De Proef Signature Ale

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about collaborative beers on my Hoppress blog over at Ratebeer. While somewhat suspicious and critical of this trend in brewing, I remain intrigued by these beers. What happens when great brewing minds get together? What magic might occur? One of the most interesting series of collaborations for me has been the Brewmaster’s Collaboration beers from De Proef Brouwerij in Belgium. Dirk Naudts started De Proef in 1996. His small-scale, high-tech operation has been churning out a whole line of great beers that are the product of the marriage of cutting-edge brewing technology and traditional brewing methods. Since 2007 he has been collaborating with leading American brewers to create the unique beers of the Brewmaster’s Collaboration series. I have previously written about Van Twee, the collaboration with Bell’s Brewing, and Les Deux Brasseurs, the collaboration with Jason Perkins of Allagash. Until recently I had not had the opportunity to taste Signature Ale, the first in the series brewed in 2007 with Lost Abbey’s Tomme Arthur. It has recently been re-released. Last week I walked into a Kansas City liquor store and there it was. So here’s my notes:

Signature Ale
De Proef Brouwerij, Lochristi, Belgium with Tomme Arthur of Pizza Port/Lost Abbey
Style: Something like an American IPA with Brettanomyces
Serving Style: 750 ML Bottle

Aroma: Floral notes dominate. Huge fruity brettanomyces character. Very little horsey funk at the beginning, but it becomes stronger as it warms. Light grainy malt sweetness fills in the background. Highly spicy like Indian food, floral coriander and cardamom. Hints of citrus. Very intriguing.

Appearance: Rich and creamy off-white head that lasts forever. Light copper with slightly pink highlights. Light haze.

Flavor: Most unique. East Asian coriander floweriness with deep pitchy resinous notes. A bitter bite at the end that sticks. Huge fruitiness – peach, pineapple, berries, tangerine candy. The full-flavored supporting grainy malt sweetness backs up the bitterness and gives the whole mélange of flavors a soft bed on which to rest. Light caramel touch. Like some kind of exotic Indian masala. Lingering sweetness in the finish that increases with warming.

Mouthfeel: Medium body with medium carbonation. Light bitter astringency. Somewhat creamy.

Overall Impression: Drink this with Indian food. An English IPA with American-like hops and funky wild goodness. All the contrasting flavors and styles balance out into a most interesting blend of flavors. Huge floral notes invite sip after sip.

Lager Night

Lager NightThe theme for the April meeting of my monthly “let’s try to taste every beer in the world” beer tasting group was lager. For many, the thought of “lager beer” conjures up images of the pale yellow American style lagers that have become the accepted standard for beer the world over. While those beers do occupy a disproportionate amount the worldwide shelf space, they represent only a small corner of the entire lager universe. Lager styles go from the super light American “Lite” beer to the richly caramel and high alcohol Doppelbock, with a stop at every color and flavor along the way.

The main thing separating a lager beer from an ale is yeast. Lager beers are fermented using what is known in the biz as a “bottom fermenting” yeast, so called because the yeast forms colonies on the bottom of the fermentor instead of at the top as ale yeasts do. Lager yeast also likes to ferment at colder temperatures than ale yeast. This limits the production of fermentation by-products that influence beer flavor and aroma, leading to the characteristic “clean” taste of a lager. Prolonged cold storage after fermentation also enhances this by allowing the yeast to slowly clean up after itself. Another defining characteristic of lager yeast is the ability to ferment trisaccharides, longer chain sugars that ale yeast cannot ferment. The ability to ferment additional sugars leads to a dryer beer, the “crispness” that many people associate with lagers.

For our monthly meeting the only assignment was to bring lagers. It didn’t matter where they were from, how Lager Nightmuch they cost, or what the quality was. They just had to be fermented with a bottom-feeding yeast. In all, sixteen beers were tasted and commented upon ranging from a 2% ABV German light beer to the 10% ABV Human Blockhead from the Shmaltz Brewing Coney Island line. We sampled beers from the US, Germany, Austria, Belgium, and even Wisconsin.

There were a lot of great beers represented here. It’s difficult to pick standouts from the bunch. One of my favorites was Midnight Session Lager from Port Brewing in California. The bottle describes this as a Schwarzbier, but it’s really much too roasty to fit that label. The aroma resemble nothing so much as the burnt old-maids at the bottom of a bowl of popcorn, something I love. The flavor was all roast, with huge Beersel Lagerchocolate and coffee character, but none of the astringent bitterness that often comes with big roasted beers. The only possible flaw was a startlingly quick finish. Whatever you want to call it, I would seek this beer out again. Another favorite and perhaps the most “interesting” beer of the night was the Beersel Lager from Drei Fonteinen in Belgium. Drei Fonteinen is mostly known for their fine sour beers and lambics. The Beersel Lager is lager as you would expect a lambic brewer to make it. It is a cloudy, light bodied beer that starts out bitter but sweetens mid-palate. Nice flavors of light stone fruit and fibrous plant are rounded out by a funky, brettanomyces tinged, dry finish. Also worth mention was the Hacker-Pschorr Kellerbier, a cloudy golden colored beer with a creamy mouthfeel and bready/fruity flavors. The surprise of the night was the Mahr’s Bräu Leicht. At just 2% ABV this little golden lager packs in a ton of malt and hop flavor. It was tasty and you could drink a lot of it in a session without any serious consequences.

While I really can’t say that there were any bad beers in the mix, there were a couple of disappointments. One of these was the Blond Doppelbock from Capital Brewing in Wisconsin. Many of us had tasted this beer in the past and liked it, so this may have been an old or mishandled bottle. Whatever the case, we found it to be flabby, sugary, and full of banana and sulfur flavors and aromas. Also unfortunate was the Kapsreiter Landbier from Austria. Another Kellerbier, this one could not compare to the Hacker-Pschorr example. We found this to be underattenuated and worty, with honey and raw sugar being the dominant flavors. There was very little bitterness to counter the sweetness. One person described this beer as “under-carbonated Duvel.” A final disappointment was the Sam Adams Imperial Series Doppelbock. While not a bad beer, the consensus was that it was “definitely imperial.” The nice caramel malt and spicy hop were marred by a hot and solventy alcohol. And then there was the Mickey’s Malt Liquor……….And then there was the Mickey's Malt Liquor...

The beers tasted were New Glarus Bohemian Lager, Bell’s Lager of the Lakes, Hacker-Pschorr Kellerbier, Kapsreiter Landbier, Beersel Lager, Schlenkerla Helles, Flying Dog Dog Schwarz, Mahr’s Bräu Jubelfest, Mahr’s Bräu Leicht, Mendocino Brewing Company Bock Beer, Capitol Brewing Blond Doppelbock, Sam Adams Imperial Series Doppelbock, Port Brewing Midnight Sessions Lager, Coney Island Human Blockhead, Sam Adams Winter Lager, and Mickey’s Malt Liquor. Those in attendance were Michael Agnew, Tom Graybael, Gera Exire LaTour, Joel Stitzel, Jonathan Crist, and Paul Dienhart.

Battle of the Beers VI Results

The “You Can’t Get This Here” Challenge

Battle of the Beers VILast night thirty beer enthusiasts gathered at the Four Firkins to witness a contentious confrontation between a bevy of brews to which their palates had previously been denied access. From East Coast and West, these beers, unavailable in Minnesota, were put to the test in a fierce fracas to determine which was the best. Big hoppy beer against big hoppy beer, big Belgian beer against big Belgian beer, and big black beer against big black beer, they did battle until only one reigned supreme over them all.

Round 1: Russian River Pliny The Elder vs Port Brewing Hop 15 – Pliny plowed the Port.
Round 2: Russian River Damnation 23 vs Allagash Les Deux Brasseurs – Allagash all the way.
Round 3: Port Brewing Old Viscosity vs Lost Abbey Serpent Stout – The serpent swallowed the competition whole.
Grand Champion: Pliny The Elder proved himself worthy.

Tasting Notes:
Pliny the Elder – Folks enjoyed the intense citrus hop flavors and aromas while appreciating the balance Battle of the Beers VIand drinkability of this beer. Many expressed that unlike most Double IPAs they could imagine themselves having three or four of these in a sitting.
Hop 15 – While some enjoyed the complex fruity character and multifaceted hop flavors of this beer, others found the malt cloying or the bitterness harsh.
Damnation 23: Generally this beer was well liked by all. Good stone fruit notes with a dry spicy finish. The main criticism was that the rather woody oak character clashed with the peppery yeast and hop flavors.
Battle of the Beers VILes Deux Brasseurs – For most this Brettanomyces fermented beer was heaven in a bottle with delightful stone fruit and cherries dancing with a gently horsey funk and light acidic sour. For some, though, the funk was too much.
Old Viscocity – For a beer with viscocity in the name, this was exceptionally light bodied, especially for its 10.5% ABV. It was a battle in itself with sweet caramel flavors competing with sharply bitter roast. The roast won out in the end. After a final bitter bite, the finish was astoundingly short.
Serpent Stout – Thick, rich, coffee and cream. Lucious dark fruits and warming alcohol. A great beer.

Battle of the Beers VI: The “You Can’t Get This Here” Challenge

Lost AbbeyMonday, April 27th
8:00 PM
At The Four Firkins
Cost: $15

From across the country they have come, six expertly crafted beers from American breweries of legendary status; Russian River, Port Brewing, Lost Abbey, Allagash, all unavailable to the Minnesota beer drinker. Painstakingly selected by A Perfect Pint, these bodacious brews have come to test their mettle in Firkin Forum. This Battle of the Beers exhibition match pits West Coast Double IPA against West Coast Double IPA, Belgian Style against Belgian Style, and in a final cruel twist of fate two gargantuan black beers from the same brewer will lock hops in an all out struggle for supremacy.

Round One: Russian River Pliny the Elder vs. Port Brewing Hop 15.
Round Two: Russian River Damnation 23 vs. Allagash/DeProef Le Deux Brasseurs.
Round Three: Lost Abbey Serpent Stout vs. Port Brewing Old Viscosity.

The lines have been drawn for an epic battle of the beers; six locally unavailable beers in four styles. Which will emerge victorious from the crucible of Firkin Forum? You will be the judge. Let the “You Can’t Get This Here” Challenge begin!

Limited to 35 attendees.
To register email with “Can’t Get This Here” in the subject line.
This event is first come, first served. You will be notified by email if you are one of the lucky attendees.

Battle of the Beers Preview

Battle of the Beers VI: You Can’t Get This Here

Monday, April 27th, at the Four Firkins

Pliny The ElderOfficial registration is not yet open, but I am so excited about this event that I had to issue a preview. I have been travelling a lot in the last two months and have rounded up an incredible line-up of beers from some of the best breweries in the country. The You Can’t Get This Here Challenge will bring together six locally unavailable beers in a super-epic battle in Firkin Forum. You can’t even get these beers in Hudson.

Here’s the list of combatants:

Russian River’s Pliny the Elder vs. Port Brewing HOP-15
Allagash/DeProef Le Deux Brasseurs vs Russian River Damnation 23
Lost Abbey Serpent Stout vs Port Brewing Old Viscosity

Should be an epic bout. Watch for official registration instructions coming later.