Rare Beers Close to Home (Pt. 2)

This got split up into two parts. You can read part 1 Here.

Rare Goose Island Belgians

The details of the tasting at Sheffield’s are available here. The descriptions of the beers  are a little wordy, so click through if you’re interested in the official descriptions.

Goose Island Sisters Flight
Goose Island Sisters Flight

I got there at about 8:45 when the beers started pouring at 7. My friend and I both ordered the flight, but unfortunately they only had enough Lolita for one of us. Luckily for us, the staff at Sheffield’s is awesome. The Chief Beer Nerd brought out a bottle of Sofie for us and hung out for a while talking about the beers. It’s always fun to have someone knowledgable and passionate talk about something, and he sort of led us through the four main event beers. It was the next best thing to having the brewer there talking to us, and it really added something special to the event.

All five of the beers were very good, so this is really splitting hairs, but here are my official (not that that really means anything) rankings with some brief notes:

  1. Juliet
    • This beer wins out because not only was it delicious, but it was also something I haven’t tasted before. It had a dryness, not from the bitterness of the hops, but rather from tannins like you would find in a red wine. It had a hint of sourness to go along with a complex, fruity flavor. If you have friends who just drink wine, try finding a bottle of this and sharing it with them.
  2. Dominique
    • This one didn’t seem to get the same love as the others with its description being just one sentence. I guess it’s relatively simple: 1) Make a belgian sour 2) Put beer in a Bourbon County Stout barrel.  But what came out of this was anything but simple. It was a mix of the fruity, spicy notes of the belgian yeast and the smoothness, vanilla and very slight bourbon notes from the barrel. This beer was close to being number 1.
  3. Madame Rose
    • There was sort of a drop off at this level. This is still a very, very good beer. The balance of the vinegary flavor, the tartness from the cherry and the notes of the yeast was very well done. I think I mentally downgraded this a bit because I tasted a very similar but more mind blowing version of this beer made by a homebrewer in our local guild.
  4. Lolita
    • This beer might have been third had we gotten a full taste and if it wasn’t a bit too flat. I certainly don’t need my beer to super carbonated, but I feel a bit higher level would have helped brighten and separate the flavors. They got a bit muddled as it was. I was also hoping for a bit more of a funky flavor from the brettanomyces.
  5. Sofie
    • It’s sort of unfair to compare Sofie with the other sisters here. She’s a very well made Belgian Golden Ale. The yeast just imparts a hugely floral and fruity flavor that is backed up by a solid, but not heavy malt body. It’s good, but more standard.

I asked in a post back when I first moved to Chicago, “Am I spoiled?” Well… with both these places within walking distance of either work or home, as well as a Binny’s across the street, I can safely answer that question with: Yes, Yes, A Thousand Times Yes. I totally encourage you to keep your ear to the ground. Follow beer bars on Twitter or Facebook, sign up for their newsletters, visit often and talk to the bartenders. Whatever you need to do, find out about events. There’s no better way to get excited about beer than being surrounded by other folks who are just as excited as you are!

Have any of you had an awesome experience at a beer-centric event? Let me know in the comments.

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.

Jolly Pumpkin Release: Bambic and Collababeire

Jolly Pumpkin Bambic and Collababeire

Jolly Pumpkin Bambic and Collababeire

Living in a great craft beer city often provides the opportunity to take part in cool events, and recently just such an event took place at Jolly Pumpkin in Ann Arbor. A couple weeks ago, the taphouse had a release for two creations from their Dexter brewery, Collababeire and Bambic.

The release itself was hectic, with patrons lined up to purchase bottles of each beer (some of them trying to game the system to get more than the maximum – which, uncool, dude). In no hurry, I grabbed a seat at the bar, and although it took a while to be served, it certainly beat out waiting in line to not even drink the brews immediately.

Jolly Pumpkin Collababeire

Jolly Pumpkin (WSGs Stone and Nogne Ø) Collababeire

Collababeire, as the name implies, is a collaboration between Jolly Pumpkin and a couple other breweries. Stone in California and Nogne Ø from Norway were involved in the creation of this farmhouse-style ale. The three have collaborated twice before, and this was the third leg of that relationship. Each brewery created their own beer from the same recipe, and they were blended in Dexter and aged in oak. This is a “holiday ale,” although, as you may note, it was released well after the holidays.

Jolly Pumpkin Bambic

Jolly Pumpkin Bambic

Bambic is Jolly Pumpkin’s Bam Biere blended with their Lambicus Dexterius (yeah, I didn’t even notice until writing this post that the title referred to “lambic.” I’m slow). The label says “Winking Lizard” all over it, so one must assume this beer was created primarily for Winking Lizard Tavern, a chain across the state of Ohio (further research shows it’s to celebrate WL’s 25th anniversary).

I won’t talk too much about how they tasted here, but there will be full reviews coming soon. I picked up a 330mL bottle of the Bambic and a 750mL bottle of the Collababeire, so I’ll let Paul take place in the tasting before putting official thoughts to paper.

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.

Belgian Sour Ale, brah.

The original plan for our latest beer was to make a Kriek Lambic, but the circumstances… they didn’t work out so well. First off, I found a good deal on some sweet cherries at a farmer’s market, not the sour Kriek cherries that are intended for the style. Then, our local homebrew shop was all out of lambic yeasts (must be a popular style this time of year – who knew?). So, we’re going to end up with some hybrid style, with a belgian style and cherry adjuncts, but probably not anything like we thought we were going to get when we started.

Mash

  • 10lb Belgian Pils
  • 1.5lb Flaked Wheat
  • .5lb Caravienna

We mashed for a little over an hour at our standard temperatures (water temp around 170, about 150 by the time it actually mixes in with the grain) with about 4 gallons. We sparged with 165 degree water, with enough to get us up to 4.5ish total gallons. We let the water keep running out for extra wort, or a second running beer.

Boil

Fermentation

We had about 5 gallons of wort that we put into our carboy with a vial of WLP550 Belgian Ale Yeast. The extra wort (about 1 gallon) went into an Ale Pail with a bit more of the yeast  We threw  it in our brew closet for about a week and half. It developed quite a bit of trub down on the bottom. After about 10 days, we washed and microwaved or cherries to get the sterilized and tossed them into the Ale Pail. We mashed them up as best we could with our paddle, and racked the beer from the carboy to the pail. About a week later we bottled them.

Tasting Notes

The first thing we noticed when pouring this beer was a very nice, red color, even the head was a nice pinkish cream. There was a little bit of cherry in the nose with some of the ester notes you’d expect from a belgian. The taste is actually a little thin. There isn’t that much cherry flavor or belgian flavor. It is a solid tasting beer with an awesome color that finishes with a hint of the flavors we were going for. This was our first beer using fresh fruit, and, like usual, we learned some stuff. Mainly, you need to really macerate the fruit. Cherries, being a stone fruit, prevented us from using a blender or food processor, so we had to do it with a paddle. A lot of the cherries were completely whole, so didn’t contribute that much flavor to the beer.