La Chouffe

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When I was 12, I played D&D as a Gnome Illusionist named Ralph. I'm glad I got that off my chest.

Speaking of Gnomes, I drank some La Chouffe recently. You may recognize the bottles as the ones with the Gnomes on them. If they really are Gnomes. They are variously referred to as Gnomes, Dwarves, Goblins and/or Elves. That last one seems the most unusual to me, but the La Chouffe homepage even calls them elves, so I don't really know what's going on there. Apparently the term "Chouffe" is Walloon for "gnome", though according to Wikipedia, only 600k people actually speak the language, so who knows how it actually translates.

There's apparently quite a backstory to La Chouffe, which is interesting since the Belgian brewery (actually called Achouffe) was founded way back in... 1982? I'm so used to longstanding (by which, I mean, like hundreds or thousands of years) Belgian breweries that something that new seems odd.

La Chouffe

Pours a cloudy light brown/gold color with a couple fingers of head and some lacing as I drink. The smell is very spicy (can't quite place the exact aroma here, but it's distinct, perhaps coriander) and features lots of the usual Belgian yeast aromas. Taste is sweet and spicy (again, can't place the exact spices here and they seem more subtle in the taste than in the nose), with maybe a hint of citrus. Some people mention a hoppy character in their reviews, but it's not something I found very prominent. There may be a little in the way of a dry bitterness in the finish, but nothing out of the ordinary. Lots of carbonation, but despite the spiciness and decent alcohol, it goes down pretty easy. Overall, a very good beer, something I could drink a lot more of (and probably will!) A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml, capped). Drank from a tulip glass on 4/17/11.

Interestingly, Achouffe and Ommegang recently announced a collaboration. Not super surprising, since they're both owned by Duvel, but still, I'm looking forward to the awesomely named Gnomegang. Stay tuned for that one, as I recently procured a bottle.

While my last update covered some fantastic beers, I was a little disappointed by the variety of good beers available to me in Vegas. I'm sure that if I actually sought out some beer bars, I would find something new and interesting, but it seemed that most places stocked the standard Macros and maybe one or two interesting beers. Fortunately, I did managed to have a few other beers, even some that I'd never had before:

  • Moretti La Rossa - At some point we ended up at an Italian restaurant for a sponsored junket/open bar and they actually managed to have a few Italian beers available. I picked one that I hadn't heard of (because most of what I have heard of from Italy is not so good, like Peroni) and it turned out to be pretty good. It's technically a Doppelbock, a style I'm not terribly familiar with, but which I should probably check out more often. It was a darkish red/brown color with a finger or two of head, and the smell was much fruitier than I was expecting. It's also got some roastiness and maybe caramel sweetness in the nose. The taste went along with that. Medium bodied with high carbonation, it was quite drinkable and the alcohol was well hidden (I had no idea it was as strong as it was). As doppelbocks go, I understand this one is a bit thin, but it worked well enough for me, and was a welcome diversion from the typical macro selections. I have no idea if Moretti is part of the burgeoning Italian Craft beer scene, but my gut says it isn't, even though I enjoyed this. More research needed... B+ (Beer Nerd Details: 7.2% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a plastic cup (yeah, no good beer geek glasses to be had - hard to complain about then when I'm getting free beer though))
  • Sin City Stout - Walking around the maze that is the Venetian shops, I spied this little hole in the wall:

    Sin City Brewing Logo

    In talking with the bartender, I learned that this is an uber-local brewery, only distributing to Las Vegas. Their lineup seemed rather standard (though I should note that their "seasonal", apparently some sort of IPA, was out when I was there), but I wanted to try something new and different, so I ordered up a stout:

    Sin City Stout

    It was on a nitro tap, so I got one of them gorgeous pours, even if it had to be in a plastic cup. Indeed, it took forever for the nitro foam to subside, which wasn't really a problem for me, as I do enjoy a good nitro pour every now and again. The beer itself was actually a pretty solid stout. Nothing particularly special about it, save for the nitro pour, but it holds its own against the other nitro stouts I've had, including Guinness. Dark, roasty, and tasty, I would probably order this before a Guiness, actually. Not a huge flavor-bomb or anything, but a really solid standard entry in the style. B+ (Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV on nitro tap. Drank from a plastic cup.)

  • Sin City Weiss - I stopped back into the bar to try this one out, and what I got was another solid example of a rather standard style. When I ordered it, the bartender told me that it had a "banana clove" taste to it, as if it was a bad thing (apparently lots of people order it without realizing what wheat beers taste like), but that's music to my ears. Again, very good beer, but not really exceptional or the best of its kind. Still, I really enjoyed it and if my upcoming homebrewed attempt at a wheat beer turns out this good, I'll be quite happy. B (Beer Nerd Details: 4.5% ABV on nitro tap. Drank from a plastic cup.)
  • Chimay Grand Reserve (Blue): Chimay seems to the be the Fancy restaurant's go to beer in Vegas, as it was available in a lot of the nice restaurants. So ordered one of these, probably my favorite Chimay variety, to go along with a really good steak I was having. As usual, it's fantastic. Deep, dark brown color, sweet and fruity in the nose, and a taste to go along with the aromas. Fruity sweet, full bodied, and complex, it's a classic. A

Of course, I had quite a few other beers during the course of the week, but nothing particularly interesting or that I could do a good review of... As noted in the comments to my previous post, Vegas isn't quite a real place. Somehow the laws of the universe don't seem to function properly there. It's a good time, but after a few days, it wears on you pretty quickly. Still, from an alcohol-scared state like PA, it's nice to be able to walk around outside with a drink. But that's not really enough. I'm glad I'm back.

Update: Removed La Rossa picture. Because it's a bad picture, that's why.

Vegas Beer Update

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I'm in Las Vegas this week for a work conference and so far I haven't really run into an awesome beer selection, though Bouchon in the Venetian has a pretty decent selection of beer for a fancy restaurant. There may be some other opportunities for great beer later in the week, but for now, this is what I'm making do with:

  • New Belgium Fat Tire - A pretty straightforward amber ale, this reminds me of a sorta west-coast Yuengling lager. It seems to be ubiquitous around here and while it won't blow you away, it makes a good session beer. It might be a little better than the Lager, but that also may be the novelty of it speaking, as New Belgium does not distribute anything near me... Hopefully I'll be able to find some of New Belgium's more adventurous beers at some point.
  • Chimay Cinq Cents (aka White) - Chimay's version of a tripel is fantastic, as always. I've had these many times before and may even have a half finished blog entry about it somewhere. I still wouldn't call it my favorite tripel or anything, but it's very good and retains a certain distinct Chimay character. I had it on tap at Bouchon, and it went well with my meal.
  • Delirium Tremens - Another beer I've had several times before, but which is, as always fantastic. In fact, I enjoyed it much better while having it during a meal. It's a very sweet beer, so having it all by itself can get a bit cloying after a while. Mixing it with rich, meaty flavors of my dinner worked really well. Also on tap at Bouchon.
  • Shiner Bock - There's a bar attached to Treasure Island called Gilles. It's a Country/Western bar (strike 1) and their beer selection featured mostly macros (strike 2), but out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the Shiner Bock and was glad to have a few of these. The bar is pretty funny though. It's got a mechanical bull, and the waitress' uniform was... interesting (I suppose these two features mitigate the two aforementioned strikes). Oh yeah, the beer. It's good. As Bock's go, I have to say it's easily better than the recently reviewed Yuengling Bock, and made for a nice session beer last night. I can see why this beer is so popular (though I don't know why the beer nerds and BA are so hard on it).

I've had a few other beers and will hopefully have something more interesting before the week ends. More to come...

Ommegang Chocolate Indulgence

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Brewery Ommegang has long been one of my favorite breweries, and I do credit it with introducing me to the world of "good" beer. As such, whenever I see a new beer from Ommegang, I usually snap one up and drink it as quickly as possible. This particular beer, though, has never really been on my list of most sought after beers, mostly because it's a self-described Belgian Style Stout. I've never been a big fan of stouts, but since I've been coming around to the idea lately, I figured this would be worth a shot. After all, I love Belgian style beers, so maybe that will compensate for whatever it is I don't like about stouts. Unfortunately, this one turned out rather like my last experiment with Belgian style stouts (though I think both are technically labeled as Belgian Dark Ales).

Ommegang Chocolate Indulgence

Ommegang Chocolate Indulgence - Pours a very dark brown, almost black color. Completely opaque, with a rather small head, but lots of lacing as I drink. The smell is dominated by roasty malts, though there are some other more subtle aromas coming through, including the typical Belgian yeast scents. Taste starts off very sweet with some roastiness coming through in the middle and especially in the finish, which is dry and a little bitter. Said bitterness is more reminiscent of dark chocolate than hops (unsurprising, given that this is apparently brewed with real cocoa powder), but I'm sure both are playing a role here. Good carbonation and a medium mouthfeel (I was hoping for something with a fuller body). Very well balanced beer, but pretty straightforward as well. In comparison to the other Belgian-style stout I've tried recently, this one is perhaps a little better balanced, but less... Belgiany. Ultimately, I'm a little disappointed. Another case where I'd rather have had a really good Imperial Stout or a really good Belgian Strong Dark, not a combination of the two. B

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked bottle). Drank out of a goblet.

I wouldn't call it bad, but this may very well be my least favorite Ommegang beer. But I doubt it will slow me down. I have already procured a bottle of their Tripel Perfection and am very much looking forward to their collaboration with La Chouffe, Gnomegang. Not to mention the fact that I seem to always return to their staple beers...

Yuengling Bock

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I've long professed my love for Yuengling Lager. It's not a face-melting beer by any stretch of the imagination, but it's solid and dependable and locally ubiquitous. Over the year's I've tried most of their other beers - the porter, the black and tan, the premium lager, and various light varieties - but none of those really stick out. Then I see this new beer with a fancy vintage label design that I don't recognize. Yuengling makes a Bock? And it's a seasonal release? Wow, I had no idea.

Apparently this seasonal beer was once a staple release, but it hasn't been brewed for nearly 40 years. To celebrate Yuengling's 180th anniversary, they did a limited, keg-only release that was so popular that they decided to make it a regular thing. Since I was in the market for some non-face-melting beer to drink during my Lenten coke fasting, immediately picked up a sixer of this.

Yuengling Bock Beer

Isn't that label awesome? It's apparently based on artwork from the 1941 release. I love the Billy Goat, apparently a staple of Bock style labels (I'm sure I'll cover that convention at some other time). It pours a clear, dark brown color with a reddish tint and a small, tan head. As you'd expect, it smells malty, but not particularly fruity or sweet. The taste is not especially powerful, but there's some malty sweetness there, perhaps a tiny bit of roastiness, and it finishes a bit dry (though it's not really bitter). It's not dissimilar to a Scotch ale, though this isn't quite as impressive as the Scotch ales I've had lately. Mouthfeel is a bit on the thin side. It's very easy to drink and not disagreeable, but it's not particularly special either. A nice change of pace, but nothing that will unseat the mighty Lager. C+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.1% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a tulip glass.

I suspect this is exactly what Yuengling was going for though, and I certainly wasn't expecting anything overly special, but it would be interesting to see what Yuengling could accomplish if they put their resources behind a more unique and powerful beer. I don't really expect that anytime soon though. Yuengling isn't a craft brewery, after all. But they're certainly better than other macros!

April Beer Club

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Every month, a bunch of friends and I get together at a local BYOB and drink lots of beer. I seem to have run out of beer puns for this month, but there was no shortage of beer at tonight's gathering (despite only 7 attendees):

April Beer Club
(Click for bigger image)

No real theme this month, but lots of new beers, along with some new ones. Not all of the pictured beers were cracked open, but most of them were (I believe only 4 left unopened, though there was still some beer left in a couple bottles). For reference, here's what I tried:

  • Sea Dog Wild Blueberry Wheat Ale - Intense blueberry aromas and very fruity taste. Overwhelmingly blueberry. Not bad, but not especially accomplished either. C+
  • Unibroue Éphémère - Again, an intense sour apple aroma and flavor, this one is much better balanced and an interesting beer. I've actually had this a few times before, and it's something I've always enjoyed, even if it's not my favorite of Unibroue's offerings. Everyone seemed to enjoy it though, and it's probably a good gateway craft beer. B
  • Southampton Biere De Mars - A very nice looking beer, with a nice spicy aroma and a flavor that is quite unusual, but still drinkable. The consensus among attendees was somewhat mixed, but I enjoyed it, even if it's not exactly a favorite. There's a flavor there that I couldn't quite place, but which made this a rather unique tasting beer. Fellow beer club members had a similar feeling. I'll give it a tentative B
  • Ommegang Rare Vos - One of my all time favorites, I've actually got a bottle of this in the fridge, so expect a full review... at some point. A great beer though, and very popular with the beer club crowd, even with the non-beer nerds.
  • Victory Prima Pils - I have had many of these over the years, and it's one of those beers that tastes very different out of the bottle than it does on tap. And honestly, I think I prefer the bottled version. For a pilsner style beer, it's extremely hoppy, but I rather like that distinction. Well worth a try, and probably something I'll give a more thorough review to later. For now, I'll leave it as a B+
  • Oskar Blues Gordon Imperial Red Ale (aka G'Knight) - One of my contributions for the night, and a solid DIPA. Expect a full review at some point in the near future. Beer club crowd seemed to enjoy it, despite it's hoppy nature.
  • Peak Organic Simcoe Spring Ale - It's got that pine resin aroma and flavor from the Simcoe hops, but it's otherwise a pretty standard IPA. Not particularly popular with the overall beer club crowd, but it's solid, if nothing special. B
  • Long Trail Pollenator - Holy shit, is this a terrible beer. And of course, I ended up taking more of this than most other brews. I immediately regretted the decision. Tasted like skunked piss. My first F since starting the blog.
  • Oscar Blues Ten Fidy - A very roasty 10.5% stout. I enjoyed it, but those who don't typically go in for stouts didn't seem to care for it. Not to get all sexist or anything, but all the guys seemed to enjoy it, while the females seemed to dislike. I have a couple more of these, so expect a full review at some point in the indeterminate future.
  • Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy - Smells and tastes of a sorta carbonated lemonade. Very little beer flavor and I really did not enjoy, though some of the more girly beer club members seemed to like it. D
  • Blue Point Spring Fling - A very average pale ale. Not bad, but absolutely nothing special about it. Profoundly average beer. C
  • My Homebrew Tripel - I brought a nice 22 oz bottle of my tripel, which has really undergone a transformation since bottling. I've been trying about one bottle per week since I bottled, and it's gone from an overly-sweet and under-carbonated beer to something much more drinkable. It used to be a very bright orange color, but it has since matured into a more appropriate lightish brown color. The taste is still a little too sweet and too alcoholly, but it's still a pretty good attempt, and I have a feeling it will mellow out with more time. Expect a more thorough review of this homebrew at some point. If nothing else, I do believe it came out better than my first attempt. This was one of the first beers we opened though, and someone did mention that it could have been a bit of a palate-killer because it's so intense (but luckily most people only took a small sample). It certainly was a strong beer - more than one person commented that they got the sorta wine-flush feeling from the alchohol. So far, I'm pretty happy with this beer, and I think it's only been getting better with time.
  • Dana's Maibock Homebrew - Fantastic homebrew brewed by my friend Dana from a Mr. Beer specialty kit. Very sweet with a nice tang in the finish that I couldn't quite place. Still, very enjoyable beer, maybe my favorite from Dana's homebrewing efforts. Most of the Mr. Beer stuff is pretty average (and Dana also brought a Red Ale which was pretty normal stuff), but their specialty kits seem to produce some really good beers, and this one is a prime example (I also rather enjoyed Dana's specialty Tripel from a while back). We made a deal to trade some of my tripel with some of her maibock. Excellent stuff
So yeah, I suppose you could take the ratings above with a grain of salt (as conditions were not optimal for tasting), but I think the ones I actually rated are pretty accurate. And several of the others will be reviewed on this blog in the near future. It may seem like the above are pretty low, and there were definitely a couple of real stinkers, but some of the ones I didn't provide a rating for will most likely come in to the B to A range, so there were definitely some great beers that were available tonight...

All in all, another successful outing for the beer club. I was surprised at the amount of beer that we ended up getting through, even if we did leave some of the beers pictured above unopened (though I will say that the only unopened beer that I've never had before was the Breckenridge Vanilla Porter). As always, I'm already looking forward to next month!

This week's double feature was a whopper. Barleywines are among the strongest beer styles out there (both of the below beers are over 11% ABV), so I knew I was in for an interesting night. From a filmic perspective, I was going to try and match the intensity of the style, but decided to go another route and perhaps contrast the style with something a little more lighthearted. As luck would have it, Netflix sent me an intriguing double feature this week: For Your Height Only and Challenge of the Tiger (both on the same disc, no less). If you haven't heard of them, I don't blame you. They're both pretty horrible films, but I was hoping for a "so bad they're good" experience out of them.

For Your Height Only is basically a Bond knock-off starring 3 foot tall filipino martial arts master, Weng Weng. Ok, so maybe he's not a martial arts "master", but it's a pretty fun film in that respect. Weng uses his height to full advantage, often sneaking up behind low objects, sliding across the floor, and of course, he punches nearly everyone in the crotch. In one particularly rousing scene, he takes on some tough guys with the help of a tall woman, who basically throws him at their enemies. It's very amusing. The story is absolutely dreadful, but manages to hit all the Bondian notes it should (there's even a jetpack!). Challenge of the Tiger was one of a long series of cash-ins on the popularity of Bruce Lee. After Lee's death, a number of imitators appeared, and chief among them was, of course, Bruce Le. Heh. Ultimately, I ended up paying much less attention to this film, though I have to admit that I was surprised by the amount of nudity and sex on screen here. Oh, and there's some martial arts and fighting too. Ultimately, both these movies suck, but I am easily amused, and these actually made a reasonable match for the Barleywines. Speaking of which:

Devine Rebel

BrewDog and Mikkeller Collaboration: Devine Rebel - Scottish brewery BrewDog has been making a name for themselves with some very extreme beers. They were one of the crazy breweries attempting to make the strongest beer in the world, achieving and losing that status multiple times in an arms race that seems to have only recently ended. I believe they currently hold the record with a 55% ABV behemoth called The End of History (which you may recognize as the beer that's packaged inside a rodent carcass). Interestingly, they also make a 0.5% ABV beer called Nanny State (apparently a response to uptight government officials worried about the brewery's pursuit of the strongest beer title). Clearly, these guys are not to be messed with.

Enter Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, a crazy Danish homebrewer and self-described "gipsy-brewer" who takes his show on the road, brewing his beers at different breweries throughout the world. He has a home base of sorts at the Mikkeller Bar in Copenhagen, but that is not a brewery. He releases his beers under the Mikkeller brand, and I suspect the fact that he doesn't actually own a brewery is partly why his beers tend to cost so much. Clearly Mikkeller and BrewDog are a match made in heaven, so when Mikkel heads over to Scottland to collaborate on this beer, titled Devine Rebel, you know the results will at least be interesting. For the life of me, I cannot figure out why Devine is spelled with an "e" there (instead of the more traditional "Divine"). Maybe it's one of them alternate British spellings of the same word, or who knows, maybe Mikkel is an amateur astronomer and named his beer after an asteroid. Whatever the case, it's quite an eclectic brew. Partially aged in Speyside whisky barrels* and utilizing both an ale yeast and a champagne yeast, I was expecting a lot out of this beer, and boy did it live up to expectations.

Pours a very nice deep brown color with some amber highlights and a rather small head. Smells of sweet fruit and, in particular, raisins, with some alcohol present in the nose as well. Taste starts off sweet, fruity and rich, with some of those raisins and maybe some of that scotch whisky character as well. Some sticky alcohol in the finish. The real star here is the texture: silky smooth, rich and creamy. Full bodied, but lightly carbonated and very easy to drink. I have to say that I'm impressed. Well balanced but powerful, unique but approachable, amazingly complex and intriguing but not overly weird, this is a really fantastic beer. The best I've had in a while, this one just hit me at the perfect time I guess. A

Beer Nerd Details: 12.1% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a goblet. Batch 243, bottled on 7/5/09 (so not quite two years in the bottle, but close).

Weyerbacher Blithering Idiot

Weyerbacher Blithering Idiot - Not quite as storied or intriguing as the Devine Rebel, this local offering certainly has a wonderfully evocative name (put a few of these down in short succession, and you'll probably be living up to the name). Pours a deep reddish brown color (a little lighter than the Devine Rebel) and another small head. Smells sweet and a little spicy. Dark fruit and raisins are there, but not anywhere near as prominently as they are in the Devine Rebel, and there's a distinct yeastiness in the nose as well. Taste is very sweet and fruity, but less complex. Mouthfeel is smooth, but not as much as the Devine Rebel, and the flavors are nowhere near as rich. Carbonation is about the same and it is rather reasy to drink. I've had a few of these before and I do enjoy them, but it's not nearly as well balanced or complex as the Devine Rebel. B

Beer Nerd Details: 11.1% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass.

I've got a few more Blithering Idiots in the fridge right now, and given the fact that this style ages well (part of the reason it's called a Barleywine is that it can be aged, like wine) I think I'll let them stay there for a while. In the meantime, I'm going to try and find me some more Mikkeller beers (and BrewDog beers, for that matter). It looks like the 2010 version of Devine Rebel came out a bit stronger (13.8% ABV!), so I'll have to try and find me some of that as well.

* I expect a certain Scotch loving reader will be salivating at this particular detail.

Wee Heavy and Founders Dirty Bastard

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I like Scotch, though I should also note that I'm certainly no expert. I pour myself a dram every now and again, and drink it slowly, attempting to pick out flavors. But then I read Water of Life and, to be honest, I don't really perceive the distinctions of flavors the way they seem to... On the other hand, that's how I felt about BeerAdvocate reviews up until about a year ago, when I started getting serious about this whole beer thing, so perhaps there's hope for me yet.

In any case, those wily Scotts do more than make great whisky*. There's a whole continuum of Scottish ales, ranging from light to heavy strength and historically designated in shillings (which at some point corresponded to a price of a barrel, but the specifics seem unclear). The strengths roughly correspond to the strengths of English bitter, though at the higher end, things get a little more confusing. At higher alcohol levels (approx. 6% and higher), the beer is simply called a Scotch Ale or a "Wee Heavy". The origin of the phrase "Wee Heavy" is a bit difficult to pin down, but as near as I can tell it refers to the historical serving size of 6 fluid ounces (about 1/3 of an imperial pint). A "wee" glass of "heavy" ale, as it were.

Because Scotland is further north and because of their... complicated... relationship with England**, these beers have some interesting historical characteristics. The cooler climate was not that conducive to growing hops, which meant that they needed to import them from England. As such, Scottish ales were generally lightly hopped. Tee hee. The lower temperatures also impact fermentation, meaning that these beers display less in the way of fruity or spicy flavors. Add all this together, and what you've got is a beer that emphasizes the malt (while yeast and hops generally take a back seat), sometimes even featuring peat and smoke, which seems appropriate for the land of Scotch whisky.

Of course, these days, the historical style isn't quite as rigid and Scottish brewers seem to be doing some interesting things (particularly BrewDog, who certainly don't seem to be very opposed to importing hops!) and of course, us American heretics are having our way with the style. Enter Founders' take:

Founders Dirty Bastard

Founders Dirty Bastard - Pours a deep reddish brown (mahogany!) color. Very dark, almost opaque, but when held up to light, you can see the red colors getting through. They head is very small and dissipates quickly. Smell is very distinctive. Despite my babbling above, I'm not very familiar with the style, but it seems to be appropriate for Scotch Ales, except perhaps for a tiny smattering of grassy hop aromas, which I understand are a bit unusual. Taste has a similar distinctive scotch ale flavor. Very sweet (but not fruity) with some light roastiness (or is that smoke?) in the finish. It almost tastes like something from the Bock family or maybe a European barley-wine. Some earthy hops are present, but it's subtle and not very bitter (despite the 50 IBUs which, again, is a bit high for the style, though certainly not enough to overwhelm the ample malt backbone and sweetness of the beer). Full bodied with light but appropriate carbonation - surprisingly easy to drink. For a strong beer, the alcohol is very well hidden. In the end, it's rich, complex and tasty. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a tulip glass. Drank on 3/19/11 (Totally caught up on reviews now!)

I will make arrangements to try more of this style, though none are in the pipeline at the moment. I think, perhaps, some double features are in order here though, perhaps even mixing with some Scotch whisky to see if I can start to pick out some of the more subtle similarities.

* Also worth noting: Scottish Breakfast Tea, which apparently has a complementary flavor profile. Perhaps I can do a full day's worth of Scottish beverages: Scottish Breakfast Tea in the morning, some Scotch Ale with lunch and dinner, and a Scotch Whisky nightcap. Sounds like a good day to me.

** I should probably make some sort of William Wallace joke here. Or maybe a Mel Gibson joke. But that would be too easy***.

*** And by "too easy", I mean that I had already written the grand majority of this post before I realized the Wallace/Gibson angle and don't feel like fitting it into the post right now. Irony!****

**** Also, I've apparently been listening to Scottish hip hop for the past half hour or so. Go figure. Also of note: blatant abuse of asterisks.

Double Feature: German Hefeweizens

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As the weather warms and I begin to consider my next homebrew, I thought I should look into brewing something appropriate for summer, and of course the first thing that came to mind was wheat beers. Given my Belgian tendencies, you'd think I would gravitate towards a Belgian Witbier, but I also wanted to check out some Hefeweizens, as I've noticed that German beers are somewhat underrepresented on this blog.

Breaking down the style's name, "Hefe" is translated as "with yeast", meaning that the beer is unfiltered and will contain yeast (in fact, the spicy and unique yeast is key to the style), and "weizen" means "wheat". The difference between the Hefeweizen and the Belgian Witbier is that those wacky Belgians are always adding spices (like coriander and orange peel, amongst other, stranger, spices) whilst the Germans are very rigid in their brewing process. The original German Beer Purity Law (aka Reinheitsgebot or Bavarian Purity Law) limited the ingredients in beer to water, barley, and hops. This was later expanded to include wheat and, once it was discovered, yeast. The law was repealed over 20 years ago, but most German brewers are proud of their traditions and claim to still abide by it, even using it for marketing purposes. So no spices for the Germans.

I always find this sort of thing interesting though. Sometimes working within the box can be more rewarding or impressive than thinking outside the box. Using only the 4 annointed ingredients, the Germans are able to brew some really fantastic beer with a wide range of flavors and aromas. In a historical sense, this sort of purity law no doubt forced a lot of innovation within its boundaries while still retaining quality and consistency (two things that were much more difficult in the 16th century than they are today), and that's admirable. There's also something comforting and awe-inspiring about drinking a beer that is brewed in essentially the same way it was hundreds of years ago.

Of course, this isn't to say that thinking outside the box is a bad thing either, and indeed, I think that German brewers' lack of experimentation may be hurting them now that craft brewing has exploded in America. Indeed, even mainstream publications are catching on that German beer culture is in decline. As Charles Houston Decker notes: "...it's hard to look at a thriving American beer culture, a dying German one, and not pay attention to the obvious major difference between the two." It seems obvious to me that German beer culture won't vanish, and in some ways I kinda like that they're sticking to their guns and producing high quality beer according to their proud traditions. I think there's a lot of value in the basic fundamentals of beer brewing, and I'm glad someone has a different take on it than crazy Americans and Belgians. I'm always intrigued by these sorts of tensions: Oil and water, Democrat and Republican, John and Paul, American beer innovation and German tradition, and so on. It's important to have a variety of approaches to something like brewing, and while I probably prefer my crazy American beers to traditional German varieties, I'm glad both still exist.

Indeed, these traditional beers fit rather well with my recent "regular" beer kick, so here's a pair that I had a couple of weeks ago:

Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier

Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier - Pours a cloudy yellowish gold with ample, fluffy head that laces like crazy as I drink. Smells of citrus and wheat, with lots of spicy yeastiness in there as well (cloves?). It's an almost Belgian style yeastiness, actually. Taste features a light wheaty sweetness with lots of spiciness and citrus thrown in for good measure. Mouthfeel is crisp, clean and well carbonated. Very refreshing. I can see why this is among the best wheat beers. While not exactly a face-melting brew, it's a pretty good example of what you can accomplish while working within the boundaries of the Reinheitsgebot. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5.4% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a shaker pint glass. Drank on 3/18/11.

Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse

Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse: The name "Franziskaner" always conjures Young Frankenstein for me (along with the need to use weird emphasis in the pronunciation of the beer). It's almost identical in appearance to the Weihenstephaner, maybe a little darker. Definitely less head, and what is there doesn't last as long either. Smells very similar. Perhaps a little more in the spiciness realm, but it's very close. Taste is a little deeper. More sweet, less of what I'd call the wheat flavor, though it's still obviously a wheat beer. It's got a fuller body and more carbonation. It's still got the crisp and clean refreshing feel to it, but perhaps not as much as the Weistephaner. Very good, but not as well balanced as the Weihenstephaner. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a shaker pint glass. Drank on 3/18/11.

I have to admit that I enjoyed both of these better than my recent Belgian Witbiers, so it looks like my next homebrew will most likely be a Hefeweizen. It looks like Norther Brewer has a nice Bavarian Hefeweizen extract kit, though the OG is perhaps a bit lower than what I was looking for (that should be easily remedied though). Interestingly, it looks like the brewing process is a lot simpler than my previous beers: no specialty grains, only one hops addition, and ready to drink within 4 weeks.

Stone Imperial Russian Stout

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We all know the famous stories about how India Pale Ale was brewed extra strong and with extra hops so that it could survive the long and warm trek to India. Slightly less known (though probably common knowledge amongst beer nerds) is the Russian Imperial Stout. Apparently the court of Catherine the Great was quite fond of English stouts, but once again, the logistics of shipping the beer required certain adjustments to the usual recipes. Like the trip to India, the trip to Russia was a long one. And it was cold enough that weak beers would freeze en route. So English brewers took to making an extra strong stout, usually around 10% ABV, to prevent their cargo from freezing (among other preservative reasons to protect against the duration of the trip).

Among craft beer nerds, this style is quite popular. Fully half of the top 10 beers on Beer Advocate are Imperial Stouts. You'll also notice that the term "Imperial" has been appropriated for all sorts of other styles: Imperial IPA, Imperial Pilsner, Imperial Red Ale, and so on. The "imperializing" of traditional beer styles is currently one of the big trends in the American craft beer industry. Ironically, despite originating the style, such beers are rarely seen in England. This is probably due to the way beer is taxed there. Since 1880, English beer taxes are based on the original gravity of the wort (which has a rough correlation with the eventual alcohol content). This has applied pressure to brew weaker and weaker beer. There is, of course, nothing wrong with that, and the English session beers and cask ales certainly have their own merits. But I digress. Let's try one of these Russian Imperial Stouts:

Stone Imperial Russian Stout

Stone Imperial Russian Stout - Pours a thick, black color with a minimal brown colored head. Smell is full of roasted malt and maybe a little dark chocolate. Taste is extremely well balanced - sweet and roasty with just a hint of bitterness in the finish and aftertaste. Full bodied and ample carbonation, shockingly drinkable given the high ABV. Indeed, the alcohol is almost completely hidden in this. As it warms, I can detect some lingering alcohol slickness in the finish, maybe even some harshness, but this is a welcome complexity. I've mentioned a few times recently that I think I'm beginning to come around on Stouts (a style I traditionally don't care for), and with beers like this, it's easy to see why. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10.8% ABV bottled (22 oz bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass. Warrior hops, 90 IBUs. Drank on 2/25/11 (I'm almost caught up, I swears!)

More imperial stouts are on the shelf and in the fridge, and I'm actually looking forward to a few of them quite a bit. I don't think that stouts will ever be my favorite style, but I'm definitely gaining a big appreciation for them.

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

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