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The Bruery Coton

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As a lowly beer neophyte reading raves about California's The Bruery on all the cool blogs, I made a pact with myself to hunt down some of their beer. This was the first thing I found, and I purchased it blind, price tag be damned. I had no idea what I was in for, but the label was pretty and it even had a fancy strip of tape covering the cap. The guy who sold it to me said "It's really good. Boozy, but good." Well, I drank it and my face melted. My original notes on this said it was very good but "maybe a bit too powerful". It was a real eye opener though. I'd never had anything like that beer before and it really pushed the boundaries of what I thought beer could be. It was a memorable experience and I can still recall the night vividly, right down the movies I was watching as I partook. I even saved up some shekels and bought another, with the thought that some of that booze would mellow out over time. And thus it's been burning a hole in my fridge for about 2 years now.

The Bruery Coton Label and Taped Cap

Coton was The Bruery's second anniversary ale, part of a series of beers named after traditional wedding anniversary gifts. The first anniversary beer was called Papier (French for "paper") and it was brewed in the style of an English Old Ale, but using The Bruery's house Belgian yeast strain. Coton uses the same recipe as Papier, but they blended a portion of Bourbon Barrel Aged Papier into the "young" beer to add complexity. The fancy shmancy term for this process is the Solera method. Each year, young beer is blended with previous batches, adding complexity and creating an older average age to the beer. The process is typically used in the production of wine and appears to be exceedingly rare in the world of beer. Aging beer is an expensive proposition for most breweries and a Solera project requires a great deal of foresight, ambition, and planning. Fortunately, The Bruery is clearly up to the task.

I've been purchasing these Anniversary beers every year, but truth be told, knocking back a 750 of 14.5% ABV beer takes something of a commitment. But it's been nearly two and a half years, I figured it was time to clear a few hours of the ol' schedule and bite the bullet on this thing. I've had beers that were rare or hard to get before, but this one weighed on me more than I expected, perhaps because it loomed so large in my mind. I know the general beer nerd consensus on this beer is mixed, but I have a personal connection with this beer that most don't share. It was a beer of firsts for me (first Bruery, among my first Barrel Aged brews, first time I broke the $20 barrier, and probably the highest ABV beer I'd had at the time, though I've long since surpassed that), and while I loved it the first time I had it, I'm always a little anxious about revisiting beers from that period.

Am I putting it on a pedestal? Will this hold up to my expectations? Well, I'm happy to report that it actually managed to exceed expectations... to the point where I'm even going to award it the vaunted Kaedrin A+ (only beer so far this year to earn that distinction).

The Bruery Coton

The Bruery Coton - Pours a deep dark amber (mahogany!) color with a sliver of light tan head. Smells strongly of brown sugar/molasses, dark fruits, and boozy bourbon with just a hint of oak and vanilla. Taste is very sweet, lots of that crystal malt character, rich caramel flavors, brown sugar/molasses, raisins and other dark fruits, even some spiced character, like cinnamon, and of course, that vanilla, oak, and bourbon killer combo. Big, complex flavors. Mouthfeel is full bodied, a little syrupy, but surprisingly drinkable. I don't want to call it thin, but it's not as thick and chewy as you'd expect for such a monster, and this is a very good thing in this beer, which has the potential to overwhelm, but never really does so. The carbonation is ample, which keeps this from feeling too syrupy and may help contribute to that drinkability too, keeping things smooth and almost creamy. It seems ridiculous to call a 14.5% ABV beer balanced, but it kinda is... The booze seems to have mellowed out with time as well, though I still get that warming alcohol feeling in my belly as I drink. This thing is drinking like a massive bourbon barrel, Belgian style barleywine, or something like that. It's exceptional, and it is kicking my ass tonight. A unique, complex, just all around superb beer, and it seems to have mellowed a little with time, which I think may have been for the better. I don't hand these out often, but this earns the coveted Kaedrin A+

Beer Nerd Details: 14.5% ABV bottled (750 ml capped and taped). Drank out of a goblet on 10/27/12. Bottled May 2010. Bottle Number 02592. 75% Ale, 25% Ale Aged in Bourbon Barrels.

So there you have it. I've got bottles of Cuir and Fruet (3rd and 4th anniversaries, respectively) in the cellar, and some other Bruery whales are incoming, so stay frosty folks. This is looking like a Bruery-filled, liver-destroying, wallet-lightening winter.

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).

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).

Grindhouse Double Feature: Tripels

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One of the crimes of modern cinematic history is the failure of Grindhouse at the box office and the subsequent lack of proper DVD/BD distribution (which was, in itself, a result of the bad box office). Grindhouse was one of my favorite movies of 2007, so this was most distressing to me. Sure, the two feature films that made up the total experience were available individually, but they were different cuts of the films and they were missing one of the key features of the Grindhouse experience: the trailers. Amazingly enough, this egregious oversight was recently corrected with the Blu-Ray release of Grindhouse (in it's full cinematic glory). Tonight, I watched that movie, and took the opportunity to retry two of my favorite beers. As I write this post, I'm watching the movie with the Audience Reaction Track on. It's kinda lame. Just a lot of hooting, cheering, and hollaring. But the movie is awesome, so there's that.

Westmalle Tripel

Westmalle Abby Tripel: Brouwerij der Trappisten van Westmalle is a Belgian Trappist Brewery, one of only 7 in the world. Yes, this beer is brewed by Monks, and as it turns out, they're among the best brewers in the world (and have been for a long time). Some reading around on Wikipedia indicates that this brewery in particular is responsible for inventing (or at least popularizing) two key Belgian beer styles: the Dubbel and the Tripel (which I'm drinking tonight). Pours a hazy golden color with an impressively huge head. Lots of bubbly activity in the head, good retention and a smell of sweet malty goodness with a little bit of fruit and some spiciness added in for good effect. Taste of fruity malts and a yeasty kick, with a nice warming booziness. Good carbonation and medium body, a near perfect taste. It's not hard to see why this beer is considered the standard for the style. A

Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV bottled (750 ml, caged and corked bottle). Drank from a goblet.

As Planet Terror ends and the glorious fake trailers begin, I pop the cork off what could be my all time favorite beer:

Unibroue La Fin Du Monde

Unibroue La Fin Du Monde: The perfect beer. Pours that same hazy gold color, with that same large, active head. There's a bit less retention here, and the smell is more spicy. Taste has a similar malty goodness, and the spiciness is more pronounced - lots of coriander and orange peel detectable here, and maybe a little clove (these spices are seemingly favored by Unibroue, as a lot of their paler ales have that sort of mixture). Spicy sweet, this beer is perfectly balanced. Medium body and good carbonation, with perfect taste and like the Westmalle, the strong alcohol content gives it a nice, warming, boozy kick. The name translates to "The End of the World", and given that name and the high alcohol content, this makes for a great last beer of the night (or, you know, if you ever think the world is going to end)! A+

Beer Nerd Details: 9.0% ABV bottled (750 ml, caged and corked bottle). Drank from a goblet.

Whew, drinking two 750 ml tripels in one night is perhaps not entirely advisable, but if you ever cross paths with either of these, give them a shot. You won't be disappointed.

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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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