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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