Archive for July, 2012

Fun With Beer: St. Louis Gueuze Fond Tradition

St. Louis Gueuze Fond Tradition - Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck

Every once in a while, I make a gamble on something unknown from a tap list.  Variety is the spice of life, after all.  Besides, I can usually take a good guess on what I’m getting into.  That’s why I was thrown for a bit of a loop when I saw this long name in the tap list, “St. Louis Gueuze Fond Tradition” from the “Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck” of Ingelmunster, Belgium.  Yeah, not exactly the most popular beer, style, or brewery.  I wasn’t entirely familiar with the style of Gueuzes, other than I knew they were a blend of aged and unaged lambics.  Besides all this, it was a 7oz pour at 4.5% ABV for a little under a ten-spot.  ”What the heck am I getting myself into?”, I thought.  But, the thought of it stuck with me enough to check it on a couple of the beer-rating websites.  It caught a 94 and an 87 on the big two, with the breweries website promising a balance of sweet, sour, and bitter.  Ok, Belgium, you’ve won this one.  I’m getting it.

So, while my friends were getting their pint glasses and goblets, I get my little tumbler of yellowy gold.  I’m starting to get a little proud of it at this point, just out of contrast against these big dark behemoths (one of my friends had a Deschutes Black Butte Porter with an ounce of Patron XO coffee liqueur, something definitely worth trying).
The nose of this is pretty indicative of a lambic, or two in this case.  Tart sour, wild yeast, some bit of clean, golden malt.  All very strong and pungent, which I found surprising for how cold it was.  If it’s already giving off such a scent to it right out of the keg, I can only imagine what measure of taste lies ahead.  No, wait.  I don’t only have to imagine it, I can taste it.
The first taste delivers more of the same from the scent, just tart lemony tang with a bit of fruity apple tart.  It’s got a good balance between acetic and lactic sourness, but backed up well by a very light, sweet malt.  The sour isn’t so in-your face as chugging straight vinegar, like some lambics can be.  No, this sour is around the level of a fruit tart or a sorbet.  It’s there, it’s forward, but it doesn’t impact the drinkability at all.  A few tastes in you get a musty, funky, kinda brett-y character to it, mostly of in the aftertaste.  The finish leaves a bit of that sour candy dryness, but it quickly dissipates.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I liked this beer a ton.  It was complex, it had a ton of character to it, but there was really something to be missed with it.  Maybe it could have stood to improve by being thinned out a bit?  Maybe the aged lambic could have been a kreik?  And I’ll go ahead and make myself look like a boor, but golly there was just no alcohol to be had with this.  Do I regret my choice?  Not one bit.  As a beer (and I may be looking at it through too much of a ‘relaxation enhancer’ type drink), it may have been lacking.  As an experience, as a purely culinary lesson in complex blended aged beverage from our favorite country, Belgium?  I suppose the best litmus test for this is the fact that I will be looking for a bottle of this in my beer shops.  It was worth it, and more.

Fun With Beer: Detour Double IPA

Uinta Brewing Co. - Detour Double IPA

Diligent readers my have taken note at my sketchy opinions regarding beers that flout their dedication to bitterness.  You know the ones, usually named after some kind of devastation of the palate or hop-based pun, proudly sporting their high IBUs like a badge of honor.  These types have been spurred on by the devotees who trade stories of how bitter their beer was, compared to your beer, of course.  More hops per ounce than anything I’ve tried?  Riveting.

You’ll excuse my vitriol, but we’ve all known them.  My main gripe isn’t with their love of bitter, but with their lack of love for anything else.  Give me a hop-forward beer, sure!  Just make sure I can at least see the other flavors in the distance.  Fortunately, there are beers being made out there that do not loose their balance to hop-hubris.  Uinta Brewing Co.’s own double IPA, Detour, I would say qualifies.    However, I must admit that when I tried it, the bottle had the added value of being fresh.  How fresh you ask?  Let’s just say you can count the very days it’s been in a bottle with one hand that’s been mangled in a drill press accident.  Not even a label on it.  Funky fresh.
So, I’m at this beer tasting, Uinta is there, and this is on the table.  I’d already had a brett beer, a raspberry brown ale, but neither really had satisfied.  I get a pour of this, but without any real notions about it.  My positive contact with Uinta most definitely balances out the way I feel about the trends IPAs have taken, double or otherwise.  A good pour, because I’m nothing if not thorough, revealed a hazy amber with a good finger of creamy white head.  The lacing was quite prominent.  A quick sniff to the snoot gave me a big resinous, piney scent.  There was still a touch of citrus and a sweet malt, but it was in a lumber mill of pine.  I braced myself for bitter and took a sip.
Wow, that is hoppy, but actually in a pretty good way.  It was bitter, but not just bitter as in biting down on a pill.  It was bitter in the way that was really unique, touched with honeyed raisin and stone fruit.  Rather bracing, in a way.  Not only this, but it passed my IPA test: I wanted another sip.  Once you start getting past the strong resinous pine sap tastes, you start to get more of the hop bouquet.  I started getting airy floral notes, dry grass, even a little bit of a green tea nutty sweetness, all complimented by the big balance of fresh, bitter hops and sweet malts.  There was something about it unlike many IPAs I’ve taste, and I think it was the freshness.  Something was noticeably green about it, like I was tasting these hops fresh.
I can’t say I was ‘converted’ like so many hop-heads before me, but I can resonate the values the best of them extol.  Freshness, complexity, unique flavor profiles, and a good balance.  If this was much lighter on the malts, I couldn’t imagine it being able to support the great bounty of hops.  So, bully on you, Unita.  Bully on making a great Double IPA that even non-hop lovers can love.

Fun With Beer: Sah’Tea Ancient Ale

Sah'Tea - Dogfish Head Brewing Co.

 

If you haven’t tried anything from Dogfish Head’s Ancient Ale series, go do it now.  It’s really quite something, the way they take these recipes that are hundreds or thousands of years old, either from Egyptians or Mesopotamians, or in the case of this beer, 9th Century Finnish honest-to-goodness Vikings.  Now if there is one ancient culture that was mad cool in almost every way, it was vikings.  Heck, a King around the time they were brewing this beer was Erik Bloodaxe.  Has there ever been a King with a cooler name?  It makes Richard the Lion-Hearted sound about as cool as Barney the Dinosaur.  Do you want to drink a thousand-year-old style that Good King Bloodaxe drank?  You bet the mighty hammer of Thor (Mjolnir) you would.
Traditionally, the ancient Finnish ale Sahti is brewed with junniper berries and is a strong, yeasty kind of ale.  Dogfish actually collaborated with a Finnish brewery to get juniper berries foraged right from the countryside.  The wort itself is caramelized with burning hot river stones thrown right in.  The historical accuracy kind of ends there, as Sah’Tea also includes tea and spices found in a Chai tea blend.  Black tea, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and black pepper all spice this bad boy up to 11 and balance it against the bitter hops and juniper.  Frankly, it sounds fantastic.  I had high hopes going into this one, as Dogfish Head rarely disappoints.
Anyone who knows the story of the owner and brewmasters there knows that they have a real passion for experimentation.  So much so that they made one of the biggest barrels in the world, out of one of the hardest woods in the world, Holy Wood.  The resinous and aromatic container is a 1400 cubic foot Goliath, incredibly heavy, dulled several saw blades in it’s production, and cost $140,000.  Their Palo Santo Marron comes out of that one.
Note that I had Sah’Tea on tap, but word has it that it’s not so different from bottled.  It weighs in at 9%ABV, which is golden in my book.  Certainly won’t leave me ‘wanting’.  It poured a slightly hazy golden yellow, with a slow settling head.  Just the nose of it was one of the more complex ones I’ve had the pleasure of, getting all sorts of banana esters, tea, and plenty of spice.  I swear I could just breathe this one in and be content.  A very exited first sip revealed to me a sweet, silky mouthfeel and a touch of citrus, like candied orange peel.  It ended with a bit of aromatic tea and juniper bitter, almost like a good gin.  Not nearly as ‘knock you on your feet’ powerful, just kind of a strong hint.
I took the next few slower, parsing out the sweet, bready malts, the spicy blend of ginger, clove, and black pepper, and  just absolutely loving the one-two punch of sweet citrus and juniper/tea bitter.  You get a touch of alcohol heat when it warms, but it remains very drinkable.  The complexity and drink-ability of this make for one very interesting beer, one that even a King Bloodaxe would enjoy.  One of Dogfish Head’s Best.

Fun With Beer: Fire Rock Pale Ale

Kona Brewing Co. - Fire Rock Pale Ale

Kona Brewing Co., I have to admit, has some pretty solid beers.  I picked up their summer 12 pack to satiate that kind of “just whenever” kind of beer need a brew-loving household has.  It had four each of their Lonboard Lager, Koko Brown Ale, and Fire Rock Pale Ale.  Honestly, I wasn’t expecting too much out of any, especially the Pale Ale.  With poi, pineapples, and papaya, Hawaii has never really struck me as a place to enjoy the bitterness of things.  Despite this, and with certainly permitting weather to enjoy a summer brew, I picked it up.

For the botanists among us, the specific hop varieties in this brew are Galena, Cascade, and Mt. Hood.  In addition to this bitter-floral melange, there are a blend of roasted malts giving a very distinct copper color.  Quite a few Kona beers, and Hawaiian beers overall, include some kind of special tropical ingredient to remind you that “hey, this beer is from Hawaii.”  Their Wailua Wheat has tropical passion fruit, the Koko brown ale has Coconut, Pipeline Porter has Kona coffee, but the Fire Rock has none of these fanciful ingredients.  Not even any macadamia or Spam.  Now, there’s two trains of thought I came to with this: either they are being purists about this and want to make a good Pale Ale stand on it’s own, or they just wanted a pale ale on the roster to kind of fill space in a 12 pack.  Can’t say I know too much about Kona as a company, but just looking it up, they don’t seem the type.  They may do a bit of remote brewing with a craft beer network, but they’ve got the whole solar power, sustainability, and giving back thing that has become a hallmark of good semi-large craft breweries.
This ale pours a very nice amber/copper color with just a finger’s width of head.  It’s not super clear, but you can certainly see just a bit of carbonation going, slow and steady.  The aroma certainly gives a hint of pine and citrus hops, with a good backing of those sweet caramel malts.  I could already tell this wasn’t going to be one of those super light -bodied pale ales, nor was it going to be a let down in the hops category.  The first taste was more of the piney hops, but definitely more of a floral breath to them.  In fact, the floral along with the citrus gave a bit of a pineapple taste to it.  Very enjoyable, and fitting with the Hawaiian style.  There is also quite a bit of a brown sugar sweetness from the malt, and even more in the mouth feel.  It had a definite sticky viscosity that added to the malty sweet taste.
A very solid pale ale overall, very easy to drink.  It may not satisfy those looking for lip puckering bitterness, but it will satisfy lovers of just well balanced, full bodied, hop-forward ales.  A great pairing, just like their website suggests, with a very wide variety of foods.  I’ve had it with a chili, a salmon, and a creamy dessert, all of them were properly complimented by Fire Rock.  A great candidate for what I was looking for, a drinkable “just whenever” beer.

Fun With Beer: Quest Tripel Blond Ale

Green's Gluten Free Beer - Quest Tripel Blond Ale

Ok, this is going to be an article where I stray from my form.  Unfortunately, my only form is ‘review beers I like’.  Sometimes I need to help out those around me who don’t share the same dietary concerns as I do and need a little guidance.  Well, for all those people who have the very serious celiacs disease, and even those of you internet MDs that “no, dude, I totally get all gassy from pancakes”, I have reviewed a gluten-free beer from a gluten-free brewery.  These beers are also vegan for all those types.  Lord knows they probably need a drink.  Besides all this, the bottle touts that it is not made with “Wheat/soya beans, milk, lactose, nuts, celery, mustard, sesame seeds, sulfur dioxide, or sulfites.”  Nice of them to mention, but I can’t say I’ve had much beers with a whole condiment bar in them.

This beer hails from Belgium, as good a shingle to hang as any.  The DeProef Brouwerij is a high-tech facility that brews beer for third parties, such as Green’s.  Green’s is actually a UK company.  Surprising how far the gluten-free thing has gone, isn’t it?  This particular beer is brewed with millet, buckwheat, rice, and sorghum, all guaranteed to at least be fermentable, free of gluten, and won’t kill you.  There’s also hops and malts because it is still a beer, despite it all.  At 8.5% alcohol by volume, at least you won’t have to drink much of it.  While I know I’m being a bit pessimistic about it, I went into this one with an open mind.  Heck, I don’t want to think I wasted my money more than any other guy, but at least it only cost one vampire slayer ($5 bill) for about 16oz.  I suppose it is the perfectionist in me just not being able to accept a beer made from these ingredients.  Sorghum has too any un-fermentable sugars, rice adds nothing but booze, and millet and buckwheat aren’t exactly popular ingredients.  So, I suppose check your preconception at the door and let’s see how it tastes.
Ok, it pours a hazy kind of amber yellow with a very big, frothy head.  It retains pretty well to, but it ultimately leaves a bit of lacing behind.  The nose has a strong apple and white grape quality to it, with a distinct tripel yeasty hit.  You can kind of get that corny adjunct note to it from the rice.  Honestly, not too off-putting.  I’d even welcome a kind of apple-hinted blond tripel.  The taste however…  I feel like hoping for that apple-hinted blond tripel released some kind of spiteful genie.  My wish was granted, but in the most backwards way possible.  While an apple note in beer usually denotes a tart granny smith or a sweet golden delicious, this is one of those apples your hippie mother warned you about.  Just all the sweetness bred out of it, leaving a waxy red tree potato.  In fact, I would say the actual flavor of the beer has more in common with just straight up apple peels rather than an actual apple.  Very vegetable and medicinal.  With this one, they really could have used more hops.  It would have improved it by covering up that bad bitter with good bitter.  After a few more tastes, I started to get a bit of a taste for it.  Unfortunately, after a few tastes and time to warm up, the boozy heat really becomes a nuisance.  Almost as if someone just put a shot of vodka into the bottle.  Not good vodka either, but not exactly plastic jug hobo-fuel.
I am not exactly an expert on gluten-free beers, and I guess I can see why.  In my pursuit for good beer to drink, it understandably didn’t come across my plate.  But the star-crossed purchase of this bottle served me well in reminding that not all beer is created equal.  They flew too close to the sun trying to replicate an already finicky style, so I would recommend out celiacs suffering friends try something a little less cured by their hubris.  Maybe the gluten (and sorghum) free Fox Tail by Joseph James.