates. I caught a bit of honey and maybe a lick of cruciferous veggies, cabbage, mostly. The alcohol covers up any other notes that might lead you to think this was anything but a macabre attempt at a complex, enlightened beer.

Well! What an adventure! That was certainly interesting, and it ran the gamut of Beer I Loved (Tripel), Beer I Liked (Abbey), and Beer I’ll Quaff, But Not Do So Enthusiastically (Salvation). Importantly, I reminded myself that some Belgians can rock my socks. It’s easy to get caught up in our preferred styles. We always try that IPA we’ve never had before, or the new stout our beer store is carrying. That’s totally fine! That’s great! We drink beer because we like it. Certain styles we like more than others, so our tabs should favor those brews. I just want to emphasize the importance of not letting yourself forget what certain aspects you like and dislike about styles you might rarely drink.

Your palette is like a muscle. Exercise it. Challenge it with flavors it doesn’t always come across. It will make your ability to discern the various aspects of the beers you usually consume all the more. Maybe you didn’t notice that the stout you always pour has a slight but now-noticeable ester presence, or that APA has some tannin notes you never got before. Expand your tongue – stretch it and flex it.

Review: Avery The Czar Imperial Stout

I’m bunkered down in my apartment during Snowprah Winfrey 2011. Like any good northern kid, I have my supplies ready for a blizzard. I had a choice between a barley wine, imperial stout and imperial black ale. It’s a big storm, so I decided to go with the biggest beer in my fridge, Avery Brewing Co.’s The Czar Imperial Stout.

I’ve tried two other bombers from Avery Brewing Co. The Kaiser was very good and made me think, “I should really try more beers from Avery.” Then I tried The Reverend, which made me think, “Maybe I should slow my Avery roll…” The Czar will serve as the great tie breaker.

The company itself describes the beer:

Behold the stunning crimson hues through the inky blackness. Inhale the noble Hallertau hops, spicy and floral. Savor the flavors redolent of English toffee, rich mocha, sweet molasses, candied currants and a hint of anise. We highly recommend cellaring additional bottles, as the Czar will continue to mature and become denser and more complex with age.

This is the perfect night for an imperial stout, and I might get to work from home tomorrow, so I’m in a good mood to try this. Here’s hoping that Avery can win this round!

The Czar Imperial Stout

The Czar Imperial Stout - 11.69% ABV and 70IBUs

Appearance: The beer pours dark, opaque brown with a couple ruby flashes if the light hits it the right way. There was a huge, fluffy caramel head that laced down quickly. A thin layer of foam is fighting the good fight still now.

Aroma: I’m getting a roasty, malty sweetness, almost syrupy. There’s also a stone fruit and slightly spicy note underneath the sweetness.

Taste: A surprising amount of hop bitterness on the initial taste.  Lots of acrid, roasty notes early in taste. In the middle, there is a nice caramel/toffee sweetness. It finished with some spicy hop notes and warming alcohol taste.

Mouthfeel: Thick, chewy and syrupy. There’s not a lot of carbonation, but there’s enough to keep it from being completely overwhelming. It coats the mouth and leaves a pleasant lingering alcohol tingling.

Overall: This is a very easy drinking giant beer. It has a lovely, complicated flavor that warms the body and perfectly compliments this ridiculously horrible night. Avery wins this round and is sitting at 2-1.

Review: Avery’s The Reverend

I’ve only had one other Avery beer. I noted that I skip over the Avery bombers at my local Binny’s. This is odd, since I liked the Kaiser, they’re very competitively priced, and I even enjoy the names of most of their beers (I’m a well known sucker for puns/clever names). I figured it was time to give it another go last time I was at the beer store.

Avery describes it thusly:

The Reverend, was created in tribute to the life of Sales Mgr. Tom Boogaard’s grandfather, an ordained Episcopal Reverend. Tom was inspired by the life of his grandfather and wanted to create a tribute beer that contained his sterling traits. True to both our “small brewery, BIG BEERS” philosophy and to the spirit and character of the departed Reverend, this beer is strong willed, assertive, and pure of heart, a heart of candy sugar. It contains as many authentic imported Belgian specialty malts as the brewers could cram into our mash tun, and lots of Belgian dark candy sugar stirred into the brew kettle. A divinely complex and beautifully layered beer with hints of dark cherries, currants, and molasses, complimented by an underlying spiciness. Sinfully smooth considering the high alcohol content. Cellarable for up to 4 years.

Not to spoil my tasting notes, but I can only hope that it would get better after a few years in the cellar. I kind of doubt it though, as cellaring seems to bring out the sweetness and alcohol more, which this beer really doesn’t need.

Avery Brewing's The Reverend Belgian Style Quadrupel

Belgian Style Quadrupel 10% ABV

Appearance: Reddish, coppery brown and very clear. Some bubbles continue to percolate up throughout the drinking. A 1 finger, creamy head quickly died down, but a thin layer remained.

Aroma: The aroma is dominated with a fruity, berry sweetness with a bit of apple tartness. There’s also a hint of hot alcohol in the nose.

Taste: There’s a cloying sweetness and an apple-y, berry flavor. There’s a malty sweetness that comes along with the fruit flavor. There’s not really any bitterness and very little presence of yeast characteristics like spice or esters. There’s a actually a lingering spice and alcohol heat in the aftertaste that helps to balance out the incredible sweetness. Helps.

Mouthfeel: Nice a creamy, but not too chewy. The carbonation level is pretty good. I’m barely down the glass, and I’m already feeling this. I’m not sure what this has to do with the mouthfeel, but there it is.

Overall: Luckily I drank this as a dessert beer, because it really is overly sweet. I really liked the last Avery bomber I picked up, but this one really misses the mark. It doesn’t have what I really love about belgians, the complex flavors and aromas that the yeast gives off. This just has fruity sweetness followed by malty sweetness followed by alcohol. I won’t be getting this one again.

Guest Post: Hopcat Tasting Event

Special thanks to Geoff of The Hoover Street Rag for this guest post. Geoff took in a tasting event at Hopcat in Grand Rapids, and was kind enough to pass along notes.

Shorts Huma Lupa Licious
IPA – Pint glass.

Love the Huma. Always a favorite of mine.  And $6 for a pint plus the house burger and crack fries is a fantastic bargain.  The first taste is of crashing hops bitterness with citrus.  It mellows briefly  before a second wave hits, then the long finish.

Hopcat Kodial Killer
American Barleywine – Tulip glass

Dark, near-black appearance with an aroma of whisky and dark fruits.  Drink slowly to keep from being overwhelmed by the alcohol and pronounced fruit notes and ruining the flavor, which is refined by aging for four months in spend Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout barrels.

Shorts Bourbon Barrel Huma Lupa Licious
IPA – Globe-shaped sampler glass

I wanted to be able to directly compare the bourbon barrel version to the standard, and it’s almost unnecessary.  The whisky smell is huge off of it, obscuring the grapefruit notes of the original, and the bourbon taste is even bigger, almost obliterating the regular Huma, though it’s there underneath everything.  I’ll defer to the Hopcat description: “Think creamy vanilla-laced hop cones, soaked in bourbon.”

Shorts Bourbon Barrel Sustenance
Schwartzbier – Tulip

Oh, this is delicious.  Full of the toasty schwartzbier maltiness with the bourbon coming in around the edges.  I could drink this all night

Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
Globe-shaped sampler glass

I had the Bourbon County Stout before, in a 4-pack of 12-ounce bottles, and it was something of a disappointment.  I’d had the Founders KBS before (on tap at the brewery) and hoped that Goose Island would be able to compete with that.  What I tasted was very good, but not in the same class as the KBS.  I’m extremely happy to report that I was totally off base on that.  On tap, Bourbon County Stout is a revelation.  It’s huge, thick; viscous as motor oil and full of chocolate, bourbon, and coffee.  The clear winner on the night.  I still prefer the KBS overall (I think the flavors are a little more complex), but this is ever so close.

Dark Horse Plead the 5th
Russian Imperial Stout – Globe-shaped sampler glass

The lightest RIS I’ve ever encountered.  It pours brown and translucent with no real head by the time it was served.  A whiff of alcohol on the nose, not much more in terms of scent, it has a smooth mouthfeel with tastes of dark chocolate and a strong whisky finish.

Goose Island Imperial Brown Goose
Old Ale – Globe-shaped sampler glass

Pours dark brown with a persistent, thin off-white head.  Goose Island blended their 2004 and 2005 Christmas ales and aged them in 4-year-old Jim Beam and 12-year-old Heaven Hill bourbon barrels, and I can detect cinnamon and nutmeg among other spices alongside a mellow bourbon flavor.

Great Divide Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout
Russian Imperial Stout – Globe-shaped sampler glass

It smells like a beer, but tastes STRONGLY of charcoal smoke.  Must be the oak chips it’s been aged with, giving it a burnt flavor that lingers for a long time after the vanilla flavors fade away.

Avery Samael’s Ale
English Barleywine – Globe-shaped sampler glass

It tastes sweet and light, but packs a 14.5% ABV wallop and finishes with cinnamon and nutmeg.

Founders Backwoods Bastard
We Heavy Scotch Ale – Globe-shaped sampler glass

You can taste the Dirty Bastard under it all, but to me it tastes more like Devil Dancer than anything else.  It has that same way about it where it hits like a sledgehammer and lingers.

Founders Black Biscuit
Old Ale – Tulip glass

The pour overflowed the glass on the way over and now my hands smell like beer and chocolate.  Black Biscuit has a thin but persistently full head and pours thick and black.  This is a black old ale aged in bourbon barrels, and the chocolate, bourbon, and roasted malt flavors dominate.  It’s not quite as huge or complex as a bourbon stout, but the tradeoff is that it’s more drinkable.  Definitely give this one a try if you have the chance.

Atwater Barrel Aged Cherry Stout Firkin
Stout – Globe-shaped sampler glass

Tastes like black cherries soaked in bourbon and dropped into a stout, but not overpowering the stout base.  I’m not a big fan of fruit beers, but I can see myself ordering this as a a full pour.

Beer Review: Avery The Kaiser

Avery The Kaiser Imperial Oktoberfest

Avery The Kaiser Imperial Oktoberfest - 9.73% ABV

I had just gotten my first graduate school exam back, and I got a pretty good grade. I decided this was a moment to celebrate, so I stopped at Binny’s to pick up celebration supplies. As I was perusing the aisles, The Kaiser caught my eye (largely because it was on sale for $5.99!). I, for some reason, tend to skip over Avery beers while buying bottles. I think it’s mainly because of the label art, which may be one of the stupidest possible reasons, but there it is.

Anyway, I really liked the concept of an Imperial Oktoberfest, especially on one of the early, cool nights in October. I also really liked The Kaiser as a name for an Imperial Oktoberfest. Avery Brewing describes it:

The Kaiser once said, “Give me a woman who loves beer and I will conquer the world.” If the Kaiser and his significant other had tipped this bottle, we’d all be “sprechenden Deutsch!” We took all that is good in a traditional Oktoberfest – gorgeous, deep copper sheen, massive malty backbone and spicy, floral, pungent noble hops – then intensified each into this, an Imperial Oktoberfest.

My tasting notes:

Appearance: Extremely clear copper with a very thin, cream colored head that dissipated quickly.

Aroma: Dominated by molasses with caramel notes and a bit of pumpkin.

Taste: Tons of malt. Caramel in the beginning flowing into a vegetal, pumpkin flavor with warming phenolic notes at the end.

Mouthfeel: Coating and chewy.

Overall: Perfect for a cool night when I only want a beer a two. The alcohol will keep me warm, and the complexity of the malt flavor keeps it interesting. Also, I enjoy tasting a lager that has this heavy of a mouthfeel. It doesn’t happen all the time.