Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tasting Notes: Bell's Double Cream Stout

Brewery: Bell's Brewery
Style: Cream Stout

ABV: 7.5%

Date Poured: September 2008

One last Bell's beer to try in this flight. This time, a winter seasonal, a cream stout.

Pours jet black with a creamy dark brown head. Strong aromas of sweet dark malt. Creamy dark chocolate with hints of coffee.

There's some alcohol evident in the flavor but lots of creamy dark malt underpinned with the earthy dark chocolate and roasted coffee. An incredibly smooth mouth. Downright velvety. The roasted coffee flavors linger in the finish and aftertaste.

A little bit of everything in this one but it is still undoubtedly a cream stout. Very nice and very drinkable.

Bell's Brewery

Monday, September 29, 2008

Tasting Notes: Bell's Cherry Stout

Brewery: Bell's Brewery
Style: Cherry Stout

ABV: 7.0%

Date Poured: September 2008

After blasting Bell's Hopslam, I though it was only fair to drink a couple other of the Bell's beers I grabbed while down in Florida...some stouts! This is what Bell's does best so I was pretty excited to sample a couple that I have not tried before. First up is the Bell's Cherry Stout. This beer is a winter release so this is from last year's batch. It's a 7.0% ABV stout brewed with cherry juice.
Pours jet black with a thin brown head. No lacing. Roasty but very sweet aromas roasted malt, have to search a bit but the cherry aromas are there as well.

Cherry flavors much more evident in the taste. The tart cherry flavors blend nicely with the sweet roasted malt. Cherry is the prominent flavor but the malt takes a very close second. Sweet and roasty latte flavors intertwined with the tart cherry flavor and finishes quite sweet. The aftertaste is bitter chocolate and cherry juice.
Outstanding cherry stout! It's beers like these that Bell's should stick to.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

One Week 'Til Belgium

Literally YEARS of planning and preparation culminates next Thursday as I board a plane and wing my way to Belgium. Twelve years after my first visit and 11 years since my last, I will finally get back to Belgium and take the full beery trip I have always wanted to do.

Whereas my last trips were sidestops of larger trips or fortunate port of calls, this one will venture outside of the Antwerp\Brussels junkets I have done before into the countryside of Wallonia, the fields of West Flanders and the cities of Brugge and Gent.

Bags are beginning to be packed, reservations and deposits have been finalized and the itinerary is complete. A few resources that I found especially useful that I can pass along to others...

1) Tim Webb's Good Beer Guide to Belgium - I will know for sure once I go but I can't imagine that there is any better guide for a beer trip to Belgium anywhere on the market. Webb is an entertaining and opinionated writer and it's very thorough even for the smaller towns.

2) Belgian Beer Pub Map - While not as thorough as Tim Webb's guide, this website is maintained by Belgian beer fan Filip Geerts and features an easy to navigate map that enables you to see the worthy beer establishments in each town. There are a lot of little known gems in his lists and the best part is you can download all the data in a .ov file for use in your TomTom GPS. I imagine this will be very, very helpful during the car journey portion of the trip.

3) Belgian Beer Board - Another Geerts creation, the best part of this site is Filip's blog. He's turned me on to a few pubs and beer stores I had not heard of before and has been keeping up with the newest and best new beer releases in the West Flanders area. Excellent resource and excellent pictures to go with.

4) The Burgundian Babblebelt - Very useful for keeping up with the latest goings on in the Belgian beer scene. For example, the sad news of the closing of the Hopduvel cafe in Gent was reported there last week and I have seen no news of that anywhere else. Better to know now before going out of my way to visit only to find the place shuttered! Lots of expertise among the users who gave me some useful tips on some of the finer points of my planned visit. Also has city/province guides as well as many Babbler trip reports.

5) BeerAdvocate.com - The Belgium group in the Beer Forum is not nearly as active at the BBB but offers some good info on planning your Belgium trip, especially if you're coming from the U.S. Very good insights on brewery tours and arranging to buy Westvleteren at the abbey. The BeerFly feature also allow you to search various Belgian cities for notable pubs and beer stores.

6) Belgian Tourist Office Website - They devote a page to Beer Lovers coming to Belgium. While not comprehensive in content, it is comprehensive in the links it has to dozens and dozens of resources to learn more about Belgian beer. A good calendar for regular beer festivals and such. Also a good start for looking for accommodations and previewing non-beery attractions.

7) Michael Jackson's Great Beers of Belgium - My edition of this classic is fairly outdated but it was Jackson's writings that first made me aware of Belgium's brewing traditions and got me to buy my first Belgian beers. It's coming with me to Belgium if for nothing else but nostalgia.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Tasting Notes: Bell's Hopslam Ale

Brewery: Bell's Brewery
Style: Imperial IPA
ABV: 10.0%

Date Poured: August 2008

It pours a clear orangey copper with a frothy ivory head. Lots of fine spiderweb lacing. Beautiful smell. Floral and sweet citrusy hops. Hints of tangerine and apricot, orange rind and a hint of alcohol.

In the mouth, the alcohol is quite apparent. Quite hot actually. It is quite sweet but the malt provides very little body to offset the copious amounts of bitingly bitter hops. The hops are pretty unpleasant actually without the malt to offset the spice. It comes off exceedingly harsh. And thin! Long hoppy aftertaste.

Wow, really lacking as a double IPA. It's kind of a mess. Horrendously overrated on the various beer sites. A fantastic brewery (the best brewer of stouts in America in my estimation) but this is a beer that is surprisingly lacking in craftmanship and taste. Miss it.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Tasting Notes: Bar Harbor Blueberry Ale

Brewery: Atlantic Brewing Company
Style: Blueberry Ale

ABV: 5.2%

Date Poured: August 2008

I am not a fan of fruit in my beer. Yes, the traditional lambics and the occasional well-crafted cherry stout may please my palate on occasion but generally I find fruit in beer to be gimmicky and the results lackluster at best. This goes double for American craft brewers who seem to believe that the quickest way to convert a female drinker is to brew the blandest wheat beer possible and then drown it in some flavor of fruity (peach, raspberry, cherry...take your pick) extract so it's nice and sweet for the delicate ladies. They taste just as bad as they sound.

However, it can be done properly. The Atlantic Brewing Company in Bar Harbor, Maine makes one of my favorite American fruit beers. First, they use real Maine blueberry puree instead of extract in the brewing process. Second, they have avoided using a bland wheat ale as a base. Instead, it's a maltier amber ale that mixes nicely with the blueberry flavor.

It pours a very clear, very bubbly clear copper topped by a thin but persistent and creamy tan head. The nose is filled with very aromatic blueberry and a biscuity malt.

Tastes of bready and lightly nutty malt. Some muted, lightly tart but lightly sweet blueberry flavors but the blueberry is not the main thrust. It merely acts as an accompaniment to the crisp and nutty malt. Just a hint of hops in the finish. Crisp and clean finish with a light sweetness in the aftertaste. Very good stuff and never gets old.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

BA Barleywine Meet-up

For the second straight month, Tim at The 5th Earl Market organized a Beer Advocate gathering for another tasting. The theme this month: barleywines! No better way to pass a late summer day in Atlanta.

The list:

Rogue Old Crustacean 2004
Alaskan Barleywine 2007
Bridgeport Old Knucklehead
Sierra Nevada Bigfoot 2004
Saint Arnold Divine Reserve #6
Green Flash Barleywine
Smuttynose Barleywine 2005
Smuttynose Wheat Wine
Clipper City Below Decks
Dogwood Excellent Adventure Barleywine
Stone Old Guardian Vertical 2002 through 2007
Anchor Old Foghorn 2007
There may have been a couple others...

Some highlights: KP was quite generous to bring the Old Guardian vertical as well as extra cups for everyone so we could try all 6 vintages side by side. (My opinion was that the 2003 vintage was the best.) Few would be so generous but few have assembled a beer cellar as impressive as KP's.
Another treat was brought by Jordan Fleetwood, current brewer at Twain's Billiards and Tap in Decatur and former brewer at the defunct Dogwood Brewing Company. The Excellent Adventure Barleywine was one of the last (if not the last) beers brewed at Dogwood and to the best of my knowledge was not commercially released. It may have been the best beer of the night.
There wasn't a bad beer in the bunch. Thanks again to Tim for organizing and everybody for bringing the beer! Hopefully, this will continue to be a regular event.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Tasting Notes: Florida Brewery Spotlight - Saint Somewhere Lectio Divina

Brewery: Saint Somewhere
Style: Belgian Amber (?)
ABV: 8%
Date Sampled: August 2008

The last beer in this Florida brewery spotlight is another offering from Saint Somewhere of Tarpon Springs.

It pours a deep amber with an enormous frothy head. The lace spiderwebs down the glass. Smells strongly of fruity malt with a faint alcohol. Red apple, pear and ripe cherry flavors evident in the aroma too.

Immensely sweet and fruity. Spiced apple, hints of pear and date. Sweet and sticky but surprisingly drinkable for such a big beer. Sweet spice in the finish. Very nice.