Friday, August 31, 2007

Michael Jackson: 1942-2007

I was saddened this week to learn of the death of "The Beer Hunter", Michael Jackson after a long bout with Parkinson's Disease.

In 1992, at the age of 21, I bought a hardcover copy of his 1988 revision of The New World Guide to Beer and, at the risk of sounding completely sappy and geeky, it truly did change my life. My new found interest in "microbrews" was pretty enthusiastic but now I had a beer bible! Styles I had never dreamed of, brewing processes, origins and producers of the great classics were now revealed in glossy pictures and words that breathed life into those pictures.

My favorite quote: "It's a perilously drinkable brew." That was in reference to De Konninck but I'm sure he used it elsewhere.

I loved his writing style. He was sometimes criticized for being too easy on beer that was less than stellar. People sometimes missed the subtlety in his jabs at soulless, corporate beer but Jackson was a beer ambassador more than a pure critic. His writing was pure beery poetry.

Mostly, Michael Jackson inspired me to seek out the beer. My tendency to road trip or plan entire vacations or incorporate beer hunting into vacation or business trips is directly attributed to Jackson. (I actually call those entries in my blog "Beer Hunts".) Getting the beer at the source is very rewarding on many levels.

So, to Mr. Jackson I'll raise a pint or three today. But every pint I've had up until now and every pint I'll have after will really be in his honor.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Tasting Notes: Skinny Dip

Brewer: New Belgium Brewing Co.
Poured: June 2007
ABV: 4.2%

According to New Belgium, one of my old favorites, Loft, is no longer produced but Skinny Dip was recommended as a similar beer by a New Belgium rep. On the surface, they do seem similar. They are both golden ales, both spiced with kaffir lime and both are fairly low in alcohol making them nice options for summer session brews. The proof, however, is in the pudding.

The skinny dip pours bright gold into my New Belgium pilsner glass and is topped by a billowing creamy white head. It smells of light citrus (from the Cascade hops I suppose).

Surprisingly, the hops aren't the first thing I noticed in the flavor. The pale malt is front and center, lightly sweet with a creamy mouth. The cascade kicks in lightly for balance but this beer is far less crisp than I was expecting and finishes very clean. More sweet in the finish than dry, this is where the similarities to Loft end.

Loft was crisp not creamy, and had a fruity Belgian yeast quality (that made for a wonderful juxtaposition in a summer ale) while this one finishes very clean, no yeast character to speak of.

I don't intend to run down Skinny Dip, it's a very passable summer beer but in my book it doesn't compare to the retired Loft.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Out of the Cellar: Samuel Adams Double Bock

Brewer: Boston Beer Company
Poured: Jul 2007
Aged: 1 year and 2 years
ABV%: 8.8%

This is one of those accidental cellarings, at least accidental for the beers to be cellared this long. I have heard that Samuel Adams Double Bock is a beautiful thing with a year of cellaring on it so against my better judgement I put some away last spring...and the spring before that.

In my experience, doppelbocks don't age well, nor or they meant to. I experimented with Celebrator and it goes from being a world class beer to pure garbage in about nine months. However, I have heard that Samuel Adams Double Bock really shines with a year on it so I decided to find out.

So, for this tasting, I have a bottle that has been aged for one year and a bottle that I forgot about that has been aged for two years. Into the fray...

The first thing I notice is the older one is noticeably darker. The second thing I notice is that the older one has a more intense aroma, more fruity, a richer toffee smell. In the younger version, all the above is evident, just not to the same level and there is still a noticeable alcohol aroma.

Upon drinking them, the two-year old version has no discernible alcohol and the mouth seem thinner. Unfortunately, there is also a wet cardboard flavor that pretty much obscures a lot of the "good" flavors of the oxidation. No shocker here but the two year old sample is undrinkable.

On to the bottle with one year on it. The alcohol flavors are muted a bit when compared to fresh but there are more rich toffee and dark fruit notes. Rich caramel malt, big and sticky mouth. It's not as rough around the edges as when fresh...but to my tastes it's still better fresh. Maybe a happy medium (6 months) would be the right balance.

Well, all in all, I think I'll drink my doppelbocks fresh but if there is one that will improve (for some) it would be this one.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Tasting Notes: Bear Republic Big Bear Stout

Brewery: Bear Republic Brewery
Poured: July 2007
ABV: 8.1%

I brought back this bomber from a business trip to Wilmington, DE earlier this year.

It pours a dark opaque brown, not a motor oil black like I expected, with a rocky tan head. Smells sweet and malty with significant citrusy hops in the nose, no roastiness detected.

There is a good balance of the sweet and roasty dark malts in the flavor. There is some persistent citrusy hops peeking through in the finish, unusual for a big stout like this. Mouth is medium bodied but lots of flavor. The roastiness builds as you make your way through the glass. The aftertaste has lots of hops, Cascade certainly or something like it. The robust ABV is well-masked and is very drinkable.

Bear Republic makes damn good beer, in case you haven't heard.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Tasting Notes: Schell Pilsner

Brewer: Schell's Brewery
Date Poured: July 2007
ABV: 5.6%

Another one of my finds on my last trip to the midwest.

It's a crystal clear, very, very pale yellow-gold brew with a rocky ivory head. Nice lacing left on the glass. A very sweet pale malt aroma, some faint sweet but herbal hops aromas as well.
Very sweet malt, balanced somewhat by the herbal hops. Very sticky (for a pilsner) in the finish but the noble hops get more pronounced in the aftertaste the longer you drink it. Body is a bit soft and sweetish; I like my pilsners crisp and clean, at least as far as the malt goes.

Nothing at all wrong with it, I only wish it was just a touch less sweet.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Tasting Notes: Oud Beersel Framboise

Brewer: Oud Beersel
Poured: August 2007
ABV: 6.0%

I was pretty excited to find this beer the last time I was downtown since I am a big fan of Oud Beersel's Oude Gueuze Vieille and Oude Kriek Vieille. I have never seen this one before so I snapped up the last bottle available.

This one pours a hazy brown with a slight tint of red. There's a purplish colored frothy head that quickly dissipates leaving no head to speak of. Tart raspberry and funky barnyard aromas waft out of the glass. Some hints of vinegar too.

Tastes quite tart and funky. There's a sweetness here too but it's not at all sticky or cloying. The sweetness is balanced by the with a nice dryness, hints of vinegar and the bretty funk. The mouth is medium bodied and lightly dry, especially in the finish

Not bad for a sweetened framboise, not overly sweet and enough tartness to provide a nice balance. It doesn't rise to the great heights of the more "traditional" offerings from Oud Beersel but it's still excellent in it's own right