Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Best Beers of 2008

Inspired by Boak And Bailey (who were themselves inspired by Fuggled), here are, in no particular order, the top ten beers I've tried for the first time in 2008.

1. Rodenbach Foederbier - The sourest Flanders red out there. If you like Rodenbach Grand Cru, you'll love Foederbier. Tasted at Het Waterhuis in Gent.

2. Westvleteren 12 - the Holy Grail. Rich malt and dark fruit. A little hot when I sampled it at In De Vrede outside the abbey but still damn good.

3. Westvleteren Blond - Totally underrated little brother of the 12 and the 8. Crisp, sweet and hoppy at the cafe. Really excellent, at least fresh at the abbey.

4. 2000 Boon Oude Gueze Marriage Parfait - I've had this beer before but this aged bottle from the cellars of the Kulminator was divine.

5. Bell's Double Cream Stout - Huge but smooth, a unique and delicious double stout.

6. Saint Somewhere Saison Athene - Relatively new brewery in Florida. A shockingly tasty and complex saison...from Florida which makes it even more shocking.

7. J.W. Lees Harvest Ale Lagavulin 2001 - I have never been able to get my head around the various incarnations of Harvest Ale but at the 10th anniversary of The Brickstore Pub there was a 7 year old vintage that had been aged in Lagavulin whisky casks. My eyes were opened. Looking forward to trying more Harvest Ale in the future.

8. Sam Adams Longshot Weizenbock - One of the winning homebrews from the Samuel Adams Longshot competition. This was one of the winners and falls under the category of "well crafted in every way".

9. Weyerbacher Heresey - Weyerbacher Old Heathen is one of my favorite imperial stouts and Heresey is that beer aged in oak barrels that were used to make Kentucky bourbon. Typically not a fan of oak aged stouts but this one hit the spot.

10. Mikkeller Stateside IPA - A Danish brewery doing an American style IPA. Juicy, bitter and delicious.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 25: 2003 N'Ice Chouffe

Brewery: Brasserie Achouffe
Style: ???
ABV: 10.0%
Date Poured: December 2008

This is one of my favorite beers and I grab one every winter. The bottle describes this brew as a dark ale brewed with thyme and orange peel. It also says that this beer can be aged up to 5 years. So this is a bottle I've been holding onto for just that long.

Pours a murky dark brown with a frothy tan head. Smells of sweet spice, rich caramel malt, dark fruit and a hint of alcohol.

The first impression is that the beer is very smooth and the flavors are well balanced. Sweet spice, caramel malt, black currant, sweet dark chocolate, a hint of hops and some warming alcohol, all mixing around together and alternately taking the lead. The mouth is not as full as when fresh but it is more drinkable.

What can I say? Did it improve with age? I wouldn't say it's better than when fresh but it turned into something equally as good.

Brasserie Achouffe

Sunday, December 28, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 24: Breckenridge Christmas Ale

Brewery: Breckenridge Brewery
Style: Winter Warmer
ABV: 7.4%
Date Poured: December 2008

This winter warmer has been brewed by Breckenridge Brewery in Colorado since 1993. This is the first Christmas it has been available to me.

Deep opaque brown with mahogany highlights, thinnish white head, light lacing. Smells of roasty malt, some underlying citrusy hops.

Roasty dark malt, bittersweet chocolate and caramel malt. Just a hint of dark fruit and a light peppery bitterness. Rich but drinkable, very smooth for a beer approaching 8% ABV. Full mouth and a sweet and roasty finish. Lovely stuff.

Breckenridge Brewery

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 23: Abita Christmas Ale 2008

Brewery: Abita Brewing Company
Style: Brown Ale
ABV: ???
Date Poured: December 2008

This is the second year that Louisiana-based Abita Brewing has put out a Christmas Ale. Each year they change the recipe. This year it seems that it is a brown ale.

A crystal clear but lightly reddish copper topped by a dense, creamy tan khaki colored head. Lots of fine lacing down the glass. Lightly fruity caramel malt.

Crisp and light faint caramel malt, some herbal English-style hops. Light and crisp in the mouth with a very clean finish.

That's about it. A light, mildly refreshing ale in a style I'm not that crazy about to begin with. Not bad I suppose, just not much here.

Abita Brewing

Monday, December 22, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 22: 1997 Samuel Adams Triple Bock

Brewery: Boston Beer Company
Style: Triple Bock (???)

ABV: 17.5%

Date Poured: December 2008

Samuel Adams Triple Bock was brewed in three vintages: 1994, 1995 and 1997. Even though it hasn't been brewed for over ten years, the cobalt blue bottles are still sporadically found on liquor store shelves. This was probably the first real "extreme" beer. It was brewed with maple syrup and aged for some months in oak whiskey barrels. At the time, it was considered to be the strongest beer in the world. This bottle is a 1997 vintage and was purchased about five years ago and has been int he cellar even since.

Dark brown in the glass with no head at all but nice "legs" like a port or sherry would have. Lots of oaky, whiskey components in the aroma. A hint of molasses and vanilla. Strong and sweet.

Rich malt, dark fruit and a scorching alcohol flavor. Very, very sweet. Distinct whiskey flavor. Oak and vanilla. A hint of the maple syrup in the aftertaste as well as a nice alcohol burn. Very sticky after the heat subsides.

This is a sipper, treat it like a cognac instead of a beer. I only drink this about three ounces at a time. I still like it though. I like what the age has done to it and I like the overall flavors this beer is delivering. Good stuff.

Samuel Adams

Sunday, December 21, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 21: 2006 Avec les Bons Voeux

Brewery: Brasserie Dupont
Style: Saison
ABV: 9.5%
Date Poured: December 2008

Avec les Bons Voeux is no longer a winter seasonal but was for years before Dupont decided to make this "big daddy" of a saison a year-round offering. This one has been in the cellar for two years.

This one pours a hazy bright gold with a fair white head that leaves some modest lacing. Quite lemony in the nose, some sweet spice and maybe a hint of orange zest. Significant herbal hop presence still in this beer. Sweet pale malt up front but dries out quick. A distinct flavor of juniper berries comes through again and again. The mouth is full bodied but dry. Lovely bitterness in the finish.

Over the fresh beer, the big change it goes through over two years is the body has thinned a bit and some caramel and molasses flavors evident in the younger beer have all but disappeared. A much more crisp and dry beer now but it's still pretty amazing stuff. A classic.

Brasserie Dupont

Saturday, December 20, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08: Day 20: 't Smisje Sleedorn

Brewery: Brouwerij de Regenboog
Style: ????
ABV: 6.0%
Date Poured: December 2008

Another beer from De Regenboog, another brought back from my recent trip to Belgium. I'm not sure if it's a winter seasonal but the festive sled with the cartoon dog leads me to believe so.

It's a murky coppery-brown with no head to speak of. A tart berry aroma wafts from the glass, (this ale is supposedly brewed with some sort of berry) some brett funk smells too.

Quite tart. Who am I kidding? It's pretty sour, lots of acetic acid and barnyard funk. The berry/cherry sourness flits in and out too. Surprisingly, the finish is relatively clean, just a hint of vinegary sourness and then it's gone. The mouth is light but lots of flavor.

It's unique. Not sure I love it but it is different.

Friday, December 19, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 19: Allagash Grand Cru

Brewery: Allagash Brewing Company
Style: ???

ABV: 7.2%

Date Poured: December 2008

When I lived in Maine, this was probably my favorite winter seasonal. Unlike most Maine breweries that specialized in English style brews, Allagash was unique in that they dealt in Belgian styles. Back then, it was their White, Dubbel, Tripel and this one...the Grand Cru. Allagash recently began distribution in Georgia making me a happy man.

Orangey brown with a dense and creamy tan head that lingers forever and leaves sheeting lace. Aromas of biscuity malt and sweet peppery spices.

Flavor is dominated by a caramel, biscuity malt with peppery spices underneath. Pretty sweet. Yeasty and spicy, pepper, coriander and cinnamon. Thick and sticky mouthfeel, finish is sticky too. Spicy aftertaste.

Lovely balance of the various flavors. Just as good as I remembered.

Allagash Brewing

Thursday, December 18, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 18: 't Smisje Kerst

Brewery: Brouwerij de Regenboog
ABV: 11.0%
Date Poured: December 2008

Another Christmas beer brought back from my recent Belgium trip and yet another beer from Brouwerij de Regenboog. This one is bottled in a green glass stubby with a red bottlecap. Very festive!

It's a luminous reddish-copper with a thinnish ivory head. Smells of lightly fruity malt with significant floral, noble hops aromas. Faint spice.

Huge fruity sweetness, ripe cherries and black currant, hints of pear with a distinct coriander flavor underneath. Very sweet with a touch of alcohol flavor in the finish. It says it's an 11% ABV beer but you'd never know it. I would've guessed it was a beer that was 2/3 that strong. Sticky sweet finish and spicy aftertaste.

Delicious beer and very drinkable! I'd get it again.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 17: Rabid Duck Imperial Stout

Brewery: Duck Rabbit Brewery
Style: Imperial Stout
ABV: 10.0%
Date Poured: December 2008

Duck Rabbit is a small craft brewery located in Farmville, North Carolina. Rabid Duck is their winter seasonal and they only recently began to distribute in Atlanta.

Pours dark as night with a thin brown head. Rich malty and creamy in the nose with significant alcohol and dark fruit notes.

Wow. Malty and rich in the mouth. Oaky with a light roastiness. Very, very sweet dark malt. Bitter chocoalte and creamy mocha. Very bold and intense. Enormous body in the mouth, full and sticky. A roasty finish and aftertaste.

A little brewery that is doing big things. Go get some.

Duck Rabbit Brewery

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 16: Red Brick Winter Ale

Brewery: Atlanta Brewing Company
Style: Belgian Dubbel
ABV: 8.2%
Date Poured: December 2008

Until this year, ABC's Winter Brew was a porter. But this year, it's a new style: a big 8.2% ABV dark belgian ale. The closest thing I can describe it as is a dubbel...but let's get drinking.

Deep reddish brown in the glass with nary a head, just wispy bits of foam. Nose is full of candi sugar, herbal hops and big fusel alcohol aromas. Hints of banana, believe it or not.

Fruity and caramel malt, slight sweet astringency from candi sugar or something of the like. Plum and blackcurrant. Very sticky in the mouth, only the driness from the alcohol keeps it from being cloying. It's hot, lots of alcohol. Long sticky aftertaste.

Perhaps a bit young and hot but interesting nonetheless. Maybe a bit of age will settle it down.

Atlanta Brewing

Monday, December 15, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 15: Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale

Brewery: Sierra Nevada Brewing
Style: IPA
ABV: 6.8%
Date Poured: December 2008

Yet another yearly tradition at Christmas is Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. This is the first Christmas beer I can remember drinking. I tried an aged bottle last year and decided that this beer was defintely best when fresh! So here's a fresh bottle for 2008.

Orange body topped by a creamy khaki head with lots of fine lacing on the glass. Grapefruit and orange rind in the nose.

Bitter but juicy citrus flavors, more grapefruit and orange rind. Lightly sweet with a clean finish. A long citrusy hop finish.

Good as ever.

Sierra Nevada Brewing

Sunday, December 14, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 14: Boucanier Christmas Ale

Brewery: Brouwerij Van Steenberge
Style: Belgian Strong Pale
ABV: 9.5%
Date Poured: December 2008

I don't know much about this one except that it is brewed by Van Stennberge in Ertvelde, Belgium, about a half hour north of Gent. This is yet another of the Christmas beer I brought back from Belgium.

It pours a fairly clear orangey-copper with an enormous fluffy white head. Smells of very fruity, very spicy pale malt. Spiced apple and cidery aromas. Ripe pear and even ripe banana. Peppery, gingery aromas too.

Again, spiced apples and cidery in the mouth. A distinct alcohol flavor, some herbal, almost juniper flavors help balance the sweetness. Peppery spice, a bright fruitiness, touch of lemon. bready, lots going on in here. Sweet and fruity aftertaste and finish. Nicely done.

Brouwerij Van Steenberge

Saturday, December 13, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 13: St. Bernardus Christmas

Brewery: Brouwerij St. Bernard
Style: Abbey Ale
ABV: 10.0%
Date Poured: December 2008

In my humble opinion, St. Bernardus does nothing but make great beers. Every style they make is superb. I'm hoping their Christmas beer meets the same standards.

Murky brown in the glass with just a hint of a wispy brown head. Licorice and dark fruit aromas and mulling spices.

Rich dark fruit and bready dark malt. Some warming alcohol and anise. Very thick and malty, lots of black currant and ripe plum, More licorice in the finish and aftertaste. Yummy!

Great stuff. I need to get some more.

Brouwerij St. Bernard

Friday, December 12, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 12: 2007 Samuel Adams Old Fezziwig

Brewer: Boston Beer Company
Style: Winter Warmer
ABV: 5.6%
Date Poured: December 2008

Old Fezziwig is another beer that I manage to pick up every Christmas season but the fruity and caramel notes always made me wonder how it would age. It's not a great candidate at only 5.6% ABV but I put a bottle away last Christmas to see what would happen anyway.

Pours reddish brown with a thin tan head and sheeting lace. Smells of fruity caramel malt. There's still the fruity and caramel malt in the mouth but there's clear signs of oxidation and toffee. The oxidation really overwhelms the other flavors, it's a mess now.

Nut fresh this is a really great beer. It's fruity and malty and finishes with sweet spice. It's very well balanced and a great Christmas beer. Don't let my failed experiment put you off.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 11: De Dolle Stille Nacht

Brewery: De Dolle Brouwers
Style: ????
ABV: 12.0%
Date Poured: December 2008

This bottle of beer is NOT from my trip to Belgium but it is brewed in Essen, Belgium, 45 minutes north of Antwerp, right near the Dutch border.

Murky orangey copper in the glass topped with a frothy khaki head. Rich fruity malt, sour apples and pears, hint of plum. Spicy and sweet.

This ale packs a wallop. Huge pale malt flavors, big fruitiness with the spiced apple and pear again. Incredibly sweet, the candy sugar is very apparent. Sweet buttery caramel and hints of vanilla and toffee. All of this is permeated by a distinct booziness that warms and kicks. It's not harsh but you know it's there. Very sweet finish but the alcohol helps to dry that out a bit. Fantastic flavors but very, very strong and rough around the edges.

I've got another bottle. Maybe I'll crack it open for the 25 Beers of Christmas '09...or '10.

De Dolle Brouwers

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

25 Beers fo Christmas '08, Day 10: Sweetwater Festive Ale

Brewery: Sweetwater Brewing Company
Style: Winter Warmer
ABV: 8.6%
Date Poured: December 2008

I tried to drink this beer for the 25 Beers of Christmas '07 but the old flip top container had failed and the beer was spoiled. Fresh, this beer has an overbearing spiciness that I do not enjoy at all. The solution? Try a capped bottle that has been aged for a year and hope that the spice has calmed down.

It's a deep, nearly opaque, brown with a thinnish tan head. Fruity sweet malt with sweet spices.

Fruity, sweet dark malt. Lots of sweet spice, clove, cinnamon and ginger. Quite sweet and quite a lot of spice. Lightly roasty and sweet in the finish.

The spice, even after a year, is heavy handed and all the flavors are a bit haphazard. I've given it a real chance but this beer is just not for me.

Sweetwater Brewing Company

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 9: Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome Ale

Brewery: Samuel Smith Old Brewery
Style: Winter Warmer
ABV: 6.0%
Date Poured: December 2008

I tried Samuel Smith's Winter Warmer about five years ago and was less than impressed. It didn't seem as big and robust as I thought an ale calling itself a winter warmer should be. I decided to retry it this year thinking that a more mature palate may lead me to a new appreciation of this ale.

Pours a bright copper with a thin ivory head. Fine spiderweb lacing is left on the glass. Floral British hops in the nose, lightly fruity malt and lightly metallic too.

This ale is crisp in the mouth. Lightly fruity malt with just a hint of caramel. Herbal hops. Finish is quite crisp and clean with the herbal hops lingering in the aftertaste.

It still strikes me as lacking when it comes to a winter warmer. Perhaps its just my expectations as an American who came of drinking age with the "microbrew" revolutuion in full swing. But I have a better appreciation for this ale than I did five years ago.

Monday, December 8, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 8: Anchor OSA 2008

Brewery: Anchor Brewing Company
Style: Winter Warmer
ABV: ?
Date Poured: December 2008

Anchor's "Our Special Ale" is a yearly tradition for me and here is the latest edition. The recipe is different each year and the brewery has been releasing it every Christmas season since 1975 making it one of the oldest (if not the oldest) winter seasonal beers brewed in the U.S.

It's dark. A nearly opaque brown, with a dense, creamy tan head. The nose is piney and sweet dark malt with hints of mocha and dark chocolate.

Very piney in the mouth. The hops are bittersweet with the underpinnings of some roasty porter-like malt. Did I mention it's piney? Roasty and sweet in the finish. The piney hops dominate the aftertaste and the mouth is lightly sticky.

A good one yet again but with Anchor OSA, that's the norm.

Anchor Brewing

Sunday, December 7, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 7: 't Gaverhopke Kerstbier

Brewery: Brouwerij 't Gaverhopke
ABV: 8%
Date Poured: December 2008

Pours murky chestnut with a thin tan head. Lots of alcohol in the aroma, fruity and lightly sour, a bit of funk.

This is a weird one. The alcohol I thought I smelled is nowhere to be found in the flavor. Lightly tart and fruity with a light funk. There's the distinct vinegary taste of lactic acid. Thinnish body, crisp and tart. Berries and sweet spice with a cidery finish.

This is different to be sure. A bit of oud bruin, a bit of lambic and a little Flanders red thrown in for good measure. I can't say I love it but I would love to know how they brew it. Worth a look.

't Gaverhopke

Saturday, December 6, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 6: Great Divide Hibernation Ale

Brewer: Great Divide Brewing Company
Style: Old Ale

ABV: 8%
Date Poured: December 2008

Great Divide brews in Denver, CO and Hibernation has been their winter seasonal since 1995. They brew it in July, age it until October when it is bottles and is only available from November 1st to December 15th. Sounds like Christmas to me.

The body is crystal clear reddish-copper with a thin and lingering khaki colored head. The aroma is full of pinewood and toffee mixed with earthy spice.

There's a distinct chocolate flavor that permeates this beer, kind of a mix of very dark chocolate and cocoa. Lightly roasty with a hint of smoke. But a lot of toffee and fruity, oaky malt in here as well. A woody mouthfeel, if that makes any sense. A bit like having the reed of a saxophone in your mouth. Lingering sweetness and herbal hoppiness in the finish.

Really extraordinary beer. Get some if you can.

Great Divide

Friday, December 5, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 5: Boelens Kerstbier

Brewery: Brouwerij Boelens
Style: Belgian Strong Dark Ale
ABV: 8.5%
Date Poured: December 2008

Brouwerij Boelens is a microbrewery located about halfway between Antwerp and Gent. Another beer I brought back from my recent trip to Belgium.

It pours a deep reddish chestnut with a frothy tan head, malty and yeasty with fruity apple and pear. Somewhat boozy.

In the mouth, it's surprisingly smooth and the booziness is barely noticeable. Bready and fruity malt, caramel and spiced apple. The body is not at full as you would expect but finishes with a nice sweetness. Light, sweet spice in the aftertaste.
This beer drinks easy but that 8.5% ABV sneaks up on you for sure! Good stuff.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 4: Spanish Peaks Winter Warmer

Brewery: Spanish Peaks
Style: Winter Warmer
ABV: 6.3%
Date Poured: December 2008

It's a deep chestnut in the glass with a thinnish but dense and creamy khaki head. Leaves sheeting lace. There's a nutty, malty aroma intertwined with a biting herbal hop smell.

The first sip delivers lots more hops than I expected. Spicy, herbal hops balanced by a nutty sweet malt. Sticky finish but a relatively light mouthfeel.

Be forewarned...if you're looking for a big, bold winter warmer, you won't find it here. But it is well-balanced and an easy drinker. As long as you're not expecting it to hit you over the head, it's well worth checking out.

Spanish Peaks Brewing Company

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 3: Gordon Xmas

Brewery: John Martin SA
Style: Belgian Scotch Style Ale
ABV: 8.8%
Date Poured: December 2008

The John Martin brewery is based in Belgium and, among other things, brews some Scotch-style ales under the Gordon label. This Christmas beer seems to be in the same vein. As you may have guessed, another beer I picked up in Belgium this October.

It's dark brown in the glass with auburn highlights and topped by a frothy tan head. A malty nose, sweet spices and a faint smokiness.

Rich, raisiny fruitiness blended in with sweet spices, clove and cinnamon perhaps. More dark fruit lurking below and an understated earthy smokiness or toastiness in the body. There's a faint metallic quality in the finish and the fruitiness leaves a stickiness in the mouth. The earthy roastiness lingers in the aftertaste.

It's 8.8% ABV but you'd never know it. Very smooth and complex at the same time. Nice ale.

John Martin

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 2: Rogue Santa's Private Reserve

Brewery: Rogue Ales Brewery
Style: Amber Ale
ABV: 6.0%

Date Poured: December 2008

Rogue Ales Brewery is based in Oregon and Santa's Private Reserve is one of those beers I try to get at least one bottle of every Christmas season. It's not your typical winter beer but it has yet to disappoint.

Pours a slightly reddish copper with a dense ivory head with thick lacing on the glass. Big hops smack you in the nose, citrusy and sweet. (Being Rogue, there's not much of a surprise that there is a big hop presence in this beer!)

Some caramel malt imparted but mostly just overwhelming piney hops with finishings of grapefruit. Long lingering hops in the finish and aftertaste.

If you like your amber ales hoppy, this is your beer. Tasty and refreshing. A nice change of pace from the parade of big malty beers that dominate the winter season.

Rogue Ales Brewery

Monday, December 1, 2008

And So It Begins...

Today starts the 25 Beers of Christmas, the second annual edition. For the next 25 days, I will be posting notes on various Christmas beers, winter seasonals and treats from my cellar. (For another feature similiar to this, check out The Brew Site where Jon will be doing his 4th annual Beer Advent Calendar. We only had two beers overlap last year...)

As a result, there won't be much on the site except the 25 beers of Christmas for the rest of the month. I still have to finish writing up my Belgium trip (still Brugge, Gent and Brussels to go!) and I had hoped that would be done before now. But what can you do?

Happy Holidays!

25 Beers of Christmas '08, Day 1: De Koninck Winter Koninck

Brewery: De Koninck
Style: Winter Warmer
ABV: 6.5% Date
Poured: December 2008

One of the several bottles of Christmas or "Kerst" beers I brought back from Belgium. De Koninck is a brewery right in the middle of Antwerp and their standard De Koninck ale is the most popular beer in town. This beer is described as a deep amber ale. It also reads "Best by 6/12/2007". Oops.

Kind of an amber brown in the glass with a thin ivory head. Some floaties in the beer, doesn't look like yeast but more like coagulated protein. Not so appetizing! Fruity maltiness and an earthy, yeasty aroma. Prunes and baked apples with just a hint of oakiness.

Earthy and spicy in the mouth, a bitterness in the finish. Cinnamon and clove is prominent and a sweetness that hints at candy sugar used in the brewing process. More candy sugar in the finish, a mild bitterness accompanies the sweetness in the finish. Man, a lot of spice in this ale! Fruity, sweet and spicy pretty much sums it up.

You can taste a bit of oxidation and the unappetizing floaters demonstrate that this ale is past its prime but still not bad. Someday I hope to have a fresh taste.

Brouwerij De Koninck

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Recipe: Samuel Adams Oktoberfest Porkchops with Mustard and Onions

I cook with beer on a fairly regular basis and one of my favorites is one I found years ago on the Samuel Adams (Boston Beer) website for Oktoberfest Porkchops. Recently, I went to look for the recipe and couldn't find it. To my dismay, I then found out that the recipe was no longer on the Sam Adams website either!

Luckily, a liquor store in Minnesota called Sutler's posted the recipe and I was able to get it back.

So, because a) I really love this recipe and want to share it and b) I want to save it somewhere I can find it, here is the recipe for Samuel Adams Oktoberfest Porkchops! (one modification I make if using Sam Adams Double Bock when I can get it...)

4 thick cut rib pork chops 2-3 lbs. total
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp dried dill
1 tsp dry mustard
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup Samuel Adams Oktoberfest beer
1 Tbsp cider vinegar
1 Tbsp coarse grained mustard
1/2 cup sour cream
chopped fresh dill or chives

Season the chops generously with salt, pepper, dill, and dry mustard. Heat the oil in a heavy 12 inch skillet over high heat and brown the chops for 2-3 minutes on each side. Remove the chops and all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the pan. Put in the onion, cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft. Arrange the chops on top of the onions, pour in the beer and vinegar, cover, and simmer for around 30 minutes until meat is quite tender. Transfer the chops to a platter and keep warm. Add the remaining mustard to the pan and reduce the sauce to a syrupy consistency. Turn off the heat, stir in the sour cream, and pour the sauce over the chops. Garnish with dill or chives.


Monday, November 24, 2008

Belgium Trip, Day 5 - Part I: Westvleteren

Sleep was fitful at best in the Polo. It was cramped and it was quite cold in the Ardennes that night. All the above being the case ensured that we were up, packed and checked out just before daylight and on the road to the Westvleteren Abbey in western Flanders.

Now, if you're reading this blog you already know that Westvleteren Abbey has quite a mystique surrounding it due to the ales that the abbey produces. They are one of 6 Trappist breweries in Belgium but are the only one that does not officially distribute their beers. They sell cases at the brewery by appointment but when you find them elsewhere it is strictly black market and VERY expensive. I have never thought that buying bottles for $20 each was really worth it but I was certainly going to make a special point to visit their cafe to try these legendary beers for myself. The timing of my trip was bad and I was unable to schedule a time to buy some beer at the abbey but I had heard that they sometimes sell mixed six-packs in the cafe store.

We arrived at the abbey cafe, In De Vrede, just after the opening time of 10:00. I headed in and checked the cafe beer available for sale. Bummer. But I couldn't be too disappointed. How many mornings do you have the opportunity for some fresh Westvleteren ales?
I ordered some pate and a Westvleteren Blonde, Dave decided to start with the Westvleteren 12 and work his way down. The blonde was crisp, fruity and hoppy. The least hyped of the Westvleteren ales, the blonde did not disappoint at all. This is not a beer built for aging (only 5.8%, forward hop character) so maybe it doesn't arrive across the Atlantic in the best shape. Fresh however, it is stunningly good.

I continued with the pate and we ordered a couple Westvleteren 8's. The 8 is a dark brown ale, a Trappist dubbel that is 8% ABV. Lots of earthy, bready flavors interlaced with all kinds of malty, dark fruit sweetness. There is a hint of alcohol but it disguises its strength for the most part and surprisingly has a fair amount of bitter, herbal hops in the finish. Excellent beer. Well done.

I ordered a hommelpaptaart (quite literally, a "hop-tart") and the Westvleteren 12. The Westvleteren 12 has the reputation of being the best beer in the world. It was time to find out. The 12 weighs in at 10.8% and whatever I said about the 8, the 12 is all that and more. It's very fruity with aromas of black currant and ripe plum. It fills the mouth with a rich maltiness and lots more of that dark fruit. The alcohol is quite pronounced and maybe a little hot. This beer was very young. Again, even with the big malt profile, there are some hops detectable in the finish. Really outstanding.

(As an aside, I thought I would address the notion of these beers as "the best in the world". They are all top-notch beer, there is no doubt about it. But if I were to compare the 12 against similar beers, would I say that is is head and shoulders above Rochefort 10 or St. Bernardus Abt 12? No. They are all so close in quality that it you would be hard pressed to say which is the "best". It was surely worth the trip to the cafe and I would like to buy some to take away on my next trip to Belgium. But I don't think I will be paying exorbitant black market prices to get them. The relative difference in taste is certainly no worth the enormous difference in price.)

After a couple hours and three quite strong ales, we decided to stroll around ground around the abbey to make sure we were OK to drive. There is a trail system around the countryside near the abbey so we went out for a walk for about an hour or so. It was quite a beautiful day and more pictures of that walk will follow. About 1:00 PM, we got back to the car and started toward Brugge.

If you have the opportunity, a visit to In De Vrede is well worth the trip. Three world-class beers, some fairly good food and a picturesque abbey in the Flanders countryside.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Out of the Cellar: The List!

I inventoried my beer cellar and uploaded the data to Google Docs so I could share it online.

The link is over to the right or you can click here. I'll be updating it periodically if you care to check it out...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Belgium Trip, Day 4: Off to Wallonia

Monday morning I walked over a few blocks from the hostel and picked up the rental car, a Volkswagen Polo, and drove it back to the hostel to load up. We got a bit of a late start because I had to go get a new wireless NIC. Mine had died suddenly and since Skype was my primary form of communication home, I wanted to get one before heading out to the country. We grabbed some breakfast, loaded up the Polo and headed south toward the Ardennes.

View Larger Map
It was a drive of just under two hours to reach the village of Achouffe. Our destination? The Achouffe brewery and tavern of course! We got there at about 12:30 and went straight into the tavern for lunch.

The Achouffe tavern is rustic and eclectic. Lots of old exposed timbers, various old beer paraphernalia and plants. On top of this, there are chouffes and gnomes lurking everywhere! They are in nooks on the wall, on shelves, hanging from the ceiling, etc. Cozy, yet airy at the same time.

After seating ourselves, I started out with a Chouffe Royale thinking it was a special brew unique to the cafe. I was wrong! It was actually a mixed drink of La Chouffe and some sort of liqueur. Interesting but it really wasn't for me and I was disappointed that I wasted some of my sobriety on it.

They offered "menus" for multiple course meals. I picked the three course meal while Dave got a 5-course meal and we mixed and matched from there.

Highlights: My first course was warm goat cheese. It was actually two thick pieces of partially melted goat cheese on a large piece of toast. Heavenly. Dave shared some of his pate made with McChouffe beer. Wonderful. The cheese plate that came after the main course was really good too. I didn't catch what kind of cheese it was but it was creamy and soft.

I had some Chouffe Bok, a beer that I didn't think was even brewed anymore. Lovely malty beer and a real treat for me.

After a leisurely lunch, we headed over to the brewery store. I picked up a couple of Chouffe glasses, a big bottle of the Chouffe Bok and a McChouffe statue. A Chouffe statue was a must-get if I was going to make the trip out to Achouffe so now I only had to figure out how I was going to get it home!

After loading up the car, we took a walk around the countryside to ensure our sobriety and just take in the "sights"

After, we drove the 20 minutes to La Roche-en-Ardenne and checked into our campground located on the banks of the winding river Ourthe.

It was a fair hike into town and it was late in the afternoon. The sidewalks roll up early in La Roche and we missed visiting the famous medieval castle in the heart of the village. We found a great beer store open so we went in there and bought some beers from around the region, including beers from the La Rulles, Saint Monon and Sainte Helene breweries. Then we hit the local Delhaize supermarket to load up on supplies for the evening and next morning.

While it was not rainy that night, the ground was so waterlogged from previous days rains that we opted not to pitch the tent and decided to sleep in the car. We drank some beer, feasted on bread, cheese and pate and turned in early. All in all, not a bad day in the country. Turning in early worked out since we were going to be getting up early for a three hour drive to a true beer mecca...the abbey at Westvleteren.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Session #21: What's Your Favorite?

This month's edition of The Session is being hosted by Matt over at A World of Brews.

The theme is "What is Your Favorite Beer and Why?"

Matt quickly follows the title of his theme with this comment: "Before you say I don't have a favorite beer or how do I pick just one, I say BS everyone has a favorite. "

Well, let me trump your BS with a bigger BS! It's BS that everyone has to have a favorite beer!

How would you determine that anyway? The beer you've been drinking the longest? The beer that you buy most often? The beer that you think tastes the best? The breadth of beer is too vast for that. How can I compare a great lager with a great Flemish red? How would I pick the best one? And why should I?

The title of Matt's blog says it all. "A World of Brews" It would be virtually impossible to select my favorite beer out of all the thousands of beers to choose from. So much of my preference depends on my mood, the season or what's for dinner. So I will choose a beer but don't mistake this for my absolute favorite beer.

I picked Oud Beersel Oude Kriek Vieille. It's not the best beer I've ever had but if you forced me to make a list of my favorites, this one would probably make the top 25. And since I had a bottle that had been in my cellar exactly four years, it seemed like an appropriate choice.

This beer is one of the best Kriek lambic beers I've ever tried. It's got just the right balance of brett funk and cherry sourness and while it delivers a significant "pucker factor", it's still quite refreshing and surprisingly drinkable.

It pours the color of cherry wood with a frothy pink head. The head on this aged bottle is nowhere near as big as the fresh sample I tried. But the aroma is still full of amazing sour cherry, barnyard funk and just a hint of wheaty sweetness.

The flavors have blended a bit over time and sometimes the funk and the sourness seem to be one in the same. The barnyard flavors actually seem a bit muted but the sourness form the cherries is there and builds as your drink it and as the beer warms. It's earthy and the body seems thinner than before but still retains a very champagne-like mouthfeel. The tart cherry lingers long past the finish and into the aftertaste.

At four years, this beer is developing nicely and it's status as one of my favorites is certainly cemented! If you like a sour, traditional but drinkable Kriek lambic, this is one you look for.

Brouwerij Oud Beersel

Check out more contributions of The Session over at A World of Brews. I'll post the exact link once Matt does...
(edit: The link to all contributions to The Session are now here.)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Coaster: De Koninck

I was in Antwerp in early October which put me there right in the middle of their "Elephant Parade", a time when the city is decorated with elephant statues painted by local businesses and artists. The elephants are then auctioned off at the end of the parade to help preserve the endangered Asian Elephant.

De Koninck commemorated the event of their coasters, each one showing various elephants from around town. This is one of them.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Out of the Cellar: Saison Dupont

Brewer: Brasserie Dupont
Style: Saison
ABV: 6.5%
Date Cellared: July 2004
Date Poured: November 2008

In July 2004, Georgia officially raised the 6% ABV limit on beer to 14% ABV. Soon after, I bought this 750ml bottle of Saison Dupont. Yes, even this beer of modest strength was kept from the shelves under the old Georgia law. I didn't mean to keep it quite this long but I thought it was about time I cracked it open after more than four years in the cellar.

Deep hazy orange with a voluminous snow white head. Big chunky lace on the glass and lots of sediment settles at the bottom of the glass. Lots of citrus in the nose. Lemon and orange rind, some understated coriander.

Body has thinned out a bit. Bitterness present throughout, a sweet spiciness but muted from when fresh. Some lemony and orange rind citrus. Lightly earthy and yeasty. No longer crisp, the body has softened. Sweet spice in the finish.

Overall, this beer held up very well. Did it improve? Not really. Based on this bottle and other experiences, I'd keep this beer up to 18 months but no longer.

Brasserie Dupont

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Tasting Notes: Avery Ale to the Chief!

Brewery: Avery Brewing
Style: Double IPA
ABV: 8.75%

Date Poured: November 2008

It's Election Day and in honor of the spirit of democracy, we'll crack open a bottle of Avery's Ale to the Chief! What is Ale to the Chief! ? It's described as a "Presidential" (in lieu of "Imperial") Pale Ale brewed to celebrate Inauguration Day...January 20th, 2009.

The bottle reads as follows:

We the Brewers of Avery Brewing Company, in order to form a more perfect ale, require new leadership that can liberate us from our quagmires in foreign lands; embrace environmentally sound energy alternatives to imported oil; heal our ailing health care system; free us from tyrannical debt and resurrect the collapsing dollar. We hereby pledge to provide him with an ample amount of our Presidential Pale Ale to support in the struggle for the aforementioned goals! Hail to the New Chief!

Obviously, the brewers at Avery are not fans of President George W. Bush! On to the beer!

Pours a lovely clear mahogany with a thin but lingering khaki head. Big citrusy hops in the nose and rich caramel malt.

Citrusy hops in the mouth, herbal hops too. Grapefruit and tangerine from the hops but very malty too. Lots of rich caramel malt with just a hint of fruitiness. Well balanced but clearlymore malt forward overall. Thick, sticky finish, blurring the lines between "Presidential" IPA and a hoppy barleywine. Big full body. Very tasty ale and very smooth. The nearly 9% ABV sneaks up on you so be careful. It hit me with quite a buzz by the time I finished the bomber!

Good "Presidential" Pale Ale. Pick one up to celebrate your civic duty. And if you are reading this from the US today, go out and vote!

Avery Brewing Company

Monday, November 3, 2008

Coaster: Brugse Bok

A new beer from Brouwerij De Halve Maan that I was able to sample at Cambrinus in Brugge.

"The Only Original Bock Beer from Brugge"

Friday, October 31, 2008

Tasting Notes: t' Smisje Speciaal

Brewery: Brouwerij De Regenboog
Style: Belgian Strong Pale Ale
ABV: 10.5%
Date Poured: October 2008

Although it never mentions Halloween, the label of this beer is full of ghosts, jack-o-lantern's and gravestones. Good enough for me. Picked this one up during my trip to Belgium.

Pours a luminous hazy orange with a thin but persistent snow white head. Smells of peppery spice, green apple and tangerine.

Alternately dry, sweet and spicy in the mouth. Dry up front, I suspect from the alcohol but it's not hot or boozy. Next the peppery and sweet spice takes over with black pepper, juniper berry and clove, perhaps a bit a ginger. The big sweetness washes all of the previous flavors away. Big fruity maltiness, sweetened apples and pears. Sweetish finish with a thin hop bitterness peeking out.

Big flavors here, all battling for attention. Somehow it all works. This is not a casual drinker, this is a beer that demands your attention. Worth a taste.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Tasting Notes: Harvest Moon Pumpkin Ale

Brewery: Blue Moon/Coors Brewing
Style: Pumpkin Ale
ABV: 5.5%
Date Poured: October 2008

A couple pumpkin/Halloween beers to celebrate the season. First up, Harvest Moon Pumpkin Ale brewed by the Coors Brewing Company.

Pours a very bright and clear orangey copper with a big creamy, lacy ivory head. Smells of lightly fruity pale malt, nutmeg and clove. Perhaps a bit of cinnamon in the aroma as well.

Tastes spicy and sweet. Lots of pumpkin spice flavors in the body with a bitter finish. Medium bodied with a spicy nutmeg and clove aftertaste. A bit creamy. Certainly drinkable.

This isn't bad for the style but the it's not really for me. I'm hoping the Halloween ale I brought back from Belgium is better!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Antwerp Slideshow

A quick pictoral wrap-up of Antwerp...

(A link to the full album is at the bottom of the post...)


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Belgium Trip, Day 3: Still More Antwerp

Sunday we slept in a bit due to jet lag, grabbed some complementary breakfast and headed back downtown again. It had been drizzling on and off since Friday but it was still a manageable level of rainfall to handle while travelling by foot. Sunday…it really started to rain.We hit some of the Sunday morning flea markets and then ducked into the nearby Oud Arsenaal for some beers and some shelter. The Oud Arsenaal has been in business since 1924 and, like Quentin Mastijs, looks like very little has changed in the last 84 years. We grabbed some bench seating and checked out the menu. Not an enormous beer list but an impressively chosen one. But I ordered us bollekes of De Konninck to get started since Dave hadn’t had any yet. After that warm up, we delved deeper.

One of my objects during this trip was to get some Faro. This bar had Boon “Faro Pertotale” which was a faro mad eform half old lambic, half young lambic and sweetened with candy sugar. A true rarity, so I ordered a glass. Dave noticed that Rodenbach was the beer of the month and had never had it. Finding out that it was to be served with the traditional side of shrimp for no extra charge only sealed the decision.

The faro was tart and exhibited some light brett funk which was all softened a bit from the added sugar. The beer was quite still, nearly uncarbonated but offered a cider-like drinkability with a touch of finishing dryness. It was really good. The Rodenbach was Rodenbach, tart and acidic but refreshing and smooth at the same time.

And now a word about the privacy of Belgian toilets, especially in pubs and cafes. For men, there is little. Many times, the urinals are in plain site of either A) the women passing nearby to use the toilet or B) the other patrons sitting out in the bar. This is not to say that there is not at least partial obstruction but there are certainly many places where the doors to the WC remain wide open and the urinals are only partially obscured by the angle of the wall or a small half-door. It’s hard to explain but it’s certainly not the privacy of American standards!

Oud Arsenaal took this to extremes. The toilet was basically unisex. The toilets themselves are in tiny separate rooms within the larger restroom area, two are marked for ladies, one for men. But to get to the toilets what do you have to do? That’s right, walk right past the row of urinals! And that’s just what happened to me while I was downloading some urine. Three ladies walked right by toward the toilet. Startling wasn’t the word.

However, Oud Arsenaal was an inviting and cozy place, our server was quite helpful and friendly and outside of Kulminator, it may have been my favorite pub in Antwerp.

After a beer or three, the rain had let up so we headed further in toward the old city. Ducking in and out of shops, the rain had really started to soak us. So we ducked into a bar right next to the Cathedral called the Elfde Gebod (The Eleventh Commandment). This pub is filled with religious statues giving it the feel of an altar or the storage room for the nearby Cathedral. The roaring fireplace helped to take the chill out of our bones but we were looking for something to warm us from the inside too.

I ordered a Rochefort 10, a Trappist quadrupel that weighs in at 11% ABV. Boozy but lovely, it's a nice warmer on a dreary rainy day. Dave got another Trappist ale, the Westmalle Dubbel on draft.

Our server was a good guy named Kurt. He noticed what we were drinking and pointed out that St. Bernardus Tripel was available on draft. He brought us out a sample of the tripel so we could try it. That's a rarity where I live so I ordered the tripel next. Dave got the La Trappe Quadrupel, a beer from the Koningshoeven Trappist monastery in the Netherlands. Big malty beer at 10% alcohol.

After feeling considerably toasty, we thanked Kurt, he gave us his card for a new business venture called Belgium in a Box and we headed back out into the weather. I suggested that Dave needed to see Quentin Matsys so we took the three block walk.

Quentin Matsys was quite crowded this time around so we grabbed a couple seats at the bar. I ordered a De Koninck Tripel while Dave continued the high octane trip with a Kasteel Blond. Both were very good. Next we ordered a Gordon Finest Scotch Ale, mostly because we saw the amazing thistle glasses they served them in. But the ale was very good as well and gave us a rare chance to try a Belgian brewed Scotch ale.

We decided to move on and find some food since it was late afternoon but found we were not in any mood to keep fighting the rain. So we headed back to the hostel. On the way back I spotted a frituur so I doubled back and grabbed a couple orders of frites and brought them back to our room. We had frites and some Chimay Grand Cru cheese on crackers, washed it down with some Timmerman's Fruits de la Foret and some Lindemans Faro.

Antwerp had literally rained on our parade on Sunday but we were still able to get to three great pubs and make the best of a bad situation back at the room. We just tried our best to dry out our clothes, pack our bags and get ready for our drive out to Wallonie the next morning.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Out of the Cellar: Middle Ages Tripel Crown Part II

Brewery: Middle Ages Brewing Company
Style: Tripel
ABV: 10%
Date Cellared: October 2004
Date Poured: October 2008

The last time I tried this beer, I thought it could use another year in the cellar. I missed that date obviously but sampling this in October gives me an even four years in the cellar so it seemed like the right time to crack it open.

Still pours a hazy orange but seems to be a darker orange. Creamy and persistent ivory head but quite thin. Sheeting lace.

Smells of spiced apple and pear, some vanilla and other sweet spice. Hint of alcohol in the nose.

Very sweet in the mouth, very fruity. Lots more toffee and caramel flavors, almost no spiciness as noticed in earlier tastings. Oaky and vinous. Lots of rich maltiness. Still, still, a lot of alcohol in the mouth. Not unpleasantly hot but still quite evident. The alcohol helps dry out the mouth, balance the sweetness. Some bitterness in the finish. Can't tell if its the meager hops profile breaking through or if it's a side effect of the alcohol.

Overall, still really tasty. No need to go any further in the cellar in my opinion.

Middle Ages Brewing

Friday, October 24, 2008

Tasting Notes: Alvinne Podge Belgian Imperial Stout

Brewery: Picobrouwerij Alvinne
Style: Belgian Imperial Stout (?)
ABV: 10.5%
Date Poured: October 2008

Alvinne is a brewery located in West Flanders and has been brewing in earnest since 2004. In addition to more traditional imperial stout ingredients, it is supposed to be brewed with candy sugar and a strain of Irish ale yeast.

Pours a murky dark brown with a thin brown head. Smells fruity. Like ripe dark fruit. Smells quite boozy with some vanilla and sweet dark malt too. Also lightly spicy.

Lots of dark fruit again, overpowering, with some dark chocolate and sweet roasty malt. This one is much more sweet than roasty. Some alcohol warming as it goes down. Sweet finish. Medium to full bodied. A sipper for sure.

Quite unusual but it's not half bad. Certainly different from your average imperial stout.

Picobrouwerij Alvinne