Trappistes Rochefort

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It's easy to get caught up in the hustle-and-bustle of new experimental brews, limited releases and white whale beers. As such, many first-rate beers linger on the shelves, unnoticed. I've had all of Rochefort's beers before, but it has been far too long since I've revisited them. They are true classics. If you have not tried them, you should probably be out hunting for a bottle rather than reading this post.

Rochefort is a small town in southeast Belgium. A few miles down the road lies Rochefort's Trappist monastery, Notre Dame de Saint Remy. The monks there started brewing beer in 1595, though recent operations started in 1899. As usual, Michael Jackson provides some interesting background based on a rare interview and tour with the head brewer:

There are 25 monks at the abbey, and four have jobs in the brewery, along with five secular workers. The monks rise each morning at 3:15, and have the mash under way before heading for High Mass at 7a.m. ...

The beers are brewed from two Pilsener malts and one Munich type, with dark cane sugar added in the kettle. The hops are German Hallertau and Styrian Goldings, added twice. Two strains of yeast are use in primary fermentation an bottle-conditioning. White crystal sugar is used as a priming in the bottle.

"Two of the pale malts, two of the sugars, two hop varieties two yeast strains . . . two of this and two of that . . . we like to keep it simple," laughed Father Antoine.

Indeed, it is even rumored that all three of Rochefort's beers start from a single wort, which they modify by adding varying amounts of dark candy sugar to meet different strengths. All three of the beers share a similar flavor profile, so this does make sense, but I don't think it's ever been confirmed (and in looking at the difference between the weakest and strongest beers, that's a lot of adjunct that they'd have to add). In any case, like the other Trappist breweries, Rochefort only sells their beer to help sustain the monastery and some charitable causes. As such, production is fairly low and won't be raised to meet demand. In general, though, you shouldn't have a problem finding at least one of the three varieties.

Speaking of which, I've always wondered about the way a lot of Belgian beers are numbered. St. Bernardus has a 6, 8 and 12. Westvleteren has an 8 and a 12. And Rochefort has a 6, 8, and 10. I had always assumed that it was a general reference to strength (sort of like Dubbel, Tripel, and Quadrupel), and in a manner of speaking, it is. However, in more specific terms, the numbers are a reference to original gravity. 6 corresponds with an original gravity of 1.060, 8 corresponds to 1.080, and so on*. Interestingly, the Jackson article referenced above mentions: "This is handy, observed Father Antoine, because they are ready to drink at six, eight and 10 weeks." Go figure. Of course, these are bottle conditioned, high alcohol beers, so they can actually stand up to time rather well.

A while back, I picked up each of the available varieties, originally intending to do a triple feature, but that didn't work out as planned. Rather than get stupid drunk one night, I decided to stretch this out over a couple of weeks. I tried them in order of strength, from lowest to highest.

Rochefort 6

Trappistes Rochefort 6 - Apparently the least common of the three beers, this one is only brewed once a year. I've never had a problem finding it though, so perhaps that's no longer in effect (that or people tend to gravitate towards the higher strength beers). Pours a cloudy reddish brown color with a couple fingers of quickly disappearing tan head. Aroma is very fruity, and not the typical Belgian strong dark fruitiness either. There's something different about this. Bready Belgian yeast aromas are also present, along with a sorta nuttiness and toffee, but both aromas clearly take a back seat to the fruitiness. The taste goes along similar lines - a well balanced fruity sweetness throughout, with some more intricate and subtle flavors emerging as it warms up. Again, not sure what that particular fruit flavor is, but I've never had anything quite like it (except for other Rochefort beers). As the 6 is the "weakest" of these beers, I was expecting it to be lighter and maybe even watery, but it was highly carbonated and full bodied. Very easy to drink. I really love this beer. Wonderfully complex and unique, but still approachable. A

Beer Nerd Details: 7.5% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank from a tulip glass on 7/31/11.

Rochefort 8

Trappistes Rochefort 8 - Pours a slightly deeper, darker brown color with a couple fingers of head. Aroma is more intense, but along the same lines. Taste is perhaps a bit sweeter, with just a hint of additional stickiness. I think you can taste the extra alcohol, but it's still well balanced with the rest of the beer. Again, intricate and complex flavors emerging even more as it warms up. Mouthfeel is a bit fuller bodied, but it's not a huge difference.. Like the 6, I do love this beer, which is similar, but bigger and richer. Indeed, I believe this one is my favorite of the three, even warranting the highest rating I can give, the vaunted Kaedrin A+

Beer Nerd Details: 9.2% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank from a tulip glass on 8/6/11.

Rochefort 10

Trappistes Rochefort 10 - Deep, dark brown color, similar to the 8, but some of that reddish color is also seeping in... Seemingly less head. Aroma is very rich, but along similar lines. The taste is definitely boozier and sweeter than the other two varieites. I'm drinking this a couple weeks after the other two, so my comparative palate is a little off, but my feeling is that the extra alcohol here really does give this beer a whole different character. Mouthfeel is heavy, a little less carbonated and again, very full bodied. There's more of a stickiness apparent, presumably due to the extra sugar and alcohol. The thing is, it's all still very well balanced - no small feat considering the 0.040 difference in original gravity. An amazing beer and a nice complement to the other two. A

Beer Nerd Details: 11.3% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank from a tulip glass on 8/20/11.

It's almost a shame to compare and rate these three beers, yet I do find that I prefer the 8 above the other two. Interestingly, I think I might even prefer the 6 to the 10**, which is not to say that the 10 is bad or anything. Indeed, I'd put it near the top of any best-of list. Hmmm. I should "research" this more. By which I mean I probably shouldn't wait another two years before having more Rochefort!

* To complicate matters further, Randy Mosher's Tasting Beer claims that the O.G. for the 6 is 1.072, the 8 is 1.078 and the 10 is 1.096. Take from this what you want. It's great beer no matter what!

** Despite the BA nerds' ratings (which put the 10 at the top), it seems I'm not alone in my preferred ranking of 8, 6, then 10. Jay's recently released Beer Samizdat 100 features these three beers in that order, even going so far as to name the 8 the best beer evar (personal preferences may differ, but I find it hard to argue with that choice).

When I finished my latest homebrew attempt, a stout, I was a little worried that the yeast would have trouble getting started. I had activated the smack pack early in the day, and it did expand a bit, but not to the extent that my previous attempts had. Fortunately, I saw activity in the airlock within about 12 hours, which is better than I was expecting. Indeed, about a day and a half later, it was bubbling furiously. It may have been the most active I've ever seen the airlock. Of course, it cut out a couple days later, and by the Wednesday after brew day, it had slowed considerably. I probably could have bottled this a few days ago, but I waited for the weekend, just to be sure. So as hurricane Irene made it's way up to my area, I was hunkered down inside, bottling my beer.

Final gravity was a little on the high side - around 1.019 or so (maybe a bit higher, adjusting for temperature). My target was around 1.017, so this was probably close enough and will probably contribute a fuller body, which might actually be a good thing here, as I prefer full bodied stouts. From the aroma and taste, it may be a bit more roasty than I was hoping for, but we'll see how the bottle conditioning affects things. It tastes good, but extrapolating how it will taste after conditioning is something I haven't really figured out just yet. That being said, I think the bitterness turned out quite well. I was a little worried that the small amount of hops wouldn't be enough, but they either were, or the natural bitterness from the dark grains is also pitching in... Anyway, given the starting gravity of 1.062-1.063 or so, this should wind up at around 5.5-6% ABV. A little lower than my goal, but given the fuller body I'm expecting, I think it will work out fine.

The appearance was very nice indeed, though I'm really curious as to what the head will look like in the final product. Stouts usually have a relatively dark head, tan or light brown in color. But I'm wondering if my use of light DME as the base will lighten the color. From the picture, you can see a little of the head, and it does seem darker than normal. I guess we'll find out. The color of the beer is a really nice dark brown color (almost black) with some lighter brown highlights. Holding up to the light, I can't see through it at all, and the highlights are minimal.

Homebrewed Stout - after fermentation, before conditioning

When I bottled my saison, I tried one a week later, and it was fantastic, so I'll probably be trying this next week, hopefully with similar results!

I think I'll be going for a Belgian-style Abbey Dubbel for my next batch. It's one of my favorite styles, so I'm going to need to make sure my recipe is good here. I found a nice clone recipe of St. Bernardus 8 that might provide a good base to work from. But given my schedule for the next couple months, I probably won't get to brew again until October, so I've got time. Not sure what I'll try after that. Perhaps an IPA of some kind. I should probably try to take advantage of the cooler temperatures inside the house during winter, which means I did things kinda backwards this past year (I brewed a Belgian tripel in winter - using a yeast that requires high temperatures, then I went and brewed this stout in summer, which requires lower temperatures). I may also be upgrading my equipment a little for these future batches. I think I've established that I really enjoy this little hobby, so some new toys are probably worthwhile...

(Cross Posted on Kaedrin Weblog)

Butternuts Double Feature

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It occurs to me that I've been slacking on the filmic side of Double Feature posts of late. This is partly because my recent Netflixery has included an inordinate amount of television - catching up with the likes of HBO's Deadwood and the Doctor Who Revival (slow going to start, but I am assured of future greatness), but I've also slowed down my movie intake recently. This is all about to change, though, as we're heading into my favorite time of the year, Halloween, which I celebrate with a 6 week marathon of horror movies. As it turns out, I will also be attending Fantastic Fest later in September. For the uninitiated, it's a mostly genre film festival, but one of the prime locations is at the Alamo Drafthouse - a movie theater with craft beer on tap. What a novel idea (we need one up here). Not that the beer blog will be filled with movie reviews - it's never been like that and I'll save my verbose reviews for my general purpose blog - but I do so enjoy the notion of combining two beers and two movies in a double feature.

Anyway, a fellow beer club member recently took a trip to Ohio, and came back with a bunch of exotic (i.e. mostly not available in PA) beer. Some of it she didn't like, which means free beer for me. I've never heard of Butternuts before, but just from their branding, I have a feeling I'm in for something a little weird. Maybe white trashy. So I threw a couple of Hollywood thrillers from earlier this year on the screen and cracked a few cans of this stuff open. First up was Source Code. I actually saw the first half of this movie in the theater, but there was a power outage, so I never saw the ending. The theater was very kind and gave us all a free ticket, but perhaps tellingly, I did not use that free ticket to see Source Code again. Instead, I waited for Blu-Ray. It's not a movie I'm particularly in love with, but it's entertaining and engaging stuff, and there's some more disturbing substance that emerges the more you think about it (especially the ending). I ended up enjoying it quite a bit. Second was Limitless, an enjoyable enough thriller about a drug that makes you, like, super smart. Of course, it suffers from the same problem that most stories featuring geniuses does - namely, the genius does some really dumb things. Still, it's not especially egregious in that respect, and it's a fun little film. On the beer side, I had the two aforementioned Butternuts beers:

Butternuts Porkslap

Butternuts Porkslap - I have to admit, I love the audacity of naming a beer Porkslap and then putting two belliy-flopping pigs on the can. It's all very evocative. Anyway, it pours a deep, slightly cloudy amber color with a finger or two of off white head. The smell is strange for a pale ale. Just a hint of citrusy hops, but more of a sugary, almost Belgian mustiness in the nose... It's quite quenching at first. Downright quaffable. None of that Belgian character from the aroma, but you do get a nice, subtle bitterness in the taste. There's also some hop resin or maybe caramel character floating around in here too. It's not really typical of the pale ale style, but it's a nice changeup that features similar traits. All that being said, it is also pretty straightforward and loses some of its punch once you reach the bottom of the glass. Fortunately, that didn't take long. It won't knock your socks off, but it's eminently drinkable, and at 4.3%, it won't kill you either. If this were readily available in my area, I'd probably grab a six pack for a barbecue or something. B

Beer Nerd Details: 4.3% ABV canned (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/12/11.

Butternuts Snapperhead IPA

Butternuts Snapperhead IPA - Not quite as ambitious here, it pours a slightly lighter color, more like orange, with some haziness and a finger of off white head. Again with the Belgian yeast aromas, perhaps a little more pronounced this time, along with some sugary sweetness, maybe some toffee aromas, and the hoppy citrus typical of the style. Taste is nice and sweet with a balancing, but not overpowering hoppy bitterness. That's actually somewhat rare for an American style IPA, and it's actually a nice change of pace. Definitely a heavier beer than the Porkslap (which is to be expected), but it's still maybe a medium bodied beer. Not quite the perfect barbecue beer like Porkslap, but still quite drinkable. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.8% ABV canned (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/12/11.

I would say that neither the movies nor the beers were particularly remarkable, but they all worked well enough to have a good time. I have to admit that I could really do with making Porkslap a regular thing and might even upgrade the rating over time...

Lucha Libre de Cervezas

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After last week's homebrew session, I was hungry and in no mood to cook, so I popped over to Iron Hill for a burger and some of their brewpubby goodness. Iron Hill doesn't really have national exposure, but it was part of the Craft Beer Class of 1996, which also featured local mainstays like Victory, Yards, Dogfish Head, and Flying Fish. That's pretty good company, and I do believe that much of what Iron Hill puts out compares favorably with their brethren (to see the various founders fooling around, check out this video from 2010 Philly Beer Week). Anyway, I had just walked in the door when what to my wondering eyes should appear?

Lucha Libre de Cervezas

Mexican wrestling? Beer? I'm in! Of course, the actual event was a week away, but both of the contestants were available, so I figured I'd do a preview of the main event and see who I thought should win.

Iron Hill Kryptonite

Iron Hill Kryptonite - Apparently, they've been making this one for a few years, but the recipe seemingly changes from year to year. Beer Advocate has it at 10.5% ABV, but everything I'm seeing about it has it lower. Iron Hill's website has it at 9% (and the brewer made a blog entry a couple years ago that confirms it), and judging from what I had, that seems right. According to various sources, this is an Imperial IPA brewed with massive amounts of Colombus, Centennial, Chinook, Amarillo, Simcoe, and Citra hops. As the brewer sez: "There are enough hops in this beer to make even the mighty Superman buckle at the knees." I guess Superman isn't a hophead. As it turns out, I had this one on its second day of release, so it was quite fresh, which might account for at least part of my reaction.

From the first sip, I knew I had tasted a winner. Pours a darkish gold/amber color and a small finger of head that leaves lots of lacing as I drank. The smell is amazing - lots of citrus and pine along with that sugary sweet aroma I love so much. The sweetness comes through in the taste as well, but there's a nice bitterness that emerges in the middle and fully balances out the sweetness in the finish. It is utterly delicious. Perfect carbonation and mouthfeel, very easy to drink despite the high ABV (which is pretty well hidden). It's an extremely well balanced beer, and it's probably my favorite Iron Hill beer of all time (and I've had many an Iron Hill beer over the years). Indeed, I just had another Pliny the Elder the other day, and I do believe this compares favorably. High praise? Perhaps, but it deserves it. I don't know who won the official Lucha Libre de Cervezas event on Friday, but I would put my money on Kryptonite. A

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV on tap. Drank out of a goblet on 8/13/11. Depending on what source you're looking at (or perhaps what batch you're drinking), the IBUs are anywhere between 80 and 155.

Iron Hill Hopkowski

Iron Hill Hopkowski - BA actually has this as a retired beer and once again, the ABV is different there than it is on Iron Hill's website. This is actually an imperial red ale, but with a name like Hopkowski, you can bet it's got a ton of hoppy character involved. Not sure what the story here is, but their website does mention that it was "Made with the help of assistant brewer Mike Rutkowski and as many Polish-American friends that we could get in the brewery." Well, that sounds fun.

This one pours a darker amber/red color, with a finger of head and lots of lacing. Not as much going on in the nose, but still enough hoppy aromas to go around. The taste is again very sweet, but this time there's a bit of a spicy character going on in addition to the typical hoppy flavors and a hop bitterness that grows throughout the taste. Though very bitter, it's not quite at the same level as the Kryptonite. The mouthfeel is definitely stickier, but also creamy and easy to drink. It's actually quite good, but in comparison to the Kryptonite, it falters considerably. This is perhaps unfortunate, but that is the way of things. B+ but it would probably be higher if I hadn't drank it at the same time as the Kryptonite.

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV on tap. Draink out of... whatever you call that glass on 8/13/11. Around 100 IBUs.

I don't know what the outcome of the actual Lucha Libre de Cervezas event was, but again, I think my money is on Kryptonite (I meant to head over there, but other events conspired to keep me busy on Friday night, so no beer for me). At this point, I'm probably going to go and pick up a growler of the stuff for next weekend. Iron Hill also has a series of "bottled reserve" beers, which I'm in the process of checking out (they're pretty pricey though). I got a bottle of their Dubbel that's been calling my name lately, so look for a review (probably in a while). One last thing to note about Iron Hill, right now, Beer Advocate has 207 beers listed, and 85 retired (and as established above, some of the retired stuff comes back from time to time). Perhaps unsurprising, given that they're a chain of brewpubs, but that's still impressively prolific. I can't believe I haven't reviewed any of their beers before...

Southern Tier 2XIPA

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I've only had a few beers from Southern Tier, but damn, they really seem to like making sweet beers. Sometimes this really works for them - their Creme Brulee Stout is amazingly flavorful, for instance, and something of an inspiration for my latest homebrew attempt (though it's not even close to a clone, their beer emphasizes the same things I wanted to emphasize with mine). It's also tremendously sweet, and drinking the entire 22 ounce bomber by yourself is not recommended (splitting it 3 or 4 ways would be ideal). Their Unearthly IPA actually manages to balance its huge sweetness out with massive helpings of hops... though again, I'm not sure drinking the entire bomber is an advisable option. Unfortunately, they can't all be winners:

Southern Tier 2XIPA

Southern Tier 2XIPA - Pours a clear golden color with a finger of fluffy head. Smells very sweet, with some pine and hop resin apparent. Tastes extremely sweet with just a little bitterness apparent in the finish and aftertaste. Carbonation is good and the body is full, but the overpowering sweetness makes it too syrupy and slick. It's not the worst beer ever or anything, but the sweetness quickly gets cloying, and the lack of bitterness to offset it is a bit weird for the style. It comes off as complex but unbalanced. Who knows, maybe I got an bad/old bottle or maybe I just was in a bad mood or something. I should probably try it again sometime, but quite frankly, I don't see it happening anytime soon. C+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.2% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/1/11.

I do look forward to trying more of their beers (on the short term radar: Gemini and Pumking), and I also keep a bottle of the Creme Brulee Stout around, just in case I want to wow some friends who think they don't like dark beers because they're too bitter and/or roasty.

Pretty Things Jack D'Or

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In the past, I've attempted to separate the saison style into two main groups - sweet and spicy (a la Saison Dupont) and funky, tart saisons brewed with Brett (a la Fantôme). Of course, that's a drastic simplification of a style that is extremely broad. One additional subcategory that you could argue for is dry saisons. I've had a few of these lately, and while I enjoy them, they tend to have a narrower range than the other subcategories. Dryness is a fine characteristic for a beer, and it's actually really great to drink a nice, dry saison along with a meal. Dry beers complement what you're eating well, while the sweeter beers may sometimes overpower your meal. Of course, the general guideline for matching beer with food is to match the intensity, but dry beers tend to work for a much wider range of dishes. But if you're drinking a dry beer by itself, the dryness can make it a bit of a strange experience.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with any of this. There's no one true style to rule them all, only a beer that's good for you right now. Or something. Anyway, here's a dry saison that's garnered many accolades.

Pretty Things Jack d ore

Pretty Things Jack D'Or - Pretty Things is another one of them Gypsy Brewers, like Mikkeller and Stillwater, and their beers have been highly sought after for a while, but I seem to be seeing them all over the place these days. This beer seems to use a ridiculous blend of malts, hops, and yeasts (I mean, seriously, how many beers do you know that are fermented with a blend of four different yeasts?) It pours a light yellowish gold color, mostly clear, with a finger or so of bubbly head. The aroma is surprisingly earthy, but not in a typical Belgian yeast way. The taste has some sweetness to it, but it's mostly dominated by dryness throughout and especially in the finish, where things get a little bitter too. Actually reminds me a bit of Ommegang's recent BID beer, as well as Stillwater's various dry saisons. It's light and crisp, and overall a pretty good brew. Not something that's really lighting my world on fire, but I suspect I would enjoy it much more with a meal. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.4% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank from a tulip glass on 7/30/11. Label sez it was bottled in May 2011. Batch 26.

I've got a bottle of Pretty Things Baby Tree, a Belgian style quadrupel that I'm greatly looking forward to. These Gypsy brewers sure seem to know what they're doing!

Chimay Cinq Cents

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I'm pretty sure I've covered all the Trappist beer tropes before, so I won't bore you with the general trivia again. Chimay is probably the most commonly found of the Trappist beers... Indeed, back in the day, they were probably one of the most common Belgian beers you could find (in particular, the Chimay Red was pretty popular). The name of the monastery is actually Scourmont Abbey, but they market all of their products (aside from beer, they also make a line of cheeses) using the name of the tiny town in which they're located: Chimay.

This particular beer is variously known as Chimay White, Chimay Tripel and Chimay Cinq Cents. The first refers to the white cap that was used in bottling, the second is a reference to the style, but the third is a mystery. It only appears on the 750 ml bottle... the smaller, 12 oz. bottles make no mention of the... catch phrase? What does it really represent? At first glance, I thought it perhaps translated to "Five Cents" and referred to, perhaps, some aspect of the pricing in the distant past. But it doesn't make any sense that a Trappist brewery in Belgium would name their beer after American monetary units. After some google-fu, I figured out that it really translates to "Five Hundred", but I was still a little unclear as to what that really meant. More googling ultimately lead to this post from 52 Brews (apparently their first post!) where the author heroically answers the question:

Michael Jackson's Great Beer Guide features interesting write-ups on some of the best beers in the world, and upon perusing its pages, the answer was right under my nose. Regarding Cinq Cents, the book makes note that while this beer was once identified only by its white cap, the "Champagne-style presentation" was introduced to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Chimay, the town.
Mystery solved. Not only does that explain the significance of the phrase, but it also explains why it's only on the 750 ml "champaign style" bottles.

I've probably had this beer a dozen times over the years. On tap, in small bottles, in large bottles. It's often one of the few good beers available, which I'm usually pretty happy with because these beers really are great (indeed, I had one of these along with a Blue during my recent Vegas Trip.)

Chimay Cinq Cents

Chimay Cinq Cents - Pours a cloudy golden color with lots of fluffy head. Smells strongly of sweet, fruity Belgian yeast. Taste is sweet and very spicy with a dry finish and a little lingering bitterness in the aftertaste. Chimay beers have a certain distinctive element that I can never place, but I think it's the way it's spiced - it's more peppery (?) than most other Belgian beers (this is probably entirely due to their yeast, not actual spice adjuncts). It's here in the Cinq Cents, but it's not as prominent here as it is in the Red, and I think this more subtle treatment works better here. It's got a full body and tons of carbonation. Overall, it's a great beer. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 7/17/11. Cork says 07/10, so I'm guessing it was about a year old when I drank it.

I think the Chimay Grand Reserve (Blue) is probably my favorite of their beers, but comparing that with the Cinq Cents is an apples and oranges type of thing. Strangely, despite the fact that I love dubbels, I'm not a huge fan of the Red. It's a really well crafted and unique beer, but something about it just doesn't jive well with me. Of course, I haven't had it in years, so perhaps my tastes have changed...

Dogfish Head Raison D'etre

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Reason for existence? Not quite, but it is one of Dogfish Head's year-round (and oldest) brews. It was supposedly brewed to match with "wood-grilled steak" but I think Sam just came into a few tons of bulk raisins and said, "Fuck it, we're making a brown ale with a shitload of raisins. Hey, does anyone know of a shitty raisin pun we can use for the beer name?"* In any case, by pure chance, I actually was having a steak (not a "wood-grilled" one though) whilst drinking this.

Dogfish Head Raison Detre

Raison D'etre - Pours a clearish dark amber color with a finger or two of light colored head. The smell is a bit strange to me. I think I can pick up some of the raisins that were used in brewing, and there's some Belgian yeast (though not as much as I'd expect), but there's a strange twang in the nose too. The taste is very sweet, lots of residual sugars here, and there's a distinct alcohol flavor as well. It's got some brown ale style flavors going on as well - just a hint of roastiness, maybe some caramel. It's got a medium body and rich flavors, but when you put everything together here, it seems a bit unbalanced. It's clearly complex, but I feel like there's something missing - maybe overpowered by the rest of the beer. It's certainly not bad, but perhaps my expectations from the Dogfish Head folks were too high. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank from a goblet on 7/16/11.

I've got a couple of other bottles of Dogfish Head stuff laying around that I'll get to at some point, including their Squall IPA (which I think is basically just a bottle conditioned 90 Minute IPA) and the most excellent Palo Santo Marron.

* In case you can't tell from previous posts, I like to think of brewers as foul-mouthed maniacs. It's funnier that way, but no offense intended. I kid because I love.

Adventures in Brewing - Beer #5: Stout

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So the past three beers I've brewed have been pale in color, and I was looking to do something a bit darker this time around. For one thing, dark beers are apparently more suitable for extract homebrew as the extract process naturally makes the malt a bit darker, and the fact that I'm doing a partial boil (I only really boil about 3-3.5 gallons of liquid, then add water later to make up the difference) also leads to a darker color. And after a summer of drinking hefeweizens, saisons, tripels, and other pale ales, I'm getting to be in the mood for something darker anyway. Stouts have never been one of my favorite styles, but I have to admit that certain variations on the style have really grown on me. One of the big advantages of doing homebrew is that you can make whatever you want, so I started trying to figure out how to make a stout that emphasized the chocolate and caramel flavors, rather than the one--dimensional roastiness that overpowers a lot of stouts. I didn't want a really dry stout, nor did I want a super-strong imperial stout. Something in the middle, with a lot of body and caramel/chocolate sweetness, but not a ton of roastiness.

I toyed with the notion of a milk stout, but none of the homebrew kits I could find online were really doing it for me. So I started playing with some online recipe calculators, and came up with a (rather lame) recipe. I probably know a lot more about beer than your typical beer drinker, but when it comes to expert homebrewer stuff, I'm still somewhat of a newb. I was unsure of my recipe, so I figured I should just take it to the local homebrew shop and ask the friendly guys there what I should do. I'm not entirely convinced that the recipe we ended up creating is exactly what I want, but it feels like it will be good.

Brew #5 - Stout
August 13, 2011

0.5 lb. Roasted Barley (Specialty Grain)
0.75 lb. British Chocolate Malt (Specialty Grain)
0.25 lb. Belgian Special B (Specialty Grain)
0.5 lb American Crystal 120L (Specialty Grain)
7 lb. Light DME
1 oz. Target Hops (bittering @ 8.6% AA)
Wyeast 1284 - Irish Ale Yeast

If you're in the know, the first thing you'll notice is that the majority of the sugars in this beer consist of light dry malt extract. But stouts are supposed to be dark! Well, it turns out that you don't need much in the way of dark, roasted malts to get that nice, dark brown/black color, and since the specialty grains were fresh (and just crushed), you can get a much better flavor out of that than you can by just selecting dark malt extracts. As such, I think this is the most complex (and largest) specialty grain bill I've brewed. And according to our calculations, it will indeed be very dark. The way brewers measure beer color is called the Standard Reference Method (SRM), and this beer should have an SRM of around 45 (anything above 30 is usually referred to as black).

The other thing that stands out about the recipe is the single, relatively-small hop addition. Most brews have a hop schedule consisting of three additions: one for bittering, one for taste, and one for aroma. But since I was looking to highlight the caramel, chocolate, and roasty flavors of my malts, those taste and aroma hops would only detract from the experience. As such, the homebrew shop guy recommended I go with a single hop addition at the beginning of the boil. I'm not entirely convinced that there's enough bitterness in what I ended up with, but again, I'm looking to make something that is sweet, chocolately/caramelly, and a little roasty. This isnt' meant to be a hop bomb like some imperial stouts (or American Black Ales, or whatever you call that style), so it makes sense that the hop presence would be a bit muted.

I steeped the specialty grains in approximately 2.5 gallons of water at around 150° F - 160° F for about 20 minutes. Sparged with some 150° F water, bringing the total volume of the pot up to a little more than 3 gallons. Let the grains drain out (careful not to squeeze the grain bag), observed the black-as-night color of the wort and the various aromas it gave off. This may end up being a bit roastier than I expected, but nothing I could do about it at that point, so I punched up the stovetop to bring the mixture to a boil. Once at the boil, added the 7 pounds of DME and the hops and boy did it create a lot of bubbly head (Not sure exactly if you would call this head, but there was a bubbly head-like substance at the top of the pot, and it took some supervision to make sure it didn't boil over). Settled in for the 60 minute boil. Once complete, I moved the pot to the ice bath in my sink. Unlike previous attempts, I came prepared with lots of ice this time, and that certainly helped cool the word down quicker... until all the ice melted. Still, it got down to around 100° F quicker than any of my previous attempts. At this point, I strained the wort into my fermenter and topped it all off with cold water, bringing the temperature down to around 75° F. Just a hint too hot, so I let it sit for a while (once I hit the cooling phase, I cranked the air conditioner, hoping to help with the cooling process), took my hydrometer reading, and pitched the yeast.

If I got one thing right with my initial recipe, it was the yeast choice (or at least, my yeast choice was exactly what the homebrew store guy said I should use). Apparently Irish Ale Yeast is really well matched with dark malts. So before I even started brewing, I had activated the wyeast smack-pack. It was dated 5/16/11, which is still somewhat recent, but unlike previous smack-packs, it didn't swell up right away and took some cajoling to get it to swell at all. About 4 hours after the initial smack, it seemed to be swelling a bit, but I'm not sure if this yeast was really ready. This represents my greatest fear in this batch - the yeast seems to be a bit old and tired. Now, the Wyeast package says that the swelling need not be extreme for the yeast to be ok, but I'm still a bit worried (note to self - learn how to make a yeast starter so that I can avoid such anxiety). I pitched it at around 70° F, so I guess we'll see how it does.

Original Gravity: 1.062 (approximate). Adjusting for temperature, maybe a tad higher. Either way, this is a little lower than my recipe implied (somewhere around 1.067), but still within the realm of what I wanted to make. Assuming solid attenuation, I'm looking at an ABV of around 6-6.5%, maybe higher.

My last batch turned out really well (I should probably review it at some point), so I've got high hopes for this. Even if it comes out a little roastier than expected, I'll be happy. I am a bit worried about the yeast, but I saw some activity in the airlock this morning, so that's promising. And besides, I worried a lot about the last batch, and it turned out great (first batch I've made that I really love).

Not sure what's up next. I think I'll want to get the Belgian Dubbel underway, so that I have it ready for the Holidays. After that, who knows? I was thinking about an IPA of some kind, but there are definite issues with hop utilization in extract boils, so maybe I'll hold off on that a bit. I probably won't be able to get to the next batch until October anyway, so I've got some time.

(Cross posted on Kaedrin Weblog)

Victory Perfect 10 Lager

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Wherein I succumb to that annoying beer-blogger tendency to talk about limited-edition beers that most readers are unlikely to ever taste. Over at his new digs, Jay H. has had the opportunity to try out an ultra-rare, one-time-brewed, sour ale from The Bruery called The Wanderer. Not only is it a rare beer, but Jay has awarded it a 10/10 rating, which is pretty rare in itself. Alas, I will probably never cross paths with this beer unless The Bruery upgrades it to a staple brew...

Victory Brewing Co. has a different, less trendy reputation, but they also put out a lot of different beers, ranging from simple, session brews to whopping 12% face melters. I arrived at a local bar recently, scanned their beer menu and saw this Victory Perfect 10 Lager listed... I asked about it and found out that it was brewed specially for the bar, which had just recently celebrated its 10th anniversary (hence the beer's title). Sign me up! Perhaps unsurprisingly, the beer isn't even listed on Beer Advocate. It's a relatively straightforward lager, so it's not going to be a "White Whale" beer the likes of which I discussed earlier, but I actually did enjoy it quite a bit:

Victory Perfect 10 Lager

Pours a clear golden color with a minimal white head. Not much going on in the nose, but the taste is sticky sweet. Despite the stickiness, it's a really clean feeling brew. Well carbonated and medium bodied but still smooth and easy to drink. It reminds me of Victory's St. Boisterous Maibock, which I've also had recently. I actually seemed to enjoy this a bit more, which is a shame, as I'm pretty sure this will be the last I ever see of this brew. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV (on tap). Drank out of a... whatever the heck you call the glass in the picture... on 8/9/11.

Victory continues to be my local hero and I'm extremely excited to get my hands on some of their upcoming smoked dubbel style beer, dubbed (pun intended!) Otto. It's not due to be released until mid-October though, so I've got a bit of a wait...

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