Ultra Brune

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It's time to play Belgian Beer Roulette! It's a game we can all win more often than not, and so this time around, yes, I won. Maybe not a blowout, but a win nonetheless.

Ultra Brune

Brasserie D'Ecaussinnes Ultra Brune - Pours a very dark brown color with amber highlights and a finger of tan head. I was a little off-guard, and lots of yeast chunks ended up in the glass (though I have to say, sediment never seems to bother me). Smell is filled with bready Belgian yeast, with some dark fruitiness tucked in there too. Taste is very sweet, lots of dark fruit, a little booze but nothing overwhelming. Maybe a bit of a toasty milk chocolate thing going on too, but it's not a strong component. Mouthfeel is a little heavy, sticky sweet, but there's enough carbonation to make it work. Overall, quite good and another successful round of Belgian Beer Roulette... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (11.2 oz.) Drank out of a goblet on 1/21/12.

Every time I play Belgian Beer Roulette, I feel like I should do it again soon, and this time is no exception. But I should probably drink down some of my cellar before I play again!

The Beer Cellar

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As I mentioned yesterday, sometimes my eyes are bigger than my liver. I tend to buy more beer than I drink, so my cellar has been growing of late, and I've even started intentionally buying beers to age. In yesterday's post, I covered what kinds of beers are good for aging. Today, I'm going to list out the beers I'm currently excited to crack open... in a few years. Also some beers I wasn't intentionally aging, but which will probably have an extra year or so on the bottle before I actually get to it.

Not to mention 3-4 cases of homebrew and a bunch of other beer that's probably not suitable for aging. I didn't think I had this much beer sitting around. Yes, I need to get drinking. Hopefully a lot of the above won't be aged too long, if you know what I mean... I'd say only a handful of the above will really make it long term.

Aging Beer

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At some point, it became clear to me that I was buying more beer than I was drinking. When I find myself in a liquor store with a great selection, I can't really help myself, and so I end up with a collection of beer that is growing faster than I can drink. And those 5 gallon batches of homebrew didn't help either!

Thus began my beer aging experiment! I don't have a ridiculous program here, but my beer cellar has been growing. Sometimes by default - I bought too much beer, so it has to sit in my basement (or my fridge) until I can get to it. I know, that's a good problem to have, and I'm not complaining. But I've even started doing some intentional aging, and my initial experiments came to fruition this past holiday season.

But this is a long process, so my experience isn't exactly comprehensive. Being a huge nerd, I've read a lot about the subject and I figured it'd be worth exploring my strategy on what beers to age and when to crack them open.

  • Alcohol Content: The higher the ABV, the better the beer is suited for aging (and the longer you can age it). In my experience, super high ABV beers (i.e. beers above 12%) taste very "hot" when they're young. As they age, they mellow out a bit. Lots of people will say that those uber-strong beers are undrinkable until they reach a certain age, though that's not usually something I've found to be true. That being said, my experience with the 14% ABV Samichlaus is that the extra time in the bottle really does make the beer more palatable. My tiny sample of a 2003 Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA had clearly matured and become more complex than the fresh stuff. I've also tried some lower-ABV stuff (notably Anchor Christmas), which seemed to go ok, though it didn't taste that much different to me (of course, I had no comparison in that case, so it's difficult to tell). That being said, the general rule seems to be that beers less than 5% aren't really suitable for long-term aging. What you want are big beers like imperial stouts, barleywines, and big Belgian beers... stuff that'll get you truly sloshed on a single bottle, basically.
  • Bottle Conditioned Beer: Beer that has been bottled with live yeast is much more likely to change over time. The yeast is still alive and processing the beer, so the beer will continue to evolve. A lot of Belgian beers are bottle conditioned, and some American brewers have experimented with this sort of thing. Dogfish Head's Squall was a bottle conditioned version of their 90 Minute IPA, and it was quite good! This is also why a lot of homebrewed beer gets better over time, as the yeast is still evening out the beer in the bottle. Anxious newbs like myself often post on homebrewing forums about how bad their beer turned out, but a lot of advice basically amounts to giving the beer some time (which personal experience shows is probably a good idea). I also see a lot of people noting that their best bottles of homebrew were the last few in the batch.
  • Dark Colored Beer: Everything I've read indicates that darker colored beers age better than pale beer. I've looked around for a scientific explanation for why this is so, but I haven't really found much (other than hops, which will get its own bullet below). My guess is that dark beer contains much more flavor elements, whether that be from various forms of toasted or roasted malt, or specialty adjuncts like caramelized sugars, etc... Anyways, dark colored beer like stouts, barleywines and Belgian strong dark, quads, etc... seem to be ideal.
  • Malt, not Hops: Beers that rely mainly on malt for their flavors age much better than hoppy beers. Hop flavors and aromas break down quickly over time (and since so many pale ales rely so strongly on hops for flavor, perhaps that's why pale beers don't age so well). Again, Belgian beers seem to do well here, as they're very malt-focused. As are most stouts and Scotch ales, and lots of other styles. IPAs... not so much. Anecdotal and accidentally discovered evidence seems to indicate that this is true. I had a bunch of Founders' Centennial IPA a while back, but I let one of them sit a bit too long in the fridge. It was fine and I had no problem drinking it, but it was definitely much better when it was fresh.
  • Barrel Aged Beers: These beers take on big extra flavors when aging in the barrel, and beers aged in a barrel tend to become a bit stronger (as some water evaporates or soaks into the wood - the "angel's share" if you will), which also helps out. With time, all that flavor starts to blend together and become more tempered with time. I haven't experimented with this very much, but I've definitely had some barrel aged beers that could have used some extra time to mellow out. Then again, some beers are almost perfect right out of the barrel. I've got a few of those aging in my basement though, so it's something I will certainly be experimenting with...
  • Smoke and Spice: I don't have a ton of experience with aging these, but I'm really curious to try some of these out after a while. I know I've read that smoke can act as a preservative in beer, and in my experience, that smoke character is usually overpowering in a young beer. My hope would be that putting some age on a smoked beer would let that smoke mellow out, while harmonizing it with the other flavors in the beer. Spiced beers are another question mark for me. I presume the spicy aromas and flavors will fade with time, but in some cases that could be a good thing (I'm thinking that overspiced pumpkin and holiday beers might benefit from that age). I've got a few spiced beers squirreled away for next year, so I guess we'll find out!
  • Wild Ales, Sours, and Lambics: These beers tend to be bottle conditioned and/or barrel aged, so it stands to reason that aging would work well with them. Apparently some of Cantillon's lambics will age well for over 20 years (despite being only 5-6% ABV). Beers with Brettanomyces (a wild yeast) and other bacterial bugs (like lactobacillus and pediococcus) will continue to evolve as those critters do their work in the bottle. SOur beers have never been my favorite, but there are certainly a few beers I'd like to try aging...
  • Storage Conditions: Basically, a dark, cool place. Light is the enemy of good beer (light breaks down the compounds contributed by hops, resulting in lightstruck or "skunked" beer), and high temperatures tend to speed degradation. In terms of temperature, 50 degrees F seems to be ideal, though everyone stresses the need for a constant temperature over anything else. Also worth noting is that storing beers upright is important, especially for bottle conditioned beers (as the yeast should be settled on the bottom of the bottle).
  • Maturation Waves: Martyn Cornell sez: "Experiments suggest that the maturation takes place in "waves", so that a beer which is in fine condition at, eg 30 months may have deteriorated at 36 months, be back on form at 42 months, deteriorated again at 48 months and so on." I have no real experience with this, but I will say that some of my homebrews seem to go like this. I'll have one and it's great. A few months later, I'm not so impressed. A few months after that, I'm amazed at how good it is. This one is a bit troubling, as it sorta means that I'm ruining some beers, but I guess I'm willing to take that risk...
  • Wildcard: And finally, I'll probably age some random beers just because I want to see what happens with them over time. Or because I forgot it was sitting in the back of my fridge. Or because it's hidden somewhere in my basement. Who knows, maybe aging a questionable beer will pay off.
  • How Long to Wait: The big question! It obviously depends on the beer, but my goal for purposefully aged beers is to buy multiples of the same beer and try them on a regular interval (once a year seems like a good idea, though the "waves" of maturation gives me pause for some beers). In other cases, it will be a bit more haphazard.
Aging beer is not a new practice, but it is something that seems to be gaining popularity these days, and lots of people are experimenting and learning. I'd hope for some more scholarly efforts in this area, but I'm having fun trying this stuff out myself. Tomorrow, I'll post the current contents of my cellar, along with some comments on why I want to age them and when I'm planning on cracking them open...

Affligem Dubbel

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Affligem Abbey was founded in the middle of the 11th century by a group of six "pillaging knights" who had reformed themselves into Benedictine monks. Brewing activities began as early as 1074 and the abbey was apparently intimately involved in the hop trade (apparently hops still grow near the monastery). History being what it is, the abbey's buildings were sacked several times over the centuries, and always rebuilt, though after it was destroyed during World War II, the monks decided to contract a local brewery to make their beer. That brewery was eventually bought out by Heineken, but the monks retain the Affligem brand name and certain controls over their beer (and like the Trappists, they use their proceeds for charitable purposes).

They claim their current recipes are a modernized version of the same beers being brewed nearly a thousand years ago. The modernization was apparently lead by a monk named Tobias, who called the result "Formula Antiqua Renovata". I assume that this is all marketing fluff and that "modernization" consisted of completely redesigning the beers or that the original recipe went something like: water, barley, hops. Anyway, Affligem appears to be most famous for their Tripel or perhaps their Noël, but they first came to my attention because of their most excellent Dubbel (which people rarely talk about for some reason):

Affligem Dubbel

Affligem Dubbel - Pours a cloudy brown/amber color with a couple fingers of white head. As you get towards the bottom of the bottle, you can see yeast sediment as well. Smell is filled with dark fruits (raisins, plums) and Belgian yeast character (spicy). Flavor is rich, sweet and fruity with a well matched spiciness and nice dry finish. There's something else here that's contributing to that richness - almost like molasses or brown sugar. Sometimes I'm even getting a note of chocolate in there. It gives the beer a most welcome distinctive quality. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied and it's got those rich flavors, but this is definitely easy to put down. At 7%ABV, it's not going to kill you either. Overall, one of my favorite dubbels! A

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (750 ml, caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 1/20/12.

This beer does share a certain character with Ommegang's Abbey Ale, though this isn't quite as heavy. I remember picking up a bottle of this stuff in my fledgling beer nerd days when I knew nothing about beer. I picked it because it had a tasteful design and I knew I liked dubbels - not quite Belgian beer roulette, but pretty close. I remember being somewhat disappointed by their Tripel when I circled back on it, but it's something I'm going to need to revisit at some point.

Marrón Acidifié

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Collaboration beers are among the most weirdest things about the craft beer world. Rarely do you see competitors actively collaborate like this, but then I guess the fact that craft beer only really represents around 5% of the market generally means that they're not really competitors - their growth comes at the expense of the macros. Or something like that, I guess.

This one is a collaboration between The Bruery and Cigar City. If I'm not mistaken, both come from the craft beer class of 2008 and both enjoy a pretty solid reputation* amongst beer nerds. I've already sung the praises of The Bruery before, but Cigar City is new to me, and in a recent interview over at Beer Samizdat, I learn that their brewer has the awesomest name ever: Wayne Wambles. Amazing.

On The Bruery's website, they have a page for this beer that lists a lot of what I usually call the Beer Nerd Details in my reviews. Things like ABV, IBU, and SRM. But this one has an additional metric that I don't believe I've seen before. Apparently this beer has not 4, but 6 whole shizzles**.

The Bruery and Cigar City Marron Acidifie

The Bruery and Cigar City Collaboration: Marrón Acidifié - Pours a very dark red color with minimal head. Smell is filled with sour aromas, some sweet fruitiness, and funk. Packed with rich flavors with a beautifully matched tart finish. Very sweet and fruity (cherries are most prominent to me, but other tropical fruits also seem present), and extremely well balanced. Mouthfeel is nice and rich, almost chewy. Low on the carbonation, but it actually works well with this style. Overall, a fantastic beer, among my favorite sours (maybe even the best I've had). Indeed, I think it might be one of the most approachable sours I've had, which is saying something because this thing is a bit of a monster. A

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/14/12. IBU: 15, SRM: 20, Schizzles: 6.

This was released in the Spring, not making it's way to the East Coast until early Summer, though I didn't pick up my bottle until this past holiday season. It's bottle conditioned though, and the bottle sez it's suitable for aging up to 5 years. I guess what I'm saying is that I need to buy some more of these for my burgeoning beer cellar program. Also on my to-do list: get my hands on some more Cigar City beer.

* And by "pretty solid" I man astronomical.

** Apparently besting a previous beer called "Four Shizzles", though records on that one are a bit sparse.

Trappist Westvleteren 8

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I've already written about this beer's bigger brother, the legendary Westy 12 - purported to be the best beer in the world (maybe second best) - and most of what I said goes for this beer as well. It's just as hard to obtain (I got my bottle along with the 12), it's got that same spare Trappist aesthetic (no labels, just some info crammed on the crowns to identify them), and while its ratings might not be quite as high as its brethren, it's still extremely well reviewed (it currently resides at #16 on Beer Advocate's list and #15 on RateBeer's list). So let's take a closer look, shall we:

Westy 8 Cap

Trappist Westvleteren 8 - Pours a dark brown color with some amberish highlights and a couple fingers of light tan head. The aroma and taste have the same profile as the 12, but somewhat more subdued. Lots of dark fruit in the nose, plums, raisins and the like, and some of that musty Belgian yeast character. Taste is also very flavorful with that dark fruity sweetness and dry finish. Mouthfeel is a dream, just like the 12. Perfectly carbonated, dry (but not too dry), and just a hint of booze. It's definitely lighter bodied, and the flavors are slightly less rich. Overall, a fantastic beer, but not the equal of its big brother. A-

Westy 8

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (11.2 oz.) Drank out of a goblet on 1/13/12. The cap has a date printed on it that says 07.10.14.

Amazing stuff. I feel like I should have more to say about it, but nothing else is coming to mind. If you ever get the opportunity to try any Westvleteren beer, don't pass it up. I'm not going to go out of my way to try the Blonde, but perhaps I will luck into one at some point in my life. Or perhaps not. These are rare beers, after all!

Allies Win the War!

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Earlier this week I reviewed a beer that I think had the best designed bottle (sorry, "ceramic crock") I've ever seen, but the packaging for the recent 21st Amendment collaboration with Ninkasi gives it a run for its money. Indeed, all of 21st Amendment's beers have great packaging, making excellent use of the larger canvas provided by cans (and I love that they put their cans in boxes, even with four- or six-packs).

21st Amendment and Ninkasi Allies Win the War 4-pack box

Seriously gorgeous stuff, and the can itself is also pretty great. I will make one complaint though, which is that, well, it's hard to tell which way is up on this thing. A minor quibble and totally worth the confusion because it's just an awesome package. But let's not get to carried away, it's what's in the packaging that counts, and this time around, it seems that the beer is worthy of its packaging:

21st Amendment and Ninkasi Allies Win the War

21st Amendment & Ninkasi Allies Win the War! - Pours a dark amber color, maybe a little brown, with a couple fingers of white head that leaves tons of lacing as I drink. Aroma is full of hoppy pine resin and sweet, almost sugary citrus fruitiness. Taste starts off sweet but that's balanced very well by the hop bitterness in the finish. Those pine resin and citrus flavors are present as well, leading to a nice rich flavor profile. The mouthfeel is medium bodied, ample carbonation, and a little bit of stickiness. No real booze to be had here and it's pretty damn easy to drink. Overall, an excellent beer, not quite the equal of YuleSmith (which seems to have become my yardstick for hoppy imperial reds), but damn close. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV canned (12 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/21/12.

21st Amendment continues to impress, and even though Ninkasi doesn't really distribute here, I'm going to keep my eyes on them...


Corne Du Diable

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Over at Beervana, there's a nice pedantic discussion over what constitutes an West Coast IPA (an offshoot of a debate with Stone's Greg Koch). Truthfully, I've never quite understood the distinction myself, but I always assumed it had something to do with big, juicy American hops with all their fruit and pine characteristics. But reading those posts and the comments, it occurs to me that no one really knows and who really cares? Styles are like genres in that they're fuzzy around the edges and often bleed into one another. Styles can give you a broad idea of what you're in for, but maybe they don't need to be quite so granular or locked-down.

Anyway, if you think west coast IPA's are causing a taxonomy problem, check out this beer. Beer Advocate calls it an American IPA. Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel's description adds some confusion to the mix:

Corne du diable (French for "Horn of the devil") is a contemporary interpretation of the classic English India Pale Ale. This new style, born on the west coast of North America, is characterized by stronger and hoppier beers. The result is a red ale expressing caramel flavours coming from the malt, sharp bitterness and powerful hop aromas, thanks to dry hopping
Ok, everyone get that? It's an English IPA born on the West Coast of North America, resulting in a red ale?

Yeah, so now you know why I only have one IPA category on my site (of course, that was born more out of laziness than anything else, but I digress). And the red ale intersection with IPA is also a bit of a pitfall, but maybe we should just drink the stuff instead of parsing its style:

Dieu Du Ciel Corne Du Diable

Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel Corne Du Diable - Pours a cloudy brownish amber color with a small amount of head. The smell is unusual. There's definitely lots of hoppiness there - maybe a hint of citrus, but more herbal or floral aromas seem to be the most prominent. The taste has lots of caramel malt, very sweet, with that same hoppy citrus and herbal character, and a well matched bitterness in the finish. Maybe a little spice too, and I want to attribute that to the hops for some reason. In any case, big flavors for a 6.5% ABV IPA... Mouthfeel is fine, maybe just a tad light on the carbonation (but still fine for the style). Speaking of which, it's called an American Style IPA, but it actually feels more English. Maybe even a hint of that butterscotch flavor that I always find in English pale ales and usually don't like, but it really works here (perhaps because it's not an overwhelming flavor). Overall, a very interesting beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank out of a tulip on 1/21/12.

Apparently the only Canadian beers I drink are French Canadian. Yeesh. It's actually hard to believe this is my first Dieu Du Ciel beer though. I quite enjoyed it, so I'm looking forward to checking out more of their brews. They're not quite as ubiquitous as Unibroue around here, but they seem to be pretty widely available. And I get the feeling they don't really care about style either - most of their beers seem to be quite unusual (at least, from reading about them!)

Yeast Hoist

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Ron Regé Jr. is a cartoonist who has been putting out independent comics and zines since the 1990s. He somewhat recently began publishing a series of comics called "Yeast Hoist" which aren't really about beer, though there's some beer in the art and the phrase does seem to be slang for drinking a beer. But mostly it's just art. A large portion of it is available on the internets, but he was apparently approached by Belgian Brouwerij Sterkens to do some exclusive art for their St. Sebastiaan Golden Ale, and it resulted in one of the most gorgeous bottles (actually a half-liter ceramic crock) I've ever seen:

Yeast Hoist Closeup

Apologies for the lackluster quality of the shot, but that is quite awesome, isn't it? And while Regé's art is often somewhat abstract, it really fits well with a Belgian abbey tripel style beer. Unfortunately, the contents of the bottle didn't quite live up to the promise of the artwork...

Yeast Hoist

St. Sebastiaan Golden (Yeast Hoist) - Pours a surprisingly light golden color with an almost nonexistent head. Aroma is sweet, fruity, and spicy. Taste is very sweet, with a little fruit and spice. There's a sorta bitterish aftertaste, but not quite enough to counter the sweetness. Mouthfeel is light, under-carbonated, and a little sticky. Overall, quite disappointing. A little more carbonation may have done wonders, but as it is, it's underwhelming. C+

Beer Nerd Details: 7.7% ABV bottled (500 ml ceramic crock). Drank out of a goblet on 1/13/12.

I'm pretty sure the Yeast Hoist bottles were a limited run, but the standard St. Sebastiaan Golden bottle is the same style ceramic crock thing, just with different artwork. It's apparently somewhat popular, so perhaps I just got a bad, under-carbonated bottle or something.

SOPA Blues

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I was going to write a beer review tonight, but since the web has apparently gone on strike, I figured I'd spend a little time talking about that instead. Many sites, including the likes of Wikipedia and Reddit, have instituted a complete blackout as part of a protest against two ill-conceived pieces of censorship legislation currently being considered by the U.S. Congress (these laws are called the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect Intellectual Property Act, henceforth to be referred to as SOPA and PIPA). I can't even begin to pretend that blacking out my humble little site would accomplish anything, but since a lot of my personal and professional livelihood depends on the internet, I suppose I can't ignore this either.

For the uninitiated, if the bills known as SOPA and PIPA become law, many websites could be taken offline involuntarily, without warning, and without due process of law, based on little more than an alleged copyright owner's unproven and uncontested allegations of infringement1. The reason Wikipedia is blacked out today is that they depend solely on user-contributed content, which means they would be a ripe target for overzealous copyright holders. Sites like Google haven't blacked themselves out, but have staged a bit of a protest as well, because under the provisions of the bill, even just linking to a site that infringes upon copyright is grounds for action (and thus search engines have a vested interest in defeating these bills).

I won't belabor the point much further, but I will link to Kaedrin's official stance on Intellectual Property, Copyright and DRM, a post I wrote a few years ago on my generalist blog that I think is still relevant. An expanded version of this post you're reading right now is also up at my generalist blog, along with some other links and thoughts on the matter. Feel free to stop on by.

And if you're so inclined, perhaps your form of protest could be represented by a different kind of blackout. Regularly scheduled programming will resume tomorrow.

1 - Thanks to James for the concise description. There are lots of much longer longer and better sourced descriptions of the shortcomings of this bill and the issues surrounding it, so I won't belabor the point here.

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