Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Different Kind of New Year's Bubbly

Tiny bubbles in the beer...
For the last day of 2011, I thought I'd expand my beer horizons a bit. Actually, the whole idea came about as a bit of an accident. Earlier in the week I asked myself, "Self: "What would make for a great New Year's Eve beer?" Not finding a sufficient answer from trolling the old internal database, I moved onto a broader pool—the all mighty and powerful Google (They even has a beer now!). As expected, "Googs" delivered. So what did I find out while tripping the interweb fantastic—what is the perfect New Year's Eve beer?

Well, there's actually two ways to go.

First is Bière de Champagne—the fancy name for beer treated like Champagne, or to implore another fancy term, beer that has had the méthode champenoise applied to it. Basically, the beer is bottled after fermentation and conditioned with a small amount of yeast and sugar; it's capped, then riddled—or stored for a length of time at a 45º angle—neck down. This is done to make sure the lees—or leftover yeast dregs—settle toward the cap. The neck is then frozen, the cap is removed and the pressure expels the yeast from the bottle. The bottle is then quickly corked to preserve the residual carbonation, and there you go, crystal clear and sparkling Bière de Champagne.

Now, I can't go as far as to call this a new style, it's more of a beer "treatment." It seems that any style can be treated this way—although, I don't know if you'd want to. It's not a particularly new treatment, either. A number of European breweries have been using this method for quite some time, but the U.S. has been a bit slow to catch on. That is changing—for the past two years Samuel Adam's has produced Infinium, a collaborative Bière de Champagne with Germany's Weihenstephan. The French and Belgians, however, are the kings of this technique. Of the fifteen, or so, breweries using this technique, seven are either French or Belgian. The top pick in this category is Belgium's Deus by Brouwerij Bosteel, but at nearly $50 a bottle, I thought that might be a tad overkill for an evening that will most likely be spent eating pizza with the kids and falling asleep on the couch before the ball drops in Times Square.

I opted for a more economically viable alternative—the second option—Champagne-like beer. These are beers that are just that, but they don't go through the whole méthode champenoise rigmarole. Light, crisp, bottle-conditioned and unsurprisingly, they're typically Belgian. These beers have nicked a few terms from the sparkling wine and Champagne world—specifically cuvée—which can mean both a beer that is masterfully blended and in some cases, one that is stored, usually on oak—and brut—referring to the beers sweet/dryness. It's important to remember that these beers are not trying to emulate Champagne, like Bière de Champagne does—they're just borrowing a few ideas. Armed with this information, I set out to pick my beer—2010 Liefmans Cuvee-Brut, an aged and blended Kriek, brewed only in July; and Cuvée Des Trolls: Cuvée Spéciale—a hazy, blended Strong Ale, brewed by Brasserie Dubuisson for the 10th anniversary of the original Cuvée Des Trolls. Like I said, both are Belgian and both employ one or both of those classic Champagne concepts. 

So, I think I'm all set to ring in 2012—two 750ml  bottles of top-notch beer, pizza, the family and a party that spans the globe. Have fun tonight, be safe and I'll see you next year! 

Happy New Year everyone!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ringing Out the Old and Ringing In the New

I don't really go in for those end of the year "best of" lists—at least not this year—but, don't hold me to that in the last week of December 2012, when I haven't got anything to write about. What I will go in for is, writing about something new for the new year—and it's new in two ways, too. One, it's a new beer from a new brewery, and two, it's a kind of beer I've never had before. So, two "news" for the price of one (actually it was free). I have, however written about it before—way back in October.

At long last, I finally got my hands on Steadfast Beer Company's Sorghum Pale Ale. I've actually been sitting on it for a few weeks, and like I said what better time for a new beer than going into the new year. The 22 ounce bomber has been patiently chilling in my fridge since the middle of the month, just waiting for the perfect time, and it turned out yesterday afternoon was that perfect time. Monday was the optimal convergence of circumstances—subdued kids, a day off and the right mind set—to try an untested brew. All systems go, in other word, so out of the fridge the bottle came, and I set out to try my first sorghum beer.

It pours a bright clear, copper—looking almost like a cider—topped with a nice layer of foamy white head. It has a phenomenal aroma—sweet and estery, with a floral note and a bready tone, too. Weaving throughout all of this is that classic American "C" hop smell—slightly piney with a good snootful of citrus, that can only come from Centennial, Columbus, Cascade and Chinook hops. I don't I have the actual breakdown for Steadfast's Pale Ale, but just by my nose, I know a couple of them are in there.

The flavor is spicy—similar to the flavor that rye brings to the party—with more of that citrus quality from the aroma. It's almost tangerine-like, melded with a Granny Smith apple tartness. There's some sweetness, but not a malty sweetness—more molasses-like—and it's very dry with just a hint of an Earl Grey tea, herbal astringency. The hops are there, as well, bringing that piney, resinous and tropical note, that's really needed for any "American" style.  There's also a noticeable fusel quality about it on the back-end. It's not so much a warming alcoholic flavor, but a sharpness, an almost stinging aspect—that's not wholly unpleasant. Fusel alcohols are higher-order alcohols produced during fermentation, and are responsible for the "heat" in some stronger beer and distilled spirits. This one is fairly strong, too at 6.8%—You all know my dislike of BCJP-ish "styles," but I do have to say, this is more of a double IPA than a humble, little American-Pale Ale—but, hey, more bang for the buck, right?

I'm going to be honest, this beer is not going to be for everyone. It's not bad by any means, but it does combine a number of very strong flavors. It's intense, to say the least. It has that great American hop characteristic, but from start to finish this beer hits you hard with its pronounced bitterness. That bitterness is accentuated, one, by its mild astringency, and two, from its fusel alcohol flavor. However, knowing that going in, you might be pleasantly surprised by this beer. Steadfast has made a commitment to shake up the gluten-free beer market. They went into this project looking to offer a craft beer alternative to what's already out there—a strong, hoppy alternative. Ya' know what? I think they've done it.

If you're in New York or the Northeast, keep your eye out—over the next month or two—for Steadfast at your local pub, bar or bev center. You might as well ring in a new beer and brewery while you're ringing in 2012!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas... true love gave to me - Scaldis (Bush De) Noël, Brasserie Dubuisson Frères sprl, Leuze-Pipaix, Belgium.

We've made it to the end my friends—tonight is Christmas Eve and this is nearly the final post of my trek through the festive world of holiday beer. I've tried new things and learned a few tidbits along the way on this yuletide journey. I've decide to end with a special one—Scaldis Noël. It shares something in common with that jolly old elf, and ambassador of holiday spirit, Santa Claus—they both go by more than one name. In English speaking countries the man in red is known as Kris Kringle, St. Nick and Father Christmas, in the Netherlands and Belgium he's Sinterklaas, and in French it's Père Noël. There are some differences but, generally, everybody is talking about the same guy. Just like Santa and his multiple monikers, the beer I know and love in the U.S. as Scaldis Noël, is referred to by another name in it's home country of Belgium. In French-speaking Wallonia, this festive brew is known as Bush De Noël*. I suspect the name switch-er-oo is to keep people, stateside, from thinking they're buying an Anheuser-Busch product. What traditional Belgian brewer wouldn't want that association?

Yeouch! That was a little naughty, wasn't it? Sorry Santa, er, uh, Père Noël.

It pours a beautiful amber-red with a head like a slice of pound cake. It smells yeasty and fruity, like ripe plums smothered in toffee. There the slightest spice in the aroma as well—nutmeg or mace—with an almond, almost marzipan, quality to it. Like the Harvey's, it gives off a nice alcoholic tone. After a swirl in the glass and a nice inhale, the vapors stay in your nasal cavities like wasabi. Drawing a sip, an alcoholic warmness fills your mouth. It starts with flavors of dried fruit—like figgy dates and sweet raisins. There are hints of cocoa, sweet cherry and it finishes with a peppery, tart apple snap. It's crisp and surprisingly light for a beer tipping the scales at 12%. Whatever you you want to call the the man with the sack full of toys or this Belgian strong ale, what really matters is they both deliver something great!

That's it folks—The Twelve Beers of Christmas. I'll post a final wrap-up on Sunday. Everyone please have a warm and wonderful holiday, and I hope everyone's gets that special beery gift they asked for!

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

*Not to be confused with the delectable, holiday confection—
Bûche de Noëlalso known as the Yule Log!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas... true love gave to me – Harvey's Christmas Ale, Harvey & Son Ltd., Lewes, East Sussex, UK (England).

The yuletide is a time for tradition—those time-honored practices that have spanned the decades. Be it decorating the tree, hanging your stockings by the chimney with care or just making sure that the perennial green-bean casserole makes it to the Christmas table. My tradition is tippling a bottle of Christmas Ale, brewed by the venerable British brewery Harvey & Son. Just like those other historic rituals, Harvey's has been practicing it's art since the 1790s. Where as the American breweries (and even more so my eighth day beer from Microbrowerij Achilles) are starting new traditions with their beer, Harvey's is doing what they've
always done since the end of the 18th-century. Drinking these beers is like shaking the hand of an old friend. However, what Harvey's Christmas Ale does, is put a point on all that brewing tradition, this modern barley wine is an obvious tip of the hat to the stock ales of yore—dark, sweet, dense and strong.

It pours an intense ruby red, with just the slightest (and I mean slightest) touch of carbonation. It's aroma is huge and fruity, with a great molasses-like, dried fig and raisin quality. There's a complex, fresh berry tone, and you get a good whiff of alcohol, too. At just over 8%, its fusel notes let you know your drinking something that's got a kick. The flavor is almost cherry cordial-like—a mix of sweet malty smoothness and a hint of fruity tartness. Its complex and velvety, and there's a great chewiness to this one. It's sticky and dense—like figgy pudding and port. No hoppiness and no bitternes, but I'm pretty sure that doesn't mean it wasn't hopped—In fact, I'd guess it was hopped pretty good. I'm going to speculate that aging, and maybe a little Brett c. exposure sent the hop notes packing to the North Pole with Santa.

For me, what makes Harvey's Christmas Ale really special, is that it's like taking a trip back in time with every sip. The bottle itself has an old feel—it's a little bit heavier and tapered just a tiny bit different than your rank and file beer bottle; and it has that great embossed rule, inset with PLEASE RETURN. Even the label—simply red and white—with jolly Ol' St. Nick smiling back at you, hearkens to a time gone by. So, when you see Alastair Sims as grumpy old Ebeneezer Scrooge on the TV this year, Harvey's Christmas Ale is the beer you should be drinking.    

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

On the Tenth First Day Night of Christmas Chanukah... bubala gave to me - He'Brew Messiah Bold, Schmaltz Brewing Company, San Francisco, California, USA.

So, this one's not technically a Christmas beer—or even a holiday beer. It is however a Jewish beer, and since tonight is the first night of Chanukah, I thought what better way to celebrate that other late-December holiday, than with a Judaic-themed brown ale? With all the stuffing of stockings and caroling of carols, I figured it might be nice to acknowledge the Festival of Lights in my own Gentile manner—by drinking beer, in the dark, in front of my computer. I'll be honest, I've been chomping at the bit to do this one since the beginning of the month; I was hoping Schamltz would brew an actual Chanukah beer this year, but alas, after forty days of wandering in the desert, I found none—none at Oliver's at least. Anyway, If they don't even bother to make one, why should I worry about some mashugana beer? Oy, with the schleping all over the town already! All this work, with the writing and the drinking, why do I bother?   

I will admit to not knowing if I used any of those last few sentences correctly, it just felt right—maybe a bit goyish, but I'm all right with that. Either way—onto the beer.

It pours a cherry wood brown, with amber highlights and a nice, coffee-colored, fluffy head. It has a chocolatey, burnt sugar aroma that reminds me of Coca-Cola, and there's almost a smokey quality to it as well. The first thing I tasted, with this one, was brown sugar—like sweet, rummy, full-flavored Muscovado dark. There's a hint of stone-fruit tartness, like plum, but only in the background. It doesn't have a heavy hop presence, but you are left with a nice bitterness. It's called Messiah Bold, and I'll agree to that—It brings a good bit of roasted, sweet flavor, and it's definitely drinkable. I could see myself getting a belly full of brisket and eating my weight in latkes; then topping off the nights off with a few Messiah Bolds—throw in some some boisterous games of spin the dreidel, and I'm good to go. It's the Festival of Lights folks, so fire up the menorah and חנוכה שמח!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

On the Ninth Day of Christmas... true love gave to me – Serafijn Christmas Angel, Microbrowerij Achilles, Itegem, Belgium.

At the end of November, when I began telling people I was planning to write about twelve Christmas beers, the list of suggestions was a mile long—and all Belgian. Belgium loves it's Christmas beer. Hell, there's even a Christmas Beer Festival in the the city of Essen, this very weekend! I received recommendations on Corsendonk, St. Bernardus Abt,  Delrium and Gouden Carolus Noëls, and the list went on and on—and I can't argue, all of those are great beers—Christmas or not. However, when I strolled into Westmere Beverage yesterday, my eye caught this little, tapered bottle, nestled among the skyscraper-like 750ml bottles of it's countrymen. Adorned with a golden, six winged seraph, the bottle had a quiet reverence that drew me in. I'd never heard of it, or it's awesomely named maker, Achilles Van de Moer—who, by the way, was a music teacher, but gave it all up to open a tiny brewery (out of his garage, no less) and café, with his wife, in Itegem, back in 1999. A step above home brew, this stuff has only been available in the U.S. for the last few years. Maybe it was the angel, or Christmastime divine intervention, but I passed up the others, and went for the little, tapered bottle.

It poured a hazy, honey-gold, with a dense, flop of white foam that settled still, looking like meringue. Its aroma is grassy sweet, like cut alfalfa, with a hint of alcohol and a caramel apple quality. There's that typical Belgian banana note, but it faded, fairly quickly after the cap was off. I got a good bit of fruit on the first sip—pear and strawberry and tart apple. It brings a nice yeasty-bread quality, and a little spiciness, with it as well. Its not hoppy, buy any means, other than a slight grassiness, but it has a pretty good bitter bite at the end, along with a nice alcoholic warmth.

I don't know, maybe I'm a sucker for angels, but I'd put this one on the top of my tree—and then Amy would make me take it down.

Friday, December 16, 2011

On the Eighth Day of Christmas... true love gave to me – Holiday Spice Lager Beer – 2011, Lakefront Brewery, Inc., Milwaukee, WI, USA. 

"Brewed with honey, oranges, cinnamon, nutmeg & clove"—it says it right on the label. What could be more Christmas-y than that? There's something about the way holidays smell—be it the aroma of a fresh cut spruce or a billowing wreath in the living room, the waft of hot apple cider simmering on stove top or cookies straight out of the oven. The holidays smell, well, they just plain, smell good and this beer embraces that idea. Yeah, I know a lot of Christmas beers have a good amount of spice to them, but this one goes beyond that. Lakefront has really hit the mark in combining all those classic yuletide elements, into a lager that simply smells like Christmas. 

Although, the nose knows, I should probably get into the taste, as well. I was expecting a something light, I guess I made the presumption that a "spice lager beer" would lean more toward a golden hue. I couldn't have been more wrong—this lager tumbled into my pint glass a rich brown, with coppery highlights. Then came that great aroma—citrusy and spicy with a sweet round maltiness. The honey and orange are both is upfront on the sip, and the spices play back-up at first. Of those clovey-nutmeg flavor is the strongest, rolling in on the swallow, followed by bit of cinnamon. The honey, citrus and spice create a baked raisin or date cake quality, with almost a slightly, toasted woody note—nearly like vanilla. This one packs a bit of a wallop, too, and it's 11% ABV brings a nice alcoholic heat to the party, underlying all the other holiday flavors. That being said, this one drinks light a significantly less-strong beer—so watch yourself. 

I've read that stimulation of our olfactory system can induce feelings of nostalgia better than any of our other senses. So, even in July, fresh baked cookies and spicy peppermint reminds you of the holidays you had as a kid. It appears that the folks at Lakefront Brewery read the same thing. They just figured out a way to bottle it—at least the smell of it anyway.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

On the Seventh Day of Christmas... true love gave to me – Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome Ale: 2011–12, Samuel Smith Old Brewery, Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, UK (England)

Some beers are meant to be drank at backyard barbecues—others with four course meals under candlelight. In the case of Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome, I find the perfect drinking scenario is while I'm doing the evening's dishes, munching on Christmas cookies, as Frank Sinatra and Cyndi Lauper belt out Santa Claus Is Coming to Town over the radio. Yeah, that's right, I do the dishes. It's not that I set that scenario up, in fact, it's quite the opposite—the scenario set me up. The dishes need to be done, Amy's mom happened to have made cookies, the radio was already on and the pint glass was full—I simply fulfilled my Tuesday night destiny. Yet, there was a holiday harmony in that simplest of household duties—beer, cookies and music all working in unison.

This winter warmer pours a lively copper, smelling of grainy bread and fruit—especially apple. It's big and malty with a mild herbaceousness. It's slightly toffee-like with a pronounced fruitiness as it warms in the pint—a bit tart and dry, like a pear, but still offering a good bit of dry sweetness. It's not particularly hoppy, but there is a element of English hop spice and earthiness—almost like peppered dirt. Its bitterness creeps up toward the end, edging the back of the throat after the swallow.  It has no seasonal spice, that is to say cinnamon, nutmeg, etc., and I'm glad of that—this beer doesn't need it. What is great with this beer, however, is my mother-in-law's Christmas cookies.

Just for everyones edification, the other two song's I heard while doing the dishes and drinking this one were, Last Christmas by Wham! and Jimmy Durante singing Frosty the Snowman. I'm fairly sure that other than lightening my mood, none of the songs affected the taste of the beer. Perry Como's It's Begining to Look a lot Like Christmas, might have been able to do that, but not Wham!.

Monday, December 12, 2011

On the Sixth Day of Christmas... true love gave to me - Julnarren Special Winter Ale, Hantverksbryggeriet AB, Västerås, Sweden.

This is my first Swedish beer, so I was excited to try this one. However, since my Swedish is pretty weak, and there's no mention of Christmas on the bottle, I'm not totally sure this one is "technically" a Christmas beer. I'm taking a chance that the little dude in the red and white jester hat is implying Christmas. Google translator says narren means "the fool," and I'm going to guess that the Jul part of Julnarren might translate to Yule in English—although Google translator says Jul in Swedish means July. In any case I like the sound of Yule Fool, so I'm calling it close enough. 

It pours a deep chestnut with amber highlights and almost not head at all—it's carbonated, but just barely. Its aroma reminds me of pipe tobacco—sweet and fruity with an alcoholic pungency. The flavor is interesting and it has soy sauce quality to it. Not inasmuch the same flavor as the Asian condiment, but a similar earthiness. It's not salty by any means, but it shares that same umami note. Believe me, I'm the first to say that umami is just horse shit made-up by an ad agency to sell soy sauce, but there's something to it here. It has some dark, stone fruit characteristics, with a smokey, burnt sugariness and some spiciness, but I'm not sure what spice that is—it's almost gin-like with a hint of juniper or spruce. While there's almost no hop flavor or bitterness, there is a mild roasted flavor. It's complex to say the least, and while both the name and beer are about as enigmatic as they come, I think I like the Yule Fool.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

On the Fifth Day of Christmas... true love gave to me - Christmas Ale 2011, Goose Island, Chicago, Illinois, USA.

I hadn't planned on doing two American beers in a row, but this one has become my go-to Christmas beer, of late. I was planning on picking some up at Oliver's, but conveniently (for me, not necessarily Oliver's) the Lionheart was kind enough to get it on draught. It's a win-win situation (again, for me, and not so much for the beer store.) It helps, too, that the LH is all decked out like Martini's bar in It's a Wonderful Life—minus the drunk and somewhat suicidal George Bailey, at the bar.

It's a gorgeous  ruddy brown color with an aroma of dried figs and raisins with a nose full of sweet caramel. The flavor is similar, with a nutty and mildly molasses/burnt sugar edge—like Boston brown bread or Joe Frogger cookies. The spice is subtle—with every sip you pick up a hint of vanilla or is it clove and then, maybe, possibly, cinnamon—it's there but almost not. There's something comforting about this brew. It's soft and a little warming, with a Christmas spice so subtle you might not even notice it. Maybe that's what draws me to this beer. Goose Island didn't rely on an overkill of spice to let you know you're drinking a "Christmas" beer. I still have seven beers to go in this holiday beer breakdown, but I'm pretty sure I'll still be drinking the Goose Island during that time, too!

On a side note, the ingredients for Marley's Ghost an 1843 Christmas Porter arrived today. I'm all set for Christmas future!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Is White the New Black IPA?

Do you think he likes black and white cookies?
Just a quick Yuletide interruption, but I got the chance to try something new from Saranac Brewery in Utica, NY. Their-ready-for-drinking-as-of-yesterday, IPA-ified Belgian White Ale. I gotta say—as far as the two ounces I tried—it hit all the right notes. Wheat, coriander, citrus and good punch of Citra hops. Could this be a new trend on the beery horizon—what was black is now white? It's like that Star Trek episode where Frank Gorshin had to run around the Enterprise painted half black and half white—Oh, the duality of IPA!

Although, Saranac may have hit upon something here—a beer that caters to both the Blue Moon lovers as well as the the hoppy McIPAers. If I were them, I'd call it Saranac One Stone—as in killing two birds with one stone.

On the Fourth Day of Christmas... true love gave to me – Santa's Private Reserve, Rogue Ales, Newport, Oregon, USA

I'm probably going to have my beer drinker membership card revoked for this statement, but, I often overlook Rogue. I know–I know, They're arguably one of the most important players in the development of American craft beer over the last twenty years. Nevertheless, I have a tendency to walk past the Rogue section. There's nothing wrong with their stuff, they're just not one of my go to breweries. Something was different this last trip to the beer store. Maybe I'm starting to be a little more open-minded or maybe it was the influence of a little holiday magic. Whatever it was, I went right for the Rouge, their Santa's Private Reserve, to be exact—and I'm glad I did.

You will notice two things immediately upon tasting this beer—it's bitter and it's hoppy. I mean way bitter and hoppy. I was expecting a soft, smooth amber with a hint of cinnamon and clove, but no—BAM! Right in the mistletoe with a crazy punch of American hops. It's pithy, like grapefruit rind, and a bit piney with some citrusy tartness. The malt, however, brings a mild sweetness and a nice bready, roasted note that works—I can't say in balance with—but in tune with the bitterness. This one took me unaware. This was the "surprise" gift of my beery Christmas—the unexpected cool thing under the tree. I was assuming socks and a tie and ended up with a Ducati café racer. Although, thinking about it, I've now ruined your surprise—sorry, you've still got the socks, right?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

On the Third Day of Christmas... true love gave to me – Christmas Bock, Mahr's Bräu, Bamberg, Germany.

There are, as I see it, two kinds of Christmas beer—Christmas Eve beer and Christmas Day beer. Christmas Eve beer should rich and robust—warming like an old friend visiting on a chilly December night—there's just something about sipping on a deep, complex porter or a spiced brown ale while your watching the snow fall and waiting for ol' Saint Nick. Christmas Day beers should be bright, fresh and sweet—merry beers to drink on a merry day. We do a double Christmas at my house. First, with the kids and my folks on Christmas morning—which usually starts at about five after five in the morning, so no beer, just coffee. Then, around 11ish we're off for another round of presents with Amy's family and my folks at my in-laws. By that point I'm all hopped-up on holiday spirit and caffeine, so that's when I want something jovial and sweet to match the mood. 

I've never had Mahr's Christmas Bock before tonight. So, imagine my surprise I was expecting a deep, brown Chritsmas Eve beer to fill my pint, when instead, and to my delight, a bright flow of Christmas Day, wheat-field gold tumbled into my glass. The beer swirled around the pint and billowed to an off-white cap of foam. It has an earthy and bready aroma matched with a little caramel and some fruitiness—like apple or pear. It's sweet, but not think or syrupy, with a toffee-like, buttery creaminess. It has almost no bitterness, but a nice hay-like hoppiness. This beer has presence to it, a little weight, without being heavily or thick. Its sweet and fun, but it also has just the right amount of crispness to it—think of it like your tipsy Uncle Tom boisterously belting out Jingle Bells at the piano Christmas Night. This Christmas Bock is an easy drinker—be it on Christmas Day, Christmas Eve, or any other day of the year!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

On the Second Day of Christmas... true love gave to me – Warm Welcome, Ridgeway Brewing, South Stoke, Oxfordshire, UK (England)

I'm a fan of Ridgeway, and while I'd normally go for their Bad Elf IPA, this time of year, I thought I'd try something new—and I'm glad I did! It pours a coppery, reddish-brown, with a bright but fading head. There is a mellow nutty, caramel matiness with a hint of spice and fruit in the aroma. It's rounded and smooth and has a nice weight to it on the sip. Its spice is subtle with a great Belgian-ish quality and it has a vanilla tone reminiscent of Bourbon. There's a hint of alcohol on the back end, even though it's medium strengthed at 6.0%. Along with that subdued alcohol heat, it has an ever so slight bitter edge and just a touch of earthy hoppiness.

This is the beer to have next to a roaring fire on Christmas Eve, after the kids are nestled all snug in their beds. It's not overly spiced or heavy—just a good, solid and warming libation.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Session 58: Marley's Ghost

Beersay 's Phil Hardy, has challenged us to, as he puts it, a Dickens of a topic: a beery Christmas Carol. Beers of Christmas past, present and yet to come, as it were—and that got me a-thinkin' (yeah, you see it coming.) I'm going to make this my next project.* Is it possible that one beer could fulfill all three of those qualities without tearing asunder the space time continuum? Yes, I think I can—and I'm going to make it.

Here's the game plan: Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, was published in December of 1843, so I'm going craft a 2.5 gallon, half-batch in the style of a beer that was readily available at that time. But, what beer to make, you ask? Lets look at Dickens' novella for some inspiration, shall we? Flip, flip, flip—A-HA!
...old Fezziwig, clapping his hands to stop the dance, cried out, "Well done!" and the fiddler plunged his hot face into a pot of porter, especially provided for that purpose.
You are quite correct, I did not flip through the pages of anything. I searched for the word "porter" in A Christmas Carol, on Google books. You didn't expect me to actually read anything, do you?

Porter is the perfect choice, it was the beer that built the British brewing industry. In the mid 19th-century London produced porter like it was going out of style (which actually happened—eventually). In 1840, the venerable Whitbread & Co. made nearly 155,000 barrels of porter, at their Chiswell Street brewery. That's a single brewery producing 5,580,000 gallons of black beer—alone. Yeah, it's got to be porter for this one. Now that I know that I'm going to be making a beer in the style of those made in London, in the early 1840s, (a "keeping" porter, in fact, but I'll get to the "keeping" part in a bit) I've got Christmas past covered.

On to Christmas present. Why not brew this treat up, this Christmas? Okay, not right on Christmas Day. I'm fairly sure Amy wouldn't want me to be brewing up a batch of beer while the kids are opening presents under the tree, so I've decided to use the term "present" a tad loosely. I'm setting the brew date for sometime between Christmas and New Year's Day, and saying close enough. I'm taking the week off, so I'm sure I can squeeze this one in. That establishes the present part of Christmas present, but what's going to go into this dark lovely? Do you know who'd know? Mr. Ron Pattinson, and that's exactly who I contacted. A few emails back and forth about hopping rates, and of course a good thumbing through his book Porter! (buy it, by the way) and this is what I came up with:

83% 5 lbs 11oz mild malt
15% 1 lb brown malt
2% 2 oz black malt

OG 1.062
FG 1.016
ABV 6.1%

1.5 oz 5.0 AA East Kent Goldings @ 90 min
.9 oz 5.0 AA East Kent Goldings @ 60 min
.9 oz 5.0 AA East Kent Goldings @ 30
.5 oz 5.0 AA East Kent Goldings dry hop

IBUs 129
BU:GU 2.03

Yup, that's a shit ton of hops—over 3 ounces for 2.5 gallons. By the standards of the day Porter was a bitter beer, rather than a more mild ale. If I were to follow the 3 to 5 pounds of hops/barrel, common in porter production of the mid-19th century, the ratio would be closer to 4.5 ounces. However, 19th-century brewers used yearling, two-year and three-year old hops which, due to age, had their potency significantly reduced—so I scaled back.

Remember when I mentioned that "keeping" bit earlier? Although porter in the 1840s was slowly starting to be served "mild,"or in other words shortly after it fermented, a good portion of it was still being "kept" in vats for longer periods of time—10 to 12 months. The long storage time mellowed the hops, and because the vats were made of wood, that wild and crazy guy Brettanomyces clausenii, was also hanging around, creating yet another factor for bitterness reduction. Porter was supposed to be somewhat bitter, but because of it's long storage if it didn't have that high dosage of hops, by the time it was ready to drink the bitterness would come up short.

Now that we have the recipe, my plan is to "keep" my porter for a full year, as well, until next Christmas—or Christmas yet to come, if you will. Yes, I'm also going add in some Brett c., for good measure. In late November, of next year, I'll bottle it up and maybe cask half of it in a mini keg, and the next thing you know, Tiny Tim will be dancing (in a hobbled sort of way) around my Christmas table.

There you go, Christmas past, present and future all rolled into one beer. Now, all I need is a name. How about Marley's Ghost –1843 Christmas Porter? I like that, and I think Scrooge would approve, well, at least Fezziwig would.

*You might, at this point, say to yourself, "What happened to the War Series Project?" Good question—It's actually moving along nicely, and I'll be writing about it later in the month (well, maybe January.)

On the First Day of Christmas... true love gave to me – Our Special Ale 2011, Anchor Brewing Company, San Francisco, California, USA

Oh how I wait for this chestnut beauty every year. It and I share something in common—we both were first brewed thirty-seven years ago. It truly is one of my favorite holiday beers. Its got a fantastic malted pine aroma and looks stunning in the pint—a deep ruddy brown with sharp red highlights. It has a ton going on in it, and it comes out first with a chewy, malty, and an ever-so-slight, roasted note. It's rich and bready with a cane syrup and raisin quality. There's a mild bitterness, but its spice profile brushes its piney hop notes aside. Nutmeg and fig with a definite clove-studded orange flavor—like café brûlot without all the pomp and circumstance.

As much as I love this beer, I will admit, the last few sips are a bit much to get through. Think of it like that last bite of double chocolate fudge cake, it's awesome, but a little goes along way. In any case, Anchor's Our Special Ale—be it 2011, 1997 or 1974—will always be on the top of my Christmas list. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Twelve Beers of Christmas

Amy said no to this.
I want to do something to celebrate the upcoming Christmas holiday and ring in the Yuletide in a beery fashion. What better way than sample twelve beers for Christmas? Yeah, yeah, I know the twelve days of Christmas, are technically supposed to come after Christmas, but when have I ever let a little thing like technical accuracy get in the way of a hair brain scheme. Besides, I want to drink the twelve beers now!

Here's the deal. I'm going to do a quick post, every other day throughout December, highlighting the best of the beery season. I'll be picking beers from all over the world so, anywhere Santa's sleigh can land, and Ruldoph's nose can light, is fair game. In order to end on Christmas Eve, I'm going to have to start tomorrow, so keep your eye out for not only the first of my twelve selections, but also my take on the holiday-themed Session—brought to you this month by Phil Hardy over at Beersay!

If anybody has any selection ideas, bring 'em on! I'm not sure I'll be able to track them all down, but I'll sure try. So, Ho-Ho-Ho! Away we go!