Night of Darkness

The GroupThe beer geeks are at it again. The theme for this month’s meeting of the try-to-taste-every-beer-in-the-world tasting group was “Darkness.” No, not the much sought after imperial stout from Surly Brewing Company. Rather this was an exploration of the murky and menacing world of dark beer. The assignment for each member was to bring “dark” beers that they had never tried. The idea of “darkness” was left intentionally vague to encourage a bit of freewheeling interpretation and exploration. As a result we sampled a huge variety of inky brews from imperial stouts to fruited porters to smoked bock and strong Belgians, with one particularly “interesting” grape flavored concoction that I will describe later. It was a beautiful evening, so we met in my garden. There is nothing like sitting in the back yard on a nice spring night drinking great beers with good friends.

We had a great selection of beers for this gathering. There were a few clear standouts, but overall the quality was very high. Even the couple of disappointments had more to do with problematic handling than the quality of the beers themselves. I’ll start with those disappointments.

The first beer of the night was a two year old bottle of Sprecher Imperial Stout. I won’t say that this beer was actually disappointing, because it was quite good, if a bit light for the style. Loaded with dark fruit, chocolate roast, and molasses, with a hint of soy from aging, I would gladly The original model for the Tyranena label.have quaffed a pint of this. However, when considered in comparison to the many other great beers of the night, it didn’t quite hold up. A bottle of De Struise Black Albert proved to be quite disappointing. I reviewed this beer on the Perfect Pint website and found it to be a thick, chocolate and brown sugar wonder. I did however detect a hint of sour funkiness as it warmed. I think that the funk had overtaken the bottle that we sampled here. Gone was the rich chocolaty splendor. This example had a definite roasted apple cider character with pronounced sourness. It was not at all the beer I had tasted a few months ago.

A real disappointment for me was the Goose Island Cherry Wood Smoked Bock. Brought back from the brewpub in a growler, this beer did not travel well. I downed many a pint of this during my two-month stay in Chicago earlier this year. I know that it is a fantastic beer. Unfortunately, this example tasted a bit like a meaty band-aid with none of the sweet caramel malt and woody fruit smoke that I admired so much at the pub. If you are in Chicago, I recommend it. But maybe don’t try to bring any back to your friends.

Now to the good stuff. Oh, where to begin? There were so many great beers sampled that I can really only touch on the real standouts here. I’ll do my best. I was surprised by Tres Blueberry Stout from Dark Horse Brewing. I reviewed the One and Two of their five-beer stout series and found them to have an unpleasant, over-the-top, acrid roast. These were beers that I nearly could not finish. I brought this beer expecting not to like it. Instead I found a balanced and very fruity stout with a huge blueberry aroma. The blueberry flavor was complemented by a nice coffee roast and hints of spicy cinnamon in the finish. As long as I’m talking about flavored stouts, I have to mention Southern Tier’s Mokah. This bottle was 22 ounces of chocolate and coffee heaven. Smells of fresh brownies and QuickTM come gushing out as soon as the bottle is opened. The gigantic sweet flavors were compared to drinking brownies or “a gallon of chocolate milk.” This is definitely an after-dinner beer, but what an after-dinner beer it is.

Darkness Falls on the Gathering.For the Belgians the real standout to me was Terrible from Canada’s Unibroue. This 10.5% Belgian Strong Dark ale had delicious fruity marshmallow aromas and luscious flavors of sugar, raisins, bananas and spice, always with this creamy marshmallow character in the background. It was balanced by a slight lactic acidity that kept it from being too rich. I bought myself a bottle the very next day. We were treated to a bottle of 2004 vintage Westvleteren 12. This beer is different every time you taste it. This particular example was super fruity with big cherry aromas and flavors. The fruitiness was balanced by light chocolate notes and a sharp, dry finish. This beer was described variously as having “the sensation of being dry and sweet at the same time” and “like drinking flowers.” It reminded me of chocolate covered cherries. Complex and delicious.

There’s always one in every group and this group is no exception. The frightening beer of the Jooseevening was a “purple flavored malt liquor” called Dragon Joose. This 9.9% ABV grape monstrosity is produced by United Brands International, the folks responsible for ChiquitaTM bananas. Wikipedia describes it as “berry inspired flavors with caffeine, ginseng and taurine” and “certified colors.” We described it as high-test grape soda. This is a drink designed to mess you up fast.

The beers tasted were Sprecher Imperial Stout, Dark Horse Tres, Stone Imperial Russian Stout, Malheur 12, Westvleteren 12, Saint-Feuillien Brun, Avery Out of Bounds Stout, Tyranena Paradise by the Dashboard Lights Cherry Porter, Flag Porter, Boulevard Smokestack Series Imperial Stout, DeStruise Black Albert, Sam Adams Imperial Stout, Southern Tier Mokah, Goose Island Cherry Wood Smoked Bock, Unibroue Terrible, Bell’s Special Double Cream Stout, Xingu Black Beer, Rogue Double Black, Brewdog Riptide Stout, and Dragon Joose. Those in attendance were Michael Agnew, Wilbur Ince, Jonathan Crist, Gera Exire LaTour, Al Boyce, Paul Dienhart, Joel Stitzel, and Mark Johnson.

This is One of My Favorite Beers…..

The next event of the Twin Cities Perfect Pint Beer Club!

This is one of my favorite beers.....When: Friday, June 26, 2009
Cost: $25
You must be a member of the club to attent. Go to the Twin Cities Perfect Pint Beer Club to join and RSVP.

“This is one of my favorite beers.” If I had a nickel for every time I have said that I would be rich. If I had a nickel for every time members of the Twin Cities Perfect Pint Beer Club have laughed at me for saying it I’d be rich. Okay, I like a lot of beers. I’m not going to apologize.

Instead, I’m going to share the love.

The theme for the June meeting is simply “my favorite beers”; no style category limitations, no ingredient restrictions, no regional or color demarcations. Just eight beers that I think are phenomenal. I don’t yet know what they will be. There are so many to choose from. There could be a stout. There might be a pale ale (yes, I do like hops). There may even be a wheat beer, pilsner, or funky Belgian sour thingy. Oh, where to begin?

But you know whatever they are they will be great. Each one will be (say it with me now) one of my favorite beers.

100,000 ruined bottles of Lambic!!!

Drei Fonteinen brewery in Beersel, Belgium, one of the worlds leading traditional lambic breweries, has suffered a serious blow. An equipment malfunction has resulted in the loss of 100,000 bottles of lambic and gueuze in storage. That is 1/3 of the brewery’s annual income. A serious blow to say the least. But all is not lost…

Read more.

What Makes Craft Beer “Craft”?

What makes a craft brewer a “craft brewer.” As defined by the Brewers Association, the craft brewers’ trade group,  it is partly a matter of annual production. Any brewer with an annual output of more than two million barrels can no longer be called “craft.” This means that Boston Brewing Company, makers of the ubiquitous Sam Adams Boston Lager along with a gazillion other beers, will probably be kicked out of the club next year. This, despite the fact that Boston Brewing Company and its owner/founder Jim Koch do an extraordinary amount to promote the craft beer industry.

Watch for an upcoming rant on this and other beer-world pet peeves coming soon in this blog. In the mean time read more about this story at the Washington Post.

Yeasty Beer Night

Last Friday the Twin Cities Perfect Pint Beer Club met in Minneapolis to celebrate yeast. This was the last of three club  events each highlighting the flavor and aroma contributions of a particular brewing ingredient. For this event we sampled our way through a bevy of beers that showcase the beloved fungi (and even some bacteria) that turn hoppy sugar water into beer. We tasted eight different beers representing eight different styles ranging from a balanced English Extra Special Bitter to and intensely funky Belgian Gueuze. Of course a few more beers mysteriously appeared after the official tasting finished. An added bonus for this event were the delicious food pairings prepared by our host Cory. The combination of great beers, great food, and great people put this club meeting over the top.

Yeasty BeersAs with the other two of these ingredient focused events, we started off tasting an English Bitter to see how our highlighted ingredient plays out in an essentially balanced beer. This month it was Huvila ESB from Finland. A great example of the style, this beer starts with a solid bite of hop bitterness that fades into a luscious caramel and toffee malt. The yeast comes through as a subtle orange marmalade  with none of the buttery character that is sometimes a part of this style. Cory paired this beer with a cheddary macaroni and cheese.

From there we moved solidly into the realm of yeast starting with Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier. Hefeweizen means “yeasty wheat beer” in German, and in my view Weihenstephaner is one of the best. It does a great job of balancing the characteristic citrus, banana, and clove Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbieryeast character with the rich, bready wheat malt. This one was a crowd favorite. Next up was the Smokestack Series Saison from Boulevard Brewing in Kansas City. Historically a Belgian farmhouse ale intended to keep farmhands hydrated through the hot summer months, Saison is a light, effervescent, and refreshing beer with a unique yeasty profile. The Boulevard saison is true to style with a sharp dry finish and a tasty blend of black pepper spiciness with citrus and stone fruit esters. Paired with an aged gouda this was heaven.

It’s the flavors of the yeast that define Belgian beers as “Belgian”, and you can’t talk about yeasty beers without including at least one example. For this we went to the Trappist Westmalle Dubel. Rich caramel malt and dark fruit combine perfectly with the fruity and spicy “Belgian” yeast character in this beer. The Westmalle example has a drier and more bitter finish than some others that I like. This beer was the perfect compliment to the slow boiled beef tongue and heart that cory prepared. I had eaten beef tongue in the past and was never a great fan. I had never eaten heart. Both were absolutely amazing and worked wonderfully with the beer. This was one of the favorite pairings of the night.

Jolly Pumpkin Oro de CalabazaFrom there we dove headlong into the world of true fermentation funkiness, the sour beers. We waded in cautiously with Rodenbach Classic Flanders Red Ale. Wine like, slightly sour, and redolent of cherries and other fruits, this beer received a mixed response. Some loved it. Some simply choked it down. Others thought it would make an excellent salad dressing. The pairing of this beer with pickled herring was the surprise of the night. The sum of the sours was less intense than either separate. It worked quite well. Next was Oro de Calabaza from Michigan’s Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales. This is a Belgian Strong Golden ale that has been aged in barrels harboring wild yeast and funk producing bacteria. Strong barnyard and leather aromas and flavors dominated, but didn’t completely cover up the fruity and spicy belgian yeast character. This was the favorite beer of the night to many in attendance.

My favorite beer and food pairing was 3 Fonteinen Oud Gueuze with gueuze steamed mussels. Gueuze is a blend of one, two, and three year oldSteaming Steamed Musseld lambic beers. Intensely sour, cidery, fruity, leathery, and complex, these beers can be a shocker on first tasting. I was really curious to see how the group would respond to this one. I encouraged them to look beyond the sour to find the complexity hidden beneath. By the end of the five ounce pour, it was beginning to grow on many of the tasters. I was happy to see that no one dumped it out. One even commented, “I don’t hate this. I think it could grow on me.”

The last official beer of the night was Oud Beersel Kriek. Take a young unblended lambic and let it sit on a boatload of tart cherries until even the pits dissolve and you have kriek. The intense fruity almond character from the cherries tones down the funkiness and subdues the sour of the lambic making the perfect desert beer.  Cory paired this one with a New York Cheesecake for a very proper end to the evening.

Ommegang Biere de Mars

Beire de Mars is a special version of the French farmhouse ale Biere de Garde. Brewed to a higher strength during the gusty month of March, it is intended to last through the summer, providing a welcome relief from the doldrums of July and August, and keeping the family in beer until brewing starts again in the fall. Brewery Ommegang makes their version extra special with a shot of Brettanomyces, the wild yeast that is partly responsible for the crazy tastes of Lambic.

Ommegang Biere de MarsBiere de Mars
Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, New York
Style: Biere de Mars
Serving Style: 750 ml Bottle

Aroma: Caramel malt and fresh dark fruit, plums and cherries, not raisins. Pronounced leathery and barnyard brettanomyces funk.
Appearance: Deep golden to light orange. Clear. Long lasting, fine, off-white head
Flavor: Light caramel malt supporting rich cherry and plum fruitiness. A hint of acidic sourness, but only a hint. Good amount of barnyard and leather funkiness like the aroma. Medium-high bitterness and light spicy hop flavor complements the funk. Dry finish that lingers on brett character.
Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. High carbonation. Dry.
Overall: A very nice beer. Good balance of malt and yeast with an extra charge of spicy hop that really complements the brettanomyces character. Light and easy to drink. Drinking it with a stinky, Spanish, washed-rind cow’s milk cheese and they pair wonderfully.

2007 Goose Island Bourbon County Stout

I have had a couple of these in the basement for a couple of years. Last night seemed like a good night to try one. Wish I had had a couple of chocolate chip cookies to go along with it.

Goose Islant Bourbon County Stout2007 Bourbon County Stout
Goose Island Brewing, Chicago, IL
Style: Bourbon Barrel Aged Russian Imperial Stout
Serving Style: 12 oz. Bottle

Aroma: A big hit of bourbon whiskey with some chocolaty roast and vanilla. Sweet alcohol fumes round it all out. The gigantic aroma jumped out of my snifter and just about knocked me down.
Appearance: Blacker than black. Almost no head, but maintained a fine mist of dark tan foam on the surface.
Flavor: Chocolaty roast is dominant, like burnt bittersweet chocolate or the cookie part of an Oreo.  Alcohol is a major player here, but sweet, not solventy. These are complemented by a mix of light smoke, vanilla, wood, caramel, and molasses. This is one hugely flavorful beer, but smooth. It has a remarkably dry finish, but one that lingers on forever.
Mouthfeel: Thick, rich, creamy. A big boned beer that remains drinkable because of the dry finish. Low carbonation.
Overall Impression: After two years in the bottle this was a fantastic beer. Could probably still take a couple more years of aging as the alcohol is a bit intense for my taste. I’m not a fan of big, thick Imperial Stouts, so the dry finish on this one made it nicely drinkable. It’s a sipper though. At 13% ABV it will mess you up.

Dogfish Head Chateau Jiahu

Chatuau Jiahu is the third historical recreation beer that Dogfish Head has undertaken. This one was cobbled together from the analyzed remains taken from 9000 year old pottery jars discovered in China. Brewed with barley malt, rice, muscat grapes, hawthorn fruit, and chrysanthemum flowers, this beer just screamed at me from the shelf. “Try me!” it said, “Try me!” So I did. I took it from the shelf, walked back to my hotel, and anxiously waited for it to chill in the little refrigerator. This will either be really good or really bad.” I though.

Dogfish Head Chateau JiahuChateau Jiahu
Dogfish Head, Milton, Delaware
Style: 9000 year old historical recreation
Serving Style: 750 ml Bottle

Aroma: Vinous, white grape. Light toast. Twigs. Pears. Sugary sweetness but not a cloying impression.
Appearance: Golden and clear(?) (At least I think so. I’m drinking it from a black styrofoam hotel cup so it’s hard to tell.) Thick, creamy, persistent, off-white foam.
Flavor: Sweet, heavy. A bit syrupy. Explosions of fruit, pear nectar, white grape, strawberry, peaches and cream. Lightly nutty and toasty. Faint sweet alcohol. Herbal mint and woodruff notes come in and out. Vanilla. Floral. Green apple. Some wine like acidity adding tartness that compliments the sweet. Will the flavors ever stop revealing themselves? Finish is sweet lingering long on herbal, nutty honey.
Mouthfeel: Full-bodied and thick. Creamy. Tongue coating, but not unpleasant. Low carbonation but leaves an interesting tingle in the back of the throat on the way down.
Overall Impression: My first swallow was, “what the heck is this?” But it grew on me quickly. Complexity is what this beer is all about. Multiple overlapping and intertwining flavors of fruit, herbs, and earth. The flavors just keep coming. The sweetness will limit consumption. I have a 750 ml bottle sitting in front of me. I Doubt I will be able to finish it. Not because of taste or alcohol, it’s just too full-bodied and sweet. Drink this one at just a touch below room temperature for the full flavors to come out.