Allies Win the War!

| 2 Comments

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

| No Comments

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

| No Comments

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

| No Comments

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.

Victory Smokin' Oats

| 3 Comments

I know, it's unfair. This beer is only available at the Victory brewpub (and maybe a few local beer bars). I promise, tomorrow I'll review a beer that's more widely available*. Anyways, Victory seems to like smoked beer. They've got their roots in German brewing, so perhaps that's not a surprise, but they do a lot of smoked beers at their brewpub (though mostly not for wide release - one exception to this is Otto, a smoked Belgian Dubbel). But if they wanted to, I think this smoked porter (presumably brewed with oats) would actually work pretty well:

Victory Smokin Oats

Victory Smokin' Oats - Pours a very dark brown color with amber highlights and finger of tan head. Smell is smoky with a solid amount of roasted malt character. Those roasted malts take on more prominence in the taste, along with some coffee flavors and a rather well matched smokiness. Mouthfeel is medium bodied with solid carbonation and a nice crisp finish. It actually went really well with the brisket taco things I was eating at the time. A very good beer! B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.8% ABV on tap. Drank out of a 0.3L glass on 1/7/11.

* Technically, the next beer on my list is Trappist Westvleteren 8, which is one of the least accessible beers in existence, but I'll skip it for a day or two, I think.

Pannepot

| No Comments

A "pannepot" was a fishing boat based in the small Belgian village of De Panne. As the story goes, the men would go out fishing and their wives would stay home and brew up a strong, dark beer. I don't know how closely De Struise Brewery is following those historical recipes, but they call this beer their Fisherman's Ale, an ale brewed with spices.

Struise is something of an anomaly in Belgium - they're relatively young! In a country where some abbeys have a brewing tradition going back almost a thousand years, Struise began operations in 2003. They seem to be part of a crew of European brewers that are taking their cue from US craft beer, creating non-traditional Belgian beers. Apparently this wasn't so successful at first, but as recounted in a recent article in The Atlantic (reproduced at theBeerAuthority):

Struise's reputation is almost entirely a consequence of the Internet. "In the early days, it was impossible for us to sell beer in Belgium," Grootaert said. But after a RateBeer.com user in Denmark contacted Grootaert and tried his beer, Pannepot began circulating within the Danish beer-geek community, and its Web-savvy fans broadcast their approval to the rest of the world.
Yet another thing to thank the Danish for, I guess. Cause this beer is pretty fantastic:

De Struise Pannepot

De Struise Pannepot - Pours a dark brown color with amber highlights and a finger of tan head. The smell is very strange. Spicy, but not the typical Belgian spice. Also very fruity sweet, maybe even some brown sugar. Taste starts off sweet with a spicy kick. Fruity sweetness emerges in the middle (again maybe some brown sugar) and lingers through the aftertaste, though it does finish pretty dry (with just a hint of bitterness). Complex flavors keep evolving as it warms up. Mouthfeel is great. Highly carbonated, but not overpowering. Nice full body. A really interesting beer, and something I'd love to try again. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (11.2 oz) Drank out of a goblet on 1/7/11. 2010 vintage bottle.

Recommended if you're looking for a good Quad/Belgian Strong Dark. Good stuff and I'm sure I'll be crossing paths with De Struise again soon enough (heck, I didn't even realize it, but this is my third post about De Struise without even really trying to focus on trying their beers...)

Stone 11.11.11 Vertical Epic Ale

| No Comments

Back in aught two, Stone started what they call a Vertical Epic. Each year, they put out a one-time brew that is meant to be aged until December 12, 2012. Assuming you're patient enough, you can then enjoy a vertical tasting of all the brews (it's not strictly a "vertical" tasting, as each year's beer has a different recipe, but you get the idea.) Each beer is released on one of them funny numerological dates, like 2/2/02, and 3/3/03, and so on, with the culmination being on 12/12/12 later this year (after which, such numerical games are not possible). This year has the added benefit of being binary (for the last time this century!)

I've actually never had any of these beers until now, but they generally seem to be a Belgian Strong Ale with some sort of twist. This year's installment was brewed with Anaheim chiles and cinnamon. Yeah, I think we're all thinking the same thing here:

Stone Vertical Epic 11.11.11

Stone 11.11.11 Vertical Epic Ale - Pours a dark amber color with a finger of light head and some lacing as I drink. Smell is filled with bready, musty Belgian yeast and some spiciness. The taste starts out surprisingly bland, with some sweet flavors emerging in the middle and a big bang of spice (chile and cinnamon are both there, though I'm not sure how well I'd be able to pick them out if I didn't already know about it) hitting in the finish and plowing through the aftertaste. It's most unusual. The chiles are definitely there and you even get a bit of heat from them (and it seems to build as you drink), but they're nowhere near overwhelming (the way they've been in other chile beers I've had). Overall, this is an interesting beer with a unique character. It's not a beer I'll be pining after for years to come or anything, but I'm really glad I got to try some. B

Beer Nerd Details: 9.4% ABV bottled (22 oz bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/6/12.

An epic idea, for sure, but it seems I've come on board a little too late in the process! Still, I'll check out that 12/12/12 beer for sure.

Victory Ranch S IPA

| No Comments

Having exhausted Victory's regular catalog of beers (and most of their seasonals...), I set about sampling their irregular catalog of beers. This one appeared out of nowhere. No fanfare, just a new Double IPA on tap at the brewery. With a cryptic name.

As it turns out, this is a 100% Cascade hopped beer. Victory sourced the hops for this beer from a family owned hop farm called the Segal Hop Ranch (i.e. Ranch S), apparently the first hop farmers to commercially grow cascade hops (starting back in the late 1960s), so these folks ain't fooling around. In an interesting Victory blog post a while back, one of the Victory brewers recounted his visit to the farm, talking about the Cascade Hops (which are apparently also used in Hop Devil) as well as Citra and then there's this intriguing tidbit: "During the visit, the Segals showed me an unnamed experimental hop they are growing that had a fruity aroma with notes of banana and vanilla." Well that sounds interesting, but I'll have to make due with this Cascade single hopped double IPA for now. I picked up a growler of the stuff a couple weeks ago and ended up drinking the whole damn thing that weekend. Incidentally, Victory's growler filler machine thingy is absolutely badass.

Victory Ranch S IPA

Victory Ranch S IPA - Pours a really striking clear golden orange color with a finger or two of fluffy white head. The smell is filled with earthy citrus hop aromas. As it warmed and/or as I drank more of it over the course of the weekend, I started to pick up more of a pine-like aroma. You know how all the descriptions of Simcoe hops say that they're like Cascade on steroids? I never understood that until now. This Cascade beer really does have the smell (and taste) profile of a Simcoe beer. The taste is sweet with some of that earthy, piney citrus, but also a more floral or even herbal character leading into the dry, bitter finish and lingering aftertaste I expect from an IPA. Again, I feel like my palate adjusted to this the more I drank, with the pine taking a more pronounced position. Mouthfeel is smooth and just a bit sticky, with a light to medium body. Quite an easy drinking beer. I even got a bit of alcohol warming out of it, though I think that's because I drank a lot of it quickly. It's a lot like a souped-up Hop Devil (and it has less in common with Hop Wallop)... Hop Devil was the beer that sold me on IPAs, so this is very good thing, and a nice surprise from Victory. Again, as I drank more of it and that Simcoe-esque quality started to shine through, it perhaps came into its own. I really like this beer. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV growler (2L), filled on 12/30/11. Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/30/11 and 12/31/11.

I have no idea if this beer will return (I went to the brewery again this past weekend and they were already out of this) or if Victory has bigger plans to bottle this or something, but I'm glad I got to try some, as I enjoyed it greatly.

January Beer Club: Hoppy New Beer!

| 2 Comments

Tonight was beer club, a meeting of beer minded individuals from my work who get together for a meal and lots-o-beer once a month. We had an average turnout this month, with 5 folks drinking beer and one pregnant club member who actually brought some non-alcoholic beer for us to try:

January Beer Club

For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each beer we tried are below. As usual, conditions were not ideal, so take it all with a grain of salt. Or a giant hunk of salt. In order of drinking (not necessarily the order in the picture):

  • Samuel Smith Winter Welcome Ale - I already reviewed this beer last month, but this bottle seemed a lot better than the one I had before. Not sure what the deal is there, but it was a better balanced brew than I remember, and certainly not a C. Maybe an upgrade to a B- is warranted.
  • Clausthaler Premium - The first of our non-alcoholic beers, this one was actually not the worst thing I've ever had. It's not particularly great either, but it's certainly comparable to a solid macro lager, maybe even better. If you're pregnant, this would certainly hit the spot (though apparently there's an amber version that is better). I give it a C
  • Stone Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale - I've had this a few times before, but it's actually better than I remember. Very nice, lots of hop character in the nose and the taste (nice floral and pine notes), but not overwhelmingly bitter or anything. I don't get a ton of oak out of this, but it's definitely more complex than the standard Arrogant Bastard. A-
  • Rogue Voodoo Doughnut Maple Bacon Ale - Rogue's collaboration with the Voodoo Doughnut shop generated a lot of buzz when it was announced, but once it was released, it got denounced as a "foul abomination". Fortunately, it's not that bad, though it's certainly not a mainstream beer. It smells very strongly of maple syrup with a little smoke coming through. The bacon comes out a little in the taste, but I'm still getting more maple syrup than anything else. There's some smoke there too, but it's not an overpowering flavor. Mouthfeel is actually quite nice, though it's still not an easy drinkin beer. I'm not sure I'd want to drink an entire bottle, but I did seem to like it a lot more than most beer club peeps. Perhaps because I was drinking this along with the burger I had ordered? Whatever the case, it is a bit of a gimmick, but I kinda enjoyed it. B-
  • Kaliber - This is the other non-alcoholic beer we tried, and we had high hopes. It's brewed by Guinness, and when my pregnant friend asked around, this was one of the recommendations she got. But yeah, this is horrible beer. Bland and watery with some off flavors or something. The only good thing I can say about it is that it was a kinda nice palate cleanser after the strong character of the Voodoo Doughnut (but then, water would probably have done just as well or better). F
  • The Bruery Mischief - A classic. I reviewed this a while back, and it's just as good as it was the first time. Still an A and probably my favorite beer of the night.
  • Tröegs Troegenator Double Bock - Very sweet and malty beer, I rather enjoyed this, though it was far from my favorite beer of the night. Perhaps a bit too sticky sweet, though still quite solid. I actually have one of these in my fridge somewhere, so I'll have to give this some closer attention at some point. For now, I'll give it a B
  • Port Brewing Santa's Little Helper - During a beer run in early December, I actually bought one of these (along with a few others) and put it on my passenger's side seat for the trip back home. At some point, I had to brake suddenly and my beer went flying... and this one broke open. I knew what happened right away, but since I was driving I couldn't really address it until I got home. For the next week or so, my car smelled of imperial stout... which, actually, wasn't that bad. I eventually picked up another bottle, but never drank it, so I brought it to beer club. It's quite a solid imperial stout. Roasty aroma with a taste that features a lot of dark chocolate and roasted malts. It was quite good, though perhaps my taste buds were a bit shot at this point of the night, as this wasn't quite as great as I was expecting. I'll give it a B for now.
  • My Homebrewed Christmas Beer - I think this is perhaps my best crafted beer yet and other folks at beer club certainly seemed to enjoy it (it went pretty quickly, which is pretty gratifying). I keep saying this, but I should really do some reviews of my homebrewed beers at some point.
  • Dana's Homebrewed Tripel - This did not come out as Dana had planned - there was a bit of a sour flavor present in the beer - but it actually turned out ok. Very citrusy nose and the taste, while not a typical tripel, was actually pretty good.
And that covers all the beer that we drank. As always, a great time was had by all, and we're already looking forward to February.

Trappist Westvleteren 12

| No Comments

My first beer of the year and I may have just shot myself in the foot. I mean, yeah, January 1st just another day and our penchant for creating end of the year lists is an entirely arbitrary practice, but still. This sets the bar pretty high.

Trappist Westvleteren 12. The fabled Westy 12. Both Rate Beer and Beer Advocate have it ranked as the #2 best beer in the world, and it's been there for a long time. Indeed, it is often in the #1 slot, occasionally falling to a Pliny the Younger or Kaggen Stormaktsporter. In short, it's a legendary beer.

Of course, it's impossible to get. Almost literally. To buy a case of it, you have to fly to Belgium and even then you have to jump through all sorts of hoops, calling the Monastery at the magic time, going to the secret pickup place at the secret time, doing the elaborate 42 step handshake with the attending monk, ducking below the booby traps (Only the penitent man will pass!), then bribing the airport baggage handlers so they don't just "lose" your package, and so on. Apparently the monks also sell some bottles to their local cafes, so you can get one there too, but for most of us, the Westy is a pipe dream. Why do they do this? Well, the monks at the Saint Sixtus Abbey only sell their beer in order to financially support the monastery (occasionally, they will also use their earnings to support a charitable cause). This means not much beer is made, and apparently the local folks like this stuff too, so it sells out quickly. Go figure.

How did I get one? Let's just say I'm a weak, weak man. I bought a "collectible bottle" that just happened to be unopened. Wink, wink. I feel a little bad about it, but not really. It was expensive but not obscene (the way a lot of "collectible bottles" are), and it's pretty much the only way I'd be able to actually get my hands on one of these things. Ok enough preamble, let's do this:

Trappist Westvleteren 12

Check out that bottle. You've got to love a brewery that's so badass it doesn't even need to put labels on their bottles. The only real identifier is the gold cap.

Trappist Westvleteren 12 Cap

Pours a cloudy dark brown color with a finger of white, fluffy head. Smell is strong with dark fruits - raisins and plums - along with some bready Belgian yeast. The taste has that same dark fruit character to it, very strong and rich flavors, sweet, well matched, a little booze, and a nice dry finish. The mouthfeel is absolutely perfect. Full bodied, a little chewy, but very easy to drink. Perfectly balanced carbonation that lasts throughout the entire taste. There's a little booze in there, but its true strength is hidden well by the rich flavor profile. Overall, an exceptional beer. A

Trappist Westvleteren 12 Closeup

Beer Nerd Details: 10.2% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank out of a goblet on 1/1/12. The cap has a date printed on it that says 15.06.14.

So is it the best beer in the world? Probably not, but it's up there. I mean, I've only had the one and it was superb, but I'd like to try it a few more times before I put the best in the world label on something. I suspect even then it wouldn't be at the very top of my list (though perhaps a top 10 slot would be fitting). Heresy? Maybe, but who really cares? When you get to beer that is this good, it doesn't really matter how you rank it. I've also got a bottle of the less infamous but just as hard to get Westy 8 that I'm hoping to crack open this weekend, so look for another review soon!

Categories

OpenID accepted here Learn more about OpenID

About

Hi, my name is Mark, and I like beer.

You might also want to check out my generalist blog, where I blather on about lots of things, but mostly movies, books, and technology.

Email me at mciocco at gmail dot com.

Follow me on Twitter

Like me on Facebook

Toast me on Untappd

Recent Comments

  • Mark: I think I remember you posting something about that back read more
  • Jay Hinman: Cool that you got to go to this, Mark. I read more
  • Mark: No, I obtained this through... methods. Glad I did, as read more
  • Jay Hinman: I don't think I sent this one to you, did read more
  • Mark: Apparently the popularity of single malt and the rise of read more
  • Padraic Hagan: I've had some real winners from the independants. A few read more
  • Mark: You know what the funny thing is? Upton no longer read more
  • Padraic Hagan: I don't...uh...none of my tea is certified, uh, poop free. read more
  • Mark: I've never disliked the bubblegum note (as evidenced by ratings), read more
  • Mark: Padraic will be here all week. 2 drink minimum, tip read more