Thursday, July 31, 2008

Tasting Notes: The IPA Spotlight - Two Hearted Ale

Brewery: Bell's Brewery
Style: IPA
ABV: 7.0%
Date Poured: July 2008

I'm going to wrap up this IPA Spotlight with one of my favorite IPAs. Straight out of Kalamazoo, Michigan, it's Bell's Two Hearted Ale. Two years since I've had any so I thought it would be a good finale.

Pours a lightly hazy golden orange with a frothy ivory head (a recurring theme). The nose is filled with sweet citrusy hops. Pink grapefruit, apricots and oranges underpinned by a lightly fruity malt.

The beer is just so juicy and sweet, between the malt and the citrusy hops. Orange rind and tangerine, bitter but balanced by a decent pale malt backbone. Full mouth with a surprisingly clean finish. Floral bitterness in the finish and aftertaste. It's beautifully balanced and quite delicious. Bravo.

Bell's Brewery

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Tasting Notes: The IPA Spotlight - Indica IPA

Brewery: Lost Coast Brewery
Style: IPA
ABV: 6.5%
Date Poured: July 2008

To continue the series, another west coast IPA, this time from California.

It's a bright but opaque orange in the glass with a rocky eggshell colored head. Nice lacing. sweet cirtusy hops, faint tangerine and grapefruit and some floral hop aromas as well. Faint fruity malt and a hint of kiwi fruit. (?!?!)

Fruity malt with a strident citrusy bitterness. Grapefruit and faint tangerine., orange rind. Long bitter aftertaste very tasty, pale malt backbone but imparts little but body and sweetness.

Easy drinker and damn tasty. A good choice if you find it.

Lost Coast Brewery

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

65 Days To Go!

Just over two months to go before I set foot in Belgium and as you might imagine, I'm pretty psyched.

A few decisions on the itinerary for Belgium have been made:

Hostels/Campgrounds instead of Hotels/B&B's - I'm not going to Belgium for all the creature comforts of home; I'm going for the beer! I'm hardly a stranger to roughing it on vacations so I'm sure a hostel room, a trekkershut and a tent will be more than adequate. Not to mention, it's a cheaper way to go and I don't anticipate being in my room that much.

Only One Day for Brussels - Part of this decision is based on my travelling partner not getting to Belgium as quickly as we had hoped but really it just came down to robbing a day from Antwerp to spend a second day in Brussels. Antwerp and Brussels are the only cities in Belgium I have been to before and I have to say that as far as the beery experiences go, Antwerp wins hands down. There are better cafes and the prices are cheaper (or at least, they were). Also, Antwerp is a very underrated city for tourism, beer or otherwise. So, it will be parts of two or three days in Antwerp hitting the pubs and sightseeing and one very full day in Brussels seeing Cantillon, Bier Circus, Poechenellekelder and the like.

Renting A Car - This decision was really based on another one: Did we want to get out of the cities on this trip? We decided that we did. We'll be taking the car out to the Ardennes with the Achouffe Brewery as our primary target and do some camping. The car will also be handy to make a trek out to Westvleteren to visit In De Vrede. We won't have the car the whole time but it will make it much easier to hit some out of the way spots during the journey.

Not Buying Beer At Westvleteren! - To clarify, if they have the six-packs in the shop at In De Vrede, I'll pick a couple up. But I decided that to spend the time to make the reservations, wait in line at the brewery, potentially turn our itinerary upside down to get out there on the correct day and tote around a case of beer for the rest of the trip...well, it just isn't worth it to me. We will go to the cafe but no mass quantities of "the world's greatest beer". The American beer geek in me certainly wants to get as much Westvleteren 12 as I can...but there are so many other beers in Belgium that I can't get here in the U.S....can't sacrifice so much time for just one.

Eating on the Cheap - This is probably a big mistake and I will modify this decision once I get over there but eating out three meals a day is an expensive proposition. So I've got to pick my spots. Frites are a cheap foodstuff, supermarkets can provide an inexpensive light lunch and from what I can recall farmer's markets are fairly common for fruit and such. This doesn't mean that I won't be eating a few meals out in restaurants but I want to target food that is A) very good and B) preferably something uniquely Belgian, dishes I could not get here in the U.S.

So the rough itinerary is two days in Antwerp, a day in the Ardennes, two days in Brugge, a day in Gent and a day in Brussels. The trip will be quite slanted to hitting some great cafes but we are hoping to work in a couple of brewery visits (Cantillon, Straffe Hendrik and Achouffe) and hit a couple of Trappist tap houses (Westvleteren and Westmalle).

More to come...

Monday, July 28, 2008

Tasting Notes: The IPA Spotlight - Full Sail IPA

Brewery: Full Sail Brewing Company
Style: IPA
ABV: 6.0%
Date Poured: July 2008

This bottle was part of my Florida haul. Full Sail is based in Portland, Oregon but I have never seen their beers this far east.

Pours crystal clear pale copper with a frothy ivory head. Smells of grassy hops and fresh mown grass.

The mouth is full of quite biting bitter hops, herbal, piney and a bit harsh. Not much malt to back it up and the body feels a bit thin as a result. Long herbal bitterness with a clean finish.

This is just OK, it could be a little better with a boost to the malt profile.

Full Sail Brewing Company

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tasting Notes: The IPA Spotlight - Mikkeller Stateside IPA

Brewer: Mikkeller
Style: IPA
ABV: 7.0%
Date Poured: July 2008

An American style IPA brewed by a Denmark based brewing concern? Yep.

(On a side note, it's interesting to watch the evolution over the years as American craft brewers copied and even saved from extinction many European beer styles and now the American influence is transferring back to the "Old Country"...)

Mikkeller even named their IPA "Stateside IPA" in a tribute to the style (or tastes) of the American brewer. It comes in just at my arbitrary limit ABV for a "single" IPA at 7%. (I am usually not so strict about my styles but I had to pick a dividing line between double IPA and regular IPA for the sake of this series...)

It pours a hazy orange copper with a billowing ivory head that leaves sheeting lace but dissipates to a wispy forth fairly quickly. Lots of hops in the nose. Herbal spicy hops, hints of tangerine and a lightly earthy malt aroma. Very nice!

The combo of hops that make the nose so good make the flavor a bit haphazard. Juicy sweet citrusy hops intermingled with some coarse herbal hops, like amarillo or something of that nature. Quite bitter but there's a decent bready malt backbone to hold it all together.

(edit: after checking the website, they do indeed use amarillo hops, as well as cascade and chinook...)

A sweet grapefruity finish and aftertaste followed by a long lingering bitterness.

Pretty tasty. I wish the bittering hops blended more nicely. If they did, it would be stellar.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Coaster: Augustiner

These are two sides of the same beer coaster. I picked this up from the Augustiner bierhall in Munich during a trip in 1996. The coaster celebrates 500 years of Reinheitsgebot in Munich but that was 9 years before I visited.

Augustiner had great dunkelweizen and great sauerbraten served in a classic German bierhall complete with bench seating. It was a good time!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Tasting Notes: The IPA Spotlight - Sea Dog IPA

Brewer: Sea Dog Brewing
Style: IPA
ABV: 6.2%
Date Sampled: July 2008

For the second installment of The IPA Spotlight, I picked a beer I was able to lay my hands on in Florida but was an old favorite when I lived in Maine. It's the Sea Dog Old East India Pale Ale. This is clearly an attempt at an English style IPA. It is stated specifically on their website that this ale is a tribute to the ones made in Burton-on-Trent.

Pours a sparkly amber with a half inch of frothy head. The head was persistent and had nice lacing on the glass. Smells of English style hops, perhaps East Kent Goldings. Taste is sweet and malty but quickly gives you a strident balance or herbal hops. I found it well balanced with a medium body. A bit of creaminess in the texture. Aftertaste lingers on the palate for several minutes and is dominated by the hops. Certainly drinkable and truly smooth. A very good product from an under appreciated brewer.

Sea Dog Brewing

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Beer Hunting: Southwest Florida

Southwest Florida (well, anywhere in Florida really) is not exactly what one would consider a top notch destination for beer. And it's probably not. But whenever I travel, I try to have at least one beer in mind that I want to get that I cannot get here in metro Atlanta. This time, it was the beers of Saint Somewhere Brewery.

Saint Somewhere has only been producing beer for less than a year and took the unusual strategy of brewing Belgian style beers and only releasing them in 750ml caged and corked bottles. I suppose this wouldn't be too unusual for many microbreweries but Florida breweries are notorious for being "safe" and unimaginative. That's not to say they don't make good beer in Florida, it just tends to be lagers or light ales.

I was going to be staying near Fort Myers with my sister. As this was going to be a family vacation, there wasn't going to be a lot of time for going to the pub so I targeted beer stores instead. The Total Wine in Fort Meyers looked to be my best best.

At Total Wine, I was pleased find beers from Bell's Brewery there and immediately targeted some Two Hearted Ale, one of my all-time favorites. I also picked up a six pack of Penn Pilsner, a tasty but unassuming pilsner from Pennsylvania, as my "utility" beer while in Florida. It was a beer you can enjoy without having to think too much about it.

Other finds included offering from Hawaii's Kona Brewing Company, Oregon's Full Sail, New England Brewing and Lost Coast among others. Various mixed sixers covered it.

That was pretty much it for the beer hunting until we started for home. We were making various stops on the Gulf Coast and had reservations at a hotel in Spring Hill, FL. Imagine my surprise when pulling into the hotel to see a Belgian brewpub across the parking lot from our hotel! Imagine my disappointment when I realized it was out of business!

The St. Sebastiaan Belgian Microbrewery looks to have been closed for about a year now. After some research, I found that it was created by a daughter company of the Sterkens Brewery based in Meer, Belgium. How great would it have been to put the family to bed and go have a couple pints? But now, the grass is overgrown and the outside is in disrepair as the pictures show.

St. Sebastiaan

Instead, I got in the van and decided to try to find some Saint Somewhere beers one last time. We were just north of Tarpon Springs (where the brewery is located) so I headed south to see if I could score some.

The local ABC Liquor store was no help, as I expected. So I headed further south to the Clearwater location of Total Wine. There I found two bottles from Saint Somewhere, the Saison Athene and the Lectio Divina. The Lectio Divina was listed as an amber but at 8% ABV, it certainly isn't an ordinary amber. Mission accomplished...but it was only a bottle of each. So it was onward...

World of Beer is a small store but it has an enormous selection. The owner knows his beer and even keeps the place dimly lit to protect the beer from getting light struck. I found more bottles of Saint Somewhere but there was more. Mikkeller had just come into the market so I grabbed a Stateside IPA and Mikkeller Black, a 17.5% ABV imperial stout. To top it off a La Granja Espresso Stout from Norrebro Bryghus in Denmark. Fantastic.

To complete the trilogy, I headed over to Luekens Big Town Liquors in Dunedin to see what else I could find. There, I found Holy Mackeral Mack in Black from Gordash Brewing Company. Gordash is another new brewing concern in Florida but has their beer contract brewed at this point. Add another mixed sixer that included some old favorites from Maine breweries and my evening was complete.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tasting Notes: The IPA Spotlight - Jockamo IPA

Brewer: Abita Brewing Company
Style: IPA
ABV: 6.5%
Date Poured: July 2008

In this age of imperial everything in the American craft beer scene, double and even triple IPAs have stolen the spotlight from their forbears. "Single" IPAs have been forgotten. There was a day when IPA's were the ultimate showcase for hops but are now often dismissed as not being hoppy enough!

So I wanted to highlight a few good IPA's over the next couple of weeks. Not Imperial IPA, not Double IPA, just good honest IPAs. They're still out there.

First up is Jockamo IPA, a new beer from Abita Brewing out of New Orleans.

It pours a bright clear amber with a frothy ivory head. Lots of lacing. Copious amounts of herbal hops in the nose with a touch of fruity malt aroma.

Bitingly bitter herbal hops. Quite snappy with a fruity malt backbone. The hops linger long on the tongue in addition to the long herbal hop aftertaste. It's yummy.

Abita Brewing Company

Monday, July 14, 2008

New England, July 2005: Part 4 - Kennebec River Brewery, Quebec City and the Seas Dog

(I kept putting this last installment off because I thought I had pics from this leg of the trip. I guess I was wrong. So here it is...)

We arrived at The Forks, Maine early on Saturday afternoon. Our target was the Northern Outdoors resort where we would be camping out and taking advantage of a fringe benefit; that this resort also has a working brewery/brewpub.

We pitched our tent right at a site within a stone's throw of the Kennebec River and headed up to the lodge for some lunch.

We ordered some burgers and some brews. I had the Penobscot Porter with my burger and it was very tasty. Creamy and roasty, very smooth and sessionable. Did I mention they serve their beers in mason jars?

At the time, they also had a blueberry ale (not bad), a hazelnut brown ale (a tad heavy handed with the hazelnut) and their Magic Hole IPA. Magic Hole is one of the overlooked IPA's in New England. It is hopped exclusively with East Kent Goldings (at least it was at the time) and is just a fine, snappy and tasty IPA. In the age of the Imperial IPA, I guess I can see how many would overlook it.

Over the course of the day and a half we were at the resort, all the beers were sampled. In between the kayaking, the hiking or the hot tub, we found ourselves in the pub drinking beer or at our campsite drinking the beer we got at Oak Pond Brewery the day before. Not a bad way to spend a couple of days. My only regret is I didn't snap a few pictures on this part of the trip!

Sunday morning we decided to take a cannonball trip across the border and go beer hunting in Quebec City. We arrived late in the morning and found a pub to grab a sandwich and a couple beers.

At the Pub St-Alexandre, I enjoyed a Blanche de Bruxelles witbier with my ham and cheese panino and followed that up with the excellent Raftman from Unibroue, a Belgian-style ale made with smoked whiskey malt.
After lunch, we took a stroll around Le Marché du Vieux-Port de Québec, what could best be described as a sort of indoor farmer's market on the St. Lawrence River. We bought some outstanding artisinal cheeses and some Canadian ice wine and started the drive home.

On our way out of town, we stopped off at a Metro grocery store to look for beer. I picked up some Raftman, some Ephemere Cassis and some Irresistible Blonde and Brune, all from Unibroue. Dave picked up some Leffe Brune and we made our way back to Bangor.

On Monday, I had some time to kill before driving back to Logan Airport. I visited one of my favorite places for beer in Bangor, the Sea Dog Brewpub. The beer they serve are always tasty and, more importantly, they always have an offering on cask. Today it was a brown ale called Old Gollywobbler and I had one with lunch. I can't always recommend the food at the Sea Dog but the lobster roll I had that day was pretty good.

Rental car returned and bags checked, I headed to the Harpoon Brewery tap at the terminal to have a couple beers before the plane took off. I started with a Harpoon UFO (an unfiltered wheat which was fair at best) and then realized they had an offering from their 100 Barrel series...Triticus Wheat Wine. The Triticus was very, very good and weighs in at 11.5% ABV. As you might imagine, I was feeling very mellow as I boarded the plane for home.

All in all, a very good trip and quite a nice haul of beer was brought home.