Thursday, December 31, 2009

12 Beers of Christmas, Day 10: Dominion Baltic Porter

Brewery: Old Dominion Brewing Co., Dover, DE
Style: Baltic Porter
ABV: 6.8%
Date Poured: December 2009

I had a version of this beer about six years ago and although it was good, I haven't had it since. This is mostly because I could not easily get Dominion offerings where I lived but when I saw this at my local bottle shop, I had to grab one.

Pours black as night with a thin brown head that quickly evaporates to nothing at all. Smells of roasty malt, mixed with dark fruit and a just hint of smoke.

No surprises in the mouth as it reflects the nose almost perfectly. Roasty and dark fruit (raisiny) with a fairly chewy body but creamy as well. The roasted malt and fruit mix nicely and the creamy texture makes it go down smooth. The alcohol sneaks up on you a bit since there's nary a hint of booziness. Creamy, mocha-like finish and a lingering roastiness in the aftertaste.

It's as straightforward as a Baltic Porter can be, balanced the fruitiness and the roastiness well and is smooth as velvet. What's not to like? Six years is a long time to wait between samples...but I think they have improved the recipe since then

Old Dominion Brewing

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

12 Beers of Christmas, Day 9: Stone/Nogne Ø/Jolly Pumpkin Holiday Ale

Brewery: Stone Brewing, Jolly Pumpkin, Nøgne Ø
Style: Winter Warmer
ABV: 9.0%
Date Poured: December 2009

Here's a unique brew. What do you get when Stone, Nøgne Ø and Jolly Pumpkin get together to brew a holiday ale? You get a 9.0% ABV behemoth brewed with 25% rye malt, white sage, juniper berries, caraway seed and chestnuts. Chestnuts! According to the Stone website, this ale was brewed just once for the 2008 holiday season so I guess I'm lucky to have found some.

It's murky brown in the glass and a thinnish but creamy tan head.Smells very Stone-y if you know what I mean. The malt smells very much like Arrogant Bastard. Big bitter hops with some citrusy hops underneath. Hint of alcohol.

Definitely some alcohol in the mouth, spicy, fruity with a pronounced juniper berry quality adding bitterness, Big bruising malt profile. I mean, this must be hopped but I am having a hard time telling if it's the juniper or some other form of bittering being used.. Again, spicy in the finish, must be the sage. I suppose there's a nutty quality to this ale form the chestnuts but I'd be hard pressed to detect it if I didn't know it was in there. Biug sticky mouthfeel. It a liquid meal.

Very unique ale, very tasty and very well suited for winter. I doubt I can find any more...but I'll keep my eyes open.

Stone Brewing

Nøgne Ø

Jolly Pumpkin

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

12 Beers of Christmas, Day 8: Bell's Winter White Ale

Brewery: Bell's Brewery
Style: Belgian Witbier
ABV: 5.0%
Date Poured: December 2009

A nasty little illness put my beer drinking on hiatus over the holidays. But the beer's been bought and I'm no quitter! That beer's not going to drink itself so I'm finishing the series heading into the New Year!

Next up is Bell's Winter White. Bell's is new to the Georgia market in 2009 and while I wouldn't think of a witbier as a winter seasonal, it is brewed with orange peel and coriander so in a weird way it works.

Luminous golden color with a snow-white froth. Smell is predictable spicy with clove and coriander present, a touch of bitter citrus and sweet, grainy wheat malt.

Again, spicy in the mouth. Coriander, clove and some other peppery spices. Sweetish finish, nice wheat character. Some muted fruitiness, green apples and pear.

A better white ale than most American versions I have tried. Spicy and lively, easy to drink and, although not a true winter beer, a really tasty ale.

Bell Brewery

Sunday, December 20, 2009

12 Beers of Christmas, Day 7: Frosted Frog Christmas Ale

Brewery: Hoppin' Frog Brewery, Akron, OH
Style: Winter Warmer
ABV: 8.6%
Date Poured: December 2009

Hoppin' Frog Brewery is a small brewery in Akron, Ohio that is most famous for their B.O.R.I.S. The Crusher Oatmeal Imperial Stout. That beer is amazing. This is the second beer I've had from this brewery and, again, this was once I was really looking forward too. The bottle for Frosted Frog says this ale is brewed with cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.

It pours clear but dark mahogany and the head is almost non-existent. Now the first, they weren't kidding about the spices. Strong cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger in the nose. A bit of fruity malt in there too.

The spice dominates the flavor as well. Cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg throughout. It's like drinking a gingerbread cookie, bready, spicy and a tinge of alcohol. A sweet fruity malt backbone but, again, the spices dominate. Not overpowering though, the ale remains pleasant to drink. Sweet spice in the finish.

Unusual and tasty spiced ale. It's a "Wow!" beer for sure.

Hoppin' Frog Brewery

Saturday, December 19, 2009

12 Beers of Christmas, Day 6: Anderson Valley Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale

Brewery: Anderson Valley Brewing Company, Boonville, CA
Style: Winter Warmer
ABV: 6.9%
Date Poured: December 2009

I've heard a lot about Anderson Valley over the years and was looking forward to trying their seasonal offering. Again, I found a bottle in Maryland and brought it home for a sample.

The color is hazy reddish orange with a wisp thin khaki head. Smells of caramel, sweet spice and lightly fruity in the nose. Apricot, orange rind and juicy grapefruit from the hops.

The first thing you notice in the mouth is that the body is kind of chewy. Lots of caramel. Nice mouthfeel with a nice fruity finish. Some light spice, maybe nutmeg and cinnamon. Some light citrusy hops in the finish, some orange rind and apricot. amber ale. Nice finish and sweetish aftertaste.

Imagine an amber ale with a bit more "oomph". That's a basic overview of this ale and it seems a wee bit lacking for a winter warmer at first blush. But it's well crafted, the mouthfeel is nice and if you just let your tastebuds take over, it really is a fine ale to sip while sitting by the fire.

Anderson Valley Brewing Company

Friday, December 18, 2009

12 Beers of Christmas, Day 5: Alvinne Gaspar

Brewery: Picobrouwerij Alvinne, Belgium
Style: Belgian IPA
ABV: 8%

Date Poured: December 2009

I'm not 100% sure that this is meant to be a Christmas beer but I'm taking the Three Wise Men on the label as a sign that it is. The label claims that it is one of the hoppiest beers in Belgium, hopped with Hallertau, Goldings and Saaz.

The body is a lightly hazy copper in color and upon even a gentle pour grows an enormous, billowing white head that leaves a thick sheet of lace on the glass. Yeasty fruitiness in the nose, with apples, muscat grapes and ripe pear interspersed with a peppery spice.

The first taste reveals three competing major flavors: bitter, boozy and fruity. These major themes blend for various combinations throughout the glass of beer. Bright fruit (apples, pears, etc), herbal and citrusy hops, sweet rich malt and some understated alcohol flavors with a bit of warming in the mouth. Medium bodied with a finish that's more bitter than sweet.

Is this the hoppiest beer in Belgium. No way. I like Belgian IPAs and Urthel Hop It and Houblon Chouffe are hoppier in the same style and, off the top of my head, Westvleteren 6 is a hoppier golden ale. But Gaspar is still a pretty tasty beer.

Picobrouwerij Alvinne

Thursday, December 17, 2009

12 Beers of Christmas, Day 4: Troegs Mad Elf Ale

Brewery: Troegs Brewing Company, Harrisburg, PA
Style:Strong Belgian Ale (?)
ABV: 11%
Date Poured: December 2009

This is one of the craziest Christmas beers you'll ever come across. It's ruby red, brewed with cherries and Pennsylvania honey, uses a "spicy" Belgian yeast and hopped with the "noblest" of hops, hallertau and saaz. It's an odd concoction that somehow works. I haven't had this beer is years but when I came across it during a recent trip to Maryland, I picked up a bomber.

It's a crystal clear ruby red in the glass with a thinnish ivory colored head. Fruity aromas, honey and ripe cherry. Also smells boozy and oaky.

As you might expect, lots more cherry in the mouth. Very, very sweet. The honey is quite present. Just a touch of tartness fromt he cherries. Sweet spice in the finish, herbal hops in the aftertaste, detectable but faint. Big beer and sticky mouthfeel but the alcohol and the hops clean just enough away in the finish to keep it from being cloying.

It's truly original and, more importantly, really tasty. I wish that I could get it more often.

Troegs Brewing Company

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

12 Beers of Christmas, Day 3: Scaldis Noel

Brewery: Brasserie Dubuisson, Belgium
Style: Strong Belgian Ale
ABV: 12%
Date Poured: December 2009

This one is called Bush Noel in its country of origin and Scaldis elsewhere due to copyright laws.

It pours a murky reddish chestnut topped by a creamy, inch thick, khaki colored head. The head fades to a wisp but persists in that state. In the nose, it's boozy with dark fruit, sweet spice and yeasty.

There's a lot more dark fruit (raisins, fig, black currant) and sweet spice in the mouth. Now, there is certainly some booziness in the flavor and warming in the mouth (as well as warming as it heads down the gullet) but it's not harsh at all. It's lovely. Lots of flavors lurking about..vanilla, toffee, all that dark fruit especially raisin, sweet spice and just a hint of oak.

Smoother than you would expect, certainly smoother than regular Scaldis but make no mistake, this is a big beer. Big flavors, big sweet mouthfeel and the warming alcohol....leaves my ears hot by the end of the glass but an incredibly pleasant drinking experience. This might have to be one of my new Christmas traditions and, of course, I need to get some to cellar.

Brasserie Dubuisson

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

12 Beers of Christmas, Day 2: New Belgium 2 Below

Brewery: New Belgium Brewing Company, Fort Collins, CO
Style: Winter Warmer
ABV: 6.6%
Date Poured: December 2009

New Belgium is new to the Georgia market this year so I felt it was appropriate to include thier winter seasonal as one of the 12. I have been a big fan of New Belgium for a few years now, always making sure to pick some up when I head west (especially the magnificent La Folie).

Orangey copper with a rocky ivory head that leaves thick sheeting lace down the side of the glass. A very odd hop profile in the aroma with a very sweet citrusy hop smell reminiscent of limes...but I don't think that's right. I think it's a combination of very bright citrus and piney hops that is creating a unique a heavenly hop aroma. Some biscuity malt evident in the nose as well.

In the mouth, there's a distinct honey-like quality to the malt with the bright hoppiness delivering a juicy bitterness that pierces the malt and balances the sweetness in the finish. It's crisper in the mouth than you would expect. Bready and biscuity malt but, again, the hops balance that sweetness in the finish and aftertaste.

Is it a winter warmer is the classic sense? No. Is it good.?Yes. Is it a good beer for winter to my tastes? Borderline but definitely unique and worth a try.

New Belgium Brewing Company

Monday, December 14, 2009

12 Beers of Christmas: Southern Tier Old Man Winter

Brewery: Southern Tier Brewing Company, Lakewood, NY
Style: Old Ale
ABV: 7.2%
Date Poured: December 2009

I always like to start this series (even in its abbreviated form) with something I know is going to be good. I don't want to start it with something that will leave make the rest of the beers a let down but I want something that I know will be a solid offering. Enter Southern Tier. Southern Tier will occasionally wow you but even their standard fare (the IPA, the porter) are tasty and enjoyable. Combine this with the fact that I love a good Old Ale and Old Man Winter was the logical choice to kick off the 12 Beer of Christmas.

This one is lovely in the glass. (There's the picture...I mean, just look at that!) The body is a crystal clear chestnut with a thinnish tan head. Fine lacing left on the glass. A surprisingly hoppy aroma, floral hops with a caramel underneath.

A rich, lovely blend of caramel and hops in the mouth. Good body, nutty malt, floral and citrusy hops. Lightly sticky and sweet but creamy and sneaky smooth, no hint of alcohol in the flavor. Lovely balance, great drinkability but plenty of flavor and body to qualify as a great winter beer.

A good start. Go get some.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

25 Beers of Christmas? Not So Much...

For the last two years, I have done the 25 Beers of Christmas. While I enjoy the feature immensely, 25 straight days posting about Christmas/winter beers leaves me with a blogging hangover (and occasionally, an actual hangover) heading into the new year and my posts tend to drop steeply on January 1st.

So, in an attempt to sustain my beer blogging a bit more heading into 2010, I am shortening this feature to the 12 Beers of Christmas and will begin posting them on December 13th. I am looking forward to it!

After all, it's the most wonderful time for a beer...

Monday, November 30, 2009

Tasting Notes: Mad Hatter India Pale Ale

Brewery: New Holland Brewing Company
Style: IPA
ABV: 5.8%
Date Poured: July 2009

This is one I picked up during a recent trip through North Carolina. I would imagine Georgia will start to see the beers from this Michigan brewery soon.

Pours an bright orangey-gold with a rocky ivory head leaving big chunky lace. Floral hops in the nose, underneath is a light, sweetish malt profile.

In the mouth, sweet malt with a strong herbal hop profile. Somewhat sticky in the finish with long herbal hops in the finish. The hops are a bit harsh and heavyhanded. It's not unbalanced per se but this beer is just trying to hit you over the head. Nothing wrong with that in itself but it's just not that tasty. It goes for bombastic instead of good flavor. Just doesn't work that well here.

New Holland Brewing Company

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Session #33: Framing Beer

This month's version of The Session is about "Framing Beer". I'm not sure what Andy had in mind exactly but my mind seized on this sentence:

I have not done much blind tasting, and I would be intrigued to hear about this ‘frameless’ evaluation of beer.

Well, I have never done any blind tasting and I have always wanted to do one. This installment of The Session gives me the perfect excuse.

Now, it wouldn't be a perfect blind tasting...I was having my wife pick out 4 12oz bottles out of my cellar. I am vaguely familiar with what is in my cellar so I imagine that this colors my "blindness" during the tasting but I have enough inventory that I can't keep it all straight. My wife grabbed the 4 bottles, poured me a sample of each and did not tell me what beers she had picked until after the entire tasting was complete. Here they are in chronological order.

Beer #1

Lots of dark fruit in the nose and a bit of alcohol. Taking a sip, big flavors from this one. Pronounced alcohol is evident first. Fruity, oaky...and roasty. The roastiness comes out more as it warms with lots of sweet dark fruit in the finish. Warming alcohol as it moves down the throat.

After sipping on this for a few minutes, I am pretty certain that this is am Imperial stout. It felt like a strong old ale at first but the dark roasted malt flavors gave it away. No idea what label the beer is but if you made me guess, I'd say a young version of Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout.

The Beer Revealed: Duck Rabbit Imperial Stout

I had the style right and I was pretty happy about that. Again, the roasted malt and strength of the alcohol flavors gave it away.

Beer #2

Big caramel aromas in the nose...some faint herbal hops too. The flavor takes a 180 from the smell. The aroma was big and rich, the taste is difficult to detect. Perhaps this is because it follows the Imperial stout but I struggle to get anything from my first couple sips. The body is thin and light, the finish is fairly clean. An American wheat beer? A golden ale? That doesn't go with the smell though. No idea on this one...I'm stumped. If I had to guess, I'd say a strong Belgian pale ale.

The Beer Revealed: Anchor Christmas 2005

Amazing. Without being able to see the beer, I picked up none of the porter-like elements I usually detect in this beer. The age on the beer explains the thinnish feel of the body.

Beer #3

Big malty caramel in the nose. Alcohol too and some pronounced bitter hops. For lack of a better phrase, it smells like a barleywine. In the mouth, big fruity and caramel malt. And hops. Lots of hops followed by an alcohol bite. The hops bite too but you can detect some citrusy notes there too. Some dark fruit and warming alcohol.

It's assuredly a barleywine, almost surely American. If I had to guess, I'd say Rogue Old Crustacean.

The Beer Revealed: 2004 Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine

I am surprised that a nearly 6-year-old sample still has that much hop flavor going on. Wow.

Beer #4

Bright fruity aromas, roasted malt and no hops to speak of. Roasty dark malt in the mouth and a lot of carbonation, more than you would expect from what is almost certainly a stout. It's creamy and certainly thinner in body than the Imperial stout I had earlier. There's a character that I can't put my finger on that leads me to believe that this is not an ordinary stout. It got something extra...maybe a milk or cream stout?

The Beer Revealed: New Holland The Poet Oatmeal Stout

I love oatmeal stouts but couldn't identify that oatmeal quality beyond "something else".


So what have I learned? I learned that, unsurprisingly, beers with big bold flavors are easier to identify than those with more muted and subtle ones. I was still pretty pleased that I was able to identify about 2.5 beer styles out of the 4 I sampled...I've seen blind tastings that go far worse. I am also curious what would happen if I sent my wife to the local Whole Foods with $10 and told her to bring back 4 random single bottles what this exercise would look like. Hmmmm........

For more entries for this month's installment of The Session, check out this post on I'll Have A Beer, this month's host.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Beer Hunting: Green's Discount Beverage in Atlanta

If you peruse this blog on a regular basis, you know that I cellar beer. Well, a second child and the economy in general has slowed down beer acquisitions for my cellar over the last couple years. But when my wife recently gave me some birthday money for beer, I knew there was only one place to take it...Green's.

Green's offers the delightful combination of the best selection and the best prices when it comes to beer in Atlanta. There are two locations but the Ponce location downtown is my store of choice. My goal was to get some new bottles for the cellar.

The only problem with Green's is that it's easy to get sidetracked. And that's what happened to me. Seemingly, for every beer that I got for the cellar (like 2007 N'Ice Chouffe) I found another that was for drinking now (like Sweetwater Wet Dream Ale). But really, it's a good problem to have.

It goes without saying that if you have to pick one place to buy beer in Atlanta, Green's is the runaway winner. Best selection, best prices and, at the Ponce location, a climate controlled beer cellar where much of the Belgian beer is housed.

The haul:

Moylan's Ryan Sullivan's Imperial Stout (2 bombers, 1 for the cellar)
Smuttynose Big Beer Series - Baltic Porter (1 bomber)
Sweetwater Dank Tank - Wet Dream Ale (1 bomber)
Smuttynose Big Beer Series - Imperial Sout (1 bomber for the cellar)
Jolly Pumpkin Noel de Calabaza (1 750ml bottle)
Unibroue Trois Pistoles (2 750ml bottles for the cellar)
Gueuze Girardin 1882 (1 375 ml bottle for the cellar)
Terrapin Side Project #8 - Pumpkinfest (1 bomber)
N'Ice Chouffe 2007 (1 750ml bottle for the cellar)
Ommegang Chocolate Indulgence (1 750ml bottle)
Houblon Chouffe (1 750ml bottle)
Stone Cali-Belgie IPA (1 bomber)
Heavy Seas The Great Pumpkin (1 bomber)
Stone Vertical Epic 09.09.09 (1 bomber)
Sierra Nevada Harvest Wet Hop Ale (1 24oz bottle)
Brew Dog Riptide Stout (1 bomber)
Samuel Adams Imperial Stout (4 12oz bottles, 3 for the cellar)
Dogfish Head Punkin Ale (4 12oz bottles)
Weyerbacher Old Heathen Imperial Stout (6 12oz bottles for the cellar)
Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale (6 12oz bottles)

Still, it was a nice addition of "new blood" for the cellar and I'll have to re-inventory the thing to reflect the additions as well as recent subtractions.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Tasting Notes - Pumpkin Beer: Dogfish Head Punkin' Ale

Brewery: Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Milton, DE
Style: Pumpkin Ale
ABV: 7.0%

Date Poured: October 2009

Brewed since 1994, this is another old favorite. Brewed to honor the Punkin Chunkin Festival in southern Delaware, this may be the oldest pumpkin beer currently brewed.

Pours an orangey copper with a quarter-inch tan head. Smells spicy. Clove and nutmeg and light cinnamon in the nose. Sweet spice. Tart and fruity underneath, spiced baked apple aromas.

Lots of spicy flavors as mentioned in the smell. Nutmeg, clove, allspice, cinnamon. Some pumpkin flavors in there as well. Fruity malt behind all the above. Some hops in the finish. Good body and lightly sour. A bit creamy. Pretty easy drinker around the holidays. It's a regular at my place every fall

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery

Friday, October 30, 2009

Tasting Notes - Pumpkin Beers: Clipper City The Great Pumpkin

Brewery: Clipper City Brewing Company, Baltimore, MD
Style: Imperial Pumpkin Ale
ABV: 8.0%
Date Poured: October 2009

Clipper City has been doing their Heavy Seas series for awhile now which features their big beers like imperial stouts, double IPAs and such. Now they have a subset of the Heavy Seas series called Mutiny Fleet that have limited runs and come in 22 oz bombers. I picked one of these beers, The Great Pumpkin.

From Hugh Sisson's blog on the Clipper City website:

To be sure that we created the best possible recipe, small 5 gallon batches were made using different yeasts, spice blends and other ingredients.

Then the entire crew got together and held a taste test, discussing what was working and what could be improved. Recipes were assigned a number so ingredients were not known to the tasters.

Then we tested one more time just to be sure... Everyone cast a vote for their favorite recipe.

And here it is.

This beer is a very hazy pale orange with a thin head that disappears completely. Pie spice in the nose,(clove and cinnamon) with some alcohol detectable too. Lesser aromas include some fruity malt and some pumpkin.

In the mouth, big flavors, not the least of which is the alcohol. Lots of pumpkin spice, especially clove. Big fruity malt and sweetness. However, outside of the hotness from the alcohol, the beer is well balanced. Spice and malt are equally strong and provide a nice stasis. Spice dominates the aftertasteand sweet malt dominates the aftertaste.

Really tasty and pretty drinkable, even with the strength. I would like to get a bottle for the cellar just to see how it is once it calms down. After a full bomber, the 8% ABV will leave you a bit woozy. Split with a friend if you need to drive!

Clipper City Brewing

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tasting Notes - Pumpkin Beer: Smuttynose Pumpkin

Brewery: Smuttynose Brewing Company, Portsmouth, NH
Style: Pumpkin Ale

ABV: 6.3%

Date Poured: October 2009

When I lived in Maine, this was the best Pumpkin beer available in New England and it was a fall tradition at my house. Smuttynose became available in Georgia this year and this fall saw the return (for me) of Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale.

From Executive Brewer Dave Yarrington's notes on the Smuttynose blog about the first batch of Pumpkin Ale in 2003:

So we started with a base beer that is orange in color and fairly hoppy. We knew the spices would need some sweetness for balance so we used a mixture of crystal and carastan malts. To this we added pumpkin pie spices at the end of the boil. We actually found that adding pumpkin into the fermentor at the end of primary gave us the most interesting pumpkin flavor, and so that's when we add the puree. We've gotten a great response to the beer which I think is well desreved. (sic)

It's hazy orange in the glass with a thin ivory head. Lots of bubbles rising in the glass. Smells of clove and just a touch of nutmeg.

Very fizzy in the mouth. The malt is masked by the carbonation. Bitter in the finish, herbal hops. Detect just a little pumpkin flavor, especially in the finish. Cloves and cinnamon in the mouth. Crisp and a fairly clean finish.

It doesn't deliver the pumpkin and sweet spice flavor at the same level as Terrapin Pumpkinfest but it's a pleasant beer, well crafted and very drinkable.

Smuttynose Brewing Company

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tasting Notes - Pumpkin Beers: Terrapin Pumpkinfest

Brewery: Terrapin Beer Company, Athens, GA
Style: Pumpkin Beer

ABV: 6.1%
Date Poured: October 2009

After taking a break from the pumpkin beers last year, I decided to jump back in this season with a couple new selections and a couple of my old favorites. Thus, a mini-theme for the week leading up to Halloween of pumpkin beers of various varieties.

First on the list is the latest from the Side Project series from Terrapin Beer Company in Athens, GA. This is #8 to be exact, a beer they call Pumpkinfest. According to their website, this beer is a traditional Oktoberfest beer melded with ingredients for a typical pumpkin ale. So you have all the maltiness of a traditional German fest bier (Munich and Vienna malts) coupled with 1 pound of pumpkin per barrel with pumpkin pie spices (allspice, ginger, cloves and cinnamon). Side Project has rarely disappointed and I am looking forward to see how they pulled this one off.

This one pours a crystal clear orangey copper with a thin ivory colored head. Clove and all spice in the nose. Maybe cinnamon. Sweet caramel malt too.

First sip tastes like pumpkin pie. Sweet caramel malt, lovely mix with the spices, sweetish finish with the sweet spice in the aftertaste (allspice, cinnamon and ginger). Sweetish finish and creamy body.

Terrapin does it again. They manage to strike the right note while combining two disparate styles.

Terrapin Beer Company

Friday, October 23, 2009

Tasting Notes: Modus Hoperandi

Brewery: Ska Brewing Company, Durango, CO
Style: IPA
ABV: 6.8%

Date Poured: October 2009

As a fan of ska music and a fan of beer, this brewery has always intrigued me. The beer has made it into North Carolina this year and this was one of the Ska Brewing products I picked up on a recent trip north. I find an IPA is rarely a bad place to start when you're checking out a new brewery.

If you needed a picture of what an IPA was supposed to look like, this beer could be the example. It pours bright copper and is topped with a frothy ivory head. Intricate, fine lacing left on the glass. A lovely aroma, grassy and herbal hops with a strong grapefruit smell wrapped around it all.

As the aroma indicates, the mouth is filled with tons of juicy hop flavors. There's the grapefruit but also orange rind, lemon zest and a bit of tangerine. Moving past the citrus, there are piney, herbal and floral hops. Underneath, the malt gives a nice caramel and biscuity malt profile. A creamy texture. Smooth and finishes with a bitter citrusy aftertaste.

It doesn't break any new ground but it delivers all you would want from an IPA. Tasty!

Ska Brewing Company

Monday, October 12, 2009

Tasting Notes: Southern Tier IPA

Brewery: Southern Tier Brewing Company, Lakewood, NY
Style: IPA
ABV: 6.5%

Date Poured: August 2009

Another selection from the Southern Tier mixed 12-pack I picked up in Maryland.

Pours a coppery gold with a wisp-thin ivory head. Citrusy hops in the nose, apricot with a hint of lemon, some herbal notes too.

Bitter herb in the mouth, orange rind, grapefruit and a piney quality from the hops. A honey-like sweetness imparted from the malt. Medium bodied, a sweetish finish and the lingering piney bitterness dominates the aftertaste. Well-balanced IPA, the bitter citrus from the hops and the honey from the malt blend nicely.

Southern Tier Brewing Company

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Tasting Notes: New Belgium 1554

Brewery: New Belgium Brewing Company, Fort Collins, CO
Style: Belgian Black Ale

ABV: 5.6%
Date Poured: August 2009

New Belgium recently showed up in Georgia albeit in a kind of limited capacity. I used to have to go to Arkansas (at least) to find New Belgium but today I picked up a bomber at my local Harry's Farmer's Market.

Pours a rich nearly opaque brown with tinges of auburn. Thin but creamy tan head with almost a reddish tinge. A roasted, fruity nose. Light burnt malt and an odd fruity smell, almost like kiwi fruit. Spicy.

Taste is all over the place. Spicy like cloves or nutmeg. Roasted smokiness in the malt. A tropical fruity flavor, like kiwi or mango more so than apple or citrus. Also a crisp bitter hoppiness through out, especially in the finish. Medium bodied and creamy with a smoky chocolate bitterness that lingers and turns into a sticky maltiness. I enjoy this beer alot, lots of different tastes happening here. Good show.

New Belgium Brewing

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tasting Notes: Terrapin Maggie's Farmhouse Ale

Brewery: Terrapin Beer Company
From: Athens, GA
Style: Saison
ABV: 6.0%
Date Poured: August 2009

OK, time to clean out the notebook. Tasting notes!

This was a bomber of Maggie's Farmhouse Ale, #7 in the Terrapin Beer Side Project series of one-off beers.

Fills the glass with luminous and lightly hazy golden hue, frothy but fleeting ivory head. Very lemony nose, sweetish with pointed herbal hops.

Distinct juniper berry flavors in the mouth, bitter and crisp. The body is light but fruity like new apples. But the bitter lemon and citrus is always there too. Herbal and tart. Finishes fairly clean with that juniper berry bitterness closing things out.

Nicely balanced and delivers what you need from a saison. It won't beat you over the head but it serves as a nice refreshing summer beer with some complexity on flavor to keep things interesting. Nicely done.

Terrapin Beer Company

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Session #32: Eastern Beers

This installment of The Session is hosted by Girl Likes Beer and the requirements were to select a beer brewed to the east of where you live and far enough east that it is brewed in a different country.

I am in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. So the beer I picked is technically brewed east of here...but much farther north than east I suppose. But it counts!

I am picking one of the fine beers from the Unibroue brewery in Chambly, Quebec, Canada. I selected Trois Pistoles, a dark Belgian-style ale and this particular bottle I've selected tonight has spent just under 5 years in my cellar.

Canada is best known for it's widely exported industrial lagers like Molson and Labatts but Unibroue was the first Canadian craft beer I ever tries and they were doing beers in a Belgian style, something that was rare for North American breweries at that time.

This beer pours a very dark brown with a thick and creamy light tan head. As with the beer when young, lots of ripe dark fruit in the nose. Raisins, plum and currant. Almost smells more like a ruby port than a beer.

Still a bit of alcohol in the mouth at first sip. A caramel sweetness still remains but the body has thinned out considerably and it's much drier than the last time I tried it. Still the dark fruit, still there is oakiness in the body but the flavors are harder to identify as everything has blended nicely as the age has taken effect. No unpleasant flavors from oxidation can be detected. A warming as it finishes, lightly sticky in the mouth but a fairly clean finish for such a big beer (9% ABV).

So what's different with this beer after 5 years? The spiciness that you expect from Unibroue (and that this beer displayed when young) is very muted and at most times undetectable. As a result, the malt shines through more than it once did. Not as balanced but the flavors all blend wonderfully.

Get some to drink now and some to drink later. Still fantastic after 5 years!

The blog Girl Likes Beer is hosting this month's edition of The Session. Head over there to link to more entires.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Session: Beer Desserts

Almost 15 years ago, one of first beer books I ever bought was Beer Basics: A Quick and Easy Guide by Peter Lafrance. It, along with Michael Jackson's New World Guide to Beer, were my guides through my early days of learning styles and exploring the various American "microbrews" in the mid-1990's.

In the back of Lafrance's book is a chapter on beer and food and a few recipes can be found therein. Here's the recipe for a dessert called Naughty Gretchen:

Naughty Gretchen

(Yields: 1 serving)

2 scoops chocolate ice cream
1 12-oz bottle of dark or amber beer
One cherry

Place the ice cream in a blender. Add the beer to the ice cream and blend until frothy. Pour into a tall glass and place a cherry on top.

(Jim Gagnier - The Broome Street Bar, Manhattan, New York)

Now, I have a more strict recommendation for the recipe as I have exclusively used stout in this recipe, usually Guinness Extra Stout, and with stout it is delicious. I can't vouch for other styles.

Mr. Lafrance's book seems to be out of print but still available through various online resellers. Lafrance also has a website called Beer Basics with a couple of attached blogs and a newsletter.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Tasting Notes: Southern Tier Porter

Brewery: Southern Tier Brewing Company
Style: Porter

ABV: 5.2%

Date Poured: August 2009

Part of a sampler pack I picked up while driving through Maryland a couple months ago.

Pours thick, pitch black in color topped with a thin tan head. A sweet aroma with some dark chocolate and a hint of mocha.

The taste follows the aroma for the most part. It's still sweetish with notes of dark chocolate but with more, a bit of herbal hops present. Good body, sweetish but with a clean finish.

Tasty. Very drinkable. The only knock I can give this beer is that I wish it was a bit more roasty but that's just a personal preference.

Southern Tier Brewing Company

Monday, July 20, 2009

Vote for Jordan!

I don't usually do this but I'm going to campaign for a local brewer. Please go to this link at Atlanta Cuisine and cast a vote for Jordan Fleetwood as your favorite Atlanta brewpub brewer. Now, I know most of you have never been to Twain's to sample Jordan's wares but if you like this blog and trust my tastes, go give him a vote of confidence. Thanks.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Tasting Notes: Terra-Rye'zd Black Rye Lager

Brewery: Left Hand Brewing Company/Terrapin Beer Company
Style: Black Rye Lager
ABV: 6.6%
Date Poured: July 2009

This black lager is the result of a collaboration between Georgia's Terrapin Beer Company and Colorado's Left Hand Brewing Company. It was released at the end of last year and the experiment continues with a new beer this year. This "tweet" from Terrapin:

"Left Hand & Terrapin brewers stepping up to the brew house today at 2:00 to cook up Midnight Project number two...Depth Charge!"

Pours black with hints of red around the edges topped by a creamy head the color of dirty sand. Lots of rye in the nose, sweet with just a touch of herbal hops evident.

Malty schwarzbier character intertwined with a persistent rye graininess. Underlying citrusy hop profile keeps the beer malty but not overly sweet. Roasty, milk chocolate, bready, grainy spicy rye and big citrusy/floral hops. An odd combination of flavors. The rye is so pronounced, I would avoid this beer if you don't care for rye beers. As it is, it's a malty, velvet smooth and perilously drinkable.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Out of the Cellar: Bell's Java Stout

Brewery: Bell's Brewery
Style: Coffee Stout

ABV: 8.1%

Date Poured: July 2009

When I had this beer fresh, it was good but I found the coffee flavors to be a bit overpowering and, at times, even astringent. I wondered if some cellaring would help mute the coffee bitterness and bit and make the beer a bit more balanced. So here is this bottle, picked up on a trip through the American Midwest two summers ago, with two years in the cellar to see if it worked.

Still pours the color of dirty motor oil, still topped by a frothy brown head that retreats to a wisp within minutes. The mocha aromas still dominate but they seem sweeter. A good sign?

Lots of bitter chocolate in the mouth and the sweet mocha flavor comes through as well. It's a little hot still, you can taste some alcohol and get the warming from this ale as it slides down the gullet. Wee bit sticky in the finish, sweet roasted malt in the aftertaste.

The proof here is at the end of the glass because the coffee flavors were not overpowering right away but became evident as the beer warmed and more was consumed.

The verdict? It actually did help quite a bit. This beer is much more balanced now and the big coffee flavors, while very present, are nicely muted. Successful experiment!

Bell's Brewery

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Tasting Notes: Clipper City Marz-Hon

Brewery: Clipper City
Style: Marzen
ABV: 5.25%
Date Poured: May 2009

Clipper City brews its take of the traditional German springtime beer and uses a play on words incorporating Baltimore's most famous colloquialism.

Pours a bright, crystal clear copper with a thinnish snow white head. Some fine lacing making spiderwebs on the glass. A bright maltiness, hints of caramel and sweetness in the nose.

Beauteous caramel malt and noble hops in the mouth. There's a nice balance, not too sweet either. Very smooth. Lots of flavor but easy to drink, malt lingers in the finish, very clean aftertaste.

I'm not sure a marzen can get much better than this one. It's my new favorite. Gotta get back to Baltimore...

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Belgium Trip: Day 8, Part 2: More Brussels, Lots of Lambic

Poechenellekelder is a two-tiered cafe located within spitting distance of the most overrated tourist attraction in the world. Still giddy from the Cantillon tour, we ordered up a 750 ml bottle of Rose de Gambrinus to split. Poechenellekelder is a classic Belgian bar, full of Mannekin Pis replicas dressed in little outfits created for the real one over the years. Marionettes hung from the ceiling and walls and the requisite beer signs were plastered over a glassed in square. Service was good. We snacked on the little crisps they made available and leisurely enjoyed our lambic. After we were done, we grabbed a waffle from the place across the street and started making our way to the Grand Place.

From the Grand Place, a series of narrow alleys take you to Toone, a combination cafe and marionette theatre. Toone is sizable, three distinct rooms and far more seating than you would expect from the outside. We took a seat in the second room that housed the marionette stage itself. The place looks well worn and cozy. It's near the Grand Place and there were plenty of tourists in there ordering tables full of Kwak in the coachman's glass. The beer list...was not that impressive to me. Outside of Cantillon, there wasn't a lot that was going to rock your world...lots of Inbev brews. I went with a Hoegaarden Grad Cru, an old favorite. Dave got a Leffe Radieusse. The Grand Cru was as good as ever. The Leffe Radieusse was a bit hot in my opinion.

After a dinner at a Greek cafe, we headed out to look for a bar called Becasse. There is one main reason to seek out La Becasse; their house beer, Lambic Doux produced by Timmerman's. Becasse is located at the end of a narrow alley keeping foot traffic to a minimum which is a shame because it is a beautiful little cafe. Lots of wood and brass and ceramic jugs which carry the Lambic Doux. Lambic Doux is a straight lambic, lightly sweetened and very still. It hits you more like cider than ale but the balance of the tart funky flavors and the candy sugar sweetness is delicate and perfect. This makes Becasse a must visit for fans of lambic. Served in ceramic pitchers, it is a throwback to a time when all beer in Brussels was served this way.

La Becasse would be our last beery experience in Belgium. It was time to head back to the station, jump the train to the airport a fly home. Great trip overall!

Some recap notes:

Top 5 Cafes Visited

5. t' Oud Arsenaal - a 1920's bar that remains unchanged. Well chosen beer menu with some nice treats.
4. t' Beertje Bruge - Outstanding beer list but cramped and limited hours.
3. De Dulle Griet - Not a great list but classic "brown bar" atmosphere and a lot of fun.
2. Het Waterhuis - Charming cafe on the canal with an incredible beer lsit including some good house brews.
1. Kulminator - Great atmosphere, outstanding beer list and cellared beer for sale. Fantastic.

Gent was overall my favorite city to drink in.

Top 5 Beers Tasted

5. Boon Faro Pertotale - tart and cidery, a rare chance to try traditional faro
4. St. Bernardus Tripel (draft) - spicy and warming, perfect in draft form in my opinion
3. 2000 Boon Oude Gueze Marriage Parfait - aged to perfection, velvety smooth
2. Rodenbach Foederbier - wickedly sour, Rodenbach Grand Cru x 2
1. Westvleteren 12 - perhaps not worth the crazy hype but stellar just the same

Top 5 Surprise Beers

5. Martins Scotch - Malty treat that was quite tasty
4. Brugse Bok - Very traditional bok beer brewed in Belgium
3. Adrian Brouwer - Strong brown ale, fruity and malty
2. Timmerman's Lambic Doux\Lambicus Blanche - Had not heard good things about Timmermans but these two beers were tasty and complex
1. Westvleteren 6 - the forgotten baby brother of 12 and 8, fresh 6 at the abbey cafe was hoppy and crisp and so very tasty.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Belgium Trip: Day 8, Part 1 - Brasserie Cantillon

Turned the car in at Antwerp without a hitch...the mile walk to the train station was another matter. My backpack and luggage was pretty damned heavy but at least the luggage had wheels and I could shoulder the weight of the pack on my back. But Dave had a duffel bag (no wheels) that had grown quite heavy during the trip and he had a rough time getting it down the street to the station! But eventually we made it onto the train and the worst was over.

Once we arrived in Brussels, we stashed the luggage in an automated locker at the station and headed out to find Brasserie Cantillon.

Cantillon is a very traditional lambic brewery in operation since 1900 and is classified by the Belgian government as historic landmark. it operates under the more official name of "Musee Bruxellois de la Gueuze"

The brewery was quite a bit off the beaten path but after a couple wrong turns we eventually found it. The tour was 6 Euro each which included a couple of glasses of lambic at the end. We paid and were off.

No brewing was going on yet (too early in the fall for good wild yeast in the air) so we got a close up look at the empty mash tuns, the old copper kettles and the open air cooling tuns. Most impressive were the alcoves stacked with bottles upon bottles of lambic laid down for conditioning. If you've ever visited any of the large wine cellars in France, you know what it looked like. There were also scores of wooden barrels containing fermenting lambic, kriek, framboise and more of various ages.

After the tour, we hit the tasting area and were permitted one glass of gueuze and one glass of kriek. Wonderful as always. They also offered a plate of local cheese and sausages (gratis) which were delicious, especially since we had not had a decent meal yet and it was approaching lunchtime.

The gift shop had various gift boxes of various Cantillon offerings at very good prices...unfortunately our luggage was already set to burst. Next time maybe...

It was amazing. A must see for the beer lover. The slideshow to follow tomorrow speaks for itself.

***photo of Cantillon exterior - photo credit to Boak & Bailey's Beer Blog, I was in such a hurry to get inside that I forgot to take an exterior shot!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Belgium Trip: Day 7, Part 2 - Wrapping Up Brugge

We dumped off our haul from De Bierloods at the trekkershut and hiked our way back into the city center of Brugge. We spent more time than planned for at Adegem and we were going to have to cut the bar hopping short to pack up the Polo for an early morning departure.

Dave was doing some souvenir shopping so I stole off toward the main square to grab some frites. On my way back, I noticed a sign at the entrance of a narrow alley. Upon closer inspection, it read "De Garre". Excellent! De Garre was a cafe that was on my list but had i been walking at normal speed, I would have missed it completely.

After Dave finished up his purchases, we headed down the alley to get some ale. De Garre, like many of the bars in Brugge is small but does have a second floor. They offered a house tripel and had a sign informing that no customer could order more than three during a session!

But the strength was not the only selling point for this tripel. It was spicy enough to offset the considerable maltiness and sweetness. It was lively and just a bit warming. Very nice tripel.

The bar was rustic and woody, very "brown bar" with a lovely hewn wood bar and dozens of old bottles on display. A roaring fire was crackling away in the hearth and the place was very cozy indeed. We ordered a couple rounds of the tripel and headed back out.

Sadly, time was running short and we were going to have to cut the beer drinking off early. We had a lot of packing to do and we had to take the Polo back to Antwerp first thing in the morning (90 minutes away) and had to get up early. So we headed back toward the campground.

But on the way, we ducked into a cafe called Kelk. It was a dark, smoky cafe that offered little in the way of seating outside of the enormous ornate bar. We grabbed a couple stools and the beer menu. The list was very good and we went with De Dolle this time. Dave tried his very first De Teve and I stuck with the high-octane theme and ordered the imperial stout.

Peter, the owner, recognized us as tourists and started chatting with us. He was quite proud of his bar and his future plans for it and took us a tour of the facilities. Lots of construction was going on upstairs as well as in the basement and in the rooms behind the current bar. The plan? A expansion of the cafe and a beer shop upstairs that would boast more than 1000 varieties of beer. Very impressive vision. i wish we could have hung around for a few months to watch him do it. We went back to the bar, finished our beers, met the old dalmatian who lives at the cafe and, thanking Peter for his hospitality, started making our way back towards the campground.
Packing turned out to be more challenging than we realized. We had a lot of beer, glassware and other souvenirs to get home. To lighten our load, we drank the surplus beer! Among the casualties:

Floreffe Tripel
Lindemans Faro
St. Louis Gueuze Fond Tradition
Timmmermans Fruits de la Foret
La Rulles Blonde
Quintine Ambree
t' Gaverhopke Zingende Blondine
Drie Fonteinen Oude Kriek
Leffe 9

After the bags were packed to our satisfaction, we loaded up the car and turned in. We were going to be rising early to get the car back to Antwerp and hop the train for Brussels in time to drink our fill for the last day of the trip...and see Brasserie Cantillon.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Belgium Trip: Day 7, Part 1 - A Side Trip to the Outlying Village of Adegem

Thursday was intended for Brugge but first I wanted to drive out to Adegem to hit an epic beer store called De Bierloods. Their website boasted a selection of more than 800 Belgian beers and was only a 10 minute drive east of Camping Memling.
We arrived shortly after they opened and the selection lived up to the hype. The shelves were 60 ft long and as tall as me. Name a beer brewed in Belgium and it was probably here. Only Westvleteren was notably absent. (Although when I think about it now, I wonder if I had pressed Vacas, the owner, if he might have had a stash to sell us. Hmmm....) I focused mainly on Christmas (Kerst) beers and Belgian stouts....I kind of had to or I would have been overwhelmed by the choices. He also sold us an dusty old bottle of St. Louis Gueuze Fond had to have at least 5 years of age on it. Prices were decent as far as I could tell. Dave picked up some glassware too.

Mr. Vacas was very proud of his store and the bar that he housed in the basement below. He took us on a quick tour of the facilities and the bar. He also brews his own beer at De Proef called Koantjes, a spicy crisp blonde ale. He snagged a 750 ml bottle, some snacks and served us some (gratis!) out on of the outside tables. Spicy, hoppy and was a tasty ale, maybe the best blonde I had while in Belgium outside of the Westvleteren 6.

Our boxes full of beer, we loaded up the back of the Polo and headed back to Brugge. Thanks to Mr. Vacas for making the beer shopping very enjoyable. If you are in Brugge and you have a car, you must get out there. Hell, even if you don't have a car, Vacas was such a nice fellow that he might come and get you himself!


Monday, May 25, 2009

Out of the Cellar: Sierra Nevada Bigfoot 2004

Brewery: Sierra Nevada
Style: Barleywine
ABV: 9.6%
Date Cellared: February 2004
Date Poured: May 2009

I have very few beers in the cellar that are getting past five years and this is one of them. Anything that reaches five years of aging has to be sampled, right?

Pours the familiar murky brown with a thin but persistent tan head. After five years, still the distinct aroma of cascade hops in the nose. Rich and fruity maltiness too but the hops are still prominent.

Fruity and rich maltiness in the mouth. Again, still a ton of cascade hops detected and gives it a biting bitteness. A bit of alcohol in the finish. But the flavors are blending very nicely. Could still keep aging! Easily!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Tasting Notes: Chouffe Bok 6666

Brewery: Brasserie Achouffe
Style: Bock

ABV: 6.66%
Date Poured: March 2009

Purchased from the Brasserie Achouffe gift shop in Achouffe, Belgium. This beer was poured from a 750 ml capped bottle. The 6666 refers to the postal code in Achouffe and is advertised as being 6.66% ABV to match.

Sheeting lace from the billowing white head surrounds a nutty clear coppery brown body. Lovely aroma, rich caramel malt with a hint of noble hops and some faint apple in there too.

Malty, nutty, caramel...all the flavors you would expect from a traditional bock beer. But there is a touch of fruitiness (apple or pear, I assume from the yeast) and a persistent twinge of noble hops throughout. Just a bit smoky too. A bit sticky in the finish but ultimately very drinkable, very well-balanced and very tasty. I finished the whole thing with little effort over the course of an hour. Brilliant stuff. According to the website, it's brewed for the Dutch market but get some if you can.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Belgium Trip: Day 6, Part 2 - Evening in Gent

The next bar on the list was De Trollekelder, a bar full of, as you may have guessed, statues, carvings and paintings of trolls and the like. Lots of wood in the bar, very atmospheric and offered nice views of a cathedral from the window seat we occupied.

Only one problem; even though the bar opened at 16:00, the barkeep did not seem thrilled to see us coming through the door at 16:05. I think he was annoyed because he was not expecting customers until later in the afternoon. He did not throw us out but was curt while we ordered the house blonde ale.

The beer was not impressive either. Most blondes I had imbibed in Belgium to this point were snappy, lively, effervescent, hoppy or some combination of those qualities. The Trollekelder blonde just kind of sat there, very listless and dull in the mouth. The beer menu was quite extensive but we didn't see any point in staying where we were not wanted. We paid for our beers and moved on to the Market Square.

De Dulle Griet (Mad Meg) is right on the square. It wasn't that high on my list but it was nearby and we headed in to see what they had.

The beer selection was good and the atmosphere was classic brown bar. We grabbed a table and got to ordering. Dave was intrigued by the house beer that was served in the big coachman's glasses. He ordered the blonde and then the waiter asked for his boot. After a double take, he repeated the request. Evidently, the glasses are very expensive and to keep people form running off with them, they keep one of your shoes as colateral. Dave gave tghe man his left boot, a basket was lowered by pulley from the ceiling, the boot was placed in the basket and it was hoisted far above our heads. I ordered the Buffalo Stout which required no loss of footwear.

While Dave was making his way through his coachman's glass, I finished my stout (sweetish and fruity, nice stuff) and ordered a bottle of Liefmans Goudenband, one of my all time favorites.

There was quite a crowd gathering now, especially one party at the bar who looked like they were meeting for a drink after work. They asked us if they switch places with us given the size of our table and we obliged. They were grateful and bought our next round.

I ordered a Delirium Tremens (another old favorite) while Dave asked the bartender to bring him something unique. He was served a Leutebok, a good bock beer but the unusual part was the glassware. Imagine a goblet. Now remove the everything from the stem down. That's the glass. You can't sit it on the bar like that so it comes with a wooden stand. Sure it was a bit gimmicky but the beer wasn't bad at all.

We drank our beers, chatted with some fellow Americans from Pittsburgh and then walked out, now quite toasty, into the twilight.

I only had one place left on my list and it was definitely chosen due to atmosphere over beer selection. It is called 't Velootje and is run by an eccentric barkeep named Lieven. It is famous for having dozens upon dozens of bicycles suspended from the ceiling. But that doesn't tell the whole story.

We arrived to an empty bar except for Lieven. Perhaps empty is the wrong word...we had to step over various pieces if junk to get into the place. Lieven helped us out, cleared off a spot at a bench and table. The lighting was virtually non-existent a couple of hanging lights and the glow fo the CRT from the owner's computer but our table was quite dark. There were candles but Lieven didn't have any matches handy and asked if we had some. We did not with neither of us being smokers so he went to finds some matches.

He returned, lit our candles, grabbed two beers (Slapmulke Blonde and Brune) popped the tops, handed them to us and hurried away. Mind you, we had not ordered these beers, nor had he asked us what beers we wanted or offered us a menu. Nor did we have any glasses to drink from, an oddity in Belgium. OK...

We sat at the candlelit wooden tables, seated on benches and took in the scene. A waist-high stack of cases full of Rochefort 8 and McChouffe. Bicycles of various sizes and shapes hanging feom the ceiling just more than a foot above our heads. A jar of mystery liquid, a hazy yellow, on our table. Gas lamps strung together but non working. Stacks of newspapers everywhere. Great music playing over the speakers, the best of the whole trip. The pictures don’t do the clutter justice; the most bizarre pub atmosphere I’ve ever witnessed. Dave paid for the beers, a whopping 5 Euro a bottle and we moved on.

Yes, it was odd, cluttered, unprofessional and overpriced….but it’s one of the best places to have a beer I’ve ever been to. Unmissable in my opinion, especially if you have a sense of humor. It was a stellar experience.

Nicely toasted from all the beer, we took took the train back to Bruges. Had a nightcap back at the trekkershut, ran some laundry and hit the mattress.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tasting Notes - Belgian Stout: Buffalo Stout (Version 2)

Brewery: Brouwerij Van Den Bossche
Style: Belgian Stout

ABV: 9.0%
Date Poured: March 2009

The name is the same and so is the brewery. But for some mysterious reason, this beer clocks in 50% stronger than its little brother. Odd that there's no distinction on the label...

Pours pitch black with a voluminous light brown head. So big that I was afraid I had an infected bottle. But the head fades to a a thin wisp in several minutes. Aroma contains sweet dark malt and milk chocolate notes with a touch of fresh coffee.

Taste is the same, a bit more bitter chocolate than milk though and persistent hints of espresso. Nicely balanced. Full bodied, no real hint of alcohol given its strength. Nice bitter chocolate in the finish and aftertaste with some sweetness to offset the bite.

Very tasty. Nicely balanced and well-crafted.

How do the beers of this series stack up? My rankings:

1. Buffalo Stout (Version 2) - See above. No flaws to speak of, very well rounded.
2. Hercule Stout - Dark fruit and bitter chocolate dance in a velvet smooth strong stout.
3. Buffalo Stout (Version 1) - Well-crafted and balanced, like its big brother. Nearly came in second.
4. t'Smijse Catherine the Great - The color is offputting but it makes up for it with a crazy combination of roastiness, bitter chocolate and ripe pears.
5. Podge Stout - Way more fruity and sweet than roasty but tasty nonetheless.
6. Wilson Stout - Not bad but too much alcohol showing for its strength, flavors never really mesh
7. Leroy Stout - Run don't walk...away