Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bill's Brew Thoughts: 4/16/12

This Week in Beer

I'm back after a slightly short week to get 100% back on track. It's been a quiet week for me as far as beer goes, and what was supposed to be my one day of adventure ended up a big disappointment. I was all set to drive out to Ithaca Saturday morning with my cousin for the Lebleu release. It's a blueberry sour ale, and a beer that holds some sentimental value for me as it was both the first beer I ever reviewed, and the beer I drank during my first homebrew brew day. Previous releases lasted for days and days, so we felt fine leaving on a pace to put us at the brewery right when they opened. A nearly four hour drive later we discovered that the combination of a smaller batch than usual, the growth of craft beer, and the better than normal weather for the release (usually this beer comes out in December) meant that we were going to get shut out. Furthermore, the fact that we waited for almost two hours on line before we received this news meant that there wouldn't be time for a stop at the Peekskill Brewery on the way home. It was a bit of a letdown, and while I was a bit disappointed in some aspects of how Ithaca ran the event, I won't go on a rant about that (though it may lead to a Very Special Episode of Bill's Brew Thoughts on allocations of limited release beers). We made the best of the day though with a stop at a local bottle shop on the way home and some good beers over dinner at the Cloverleaf Tavern. The good news is there's plenty of good beer lined up for this week, none of which is in danger of running out before it's my turn. I also did finally get a chance to bottle the Galaxy-hopped tripel I brewed earlier this year, and I look forward to trying the first bottle in the next couple days. 

Cellar Monday

This week is the first week Cellar Monday is taking on a homebrew flavor. Specifically, I opened a bottle of imperial stout that was brewed/bottled in the fall/winter of 2010. The main flaw of this beer is still present, as a mishap with an online calculator led to me overcarbonating the beer by a fair amount. A few minutes in the glass  and some swirling  at least tempered the harshly bubbly mouthfeel though. Looking beyond that though, the malt profile is shining through a bit more than it did when the beer was more fresh. There's lots of milk chocolate and anise (though a bit more of the former and a bit less of the latter would be nice). The oxidation induced sherry notes that come in on the back end of each sip are fairly mild. I have to say, I'm pleasantly surprised that one of my early beers, an extract brew, is holding up OK almost a year and a half later, and I'm looking forward to tackling the style again with a little more experience and having moved on to all grain brewing.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Bill's Brew Thoughts: 4/9/12

This Week In Beer

Or, I guess, These Weeks In Beer. Yes, I missed, another posting this past week, but hopefully that will be the last time for a while. I don't plan on talking about my personal life too much here, but currently I'm employed at my family's restaurant/ice cream parlour/home made chocolates store, so last week was just a little bit batshit insane. Not a ton of time for drinking beer, let alone writing about it. I did manage to escape the asylum for one day on Wednesday, and make it into the city to go to the Brooklyn Brewery's annual tap attack at the Blind Tiger. I think I actually started drooling when I first saw the draft list for this shindig, so as soon as I sensed an opportunity to actually have that day I off, I had to make it happen. Over the course of around 5 hours I managed to make my way through the following beers:

Oishi (3.9% table version of Sorachi Ace)
Brooklyner Weisse
Brooklyn Wild One (!!!)
Sorachi Ace
Blunderbuss Old Ale
2008 Black Chocolate Stout
2007 Monster Ale

The Wild One was unquestionably the highlight of the night. It started life as a batch of Local 1 that didn't come out quite right, and so away it went into bourbon barrels for 9 months, and it was dosed with brettanomyces, and it emerged from bottle conditioning a transformed brew. I'm of the opinion that there aren't nearly enough bourbon barrel aged wild beers out there, as both barrel aging and funk/souring can easily overpower a beer, so the both of them together keeps any one from becoming too dominant, and results in a flavorful, complex brew. I had also been looking forward to the Blunderbuss, a Brewmaster's Reserve release from about three years ago, as it had blown me away at another Brooklyn event a while back. It was still drinking nicely on this night, but sherry notes from some oxidation have started to take hold of the beer and assert themselves a bit.  In addition to the great taplist, I really enjoyed most of the food I had at the Blind Tiger (special shout outs to the chicken, bacon, and cheddar sliders and the cajun mac n cheese), and you can expect to see me recounting some more trips to the Tiger in the near future. 

The weekend prior to this I was at another awesome event put on by a Brooklyn based brewery, this time the Beers For Beasts beer festival/Humane Society fundraiser put on by Sixpoint and Beer Advocate. The event, held at the Bell House, featured almost 50 Sixpoint beers, many of which draft only specialties brewed just for the event, as well as food from several food truck vendors and a burlesque show (hooray!). I volunteered to work the event, and had a blast even as I was schlepping kegs and pouring beers for guests.  There were some very... experimental beers present, but I found myself favoring, by and large, the more traditional offerings available. The imperia IPA, coffee porter, and imperial stout were all standouts, along with the slightly more exotic Golden Lily (strong Belgian pale beer brewed with Lily flowers, orange peel, and nutmeg among other ingredients) and the awesomely named Hang Out with the Lang Out (farmhouse ale fermented with both saison and lambic yeast strains and a kiwi tincture added post fermentation). There were also a couple beers that probably shouldn't have made it past the proverbial drawing board, such as Konichiwheat (wheat beer with wasabi powder added) and Green Paper Thaiger (brewed with lime leaves, ginger, toasted coconut, caramelized onions, basil, and chilies... why God, why). The food was uniformly tasty, and included milkshakes made with the unfermented wort of Sixpoint's brown ale. It shouldn't be a shock that the burlesque show went over well in a crowd full of drunk beer nerds. This is the second year for Bears for Beasts, and it's definitely a bit of a more relaxed vibe compared to the slightly more formal BA fests in Boston, and I can't wait to be back volunteering next year.

Cellar Monday

While life was a little to hectic to put together a blog post last Monday, that doesn't mean I was too busy to crack a beer for Cellar Monday. I decided to go for something a little bit different and grab a brew that is actually from a fairly recent release, but has just been being stored in my cellar, rather than something I've put a bit of age on. The Captain Lawrence release I went to back in December was certainly one of the better beer outings I've been to, and I was long overdue to actually enjoy one of the bottles I grabbed there. I did get to sample all three beers offered while waiting on line in the brewery, and I decided to start with the brew that jumped out the least for me that morning, the Barrel Select Cherry. Incorporating cherries into a beer is a bit more of a delicate art than some other fruits, because the flavor you get from them tends to be a lot more subtle and subdued, the fruit flavor won't mask any glaring flaws in the base beer. That challenge was illustrated here as I thought the cherry was very much buried in the flavor profile, and the vinegar like sour and oaky aspects of the beer came through a bit too much. It's a shame, because there was a very nice cherry aroma to balance things that just didn't translate. 

I decided to stick with the recent release theme for this week's CM choice and go with another beer from a recent release, Southampton's Black Raspberry Lambic. This beer was brewed in the framboise style, and aged in wine barrels for almost two years. This was one of the featured "other" beers at Southampton's Russian Imperial Stout release party, but once the brewpub opened and the beer started flowing, this was all anyone could talk about, and with good reason. Quite simply, it's the best American produced wild/sour beer I've ever had, and probably a top 5 all time beer for me. The fresh raspberry and bright acidic tartness are both incredibly vibrant, but neither dominates the other, each leaves plenty of room for the other to shine. At the same time, some subtle, darker fruit flavors creep in to add depth to the beer  (the brewery just states that Black Raspberry Lambic was aged in wine barrels, but I'd be shocked if most to all of it was not some kind of red wine barrel). It's right up there with Cantillon Fou' Foune as far as best use of fruit in a beer, and everything else plays off it wonderfully. This is the rare beer that I've tried, and may actively seek to trade for more of, because it's just that good.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Bill's Brew Thoughts: 3/26/12

This Week In Beer

So I may or may not have missed posting last week. A rare Monday night shift came up at work, and with no Cellar Monday and no major beer happenings, I decided to just hold off for a week and keep on schedule. It really has been a couple of quiet week on the beer front though. I happened to find myself in NYC anyway on Kentucky Breakfast Stout release day (Joel McHale stand-up performance/Community screening party) and decided to bounce around on the subway for an hour and hunt some bottles. I ended up with three bottles of KBS and a bonus surprise Speedway Stout for my efforts. They were definitely worth the time, as they're both fantastic beers, and the KBS in particular was nice to come home to after an insane day at work over the weekend. This past Wednesday I hit a milestone as I logged my 450th review on Beer Advocate, and did so with a bottle of Cantillon Fou' Foune that I'd been saving for the occasion. This lambic aged on apricots was absolutely phenomenal, with an absurd amount of fresh apricot aroma and flavor. If anything, my only complaint was that the funky/sour part of the beer was a little subdued. I'd love to get my hands on another bottle and let it age for 6 months or a year and see where its at. Hopefully the road to 500 reviews won't be too long, because I've already got another Great bottle lined up for that night.

Cellar Monday

I like to think that I have fairly decent taste in craft beer. I also like to think that I have a fairly solid grasp on what beers should and shouldn't be good candidates for aging. As a result I anticipate that most weeks this section will continue to highlight good drinking experiences I've had with a beer from my stash. Not every week can be a winner though, and I guess it was only a matter of time before I hit on a night like tonight and a beer like Cuvee de Tomme. Cuvee de Tomme is a big sour quad aged on cherries in bourbon barrels. At face value there are a lot of things that I tend to like in beers at play here, and in fact this has been a favorite of mine on draft at several beer festivals. As a result I traded for a bottle just about a year ago. The problem with that is, Lost Abbey is quite well known for dodgy QC/some of their bottled beers not conditioning properly and ended up nearly or totally flat. This one was he latter unfortunately, as I when I poured it not a bit of foam came together on top of the beer. The aroma was alright, with a bit of cherry and bourbon and tartness, but the flavor profile ultimately ended up making this one a drain pour. There was a huge soy sauce taste on the back end of each sip that, without the bubbles from the carbonation, just lingered on my palate until it was briefly washed away the next time I brought the glass to my lips. There was also a surprising amount of oxidation present for a beer that I believe has less than two years in the bottle. My best guess is that by nature of the beer being totally flat, there was no layer of CO2 in the bottle to protect it and it was left more susceptible to the effects of oxygen exposure than your average beer. Whatever the case, this isn't my firs flat bottle from the Lost Abbey, and it's a problem they've been associated with for a couple years now, so I don't think I'll be making any effort to get any more bottles from them in the near future. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Bill's Brew Thoughts: 3/12/12

This Week in Beer

It would be hard to top last week in terms of sheer awsomeness in my beer adventures. I kept it quiet for the most part, choosing to enjoy beers at home and work through the different sours from The Bruery I received in the mail last week (friendly reminder, there's a link on the right to my Beer Advocate reviews) . This really was a Bruery kinda week for me, as the one event I attended was a tasting class at Amanti Vino centered around the 12 Beers of Christmas series from them. Bigger, Better, Faster, Stronger (Dogfish Head collaboration) and Autumn Maple rounded out a tasting list that included 2 Turtle Doves, 3 French Hens, and 4 Calling Birds. It was great to check in and see how the Christmas beers were doing, since I only have a couple bottles of each, and a few years before the series is finished. The 2 Turtle Doves was the star of the show, as notes of dark chocolate, caramel, and a slight nuttiness were nicely balanced by a just emerging sherry characteristic from oxidation. If the oxidation is already making itself known after two years, I'm skeptical that it will hold up until we see the release of 12 Drummers Drumming, but for now it's in a good place. Furthermore, the year of age did wonders for 3 French Hens, a beer that I did not care for at all fresh. Just 12 months later the rough, tannic qualities from  the aging in fresh oak had softened a bit. All in all it was a great class (the bonus Alesmith IPA and Green Flash Rayon Vert certainly didn't hurt).

Cellar Monday

I decided to go with a smaller bottle from the cellar this week (probably would have been a good idea last week), and after all the sours I've had in the last couple days, a nice malty beer was in order.

I decided to go with one of my two remaining cans of Oskar Blues Ten Fidy from back in the fall of 2009. Fresh, I found the beer to have a ton of dark chocolate flavor, as well as some prominent piney hop notes. After almost two and a half years in the can, the hops have totally died off. Furthermore, the brew seems bit more dry than before. Dark chocolate has been replaced with straight cocoa powder, and a bit of roasted coffee beans. The body, while still full, isn't quite as chewy as I remember either. Ten Fidy with a bit of age on it is definitely a different beast than a fresh can, but it's still a quality brew. As an aside, I paired the second of my glass of this with some coconut cake, and it was a killer pairing. A coconut stout/porter is definitely on my radar now for a future homebrew.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Bill's Brew Thoughts: 3/5/12

This Week in Beer

I <3 Russian River. Sorry, just had to get that out o my system. Vinnie and his crew are churning out some of the best brews in the country, and it's a rare treat that I get to enjoy one of them, let alone several of them, let alone on draft. That's just the position I found myself in this weekend though as I made a couple day trips into Pennsylvania for Pliny the Younger. Pliny the Younger is a so-called "triple IPA", Russian River's 11% ABV absolute hop bomb, and goes back and forth with Westvleteren 12 as the highest rated beer in the world. It's draft only, a once a year release, and the Philadelphia area is the only market east of Colorado to see any. Needless to say, the tapping of the one keg a few select bars get turns into a big deal. Accordingly, my cousin and I made the trip down to Capone's in Norristown for their Pliny tapping Saturday morning. Like most places, Capone's only got a sixtel of Younger, and the result was a single small (~5oz pour) for 100-150 of us that were lined up by the time the bar opened, and a keg that was kicked within a few minutes of the doors being unlocked. The bar took the opportunity to turn the day's tap list into a hoppy beer extravaganza, thus meriting the pre-6am alarm and 4 hours round trip driving. Aside from a glass each of Pliny the Younger, my cousin and I split Pliny the Elder, Blind Pig (another Russian River IPA), Williamsburg Alewerks Bitter Valentine, Hill Farmstead Edward, and Weyerbacher Uniform. There wasn't a bad beer in the bunch, and after a couple hours at the bar we checked out the attached bottle shop (find of the day: 2005 Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout). We got home early enough to get a brew day in as well, a Belgian tripel aggressively hopped with Galaxy that I really have high hopes for. We capped the day with a late dinner at the Cloverleaf Tavern, highlighted by a brownie sundae for dessert paired with a Victory at Sea Coffee Vanilla Imperial Porter.

Saturday wasn't my only Russian River adventure though, as I again set my alarm to go off early this morning, got ready and hopped in a friend's car to head down to the famous Monk's in Philly for another Pliny the Younger tapping. Monk's is widely regarded as one of the best beer bars in the country, and it's the owner of Monk's relationship with the people from Russian River that led to their beer being distributed in Philly. As such, Monk's got a full half barrel keg of the Younger, built a Russian River rather than hoppy draft list around it, and made the whole day a charity fundraiser. 100% of proceeds from the PtY keg went to Alex's Lemonade Stand, as well as 10% of the sales from all the other Russian River beers. The owner even pulled out a ton of great bottles from his cellar to raffle off and raise more money for charity. The much larger keg plus the weekday vs weekend crowd meant a lot more Younger to go around, as over the course of the afternoon I had about three and a half glasses worth. I also enjoyed pours of Pliny the Elder, Damnation, Supplication, and Consecration. I honestly can't think of a much better way to spend the day. I could, and maybe should have been done for the day after that, but tonight's Monday night, and that means it's time for...

Cellar Monday

After all the great hoppy and sour beers I had this afternoon, I knew whatever bottle I pulled from the cellar tonight was going to have to be a malt forward beer just to keep things interesting. I eventually decided to pull a bottle of 2010 Abyss from Deschutes Brewery. 

The Abyss is partially barrel aged stout (blend of 1/3 barrel aged, 2/3 not) that has a bit of a unique bent to it with the inclusion of licorice and molasses in the brewing process. The licorice stands out a bit more than the molasses, but both leave room for some milk chocolate and roasted grain flavors. There's no overt flavor contribution from the barrel aged portion of the beer, though I imagine there's a bit of vanilla mixed in with the chocolaty notes. The body stays away from being syrupy or excessively full, and it's actually fairly lean (without being too weak) for a stout. I like licorice (and to a certain extent molasses) when it's playing a secondary role to the rest of the beer, but it's still fairly prominent in the 2010 vintage. I look forward to seeing how my other bottle responds to some long term aging. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Bill's Brew Thoughts 2/28/12

Another week, another vintage beer cracked. I took the beginning of last week's post to recap a bottle share I had been to the previous night, and I think I'm going to keep that format and split each week's post into a recap of any adventures I've had in the previous week and then the Cellar Monday half of the post. So without further ado...

This Week in Beer

There was nothing quite as exciting as a bottle share in my beer world this week. The highlight of my week (or lowlight, given how much a PITA the work is) was bottling a double IPA I brewed last month. This beer's hovering around the 8%ABV mark and features aggressive late hopping with Nelson Sauvin and Galaxy hops. These are two of my favorite hop varietals, and the white wine/grapefruit and tropical fruit notes from them respectively should play well together. I ended up with about 34 bottles, so I hope it turns out well because that's a lot of IIPA drinking in my future. I also received a trade in the mail on Tuesday with a bottle of Cantillon Fou Foune (a limited release yearly brew they do with apricots), as well as my first can of Heady Topper thrown in as an extra (opened it almost immediately, killer beer). Hopefully next week I'll be recounting the brewday for my next beer, a hoppy tripel. 

Cellar Monday

For week 3 of Cellar Monday, I pulled a bottle from another brewery that's well represented in my stash, Stone Brewing Co and their 090909 Vertical Epic Series. 

From the description on the bottle, they were going for a beer that was "reminiscent of artisanal chocolates accentuated with orange", and  nearly two and a half years after the release, I'd say the beer is drinking pretty close to that. 09 Vertical Epic's got a killer nose, with a powerful chocolate aroma that's offset by just a hint of citrus. The flavor profile has all that, but there's also a little spicy clove thrown off by the Belgian yeast that, for me, just doesn't mesh well with the rest of the beer. It only makes up a small portion of the flavor profile though, as big orange-tinted chocolate dominates the beer. The sense of sweetness and flavor from the vanilla beans really helps those chocolaty flavors pop. The beer's held up surprisingly well to aging, as I don't think I would have guessed it had a couple years on it if I was drinking it blind. No real signs of oxidation, though I'm sure some of the yeasty phenol and citrus flavors were a bit more prominent back in 2009. I've gotten to try Stone Vertical Epic beers going all the way back to 2006, and the 2009 edition is probably my second favorite behind only the 2007 version. I'm glad I have a couple more bottles of this in the cellar. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Cellar Monday: Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron

Before I get to this week's edition of Cellar Monday, I wanted to give a brief recap of a beer event I helped organize last night in Montclair. After a couple months of back and forth mails with the beer manager at Amanti Vino and some of my NJ beer comrades, we settled on Sunday February19th for the first ever bottle share at Amanti Vino. We had ten to eleven people up in the classroom at any point in the night, and spent about three hours going through an assortment of beers both vintage and/or not available in NJ.

The complete lineup of downed soldiers
The whole lineup, with the exception of Noble Rot, generally went over pretty well. Some personal favorites (aside from the Black Tuesday and Pretty Things Our Finest Regards that I brought) include the Hitachino Nest 3 Days Ale (this beer was mashed in when the earthquake hit Japan last year, and the wort ended up sitting in the mash tun for 3 days before it went through the rest of the brewing process), Portsmouth Black Cat Stout (a Dry Irish Stout that packed a ton of flavor into a 5.5%ABV beer), and the Boulevard/Deschutes collaboration Conflux #2 (a witbier/IPA hybrid that was drinking very nicely despite being a couple months old). Hopefully it was just the first of many such events at Amanti Vino.

As for this week's edition of Cellar Monday, the beer of choice is Dogfish Head's Palo Santo Marron, bottled in November of 2009.

Winter 2009-2010 was when my cellar first started to really grow. I started a yearly tradition of adding some of Dogfish Head's big beers (specifically, World Wide Stout and Olde School Barleywine along with Palo Santo), and decided to check in on a bottle from the first set. From the second the beer hit the glass, I could smell the unique spicy and woody notes from the Palo Santo wood. They really assert themselves and dominate the beer. There's still some milk chocolate and caramel from the base beer, but those are very much in the background. The wood aging definitely seems to be much more prominent here than in fresh bottles that I've had. The body is still somewhat of a marvel for restrained and not heavy it is. It's not light by any means, but when I hear "12% Imperial Brown Ale" I'm bracing for something that's a bit more viscous. The beer ends up being a bit more easy drinking than one would expect because of this. I did enjoy my glass of Palo Santo Marron tonight, but I prefer the better balance between base beer and wood aging that I've found in more fresh bottles.