Review: Ommegang Three Philosophers

Last year Nate was driving from Colorado back to Michigan, and I offered him a place to crash as he passed through Chicago. It was a Friday night. At my previous job, we got out at noon on Fridays, and that particular day I had to go down to the DMV in the Loop. Since it was also Chicago Craft Beer Week, I figured, why not bar crawl my way back up to my place? I don’t get down to that area all that often, and there were some places I was interested in going.

I IMed Tim throughout the day, and finally sent him a custom Google Map of my route. This proved helpful, since on my bar crawl, I happened to be overserved. Couple that with my phone dying, and Nate got into to town and had no where to go. He called Tim, who used the map to play detective and called up the places I had been earlier that. Unfortunately, that didn’t help too much that much, since I was passed out on my couch.

Eventually (around 1a) I woke up, called Nate, and brought him up to my apartment, apologizing profusely along the way. We stayed up for a while, drank a bottle of Rodenbach Grand Cru, and eventually passed out around 6a.

What does this delightful story have to do with the beer in question? Well, at some point on my impromptu bar crawl, I ended up stopping at a bottle shot and picking up a mixed six pack, including Three Philosophers. I had seen it at Binny’s a few times, and been tempted, but I didn’t want to pull the trigger on a $12 bomber. This option was a 12oz bottle, presumably for less (my inhibitions were limited at that point anyway).

I’ve been meaning to drink it for a while, but haven’t for one reason or another. It’s actually a 2010 vintage, which means it’s been aging for at least 18 months. This makes it the longest cellaring project I’ve ever done. Maybe it comes with maturity. I have a couple bottles of Russian River along with a Two Brothers Hoodwink that I’m sitting for a while. Anyway, on to the review…

Tasting Notes

Ommegang Three Philosophers

Appearance: The beer pours smooth and viscous. It’s coppery with hints of ruby where the light strikes it. It had a two finger, thick, khaki head that gracefully laced down to a thin layer on top.

Aroma: The aroma is heavy with tart cherry with a sweet malty backbone. There’s a background suggestion of the alcohol heat as well.

Taste: The cherrie’s aren’t as heavy in the taste. Instead there is a raisin/prune flavor from the malt (Special B? Dark Crystal?). The malt really shines throughout the taste of this beer, and helps tamp down the alcohol heat. That heat is felt, rather than tasted, which is always welcome. The finish is where the cherries come in. For a rich beer, it finish with a very clean, slightly tart flavor from the cherries. Very nice. I’m letting it warm as I drink it. I’m hoping some more flavors may appear.

Mouthfeel: This beer is silky smooth and has some weight to it. Definitely one to sip slowly and enjoy.

Overall: I’m not sure it’s necessary for me to say this is a good beer. That seems to be an established fact. I had never had this beer before tonight, despite having the bottle for over a year, and first resolving to try it over two years ago. All in all, it was worth the wait. It had a lot of hype to live up to and met it easily. I am glad I only have 12oz bottle instead of a bomber, though.

Review: Stone Smoked Porter w/ Vanilla Bean

This beer isn’t a collaboration, but it follows the idea of combining disparate ideas to make something new, different and exciting. Vanilla porters are somewhat common. Smoke beers are less rare than they have been. The combination still intrigued me enough to pick up a 12oz bottle.

This beer evokes to me the phrase that has lead to many innovations in brewing and elsewhere, “Why the hell not?” Stone had a perfectly successful beer in their Smoked Porter. Then… according to Stone:

Stone brewer Laura Ulrich had a stroke of brilliance… what if she introduced whole Madagascar vanilla beans into a small batch?

If I see Laura (unlikely), I’m going to buy here a drink, because this is exactly what I love about personally about homebrewing and as a consumer about  craft brewing. Take a risk, go out on a limb, don’t be afraid to fail. Stone has been doing that for a long time.

Stone Smoked Porter w/ Vanilla Bean

Stone Smoked Porter w/ Vanilla Bean 5.9%

Review

Appearance: The beer pours a translucent copper with a creamy tan head that recedes quickly to a thin film on top of the beer. There are hints of dark ruby where the light hits the glass.

Aroma: The aroma is incredibly rich with notes rough, smoky chocolate with a heavy, smooth vanilla note taking over at the end. A classic, rauchbier style smoke aroma isn’t there. It’s more a acrid, kilned malt smokiness.

Taste: The taste starts off with a somewhat thin, very dark porter. Lots of dark, kilned malts giving an acrid, burnt flavor. There’s a hint of bitterness as well, but nothing close to overpowering the malt. The flavor ends with a very well rounded, lush vanilla flavor the helps to clear the acridity from the palate. There is a lingering maltiness, but that dissipates after a few seconds.

Mouthfeel: It starts off feeling a little thin, but I’m not sure if it’s a unfermentable sugar in the beer or just an effect of the vanilla flavor, but the end of the sip feel rich and smooth.There’s a light carbonation, the keeps the beer lively without overwhelming any of the flavors.

Overall: I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect here. I know I’ve had the Stone Smoked Porter before. It seemed more like a standard, dark, acrid porter than a rauchbier. This seems more along the lines of Breckenridge Vanilla Porter, but much, much drier. It’s an enjoyable beer, and the flavors work quite well together. I’m interested in trying the smoked porter with chipotle, but I doubt it will be as aggressive as our Pepper Porter or the 440 Pepper Smoker from Original Gravity.

Review: Stone Old Guardian

Stone has quite a few canonical beers. Arrogant Bastard is one of the best West Coast beers. Sublimely Self Righteous Ale acted as the model for black IPAs as they rose to ubiquity. Old Guardian is right up there for American Barely Wines.

While I spend a lot of time in this space talking about the joy of creating or trying something surprising and genuinely new, I do appreciate the standards. It doesn’t seem like summer without Saison DuPont. Two Hearted isn’t exceptional in any way besides being the best widely available IPA in the country. These beers act as guideposts for innovation and change. They are the established base that brewers use for inspiration.

A lot of times, I overlook beers because I see them all over. Sometimes it’s worthwhile to give the out there beers a break and go back to the beers that either created or defined styles.

Tasting Notes

Stone Old Guardian 2012

Stone Old Guardian 2012 (11%)

Appearance: This beer was not as dark as I expected. The beer is a coppery, tan, with ruby tinges when you hold it up to the light. There was a fluffy, off-white head that faded quickly to a thin film.

Aroma: The smell is all malt. Tons of caramel and biscuit comes through. There’s a hint of alcohol heat at the back end of the nose. It certainly isn’t cloying, but has a bit of sweetness to it.

Taste: The taste a bit sharper and drier than the nose. The hops are certainly not overpowering, but come in to help balance the flavor and keep it from being overwhelmingly sweet. At the front of the taste there’s plenty of caramel and malt. The hops follow to dry it out a little bit more. At the end of there’s a fair bit of alcohol heat. You don’t want to have a beer that’s 11% not to have a little kick to it.

Mouthfeel: It’s not as viscous as I thought it would be. There’s not much carbonation; just enough to keep it a little lively. It could actually use a bit more carbonation to keep it from being a bit syrupy. Still, that’s not necessarily against style for a Barley Wine.

Overall: I’m not exactly sure if this is the perfect beer for a 80 degree night with about 90% humidity, but this is certainly a good beer. I had this “cellaring” for about 6 months before cracking it open. That’s really nothing for this beer. I’d be curious to try it after sitting for a year or two. This is certainly a great example of a Barley Wine. There’s a little bit of that Stone, West coast style with the somewhat aggressive hopping, but I think that helps balance it out, rather than move it out of style.

 

Review: Saison du BUFF

Stone has a long history of collaborations. Not all of them are hits, but I can usually find them at my local bottle shop for about $3 for a 12oz bottle. As unit price, it’s a little high, but it’s a low enough price point that I don’t mind dropping it on something that could be a crap shoot. And, with some of these somewhat out there beers, you may not want much more than a 12 ounces.

I’ve been on a saison kick for a little over a year, since I tasted my first batch of Rye Saison. We recently brewed a second batch, and since we certainly can’t keep well enough alone, we decided to split off a bit and do something different. Naturally, I’m always looking for inspiration, and this really seems to fit the bill.

Here’s Sam Caglione of Dogfish Head tasting the beer in a Reno 911 costume (… I don’t know):

Yeah… so there’s that. Anyway, these are three great brewers getting together to do something right in my wheelhouse. Even if it was more expensive, I would have probably still would have picked it up.

Tasting Notes

Saison du BUFF

Appearance: The beer is the color of golden straw. It’s very transparent with a steady stream of bubbles rising from the stem of the goblet. There’s a very minimal white head that quickly reduces to a small patchwork on covering about two thirds of the beer.

Aroma: The nose is led by very earthy, grassy notes from the hops. There is also an herbaceous quality that comes across a little savory and a little spicy. Very interesting aroma.

Taste: Very, very dry. The beer is crisp, clean and dry like a good saison should be. The first taste is the grassy notes from the hops. What follows is a progression from the different herb flavors.There’s a lingering spiciness from the herbs (maybe the thyme?) that leaves the palate fresh.

Mouthfeel: The beer is light and dry with very bright carbonation. Right to style for a saison. A little more head might be nice, but that’s picking nits.

Overall: A lot of beers that are conceived from a joke or reference sacrifice the quality of the overall beer in order to make the more clever joke. This beer manages to pull off the parsly, sage, rosemary and thyme theme by choosing a beer that would be enhanced by the herbs. This is a good beer. The collaboration, theme and whatnot add to the story and help to elevate the beer. A story can elevate a good beer, but it can’t save a bad beer.

Review: Clown Shoes Hoppy Feet

I remember when I first heard of Black IPAs. There were posts trying to figure out what to call this new style. Is it a Black IPA? A Robust Porter? Cascadian Dark Ale? The industry seems to have settled on Black IPA, and they’ve started becoming fairly commonplace.

I remember the first BIPA I tried. I was at my go to bar, with my go to server (who has since changed jobs) looking down the draft list. I asked him if there was anything exciting, and he just nodded and started pouring me Stone Sublimely Self Righteous Ale. I’m not sure if that was the first major BIPA, but I know it certainly was a lot of people’s first BIPA. There are moments quaffing beer that are special, when you try something that you haven’t tasted before. That was one of those moments.

I continued to keep a look out for BIPAs and picked them up at bottle shops or ordered them at the bar when I found them. But after a while, more and more started showing up. Some of them still blow me away, but the hit rate seems to have gone down, and I tend to look for other styles.

Fred Armisen from Portlandia

BIPAS ARE OVER!

This is where I push up my hipster glasses and tell you how much better it was before Black IPAs were mainstream. I do worry that I’m becoming a beer snob who will turn up his nose at a perfectly good pint. Well, I decided to give it another go, and picked up a bomber of Clown Shoes Hoppy Feet Black IPA. The brewer describes it:

Hoppy Feet has been lovingly crafted by combining Premium malt with lots of Amarillo and Columbus Hops.  Grapefruit and Pine are balanced on the nose and on the palate by a nutty, dark chocolate, roasted backbone.

This has been knocking around in my “cellar1” for a while. I generally try to drink hoppy beers fresh. I think you get more of what the brewer is trying to produce that way. This may not be a completely fair shake, so I might try it from a tap if I see it around to compare.

Tasting Notes

Clown Shoes Hoppy Feet

Clown Shoes Hoppy Feet Black IPA

Appearance: The beer pours a very, dark copper, with very little translucence. Holding up it the light, you get some flashes of ruby. There was a one finger, creamy head that receded quickly down to about half a finger and remained there.

Aroma: The aroma is a mix of a spicy hops with a strong caramel note from the malt base. The nose is incredibly well balanced.

Taste: Unfortunately, the taste isn’t as well balanced as the nose. The first flavor is a muted malt taste, that is immediately followed by an intense bitterness that mixes with alcohol heat and some acridity from the dark malts. The after taste is a lingering, coating bitterness that stays on my tongue.

Mouthfeel: The beer is very smooth with a slightly heavy body for an IPA. There’s a bit of carbonation from the bomber, but nothing too effervescent.

Overall: Maybe I’ve just been in a BIPA overload, but this beer doesn’t really do much for me. The bitterness overpowers the malt flavors that I want, yet manages to accentuate the acridity that I would want to hide. Also, while I enjoy hoppy beers, I don’t care for the lingering and sometimes muddy bitterness in a lot of IPAs. The best hop bombs, Firestone Walker Double Jack and Bell’s Hopslam (short list, and strictly my opinion), have a great hop nose with a deceptively strong malt backbone to stand up to the hops. The bitterness also is cleaner, with more flavor, be it citrus, spice, earthiness, grassiness, rather than just unplaceable bitterness.

  1. My “cellar” is a couple of cupboards above my microwave.

Review: Alba Scots Pine Ale

Williams Brothers make some interesting beers. I’ve written about their elderberry beer earlier, and I haven’t quite had the cajones to give their seaweed beer Kelpie a go.

Pine needles actually have a long history in brewing. In colonial American, many homebrewers would just use pine needles or spruce tips as a bittering agent since they were plentiful and much easier to cultivate initially than hops.

Alba Scots Pine Ale

Alba Scots Pine Ale – 7.5% ABV

Appearance: The beer poured a dark, coppery amber with a finger or two of creamy head that has dissipated quickly. There are some bubbles floating up from the bottom.

Aroma: The beer smells very sweet with a hint of the pine. There’s some floral notes in there too, but I’m not sure where they’re from.

Taste: Very sweet. Fruit, molasses and brown sugar come to the front. Not much bitterness at all. I’m searching for that resinous, piney flavor, but it’s just not there. The taste is almost all malts and yeast.

Mouthfeel: The carbonation could actually be a bit higher. The beer is a bit cloying as it is. The extra bubbles could help brighten it up a little. Overall, it’s a bit heavy and sweet.

Overall: I was honestly hoping for more aromatics from the pine. If it wasn’t on the bottle, I honestly never would have guessed that there was any pine in this beer.

Brewery Review: Breckenridge Brewery

I had a couple friends come up to Vail a couple weeks ago, for their spring break. On one of their days here, we took a trip to Breckenridge, for a change of scenery and slopes. This had the wonderful side effect of giving me a chance to visit Breckenridge Brewery and do a bit of a YB&D rundown of the beers they had available at the time.

Before we could visit the brewery, however, I had to survive the slopes, which turned out to be a slightly more difficult ordeal than one would assume, being that I’m on them every day…

After an incident involving a tree, copious amounts of blood loss, a ski patrol-led toboggan ride and a quick jaunt to the E.R. (I’ll save you the gore from the pictures; this is a beer site, not a snuff blog. Needless to say, my nose was picking up iron notes, not from the beer…), we finally arrived at Breck Brewery. I had been to this place twice before, both times, with Tim. The first was our first night in town, on vacation about a year ago, and the second was a few days later, during their ‘Ladies Night’. This fantastic creation involves unlimited drafts of any of their beers at no charge for those of the fairer sex, and a flat $5 cover to get the same, if you possess a Y chromosome: Score.

"I am a monument to all your sins."

When we arrived this time, however, we were in the Apres-ski/Happy Hour deal, featuring all of their brews (except the DIPA) for $2. I almost felt like I was back at Grizzly Peak… To start off I tried once of their rotating beers, the Baldy Brown. After about half of my pint, I realized the lack of blood in my system was having a significant effect on my tolerance, so I wisened up, and went with a full flight of the 8 beers on draft. Had I not, I felt I wouldn’t have been able to try more than one more brew without serious issues, like ‘staying awake’. My notes follow:

Baldy Brown

Hazelnut and Grape notes in the nose, with little hop character. Lighter malt flavor than I was expecting considering the style and color. Vanilla notes and I wasn’t sure if I picked up a few esters in the mouth as well. The mouthfeel was a bit fluffy for a brown. I was expecting something with slightly more weight.

Vanilla Porter

Noticably more hops here, but more in the mouth than nose. Very similar to the brown, just a bit -more- of everything, especially the vanilla. Though heavier than the brown, it seemed, again, lightweight for the style, who knows, maybe I’m just out of touch…

Breck Light

Being that BB is in a tourist town, and gets a lot of non-beer enthusiasts through its doors, they need to cater to more general crowd, and I think this is it. Honey notes in the mouth and nose. Low malt character. A light earthy hop aroma with a slightly hoppy finish.

Trademark Pale

Nice dose of floral hops in the nose. Malt blends well with the hops in the mouth. Maybe a little fructose in there as well. Nothing bad to say about this one.

471 IPA (DIPA)

Strong hit of floral and citrus hops in the nose. Also: Alcohol -both in the nose and mouth, including a little bit of a burn. A little diacetyl as well. Finished very hoppy.

Avalanche Amber

Slightly sour flavor, possibly from lactic acid addition? Earthy hop flavor but not as present in the nose. The malt flavor also was very pronounced. Tasted very dark, much darker than that color. My favorite of the night.

Oatmeal Stout

Pretty high carbonation for a stout, IMHE. Got a lot of nutty malt flavor, particularly almond. Warm cherry notes in the finish. It’s been a long time since I’ve had the only ‘cherry stout’ I’ve tried, but the flavors go well together. I’d like to experiment at some point.

Agave Wheat

Honey in both nose and mouth, agave nectar tastes exactly like honey but sweeter, so: go figure. On my note card I have ‘hops and bitterness – good pairing’ I must assume this means at this point the bloodloss/alcohol was getting to me, and that I meant to say the honey and bitterness paired well together. The rest of the notes I have on this are pretty difficult to read… Maybe next time.

Review: O’Fallon’s Smoke Porter

When Michigan (finally) instituted its indoor smoking ban, Ashley’s–a consistently smoky bar–had a smoked beer festival. I hadn’t really had many smoked beer before then, but on that day I tried the 440 Pepper Smoker from Original Gravity, and I was hooked. Smoke beers are definitely a weird creation. Malt that has been smoked over hardwood picks up a savory, almost meat-like flavor along with the predictable smokiness.

I can see them not necessarily being for everyone. They could trend too far from what beer should taste like, but personally, I like seeing people push the boundaries of beer and coming up with different and interesting flavors. Also, I drank one of these beers along with a Diavolo sandwich from L’Appetito. The mix of the smoked, cured meats, spicy mustard and smokey beer was absolutely amazing.

Tasting Notes

O'Fallons Smoked Porter

O'Fallons Smoked Porter

Appearance: Dark brown with hints of copper shining through when held up to the light. It poured with a creamy, 2 finger thick tan head that dissipated somewhat quickly and without much lacing.

Aroma: Savory, woody and smoky. It’s like a campfire in a good, aromatic way. I’ve had beers that have crossed the line into cigarette butt, but this stays well away from that.

Taste: The taste comes in a few waves. It begins with a nice, acrid smokiness, which is quickly followed with roasted, malty sweetness. The aftertaste is a lingering, but not unpleasant acridity.

Mouthfeel: This beer has a medium carbonation. I think it could be just a bit a lower, actually. That might help it feel a bit richer. As it is, it’s a bit too thin.

Overall: I don’t know why, but I had been craving a smoked beer. This hits all the spots. I don’t regret picking up a six-pack.