Gnomegang

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I have to admire Ommegang's ability to incorporate brewery-name puns into their beers. It's inspiring. Ommegeddon, O'mmegang (an Irish stout that I've never had), Obamagang (aka Inauguration ale) and now Gnomegang, a collaboration with sister brewery, Achouffe (world renowned for the cute little gnomes that adorn their bottles... and, you know, I guess they're known for their good beer too). Both breweries are owned by parent company, Duvel, so it's not much of a stretch to see these two collaborating, but it's still nice.

Ommegang Gnomegang

Ommegang Gnomegang: Apparently brewed with Achouffe's house yeast in primary, and Ommegang's house yeast in secondary, this beer has lots of spicy flavors despite no actual spices being added to the wort (something Ommegang typically does with their brews). Pours a hazy, light orange color with a finger of light head. Smells fantastic. Bready/fruity Belgian yeast, sweet candi, and a bit of spiciness in the nose. Taste is very sweet, a little fruity, and spicy, with some alcohol manifesting in the finish. A pretty full body here, with ample carbonation and a well executed boozy stickyness in the finish. There's also a nice warming alcohol sensation here that works pretty well. As I've come to expect from Ommegang, it's extremely well balanced and a joy to drink. I suppose it could be a bit too strong, but it worked well for me and it's really nice to see Ommegang collaborating. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV bottled (750 ml, caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 6/3/11.

I've always been a huge fan of Ommegang, but I should probably check out more from Achouffe sometime (they're apparently famous for their Tripel IPA, which does sound rather interesting)...

Philly Beer Week: Stillwater Event

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Philly Beer Week kicked off last week, but since I'm one of those suburban types, I'm not sure how often I'll be able to make it into the city for the festivities. Lucky for me, there are quite a few events happening out here in the burbs, so who knows, I may end up filling my schedule with good beer this week.

First up was an event on Saturday that featured Stillwater Artisanal Ales, 12% Importers (who happen to work with Stillwater quite a bit for reasons I'll get into in a bit), and the Shelton Brothers Importers (who import a crapton of foreign beers, including the likes of Cantillon, Mikkeller, Fantôme and more). The focus of the event was Stillwater, which is another "virtual brewery" (or "gypsy brewer") like Mikkeller. Brewer Brian Strumke doesn't have a brewery of his own - he basically schedules time with breweries that have excess capacity and then brews his beers there. It turns out that the majority of his brewing is done at the DOG brewery in Maryland, and he says that once they got up and running, he doesn't need to be as involved in the day to day brewing activities. He also makes trips over to Belgium and does some limited edition stuff there that is then imported (by the aforementioned 12% importers).

I didn't get a chance to speak with him that much, but I did ask him why he seemed to primarily brew saisons and how he liked to differentiate his brews from others that specialize in the style. He seems to enjoy the variety that saisons afford, and he also mentioned that he tends to prefer dry beers, as they go much better with food. I get the impression that he really likes working with saison yeast strains as well, as there were a couple beers featured that were not typical saison styles, but which apparently used saison yeast (more on this below). I actually mentioned that I was planning a saison homebrew and was thinking of using the Wyeast 3711 French Saison yeast instead of the 3724 Belgian Saison yeast, and he mentioned that a bunch of his brews used the French Saison yeast and that if I was worried about temperature control (which I am!), that was the way to go. He talked a bit about the first time he used the Belgian Saison yeast and how hot it got during fermentation (upwards of 90 degrees), but he also has access to equipment that is slightly more advanced than my crappy plastic bucket.

I felt kinda dorky asking him about homebrew and I hope I wasn't being too bothersome, but he seemed to perk up when I asked him about it (I guess it's better or at least different than the typical questions he gets, which I imagine revolve around his "gypsy" brewing lifestyle). He gave me two pieces of advice when it comes to extract homebrewing (we were talking about saisons and dark Belgian styles): 1. Use the lightest malt extract available and 2. Try to do mini-mash as soon as you're comfortable with it, because you're otherwise totally at the mercy of the folks producing the extract (and there's apparently not much consistency or control over that part of the process). He mentioned how in his early homebrewing days he tried using one of those pots with a built in spaghetti strainer to do a mini-mash (with what I gathered were mixed results, but it was a fun story). I don't know that I'm quite ready for mini-mash just yet, but it's something to keep in mind.

Stillwater has only been around for a little over a year, but it's been getting a lot of attention and garnering a lot of "top new brewer" awards and the like, but Brian seemed to be very down to earth and focused on making good beer. I'm definitely going to be keeping my eyes out for more Stillwater beer in the future. I did manage to sample quite a few of their beers, along with a couple of others during the day (conditions weren't exactly ideal - most of the below was served in plastic cups, though I did get a glass for the first one):

Stillwater Cellar Door

Stillwater Cellar Door - Apparently the phrase "cellar door" is among the most beautiful sounding phrases in the English language. Pours a hazy light orange color with a fluffy white head. Smells of Belgian yeast and candi. Taste is sweet and spicy with just a hint of citrus. The spice in this was really different and I couldn't place it, but someone mentioned that it was sage, which makes sense. The mouthfeel is actually very dry (not surprising, given what Brian said), which really just made me want to drink more. Is it my favorite saison ever? Probably not, but it's really good and distinct from other saison offerings. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.6% ABV on tap. Drank out of a tulip glass.

Stillwater Of Love and Regret - This was apparently Brian's first beer made in Belgium that was then imported back to the US. Pours a bit darker. Smells very fruity and sweet, with a taste to match. There's a very floral component to the nose that was quite pleasing and complex. And unsurprisingly, it was extremely dry (even moreso than the Cellar Door). It's a little smoother, and the alcohol is a little stronger. Overall, a pretty good brew. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7.2% ABV on tap. Drank out of a plastic cup.


Stillwater Jaded

Stillwater Jaded - Another Import Series beer made in collaboration with De Struise in Belgium, this is a dark wheat beer brewed with a saison yeast. Beer Advocate just calls it a Belgian Strong Dark Ale, but that belies the complexity of what's really going on this beer. Pours a deep garnet color with a minimum of head. The nose is filled with dark fruit and sweet malts. Only really a hint of Belgian yeast in the nose. Taste starts sweet and finishes somewhat dry (not as much as the previous, but for a beer this big, it's relatively dry). Some caramel is apparent in the taste as well. Very smooth beer that's dangerously drinkable given the high ABV. Overall, my second favorite of the day. A

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV on tap. Drank out of a plastic cup.

De Struise Outblack - This is a collaboration between Stillwater and De Struise in Belgium, though I guess De Struise claims this as their own. I didn't get the full story on this one, but it seems like the recipe was a standard De Struise beer that was modified. Pours very dark with a creamy tan head (good retention). Smells a bit roasty, with just a hint of fruitiness. Taste is sweet and roasty with a nice, sweet finish (not as dry as most of the other beers I had that day). It's almost stoutish, but not quite. Too much character added by that saison yeast to really call it a stout. Another quite enjoyable beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV on tap. Drank out of a plastic cup.

Stillwater / Mikkeller Two Gypsies - Our Side - Two of the world's most famous gypsy brewers collaborating on one beer. Awesome. Pours a cloudy light amber color with about a finger of thick white head. Smell is filled with citrus fruits and hops. Taste is sweet and fruity with just a hint of tartness in the dry finish. It's not super bitter or anything, but it reminds me a lot of a citrusy pale ale. My favorite beer of the day. A

Beer Nerd Details: 7.5% ABV bottled (I didn't drink the whole bottle, it was shared!). Drank out of a plastic cup.


Hof Ten Dormaal Blonde

Hof Ten Dormaal Blonde - I spoke with the 12% Importer guy (sorry, don't remember his name!) and he mentioned that this was one of his biggest new imports. It's apparently made on this crazy self-sustaining farm where the whole brewing/bottling process takes place. Apparently there's been some issues with carbonation (i.e. there's lots of it!), but it's quite good anyway. It's similar to something like Saison Dupont, but it's perhaps just a bit dryer. I enjoyed it, but didn't love it. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (I didn't drink the whole bottle, it was shared!). Drank out of a plastic cup.

When I was talking to the 12% guy, I noted that the Hof Ten Dormaal and other famous saisons (like the aformentioned Dupont and Fantôme) are all packaged in green bottles, which don't protect at all from light (which can create off flavors and "skunking"). I asked him if he knew why and he said he wasn't really sure, but it seemed like a traditional thing. I think I will be sending some more pedantic emails to breweries in the near future!

Overall, a very satisfying experience, and I'll definitely want to check out a few more Stillwater beers (there are a few that I either didn't get to or that weren't available at the event that I do want to try, especially A Saison Darkly, which another patron recommended highly)

The Session: Breweriana

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session_logo.jpgOn the first Friday of every month, there's a beer blog roundup called The Session. Someone picks a topic, and everyone blogs about it. This month, Brian Stechschulte is hosting, and he wants to know about everyone's beer collectibles and breweriana:

I've decided not to focus on the substance of beer, but the material that plays a supporting role. Bottles, coasters, cans, labels, ads, tap handles, church keys, hats, t-shirts, tip trays, glassware and signs have been collected by fanatics ever since beer has been sold. These objects constitute the world of breweriana, a term that surfaced in 1972 to define any item displaying a brewery or brand name. The majority of highly prized objects are from the pre-prohibition era, but ephemera from every period in brewing history, including craft beer, finds a home with each beer drinking generation.


So what old or new beer related items do you collect and why? It's that simple.

It is indeed simple, but I'm at a bit of a loss here. I have a nice Ommegang Hennepin glass that was a memento of a trip to Cooperstown a few years ago, but that's kinda boring and it's not like I have a big collection of other breweries' glassware (though that's not a bad idea...)


I suppose the only thing that I have a pretty wide variety of is beer bottle corks. I didn't really consciously think to myself: Self, I should collect beer bottle corks! but I do tend to have some packrat tendencies and have recently found a couple of caches of corks (click for larger version).

Corks

Indeed, I am often intrigued by what appears on the cork. Some have nice artwork or patterns, some use it as a way to date the beer, some show the preferred glassware, some just have the brewery name printed on there, and some are just plain and unadorned. They're not as varied or interesting as, say, Bottle Caps (come to think of it, I probably have a lot of those lying around as well), but I like them. Obviously I don't keep every cork, especially since each brewery seems to use the same corks for most bottles, but I will keep ones I like or find interesting.

So, yeah, not a very exciting collection, but then, I prefer to direct my energy to finding and drinking beer. Speaking of which, it's Philly Beer Week! I should be drinking (Maybe I'll save a cork or two).

Fantôme Hiver

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The word "saison" is French for "season". Originally brewed in Winter for consumption during the Summer harvest, saisons were meant to provide farm hands with hydration during the long, hot hours in the field. Not because they were a bunch of lazy drunks, but because a lack of potable water meant that very low alcohol (3.5% or so) beverages were preferred for such a task. In modern times, the style is brewed year round and the ABV has risen considerably (5-8% and sometimes even higher). Basically, what this means is that the saison style makes no sense whatsoever. They are usually relatively light colored, but that's not much to go on. They can range from light bodied and refreshing, to sweet and spicy, to even sour ales.

Fantôme, a traditional farmhouse brewery specializing in saisons, has always been a bit of a mystery to me. I've managed to find a few of their beers before, but the labels weren't in English, so I had no idea what I was looking at. My first Fantôme saison was quite an eye opener. I was, by then, a big fan of Ommegang Hennepin and Saison Dupont - big spicy brews that are nothing like the sweet and tart Fantôme. I haven't quite acquired a taste for sour beers, but Fantôme's beers certainly warrant further exploration. I picked up this bottle a little while back and was quite pleased:

Fantome Hiver

Fantôme Saison D'Erezée - Hiver - I believe this is the winter seasonal offering from Fantôme, apparently one of a series of beers focused around the 4 seasons. According to the label, head brewer Danny Prignon changes the recipe for this one every year, so I'm guessing this one is from the 2010/2011 winter (there's a place for a date on the label, but it's not filled out - the cork does have a cryptic number on it though: 086/477044, whatever that means). There are two weird things about the bottle I have here. First, it's capped, but also has a cork (that you need to use a corkscrew for). Second, the bottle is green (which provides no protection against light, the source of skunking in beer). This one is weird, since Fantôme and Dupont (traditional Belgian Farmhouse breweries that specialize in saisons) both use green bottles. Is there something about saisons that is actually open to being lightstruck (that can't be right, can it)?

It pours a little darker than I was expecting. A cloudy, light orange color with about a finger of quickly disappearing head. The smell is dominated by aromas I characterize as white wine or champagne, with just a hint of typical Belgian yeast poking through. Taste is similar to the aroma - there's white wine/champaign notes, but not overpoweringly so. There's a clear and prominent tartness in the taste, but it's not overpowering at all. It comes through more in the sweet finish than anywhere else. It's... unusual. When I start drinking, it's like my brain immediately recognizes the hallmarks of a sour beer and sounds an alarm: brace for sourness! As I said before, it does come, but it's not quite as powerful as I expected. And even stranger, I don't think that's a bad thing! Mouthfeel is well carbonated but smooth. Overall, a very good beer and a refreshing change of pace for me. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml capped and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/29/11.

Certainly a brewery and a style that I need to explore more often.

Mission Blonde Ale

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I picked this up mostly because it had a nice label and I associate the term "blonde" with Belgian style pale ales, which I enjoy. When I looked at this a little closer, I realized that it was a Kölsch. I'm not terribly familiar with the style, but it seems to be to be a whole lot closer to "yellow fizzy beer" that exemplifies the macros than something I'd really want to try. My only recent exposure to the style was Flying Dog's Tire Bite Ale, and it's my least favorite offering from that brewery. This is not particularly encouraging, is it? But then, maybe setting the bar so low will lead to an unexpected surprise!

Mission Blonde Ale

Mission Blonde Ale - Pours a slightly cloudy (but mostly clear) golden yellow color with a finger of quickly disappearing head. Some fruitiness and maybe sweet candi aromas in the nose. I got a distinct candy/bubblegum aroma feeling out of this, but I can't quite place it. Interesting and definitely the best part of the beer. Taste is pretty straightforward and a bit sweet, with just a little bitter dryness in the finish. Very crisp mouthfeel though and a surprising amount of body. Unfortunately, it's a fairly delicate beer, and it didn't quite stand up to, well, the pizza I was eating at the time. Is that unfair? Maybe. It strikes me as the sort of beer that could be quite pleasant or thirst quenching after mowing the lawn or something... but it doesn't seem to hold up to competition (whether that be from other beers or food). B-

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (22 oz bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass.

Despite the relatively low rating, I have to say that I'm now a little more open to the style. There's enough interesting stuff going on with this beer that I'm sure a better version exists somewhere. Not to bag too much on Mission - they seem like an interesting little brewery, and I have another of their brews on my shelf that I hope to check out soon.

Ommegang Three Philosophers

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Back in 2003, RealBeer.com sponsored a contest asking people to submit descriptions of their "dream beer." A home brewer named Noel Blake from Portland won the contest and RealBeer chose Brewery Ommegang to brew the beer. It first appeared in late 2003.

A fledgling beer nerd at the time, I was perusing the shelves of my local beer distributor when I noticed the new beer. Ommegang was the brewery that really opened my eyes to what beer could be, so the appearance of a new beer in their lineup was a welcome surprise. And it was labeled as a Quadrupel, which is like, 4 times better than regular beer, right? It was quite expensive, but I plunked down the cash for a case of the beer (stupid PA laws) without even really knowing what it was. And I'm glad I did! Like the other Ommegang beers I'd tried, it was like nothing I'd ever had before.

Now here's where things get a little weird. I revisited this beer last weekend, and in scrutinizing the bottle (because I'm a huge nerd), I noticed some things were different. First, I remember my original case of Three Philosophers said it was "Ale with Cherry Lambic" or something like that. The 2010 bottle I was looking at said it was brewed with "authentic Belgian Kriek" (which is also a Cherry ale, but that's different from Cherry Lambic). I also seemed to remember the original ABV at 10% and the new bottle said 9.8%. I thought for a moment that I must be going crazy in my old age, but a search of the Kaedrin Media Asset Management System (i.e. my hard drive) turned up this picture from early 2004 (you can click the image for a larger version):

Old Bottle of Ommegang Three Philosophers

A ha! It says "Ale with Cherry Lambic Added". So I'm not crazy*. Unfortunately, I can't make out the ABV (which I assume is on the bottom right of the label, which is just out of sight) and my CSI-like powers of image enhancement are just not up to snuff to figure that out**.

Since I was also curious as to where the name "Three Philosophers" came from, I did the only sensible thing and sent my annoying and pedantic questions directly to Ommegang. A nice woman named Betsy answered me right away with a bunch of info about the beer, the RealBeer contest, and why it's called "Three Philosophers" (links added by me):

The name Three Philosphers is in reference to a manuscript called Island in the Moon, by William Blake in which the protagonist has a meal and drinks with three fictional philosophers. You will notice the heads on the front of the bottle, which are our Three Philosophers. The middle is Michel Moortgat, owner of Duvel-Moortgat, our parent company based in Belgium. The left is Phil Leinhart, current brewmaster at Brewery Ommegang and the right is Randy Thiel, former brewmaster at Brewery Ommegang.
On the matter of ABV, Betsy did some investigating but could find no mention of 10% ABV. Because I'm a dork and like to believe in the infallibility of my brain's memory, I have my doubts. Which are probably unfounded***. Of course, none of this really matters because the beer was awesome and remains awesome, no matter what kind of recipe tweaks it's undergone.

Ommegang Three Philosophers

Ommegang Three Philosophers - Pours a very dark brown color with a small light colored head (some lacing apparent as I drank as well). Smells strongly of chocolate and caramel, with hints of cherry and just a bit of the typical Belgian yeast aromas. Tastes fantastic. More sweet chocolate and caramel, that hint of cherry again, and an aftertaste that's just a bit dry. Full bodied but smoother than you'd expect. It's not an easy drinkin' beer, but it's a nice sippin' beer. The alcohol is well hidden, though if you drink quickly, you get a nice warming sensation. I feel like I've been saying this a lot lately, but it's complex and truly unique. A perfect dessert-beer**** and one of my long-time favorites. A

Beer Nerd Details: 9.8% ABV bottled (750 ml, caged and corked). Brewed/released in 2010. Drank out of a goblet on 5/21/11.

Sometimes I worry that beers I like from before I was really into beer won't hold up, but I'm happy to report that Ommegang's beers have held up well. And of course, I've got more reviews in the pipeline, and at least one more on my shelf (making its way to the fridge in short order, I think).

* As it turns out, there are multiple images/flash presentations on Ommegang's site that feature circa 2004 bottles of Three Philosophers that also sport the "Ale with Cherry Lambic Added" label. So maybe I'm not crazy, but I am kinda dumb.

** The pics in the previously asterisked note also indicate that the beer was 9.8% ABV, so I'll concede that the previous conclusion about how dumb I am has even more merit.

*** Can you tell that I added these asterisks after I wrote the bulk of this post? Yeah, you can. So given the evidence in the other asterisks, I'm guessing I just made that 10% number up. At the time it was the strongest beer I'd ever even heard of, so I was probably just telling people that it was, like, 10% alcohol man...

**** Is four asterisks too many? Or should I have been doing numeric footnotes? Do you care? I didn't think so. Anyway, when I cajoled a bunch of friends to stop by the Ommegang brewery during a trip to Cooperstown (ostensibly for a bachelor party and the Baseball Hall of Fame), the guy who gave the tour said that the rich flavors go really well with sweets (chocolate and other deserts, etc...)

***** Bonus asterisk! Before I was a true beer nerd, I had no idea what cherry lambic was. One time, I went to a bar and they were all: Oh you like Belgian beer? Duder, we just got this awesome cherry lambic beer in on tap, you should try it! and I was like Ohhh, another beer like Three Philosophers? Sign me up! And of course, the beer was absolutely nothing like what I was expecting (i.e. I had no idea what cherry lambic was), but I enjoyed it anyway. I wanna say it was really strong too, like 14% or something ridiculous, but given my recollection of ABV above, perhaps I was wrong. It was probably 3% or something.

Again with the IPA Double Feature

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I didn't plan this, I swears! There just happened to be some interesting IPAs on tap last night:

Russian River Blind Pig IPA

Russian River Blind Pig IPA - Apparently this bar had a keg of the vaunted Pliny the Elder on tap a couple days ago, but I missed out and had to settle for Russian River's standard IPA offering (Not that I mind too much, as this has been on my wants list for quite a while!) Pours a clear golden color with a couple fingers of bubbly white head. It's got a fantastic smell - citrus and floral hops, maybe a little pine. Taste matches the aroma well, with that nice bracing bitterness coming through prominently. Extremely well balanced. Mouthfeel is very smooth. A dangerously easy drink - I could drink these all night. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of Victory's Hop Devil. Maybe not the best IPA ever, but overall a fantastic beer. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.1% ABV on tap. Drank out of a shaker pint glass.

Victory Hop Wallop on cask

Victory Hop Wallop - Yes, I've reviewed this before, but this time... it was on Cask! I've really come to enjoy beers on cask, but I have to say, I don't think this was a good match. Perhaps I got this one too long after the cask had been tapped (beer in casks quickly degrade), but it was a real disappointment. Gone are all the fantastic grapefruit and orange aromas, gone is the tart citrus in the taste. Cask pours usually produce a smoother beer, but this was still pretty well carbonated, and it just didn't work right for me. What I was left with was an ordinary bitter and boozy IPA... which isn't that bad for what it is, but it's not as good as what I had in the bottle. Again, not sure what the source of this disconnect is - it could be the cask (or associated hardware), it could be the time since the cask was opened, or perhaps it could be that the Blind Pig just set too high a bar! I still love Hop Wallop in general, but I'd recommend it in the bottle rather than the cask (luckily, finding this on cask is probably unusual). On cask, I give it a B-, but in the bottle, it was an A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV on cask. Drank out of a shaker pint glass.

Someday, I will get my hands on Pliny the Elder (or, if I'm really lucky, Pliny the Younger), oh yes.

DIPA Double Feature

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This past weekend's double feature consisted of a pair of rather depressing movies and, of course, two IPAs. After a pretty long stretch of IPA double features that highlighted the variety and distinctiveness of the style, I seem to be experiencing some bad luck with the last two. In the last IPA double feature, I had two great beers that were actually pretty similar. This post covers two middling DIPAs that are, again, pretty similar. Huh.

On the filmic side of things, I started with I Saw the Devil , a rather extreme Korean revenge flick (those Koreans really seem to enjoy vengeance!) Fans of Park Chan-wook's Vengance Trilogy will no doubt enjoy this one. The second film was Black Death, a dour British film set during the bubonic plague. It has its moments, but it's ultimately quite depressing and hard to recommend. I would recommend Director Christopher Smith's previous effort, Triangle, though. It's also depressing, but it features an odd elliptical plot that's quite intriguing (if a bit polarizing).

Depressing films and bitter beer, a match made in heaven?

Breckenridge 471 IPA

Breckenridge 471 IPA - Part of Breckenridge's "Small Batch" series, this is a rather straightforward double IPA. I'm not sure what the number 471 signifies, but if you haven't seen Breckenridge's fantastic mockery of big beer advertising, check it out. Interestingly, I've been seeing Heineken ads on TV lately that seem to be doing the same thing. Not sure which brewery got their first, but it's an interesting contrast in breweries and advertising. The Heineken ad is much more polished and pretty, but also somewhat cold, impersonal, and rather boring. Breckenridge's ads are, by contrast, low budget and static, but they amply demonstrate the personable and lovable nature of American craft brewing. And they're much funnier!

But enough about advertising. This beer pours a darkish amber gold color, with about a finger of head. Grassy hops in the nose, with just a hint of sweetness. Taste is surprisingly straightforward. It's not overly sweet or bitter, though both flavors are there. I'm not entirely sure I'd recognize this as a DIPA, though it does get a bit boozier as it warms up. Looking at the hops it's brewed with, I'm not sure why I didn't enjoy it more, but I got less citrus or pine than I would expect. It's a solid beer, with earthy hops and a nice medium to full body, but it's not something that's blowing the doors off the wall either. Whatever that means. B

Beer Nerd Details: 9.2% bottled (12 oz). Drank from a tulip glass on 5/20/11. Hops: Chinook, Centennial, Simcoe, Fuggles. IBUs: 70

Sly Fox Odyssey

Sly Fox Odyssey - I didn't know this until now, but every year since 2004, Sly Fox has celebrated the IPA style with a year long series of single-hopped beers at their brewpub, culminating in an all day festival in December of each year. Every year the number and varieties of hops changes, but it's usually somewhere around 8-10 different hops. To coincide with the festival, they also launch a new beer made from all the hops used that year, called Odyssey. A double IPA with shitloads of hops.

It's a bit darker in color than the 471 - less amber and more brown. The nose is less sweet, but perhaps more hoppy. There's also a bready, almost Belgian aroma poking out, but it's very subtle. The taste is more intense and complex, but very similar. The body is a bit less full, but that makes it a bit more drinkable. Ultimately, I'm getting a very similar feeling with this beer - a solid brew, but not lighting my hair on fire either. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.4% bottled (22 oz). Drank from a tulip glass on 5/20/11. Hops: Cascade, Newport, Warrior, Northdown, Vanguard, Palisade, Simcoe, Nugget, Magnum, Challenger*. IBUs: 90

It's unclear how often the Odyssey recipe changes, but in any case, I'm probably more likely to revisit that one than the 471.

In terms of IPA double features, this surely won't be the last, and I can guarantee that the next one will feature more distinct varieties of the style. In fact, it may even be a triple feature!

* Again, it's a little unclear if they change the Odyssey recipe from year to year, but according to their website, it was first brewed in 2006, and so I listed the hops from that year.

The Bruery Mischief

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Ok, fair warning, this post is gonna get weird if you don't know or care about fantasy sports. If there was such a thing as Fantasy Brewery, where do you think The Bruery would be drafted? I guess much of this depends on the details of such a league. Do you draft individual beers, or whole breweries? What are they measured on? Sales? Quality? How would you determine quality? Do you have a rotisserie league where beers are evaluated on a number of more objective measurements, like IBUs or ABV (dibs on Mikkeller 1000 IBU)?

Yeah, it's a stupid idea. But I'd draft The Bruery. They may be small (which, depending on the details of such a league, may be a deal breaker), but every beer I've had from them has been excellent, and three of the four have absolutely blown me away, including:

The Bruery Mischief

The Bruery Mischief - Pours a pretty golden orange color with a finger or two of white, fluffy head. Smells fantastic. Citrus and floral hops, bready Belgian yeast, and a sugary aroma to cap things off. Taste starts sweet and a pleasant and crisp hoppy bitterness appears midway through the taste, lingering beyond the finish. The taste is quite complex, but not overpowering in any way. It's hoppy, but not as much as an IPA or DIPA (indeed, it's only 35 IBUs - just a hair less than Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and given the higher alcohol/sweetness of Mischief, I suspect that's a bit misleading). It's sweet and tasty, but not sticky or cloying. It's a medium bodied beer but that's a good thing in a refreshing pale ale like this. This is a great beer. I usually don't go in for hoppy Belgian-style beers, but this one is very well balanced and unique. Another homerun from the Bruery. A

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/13/11. 35 IBUs.

I've got a bottle of Saison Rue sitting my my shelf that I'm hoping to get to soon, and I'm hoping my local bottle shop will still have a bottle or two of Coton sitting around as well (I've had it before, and it's superb. In the words of the guy who sold it to me: "It's really good. Boozy, but good.")

Allagash Curieux

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I should drink more Allagash. Along with Ommegang, they're the other major east-coast brewery that seems to specialize in Belgian style beer, so it's no suprise that I tend to enjoy their beers. They make the standard Belgian styles, but they aren't afraid to experiment either. Their 2009 Fluxus was a bit of a revelation for me. "Ale brewed with sweet potatoes and black pepper." It certainly doesn't sound all that appealing, but it was a unique take on the Saison style. I would love to try it again, but alas, it was only a one-time brew (Fluxus is released once a year, but the recipe changes - 2010 was an Imperial Chocolate Stout). Sometimes their experimentation isn't quite as successful, but I'm always game for a new one. However, I've been a bit neglectful of late. Indeed, I've had this bottle sitting on my shelf for a solid six months (and according to the label, it was bottled in May 2010).

Allagash Curieux is a Belgian-style Tripel aged in Jim Beam bourbon barrels. It was apparently their first foray into the world of barrel-aged beer, though they've clearly expanded their scope in the past few years.

Allagash Curieux

Pours a cloudy golden color with minimal head. Smells of sugary sweet fruit, spicy Belgian yeast and maybe even a little of that Bourbon. Tastes very sweet. Candi sugar, fruits, some spiciness. Finishes dry with some sticky alcohol in the aftertaste (perhaps a hint of Bourbon in there too). Mouthfeel is quite harsh, making this more of a sipping beer. A good thing, too, considering the 11% ABV. As it warms, the beer becomes more clear and a little more smooth, though it's still full bodied and the alcohol still asserts itself. It's perhaps a bit too hot for the style, and certainly not an everyday beer, but it's another interesting offering from Allagash. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (750 ml, caged and corked). Bottled May 2010. Drank out of a Goblet on 5/14/11.

In case you can't tell from the past several reviews, I'm in the midst of a bit of a drink-down right now. I've collected quite a few bottles over the previous months, and despite my best efforts, quite a backlog has accrued. Most of them tend to be high ABV monsters, which partially explains it, but I've also been a bit overzealous in my procurement. This is, of course, a good problem to have. I'm a bit behind on reviews as well, and may end up grouping a few together here and there. In any case, whenever I manage to dig out of this wonderful hole of great beer, I plan to try out a few more of Allagash's limited releases. I've had their standard stuff, and several of the limited releases, but I'd really like to explore more. However, looking at the beer on my shelf (not to mention the homebrew that's building up), that may be a while.

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

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