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.

2010: Year of the Belgians

I originally started this blog for two primary purposes: to learn more about blogging, and as an avenue for my personal explorations into craft beer. Early on, I reigned in my focus, with my sites set on learning more about the local brewing community. In that time, I've tried some fantastic mid-western beers, traveled to 6 or 7 of the premier breweries in the 4 states region, and blogged about (most) of it along the way. At this point, I have a pretty good sense of what the region has to offer, and have found quite a few solid resources (see links to the left) regarding brewery maps, tasting calendars, and local beer guilds.

Now, in the same spirit of exploration, I'm turning my focus to another beer subgroup, Belgian beers. The holy grail of beer exploration, and the original extreme beers, Belgians range from Trappist dubbels and tripels to lambics and gueze to some of the newer styles who are challenging what it means to be Belgian. This beer subgroup is a complete world all its own.

In a trip to my local beer store, Belmont Party Supply, I discovered that they carry about 75 different Belgian beers (the top shelf of one long aisle and half of the second shelf). They probably have about that many Belgian-inspired beers as well. My goal for this year is a simple one--to work through those two shelves, researching and sampling as many of those Belgians as I can, logging about it here. In addition, focusing my homebrewing efforts, which have picked up in the last 6 months, on brewing these interesting beers, so that I can explore from a foundational level.

I'll still continue my exploration of mid-western beers as well, but over the coming months, look for new content, with a focus on Belgian beers, as I work to understand this complicated, challenging brewing class.