June 2011 Archives

G'Knight Gordon

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According to Oskar Blues website, Gordon Knight was a "Colorado craft beer pioneer and Vietnam vet who died fighting a 2002 wild fire outside of our Lyons hometown." By all accounts, this guy was a saint, and Oskar Blues founder Dale Katechis felt honored to know the man, so he brewed a beer in Gordon's name to honor his memory. It was called, simply enough, "Gordon" (read more details about the man and the beer)

Enter Gordon Biersch, a chain of brewpubs that had their own thoughts on honoring Mr. Knight's memory: The sent Oskar Blues a cease and desist order! This was probably the correct thing to do from a legal standpoint - trademark holders must defend their trademark or else they might lose it - but I'll be damned if it isn't the dumbest PR move they could have possibly made. Of course no one knows what went on behind closed doors (neither Oskar Blues or Gordon Biersch have said anything beyond the obvious), but it sure seems like there could have been a better way to handle this sort of thing. It's one thing when two brewers have conflicting interests (though even then, better brewers seem to be able to work things out well enough), but in the case of a beer dedicated to all-American hero Gordon Knight, it just seems silly.

Fortunately, the creative folks at Oskar Blues came up with a clever solution: their new name for the brew is G'Knight. I hate to admit it, but it's almost an improvement. This was all happening at the beginning of the year, and lucky me, I had picked up a couple 4 packs of the beer that still had the Gordon branding:

Oskar Blues Gordon

Oskar Blues Gordon - Interestingly, the can calls this an "Imperial Red" ale, while Beer Advocate calls it a Double IPA. After tasting it, I have to say that it certainly feels a lot like something from the IPA family, but then again, I don't know much about Reds... Well, whatever the classification, onto the beer itself: Pours a dark amber color with a couple fingers of head that leave lacing as I drink. Smells strongly of citrus and pine, very sweet. There could be what beer nerds call "resin" in the aroma as well. It's a really nice aroma. Taste is very sweet as well, with a well matched bitterness in the finish. It's a very smooth drink. Well carbonated, but as it says on the can, it's "sticky". Not sure if that's the alcohol or residual sugars (or both), but it actually makes for quite an interesting beer. Overall, this might actually be my favorite Oskar Blues beer yet... A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.7% ABV canned (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 6/19/11. 60 IBUs.

Oskar Blues continues to impress. I've only had a few of their beers, but they're all excellent examples of whatever style they're tackling. Next up, the monster stout, Ten Fidy (I've already had a few of these, and they're great). Actually, I forgot until now, but I've mentioned both Gordon and Ten Fidy before in a Beer Club post. In any case, here's to Gordon Knight. I wish every beer had a story as noble as his... (hat tip to the Aleheads for the whole legal history background)

Sierra Nevada Beer Camp

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Before tonight, I have a vague inkling of what Sierra Nevada Beer Camp was - a sorta Willy Wonka-esque contest with the prize being a tour of their brewery, along with a chance to brew your own beer (collaborating with the other winners and the Sierra Nevada staff). Apparently you win by entering a creative video explaining why Sierra Nevada should pick you to attend - so I would never win! And until now, I was pretty sure I'd never actually get to taste any of these beers either, but imagine my luck: on the same night I got my hands on Pliny the Elder, I spied several Beer Camp beers on tap. Most excellent:

Sierra Nevada Exportation

Sierra Nevada ExPortation - So Beer Camp #25 was a Baltic Porter style beer brewed in honor of Philly Beer week by some Philly beer geeks who won a spot a Beer Camp. It was called Philadelphia ExPorter. Now I'm not sure what genius (not being sarcastic here, whoever had this idea is genius) is responsible, but someone had a brilliant idea: Hey, let's take this Baltic Porter over to Russian River and have them age it in some Pinot Noir barrels. Fuck. Yes. It pours a nice opaque black color with a finger of tan head. The smell is outright twangy. The funk almost, but not quite, overwhelms the typical roasty aromas. In other words, it's fantastic. The taste has a similar profile: funky sourness almost, but not quite, overwhelming roasty Porter flavors. Relatively full bodied, but a smooth and easy to drink mouthfeel. The thing that's most amazing here is that, well, I'm not a huge fan of porters, nor have I truly acquired a taste for sour beers. And yet, this beer is almost perfect for me. It's like the two styles cancel out the things I don't like, and amplify the things I do. Amazing. And keep in mind that I had just drank a glass of Pliny the Elder, so the bar was set pretty high here. The only bad thing about this beer is that I will most likely never get the chance to drink it again (unless I head back over to that bar in the next couple days - certainly a possibility). A

Beer Nerd Details: 6.3% ABV on tap. Drank out of a pint glass on 6/23/11.


Sierra Nevada Hop Smack

Sierra Nevada Beer Camp #48: Hop Smack - This one has a less clear provenance. It's not even listed on the Beer Camp site, nor does it appear on Beer Advocate. I did find the RateBeer page, but it only has one review! Basically, it's one of them American Black Ales (or whatever the hell you call them)... actually, it said it was a Double American Black Ale. My experience with the style is limited, but since ExPortation was so awesome, and since I was unlikely to ever even see this again, I gave it a shot. It pours a very dark brown, almost black color with a finger of head. Smells surprisingly hoppy - almost no roastiness getting through to the nose. The taste is almost wholly like a DIPA. Sweet, hoppy, and bitter. At first, no roastiness at all was apparent - if you blindfolded me and made me taste, I probably would not have guessed that it was an American black ale. As it warmed up and I got to the bottom of the glass, I got the faintest hint of roastiness out of the beer, but it wasn't much. Now, don't get me wrong, it's not a terrible beer or anything, it just doesn't seem like a particularly good take on the style. That, or my palate was obliterated by the likes of Pliny and ExPortation (both very strongly flavored beers). I'll give it a B-, as I was disappointed, but I suppose others might find more to like.

Beer Nerd Details: 8.1% ABV on tap. Drank out of a half-pint glass on 6/23/11.

There was another Beer Camp beer on tap, but it seemed like a plain old Pale Ale. Don't get me wrong, I would have tried it, but after having a DIPA, a strong sour beer, and a Double ABA, I think that would have paled in comparison (pun intended!)

Dubhel Feature: Ola Dubh

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A while ago, in a post about Scottish Wee Heavy beer, friend and fellow beer nerd Padraic recommended another Scottish beer called Ola Dubh. The name translates literally as "Black Oil", presumably a reference to the color and goopy consistency of the porter-like beer. This is a series of beers based on the recipe for brewer Harviestoun's more traditional offering, Old Engine Oil, an English Porter. They take a higher gravity version of that beer, then age it in used Highland Park oak casks. This is apparently pretty notable, as most barrel-aged beers aren't aged in traceable casks from a named distillery like this. Their website says it's the first barrel-aged beer with "genuine provenance". This is probably pure marketing fluff, but hell, I'm a sucker for that kind of thing.

As of right now, there appear to be 5 different varieties, based on the age of the scotch casks (not based on the age of the beer itself, which we originally thought). On a recent visit to beer Mecca State Line Liquors, I picked up a couple of bottles, and this past Monday, I cracked them open whilst taking in a double feature of How To Train Your Dragon and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. I'd seen both movies before, but they seemed better this time around. I have to wonder how rewatchability can and should color my reaction to movies. It's a subject I've mused on before, but as I drink these beers, I'm now wondering how redrinkability should color my reaction to a beer. Most of the reviews on this blog are based on a single tasting, but a really full appreciation should probably require multiple tastings. As such, I'd really like to revisit the below brews. As hard as that's likely to be on my wallet (these are not cheap beers), it would probably be worth it in this case.

Harviestoun Ola Dubh 16

Harviestoun Ola Dubh Special Reserve 16 - Pours a semi-thick, opaque black color with a surprisingly light tan head. Smell is dominated by chocolate aromas and you can definitely feel the Scotch peeking through. Just a hint of roastiness in the nose. It smells really quite fantastic. The Scotch hits right away in the taste, quickly fading to highlight some chocolate flavors, but then reappearing a bit in the dry finish. Just a hint of bitterness appears in the finish too, lingering a bit on the palate. It's got a full body with medium carbonation... it's surprisingly smooth and easy to drink. As it warms, some additional flavors come out, maybe a little more on the roasty side. This a wonderfully complex beer. I'm really enjoying it. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank out of a goblet on 6/20/11. Bottled July 2009, bottle number 37471.

Harviestoun Ola Dubh 40

Harviestoun Ola Dubh Special Reserve 40 - Pours a little thicker, but with that same opaque black color. The head is a bit darker this time. Smell features a bit more of the Scotch this time around, maybe even a little peat smoke, but that chocolate aroma is still clearly there. Again, smells fantastic - a little more complex this time, but certainly along similar lines. Taste has a similar profile, but the flavors are much richer here. The Scotch flavors mix with the roasty chocolate in a more balanced way, and it's just as compulsively drinkable as the 16. Fuller bodied, even. This is an amazing beer. Rich and complex, powerful and subtle, all at the same time. Rating this is weird. I have a pathological inability to give out the highest rating possible (I've only given it once, and that's partially because that beer also has sentimental value and partially because I've had it so many times), but I've only had this once (right now!) Yeah, it's rocking my world, but will it always do so. I'll give it a provisional A+. It's perfect, but given my above musings about redrinkability and the fact that I'm a sucker for the marketing fluff behind this, I'd like to try this again!

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank out of a goblet on 6/20/11. Bottled January 2009, bottle number 54570. Whisky casks are from 1968!

Well then, I now want to pick up the 12, 18, and 30 varieties of this beer. I'd also like to try and compare the 40 vs some other sort of barrel aged imperial stout. As mentioned before, these are quite expensive. The 40 was $20 for a single bottle, which is astronomical, but for me, it was worth it (and there've definitely been times when spending a lot on a single beer has disappointed me, despite the beer being really good - i.e. Allagash).

Russian River Pliny the Elder

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Oh, this bar looks pretty coo... holy shit, Pliny the Elder, gimme, gimme, gimme!*

Russian River Pliny the Elder

Russian River Pliny the Elder - Named after the famed "Roman naturalist, scholar, historian, traveler, officer, and writer", Pliny the Elder was one of the folks responsible for initially classifying and documenting hops. The beer itself is somewhat legendary. It's been at or near the top of Beer Advocate's Top 100 Beers on Planet Earth list for a while now (last year it was at #1, right now it's at #3). It's also somewhat rare, which may be part of why it's always ranked so high - a hard to find beer always tastes better once you find it! I've been keeping my eye out for some for a while now, and have had a couple of near misses before this, so when I actually got myself a glass tonight, I was quite pleased.

Pours a dark golden orange color, mostly clear, with a finger of perfect white head. Aroma is extremely hoppy and quite complex. Full of citrus and some pine, with a nice boozy, malty sweetness in the nose. I could hardly wait for the head to subside, so my first sip got some of that double IPA feel, but with a creamy head texture - a very good first impression. The taste starts off nice and sweet, with some citrus and pine, then you get hit with a wave of bitterness that intensifies as you approach the finish. Sometimes I feel like a lot of DIPAs overcompensate with massive amounts of malt, actually leading to less bitterness (despite the higher amount of hops/IBUs,etc...), but not Pliny. This isn't to say that it's overwhelmingly bitter or anything - it's actually just perfectly balanced. Every component sings. Mouthfeel is also extremely smooth (I'd say "velvety" if I knew what velvet tasted like) and it goes down incredibly easy. I could drink these all night, which usually isn't the case for beers this big.

I really suck at picking favorites and whatnot, so while I don't really know if this beer deserves the title of "The Best Beer on Planet Earth", it certainly deserves to be in that top 100 list and, more importantly, it wasn't a letdown. All too often, I've tried a beer from the BA top 100 and wondered what all the fuss was about. Of course, this may have lowered my expectations somewhat for this beer, but I was still hoping for a lot. In any case, I can see why everyone loves this beer. If you ever get a chance, and if you like IPAs, you must try one. It's a delicious and complex beer. A

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV on tap. Drank out of a, what would you call that, a goblet?

Now, of course, my focus shifts to finding me some of Pliny the Elder's rarer sibling, Pliny the Younger. I expect that to be a much more difficult task - apparently only a handful of kegs make their way to the East Coast every year. I'm not complaining - most areas are not fortunate enough to get any of that beer, and Philly seems to always get at least some (even if you have to wait in line for hours just to get a few ounces).

* Ok, so I was actually told ahead of time that the bar had Pliny on tap, but still. I've been told this before and still missed out on some Pliny goodness (this stuff don't last long). Thanks to friend and fellow beer lover Mike for the tipoff!

So, you know single malt Scotch? Yeah, single hop IPAs are nothing like that. What they are, though, is a really fascinating look at one of the key ingredients in beer: hops. The concept is simple. A brewery comes up with a solid IPA recipe, but instead of a mixture of different hops, they use one single hop variety. In this case, Mikkeller brewed a series of 12 beers, each with the same recipe... except for the hops, which change with each beer.

There are typically 3 additions of hops during the brewing process. First comes bittering hops - these are added at the beginning of the process. Boiling these hops for about 60 minutes will release the alpha acids contained in hops, which results in the bitterness in beer. Alas, such a long time boiling also destroys most flavor and aroma from the hops, hence the next 2 additions: Next are taste hops, which are typically added about 45 minutes into the boil and impart a completely different character to the beer's taste (the 15 minutes of boiling time is not long enough to release alpha acids, but it's just right for imparting various fruity, floral, etc... flavors to the beer). Finally, there are aroma hops, which are added near the end of the boil (typically around 5-2 minutes remaining) and impart the proper hoppy smells. There are, of course, lots of other ways to do it (continuously hopped beers, beers with an additional dry hopping step, styles that only take one or two hop additions, and so on), but the above is the most common process.

Hops are fantastically variable when it comes to bitterness, taste, and aroma, so for hoppy styles like an IPA, brewers will combine those various characteristics to create something unique. Some hops have lots of alpha acids and are thus great for bittering, but they're also lacking strong flavors or aromas. Some hops have great flavor and aroma, but low alpha acids. Some hops are ideal for only one piece of the puzzle. Other hops can be used for everything. If you're brewing an IPA, you might grab that high alpha acid hop for bitterness, but use a different hop for flavor/aroma (since those hops aren't boiling long enough, the alpha acids - whether high or low - don't matter much). And so on. The neat thing about a single hop beer is that you can get a really good idea what characteristics that hop imparts on a beer, and thus you can start picking them out in other beers. Of course, I'm only having 3 varieties tonight, and 2 of them ended up being somewhat similar, but still, it's a fun exercise (and these 3 were all great).

Mikkeller Nelson Sauvin Single Hop IPA

Mikkeller Nelson Sauvin Single Hop IPA - Apparently a New Zealand hop that doesn't get much play in the US, but from what I've tasted tonight, it would match well with the standard west coast US hop profile. Pours a dark amber, almost brown color with lots of fluffy head and tons of lacing as I drink. Smells citrusy sweet, maybe pineapple or grape, and just a hint of toffee. In other words, fantastic aroma. The taste is a little more straightforward, much less of the citrus/pineapple, bitterness taking more of a center stage here, but it ends up being a well executed IPA. The mouthfeel is also pretty standard stuff, but it works. B

Beer Nerd Details: 6.9% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank from a tulip glass on 6/18/11. Bottle cap had "23/12/11" on it - perhaps a drink by date?

Mikkeller Simcoe Single Hop IPA

Mikkeller Simcoe Single Hop IPA - Simcoe is an American variety (relatively new, and it's even trademarked), often described as a souped-up Cascade hop, it's got higher alpha acids and very strong flavor/aroma characteristics. Interestingly, I've already had at least one other single hop Simcoe beer, that being Weyerbacher's excellent Double Simcoe IPA. This Mikkeller version pours a lighter color than the Nelson Sauvin, but with that same big fluffy head and lacing. Smells sweeter, but less citrusy and more piney. Again, maybe a little toffee. Also a fantastic aroma. The taste on this is more complex though. That pine and slight citrus from the nose are present in the taste, and the bitterness is better matched to the rest of the beer (either that, or my palate has adjusted - certainly a possibility). Mouthfeel is standard IPA stuff, like the Nelson, but overall, this beer seems to fit together better. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.9% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank from a tulip glass on 6/18/11. Bottle cap had "5161010" on it - no idea what that means, and it's a different format from the other two...

Mikkeller Amarillo Single Hop IPA

Mikkeller Amarillo Single Hop IPA - Another relatively recent American discovery (also trademarked!), this one seems related to the big C's of American hops - Cascade, Centennial, and Columbus. Not as high in the AA as Simcoe, this one is still pretty high and apparently makes a great bittering hop. It became so popular in the US that there seemed to be a bit of a backlash a while ago, but that's how this stuff goes (I expect a similar backlash to Simcoe in the near future). Pours a similar dark amber color with lots of fluffy head and lacing. Smells strongly of caramel and maybe toffee, with a bit of citrus peeking through. Taste is also filled with caramel and toffee - it's delicious, really. Some citrus too. The bitterness lingers in the finish a bit. It's somewhat more dry than the other versions, and the mouthfeel is maybe a bit fuller (but still medium bodied). Overall, an excellent beer, my favorite of the night. Interestingly, from what folks say about the flavor of Amarillo, I'm not sure this one really strongly shows off the flavor/aroma characteristics, but perhaps it just matches really well with the single hop recipe, accentuating the caramel/toffee flavors (which were present in all three beers, but only really prominent in this one). Whatever the case, this one is a winner. A

Beer Nerd Details: 6.9% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank from a tulip glass on 6/18/11. Bottle cap had "04/11/11" on it - again, perhaps a drink by date?

Like a lot of Mikkeller beers, these are sometimes outrageously overpriced (I got mine for around $6 each, which is pricey, but a lot less than $10-$12 each, which I've heard people complain about), but lucky for you, Mikkeller isn't the only one playing with single hops. Heck, even Sam Adams released a case of their Latitude IPA with 5 single hop beers (and the original Latitude, which uses a combination of all 5). Unfortunately, Sam has never been particularly well known for their IPAs... but then, I've not had any of those, so I shouldn't talk. I do think it would be an interesting experience to try them though, and from the above, it does seem instructive.

Last time, I mentioned how my next batch of homebrew would probably be a saison style beer. I've been drinking a lot of saisons lately, and it's quite a broad style. What I wanted to go for was something along the lines of Saison Dupont, but in looking around at the various homebrew kits out there, I didn't see anything that really came close. So I picked up a book called Clone Brews, which has a recipe for a Saison Dupont clone (amongst many others). I ended up finding a Northern Brewer kit that was for a really weak, session strength saison that had enough similarities that I could buy that, then augment it with some additional ingredients. The recipe used below is a sorta hybrid between the recipe from the book and the Northern Brewer kit.

Brew #4 - Saison
June 19, 2011

0.5 lb. Belgian CaraVienne (specialty grain)
3.15 lb. Northern Brewer Pilsen LME
3 lb. Muntons Extra Light DME
1 lb. Briess Pilsen DME
1 lb. Light Belgian Candi Sugar
2 oz. Styrian Goldings hops (bittering @ 4.6% AA)
0.5 oz. East Kent Goldings hops (flavor)
0.5 oz. East Kent Goldings hops (aroma)
0.5 oz. Saaz hops (aroma)
0.5 oz. Bitter Orange Peel
1 tsp. Irish Moss
Wyeast 3711 French Saison Yeast

To make sure I wasn't throwing the recipe completely out of whack by adding extra malt/hops/whatever, I played around on Hopville's Beer Calculus thingymabob. It turns out that I was a little low on bittering hops, but I had enough other hops left over that I was able to adjust the recipe just fine (part of the problem is that the packaging for the Styrian Goldings hops says they're 4.6% Alpha Acids, while the recipe from the book has them at 5% - so by adding extra, I probably screwed it up and made myself a very bitter saison). I did save the recipe in case you want to see some more stats on it. Note that they let me add this - which basically tells me to take most of the recipes on there with a grain of salt! Also, I had to use "Munton's Light DME" instead of "Extra Light", which I presume inflated the OG a bit.

Anyway, my last batch turned out kinda weird. It tastes ok, but it's also not much like a Hefeweizen. It may continue to work itself out in the bottles, but basically, the light wheat flavors one expects out of a Hefeweizen are nowhere to be found. I think one of the big problems was that I used too little water when I did the boil, thus leading to a bit of caramelization of the malt, which kinda destroyed the delicate wheat flavors. There are probably some other process things I can improve as well. This saison recipe is a little more complicated than the last one, but it's not particularly difficult either.

So I start with steeping the Belgian CaraVienne grains in 2 gallons (or so) of 150°-170° water for around 20 minutes (surprisingly, the temperature was rising quickly, so it was probably a bit less than 20 minutes). I've never done this before, but I slowly removed the grains, put them in a strainer, and sparged with another half gallon of hot (not boiling) water. At this point, I removed from heat, then added the malt extracts and candi sugar, stirring vigorously to make sure the candi dissolved in the water before putting it back on the heat (again, don't want to caramelize the sugars - this is supposed to be a light colored beer). At this point, I estimated about 3.5 gallons of liquid in the pot, maybe even more.

Settled in for the long wait for it to boil. I put the lid on the wort to start, but I made sure to remove it once it got to boiling temperatures. One of the things I may have done wrong on my last batch was to keep the pot partially covered for most of the boil. This helped me maintain a good boil, but apparently during the boiling process, bad chemicals are released in the steam, and if you're covering the pot, some of it can't escape and you get off flavors in your beer. So despite my pitifully weak electric range, I tried keeping it uncovered for the whole boil. It actually wasn't that bad - perhaps the summer climate is more conducive to brewing...

Once it got to boiling, I added the bittering hops and started the timer. 45 minutes later, added flavor hops, bitter orange peel, and Irish Moss. 10 minutes after that, added the aroma hops (I had some extra Saaz hops from the kit, so I made a last minute audible and added an additional 0.5 oz. of hops for aroma). 5 minutes later, and it was off to the ice bath, which continues to be a challenge. Got it down to a reasonable 110° or so, and strained the wort into my fermenting bucket, pausing to clear out my strainer several times (all those hops were clogging it up). It filled up about 2.5 gallons of the fermenter, meaning that I had boiled off at least one gallon. Filled the rest of the bucket up with cold water, bringing the temperature down further (maybe a little more than 70°). Stirred vigorously to aerate the wort.

I mentioned last time that I was struggling with the yeast for the saison. If I really wanted to make a true Saison Dupont clone, I would have used the Wyeast 3724 Belgian Saison yeast, which, rumor has it, is based on Dupont's house yeast. However, it's also infamous for getting stuck at around 1.035 during fermentation, unless you maintain really high temperatures (like, upwards of 85°). Given that my brewing skills are still fledgling and that my ability to control temperature is lacking, I decided that I should try something else. At first, I was looking at a bunch of Abbey and Trappist yeasts, but then I found the Wyeast 3711 French Saison yeast. Near as I can tell, it will give me a similar feel, but without the trickiness of the 3724 variety. I had smacked the Wyeast packet early this morning (couple hours before starting the boil) and it had swelled up as the yeast became active. After all was ready, I pitched the yeast, threw the cap on, and installed the airlock. Done!

Original Gravity: 1.060 (approximate). This is a bit low according to my calculations, but adjusting for temperature and imprecision at reading the hydrometer, you can maybe fudge that up to 1.062. Assuming reasonable attenuation, this should result in an ABV of around 6.5%-7%, which is right around where I was aiming. Hopefully it won't be overwhelmed by hoppiness...

Timewise, it took about 3-3.5 hours (including the cleanup), which is about average. I'm a little bit worried about temperature control here, but I should be able to keep it at around 70°-75°, which is towards the upper range of the yeast's comfort zone, but I'm hoping that will be ok. There are some doubts about this batch though. Between the extra hops and the temperature and how my last batch turned out, I'm not sure it will turn out well. But then I did correct some things about my process, so hopefully this will make up for any problems.

My next batch will probably be something a bit darker. Apparently these are a bit easier to brew for extract brewing. Perhaps a Belgian Style Dubbel. Or maybe just something a little more amber, like an IPA or something.

(Cross Posted on Kaedrin Weblog)

Double Wit

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It's summer! On a recent beer run, I stocked up on various wheat beers and whatnot, and when I saw this particular beer, I was intrigued. Most wheat beers tend to be relatively light, crisp and refreshing. As such, they tend to be somewhat low in alcohol and a little thin in terms of body (but, you know, in a good way). So the concept of a souped-up Belgian-style wit beer sounded intriguing to me.

Great Divide Double Wit

Great Divide Double Wit - Pours a cloudy gold color with a finger of bubbly white head. Aroma is fruity and spicy. It's definitely a unique aroma, not like anything I can think of, though there similarities. The taste starts off very sweet and bready, with some spiciness thrown in there (apparently coriander and orange peel). There's some fruitiness apparent as well, but I can't quite pick out the specific flavors. The finish is just a bit sticky with booze - the alcohol is noticeable and makes for something of a weird aftertaste. The body is strange. It seems to start out full bodied, but then it thins considerably by the finish. This is something I associate with wheat beers, but it's not usually this prominent (no doubt a result of the high alcohol) and it doesn't entirely work. I can't quite decide how much I like it. It's certainly an interesting brew, but it's poorly balanced and definitely not one of my favorites. I'll give it a B-.

Beer Nerd Details: 8.1% ABV bottled (22 oz bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 6/10/11.

Strangely, Great Divide has nothing about this beer on their website. Also, I have no idea why there is a two headed... monster? Kid? on the label (presumably a play on the "double" nature of the beer, but still), and yet, I rather like it and want to watch a movie documenting its rampaging exploits. Unfortunately, you can't drink labels.

Dupont Bière De Miel Biologique

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Brasserie Dupont is most famous for setting the bar on the spicy saison style with their famous Saison Dupont, but as I've been chronicling lately on the blog, saisons can vary widely. Looking at Dupont's list of currently brewed beers, I see that they have 8 that are categorized as saisons. I do wonder what it is about saisons that inspires this sort of dedication. Dupont, Fantôme (who have a whopping 20 saisons on their roster), and even the recently discovered Stillwater and Hof Ten Dormaal are all dominated by saisons. In some cases, it seems that the historical farmhouse nature of the style is the inspiration, though Stillwater is still a bit of a mystery...

In any case, since I've had two different Dupont saisons and proclaimed them both super-awesome, I figured I should branch out a bit and check out some of their more obscure brews (provided I could find them). First up:

Dupont Biere de Miel

Dupont Bière De Miel Biologique - Apparently one of Dupont's series of "organic" beers (seriously, though, what the hell does "organic" mean in this context? Perhaps another rant for another time...), the name of this beer translates to "beer with honey" and represents a reproduction of a very old recipe. Indeed, they claim the label is an almost exact reproduction of the original label from 75 years ago.

Pours a cloudy golden orange color with visible sediment and tons of head. Smells strongly of honey and typical Belgian yeast (fruity and spicy). Tastes very sweet and spicy with a very dry finish. The honey does add a certain something to the taste, differentiating it from Dupont's famous Saison. Very highly carbonated and a harsh mouthfeel, though it does get smoother as it warms up. Overall, a very good beer, but not up to the standards set by Saison Dupont. Or maybe I just don't care too much for honey. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml, caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 5/28/11.

I wouldn't say I was disappointed by this at all, just that it doesn't live up to the impossibly high standards of Saison Dupoint and Bon Voeux. I will have to find me some more varieties from Dupont though...

Gnomegang

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I have to admire Ommegang's ability to incorporate brewery-name puns into their beers. It's inspiring. Ommegeddon, O'mmegang (an Irish stout that I've never had), Obamagang (aka Inauguration ale) and now Gnomegang, a collaboration with sister brewery, Achouffe (world renowned for the cute little gnomes that adorn their bottles... and, you know, I guess they're known for their good beer too). Both breweries are owned by parent company, Duvel, so it's not much of a stretch to see these two collaborating, but it's still nice.

Ommegang Gnomegang

Ommegang Gnomegang: Apparently brewed with Achouffe's house yeast in primary, and Ommegang's house yeast in secondary, this beer has lots of spicy flavors despite no actual spices being added to the wort (something Ommegang typically does with their brews). Pours a hazy, light orange color with a finger of light head. Smells fantastic. Bready/fruity Belgian yeast, sweet candi, and a bit of spiciness in the nose. Taste is very sweet, a little fruity, and spicy, with some alcohol manifesting in the finish. A pretty full body here, with ample carbonation and a well executed boozy stickyness in the finish. There's also a nice warming alcohol sensation here that works pretty well. As I've come to expect from Ommegang, it's extremely well balanced and a joy to drink. I suppose it could be a bit too strong, but it worked well for me and it's really nice to see Ommegang collaborating. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV bottled (750 ml, caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 6/3/11.

I've always been a huge fan of Ommegang, but I should probably check out more from Achouffe sometime (they're apparently famous for their Tripel IPA, which does sound rather interesting)...

Philly Beer Week: Stillwater Event

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Philly Beer Week kicked off last week, but since I'm one of those suburban types, I'm not sure how often I'll be able to make it into the city for the festivities. Lucky for me, there are quite a few events happening out here in the burbs, so who knows, I may end up filling my schedule with good beer this week.

First up was an event on Saturday that featured Stillwater Artisanal Ales, 12% Importers (who happen to work with Stillwater quite a bit for reasons I'll get into in a bit), and the Shelton Brothers Importers (who import a crapton of foreign beers, including the likes of Cantillon, Mikkeller, Fantôme and more). The focus of the event was Stillwater, which is another "virtual brewery" (or "gypsy brewer") like Mikkeller. Brewer Brian Strumke doesn't have a brewery of his own - he basically schedules time with breweries that have excess capacity and then brews his beers there. It turns out that the majority of his brewing is done at the DOG brewery in Maryland, and he says that once they got up and running, he doesn't need to be as involved in the day to day brewing activities. He also makes trips over to Belgium and does some limited edition stuff there that is then imported (by the aforementioned 12% importers).

I didn't get a chance to speak with him that much, but I did ask him why he seemed to primarily brew saisons and how he liked to differentiate his brews from others that specialize in the style. He seems to enjoy the variety that saisons afford, and he also mentioned that he tends to prefer dry beers, as they go much better with food. I get the impression that he really likes working with saison yeast strains as well, as there were a couple beers featured that were not typical saison styles, but which apparently used saison yeast (more on this below). I actually mentioned that I was planning a saison homebrew and was thinking of using the Wyeast 3711 French Saison yeast instead of the 3724 Belgian Saison yeast, and he mentioned that a bunch of his brews used the French Saison yeast and that if I was worried about temperature control (which I am!), that was the way to go. He talked a bit about the first time he used the Belgian Saison yeast and how hot it got during fermentation (upwards of 90 degrees), but he also has access to equipment that is slightly more advanced than my crappy plastic bucket.

I felt kinda dorky asking him about homebrew and I hope I wasn't being too bothersome, but he seemed to perk up when I asked him about it (I guess it's better or at least different than the typical questions he gets, which I imagine revolve around his "gypsy" brewing lifestyle). He gave me two pieces of advice when it comes to extract homebrewing (we were talking about saisons and dark Belgian styles): 1. Use the lightest malt extract available and 2. Try to do mini-mash as soon as you're comfortable with it, because you're otherwise totally at the mercy of the folks producing the extract (and there's apparently not much consistency or control over that part of the process). He mentioned how in his early homebrewing days he tried using one of those pots with a built in spaghetti strainer to do a mini-mash (with what I gathered were mixed results, but it was a fun story). I don't know that I'm quite ready for mini-mash just yet, but it's something to keep in mind.

Stillwater has only been around for a little over a year, but it's been getting a lot of attention and garnering a lot of "top new brewer" awards and the like, but Brian seemed to be very down to earth and focused on making good beer. I'm definitely going to be keeping my eyes out for more Stillwater beer in the future. I did manage to sample quite a few of their beers, along with a couple of others during the day (conditions weren't exactly ideal - most of the below was served in plastic cups, though I did get a glass for the first one):

Stillwater Cellar Door

Stillwater Cellar Door - Apparently the phrase "cellar door" is among the most beautiful sounding phrases in the English language. Pours a hazy light orange color with a fluffy white head. Smells of Belgian yeast and candi. Taste is sweet and spicy with just a hint of citrus. The spice in this was really different and I couldn't place it, but someone mentioned that it was sage, which makes sense. The mouthfeel is actually very dry (not surprising, given what Brian said), which really just made me want to drink more. Is it my favorite saison ever? Probably not, but it's really good and distinct from other saison offerings. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.6% ABV on tap. Drank out of a tulip glass.

Stillwater Of Love and Regret - This was apparently Brian's first beer made in Belgium that was then imported back to the US. Pours a bit darker. Smells very fruity and sweet, with a taste to match. There's a very floral component to the nose that was quite pleasing and complex. And unsurprisingly, it was extremely dry (even moreso than the Cellar Door). It's a little smoother, and the alcohol is a little stronger. Overall, a pretty good brew. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7.2% ABV on tap. Drank out of a plastic cup.


Stillwater Jaded

Stillwater Jaded - Another Import Series beer made in collaboration with De Struise in Belgium, this is a dark wheat beer brewed with a saison yeast. Beer Advocate just calls it a Belgian Strong Dark Ale, but that belies the complexity of what's really going on this beer. Pours a deep garnet color with a minimum of head. The nose is filled with dark fruit and sweet malts. Only really a hint of Belgian yeast in the nose. Taste starts sweet and finishes somewhat dry (not as much as the previous, but for a beer this big, it's relatively dry). Some caramel is apparent in the taste as well. Very smooth beer that's dangerously drinkable given the high ABV. Overall, my second favorite of the day. A

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV on tap. Drank out of a plastic cup.

De Struise Outblack - This is a collaboration between Stillwater and De Struise in Belgium, though I guess De Struise claims this as their own. I didn't get the full story on this one, but it seems like the recipe was a standard De Struise beer that was modified. Pours very dark with a creamy tan head (good retention). Smells a bit roasty, with just a hint of fruitiness. Taste is sweet and roasty with a nice, sweet finish (not as dry as most of the other beers I had that day). It's almost stoutish, but not quite. Too much character added by that saison yeast to really call it a stout. Another quite enjoyable beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV on tap. Drank out of a plastic cup.

Stillwater / Mikkeller Two Gypsies - Our Side - Two of the world's most famous gypsy brewers collaborating on one beer. Awesome. Pours a cloudy light amber color with about a finger of thick white head. Smell is filled with citrus fruits and hops. Taste is sweet and fruity with just a hint of tartness in the dry finish. It's not super bitter or anything, but it reminds me a lot of a citrusy pale ale. My favorite beer of the day. A

Beer Nerd Details: 7.5% ABV bottled (I didn't drink the whole bottle, it was shared!). Drank out of a plastic cup.


Hof Ten Dormaal Blonde

Hof Ten Dormaal Blonde - I spoke with the 12% Importer guy (sorry, don't remember his name!) and he mentioned that this was one of his biggest new imports. It's apparently made on this crazy self-sustaining farm where the whole brewing/bottling process takes place. Apparently there's been some issues with carbonation (i.e. there's lots of it!), but it's quite good anyway. It's similar to something like Saison Dupont, but it's perhaps just a bit dryer. I enjoyed it, but didn't love it. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (I didn't drink the whole bottle, it was shared!). Drank out of a plastic cup.

When I was talking to the 12% guy, I noted that the Hof Ten Dormaal and other famous saisons (like the aformentioned Dupont and Fantôme) are all packaged in green bottles, which don't protect at all from light (which can create off flavors and "skunking"). I asked him if he knew why and he said he wasn't really sure, but it seemed like a traditional thing. I think I will be sending some more pedantic emails to breweries in the near future!

Overall, a very satisfying experience, and I'll definitely want to check out a few more Stillwater beers (there are a few that I either didn't get to or that weren't available at the event that I do want to try, especially A Saison Darkly, which another patron recommended highly)

The Session: Breweriana

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session_logo.jpgOn the first Friday of every month, there's a beer blog roundup called The Session. Someone picks a topic, and everyone blogs about it. This month, Brian Stechschulte is hosting, and he wants to know about everyone's beer collectibles and breweriana:

I've decided not to focus on the substance of beer, but the material that plays a supporting role. Bottles, coasters, cans, labels, ads, tap handles, church keys, hats, t-shirts, tip trays, glassware and signs have been collected by fanatics ever since beer has been sold. These objects constitute the world of breweriana, a term that surfaced in 1972 to define any item displaying a brewery or brand name. The majority of highly prized objects are from the pre-prohibition era, but ephemera from every period in brewing history, including craft beer, finds a home with each beer drinking generation.


So what old or new beer related items do you collect and why? It's that simple.

It is indeed simple, but I'm at a bit of a loss here. I have a nice Ommegang Hennepin glass that was a memento of a trip to Cooperstown a few years ago, but that's kinda boring and it's not like I have a big collection of other breweries' glassware (though that's not a bad idea...)


I suppose the only thing that I have a pretty wide variety of is beer bottle corks. I didn't really consciously think to myself: Self, I should collect beer bottle corks! but I do tend to have some packrat tendencies and have recently found a couple of caches of corks (click for larger version).

Corks

Indeed, I am often intrigued by what appears on the cork. Some have nice artwork or patterns, some use it as a way to date the beer, some show the preferred glassware, some just have the brewery name printed on there, and some are just plain and unadorned. They're not as varied or interesting as, say, Bottle Caps (come to think of it, I probably have a lot of those lying around as well), but I like them. Obviously I don't keep every cork, especially since each brewery seems to use the same corks for most bottles, but I will keep ones I like or find interesting.

So, yeah, not a very exciting collection, but then, I prefer to direct my energy to finding and drinking beer. Speaking of which, it's Philly Beer Week! I should be drinking (Maybe I'll save a cork or two).

Fantôme Hiver

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The word "saison" is French for "season". Originally brewed in Winter for consumption during the Summer harvest, saisons were meant to provide farm hands with hydration during the long, hot hours in the field. Not because they were a bunch of lazy drunks, but because a lack of potable water meant that very low alcohol (3.5% or so) beverages were preferred for such a task. In modern times, the style is brewed year round and the ABV has risen considerably (5-8% and sometimes even higher). Basically, what this means is that the saison style makes no sense whatsoever. They are usually relatively light colored, but that's not much to go on. They can range from light bodied and refreshing, to sweet and spicy, to even sour ales.

Fantôme, a traditional farmhouse brewery specializing in saisons, has always been a bit of a mystery to me. I've managed to find a few of their beers before, but the labels weren't in English, so I had no idea what I was looking at. My first Fantôme saison was quite an eye opener. I was, by then, a big fan of Ommegang Hennepin and Saison Dupont - big spicy brews that are nothing like the sweet and tart Fantôme. I haven't quite acquired a taste for sour beers, but Fantôme's beers certainly warrant further exploration. I picked up this bottle a little while back and was quite pleased:

Fantome Hiver

Fantôme Saison D'Erezée - Hiver - I believe this is the winter seasonal offering from Fantôme, apparently one of a series of beers focused around the 4 seasons. According to the label, head brewer Danny Prignon changes the recipe for this one every year, so I'm guessing this one is from the 2010/2011 winter (there's a place for a date on the label, but it's not filled out - the cork does have a cryptic number on it though: 086/477044, whatever that means). There are two weird things about the bottle I have here. First, it's capped, but also has a cork (that you need to use a corkscrew for). Second, the bottle is green (which provides no protection against light, the source of skunking in beer). This one is weird, since Fantôme and Dupont (traditional Belgian Farmhouse breweries that specialize in saisons) both use green bottles. Is there something about saisons that is actually open to being lightstruck (that can't be right, can it)?

It pours a little darker than I was expecting. A cloudy, light orange color with about a finger of quickly disappearing head. The smell is dominated by aromas I characterize as white wine or champagne, with just a hint of typical Belgian yeast poking through. Taste is similar to the aroma - there's white wine/champaign notes, but not overpoweringly so. There's a clear and prominent tartness in the taste, but it's not overpowering at all. It comes through more in the sweet finish than anywhere else. It's... unusual. When I start drinking, it's like my brain immediately recognizes the hallmarks of a sour beer and sounds an alarm: brace for sourness! As I said before, it does come, but it's not quite as powerful as I expected. And even stranger, I don't think that's a bad thing! Mouthfeel is well carbonated but smooth. Overall, a very good beer and a refreshing change of pace for me. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml capped and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/29/11.

Certainly a brewery and a style that I need to explore more often.

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

You might also want to check out my generalist blog, where I blather on about lots of things, but mostly movies, books, and technology.

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