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The Session and Ommegang Adoration Ale

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The latest edition of The Sessions is today (this is my seccond post in the series), and it's about unexpected discoveries. Mike over at Burgers and Brews once found great beer in the last place he expected to look, and he wants to here about everyone else's unexpected discoveries:

Has this happened to you? Maybe you stumbled upon a no-name brewpub somewhere and found the perfect pale ale. Maybe, buried in the back of your local beer store, you found a dusty bottle of rare barleywine. Perhaps a friend turned you on to a beer that changed your mind about a brewery or a style. Write about a beer experience that took you by surprise.
Indeed, I've already hinted at my discovery... There was this bar/restaurant in the gleaming metropolis of Norristown, PA called the Moody Monkey. A bunch of friends and I went there for dinner one night and were pleasantly surprised to see a huge beer selection. We were just out of college at the time, and thus were used to the joys of Natty Light and the like, so when handed a gigantic beer menu, we were pretty much lost. Since we had no idea what to order, we opened the menu, closed our eyes, and randomly pointed at the menu. As it turns out, two of us, purely by chance, had selected Ommegang's Hennepin. It came out in the 750 ml bottle, caged and corked, and pretty much blew our minds. I'd never seen anything like that at the time. When I poured it out, it looked kinda like a "regular" beer, but the taste blew my mind once again. It was a revelation, and while not really my first experience with craft beer, it was the most influential. From that point on, I was ready to explore the beer world, and went out of my way to find other Ommegang brews and I'd always try something new whenever I could. Alas, the Moody Monkey fell on hard times not long after my discovery of Ommegang. I don't know why, but apparently the owner "forgot" to renew the liquor license, and all of the sudden that fantastic beer selection was gone and it wasn't long after that that the place had to close down.

But I never forgot Ommegang, and have gone out of my way to find and try every Ommegang beer I could. This was several years ago, and in PA, it's hard to find places that would sell single bottles of stuff, so I had to buy full cases. I remember paying through the nose, sight unseen (or tasted), for Three Philosophers when it first came out. And I've never been disappointed. While I've since come to expand my horizons and try all sorts of other beers from other brewers, Ommegang remains one of my favorites (if not my absolute favorite). There was a time, though, where it seemed like the brewery had stalled a bit. They had their usual stable of fantastic year-round brews, but their specialty/seasonal beers were somewhat rare. Lately, they've been doing more specialty/seasonal brews though, and tonight, in honor of my original discovery of Ommegang, I decided to try something new:

Ommegang Adoration

Ommegang Adoration Ale - Ommegang's first holiday ale, a belgian strong dark ale with unusual holiday spices. Pours a deep, cloudy brown (maybe a little red), with a solid head. A little lacing, but not a lot. Smells fantastic. Sweet and spicy, with prominent coriander (apparently a favorite spice of mine) and maybe some yeasty aromas. Taste starts sweet and spicy (again with the coriander), with some fruitiness apparent. Suprisingly drinkable considering the high ABV. Solid carbonation, with a bit of a bite, but I enjoy that sort of thing. It's a complex beer with lots of flavors, but for something that's not very subtle, it's pretty well balanced. It's not quite perfect, but it's in the top tier of Ommegang's offerings, which is nothing to sneeze at... A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (750 ml, caged and corked bottle). Drank from a goblet

So yet another well balanced Ommegang brew that I'm most likely going to fall back on every year (like I do with a bunch of other Ommegang brews). I've also recently come into possession of Ommegang's Tripel Perfection, which I'll probably get to soon (look for a post, probably in January).

Double Feature: Holiday Ales, Part 1

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No filmic double feature this week, but I started off the seasonal beer tastings for the year on Friday as I watched the Flyers in a disappointing shoot-out-loss, courtesy of a total bullshit penalty call on Chris Pronger, without which we would have won in the initial overtime period (and the article was wrong, it wasn't a split-second before the goal, more like 3-5 seconds... not that I'm bitter). Anywho, the night's beer selections were more enjoyable than the game...

Anchor Christmas Ale

Anchor Special Christmas Ale - Anchor is one of the pioneers of independent brewing in the US, and since 1975, they've put out a special Christmas brew as the holiday approaches. The recipe is different every year, as is the tree on the label (which is quite nicely designed and very classy). It's apparently quite a popular tradition in the beer nerd community, and so I've been looking forward to this. Pours a nice dark brown color (almost black), with a big tan head that leaves lots of lacing as I drink. Smell is spicy (spruce?) with some roasted, earthy character as well. Taste features some of that spice (Spruce? Cinnamon? Nutmeg?), ample sweetness (maybe some raisins in there), and some light roastiness. Maybe a little chocolately bitterness as well, and it lingers a bit (but not in a bad way). Mouthfeel is smooth and crisp, with a medium body. It's not a particularly big beer, but it's quite delicious and I can see why everyone looks forward to this every year. A bit too rich to drink several of these in a row, but that's not a bad thing at all. I normally don't spring for a full six-pack, but in this case, I'm glad I did (not sure if I'll be able to keep one for comparison purposes next year, but maybe I'll try). B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a goblet.

Rogue Santas Private Reserve

Rogue Santa's Private Reserve Ale - Perhaps not as storied as the Anchor, this one seems to be a popular seasonal choice. Pours a deep brown color (lighter than the Anchor ale), with a thin head and a little lacing. Smell has some spiciness in it, maybe clove, but it's mostly a hoppy aroma. Taste has more of a nutty malt flavor, with a little spiciness and a bitter finish. It actually reminds me of Rogue's Dead Guy Ale, but a little darker with some more spiciness. A solid beer, but not as good as the Anchor and not something I see myself visiting very often. B

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a goblet.

So there we have it. Still stocking up on winter/holiday brews, so there will most definitely be more of those coming soon...

Best Worst Double Feature

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Well, I'm cheating here. Two nights, two beers, and three movies. Not quite a double feature, but close enough! Or maybe not. The point of the beer double feature is to compare two beers of similar style, and the two beers below couldn't be more different. On the filmic side of things, it's a weekend of Trolls. One of the documentaries released this year that I've been really interested in seeing was Best Worst Movie. It's about the movie Troll 2, once crowned as the worst movie of all time, but which has somewhat recently undergone a resurgence as a cult classic (a "so bad it's good" kinda thing). Best Worst Movie was recently released on DVD, so in addition to adding it to my Netflix queue, I wanted to check out the movie itself... and Troll 2 is only available on a double feature disc of its own (with the original Troll). Intriguing, as those two movies have nothing to do with each other. Well, let's just say that the movies are all just about what you might expect .

The original Troll is actually a pretty interesting movie. Terrible, of course, but very watcheable. Plus, it's got midgets, a troll-filled musical number, and, I shit you not, a boy named Harry Potter who learns magic in order to defeat the trolls (seriously, Harry fucking Potter!?). Troll 2 is... hard to explain. I don't really think it deserves the title of worst movie ever, but it's certainly in the running. There are so many nonsensical components to the movie that I don't really know where to start. There are no trolls in the movie, only goblins (perhaps a pedantic distinction, but the lack of trolls is part of the movie's charm), and they all live in a town called Nilbog (that's goblin spelled backwards!). They lure people to their town, turn them into trees and plants, then eat them (you see, the goblins are vegetarians! Yes, the movie is an attack on vegetarians.) But it's so earnest and completely ridiculous that it's almost endearing (and most certainly funny), and so the cult that's grown around the movie makes some sort of sense. Best Worst Movie chronicles that cult and it's rise throughout the naughts. The documentary is made by Michael Stephenson, who played the little boy in Troll 2. There are some interesting parallels between the film's popularity and the way the actors view the film - they are as aware as anyone of the inadequacies of the film, but even they come around as the cult grows. The film gets a bit repetitive as it goes on, but that's also part of the point. Even the actors start to get sick of the screenings and repeating the lines over and over again ("You don't piss on hospitality!") and attending weird horror conventions and the like. It's an interesting bit of filmic nostalgia and I greatly enjoyed it, along with some beers!

Saison Dupont

Saison Dupont - The saison style of beer has apparently been somewhat endangered, but in recent years it's had a bit of a resurgence, led by the likes of Ommegang's excellent Hennepin, and also Saison Dupont, which was named by Men's Journal as "the Best Beer in the World" a few years ago. Pours a slightly hazy golden color, nice fluffy head with some lacing as I drink. Smells great. Perhaps a bit of fruit in the nose, lots of spices (coriander? clove?), but nothing overpowering. Taste is sweet, citrusy and a little tart, with a full body, lots of carbonation and a bit of a harsh mouthfeel (as I've already established, that sort of harshness isn't necessarily a bad thing). There's a bitterness, but it's not hoppy. Is it the best beer in the world? I have a terrible time choosing favorites and picking bests, but I could certainly entertain the notion, which says a lot. A

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (750 ml, caged and corked bottle). Drank from a goblet (get it, goblin? goblet? Ha!).

Southern Tier Creme Brulee

Southern Tier Creme Brulee (Imperial Milk Stout) - Recommended to me by Kaedrin regular Sovawanea, I have to admit that part of the reason I wanted to try this was that it's got such an evocative name. It just sounds like a perfect match. Pours a deep black color with a very thin, beige head. Smells very sweet, lots of vanilla and caramel. Usually the nose tapers off as I drink a beer, but not in this case - aromatic to the very end (even the empty glass gave off a strong scent). I didn't notice it, but the bottle says to drink it chilled out of a snifter, and that makes sense given the great aroma this stuff gives off. That vanilla and caramel shows up pretty strongly in the taste as well, but it's tempered by the roasty malt sweetness in a decidedly, well, creme brulee fashion. It's not as roasty as other stouts I've had recently (either that, or the sweetness is overpowering the roasted flavors). I found myself drinking quite slowly (it lasted longer than the documentary), but that's probably a good thing given the 10% ABV! Even so, it's perhaps a bit too sweet for one person to drink an entire 22 oz bottle of this stuff. It gets a bit cloying towards the end... (apparently I'm not the only one who recently tried this and felt that way) Nevertheless, it's an excellent and unique beer. It would make a nice after-dinner dessert to share with someone, and it's also something that showcases the amazing variety of flavors that beer can have (it could be a decent gateway beer in the right scenario). B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (22 oz bomber). Drank out of a pint glass (apparently shoulda been a snifter though)

So two pretty different beers, but both are pretty great.

Double Feature: Ales of the Revolution

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Despite a recent disappointment from Yards, I went ahead and picked up a pair of their Ales of the Revolution. As I mentioned before, I'm kinda a sucker for local beers and this series, based on recipes of our founding fathers, is particularly intriguing. I drank them whilst watching the second half of last weekend's double feature (sadly, movie theaters around here generally frown upon the drinking of alcohol during the show - perhaps someday, we'll get an Alamo Drafthouse or something similar). Winter's Bone is a very good movie, but not exactly fun drinking material. Nevertheless, I found myself enjoying both of these brews:

Yards Poor Richards Tavern Spruce

Poor Richard's Tavern Spruce Ale - As legend has it, when Ben Franklin learned that barley and hops were not very plentiful, he attempted to bypass the shortages by leveraging spruce and molasses (I have no idea bout the proportions here, but whatever). It pours a dark amber color, mostly (but not entirely) clear, with a thin head. Smell is a little spicy and malty, though not super strong. Taste is a bit spicy (apparently that's the spruce), but otherwise it tastes like a pretty standard amber ale. Would have perhaps liked a bit more maltiness in the taste, but it's got an excellent, very drinkable mouthfeel. It reminds me a little of Yuengling Lager, but with a little more spiciness (which is a good thing, in my book). I could drink these all night, and at 5%, that would work really well. It's not blowing me away, but it's better than most of the offerings I've had from Yards and would make a fantastic session beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a pint glass.

Yards Thomas Jeffersons Tavern Ale

Thomas Jefferson's Tavern Ale - Pours a lighter amber color, mostly (but not entirely) clear, with a solid head. Smell is a bit muted here, not much going on in the nose. Taste is sweet, boozy and spicy, an interesting mix. Carbonation isn't as strong here, perhaps because of the high alcohol content, which seems to be the dominant characteristic of this. It's not really appropriate to call it oily, but that word does come to mind (perhaps that lack of carbonation contributed to an oily mouthfeel). Neverthless, I like it. It's probably not something I want to drink a lot of, but there's something unique about the beer. Flawed, perhaps, but still an interesting experiment. There are rumors of a Bourbon Barrel Aged version of this beer, and given the high alcohol content, I think the addition of rich flavors imparted by such a process would suit this beer well. B

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a pint glass.

So a good showing for Yards this week. Now I just need to find me a bottle of George Washington's Tavern Porter and Alexander Hamilton's Federalist Ale (this one seems a bit rarer than the others, though it appears to be in the variety pack). And of course, if I come across the Bourbon Barrel Aged versions, I'll have to try those too.

Victory Storm King and Dark Devil

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I've never really been a big fan of Stouts, but I've recently started trying a few, just to get a better handle on the style and have found them mostly enjoyable, though still not exactly my favorite style. Victory brewing is right around the corner from me, so it's only natural for me to check out their year-round stout:

Victory Storm King

Victory Storm King Stout: Well, this is unlike any other stout I've ever tried, mostly due to it's hoppy, bitter character. Pours a black color with a brown head. The taste starts with a roasty malt bitterness that eventually gives way to a more hoppy bitterness, making for an unusual stout (for me, at least). It's much more hoppy than I'm used to for stouts, and while there's a pretty good balance of flavor here, the bitterness remains its real defining characteristic. It's almost like a dark version of an IPA (adding roasted flavors to the traditional crisp, bitter IPA style) rather than a straightforward stout. Relatively easy drinkability, which is a surprise given the high alcohol content. I enjoyed it, but it's not something I'm going to go out of my way for. B

Beer Nerd Details: 9.10% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a pint glass.

My beer club met earlier this week at a local pizza place that happens to have a fantastic beer selection, and one of our discoveries was the Victory Dark Devil. The Dark Devil is basically a combination of the Storm King Stout with Victory's famous Hop Devil, and boy is it a fantastic match. It looks almost exactly like a normal Storm King, but the taste is more complex and flavorful. The Storm King itself already felt like a Hop Devil with more roasted malts, but when you add Hop Devil, you get something a little less biting and a little more flavorful. The Hop Devil has a more floral character, and that mixes really well with the Storm King. Apparently there's a style of beer emerging lately that's referred to as Black IPA, India Black Ale, or Cascadian Dark Ale, which is basically the combination of the IPA with the dark, roasted flavors of a stout. If the original Storm King doesn't count, then this combination surely would... If it's something you can find, try it out (haven't tried making this from the bottle, but I imagine it would work well there too).

Dogfish Head Saison du Buff

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All Dogfish Head beers have a story at their core, and this one is no exception. It apparently started back in 2003, when Sam Caligone (of Dogfish Head), Bill Covaleski (of Victory Brewing) and Greg Koch (of Stone Brewing) got together and formed something called BUFF, which stands for Brewers United for Freedom of Flavor. As near as I can tell, there wasn't much of a point to BUFF until earlier this year, when the three brewers collaborated on a recipe for a saison style beer. The most notable thing about the recipe is that it prominently features parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme (presumably a tribute to the album, but also to the craft brewery tradition of using lots of ingredients). Each brewer took the recipe back to their respective brewery and made a batch. Earlier this summer I had a couple of Victory's batch and while I enjoyed them, I came a way a little disappointed. Anyway, I recently spotted a bottle of the Dogfish Head version and thought I'd give it a shot:

Dogfish Head Saisondubuff

Dogfish Head Saison du Buff: Pours a slightly cloudy light yellow color with a big head. Lots of lacing as I drank. More aromatic than the Victory version, smelling mostly of spice and some floral hops. Taste is bigger and spicier than expected, with some yeasty notes and that floral hoppiness at the end (not very bitter though). Very carbonated and a little harsh (I guess that sounds bad, but I kinda like that characteristic), but it seems to mellow out (in a good way) as it warms up. I'm getting more earthy, hoppy notes as I get towards the end, making it one of those beers that improves as you drink. Overall, pretty damn good. I wouldn't put it at the top of my favorite saisons, but it's close and I'm enjoying it more than the Victory version. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.8% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a pint glass.

Now this makes me want to find all three and try them all, one after the other. At this point, that's pretty unlikely though, so I'll have to settle for trying to find a Stone version...

Double Feature: Again IPA

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Another duo of India Pale Ales. Sometimes IPAs can taste a bit... samey, but the beers in this post (and the previous double feature), are quite distinct and flavorful. I drank these as I watched a double feature of She's Out of My League and Monsters, seemingly disparate movies that had some surprising similarities. Sure, one's a dumb-fun comedy and the other is ostensibly a sci-fi horror film, but they both seem pretty narrowly focused on the romantic relationship at their core. This was expected for League, but surprising for Monsters, though ultimately the post-mumblecore improvisation yields some uninspired dialogue (but there's a pretty great climax to the film). So while I found the movies surprisingly similar, it seems that IPAs are surprising me with how different they can be:

Victory Hopdevil Ale

Victory Hopdevil Ale - Another local favorite, I've had many a Hopdevil over the years. Pours a nice dark orange/amber, with a mostly clear appearance. A small finger of head. Smell is of floral hops, a delicious bitterness throughout the entire taste, from start to finish. Powerful, but not overpowering. Good carbonation and medium body... You wouldn't think it would be so smooth, but it's compulsively drinkable. I could (and have) drink these all night. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.7% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a pint glass.

Dogfish Head 90 Minute Imperial IPA

Dogfish Head 90 Minute Imperial IPA - One of the great things about Dogfish Head is that every one of their beers has a story behind it. This beer was their first continually hopped ale, meaning that instead of adding bittering hops to the wort at the beginning of the boil (later adding taste and aromatic hops), they add hops continuously throughout the entire boil, a little bit at a time. To aid them in this, they used that stupid vibrating football game - they set it up above their boil, threw a bunch of hops on it, and as the field vibrated, the hops gradually fell off the board and into the pot. (This method was apparently abandoned for obvious safety reasons, and more specialized hardware created for their larger scale operations). A bit lighter in color than the Hopdevil, but a perfect head, and hoppy aroma with some more complex citrus and floral notes. A more roasty malt flavor, perhaps even a bit less bitter than the hopdevil. A more complex taste, with a nice lingering bitterness that cuts the alcohol well. Still, given that high alcohol content, I don' t know that I'd want to drink a bunch of these at once (like I could with Hopdevil), but on the other hand, it's a big flavorful hop bomb that's tough to beat. A

Beer Nerd Details: 9.0% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a pint glass.

Another hard to beat pair of IPAs, though somehow, I'm doubting that this will be the last of the great IPAs I review on this blog.

The Session: Wheat Beers

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On the first Friday of every month, there's a beer blog roundup called The Sessions. Started by Stan Hieronymus and hosted by a rotating group of bloggers, each Session has a chosen topic, and this month's is being hosted by BeerTasters.ca and covers the general topic of Wheat Beers:

Feel free to take this topic in any direction you like, specific reviews, historical information, or any other twist you'd like to use. Wheat beers are a pretty wide topic and actually cover German style Weizen, Heffe Weizen, etc. along with Belgian style Witbier and even Flavoured Wheat beers.

There are very few guidelines here, just have some fun drinking Wheat Beers in the fall instead of the summer.

So there. I'm no expert on the style, but I've had plenty of wheat beers over the years. One of the reasons I wanted to start this blog was so that I'd gain a better understanding of beer, and while I've had a few great wheat beers lately (notably, Unibroue's Blanche De Chambly, a great beer I didn't even realize was a wheat beer, and Dogfish Head's Namaste, which is also pretty good, in a more traditional wheat beery way), I've found that having to write about beer makes me think differently about beer. While I've been drinking lots of craft beer over the past couple of years, I've only been blogging about it for a few weeks, so I'm not sure if I can trust my memory on the beers I just mentioned. So tonight I tried out a semi-local Hefeweizen:

Flying Dog In-Heat Wheat

Flying Dog In-Heat Wheat - I've had several Flying Dog beers, while they're eminently drinkable, they're rarely exceptional (the one exception might be the Raging Bitch IPA, which was pretty great). This shouldn't really matter, but Flying Dog also has amazing labels on their bottles. Apparently the owner of Flying Dog was good friends with Hunter S. Thompson, and through that connection came artist Ralph Steadman. He's got a distinctive art style, and the labels on all of Flying Dog's beers are awesome. Anyway, I found myself in a beer distributer the other day, and the Flying Dog variety case seemed like a pretty good idea, and among the variety was this Hefeweizen. It pours a light orange/yellow color. There's a bit of a haze too it, but I could still see my hand through it pretty easily. Smells a little yeasty with some citrus thrown in. Sweet, light, crisp wheaty/yeasty taste with a finish that's a little more tart than bitter. A little bit of citrus flavor, but the character of this beer isn't especially strong. It's light and refreshing, but it's not lighting the world on fire either. Like most of Flying Fish's offerings, it's quite drinkable and would make a nice summer session beer, but it's not exactly the best wheat beer I've had or anything. I'll give it a solid B-. Not something I'd seek out regularly, but it's still pretty good.

Beer Nerd Details: 4.7% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a pint glass.

Later in the night, I had a few IPAs, which I must admit, put this one to shame. Part of that might be that wheat beers aren't often meant to be huge flavor bombs, but I do like the wheat beer style, and there are many that I'm looking forward to trying. So here's a list of other Wheat beers I'd like to try (that I've never had before):

  • Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier (duh)
  • St. Bernardus Witbier
  • Victory Whirlwind Witbier (pretty sure I've had several of these one night, but it's been a while)
  • Victory Sunrise Weissbier
Any other recommendations?

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

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