St. Bernardus Abt 12

I’m only a week behind at this point… This one is another from the St. Bernardus variety pack I got a while back:

St Bernardus Abt 12

St. Bernardus Abt 12: According to Beer Advocate, this is the 10th best beer in the world. So far, I’ve found such high praise to lead to disappointment, but I’m hoping this will be an exception to that rule. It’s a Belgian Quadruple, which is a style I generally enjoy for its rich and complex flavors. This one pours a dark brown color, tons of head right from the start of the pour. Dark fruit, bready Belgian yeast, and some spiciness (cloves) in the nose. Surprisingly even taste. Sweet and a little spicy, all the way from start to finish. The alcohol is hidden fairly well behind the malt backbone and ample carbonation, but it’s obviously there. This is an excellent beer, but something isn’t quite hitting me right with this one. I’m a little disappointed. For a quad, I expect a bit more of a full body and complex taste. Then again, I’ve been drinking pale ales and bar food all night, so perhaps my palate is shot to shit right now. I’ll give it a provisional B+ with a note that I really need to try this again sometime.

Beer Nerd Details: 10.5% ABV bottled (330 ml). Drank from a goblet.

I still have four beers left in the St. Bernardus pack, and I’m seeing a couple double features in my future…

Duvel

So I’m catching up on a bunch of beers I’ve had recently. I usually jot down some notes whilst drinking, then polish them up later (and maybe throw in a movie review or write a screenplay or something), but I’ve been slacking on the polishing piece, so I’ve got about 5 more posts ready to go here. First up, one of the more common Belgian beers you’ll find in the US:

Duvel

Duvel – My true gateway into the world of craft beers was Brewery Ommegang, which was sold to Duvel Moortgat in 2003. Back in the day, I got me a case of Duvel, expecting something… Ommegangy, but I remember being a bit disappointed. It was better than most of the swill I was used to, but it wasn’t a revelation, like the Ommegang beers I’d had at the time. But that was a solid 6 or 7 years ago, so I figure it’s worth giving them another shot.

It pours a light, clear yellow/gold color with a billowy head and lots of lacing as I drink. It’s very aromatic and smells strongly of Belgian yeast, cloves, etc… Taste is very sweet with an unexpected tart finish. Hints of a lingering tart bitterness as well. Mouthfeel is a bit on the harsh side, lots of carbonation. It has a bit of a bite to it, no doubt due to the lemony tartness, but is otherwise not quite as complex as I was hoping for… It works well enough for one glass, but the entire 750ml bottle was a bit much for me and it was grating towards the end. It’s a fine beer, certainly a step up from something like, say, Stella (and a mile up from typical macro junk), but I think my initial impression way back when was probably right on. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (750 ml, caged and corked bottle). Drank from a tulip.

I didn’t realize it, but I had another beer from Duvel Moortgat in my fridge (Maredsous 8, a dubbel), which I’ll be reviewing sometime this week. I liked that one better than this, but it wasn’t particularly mindblowing either.

Elitism and Lindemans Gueuze Cuvée René

There’s been some discussions in the beer blogosphere lately about Elitism and Approachability. The question posed by Zak Avery (in the first link) is what constitutes elitism in beer? Now, I’m relatively new to the whole beer blogging word, but I get the impression that Zak takes some gruff for seeking out, drinking, and writing about obscure or hard-to-find beers.

I see this sort of thing a lot. Many beer bloggers seem to write about things that are only available in limited quantities or in a certain region of the country or whatnot. This can be frustrating in that the beers sound great and yet are not easily available to me. However, I certainly don’t find that sort of thing “elitist”. Drink what you like. Even if it’s something I don’t care for, I won’t hold it against you. And I think that’s the rub. Elitism isn’t about what you drink or write about, it’s about how you perceive others. If ever get my hands on a bottle of, say, Westy 12, that might make me a big beer nerd, but it doesn’t make me “better” than anyone, nor does it qualify me to make judgements on others based on their not having had such a rare beer.

Approachability is a different beast altogether. In his post, Tandleman shares his anecdotal experience at a pub that serves a low ABV pale ale and a higher ABV hop-bomb. Most “ordinary” drinkers aren’t looking to have their mouth set on fire by a hop bomb, they just want something that tastes good. In my own anecdotal experience, I’ve found hoppy beers to be a hard sell most of the time. My brother, for instance, doesn’t even like the standard Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Even among my beer loving friends, some aren’t big fans of hoppy beers.

I can see how this could lead to some confusion about elitism though. If a beer geek like myself tells someone that they might not like HopDevil (or whatever) because it’s quite bitter, they might think me a bit of an elitist, depending on how I worded it. I suppose the sensitive among us would feel a bit awkward about drinking what they like when I’m trying to find the most interesting beer on the menu. Does that make me a snob? Maybe, but so long as I’m not belittling you for drinking a Lager, I’m probably not elitist either.

I’d wager that the same confusion exists in other fields. Take, for instance, movies. Elitism certainly exists there, but only because there are a lot of high-falutin movie-nerds that think that anyone who likes Hollywood movies are sheep. And the more you dig into the world, the more obscure and weird things get. After a while, liking Kurosawa isn’t good enough for some people, you have to be a full fledged Ozu addict if you want to be considered a movie lover. This isn’t to say that Ozu is bad or anything – indeed most film lovers probably should check out some of his work – but the notion that you can’t be a film lover if you haven’t seen Tokyo Story or Floating Weeds is kinda silly.

Stan Hieronymus has an interesting post on the subject, where he references categories in the wine world. Stan notes that it’s probably not a direct translation to beer, but there are some things to be learned about. The first four categories are pretty straightforward:

Overwhelmed, 23%, buy wine but don’t know anything about it

Satisfied sippers, 14%, buy the same brand

Savvy shoppers, 15%, look for discounts

Traditionalists, 16%, like old wineries and are brand-loyal

That leaves two categories: Image seekers (20%), and Enthusiasts (12%). The former spend the most money on wine; the latter expend the most verbiage on it. These are the only two who care enough about wine to read articles or blog posts about it.

Image Seekers are obsessed with quality and will pay through the nose to get even a minor increase in quality. Enthusiasts are all about “interesting” and experimental offerings. And apparently those two groups are at each others throats in the wine world. As Stan notes, things are a bit more relaxed in the beer world, which is a good thing (and perhaps the worries about elitism aren’t as big a deal as everyone’s saying).

I suppose, technically, I fall under the Enthusiast category, though I certainly have leanings towards the Image/Quality seeker as well. I suspect that is mostly because I’m relatively new to this whole thing and thus am a little comfortable spending a lot on beer. I still hesitate to spend more than $20 on a single bottle, but for now, I’m ok dropping some money on something as interesting as The Bruery’s Coton, for instance. I suspect I will settle into a more strict Enthusiast in a couple of years. My guess is that if you graph quality versus cost, you’ll get an asymptote. Assuming that my idea of quality could be quantified (which it probably can’t), there’d be a limit to what is practically achievable from a cost standpoint. At a certain point, moving up the curve becomes so costly that the minute gains wouldn’t be worth it.

Until then, I’m going to seek out and try new and novel beers. Of course, what is new and novel to me might be old hat to someone else, but that’s ok. We’re not elitists here, right? Anyway, last weekend I tried my first sour since starting the blog. I suppose I’ve had some others before (does Fantome count?), but I’ve never had a Gueuze before:

Lindemans Gueuze Cuvee Rene

Lindemans Gueuze Cuvée René – Pours a golden orange color with a good sized, light colored head. Smell is kinda like a musty white wine. There’s some typical belgian yeastiness in the nose, but it’s overpowered by the white wine character. The taste starts off sweet, but that quickly yields to an intense sourness. The finish is dry and tart. As I drink, it strikes me as a more intense version of champagne. The carbonated mouthfeel is probably a big part of that. It’s not something I’m particularly a huge fan of, but I would like to explore various sour styles as well. B-

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

Sometimes I worry about my beer tastes becoming too reliant on novelty. It’s certainly fun trying something new all the time, but at some point, this has to run out right? That, or I’ll end up playing with Lemerchand’s Box and disappearing or something (hopefully not).

St. Bernardus Witbier

A little while ago, I mentioned the St. Berndardus variety pack that I got my hands on, but until now, I hadn’t actually cracked it open. I’m not an expert of beer and food pairings, but I was having some Sushi the other night and I had recently run across this Beer Sommelier, which matches meals with beer styles. When I looked up Sushi (just FYI, it’s under seafood, not fish), it recommended various kinds of wheat beers and in consulting my cellar (i.e. my fridge), I saw that the St. Bernardus variety pack indeed included a Belgian style witbier. I would not call myself a huge fan of wheat beers, but I’ve had a few good ones in my time, and I was hoping for a lot from St. Bernardus.

St. Bernardus Wit

St. Bernardus Witbier – Pours a cloudy yellow color, with lots of head and lacing as I drank. Smell features wheat and a prominent Belgian yeast character, with a little citrus apparent as well. Taste is clean and crisp, a little thin compared to the monsters I’ve been drinking lately, but refreshing. Lots of wheaty flavors, with less citrus or yeasty spiciness/fruitiness present than I would like, but it is there if you look for it. As Wheat beers go, this one is probably near the top of my experience, but it’s not the best (a distinction that still belongs Unibroue’s excellent Blanche De Chambly). It’s got a delicate complexity that’s a good match for the sushi though, and it’s certainly something I’d love to drink in summer (I probably should have waited!) B

Not an overwhelming start to the variety pack, but it’s an enjoyable brew and I can guarantee that some of the others in the pack will wow me.

La Trappe Quadrupel

Trappist monks know how to live. At least, the ones that brew beer do. Of course, there are only 7 Trappist breweries (there are many other abbeys that put their name on beers brewed externally, but the Trappists are strict – their beer is brewed on the premises and lead by monks), but their beers are among the best in the world. So these guys spend all their time brewing and drinking world-class beer. On the other hand, I wonder if they ever drink beer from other breweries? Or do they only drink their own? Interestingly, most Trappist breweries have their own internal “House” beer that isn’t normally released publicly (and is usually toned down in terms of alcohol), so I get the impression that they don’t really seek out the novelty of other beers. Well, I’m certainly not bound by any restrictions, so I’ve had beers from 4 of the 7 Trappist breweries. They’re all fantastic, without exception (ironically, my least favorite might be the most popular – the Chimay Red – but then, even the worst Trappist beer is wonderful), so when I saw a bottle of the La Trappe Quadrupel at the store, I figured it was time to up that to 5 out of 7. I should be able to find some Achel around somewhere, but the real challenge will be Westvleteren, which is only officially sold at the brewery itself (i.e. in Belgium). Westvleteren 12 is currently the top rated beer in the world according to both Beer Advocate and Rate Beer, though I have to wonder if the hoops you have to go through to get your hands on the bottle have anything to do with the high ratings. But I digress.

La Trappe is interesting in that they’re the only non-Belgian Trappist brewery in the world. The brewery is offically called Koningshoeven and is located in the Netherlands, and along with Chimay, their beers seem to be among the most widely available of the Trappists. The particular beer I picked up is a Quadrupel. The numeric Belgian beer system is mildly mystifying in that there doesn’t seem to be any real rules for what constitutes a Dubbel, a Tripel, or a Quadrupel, except that in terms of alcohol content, each style tends to be stronger than the next (though it’s not an exact multiplier – Dubbels tend to be around 8%, Tripels 9% and Quads 10-11+%, with lots of variation inbetween). Interestingly while Dubbels and Quads tend to be dark styles, the Tripel is light colored. I’ve had a few Quads before, starting with (of course) Ommegang’s excellent Three Philosophers (I haven’t reviewed this yet, but I have one waiting in the wings) several years ago. In the past year, I’ve tried a few others (including another Trappist Quad, the Rochefort 10) and I even have a few waiting in my fridge (including St. Bernardus Abt 12, which I’m also greatly looking forward to). For now, we’ll have to settle for this one though (and quite frankly, don’t expect any double features with Quadrupels, though I suppose the subsequent shenanigans could be amusing to you, if not particularly enjoyable for me).

La Trappe Quadrupel

La Trappe Quadrupel – Pours a gorgeous cloudy orange/brown color with a sizable head. Smells fantastic. It has a spicy belgian yeast character with some sweet, dark fruits and maltiness apparent. Taste is very malty and sweet with some dark fruits and spiciness present. A relatively clean finish. The booziness comes out a bit more as it warms up, but the sweetness seems to hide it well. It’s got plenty of carbonation and maybe a bit of a harsh mouthfeel, but that’s just about right for this beer. It’s not quite as full as other Quads I’ve had, but on the other hand, it’s exceptionally good! I had no problem putting down a 750 ml bottle, though I was obviously a bit tipsy by the end. Still, with beers like this, it’s not hard to see why Trappists have a great reputation for beer brewing. A

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

I don’t believe I’ve ever seen an Achel beer in any of the stores I frequent, but I’m going to keep my eye out. Westvleteren will be more of a challenge. But I will eventually try both, thus completing my sampling of Trappist brews. Oh yes.

Avec Les Bons Voeux de la Brasserie Dupont

Last week, I mentioned that I had lucked into a New Years themed beer, and this is the one. The name Avec Les Bons Voeux de la Brasserie Dupont translates to “With the best wishes of the Dupont Brewery” and was originally brewed in very small batches and given to select clients as a New Years gift. It has since become a regular Winter seasonal for Dupont, but it’s apparently still somewhat rare to find. Lucky for me, Wegmans (of all places) had a few of these available, and while I recognized the brewery, I didn’t realize at the time that it was somewhat rare – once I realized what it was, they were sold out.

This brewery is known mostly for Saison Dupont and this New Years brew is along similar lines, only stronger. The saison style of beer isn’t exactly winteriffic, but then, I suppose there’s a champagne-like quality to the beer that makes it appropriate for New Years (that might be a bit of a stretch, but it’s nowhere near the stretch of, say, Sierra Nevada Celebration).

Avec Les Bons Voeux de la Brasserie Dupont

For what it’s worth, the label has a big roman numeral “III” on it, but I don’t know what that means. I thought maybe it was a batch number or something, but apparently lots of people have seen that in years past, so either this is an old bottle (doubtful) or it signifies something else. Also, the cork had “2.010” on it, which I take to mean it was brewed in 2010. Anyway, it pours a light, yellowish brown, almost orange color, with a few fingers of light, fluffy head and plenty of lacing as I drink. An unfiltered beer, it’s very hazy, with lots of sediment and visible carbonation. The smell is musty and sweet, with some citrus and Belgian yeasty spiciness apparent. Taste is spicy (pepper and clove) and quite sweet, with a tiny bit of a dry, tart finish. The carbonation and spiciness lends an almost harsh mouthfeel, but I like that sort of thing. I was surprised to see how high the ABV was on this… there’s no real booziness apparent in the nose or taste – it’s quite well hidden by the powerful flavor profile. Actually, it gets smoother and almost velvety as it warms up, which is probably the alcohol’s doing and the chief difference between the traditional Saison Dupoint and this one. Saison Dupoint is one of my favorites and this is essentially a stronger version of that, so it gets the same grade. A

Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV bottled (750 ml, caged and corked bottle). Drank from a goblet.

Affligem Noël

After the Christmas festivities, I just wanted to site down and relax with some good beer, so I popped open one of my favorites of the season:

Affligem Noel

Affligem Noël: It’s strange, I don’t see much about Affligem in the beer nerd community. Perhaps because they have a relatively steady lineup of 4 beers (including Noël, the one seasonal on their roster). That being said, according to the bottle, this Abbey has been brewing beers according to a recipe orginating in 1074, and damn, everything they make is great, including the Noël. It’s gorgeous color, a deep orange/brown with a finger of light-colored head. Smell is crisp and clear, a little yeasty and maybe some fruit. Taste starts sweet with some dark fruit flavors, then you get some spiciness and a crisp, but not very bitter finish. It’s a wonderful and well balanced beer. The carbonation is a bit high, but given the relatively high ABV, that actually makes it more drinkable. This carbonation subsides a bit as it warms, at which point it begins to take on a more boozy flavor, but nothing overwhelming or bad. It’s a little more different than Affligem’s standard Dubbel (one of my favorites) than I was expecting, but it’s a fantastic beer and among the best of the winter seasonals I’ve had this year. A

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (750 ml, caged and corked bottle). Drank from a goblet.

I believe this marks the end of this year’s formally holiday beer, though I do have a few stouts and other wintry seasonals waiting in the wings.

Petrus Winter Ale

I stopped in at Wegman’s the other night to pick up some beers for presents to my beer club colleagues, and while there I spied this handsome label and a fancy foil cover. I’ve never heard of Petrus before, but in case you can’t tell, I’m a big fan of Belgian beer, so I figured this was well worth a try (apparently this is a practice known amongst beer nerds as Belgian Roulette). So tonight I threw in my Blu-Ray of It’s a Wonderful Life, planning to catch up on some blogging and maybe do some wrapping with it on in the background. Of course, it didn’t take long, and I simply sat on my couch, mezmerized by the movie (one of my favorites of all time) and sipping on my beer:

Petrus Winter Ale

Petrus Winter Ale: Pours a dark red/brown, with a clearish appearance and a nice big light-colored head that quickly dissipates (no real lacing evident). Smells very fragrant, with Belgian yeasts and lots of spiciness apparent. Taste is malty sweet and a little tart, which is unexpected for this type of beer, but not entirely unwelcome either (It’s not a sour or anything, but it’s there). Lots of carbonation and a medium body make this an easy drink, and the relatively low ABV helps in that respect as well. All in all, not among the best of the Holiday Beers from this year (I think perhaps this would have suffered from double feature with the Ommegang, Bruery, or St. Bernardus beers that take top honors this year…), but a nice change of pace. B

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (750 ml, caged and corked bottle). Drank from a goblet.

I think this marks the last new Holiday beer I’ll have this year. I’ll still got a bottle of Ommegang Adoration and Affligem Noël, one of which I’ll bring to share with my family, the other of which I’ll hog to myself. And there’s also the super secret New Year’s ale coming sometime next week as well. Other than that, I’ve been stocking up on some Stouts and other dark beers, which are at least wintery, if not exactly holiday themed. I’ll also probably put an order in for some brewing supplies next week, but now I’m getting ahead of myself.

Double Feature: Yet More Holiday Ales

Yeah, I’ve been a bit of a sucker for Holiday ales this year, probably because I love a good Belgian Strong Dark Ale, of which there are many Holiday variations. As such, I find myself playing Belgian Roulette, picking up beers based solely on the fact that they’re from Belgium and have pretty holiday pictures on the label. Last night, after my Samichlaus adventure, I had a couple of other beers:

Scaldis Noel

Scaldis Noël: I saw this tiny little bottle with the fancy foil wrapping at the store and thought it might be a good idea to play some Belgian Roulette. The bottle only contains about 8.5 ounces, which is quite the odd size for a bottle, but then, it also comes in at a hefty 12% ABV, so I’m actually glad it wasn’t too large. Pours a nice dark amber color with minimal head. Smells a bit boozy, and tastes that way too. It’s sweeter than the Samichlaus and maybe a bit more carbonated, but the flavor isn’t as complex. Indeed, I didn’t really connect with this beer all that much. It’s certainly not bad, but it reminded me a bit of how I felt about Mad Elf, though at least I had the small bottle around this time. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV bottled (250 ml). Drank from a tulip glass.

Between beers, I cleansed my palate with a single cashew.

Weyerbacher Winter Ale

Weyerbacher Winter Ale: Not a Belgian, but I picked up a sixer of this and gave a few away to my beer club homies, saving a couple for myself. Pours a clear dark brown color, with about a finger of head that leaves some minimal lacing as I drink. Smells of roasted malts and maybe a bit of spruce. Tastes like it smells, with a dry roastiness coming through strongly, but the spices seem a bit lost. Mouthfeel is good, with solid carbonation and good drinkability. I’m not terribly familiar with Weyerbacher, but I was expecting something a lot stronger and more assertive than this. Instead, I got a pretty decent session beer (technically just a hair stronger than most session beers, but I think it would work fine) and there’s nothing really wrong with that… It actually reminded me of a less complex 2010 Anchor Christmas Ale (which makes a bit of sense, as they’re both classified as “Winter Warmers”). Not a bad beer by any stretch of the imagination, but I would have liked a bit more complexity (it probably didn’t help that I had had two relatively intense monsters before cracking this one open, but still). B

Beer Nerd Details: 5.6% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a goblet.

Well, I’ve nearly exhausted my supply of holiday seasonals, but look for a few more posts before the holiday, and apparently one New Years beer as well (I’m excited for that one, which I totally lucked into without even realizing it – keeping this one a secret for now).

Double Feature: Christmas Ales (Again)

Last Saturday’s double feature was the unlikely pairing of The Kids Are All Right (a family drama featuring two moms, their half-sibling children, and the sperm donor father!) and Silent Night, Bloody Night (an escaped serial killer dredges up a past tragedy on Christmas Eve). Sometimes when I have a disparate pair of films like this, I’ll find some unexpected similarities, but that’s not really the case here, except perhaps that I think both films are a bit overrated (though both are still good, in their own way).

On the beer side of things, I’m still working my way through recent holiday purchases:

St. Bernardus Christmas Ale

St. Bernardus Christmas Ale – First things firs, I love the label on this. It’s hysterical. It looks like a bad photoshop of the trademark St. Bernardus monk with a Santa hat and some snow. Fortunately, the contents of the bottle are much better than the label. Pours a dark, hazy brown, with a big head. Smell is yeasty with some dark fruits coming through. Mouthfeel is full of carbonation, with lots of dark frutiy flavors. The finish is almost like caramel. Surprisingly drinkable for a 10% ABV beer, I had no problem downing a 750 ml of this… It’s a really fantastic beer, one of the best I’ve had this season. A

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

I was quite pleased with the St. Bernardus, but it set a high bar… apparently, too high for my next beer:

Corsendonk Christmas Ale

Corsendonk Christmas Ale – I picked up a 4 pack of this a while ago and I had a couple before last Saturday, but damn, drinking this back-to-back with the St. Bernardus was a bad idea, as St. Bernardus is clearly the superior beer. This isn’t to say that this one is bad, per say, but it simply cannot hold a candle to the St. Bernardus (nor, I suspect, to my other favorite holiday beers). Pours a dark, clear brown color, with a big head. Smells fantastic, citrusy, spicy, and yeasty. It’s a little lighter than the St. Bernardus, and a bit less flavorful. Lots of carbonation, with a lighter, fruity sweetness and a spicy kick at the end, maybe some coriander. The finish is crisp. It’s a decent beer, but not at the top of the holiday seasonals. B

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (330 ml). Drank from a goblet.

A good night! Still have a few more holiday beers to get through, look for them soon…