May 2011 Archives

Mission Blonde Ale

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I picked this up mostly because it had a nice label and I associate the term "blonde" with Belgian style pale ales, which I enjoy. When I looked at this a little closer, I realized that it was a Kölsch. I'm not terribly familiar with the style, but it seems to be to be a whole lot closer to "yellow fizzy beer" that exemplifies the macros than something I'd really want to try. My only recent exposure to the style was Flying Dog's Tire Bite Ale, and it's my least favorite offering from that brewery. This is not particularly encouraging, is it? But then, maybe setting the bar so low will lead to an unexpected surprise!

Mission Blonde Ale

Mission Blonde Ale - Pours a slightly cloudy (but mostly clear) golden yellow color with a finger of quickly disappearing head. Some fruitiness and maybe sweet candi aromas in the nose. I got a distinct candy/bubblegum aroma feeling out of this, but I can't quite place it. Interesting and definitely the best part of the beer. Taste is pretty straightforward and a bit sweet, with just a little bitter dryness in the finish. Very crisp mouthfeel though and a surprising amount of body. Unfortunately, it's a fairly delicate beer, and it didn't quite stand up to, well, the pizza I was eating at the time. Is that unfair? Maybe. It strikes me as the sort of beer that could be quite pleasant or thirst quenching after mowing the lawn or something... but it doesn't seem to hold up to competition (whether that be from other beers or food). B-

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (22 oz bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass.

Despite the relatively low rating, I have to say that I'm now a little more open to the style. There's enough interesting stuff going on with this beer that I'm sure a better version exists somewhere. Not to bag too much on Mission - they seem like an interesting little brewery, and I have another of their brews on my shelf that I hope to check out soon.

Ommegang Three Philosophers

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Back in 2003, RealBeer.com sponsored a contest asking people to submit descriptions of their "dream beer." A home brewer named Noel Blake from Portland won the contest and RealBeer chose Brewery Ommegang to brew the beer. It first appeared in late 2003.

A fledgling beer nerd at the time, I was perusing the shelves of my local beer distributor when I noticed the new beer. Ommegang was the brewery that really opened my eyes to what beer could be, so the appearance of a new beer in their lineup was a welcome surprise. And it was labeled as a Quadrupel, which is like, 4 times better than regular beer, right? It was quite expensive, but I plunked down the cash for a case of the beer (stupid PA laws) without even really knowing what it was. And I'm glad I did! Like the other Ommegang beers I'd tried, it was like nothing I'd ever had before.

Now here's where things get a little weird. I revisited this beer last weekend, and in scrutinizing the bottle (because I'm a huge nerd), I noticed some things were different. First, I remember my original case of Three Philosophers said it was "Ale with Cherry Lambic" or something like that. The 2010 bottle I was looking at said it was brewed with "authentic Belgian Kriek" (which is also a Cherry ale, but that's different from Cherry Lambic). I also seemed to remember the original ABV at 10% and the new bottle said 9.8%. I thought for a moment that I must be going crazy in my old age, but a search of the Kaedrin Media Asset Management System (i.e. my hard drive) turned up this picture from early 2004 (you can click the image for a larger version):

Old Bottle of Ommegang Three Philosophers

A ha! It says "Ale with Cherry Lambic Added". So I'm not crazy*. Unfortunately, I can't make out the ABV (which I assume is on the bottom right of the label, which is just out of sight) and my CSI-like powers of image enhancement are just not up to snuff to figure that out**.

Since I was also curious as to where the name "Three Philosophers" came from, I did the only sensible thing and sent my annoying and pedantic questions directly to Ommegang. A nice woman named Betsy answered me right away with a bunch of info about the beer, the RealBeer contest, and why it's called "Three Philosophers" (links added by me):

The name Three Philosphers is in reference to a manuscript called Island in the Moon, by William Blake in which the protagonist has a meal and drinks with three fictional philosophers. You will notice the heads on the front of the bottle, which are our Three Philosophers. The middle is Michel Moortgat, owner of Duvel-Moortgat, our parent company based in Belgium. The left is Phil Leinhart, current brewmaster at Brewery Ommegang and the right is Randy Thiel, former brewmaster at Brewery Ommegang.
On the matter of ABV, Betsy did some investigating but could find no mention of 10% ABV. Because I'm a dork and like to believe in the infallibility of my brain's memory, I have my doubts. Which are probably unfounded***. Of course, none of this really matters because the beer was awesome and remains awesome, no matter what kind of recipe tweaks it's undergone.

Ommegang Three Philosophers

Ommegang Three Philosophers - Pours a very dark brown color with a small light colored head (some lacing apparent as I drank as well). Smells strongly of chocolate and caramel, with hints of cherry and just a bit of the typical Belgian yeast aromas. Tastes fantastic. More sweet chocolate and caramel, that hint of cherry again, and an aftertaste that's just a bit dry. Full bodied but smoother than you'd expect. It's not an easy drinkin' beer, but it's a nice sippin' beer. The alcohol is well hidden, though if you drink quickly, you get a nice warming sensation. I feel like I've been saying this a lot lately, but it's complex and truly unique. A perfect dessert-beer**** and one of my long-time favorites. A

Beer Nerd Details: 9.8% ABV bottled (750 ml, caged and corked). Brewed/released in 2010. Drank out of a goblet on 5/21/11.

Sometimes I worry that beers I like from before I was really into beer won't hold up, but I'm happy to report that Ommegang's beers have held up well. And of course, I've got more reviews in the pipeline, and at least one more on my shelf (making its way to the fridge in short order, I think).

* As it turns out, there are multiple images/flash presentations on Ommegang's site that feature circa 2004 bottles of Three Philosophers that also sport the "Ale with Cherry Lambic Added" label. So maybe I'm not crazy, but I am kinda dumb.

** The pics in the previously asterisked note also indicate that the beer was 9.8% ABV, so I'll concede that the previous conclusion about how dumb I am has even more merit.

*** Can you tell that I added these asterisks after I wrote the bulk of this post? Yeah, you can. So given the evidence in the other asterisks, I'm guessing I just made that 10% number up. At the time it was the strongest beer I'd ever even heard of, so I was probably just telling people that it was, like, 10% alcohol man...

**** Is four asterisks too many? Or should I have been doing numeric footnotes? Do you care? I didn't think so. Anyway, when I cajoled a bunch of friends to stop by the Ommegang brewery during a trip to Cooperstown (ostensibly for a bachelor party and the Baseball Hall of Fame), the guy who gave the tour said that the rich flavors go really well with sweets (chocolate and other deserts, etc...)

***** Bonus asterisk! Before I was a true beer nerd, I had no idea what cherry lambic was. One time, I went to a bar and they were all: Oh you like Belgian beer? Duder, we just got this awesome cherry lambic beer in on tap, you should try it! and I was like Ohhh, another beer like Three Philosophers? Sign me up! And of course, the beer was absolutely nothing like what I was expecting (i.e. I had no idea what cherry lambic was), but I enjoyed it anyway. I wanna say it was really strong too, like 14% or something ridiculous, but given my recollection of ABV above, perhaps I was wrong. It was probably 3% or something.

Again with the IPA Double Feature

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I didn't plan this, I swears! There just happened to be some interesting IPAs on tap last night:

Russian River Blind Pig IPA

Russian River Blind Pig IPA - Apparently this bar had a keg of the vaunted Pliny the Elder on tap a couple days ago, but I missed out and had to settle for Russian River's standard IPA offering (Not that I mind too much, as this has been on my wants list for quite a while!) Pours a clear golden color with a couple fingers of bubbly white head. It's got a fantastic smell - citrus and floral hops, maybe a little pine. Taste matches the aroma well, with that nice bracing bitterness coming through prominently. Extremely well balanced. Mouthfeel is very smooth. A dangerously easy drink - I could drink these all night. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of Victory's Hop Devil. Maybe not the best IPA ever, but overall a fantastic beer. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.1% ABV on tap. Drank out of a shaker pint glass.

Victory Hop Wallop on cask

Victory Hop Wallop - Yes, I've reviewed this before, but this time... it was on Cask! I've really come to enjoy beers on cask, but I have to say, I don't think this was a good match. Perhaps I got this one too long after the cask had been tapped (beer in casks quickly degrade), but it was a real disappointment. Gone are all the fantastic grapefruit and orange aromas, gone is the tart citrus in the taste. Cask pours usually produce a smoother beer, but this was still pretty well carbonated, and it just didn't work right for me. What I was left with was an ordinary bitter and boozy IPA... which isn't that bad for what it is, but it's not as good as what I had in the bottle. Again, not sure what the source of this disconnect is - it could be the cask (or associated hardware), it could be the time since the cask was opened, or perhaps it could be that the Blind Pig just set too high a bar! I still love Hop Wallop in general, but I'd recommend it in the bottle rather than the cask (luckily, finding this on cask is probably unusual). On cask, I give it a B-, but in the bottle, it was an A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV on cask. Drank out of a shaker pint glass.

Someday, I will get my hands on Pliny the Elder (or, if I'm really lucky, Pliny the Younger), oh yes.

DIPA Double Feature

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This past weekend's double feature consisted of a pair of rather depressing movies and, of course, two IPAs. After a pretty long stretch of IPA double features that highlighted the variety and distinctiveness of the style, I seem to be experiencing some bad luck with the last two. In the last IPA double feature, I had two great beers that were actually pretty similar. This post covers two middling DIPAs that are, again, pretty similar. Huh.

On the filmic side of things, I started with I Saw the Devil , a rather extreme Korean revenge flick (those Koreans really seem to enjoy vengeance!) Fans of Park Chan-wook's Vengance Trilogy will no doubt enjoy this one. The second film was Black Death, a dour British film set during the bubonic plague. It has its moments, but it's ultimately quite depressing and hard to recommend. I would recommend Director Christopher Smith's previous effort, Triangle, though. It's also depressing, but it features an odd elliptical plot that's quite intriguing (if a bit polarizing).

Depressing films and bitter beer, a match made in heaven?

Breckenridge 471 IPA

Breckenridge 471 IPA - Part of Breckenridge's "Small Batch" series, this is a rather straightforward double IPA. I'm not sure what the number 471 signifies, but if you haven't seen Breckenridge's fantastic mockery of big beer advertising, check it out. Interestingly, I've been seeing Heineken ads on TV lately that seem to be doing the same thing. Not sure which brewery got their first, but it's an interesting contrast in breweries and advertising. The Heineken ad is much more polished and pretty, but also somewhat cold, impersonal, and rather boring. Breckenridge's ads are, by contrast, low budget and static, but they amply demonstrate the personable and lovable nature of American craft brewing. And they're much funnier!

But enough about advertising. This beer pours a darkish amber gold color, with about a finger of head. Grassy hops in the nose, with just a hint of sweetness. Taste is surprisingly straightforward. It's not overly sweet or bitter, though both flavors are there. I'm not entirely sure I'd recognize this as a DIPA, though it does get a bit boozier as it warms up. Looking at the hops it's brewed with, I'm not sure why I didn't enjoy it more, but I got less citrus or pine than I would expect. It's a solid beer, with earthy hops and a nice medium to full body, but it's not something that's blowing the doors off the wall either. Whatever that means. B

Beer Nerd Details: 9.2% bottled (12 oz). Drank from a tulip glass on 5/20/11. Hops: Chinook, Centennial, Simcoe, Fuggles. IBUs: 70

Sly Fox Odyssey

Sly Fox Odyssey - I didn't know this until now, but every year since 2004, Sly Fox has celebrated the IPA style with a year long series of single-hopped beers at their brewpub, culminating in an all day festival in December of each year. Every year the number and varieties of hops changes, but it's usually somewhere around 8-10 different hops. To coincide with the festival, they also launch a new beer made from all the hops used that year, called Odyssey. A double IPA with shitloads of hops.

It's a bit darker in color than the 471 - less amber and more brown. The nose is less sweet, but perhaps more hoppy. There's also a bready, almost Belgian aroma poking out, but it's very subtle. The taste is more intense and complex, but very similar. The body is a bit less full, but that makes it a bit more drinkable. Ultimately, I'm getting a very similar feeling with this beer - a solid brew, but not lighting my hair on fire either. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.4% bottled (22 oz). Drank from a tulip glass on 5/20/11. Hops: Cascade, Newport, Warrior, Northdown, Vanguard, Palisade, Simcoe, Nugget, Magnum, Challenger*. IBUs: 90

It's unclear how often the Odyssey recipe changes, but in any case, I'm probably more likely to revisit that one than the 471.

In terms of IPA double features, this surely won't be the last, and I can guarantee that the next one will feature more distinct varieties of the style. In fact, it may even be a triple feature!

* Again, it's a little unclear if they change the Odyssey recipe from year to year, but according to their website, it was first brewed in 2006, and so I listed the hops from that year.

The Bruery Mischief

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Ok, fair warning, this post is gonna get weird if you don't know or care about fantasy sports. If there was such a thing as Fantasy Brewery, where do you think The Bruery would be drafted? I guess much of this depends on the details of such a league. Do you draft individual beers, or whole breweries? What are they measured on? Sales? Quality? How would you determine quality? Do you have a rotisserie league where beers are evaluated on a number of more objective measurements, like IBUs or ABV (dibs on Mikkeller 1000 IBU)?

Yeah, it's a stupid idea. But I'd draft The Bruery. They may be small (which, depending on the details of such a league, may be a deal breaker), but every beer I've had from them has been excellent, and three of the four have absolutely blown me away, including:

The Bruery Mischief

The Bruery Mischief - Pours a pretty golden orange color with a finger or two of white, fluffy head. Smells fantastic. Citrus and floral hops, bready Belgian yeast, and a sugary aroma to cap things off. Taste starts sweet and a pleasant and crisp hoppy bitterness appears midway through the taste, lingering beyond the finish. The taste is quite complex, but not overpowering in any way. It's hoppy, but not as much as an IPA or DIPA (indeed, it's only 35 IBUs - just a hair less than Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and given the higher alcohol/sweetness of Mischief, I suspect that's a bit misleading). It's sweet and tasty, but not sticky or cloying. It's a medium bodied beer but that's a good thing in a refreshing pale ale like this. This is a great beer. I usually don't go in for hoppy Belgian-style beers, but this one is very well balanced and unique. Another homerun from the Bruery. A

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/13/11. 35 IBUs.

I've got a bottle of Saison Rue sitting my my shelf that I'm hoping to get to soon, and I'm hoping my local bottle shop will still have a bottle or two of Coton sitting around as well (I've had it before, and it's superb. In the words of the guy who sold it to me: "It's really good. Boozy, but good.")

Allagash Curieux

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I should drink more Allagash. Along with Ommegang, they're the other major east-coast brewery that seems to specialize in Belgian style beer, so it's no suprise that I tend to enjoy their beers. They make the standard Belgian styles, but they aren't afraid to experiment either. Their 2009 Fluxus was a bit of a revelation for me. "Ale brewed with sweet potatoes and black pepper." It certainly doesn't sound all that appealing, but it was a unique take on the Saison style. I would love to try it again, but alas, it was only a one-time brew (Fluxus is released once a year, but the recipe changes - 2010 was an Imperial Chocolate Stout). Sometimes their experimentation isn't quite as successful, but I'm always game for a new one. However, I've been a bit neglectful of late. Indeed, I've had this bottle sitting on my shelf for a solid six months (and according to the label, it was bottled in May 2010).

Allagash Curieux is a Belgian-style Tripel aged in Jim Beam bourbon barrels. It was apparently their first foray into the world of barrel-aged beer, though they've clearly expanded their scope in the past few years.

Allagash Curieux

Pours a cloudy golden color with minimal head. Smells of sugary sweet fruit, spicy Belgian yeast and maybe even a little of that Bourbon. Tastes very sweet. Candi sugar, fruits, some spiciness. Finishes dry with some sticky alcohol in the aftertaste (perhaps a hint of Bourbon in there too). Mouthfeel is quite harsh, making this more of a sipping beer. A good thing, too, considering the 11% ABV. As it warms, the beer becomes more clear and a little more smooth, though it's still full bodied and the alcohol still asserts itself. It's perhaps a bit too hot for the style, and certainly not an everyday beer, but it's another interesting offering from Allagash. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (750 ml, caged and corked). Bottled May 2010. Drank out of a Goblet on 5/14/11.

In case you can't tell from the past several reviews, I'm in the midst of a bit of a drink-down right now. I've collected quite a few bottles over the previous months, and despite my best efforts, quite a backlog has accrued. Most of them tend to be high ABV monsters, which partially explains it, but I've also been a bit overzealous in my procurement. This is, of course, a good problem to have. I'm a bit behind on reviews as well, and may end up grouping a few together here and there. In any case, whenever I manage to dig out of this wonderful hole of great beer, I plan to try out a few more of Allagash's limited releases. I've had their standard stuff, and several of the limited releases, but I'd really like to explore more. However, looking at the beer on my shelf (not to mention the homebrew that's building up), that may be a while.

After two weeks in the fermenter, I went ahead and bottled the Bavarian Hefeweizen yesterday. I probably could have bottled it a few days ago, but I decided to give it a little more time, especially since I don't really do secondary fermentation - that's a process where I would transfer the beer from the primary fermenter to a secondary, separating it from the majority of the yeast and giving it a chance to condition and clear. However, I only really have one fermenting bucket, and besides, transferring the beer opens it up to the air and the possibility of infection (by wild yeast strains, bacteria, etc...) I'm pretty good about sanitation, but still, the less chances for mistakes the better. Also, Hefeweizens are supposed to be cloudy - the name itself literally translates to "yeast wheat", or "wheat beer with yeast". The question of whether or not to use secondary fermentation seems to be a pretty contentious one, but for simplicity's sake, I'm going to stick with only using the primary for now.

The final gravity was 1.010. For some reason, Northern Brewer never mentions target gravity for any of their kits. Nevertheless, for a beer with a starting gravity of ~1.050, that final gravity was appropriate. My previous two batches came in a little lower than I was expecting, but this one was just what I was hoping for (in monitoring temperatures, it seems that conditions were ideal for this batch). Doing the math on this, I find that this will be a 5.25% ABV beer, which is just about perfect for the style.

As with my previous two attempts, the bottling process went smoothly. I did invest in an auto-siphon this time around, and yes, it was worth every penny. Not that getting a siphon to work was particularly difficult, just that it was a huge pain in the ass to get going. The auto-siphon makes that process very easy. Otherwise, nothing new to report - sanitizing bottles is a tedious chore, filling and capping the bottles is a little more fun, but also tedious and repetitive. I ended up just shy of two full cases of beer.

Like last time, the beer looked and smelled fantastic. It's a little brighter than I expected, but I expect it to darken up a bit as it conditions in the bottles (about 3-4 weeks after bottling the tripel, the color was significantly changed). The smell was really wonderful - all due to the yeast I used. It's a German yeast, but it has very distinct characteristics that I usually associate with Belgian yeasts. I really can't wait to try this beer!

Homebrew 3

If all goes well, this should be ready to drink in 1-2 weeks (definitely in time for my next beer club meeting)... Indeed, it should be reaching full maturity right as summer is hitting, which is perfect. That pretty much covers it for this beer, and I'm already attempting to work out a recipe for my next beer. I'm looking to make a Belgian style Saison (in the mold of Saison Dupont or Ommegang Hennepin). Most of the kits I've found haven't quite met my expectations, so I might actually have to try my hand at a more free-form recipe. In particular, I'm a little worried about what yeast to use. My understanding is that some saison yeasts require high temperatures (in the 80°F - 90°F range) and will often putter out early if conditions aren't just right. As such, I may end up using some sort of alternative, as I have little control over temperature (interestingly, the temp for the Hefeweizen was just about perfect).

(Cross Posted on Kaedrin Weblog)

Victory V-Twelve

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So I haven't actually reviewed my homebrewed tripel yet, but it's definitely good enough that I might want to give it a name. Unfortunately, I kinda suck at that. I always end up with informative, but ultimately bland names. Witness the name of this blog: Kaedrin Beer Blog. Boy, I really pushed the envelope on that one. This is mildly depressing. Lots of beers have fantastic names and crazy backstories and I'm going to end up with, what? "Mark's Tripel" won't cut it. "Tripel Play"? Yeah, no one's come up with that before. I just don't have a knack for it. I wish that I could come up with something like Johno's Trogdor The Burninator "Consummate V" Belgian Strongbad Ale, but even funny referential naming escapes me when I try to think of a name for my beer.

So when I see something like Victory V-Twelve, I'm somewhat relieved. It's such a pragmatic name. It's the sort of thing I would name a beer. I like to picture Bill Covaleski and Ron Barchet sitting in a boardroom brainstorming names while drinking the beer, but because it's fucking 12% ABV, they quickly get shitfaced and say "Fuck it, we're Victory and it's 12% alcohol, we'll just call it V-Twelve!", then do the Go Team Venture symbol and pop the cork on another bottle. Incidentally, this was sitting in my fridge for a while. Not only is it 12%, but it only comes in 750ml bottles, so you either need to share it with someone or you need to be in the right mood.

On Victory's website (and the bottle itself), they say that it's a "vintage-dated, Belgian-style specialty ale". Alas, my bottle had no date on it (or perhaps it just got rubbed off or something). I know I bought it before the new year, so I'm guessing it's at least half a year old, and given the high alcohol and flavors involved, I'm sure it could stand up to some long-term aging.

Victory V-Twelve

Pours a relatively clear dark amber/orange color with a minimal white head. Smell is full of dark fruits (plum?) and spices, with just a hint of Belgian yeast. Sticky dark fruit in the taste as well. Very sweet, I worried that it might get a bit cloying after a while, but that annoyance thankfully never developed. Some warming alcohol character is present as well. It's got a full body but a smooth texture. Beer Advocate calls it a Quadrupel, but it seems more like a Barleywine than a Quad. Of course, Victory doesn't really call it a Quad either - they call it a Belgian Specialty Ale (or an Amber Ale), which is probably more accurate.

Whatever the designation, this is quite good. Again, I was a little worried that the sweetness would get cloying, but I never actually got there, and as it warms, it evens out a bit. There's no real bitterness at all, but its texture and alcohol keep it from getting too overwhelming. And speaking of that alcohol, it's clearly present, but not in a bad or overly boozy way. It's very well balanced with the rest of the brew. This is one of those beers whose quality has grown in my head as time goes on, making me want to get a few more bottles so that I have one on hand if the mood strikes. A

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV bottled (750 ml, caged and corked) Drank out of a tulip glass on 4/30/11.

Victory continues to be my local hero. Even when I'm disappointed by one of their beers, I'm glad I tried it (and they're usually still worth drinking anyway). I'm most definitely going to pick up a few more of these and age them, just to see what happens.

Ommegang Tripel Perfection

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I love Ommegang, but even I have to pause at their presumption of "perfection" on the label of this beer. They even mention on the label that tripels are brewed "with simple ingredients and fierce attention to detail, there is little room for error - but lots of opportunity." Indeed. Belgian tripels are among my favorite styles, and Ommegang is among my favorite breweries, so I had high expectations here. Indeed, this was a hard one to find, raising expectations further. The only place I saw it was in a holiday package that also had a couple other Ommegang beers and some nice glassware (which, unfortunately, didn't show up particularly well in the image below).

Ommegang Tripel Perfection

Ommegang Tripel Perfection - Pours a cloudy orange/brown color with a couple fingers of head. Smell is full of fruity and spicy belgian yeast. The taste starts off sweet (some fruity character here), hits a spicy note (coriander?) in the middle and finishes dry. That dry finish may be partially because I waited so long to open the bottle - tripels tend to get more dry the longer they age. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, and it's not out of place at all here. The bottle I have is marked as having been packaged on 6/29/10, so it isn't that old, but still. In any case, the beer is extremely well balanced, which is something I've come to expect from Ommegang. Mouthfeel is high in carbonation and a bit harsh, but those are welcome for the style. Just a hint of stickyness and some warming alcohol notes. Very complex for a tripel. Perhaps not the best in style, but certainly in the top tier. In general, I feel that Ommegang's seasonals and special releases aren't as good as their regular stable of beers, but in this case, I think they really have a winner. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.9% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 5/6/11.

There's an anonymous quotation on the bottle that says "One can not adequately explain perfection. One can only enjoy it." Indeed. I don't think the beer quite lives up to Perfection, but it's close!

Russian River Redemption

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I've written about Trappist style beers before, mentioning their naming convention of dubbels, tripels and quadrupels. The styles are notoriously vague, but the idea is each numerical step up the ladder represents an increase in the strength of the beer. Furthermore, at many breweries, there is often what's called a House beer or a "Single" (aka "Enkel"). In a lot of cases, this terminology has yielded to the term "Blonde". In any case, it's generally the lightest and least alcoholic of the styles (again, with each successive step up getting stronger). So apparently the monks at Westmalle aren't constantly getting sloshed on their excellent tripel (9.5% ABV), instead preferring to pop open a single to enjoy with their meals. In some cases, these beers are not released to the public, earning the name Patersbier (which translates to "father's beer", meaning that it is reserved for use within the abbey). For instance, Westmalle's single, called Westmalle Extra, apparently has very limited availability.

Inspired by the tradition of "singles", Russian River brewer Vinnie Cilurzo created this beer, called Redemption. Apparently, like many of RR's other beers, Brettanomyces was added to the initial bottling to add a wild flavor to the beer. However, it appears that the Brett additions were not included in subsequent batches, and the alcohol content seems to be shrinking as well. Initial batches were in the area of 6-6.5% ABV, but the bottle I got (batch #8) is marked as 5.15% ABV (strangely, their website says 5.0%)

Russian River Redemption

Pours a very light, hazy straw yellow color with about a finger of head. Smells strongly of fruity belgian yeast. Taste has an almost wheat beer character to it... Very sweet and crisp, with just a hint of lingering dryness in the finish. There's maybe some citrus in there, perhaps lemon, but it's not particularly tart, though there is a bit of a sharpness to it. This isn't a beer that will blow you away, but it's light and refreshing and would make a fantastic summer beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.15% ABV bottled (375 ml mini-magnum, caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet. Batch #8, bottled on 9/1/2010 and drank on 4/30/2011.

And on an ironic note, after all my blathing about singles and patersbiers, BeerAdvocate lists this as being a simple Belgian Pale Ale, which probably makes sense. Anyway, according to the bottle, this is the sister beer to Russian River's stronger pale ale, Damnation. I just happen to have a bottle of that sitting around here somewhere, so expect a review at some point (I've had it a few times before, and it's great).

Beer Club: May the 4th Be With You

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Today is Star Wars day! And Beer Club! Due to schedules and various other factors, this month's beer club was a rather small gathering, but there were still some great beers to be had, as well as some wine and even homemade hard cider.

May Beer Club

The theme this month was local brews, but as you can see from the picture, there were really only 4 beers on the docket this month (again, this was due to the fact that less people came and not because of any difficulty finding local beers). For reference, here's what we had:

  • Dogfish Head ApriHop - A fellow beer clubber had visited Dogfish Head's brewpub earlier in the week and got themselves a growler of ApriHop. It survived the trip reasonably well, though the brew was a bit light on the carbonation. It was still quite good though. It was quite a pleasant IPA, with a ton of fruity citrus character (apparently from Apricots added during the brewing process). B+
  • Dogfish Head Hellhound On My Ale - A play on famed blues guitarist Robert Johnson (who, legend has it, sold his soul to the Devil to create the amazing music he did), this was actually the first beer of the evening, and I don't know if it was because I'd had a particularly long day, but this was amazing. It tasted like a very refreshing pale ale, along the lines of, say, Dale's Pale Ale. Imagine my surprise, then, when I found out that it was a 10% ABV double IPA with 100 IBUs. Astounding! The alcohol was incredibly well hidden, and despite the high IBUs, it wasn't overwhelmingly bitter (again, I thought of it more as a regular pale ale rather than an IPA and would never have guessed that it was a DIPA). Very sweet with lots of citrusy hop character and a nice bitter kick. There's something else here that I can't quite place, but in the end, it's a very complex and yet well balanced beer. As it warmed, the alcohol seemed to become a bit more prominent, but it was still a triumph of a beer. A-
  • Sly Fox Saison Vos - My contribution for the evening was a pretty well crafted saison from local Sly Fox brewery. Nice clear pour with lots of head, a spicy Belgian yeast aroma, and that sweet and spicy taste with a harsh mouthfeel that I've come to love about saisons. There's a bit of a bite to this beer that isn't particularly pronounced, but which adds a welcome bit of complexity. If my upcoming saison homebrew turns out this well, I'd be over the moon. B+
  • Yards Brawler - Labeled as a "Pugelist Style Ale", this one is probably more accurately described by the Beer Advocate style of English Dark Mild Ale. I've actually had this a few times before, and I've always thought of it as a solid if unremarkable beer. Tasting it after the above was a bit of a letdown though. It's a bit thin and subtle, but it would make a good session beer and would probably stand out better if it didn't have to compete with the likes of Dogfish Head or Sly Fox. A tentative B-
And that just about covers it for the beer. I had a couple of the wines (including a Chaddsford Spiced Apple Wine that sounded and smelled great, but the taste was quite off for me - would have wanted some sort of carbonation there) and the hard cider, but none of those really stood out as much as the beers.

Despite the small session, good times were had by all that managed to attend, and I'd count it as yet another success. As usual, I'm already looking forward to the next meeting!

Double Feature: Royal IPAs

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So everyone was all excited by some sort of Royal Wedding last Friday? Sorry, us Americans don't really understand or care about that sort of thing, but there were a surprising number of beer-related stories to go along with the wedding (also, April 29 is apparently the anniversary of Hitler and Eva Braun's wedding). Beer nerds got deservedly uppity at the Royal pronouncement that Beer was not "an appropriate drink to be serving in the Queen's presence at such an occasion." Scottish brewers Brewdog had already made light of the whole affair with their beer called Royal Virility Performance, a 7.5% ABV IPA containing, among other things, herbal Viagra, chocolate, horny goat weed, and "a healthy dose of sarcasm." (Apparently a few bottles were sent directly to the royals - I wonder if they consumed them behind closed doors...)

Yeah, Brewdog's beer smacks of a publicity stunt, but that didn't really bother me, and in light of the Royals' disrespect, I actually think it's pretty awesome. So in honor of the wedding, I cracked open a few beers made at the Brewdog brewery. Not that I was watching any wedding coverage. No, to match up with the two beers, I decided I'd catch up on the first two episodes of Game of Thrones (it's quite good so far!)

Mikkeller I Beat yoU

Mikkeller I Beat yoU - As previously mentioned, Mikkeller is a self-described "gypsy-brewer", meaning that he travels all around the world, brewing his beers on other brewery's systems. This one was brewed at Brewdog in Scotland, and according to their site, "the instruction for the Scotsmen was clear: we need shitloads of hops in this one!" And a shitload of hops, this has. According to Beer Advocate, it's also got quite a variety of hops as well: Herkules, Centennial, Warrior, Amarillo, Simcoe and Columbus hops (maybe more). Indeed, the title of this beer is a nod towards the International Bitterness Unit (IBU), a unit of measurement used to quantify the bitterness of beer, though I don't really know how many IBUs this has.

It pours a nice dark orange color with a finger of head and some lacing as I drink. The smell is complex, with fruity citrus, some pine and resin notes and maybe even a little caramel. The taste is very sweet with that hoppy bitterness kicking in about midway through the taste and following through in the finish. This beer actually reminds me a lot of Weyerbacher's Double Simcoe IPA (which makes a sort of sense, given the similar ABV and the use of Simcoe hops). Carbonation is a little low, but that leads to a smoother mouthfeel and a relatively easy drink for such a high ABV beer. It's a very complex beer, and some of that comes out even more as the beer warms. Excellent IPA, though perhaps not the best. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9.75% ABV bottled (12 ounces). Drank out of a tulip glass on 4/29. Hops: Herkules, Centennial, Warrior, Amarillo, Simcoe and Columbus (and maybe more). ?? IBU's

Brewdog Hardcore IPA

Brewdog Hardcore IPA - Pours a bit darker and maybe more amber than orange, it's still very similar. The nose is not quite as complex, but still quite solid, with a similar smell. Taste is not quite as sweet, and the bitterness is a little more front stage, but not by much. There's less complexity here, but it's still quite a good DIPA. It's perhaps suffering from the comparison to the Mikkeller beer, which is indeed quite similar. I'll give this a B+, but the difference between these two beers is perhaps less than the difference in ratings implies.

Beer Nerd Details: 9.2% ABV bottled (12 ounces). Drank out of a tulip glass on 4/29. Hops: Centennial, Columbus, and Simcoe. 150 IBU's

Apparently there exists a collaboration beer between Mikkeller and Brewdog where they basically mix batches of the two above beers, and then do some extra dry hopping. It's called I Hardcore You and if I can find a bottle, I'd like to give it a shot!

I also have a few of Mikkeller's single hop beers, where they basically use the same IPA recipe, substituted different types of hops for each batch. This will be a very interesting experience. From single-hopped beers I've had in the past, I can say that the amount of difference between those beers can be quite astounding.

I had wanted to start this batch a little earlier, but compared to my first two attempts, this one is actually a lot simpler and should take less time to mature. It's a wheat beer (a Bavarian Hefeweizen to be exact), which is generally light and refreshing - a perfect beer for summer. Since I brewed this yesterday, it will take about a month for this to be ready to drink, which will be right around June, just in time for summer.

My last attempt was a Belgian style Tripel. It was a relatively ambitious attempt, but it came out reasonably well. I like it better than my first homebrew, though it's clearly not a perfect beer. Still, it was quite encouraging. This time around, I went with a kit from Northern Brewer and was surprised to learn how much simpler the Hefeweizen is to brew. No specialty grains and only one hop addition means that the time between each step is relatively long, letting me get some other stuff done while waiting to finish the boil (or whatever).

Brew #3 - Bavarian Hefeweizen
April 30, 2011

6 lb. Wheat LME
1 lb. Wheat DME
1 oz. Tettnang hops (bittering)
Wyeast 3068 Weihenstephan Wheat Yeast

As you can tell from the relatively small recipe (compare that to the recipe for the tripel), there's not much to this one, and the process really was a lot simpler. This was, however, the first time I've ever used one of Wyeast's "Smack Packs", which come in a little packet containing yeast and a sealed nutrient packet. A few hours before you're ready to brew, you "smack" the nutrient packet, which gets the yeast started. It's a little weird, and I wasn't sure if I did it right at first, but after about a half hour or so, I could actually hear the yeast going, and about an hour later, the packet was starting to swell (which is how it's supposed to work). Comfortable that my yeast would be ready to pitch once I finished, I started the process proper.

Brought 2 gallons of tap water to a boil, after which I removed from heat and added the liquid and dry malt extracts (incidentally, I've heard that it's better to rehydrate the DME separately, though I've never done that - perhaps next time I use DME), stirring carefully. Put it back on the heat and returned it to a boil. Added the hops, stirring carefully to avoid any overflow, started my timer, then sat down with my book and read for about 50 minutes, stopping only once or twice to check on the boiling wort, stirring occasionally. I prepared my ice bath and started sanitizing the rest of the equipment. When the 60 minute mark was reached, I added the pot to my ice bath. This continues to be a bit of a challenge, but the temperature dropped quick enough. Once it was at about 100° F, I took it out of the bath and poured through a strainer into the fermenter. Topped off the fermenter with enough cold water to bring it down to about 68° F, which was just about perfect according to my yeast package. Pitched the yeast, sealed up the fermenter, and installed the airlock.

I was surprised that I could really smell the yeasty character while pitching, though it makes sense, given that the nutrient packet had already gotten the yeast started. Previous attempts were using dry yeast (which would have no odor) and a vial of White Labs yeast, which was more concentrated (though probably around the same volume as the Wyeast packet, it didn't have the whole nutrient pack to get things started). Temperature in my closet seems to be a pretty steady 70° F, which is about exactly what I was looking for. I just checked the fermenter, and the airlock is bubbling away happily.

Original Gravity: 1.048-1.050 (approximate). The recipe called for 1.049, so I'm almost dead on there. Strangely, the Northern Brewer site/directions make no mention of the expected Final Gravity (not that it really matters, fermentation ends when it ends).

Though the process was easier, I didn't really cut much time off of the session. It came in at around 2-2.5 hours, which isn't bad at all. The real advantage of the simple process was that there was enough unbroken periods of time that I could get other stuff done while waiting. The really time consuming part continues to be getting the pot to a boil. This is probably because I'm on a electric stove. Well, now that it's warmer out, I may be able to invest in some outdoor equipment, which might make things easier.

I'm already working on the recipe for my next beer, which will probably be a saison in the style of the excellent Saison Dupont, one of my favorite beers and another crisp and refreshing beer for summer. The recipe won't be an exact clone, as my understanding is that the Wyeast version of Dupont's yeast is infamously finicky with regard to temperatures (which is the part of the process I'm least able to control at this point). So unless global warming hits with a vengeance in late-May/early-June, I'll probably end up using the Wyeast 1214 Abbey Ale.

(Cross posted at Kaedrin Weblog)

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Hi, my name is Mark, and I like beer.

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