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December Beer Club

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In 2009, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men and women promptly escaped from a maximum-security stockade to the West Chester underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as drinkers of craft beer. If you have a problem... if no one else can help... and if you can find them a local BYOB in which to meet... maybe you can hire... The Beer Club Team.

Well, that didn't work as well as it did in my head, but I'm going to leave it there as a reminder to myself that my stupid references aren't as funny as I think. Take that, self! What was I talking about? Oh yeah, Beer Club, a gathering of beer minded folks from my work. We meet up once a month at a local BYOB and sample all sorts of beers. Decent turnout tonight, and some great beers too:

Beer Club
(Click for larger version)

Half remembered thoughts on each beer are below. For posterity, you understand. In order of drinking (not necessarily the order depicted above:

  • Harpoon UFO White - I could have sworn we've had this at beer club before, but I can't find any reference to it... Holy coriander, Batman! Very powerfully spiced for a simple wheat beer, but it made for a nice, bland start to the evening. B
  • Kaedrin Saison - Man, this thing is drinking perfect right now! Huge carbonation, spicy, crisp, and dry. Great with food, and I'm really disappointed that I only have a couple bottles of this left. This may end up being one of my better beers of all time. B+ or A- material here.
  • Kaedrôme Saison - Alas, this has not quite carbonated itself so well just yet. Disappointing. I had one last week, and it seemed like it was doing well, but nope, tonight's was lower carbonated than the last one I had. Weird. I'll give it a few more weeks before opening another (it seems that the regular saison is peaking right now, after several months) and leave it at that for now...
  • Ken's Homebrewed Winter Warmer - Very solid example of the style, very well spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla, it came out really smooth and almost creamy, with that spicy kick. I really enjoyed this, even more than the other Winter Warmer/Holiday beers of the night. B+
  • Sly Fox Christmas Ale - Another winter warmer, and one I look forward to every year. Alas, they change up the recipe every year, and I have to admit, I'm not in love with this year's version. It's fine, to be sure, but not as good as previous years (or Ken's homebrew!) B-
  • Lexington Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale - It's amazing how little repetition there is in beer club. I can probably count on one hand the number of times that someone has brought a beer that's been at beer club before... This one was just at beer club back in September, which wouldn't be that bad except that no one really likes this beer! It's so thin and the bourbon barrel treatment doesn't really come through in any meaningful way (it's got some of that bourbon flavor, but it feels watered down and just flat). It's not a hideous abomination, but it's not particularly good either. C
  • Trappistes Rochefort 6 - A classic that I've already reviewed, and a welcome relief from the previous beer!
  • Affligem Noël - This was one of my favorite beers when I started the blog... but I didn't respond quite so well this time around. Not sure if it's just the context of beer club and a beleaguered palate, or if this really isn't as good as I remember. The balance is certainly off here, a little boozy, not enough malt and spice to counteract that. It's certainly not bad at all, and I do still really enjoy it, but perhaps not as much as I originally did... Let's call it a B or B+ now.
  • Southern Tier Phin & Matt's Extraordinary Ale - A late arrival, this perhaps should have been opened earlier in the night... but even then, I suspect this would underwhelm. C+
  • Boulevard Bourbon Barrel Quad - Dana and I shop at the same beer store. She shared hers, I greedily drank mine by myself. As I rated on Monday, B+
  • Stone Suede Imperial Porter - It's a fine porter, light roast, some complexity from those weird flower and jasmine adjuncts, but ultimately this is a beer that doesn't really float my boat. It's fine, I could probably take one down on my own, but I'm glad I was trying it in a tasting setting... B
  • Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout - Another Dana special, I'm really glad she brought this... mostly because it's just awesome beer (that I've reviewed before). Still an A
  • Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout - And this one was my contribution for the night. I had this last year and loved it, but it had aged for a few months before I cracked it open. This year, I had one fresh and thought I absolutely had to share this. I don't particularly love coffee, and this thing is a huge coffee bomb. It's amazing how much the coffee fades in the beer after a few months (I know the coffee is different every year, so maybe that's a factor this year too, but it's still dominated by coffee, to the point where I can barely get the bourbon barrel out of this, though it is there). Since some members of beer club are big coffee fans, I thought I should share it while it's fresh. It did not disappoint.
  • Fort Collins 1900 Amber Lager - I will refrain from talking much about this because after the Bourbon County, this was basically like water. A simple palate cleanser. That being said, it does not seem like my kinda thing...
And that wraps up yet another successful beer club. Already looking forward to ringing in the new year with beer club...

Trappistes Rochefort

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It's easy to get caught up in the hustle-and-bustle of new experimental brews, limited releases and white whale beers. As such, many first-rate beers linger on the shelves, unnoticed. I've had all of Rochefort's beers before, but it has been far too long since I've revisited them. They are true classics. If you have not tried them, you should probably be out hunting for a bottle rather than reading this post.

Rochefort is a small town in southeast Belgium. A few miles down the road lies Rochefort's Trappist monastery, Notre Dame de Saint Remy. The monks there started brewing beer in 1595, though recent operations started in 1899. As usual, Michael Jackson provides some interesting background based on a rare interview and tour with the head brewer:

There are 25 monks at the abbey, and four have jobs in the brewery, along with five secular workers. The monks rise each morning at 3:15, and have the mash under way before heading for High Mass at 7a.m. ...

The beers are brewed from two Pilsener malts and one Munich type, with dark cane sugar added in the kettle. The hops are German Hallertau and Styrian Goldings, added twice. Two strains of yeast are use in primary fermentation an bottle-conditioning. White crystal sugar is used as a priming in the bottle.

"Two of the pale malts, two of the sugars, two hop varieties two yeast strains . . . two of this and two of that . . . we like to keep it simple," laughed Father Antoine.

Indeed, it is even rumored that all three of Rochefort's beers start from a single wort, which they modify by adding varying amounts of dark candy sugar to meet different strengths. All three of the beers share a similar flavor profile, so this does make sense, but I don't think it's ever been confirmed (and in looking at the difference between the weakest and strongest beers, that's a lot of adjunct that they'd have to add). In any case, like the other Trappist breweries, Rochefort only sells their beer to help sustain the monastery and some charitable causes. As such, production is fairly low and won't be raised to meet demand. In general, though, you shouldn't have a problem finding at least one of the three varieties.

Speaking of which, I've always wondered about the way a lot of Belgian beers are numbered. St. Bernardus has a 6, 8 and 12. Westvleteren has an 8 and a 12. And Rochefort has a 6, 8, and 10. I had always assumed that it was a general reference to strength (sort of like Dubbel, Tripel, and Quadrupel), and in a manner of speaking, it is. However, in more specific terms, the numbers are a reference to original gravity. 6 corresponds with an original gravity of 1.060, 8 corresponds to 1.080, and so on*. Interestingly, the Jackson article referenced above mentions: "This is handy, observed Father Antoine, because they are ready to drink at six, eight and 10 weeks." Go figure. Of course, these are bottle conditioned, high alcohol beers, so they can actually stand up to time rather well.

A while back, I picked up each of the available varieties, originally intending to do a triple feature, but that didn't work out as planned. Rather than get stupid drunk one night, I decided to stretch this out over a couple of weeks. I tried them in order of strength, from lowest to highest.

Rochefort 6

Trappistes Rochefort 6 - Apparently the least common of the three beers, this one is only brewed once a year. I've never had a problem finding it though, so perhaps that's no longer in effect (that or people tend to gravitate towards the higher strength beers). Pours a cloudy reddish brown color with a couple fingers of quickly disappearing tan head. Aroma is very fruity, and not the typical Belgian strong dark fruitiness either. There's something different about this. Bready Belgian yeast aromas are also present, along with a sorta nuttiness and toffee, but both aromas clearly take a back seat to the fruitiness. The taste goes along similar lines - a well balanced fruity sweetness throughout, with some more intricate and subtle flavors emerging as it warms up. Again, not sure what that particular fruit flavor is, but I've never had anything quite like it (except for other Rochefort beers). As the 6 is the "weakest" of these beers, I was expecting it to be lighter and maybe even watery, but it was highly carbonated and full bodied. Very easy to drink. I really love this beer. Wonderfully complex and unique, but still approachable. A

Beer Nerd Details: 7.5% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank from a tulip glass on 7/31/11.

Rochefort 8

Trappistes Rochefort 8 - Pours a slightly deeper, darker brown color with a couple fingers of head. Aroma is more intense, but along the same lines. Taste is perhaps a bit sweeter, with just a hint of additional stickiness. I think you can taste the extra alcohol, but it's still well balanced with the rest of the beer. Again, intricate and complex flavors emerging even more as it warms up. Mouthfeel is a bit fuller bodied, but it's not a huge difference.. Like the 6, I do love this beer, which is similar, but bigger and richer. Indeed, I believe this one is my favorite of the three, even warranting the highest rating I can give, the vaunted Kaedrin A+

Beer Nerd Details: 9.2% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank from a tulip glass on 8/6/11.

Rochefort 10

Trappistes Rochefort 10 - Deep, dark brown color, similar to the 8, but some of that reddish color is also seeping in... Seemingly less head. Aroma is very rich, but along similar lines. The taste is definitely boozier and sweeter than the other two varieites. I'm drinking this a couple weeks after the other two, so my comparative palate is a little off, but my feeling is that the extra alcohol here really does give this beer a whole different character. Mouthfeel is heavy, a little less carbonated and again, very full bodied. There's more of a stickiness apparent, presumably due to the extra sugar and alcohol. The thing is, it's all still very well balanced - no small feat considering the 0.040 difference in original gravity. An amazing beer and a nice complement to the other two. A

Beer Nerd Details: 11.3% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank from a tulip glass on 8/20/11.

It's almost a shame to compare and rate these three beers, yet I do find that I prefer the 8 above the other two. Interestingly, I think I might even prefer the 6 to the 10**, which is not to say that the 10 is bad or anything. Indeed, I'd put it near the top of any best-of list. Hmmm. I should "research" this more. By which I mean I probably shouldn't wait another two years before having more Rochefort!

* To complicate matters further, Randy Mosher's Tasting Beer claims that the O.G. for the 6 is 1.072, the 8 is 1.078 and the 10 is 1.096. Take from this what you want. It's great beer no matter what!

** Despite the BA nerds' ratings (which put the 10 at the top), it seems I'm not alone in my preferred ranking of 8, 6, then 10. Jay's recently released Beer Samizdat 100 features these three beers in that order, even going so far as to name the 8 the best beer evar (personal preferences may differ, but I find it hard to argue with that choice).

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

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Email me at mciocco at gmail dot com.

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