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

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