21 October 2007

October Housecleaning...

While my second homebrew (a Belgian-style ale) is in mid-ferment, I thought I'd go through some old notes and post an assortment of bits that haven't made it onto a blog-post of their own.

I. A June Tasting
One of my first purchases from Bruisin' Ales in Asheville was a bottle of George Gale's Masterbrew Conquest Ale (2001 bottling). I let it sit for a whole month before breaking down and cracking it open...which is nothing compared to letting my tasting notes sit for 4 months before putting them up on here.
I have had the George Gale Prize Old Ale in the past and gave it high marks (in that Old Ale sort of way), but the Conquest Ale seemed to me to be another whole level of Old Ale-ness.

I found it to be raisiny, almost Madeira-like, also pleasantly nutty and malty. True to aged Old
Ale fashion, it had almost no head to it at all -- but, this is aged brew, so you mustn't think of it as "flat" beer. No more than you'd consider whisky to be flat. It does profit from being consumed not cold from the fridge, but letting the temperature rise some. It got better as it got warmer. I also found it best by itself (in sips, not gulps!), or with salted nuts. I remember thinking it might pair well with mild Asian (Chinese) cuisine. Overall, a much more delicate Old Ale than the Prize Old version, but an interesting tasting experience.

II. An Oktoberfest Tasting
Bruisin' Ales in Asheville periodically will do mini-tastings on a Thursday afternoon. About a month ago, I happened to be in town (the same day I was picking up my first batch of homebrewing supplies) and stopped by for a flight of Oktoberfest-themed brews.

Oktoberfest has never been my favorite variety; I often find it thin and unremarkable and consider many other German varieties much more worthwhile. However, I was curious to explore some American craft brewery takes on the style.

Not surprisingly, the "conservative style standard" of the lot, Otter Creek Oktoberfest, was my least favorite. I had more favorable opinions of the Left Hand Oktoberfest, another fine offering from a solid Colorado brewery.

My two favorites of the day were the funky ones: Avery's Kaiser Imperial Oktoberfest, one in their "Dictator Series" (along with the Czar and the Maharajah) of high-intensity strong takes on classic styles. The Kaiser is funky for sure: a lot of folks didn't care for it; and for a while I couldn't decide whether I liked it or not. It has a sweet and sour thing going on with it -- and what finally made me decide that I *did* like it was tossing back some dark chocolate bits that were on hand -- it was an amazing pair-up.

Finally, I took a liking to the Mt. Shasta Olde Ale from Butte Creek (CA). Complex and barley-wine-ish (quite different from the George Gale). Very nice! It made for a pleasant drive back home.

III. The 2007 Dillwyn (VA) Beer Festivus
This was the third such Fest we put on with our friends in Dillwyn, VA. The mistake we made this time around was too many beers (19), many of which were strong (6% ABV +) beginning too late at night (we didn't start the tasting till sometime between 9:30 and 10:00).
All that being said, I was able to take some decent notes (although notice how they get shorter and less detailed as the tasting progresses...)

Round One
1. Erdinger Pikantus Dunkler Weizenbock
A nice nose of raisins/grape juice. Very pleasant, considering how rich and dark.
The taste was also of raisins, and dates. Very pleasant, easy, if somewhat rich and grapey.
I thought it would be good to try with gamey dishes (such as duck!).

2. Moosbacher Lager
A nose of apples and pears. Not bubbly, but it seemed to need the bubbles.
Crisp -- think an autumn picnic with chicken salad.
Was not my favorite, but ok. Needs food to make it worthwhile.

3. Samuel Smith's Organic Lager
A very attractive gold color. Very light.
A subtle, slightly grainy nose. More bubbly than Moosbacher, and a nice malty sweetness.
Very light taste (to compliment the color), almost laughable, almost a weak Pilsner -- BUT still so much better than an American mass-produced (more hops, for sure). I believe the consensus was, good for a pitcher, along with oily fish, pizza, or perhaps mild Indian food.

Round Two
4. Brewery Ommegang Three Philosophers
98% Domestic ale, 2% imported Kriek (cherry) from Duvel in Belgium.
An acidic, dark nose, like a cherry cordial.
Tastes like a cherry cordial, too. Caramelly, and warm, definitely a dessert beer -- was excellent with dark-chocolate brownies; would also pair up well with shortbread, and perhaps pork chops with a cherry sauce.

5. Weienstephaner Kristall-Weisse
Very nice, clovey. Would be good with barbecue

6. Bavarian Hefeweise
Nice and simple, with a hint of bananas. Try with guacamole

7. Uerige (hefeweizen)
Sweet, hoppy, wheaty. Definitely a complex wheat offering: toasted almonds, dates, and figs all present. I enjoyed it.

8. Ommegang Rare Vos
A nice summery Belgian, slightly citrusy.
Very easy drinking, with a slight hint of frankincense. A keeper.

9. Orval Trappiste
An excellent abbey ale. Probably my favorite of the night. I had only good things to say about this one; unfortunately nothing detailed as far as nose or tasting notes, simply, "Amazing!"

10. Ommegang Belgian Abbey-style
Much sweeter than Orval. Good with peanuts, but its downfall is its sweetness.

11. Petrus
Aged Belgian Pale Ale.
I really dug this one, too. Brut-ish, bone dry, reminiscent of an unfruited lambic. Pleasantly sour and oaky. I'd be curious to try this (along with the St. Amand Ale) with a Thanksgiving turkey. A good find!

12. Unibroue Trois Pistoles
This one was a hit with the Belgian craft fans. One of my three favorites of the night; was also excellent with the dark-chocolate brownies. Quite complex, with a slight hint of blueberries, overall amazing.

Round 3
13. Black Sheep Ale (North Yorkshire)
Observation No.1: Do not drink this ale after a flight of Belgian-styles.
Try with grilled chicken

14. Legend (Richmond, VA) King James Ale
I have been fond of the Legend Brewery for years. This one, a dark brown ale, was quite nice. Almost "meaty" in its depth, would be great with hearty meals.

15. Issaquah Bullfrog Ale (connected with Rogue Ales)
Not as hoppy as I expected (hoppy, frogs, ha ha ha).
A pleasant, lager-ish pale ale.

Round 4
Here is where the night really got long and wore thin -- three Eastern European Porters and a German Doppelbock. Ugh.

16. Baltika Porter (Russia)
7.0% ABV, but smooth like silk.
Easy drinking, a good dessert beer. Definitely the best of the 3 porter offerings.

17. Sinebrychoff Porter (Finland)
Black. Darker than a black steer's tuckuss on a moonless prairie night. As in, very dark.
Some adjectives: licorice, coffee, sorghum molasses, soy sauce. Next!

18. Ettaler Klosterbrauerei Curator (Dunkler Doppelbock)
This was delicious, even if it was at the tail end of a long tasting. Sort of like the surprise gem of an aria in the final act of an interminable opera. Everything a doppelbock needs to be. Better, I thought, even than Ayinger's Celebrator. A nice hop balance with the sweet malt. Keep this one.

19. Zywiec Porter (Poland)
"Stee-rong!" This is called, going out with a bang. It was better than the Finnish porter, but my basic comment was, "It would make a good marinade."

At the end of the night, my top 4 were:
1) Orval Trappiste
2) Unibroue Trois Pistoles
3) Ettaler Curator Dunkler Doppelbock
4) Petrus Aged Belgian

20 October 2007

The 12th Annual World Beer Festival....

...was Mark's 5th and Sara's 4th Almost-Annual (we missed in 2005), and, as always, is worth blogging about.

155 Breweries and over 300 individual beers from around the world, all in one great place (the Old Durham Bulls ballpark, made famous by Bull Durham). There is hardly a better way to spend a sunny October afternoon.

As always, quality live music, including local favorite Big Fat Gap.

Sara and I attended along with our good seminary buddies Tasi and Ryan, who also are WBF veterans.

As always, it was quite crowded -- it might have just been me, but it seemed even more crowded this time around than in previous years.

Sara and I were quite pleased to discover that the Atlantic Brewing Co. from Bar Harbor, Maine was present -- this is one of the breweries we visited on our honeymoon and both agreed was our favorite. They have, for my taste, the single best blueberry ale around.

I definitely took my time this year, though, and made an effort to seek out new and unfamiliar brews. The result was, I think, significantly fewer samples for me overall, but prehaps a bit more discrimination involved. There were some overlaps with last year's list; I was interested to discover some differences in my rating from last year's....I'm sure that's a result not only of tasting-overload at an event like this (the tongue simply gets worn out after a while) but also simple subjectivity of the moment. I remember last year trying the Vorhaege Duchesse de Bourgogne and spitting it out because I thought it was horrible -- now it's one of my favorite all-time beers.

Here's the ratings run-down. As last year, I utilised a star-rating; although I introduced a couple of 4-stars into the mix to designate simply amazing brews (last year I only went as high as 3 stars).

First Place (4 stars)
Atlantic Brewing Co. (Maine, USA). This entire brewery gets an honorary 4-stars in my book.
Of note are:
Bar Harbor Blueberry Ale
Bar Harbor Real Ale -- Very English!
Coal Porter -- Amazing, chocolately, excellent balance.

Thomas Creek IPA (SC, USA) -- best IPA of the day.

Unibroue Brewery (Quebec, Canada). This is another brewery that wins a prize for me.
La Fin du Monde
Chambly Noire
Trois Pistoles
Don de Dieu

Weyerbacher Merry Monk's Ale (Belgian-style Trippel) (PA, USA) -- the best American Belgian-style I've had.

Second Place (3 stars)
Bell's Brewery Best Brown Ale (PA, USA)

Big Boss Pumpkin Ale (NC, USA) -- Sara and I both thought this was the best pumpkin ale at the festival.

Brooklyn Brewery Local 1 (Belgian-style Ale) (NY, USA)

Duck-Rabbit Craft Brown Ale (NC, USA)

Front Street Dram Tree Scottish Ale (NC, USA) -- warm and chocolately

Thomas Creek Amber Ale (SC, USA)

Unibroue Ephemere Apple Ale (Quebec, Canada) -- NOT cider, but apple-infused ale. It's amazing.

Weihenstephaner Dunkel Weiss (Germany)

Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale (PA, USA) -- Sara didn't like it, I did.

Wychwood Scarecrow Organic Ale (England) -- very pleasant and quaffable

Third Place (2 stars)
Bell's Two Hearted Ale (PA, USA) -- nice bitterness

Black Sheep Riggwelter Ale (England)

Brooklyn Brewmaster's Reserve (NY, USA) -- a hoppy wheat ale

Dogfish Head Punkin Ale (DE, USA)

DuPont Moinette Brune (Belgium)

Front Street Organic Lager (NC, USA) -- unexpected

Red Oak Battlefield Black Lager (NC, USA) -- this beer changed my opinion of this brewery (for the good)

Redenbach Redbach Cherry Lambic (Belgium) -- the best cherry/lambic of the day for me

St. Bernardus Grotten Brown (Belgium) -- excellent

Fourth Place (1 star)
Big Boss Helle's Belle Belgian Blonde (NC, USA) -- 1/2 star. A strange hominy presence in it.

Bosteels Pauwel Kwak (Belgium) -- too sweet and not enough depth for a higher rating.

Whitbread Pale Ale (England) -- tastes like a baguette

The great mass of beers in the middle that were pleasant enough but did not receive a rating.

Bottom of the Barrel -- beers I did not care for and received a frowny face
Big Boss Surrender Monkey (NC, USA). I'm not sure what they were going for here, but it just
didn't work.

Kaiser Xingu Black Beer (Brazil). Not my style, I guess.

Natty Greene's Old Town Brown Ale (NC, USA). Fell victim to the American watery-beer

I'm excited about the number of NC breweries that received high ratings from me. Absent is the Highland Brewery of Asheville, who was present, but since I've already blogged about them in the past I didn't feel the need to take notes on their fine brews.
Looking back at last year's list again, I'm also happy to see that there's less overlap than I thought. Interesting that Weihenstephaner Dunkel Weiss has received three stars two years in a row.
I believe that my single overall-favorite beer this year was the Atlantic Coal Porter. I could have easily stood at their booth and had multiple samples of that one all afternoon long. If only they had a wider distribution...

And finally, some more photos of the festival...

And my absolute favorite, the man in the hop suit.

02 October 2007

The Inaugural Homebrew Session, Part III

The two weeks are up, and we broke out the brew last night to see what it's up to.
Two words:

It's hoppy.

Now, it's not quite like drinking a vat of liquid hop flowers. Close, but not quite. It also has a very pleasant caramel creaminess, and a little malt finish, and something that reminds me of.....frankincense?
Most importantly, Sara loves it. The overt hoppiness is not bitter -- it's aromatic, for sure, but the bitterness is at a pleasant mildness. I think these hops will allow it to last for a long time. I could send it on a ship to India and it would survive the voyage.
The color is a beautiful copper-amber.

This would be great with food -- I think it wold pair up nicely with lemony seafood, a thick cheeseburger, a spinach salad with nuts, blue cheese and acidic/vinegary dressing-- or, conversely, (odd though it may sound) sour cream & chive potato chips -- something that is both savory and creamy.

It is, really a complex brew: hopped like a West-Coast imperial IPA, with pilsner malt and ale yeast, it's like a golden Czech pilsner-ale with a wild American flair. In short, it defies category.

It's a great way to start this brewing thing. I'm proud.
And I've got almost 2 cases left to enjoy.