Decembeer Club

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Towards the beginning of every month, a bunch of friends from work and I meet up at a local BYOB and bring some new/interesting beers to try. This month's haul:

Decembeer

It was a mostly holiday ale theme. Conditions aren't exactly ideal for tasting, so take the following with a grain of salt, but here's what I thought of each:

  • Affligem Noël: My contribution and one of my favorites of the night. Much like their dubbel, but a little spicier. Great beer that I plan to revisit in more detail this holiday season (I have another bottle on my shelf).
  • Anchor Special Christmas Ale 2010 - My other contribution, I've already written about this, but it went over well with other folks too...
  • Delirium Noël: Raisiny and sweet, another popular beer and something I want to revisit in detail.
  • Ridgeway Insanely Bad Elf: Super boozy red ale. Not terrible, but the high alcohol overpowers everything. I'm not sure I could drink a 12 oz bottle of this, but it's interesting nonetheless...
  • Ridgeway Reindeer's Revolt - Not as dark as the Delirium, but it shares that certain raisin smell and flavor, a little syrupy sweet too. Not bad.
  • Ridgeway Reindeer Droppings - Doesn't sound appetizing, but a solid light flavored beer (technically an English Pale Ale). Not a favorite, but a decent session beer.
  • Ridgeway Warm Welcome: A reasonable brown ale, I think this one was overshadowed by some of the above beers.
  • Southern Tier Unearthly IPA - Solid DIPA, but not the top of the line (like Dogfish 90 Minute or Stone IPA)
  • Ridgeway Lump of Coal Stout: I suppose this is a reasonable stout, but there's nothing special about it and there's no holiday style to it either. Not offensively bad or anything, but not especially noteworthy either.
  • New Belgium Fat Tire Amber Ale - Nothing really holiday about this, but a solid session beer (I assume that this is someone's Yuengling Lager style beer).
  • Unibroue La Fin Du Monde - A first time beer club attendee brought this. Hard to fault him for that, as I love this beer.

Well, that about covers it! Again, not an especially rigorous tasting session, with the palate cleansed by a burger and fries, but still, as always, a really good time. After beer club, a few of us hit up the local beer distributer. It being PA, we could only buy a full case of stuff, but someone became enamored with Anchor's Christmas ale and bought a case of that, and four of us went in on a St. Bernardus variety pack (each of us got 6 St Bernardus beers, which is pretty awesome). As usual, I'm already looking forward to next month.

The Session and Ommegang Adoration Ale

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The latest edition of The Sessions is today (this is my seccond post in the series), and it's about unexpected discoveries. Mike over at Burgers and Brews once found great beer in the last place he expected to look, and he wants to here about everyone else's unexpected discoveries:

Has this happened to you? Maybe you stumbled upon a no-name brewpub somewhere and found the perfect pale ale. Maybe, buried in the back of your local beer store, you found a dusty bottle of rare barleywine. Perhaps a friend turned you on to a beer that changed your mind about a brewery or a style. Write about a beer experience that took you by surprise.
Indeed, I've already hinted at my discovery... There was this bar/restaurant in the gleaming metropolis of Norristown, PA called the Moody Monkey. A bunch of friends and I went there for dinner one night and were pleasantly surprised to see a huge beer selection. We were just out of college at the time, and thus were used to the joys of Natty Light and the like, so when handed a gigantic beer menu, we were pretty much lost. Since we had no idea what to order, we opened the menu, closed our eyes, and randomly pointed at the menu. As it turns out, two of us, purely by chance, had selected Ommegang's Hennepin. It came out in the 750 ml bottle, caged and corked, and pretty much blew our minds. I'd never seen anything like that at the time. When I poured it out, it looked kinda like a "regular" beer, but the taste blew my mind once again. It was a revelation, and while not really my first experience with craft beer, it was the most influential. From that point on, I was ready to explore the beer world, and went out of my way to find other Ommegang brews and I'd always try something new whenever I could. Alas, the Moody Monkey fell on hard times not long after my discovery of Ommegang. I don't know why, but apparently the owner "forgot" to renew the liquor license, and all of the sudden that fantastic beer selection was gone and it wasn't long after that that the place had to close down.

But I never forgot Ommegang, and have gone out of my way to find and try every Ommegang beer I could. This was several years ago, and in PA, it's hard to find places that would sell single bottles of stuff, so I had to buy full cases. I remember paying through the nose, sight unseen (or tasted), for Three Philosophers when it first came out. And I've never been disappointed. While I've since come to expand my horizons and try all sorts of other beers from other brewers, Ommegang remains one of my favorites (if not my absolute favorite). There was a time, though, where it seemed like the brewery had stalled a bit. They had their usual stable of fantastic year-round brews, but their specialty/seasonal beers were somewhat rare. Lately, they've been doing more specialty/seasonal brews though, and tonight, in honor of my original discovery of Ommegang, I decided to try something new:

Ommegang Adoration

Ommegang Adoration Ale - Ommegang's first holiday ale, a belgian strong dark ale with unusual holiday spices. Pours a deep, cloudy brown (maybe a little red), with a solid head. A little lacing, but not a lot. Smells fantastic. Sweet and spicy, with prominent coriander (apparently a favorite spice of mine) and maybe some yeasty aromas. Taste starts sweet and spicy (again with the coriander), with some fruitiness apparent. Suprisingly drinkable considering the high ABV. Solid carbonation, with a bit of a bite, but I enjoy that sort of thing. It's a complex beer with lots of flavors, but for something that's not very subtle, it's pretty well balanced. It's not quite perfect, but it's in the top tier of Ommegang's offerings, which is nothing to sneeze at... A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (750 ml, caged and corked bottle). Drank from a goblet

So yet another well balanced Ommegang brew that I'm most likely going to fall back on every year (like I do with a bunch of other Ommegang brews). I've also recently come into possession of Ommegang's Tripel Perfection, which I'll probably get to soon (look for a post, probably in January).

Double Feature: Holiday Ales, Part 1

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No filmic double feature this week, but I started off the seasonal beer tastings for the year on Friday as I watched the Flyers in a disappointing shoot-out-loss, courtesy of a total bullshit penalty call on Chris Pronger, without which we would have won in the initial overtime period (and the article was wrong, it wasn't a split-second before the goal, more like 3-5 seconds... not that I'm bitter). Anywho, the night's beer selections were more enjoyable than the game...

Anchor Christmas Ale

Anchor Special Christmas Ale - Anchor is one of the pioneers of independent brewing in the US, and since 1975, they've put out a special Christmas brew as the holiday approaches. The recipe is different every year, as is the tree on the label (which is quite nicely designed and very classy). It's apparently quite a popular tradition in the beer nerd community, and so I've been looking forward to this. Pours a nice dark brown color (almost black), with a big tan head that leaves lots of lacing as I drink. Smell is spicy (spruce?) with some roasted, earthy character as well. Taste features some of that spice (Spruce? Cinnamon? Nutmeg?), ample sweetness (maybe some raisins in there), and some light roastiness. Maybe a little chocolately bitterness as well, and it lingers a bit (but not in a bad way). Mouthfeel is smooth and crisp, with a medium body. It's not a particularly big beer, but it's quite delicious and I can see why everyone looks forward to this every year. A bit too rich to drink several of these in a row, but that's not a bad thing at all. I normally don't spring for a full six-pack, but in this case, I'm glad I did (not sure if I'll be able to keep one for comparison purposes next year, but maybe I'll try). B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a goblet.

Rogue Santas Private Reserve

Rogue Santa's Private Reserve Ale - Perhaps not as storied as the Anchor, this one seems to be a popular seasonal choice. Pours a deep brown color (lighter than the Anchor ale), with a thin head and a little lacing. Smell has some spiciness in it, maybe clove, but it's mostly a hoppy aroma. Taste has more of a nutty malt flavor, with a little spiciness and a bitter finish. It actually reminds me of Rogue's Dead Guy Ale, but a little darker with some more spiciness. A solid beer, but not as good as the Anchor and not something I see myself visiting very often. B

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a goblet.

So there we have it. Still stocking up on winter/holiday brews, so there will most definitely be more of those coming soon...

More on Four Loko

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Twitter continues to be the most entertaining source on the controversy (see previous post on the subject). My favorite recent tweet:

Overheard near ReasonHQ kitchen: "There is definitely some evidence of people drinking Four Loko out of wine glasses."
Heh.

A couple of weeks ago, I started brewing an English Brown Ale. After two weeks in the fermenter, I went ahead and bottled the beer this weekend. Just another couple of weeks in the bottle to condition, and they should be ready to go (supposedly, the impatient can try it after a week, which I might have to do, just to see what it's like and how it ages).

The final gravity ended up at around 1.008, so if my calculations (and my hydrometer readings, which are probably more approximate than I'd like) are correct, this should yield something around 4.5% alcohol. Both my hydrometer readings were a bit low according to the worksheet/recipe I was using, but that ABV is right in the middle of the range. I suspect this means there won't be as much sugar in the beer and thus the taste will be a bit less powerful, but I guess we'll find out.

I ended up with a little more than a case and a half of bottled beer, which is probably a bit low. I was definitely overcautious about racking the beer to my bottling bucket. Not wanting to transfer any yeast and never having done it before, I was a little too conservative in stopping the siphoning process (which was a lot easier and faster than I was expecting - just add the priming sugar and get the siphon started and it only took a few minutes to transfer the grand majority of the beer to the bottling bucket). Next time I should be able to get around two full cases out of a 5 gallon batch.

Once in the bottling bucket, the process went pretty smoothly, and I actually found filling the bottles up and capping them to be pretty fun (the bottling wand seems like a life saver - I'd hate to do this with just a tube). Once I got towards the bottom of the bucket, it was a bit of a challenge to get as much out of there as possible without oxidizing the beer too much. I managed to get myself a quick cup of the beer and took a few sips. Of course, it was room temperature and not carbonated enough (carbonation happens in the bottle, thanks to the priming sugar), but it sure was beer. I didn't detect anything "off" about the taste, and it smelled pretty good too. Maybe I managed to not screw it up!

Beer Siphon
Siphoning the beer

The worst part of the process was really the sanitation piece. Washing and scrubbing two cases of beer bottles, then getting them to dry out (as much as I could - I'm sure some still had some water in them when I was bottling, which is probably bad) was a huge, tedious pain in the butt. That was probably the most time consuming portion of the process. The actual bottling/capping probably took the same amount of time, but that was more fun. It probably took a little over 2 hours in total, which actually wasn't that bad. In the end, I'm pretty happy with my first experience in brewing. Even if the beer turns out terrible or bland, I feel like I've learned a lot and will undoubtedly have an easier time of it in the next round. Speaking of which, I'm looking to put together a recipe for a Belgian Style Tripel. This will be a higher gravity beer and probably take longer to brew, but it's one of my favorite styles and it's apparently not that difficult either.

(Cross posted at the Kaedrin Weblog)

Best Worst Double Feature

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Well, I'm cheating here. Two nights, two beers, and three movies. Not quite a double feature, but close enough! Or maybe not. The point of the beer double feature is to compare two beers of similar style, and the two beers below couldn't be more different. On the filmic side of things, it's a weekend of Trolls. One of the documentaries released this year that I've been really interested in seeing was Best Worst Movie. It's about the movie Troll 2, once crowned as the worst movie of all time, but which has somewhat recently undergone a resurgence as a cult classic (a "so bad it's good" kinda thing). Best Worst Movie was recently released on DVD, so in addition to adding it to my Netflix queue, I wanted to check out the movie itself... and Troll 2 is only available on a double feature disc of its own (with the original Troll). Intriguing, as those two movies have nothing to do with each other. Well, let's just say that the movies are all just about what you might expect .

The original Troll is actually a pretty interesting movie. Terrible, of course, but very watcheable. Plus, it's got midgets, a troll-filled musical number, and, I shit you not, a boy named Harry Potter who learns magic in order to defeat the trolls (seriously, Harry fucking Potter!?). Troll 2 is... hard to explain. I don't really think it deserves the title of worst movie ever, but it's certainly in the running. There are so many nonsensical components to the movie that I don't really know where to start. There are no trolls in the movie, only goblins (perhaps a pedantic distinction, but the lack of trolls is part of the movie's charm), and they all live in a town called Nilbog (that's goblin spelled backwards!). They lure people to their town, turn them into trees and plants, then eat them (you see, the goblins are vegetarians! Yes, the movie is an attack on vegetarians.) But it's so earnest and completely ridiculous that it's almost endearing (and most certainly funny), and so the cult that's grown around the movie makes some sort of sense. Best Worst Movie chronicles that cult and it's rise throughout the naughts. The documentary is made by Michael Stephenson, who played the little boy in Troll 2. There are some interesting parallels between the film's popularity and the way the actors view the film - they are as aware as anyone of the inadequacies of the film, but even they come around as the cult grows. The film gets a bit repetitive as it goes on, but that's also part of the point. Even the actors start to get sick of the screenings and repeating the lines over and over again ("You don't piss on hospitality!") and attending weird horror conventions and the like. It's an interesting bit of filmic nostalgia and I greatly enjoyed it, along with some beers!

Saison Dupont

Saison Dupont - The saison style of beer has apparently been somewhat endangered, but in recent years it's had a bit of a resurgence, led by the likes of Ommegang's excellent Hennepin, and also Saison Dupont, which was named by Men's Journal as "the Best Beer in the World" a few years ago. Pours a slightly hazy golden color, nice fluffy head with some lacing as I drink. Smells great. Perhaps a bit of fruit in the nose, lots of spices (coriander? clove?), but nothing overpowering. Taste is sweet, citrusy and a little tart, with a full body, lots of carbonation and a bit of a harsh mouthfeel (as I've already established, that sort of harshness isn't necessarily a bad thing). There's a bitterness, but it's not hoppy. Is it the best beer in the world? I have a terrible time choosing favorites and picking bests, but I could certainly entertain the notion, which says a lot. A

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (750 ml, caged and corked bottle). Drank from a goblet (get it, goblin? goblet? Ha!).

Southern Tier Creme Brulee

Southern Tier Creme Brulee (Imperial Milk Stout) - Recommended to me by Kaedrin regular Sovawanea, I have to admit that part of the reason I wanted to try this was that it's got such an evocative name. It just sounds like a perfect match. Pours a deep black color with a very thin, beige head. Smells very sweet, lots of vanilla and caramel. Usually the nose tapers off as I drink a beer, but not in this case - aromatic to the very end (even the empty glass gave off a strong scent). I didn't notice it, but the bottle says to drink it chilled out of a snifter, and that makes sense given the great aroma this stuff gives off. That vanilla and caramel shows up pretty strongly in the taste as well, but it's tempered by the roasty malt sweetness in a decidedly, well, creme brulee fashion. It's not as roasty as other stouts I've had recently (either that, or the sweetness is overpowering the roasted flavors). I found myself drinking quite slowly (it lasted longer than the documentary), but that's probably a good thing given the 10% ABV! Even so, it's perhaps a bit too sweet for one person to drink an entire 22 oz bottle of this stuff. It gets a bit cloying towards the end... (apparently I'm not the only one who recently tried this and felt that way) Nevertheless, it's an excellent and unique beer. It would make a nice after-dinner dessert to share with someone, and it's also something that showcases the amazing variety of flavors that beer can have (it could be a decent gateway beer in the right scenario). B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (22 oz bomber). Drank out of a pint glass (apparently shoulda been a snifter though)

So two pretty different beers, but both are pretty great.

Double Feature: Ales of the Revolution

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Despite a recent disappointment from Yards, I went ahead and picked up a pair of their Ales of the Revolution. As I mentioned before, I'm kinda a sucker for local beers and this series, based on recipes of our founding fathers, is particularly intriguing. I drank them whilst watching the second half of last weekend's double feature (sadly, movie theaters around here generally frown upon the drinking of alcohol during the show - perhaps someday, we'll get an Alamo Drafthouse or something similar). Winter's Bone is a very good movie, but not exactly fun drinking material. Nevertheless, I found myself enjoying both of these brews:

Yards Poor Richards Tavern Spruce

Poor Richard's Tavern Spruce Ale - As legend has it, when Ben Franklin learned that barley and hops were not very plentiful, he attempted to bypass the shortages by leveraging spruce and molasses (I have no idea bout the proportions here, but whatever). It pours a dark amber color, mostly (but not entirely) clear, with a thin head. Smell is a little spicy and malty, though not super strong. Taste is a bit spicy (apparently that's the spruce), but otherwise it tastes like a pretty standard amber ale. Would have perhaps liked a bit more maltiness in the taste, but it's got an excellent, very drinkable mouthfeel. It reminds me a little of Yuengling Lager, but with a little more spiciness (which is a good thing, in my book). I could drink these all night, and at 5%, that would work really well. It's not blowing me away, but it's better than most of the offerings I've had from Yards and would make a fantastic session beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a pint glass.

Yards Thomas Jeffersons Tavern Ale

Thomas Jefferson's Tavern Ale - Pours a lighter amber color, mostly (but not entirely) clear, with a solid head. Smell is a bit muted here, not much going on in the nose. Taste is sweet, boozy and spicy, an interesting mix. Carbonation isn't as strong here, perhaps because of the high alcohol content, which seems to be the dominant characteristic of this. It's not really appropriate to call it oily, but that word does come to mind (perhaps that lack of carbonation contributed to an oily mouthfeel). Neverthless, I like it. It's probably not something I want to drink a lot of, but there's something unique about the beer. Flawed, perhaps, but still an interesting experiment. There are rumors of a Bourbon Barrel Aged version of this beer, and given the high alcohol content, I think the addition of rich flavors imparted by such a process would suit this beer well. B

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a pint glass.

So a good showing for Yards this week. Now I just need to find me a bottle of George Washington's Tavern Porter and Alexander Hamilton's Federalist Ale (this one seems a bit rarer than the others, though it appears to be in the variety pack). And of course, if I come across the Bourbon Barrel Aged versions, I'll have to try those too.

Four Loco is The Stuff

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I've never had any Four Loco (and from what I've heard, it's pretty foul), but the recent news that the FDA will be effectively banning caffeinated alcoholic beverages has caused a bit of a stir in the beer bloggery world (as it turns out, much of the hand-wringing seems to be a bit overblown - don't worry, our coffee stouts are safe). I don't really have much to say about this, but I did want to point to the best insight anyone has had about the whole flap:

People are actually acting about Four Loko the way people in the movie should've acted toward The Stuff.
Brilliant. Now I want to watch The Stuff again.


The Stuff

The Stuff!

Victory Storm King and Dark Devil

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I've never really been a big fan of Stouts, but I've recently started trying a few, just to get a better handle on the style and have found them mostly enjoyable, though still not exactly my favorite style. Victory brewing is right around the corner from me, so it's only natural for me to check out their year-round stout:

Victory Storm King

Victory Storm King Stout: Well, this is unlike any other stout I've ever tried, mostly due to it's hoppy, bitter character. Pours a black color with a brown head. The taste starts with a roasty malt bitterness that eventually gives way to a more hoppy bitterness, making for an unusual stout (for me, at least). It's much more hoppy than I'm used to for stouts, and while there's a pretty good balance of flavor here, the bitterness remains its real defining characteristic. It's almost like a dark version of an IPA (adding roasted flavors to the traditional crisp, bitter IPA style) rather than a straightforward stout. Relatively easy drinkability, which is a surprise given the high alcohol content. I enjoyed it, but it's not something I'm going to go out of my way for. B

Beer Nerd Details: 9.10% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a pint glass.

My beer club met earlier this week at a local pizza place that happens to have a fantastic beer selection, and one of our discoveries was the Victory Dark Devil. The Dark Devil is basically a combination of the Storm King Stout with Victory's famous Hop Devil, and boy is it a fantastic match. It looks almost exactly like a normal Storm King, but the taste is more complex and flavorful. The Storm King itself already felt like a Hop Devil with more roasted malts, but when you add Hop Devil, you get something a little less biting and a little more flavorful. The Hop Devil has a more floral character, and that mixes really well with the Storm King. Apparently there's a style of beer emerging lately that's referred to as Black IPA, India Black Ale, or Cascadian Dark Ale, which is basically the combination of the IPA with the dark, roasted flavors of a stout. If the original Storm King doesn't count, then this combination surely would... If it's something you can find, try it out (haven't tried making this from the bottle, but I imagine it would work well there too).

Dogfish Head Saison du Buff

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All Dogfish Head beers have a story at their core, and this one is no exception. It apparently started back in 2003, when Sam Caligone (of Dogfish Head), Bill Covaleski (of Victory Brewing) and Greg Koch (of Stone Brewing) got together and formed something called BUFF, which stands for Brewers United for Freedom of Flavor. As near as I can tell, there wasn't much of a point to BUFF until earlier this year, when the three brewers collaborated on a recipe for a saison style beer. The most notable thing about the recipe is that it prominently features parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme (presumably a tribute to the album, but also to the craft brewery tradition of using lots of ingredients). Each brewer took the recipe back to their respective brewery and made a batch. Earlier this summer I had a couple of Victory's batch and while I enjoyed them, I came a way a little disappointed. Anyway, I recently spotted a bottle of the Dogfish Head version and thought I'd give it a shot:

Dogfish Head Saisondubuff

Dogfish Head Saison du Buff: Pours a slightly cloudy light yellow color with a big head. Lots of lacing as I drank. More aromatic than the Victory version, smelling mostly of spice and some floral hops. Taste is bigger and spicier than expected, with some yeasty notes and that floral hoppiness at the end (not very bitter though). Very carbonated and a little harsh (I guess that sounds bad, but I kinda like that characteristic), but it seems to mellow out (in a good way) as it warms up. I'm getting more earthy, hoppy notes as I get towards the end, making it one of those beers that improves as you drink. Overall, pretty damn good. I wouldn't put it at the top of my favorite saisons, but it's close and I'm enjoying it more than the Victory version. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.8% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a pint glass.

Now this makes me want to find all three and try them all, one after the other. At this point, that's pretty unlikely though, so I'll have to settle for trying to find a Stone version...

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