Saturday, November 06, 2010

The Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer

Writing from the road--Chicago's Wood and Barrel Aged Beer Festival. I've been assured this will be the most amazing tasting I've ever been to--saisons, lambics, and whiskey-barrel beers. More notes later.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, March 01, 2010

Belgian Beer Review 15: Drie Fontein Oude Kriek

A relatively newbie to the spontaneously fermented Belgian beers, I only recently discovered Armand Debelder. Joe Strange has several notes about the master lambic and geuze blender over at Thirsty Pilgrim. It was the post announcing the brewery's intent to stop brewing, start distilling, and go back to blending that caught my attention. I read the post with great interest, given my current expedition, and figured maybe somehow I'd be able to get my hands on a bottle of Drie Fonteinen if I was lucky. My family and I are traveling to the east coast at the end of this month and I thought I *might* be able to hunt down a bottle in NYC or Boston.

So it was a pretty big surprise when I stumbled upon it at Belmont Party Supply, the craft-beer mecca literally within walking distance of my house. Not only that, but they have both the Oude Kreik and the Oude Geuze. Picked up the Kreik, and on the next trip need to get several bottles of the Geuze--some for now and some to set aside.

A note about the beer, since with the exception of the beer geeks in my audience (although if you've stayed with me this far into this post, its probably time to admit you might be one), aged, blended, sour fruit beers aren't ones most folks have tried. Lambics and Gueuze beers are oddities of the beer world, in that they rely most heavily on the local micro flora to achieve their distinctive sour flavors. In addition, these beers are aged for years in oak barrels and are prized not only for their individual flavors, but for their ability to meld with other vintages. Like meritage wines, the young and aged lambics are blended together to draw out the best of both beers (a gueuze being merely that blend). In addition, to increase the types of flavors available, fruits--notably sour cherries or raspberries--are added. Odd as it sounds, the results are incredible. Intense and at the same time palate cleansing, the straight beers are the Limburger cheeses of the beer worlds and the fruit beers are the sorbets.

Brewery: Brouwerij Drie Fonteinen (via Google Translate, since source page is in Dutch)
Brewery Location: Belgium
Beer: Oude Kriek
BJCP Style:
17F. Fruit Lambic
Serving: Bottle

Appearance: From the time I uncorked the tiny 12 oz bottle, I knew I was in for a treat. Pours a rich cherry red with a rose-colored bubbly head. The picture doesn't do this beer justice--it is a beautiful beer.

Smell: Surprisingly, although present, the cherries don't overpower. Instead, they blend well with the sour barnyard character of the lambic to create a very balanced bouquet.

Taste: Sometimes sour fruit beers can be too over the top. In fact, I've had enough disappointing ones that I approached this one a little apprehensively. I could not have been more wrong. This beer is fantastically refreshing. Sour beers are intensely refreshing, in the way a tart pink lemonade can be in the middle of a sweltering July afternoon. The fruit adds depth to the sour, and mellows out the funkier flavors to make this incredibly thirst-quenching.

Mouthfeel: A very dry beer with a clean finish, which is a bit surprising given the boxes of cherries that I know went into this ale.

Drinkability: These beers won't be around for too much longer and it seems unlikely that you'll be able to get Debelder's blends stateside, so pick up a few bottles now and stick them under the stairwell for later. Although only 6 percent, they'll keep for up to ten years from the bottling date. Just don't get them at Belmont. I've got dibs on those bottles.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Belgian Beer Review 14: Rochefort 10

I took a break from scrubbing bottles for my dubbel to try another Trappist ale--this time it was Rochefort 10. I know folks who swear by this beer, some going so far as to rank it the best Belgian they've ever tasted. It's been so long since I've had this beer that it's essentially like tasting it for the first time.

Brewery: Brasserie de Rochefort (Abbaye de Notre-Dame de Saint-Rémy)
Brewery Location: Belgium
Beer: Rochefort 10
BJCP Style:
18E. Belgian Dark Strong Ale
Serving: Bottle

Appearance: Pours charcoal brown, with bright, vivid tan head that dies quickly

Smell: A big complex nose present as soon as the cap is open; chocolate and coffee mingle with dark fruit esters, layered over a spicy alcohol foundation

Taste: Yeasty and dark fruit flavors meld with spicy hops and chocolate malt. There is the slightest hints of sherry oxidation, and as the beer warms, alcohol becomes more present around the edges

Mouthfeel: This beer has a sharp bite, in a way that one might expect from an artisanal Vermont cheddar.

Drinkability: Pleasurable but not as much so as I was expecting. Don't misunderstand--this is a solid beer. However, I had been expecting a melange of exotic flavors, and while this beer was complex, it was complex on the side of darker, richer aged flavors. I'm not sure the age of the bottle, but it hinted of beer that had been cellared for some time. Reading through reviews on sites like BeerAdvocate, my experience seems to differ from those of other drinkers, so perhaps this beer is a good candidate to cycle back to.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Belgian Beer Review 13: Achel Blond

Achel is one of the smaller, lesser mentioned Trappist breweries. I've seen their beers on the shelf for quite some time, but passed by them not realizing what I was seeing. Decided it was finally time to try one.

Brewery: Brouwerij der St. Benedictusabdij de Achelse
Brewery Location: Belgium
Beer: Trappist Achel 8° Blond
BJCP Style:
18A. Belgian Blond Ale
Serving: Bottle

Appearance: Huge white head; body of beer light copper in color

Smell: Heavy alcohol in nose, with skunky overtones. This bottle was dusty--was it sitting on the top shelf for too long?

Taste: Despite any skunky nose, this beer is delicious. Pale malts, with mellow hops, and a slight grassy note in the finish. Spicy notes throughout.

Mouthfeel: Full bodied, with dry finish

Drinkability: This particular bottle may be slightly skunked, but it's still very drinkable. Much stronger than the taste would imply. I've read that the Bruin is the best of the Achel breed. If this is a taste of what's to come, I'm intrigued.

Belgian Beer Review 12: Grimbergen Double Ale

Headed to Belmont Party supply to pick up the next round of Belgians. Picked up some Trappists and some singles of other interesting, but perhaps less hyped Belgians. Are these quieter beers hidden gems?

Brewery: Brouwerij Alken-Maes
Brewery Location: Belgium
Beer: Grimbergen Double Ale
BJCP Style: 18B. Dubbel
Serving: Bottle

Appearance: Dark, nearly opaque with sturdy tan head that recedes faster than one expects

Smell: Not an overwhelming nose; subdued, with some malty and dark fruit notes, metallic overtones with slight alcohol esters, subdued nose

Taste: some vanilla and caramel malt, sweet with little hop bitterness, but not a ton of depth. Sharp metallic notes that fade as beer warms, replaced by malty character

Mouthfeel: Although this is a malt-forward beer, it's a little thinner than some other dubbels I've tried.

Drinkability: A drinkable, but not at all challenging, example of the style. If a Belgian beer can veer toward the pedestrian, this one does. It's not a bad beer compared to the BudMillerCoors paradigm, and I'd be willing to recommend this to someone getting their feet wet on Belgians, but this isn't one I'm likely to return to. This bottle is slightly less expensive than other examples of the style, but I'd rather pay a bit more and get a bit more in return.

Belgian Reviews 10 and 11: A Pair of Westies

Knowing several beer geeks and knowing how beer geeks salivate over Westvleteren, the Trappist beer only served at the monastery and accompanying the cafe across the street, my boss decided to venture into the grey market for a few bottles. I had stunning shots of the Westvleteren 12 and 8, but thanks to my iPhone bricking out and losing any unsynced photos, a narrative will have to suffice.

Westvleteren 12 tops most of the beer rating website's top beer lists, with the Westie 8 somewhere in the top 10. Is it because these beers are so rare and such a pain in the ass to even get a sample of, or is there something intrinsic about the beer itself that gives it its grail-like fame?

This was the question we sought to answer when, a few Fridays ago, my boss stopped in with a bottle of the 8. His shipment of assorted hard to find Belgians had arrived and he had tried the Blonde the night before and was suitably impressed. Wondering what the rest of the line was like, he shared the 8.

The Westvleteren 8 is a Trappist Dubbel--a brownish ale with tight, tiny carbonation. It gives off a perfumy aroma, with slight caramel and phenolic hints of alcohol. The taste is well-blended, subdued caramel malt accented with complex florals, and a dry, powdery finish. The beer is easily drinkable and hides its alcohol well.

After nearly finishing the 8, curiosity got the best of us and we headed to the fridge to crack the 12. The 8 was a solid beer--perhaps not the best beer I've ever had, but so smooth and complex that I wondered how the 12 could top it.

I was pleasantly surprised. The 12 is a difficult beer to describe--to call it complex and nuanced oversimplifies it. There are so many flavors, all wonderfully blended, but all distinct in their own rights.

Like the 8, the 12, a Quadrupel, is a brown beer, this one with a billowing tan head. An assertive vanilla first dominated the nose, but gave way to floral hops and slight hints of cherry. My notes devolve into a steady scratching of complementary and conflicting flavors in trying to describe the taste, including tea, spice, citrus zest, tobacco, clove, vanilla, caramel malts--a mildly acidic beer with slight grassiness as it warms and a cherry cola effervescent. In reflecting on this beer, I imagine it a lot like a mood ring, in that there is so much at play that whatever you are feeling in the moment may act as a catalyst for certain flavors to dominate. And despite all that, the beer has such remarkable and understated balance that there is no wonder this beer ranks so highly. Unlike many of the over-the-top, in your face extreme beers, despite all of its complexity, this beer is so easy to drink and so unassuming.

One of my beer-loving co-workers is coming into town soon, and when he does, my boss has promised a sampler to include the 12, 8, blonde, and some rare Westmalle and Chimay. I'm interested to try the 12 again in particular to see if there is any truth to my mood ring hypothesis.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

News: Belgian Golden Ales in the NY Times

Veteran NY Times beer correspondent Eric Asimov teams up again with Florence Fabricant and a guest--this time Resto owner Christian Pappanicholas (Resto is a Belgian focused Manhattan restaurant). Their target--to tackle Belgians and Belgian-style ales. As Asimov notes, Belgians often defy categorization, and despite trying to cast somewhat of a net around the Belgian Golden Strong Ale style, there's still quite a bit of variety in the mix.

Twenty beers, half from Belgium, nine from the US and one Canadian brew complete the spread. Interestingly, the top pick is not from the mother country, but rather from Ron Jeffries' Dexter, MI based Jolly Pumpkin. In fact, of the top four, three are American, and two are Jeffries' brews (Jeffries also brews for Leelanau).

A surprise that isn't a surprise--Duvel, the originator of the style, didn't make the top pick. Historically, I have loved this beer, but as of late, I've noticed the same freshness problem Asimov notes. Brouwerij Duvel Moortgat, what is going on?

Asimov usually accompanies his articles with a post on his blog, The Pour. Check out the post on Belgian ales and be sure to read through the comments for readers' takes.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Brewing: Son of Lights Out Stout

When I brewed my first batch of homebrew nearly a decade ago, I invited a bunch of friends over and started the batch on our electric stove. We were midway through the event, with a house full of folks, when the kettle boiled over and shorted out the stove, kicking the breaker and darkening the entire apartment. We got the lights back on, but the burner never really worked correctly again. That first brew, an Irish Stout served on St. Paddy's Day, was forever known as Lights Out Stout.

It was with that brewing misadventure in mind that we set out on a more recent journey. I've turned a lot of folks onto the joys of homebrewing, most notably my brother and my cousin. Both brew exclusively using extract, and when I mentioned that I had done some all-grain brewing, they were interested in a demo. For the non-beer-geeks (although I can't imagine any have gotten this far into this blog), the difference between extract and all-grain brewing is like making orange juice from concentrate vs. fresh squeezed. All-grain isn't all that much more complicated, but it is a serious time commitment, which is why I don't do it all that often.

This batch (recipe below) went off a lot better than its name sake, at least in the original brewing. The process took forever because my lauter tun runs slowly, but after 8 hours and more than a few high-test samples along the way, we pitched the yeast slurry.

That's when the problems started.

See, the more yeast you use, the better your beer is likely to turn out. In addition to fermenting the beer, yeast overwhelms the bad stuff that can grow in beer, making it less likely to spoil. The more yeast, the better. So, I had been creating a yeast starter, slowly growing up the number of yeast cells for almost a week, and rather than a small vial of yeast to start with, I had more than 1/2 of a gallon.

But, I forgot about one thing. Volume control.

The fermentation vessel I used holds nearly 7 gallons. The beer filled about 6. The yeast filled another 1/2 gallon. Usually, there's enough head space in the carboy that the yeast, which gives off a thick, sludgy head called krautsen, has enough room to expand. So, imagine my surprise when I opened my closet door and the krautsen had shot its way through the airlock and all over the closet floor. And imagine my frustration when I realized that the previous owners of the house had drilled a hole to pass the cable through the floor, meaning that in addition to everything that had covered the closet floor, there was another mess waiting for me in the basement.

A bucket of oxyclean, a few disapproving stares from my wife, and a new overflow airlock installed and all was back to normal. The beer has been fermenting for about a week and will go into the keg next weekend, with enough time to be ready for this year's St. Paddy's Day celebration. Hopefully this batch will be worth the trouble, but don't look for Grandson of Lights Out Stout any time soon.

Son of Lights Out Stout (All-Grain)
8.59 lbs 2 row pale malt
1 lb flaked barley
1 lb roasted barley
2 oz Perle hops (6.5% AA) at 60 min
1 oz Perle hops (6.5% AA) at 60 min
White Labs WLP004 Irish Ale Yeast

Mash for 90 min at 153
90 min boil

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

News: H.R. 4278 = Craft Beer Stimulus

From a post on the BeerAdvocate Forum (you'll need to be a member to read the thread, but I'm hoping no one at the site minds my re-posting of this article, since it behooves us all to get the word out. Thanks for RicoBrew for originally posting.):

H.R. 4278 the "Small Brewers Stimulus"

Imagine that, bipartisanship can happen as long as craft beer is involved. HR 4278 is a graduated excise tax reduction bill introduced by Rep. Neal (D-MA) and Rep. Brady (R-TX)

The wording of the bill will give brewers who produce less than 60,000 barrels/year a federal excise tax cut from $7/barrel to $3.50/barrel. Between 60,000 and 2,000,000 barrels per year will get a rate cut from $18 to $16 per barrel produced.

The bill is currently trying to make its way through the Ways and Means committee (which Rep. Neal is the Chairperson). The Brewers Association is busy trying to get their member breweries mobilized and calling their representatives to cosponsor the bill. Info can be viewed here:

Also a nice video from News 4:

Will this mean cheaper beer? No. But it'll help your favorite brewery grow and thrive despite this down economy and also create jobs.

Belgian Beer Review 9: Struise Mikkeller (Elliot Brew)

Mikkeller, which started as a collaboration between two homebrewers, and is now solely run by Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, is a self-described "gipsy-brewer, who brews at different breweries in Denmark, around Europe and the United States."

His brews garner a lot of attention, and I was fortunate to find a collaboration with a Belgian brewer, which meant I got to include it in this Belgian experiment (despite the fact that Mikkel is himself a Dane). Not only a collaboration, but apparently his first collaboration.

If Belgium and other European countries, are steeped in old brewing traditions, Mikkeller is at the forefront of changing those perceptions. Belgian beers run the gamut of styles, and this one fits into none of the pre-established or expected categories--it's more Belgian than Belgians.

Mikkeller/De Struise Brouwers
Brewery Location: Belgium
Beer: Struise Mikkeller (Elliot Brew)
BJCP Style: 16E. Belgian Specialty Ale
Serving: Bottle

The beer pours a cloudy amber with thin tan head.

The nose starts with huge hops--a mix of citrus and earthy hop spiciness. The underlying malt is caramel, and there is a slight alcohol presence. Hints of pineapple, mango, and Belgian Candi sugars.

Taste: I had been expecting Double IPA hop bomb (and that's how Beer Advocate has categorized it), but this is more subtle, complex. It could be that this is a retired beer, and one that has been aging for a while, so the character may have changed--the hops somewhat subdued (although not much) and the malt coming forward more. As with the nose, there's a sweet citrus upfront, layered upon dark malty sugars, but beyond that, it's hard to describe in absolute terms. In relative terms, think West Coast Pale Ale meets Trappist Dubbel meets Belgian Strong Golden Ale and that gets you somewhere close to this beer.

Mouthfeel: A full-bodied beer--it is thick and sweet without descending into not syrupy or cloying.

Drinkability: This is a fantastic beer, but a bugger of one to describe. I can't chuck this into a given category, thus why it's in the catch-all of Belgian beers--Belgian Specialty. Think of it as a quintessential collaboration--two beers that, when combined, create something larger than the sum of their parts. It's a little cliched, but there's a truth to it with this beer. I'd say go try one yourself, but in researching this beer, realized that it was a retired style that I absentmindedly and accidentally stumbled into.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Belgian Beer Review 8: Ichtegem's Grand Cru

When a lot of folks think of Belgian beers, they think Trappist or Abbey style ales--big, bold, complex, spicy and sweet. Occasionally lambics make the cognitive register, but, at least for me, styles like Oud Bruins or Flanders Reds are not at the top of one's mind. All the pity, as I am discovering. I am finding that I really enjoy these sour ales. As complex as their bigger, bolder cousins, but more easily consumed and generally better at truly quenching a thirsty palate. One might be surprised to think of a sour beer as a thirst-quencher, but much like a cold glass of lemonade on a hot day, a well-balanced sour ale does the trick.

This particular beer, like many sour Belgians, is a mix of fresh beer and beer that was spontaneously fermented. The spontaneous fermentation results in the sour notes, while cutting in the fresh beer provides balance and keeps the sour from overpowering.

Brewery: Brouwerij Strubbe
Brewery Location: Belgium
Beer: Ichtegem's Grand Cru
BJCP Style:
17C. Flanders Brown Ale/Oud Bruin
Serving: Bottle

Appearance: dark auburn with ruby hues when held to the light; thin tiny head

Smell: The sour notes hit first, with with hints of sweet malt and fruit--strawberry, cherry, and raspberry

Taste: Not as sour as nose suggests, with sweet berry and malt upfront. The sour blends well and balances out the finish, keeping it refreshing and not cloying. Although this beer is oak aged, the wood-imparted flavors are minimal. The BJCP guidelines (see link above) suggest darker fruits and more mellow malt, but the fruits in this example are brighter--more summer than fall.

Mouthfeel: Dry, fruity, and effervescent; slightly sweet, reminiscent of cherry cola, although not nearly as sweet.

Drinkability: A malty, fruity, aged, somewhat sour Belgian-style brown ale that is refreshing and bright. While it isn't the life of the party, it's a guest you consistently invite because you know their presence adds something intangible to the room.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

News: If It's February, It Must Be NIPAC Time

Every February, Brewing News launches bracket picks for the National IPA championship this month. One hundred and twenty-eight IPAs go head to head for the national title in rounds similar to the NCAA tourney. Get your picks in soon--the first round starts Feb 12th.

Monday, February 01, 2010

News: Mike Schwartz Interviews Eric Wallace of Left Hand Brewing

This post is a bit overdue, but with all the Belgian beers, I've barely been able to keep up. A few months ago, the local craft beer purveyor/homebrew store, Belmont Party Supply, expanded, building out an adjacent storefront strictly for homebrewing and cheese making supplies. Belmont and Miami Valley BrewTensils, as the new space is called, have been stepping up their web presence as well, with a Twitter feed, a relaunched and easier to use website, and now what one hopes is the first of many brewer interviews. Below is the Vimeo feed from Mike's interview with Eric Wallace, of Left Hand Brewing. And if you are in Dayton, be sure to check out the store fronts. Even before the move, Belmont had one of the best beer selections I've ever seen--and now, with the homebrew equipment in its own space, there's plenty of room to expand even further.

Belmont Party Supply Interview with Eric Wallace from Schwartzbeer on Vimeo.

News: Beer Wars Movie Gets Digital Distribution

Exciting news from the intersection of independent film and craft beer. Anat Baron's full-length documentary, Beer Wars, which chronicles the plight of two independent beer companies' struggles to make it big (including great footage of Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head fame), is now available for on-demand or digital download.

I waited eagerly to see the movie when it made its one-night, one-showing stop here in Dayton. The film is accessible for non-beer geeks and yet still engaging, enlightening, and entertaining for those of us who have stashes of rare beers aging in boxes under the cellar stairs. Anat does a excellent job demonstrating the trails for getting a beer to consumers in a market dominated by giants, a message that resonates with any entrepreneur vying for survival.

Check it out for yourself: I've included the trailer, some clips, as well as the text of the press release. I'll also host a banner ad, so you can download your own copy.

From the press release:

I’m thrilled to announce that starting Monday, February 1st Beer Wars will be available to a mainstream audience. If you have a TV or a computer (or even a gaming console), you will be able to rent or buy the movie from the comfort of your home or office!

How did this happen? Well this David (me) made a deal with Goliath – Warner Bros. – to distribute the film. You should know that very few independent films, let alone documentaries, ever get this far, especially without a big name like Michael Moore or major festival buzz. I am humbled and elated that this movie will be available to tens of millions of people.

But I still need your help. Just because it’s available doesn’t mean that people know anything about it. Without word-of-mouth it could just sit there without any takers. So please, tell everyone you know by forwarding this email, or posting on Facebook and/or tweeting on Twitter. We even have web banners should you want to display them on your site or blog. You’ll not only be helping this indie filmmaker, but you’ll help convince studios like Warner Bros. to continue supporting these kind of films.

And here are the details:

In the U.S., Beer Wars is available to rent on demand through Digital Cable and Satellite providers Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox, Cablevision, Charter, Insight, Bresnan, Verizon FiOS, AT & T U-Verse, Dish Network and DirecTV. It is also available for download on iTunes, Amazon Video On Demand, Xbox 360 and PS3.

In Canada, the film is available to rent On Demand through Digital Cable and Satellite providers Rogers Cable, Cogeco, Videotron, Sasktel and Shaw.

The film will also be available through Netflix either through streaming or DVD. And you’ll be able to buy the DVD from Amazon. As well as the movie’s website.

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Belgian Beer Review 7: De Dolle Stille Nacht

I have always loved the label art for the De Dolle beers, dating back to my early years, working at the now-defunct One Stop Carry-Out in Athens, Ohio. Bill kept a few of them on stock, and although I barely remember trying them, the artwork stuck with me.

When I made my run this week to restock the sampling supply, I found this one on the discount rack, likely because it had 2008 stamped on the cap. This seasonal Christmas beer is huge (12%) and I knew that as such, it they should age well, so I took my chances. As an aged beer, this was a positive experience, although from reading through the Beer Advocate reviews, it sounds like I should also try a fresh version of this ale.

Brewery: Brouwerij De Dolle Brouwers
Brewery Location: Belgium
Beer: Stille Nacht
BJCP Style:
16E. Belgian Speciality Ale
Serving: Bottle

Appearance: tawny, like a barleywine; I stupidly disturbed the sediment on the pour, so I had to let the bits of yeast swirling with carbonation settle before drinking. As you can see in the photo, a beautifully fluffy off-white head, three fingers thick.

Smell: alcohol, strawberry, and leather, with some sharp notes and hints of pipe tobacco. Low hops and malty, much like an aged barleywine

Taste: A confluence of dark, rich flavors--a mix of alcohol, plums, raisins, faded spices, and a pleasant sherry-like oxidation. A complex beer, with deep hints of pit fruits, leather, cherry cough syrup, tobacco, and malty notes of cocoa and caramel. The oxidation has given way to some slight medicinal phenolics and licorice, but those flavors are not yet over-bearing. It reminds me of aged Old ale or a 10 year old Barleywine, differentiated with an effervenscent Belgian yeast character.

Mouthfeel: big carbonation upfront, malty with a clean finish

Drinkability: A delicious beer, a blend of hauntingly rich and shadowy flavors. Very powerful (as my headache this morning will attest), so go lightly. The oxidation is just on the edge of being too powerful, so if you are sitting on a 2008 now, it'd be good to open them now. And, as I noted, this sounds so different from the fresh version that next winter, I'll have to seek one out.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Belgian Beer Review 6: Duvel

Duvel--a return to another old favorite. This bottle was actually the fourth in a Duvel beer/glassware package that my wife and kids gave me at Christmas (prompted by me teaching my 3 yr old to say, "Duvel glasses at the beer store" whenever he was asked what to get Daddy for Christmas). The other three bottles didn't make it to see 2009, but I set one aside for this project.

According to popular lore, Duvel (pronounced "Doov'l" or "DOO-vulh" in Belgium and "Du-velle" in most of the US) has been brewed by the Moortgat family since the early 20th century, originally brewed as a Victory Ale to commemorate the end of WWI. However, when one local shoemaker remarked that it was a true Devil ("nen echten duvel"), the name stuck. Quite the contrast from the heavenly Trappist ales.

Brewery: Brouwerij Duvel Moortgat
Brewery Location: Belgium
Beer: Duvel
BJCP Style:
18D. Belgian Golden Strong Ale
Serving: Bottle

Appearance: As you can see from the photo, an enormous white, bulbous head. The shape of the glass actually contributes, as does the etched "D" at the glass's bottom. The beer itself is golden straw, clear, with tiny carbonation bubbles gliding up the sides of the glass.

Smell: sweet, exotic nose produced from the phenolics given off by the quirky Belgian yeast. Hints of spring and early summer fruits--apples and pears, with some spiciness adding an extra kick. Surprisingly low alcohol in the nose, given the 8.5% abv.

Taste: I've always had trouble nailing down the taste of certain Belgian beers, other than to say, "It tastes like a Belgian." There is a spice character and some of the same fruit characters described in the nose, although I can't isolate a single specific fruit or spice. It's a suggestion that never actually resolves itself into an exemplar of a specific taste. Consulting the BJCP guidelines, which talk of fruits, spice, and alcohol, but again, merely as suggestions of such flavors, I realize I'm not the only one having trouble describing this unique flavor.

Also worth noting some oxidation, with the tell-tale hint of cardboard, in the finish. Although this beer is capable of aging beautifully, this bottle might have been better fresher.

Mouthfeel: Abundant carbonation, as suggested by the huge fluffy cloud of bubbles in the photo. The glassware itself, with the etched "D" inscribed in the bottom the the glass, helps to release the carbonation, heightening the effect.

Drinkability: Duvel has long been a favorite of mine--strong, assertive, yet easy to drink. An attractive beer and the first of the Belgian Golden Strong Ale style. Complex enough for jaded reviewers like myself, yet accessible for the first-timer.

Additionally, Duvel accompanies food very well. I paired it with ham, sweet potatoes and stuffed mushrooms for this tasting, but my favorite pairing actually involves a Duvel-mustard marinade (thanks for Andreea at the Belgian Beers blog for the recipe).

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Belgian Beer Review 5: Gueuze Girardin 1882

I didn't want to get more than a month into my Belgian exploration before I picked up something truly funky. When I saw this at Whole Foods a couple of weeks ago, I knew instantly that this beer would fit the bill, from the old style label to the dregs of yeast visibly clinging to the cork. After trying the Foret that I bought on the same trip, I was concerned that this green bottle beer would also be skunked. Luckily, my fears were allayed.

Brewery: Brouwerij Girardin
Brewery Location: Belgium
Beer: Gueuze Girardin 1882 (black label)
BJCP Style:
17E. Gueuze
Serving: Bottle
Appearance: bright copper in color, like a penny was recently soaked in ketchup; cloudy

Smell: funky, straw and barnyard with some dried apple; no hops, no malt and sour even in the nose

Taste: Sour, but not overtly. Overall, refreshing with some sweetness and tanginess upfront--Brett and sour balance nicely, with a tart sweetness like eating a granny smith apple; clean finish, with some tiny hints of cardboard way deep in the swallow.

Mouthfeel: thin, but not weak, but instead delicate, with carbonation like a club soda

Drinkability: This beer was incredible--the most interesting Belgian that I've tried this year. I expected it to be more challenging and was surprised at how refreshing and approachable it was. Not for everyone (my wife cringed at the aroma and refused to go anywhere near the glass), but for drinkers interested in exploring sour ales, this one would be at the top of my recommendation list.

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Belgian Beer Review 4: Chimay Premiere (Red)

I had been sitting on this bottle of Chimay for a couple of weeks, originally intending to drink it at the cabin. It didn't get opened there, so I brought it to our friends' house for pairing with a kielbasa stew. Although Chimay Premiere (or Chimay Red, as we always called it) was one of my first Belgian beers, and certainly my first Trappist, it had been a really long time since I had returned to it and figured I was long overdue.

Brewery: Bières de Chimay (Abbaye Notre Dame de Scourmont)
Brewery Location: Belgium
Beer: Chimay Première (Red)
BJCP Style:
18B. Dubbel
Serving: Bottle

Appearance: dark and dense, like an unpasteurized cider; thin cinnamon-hued head

Smell: traces of spice--clove and nutmeg--from the yeast; malty with very low to non-existent hops

Taste: caramel and malt, with little to no hop presence; some hints of spice and pit fruit tucked just below obvious perception, with a slight metallic tang

Mouthfeel: medium bodied with full carbonation

Drinkability: As noted above, it had been a long time since I had tried this Chimay iteration. It was less complex than I recalled, but certainly not lacking in character. Probably the perfect beer to have started with years ago because although it promises hints of the complexity shared by its more complicated and sometimes difficult Belgian cousins, nothing in this beer is in your face. Refreshing, and a welcome beer to revisit from time to time.

Monday, January 18, 2010

News: Launches to Aid Homebrewers

Over the weekend, I received a press release from Jon at about the launch of I've posted the text of the release below and added a link to the resources section of this site. Although the content begs for wider adoption, I can see how this site could quickly become as invaluable a resource as my usual staples: Homebrew Digest, BeerTools, or the myriad brewing books crammed into my dining room bookshelf (nudging out the cookbooks for space). Check it out for yourself and use the comments section here to let me know what you think., a community-driven site focused on answering all questions related to beer, officially launched today. Unlike forums, message boards, Facebook, or Twitter, is specifically set up as a simple question and answer knowledge base. Ask a question, get a number of answers, select the best one, and get on with brewing. The site was quietly opened to the public a little over a week ago, and the response was overwhelmingly successful. To date, there are already over 50 users asking and answering almost 40 beer related questions.

Questions range from basic homebrewing process questions, like “How do you choose a yeast”, to more theoretical brewing questions, such as “What does ‘Imperial’ mean with regards to style?” to the more advanced side of the craft, for example the effects of aging on Alpha and Beta acids in hops. There are also questions that aren’t strictly for the homebrewer, such as a question about pairing beer with mussels, and general beer storage advice.

Users on the site gain reputation through activity. The more active a user, the more power he or she has on the site. One gains reputation by asking good questions and leaving good answers. As users participate more, they gain access to commenting, voting, and moderation tools. “It’s a site run by the community,” says co-founder PJ Hoberman.

“It’s kind of ridiculous how much I have already learned from this site,” says budding homebrewer Jordan Rounds. “BrewAdvice is now a daily stop in my internet travels.” Frequent visitors to the site range from aspiring homebrewers to aspiring brewery owners, beer bloggers to beer judges, and everyone in between. is built on the Stack Exchange framework, made famous by the tech Q&A site The site is currently maintained by two administrators, Taylor Beseda and PJ Hoberman, both web developers and homebrewers in Denver, Colorado.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Review: Nicholson's Tavern and Pub

My sister's birthday found us at Nicholson's, in the theater district of downtown Cincy. Nicholson's is a Scottish pub, owned by Tavern Restaurant Group, the same folks who run The Pub, in Beavercreek. The bar caters to the theater crowd, which translates into mediocre service until curtain call, then an empty pub after that.

TRG pubs tend to be big on theme, which comes across a little Disney. However, redeeming is that TRG pubs seem to have exclusive deals with BrewDog, the Dogfish Head of Scotland. Although initially disappointed at the lack of a cask ale, turns out there were bottles of Bashah (the Stone and BrewDog collaboration.) And a little persistance turned up a hidden stash--snifters of Paradox Springbank and Paradox Smokehead. Both were incredible--and progressingly nicely from the Basha to the Smokehead. The Smokehead epitomizes the mix of a peaty single malt and a huge Russian Imperial stout.

If you hit Nicholson's, either pre-order (they'll have your drink waiting and you'll have your meal and check before the show starts) or go after the theater rush. Skip the menu and push for the BrewDog, except maybe to nightcap with one of the 20+ single malts available.

Belgian Beer Review 3: Dupont Foret

Dinner with friends and beer folk led to some Belgian tastings. Trip to Whole Paycheck earlier in the day yielded this Dupont offering, an organic and greenly-produced saison. Hadn't seen it before and was seduced by the label art. Dupont is traditionally solid and I thought it would pair well with the kielbasa stew on the menu.

Brewery: Brasserie Dupont
Brewery Location: Belgium
Beer: Foret (as of this posting, no page specifically for this beer)
BJCP Style: 16C. Saison
Serving: Bottle

Appearance: straw yellow with big fluffy white head; huge head

Smell: immediately hit with skunk and funk. The curse of the green bottle plus the underlying saison funk means this beer smells an awful lot like Heine (both arse and green-bottled swill)

Taste: slightly skunked, some farmhouse funk, golden in flavor. The skunk is less pronounced in the taste, which settles into a likable saison--refreshing, herbal and earthy, with some mild Brett

Mouthfeel: carbonation upfront, smooth and refreshing

Drinkability: A shame that this is skunked because this could be a really enjoyable beer--refreshing and easy to put this away. Drawn in by the organic labelling but wish that Whole Foods took better care of their beers. At nearly $10 a bottle, one expects better. And Dupont, green bottles? Really?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Belgian Beer Review 2: Buffalo Belgian Stout

We rented a cabin in SE Ohio this weekend (near Hocking Hills) to celebrate my wife's step-mother's milestone birthday. Great fun with the kids and extended family, including lots of sledding, hiking, and drinking beer around the fireplace. Most of the weekend I drank Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, but had brought a bottle of Buffalo to warm us up post sledding.

Brewery: Brouwerij Van Bossche
Brewery Location: Belgium
Beer: Buffalo Belgian Stout [Google translation]
BJCP Style: 16E. Belgian Specialty Ale
Serving: Bottle

Appearance: black, turns tawny when held to the light; small tight tan head--very nice presentation

Smell: not heavily aromatic, but hints of spices from the yeast--cloves, citrus; more roasted malt as it warms

Taste: The beer in incredibly smooth, and the flavor really opens up as the beer warms, with clove, subtle chocolate malt, ripe pit fruits (cherry, prune), and hints of vanilla

Mouthfeel: light, smooth, prickly carbonation

Drinkability: This beer is highly drinkable. The flavors are subtle and nuanced. Best to drink this one over time--letting it warm and open up, so that the true flavors really come out. Especially good advice since the beer is 9% abv, with no alcohol bite to it, which might lead one to drink this faster than one should. I like this beer as an occasional beer--this is the second time I've tried it (see notes from a tasting at Jungle Jim's a few years back). Doesn't knock ones socks off, but remains complexly understated, which was perfect for an afternoon of warming up around the fire.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Events: Trolley Stop Beer Tasting tonight

For those of you in the Dayton, OH area tonight, Mike Schwartz, owner of Belmont Party Supply and Miami Valley BrewTensils, is hosting a mother of a beer tasting tonight at the Trolley Stop. Full details can be found on the Belmont Party Supply site, but below is the beer list to whet your palate:
  • Flying Dog Raging Bitch
  • Bell's Hop Slam
  • Alesmith Old Numbskull
  • Founders Breakfast Stout
  • Jolly Pumpkin La Roja
  • Heavy Seas Below Decks
  • Bruery Orchard White
  • Old Speckled Hen
  • Rogue Chatoe Rogue Black Lager

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Brewing: Belgian Dubbel

Trying my hand at my second Belgian style. I've brewed several Belgian Wits, which my wife tends to like a lot, but haven't explored beyond that style, until now. My brother had given me a gift cert for a while back, so I redeemed it for their Belgian Dubbel extract kit. I haven't brewed from a kit in a really long time, and couldn't resist tinkering with the recipe somewhat. However, I restrained myself to just adding a bit more DME. Here's the recipe

Year of the Belgians: Dubbel
.25 lbs.
Belgian Special B
.25 lbs.
Weyermann Carapils®/Carafoam®
6.75 lbs.
Dry Extra Light Extract
.5 lbs.
Candi Sugar Clear
.25 lbs.
Candi Sugar Dark
1.5 oz.
East Kent Goldings (Whole, 4 %AA) boiled 47 min.
1 oz.
Hallertau (Whole, 3 %AA) boiled 12 min.
1 oz.
Styrian Goldings (Whole, 2 %AA) boiled 2 min.
1 ea.
Whirlfloc Tablets (Irish moss)

Yeast :
White Labs WLP570 Belgian Golden Ale

Originally, I had planned to harvest yeast from a bottle of Duvel I received for Christmas, staying up late one night last week to do so. However, after about 48 hours, it was clear the harvesting wasn't going to happen--with no activity in the Erlenmeyer flask. So, I trucked it to my homebrew store, bought a vial of White Labs WLP570, and created a small starter about 24 hours before I brewed. Not enough to get a huge influx of more yeast cells, but enough to wake them up and give them a head start.

Brewing went well, helped along by Nathan and Jonathan. It was bitterly cold, and we brewed in my garage. The propane burner produced enough heat to make it bearable, but the hose partially froze when we tried to use the wort chiller, and once we turned off the propane, our toes started to suffer from the cold. The only real glitch was that the stupid cork was evidently just a shade too small for the opening, and so now I have a cork floating in the carboy with the beer and had to steal another cork from another carboy I had sitting around. Hopefully it won't affect the beer and I can figure a way to get it out of the carboy, since that bottle is one of my favorites.

Glad I kick-started the yeast. Four hours later, I had about 3-4 inches of foam, and by this morning, the yeast had clearly peaked. Ferm temp will be a bit of a challenge. Usually, in the winter, I have a struggle to keep beers warm enough, but with this super active yeast, I have already had the opposite problem, having to bring the temp down about 5 degrees.

Am on the fence about bottling or kegging this beer, but figure I have a couple of weeks to decide. It will sit in the carboy, in the closet, for at least 2 weeks, before I have a chance to move it to secondary.

Belgian Beer Review 1: Avec les bons Vœux de la brasserie Dupont

I thought I'd ring in 2010, my year of Belgian Exploration, with a bona fide Belgian Holiday beer, one that even the name suggests holiday greetings (translated as "With the best wishes of the brewery Dupont"). Thanks to Jay over at Hedonist Beer Jive for drawing my attention to this brew.

Brewery: Brasserie Dupont
Brewery Location: Belgium
Beer: Avec les bons Voeux de la brasserie Dupont
BJCP Style: 16C. Saison
Serving: Bottle

Appearance: Golden straw colored, with tiny carbonation bubbles

Smell: Sweet, like a golden ale. Some funk hidden deep in the back end; low hops, some wit-beer like spices

Taste: Definitely of Belgian origin, with the distinct phenolics of Belgian yeast. Although technically a Saison, this amped up version (9.5%) is really more reminiscent of golden ale than Saison. Very few hops, and not a huge malt flavor, something more delicate, sweeter, with subtle spiciness and light fall fruits, like apples and pears.

Mouthfeel: Bursting with effervescent carbonation, sweet upfront but quick into dry on the swallow.

Drinkability: This was a great beer to start the new year with. Complex, strong, but surprisingly easy to drink. I expected more funk, but the funk was subdued under some strong sweet flavors. I shared the 750ml bottle with my father-in-law, but had the lion's share and could have easily had more, had the beer's ABV not been so potent. Nothing that knocked my socks off, but a solid, easy drinking Belgian with a lot of kick.