Monday, December 31, 2007

Ringing in 2008

I hope your end of year celebration is accompanied by family, friends and good beer. I haven't picked out a single beer with which to toast in the New Year. We'll probably work our way through the stash clearing out some of the leftover singles. However you chose to mark the occasion, keep it safe.


(And be sure to keep your feet dry.)

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Two Legend Beers, Two Football Games

By coincidence, I ended up having beers from the Legend Brewing Company in Richmond, VA with both football games I watched this weekend. On Saturday it was the Patriots - Giants game at a friend's house. I had recently given my buddy Frank a bottle of Legend Pale Ale and he shared it last night. It was one of the beers we enjoyed as the Patriots broke numerous NFL records. Legend Pale Ale pours a clear copper-orange color with a thick head. There’s a pleasing citrus hop aroma. The aroma has hints of peaches and other fruits. The taste is clean with a nice citrus hop tang. The aftertaste has some piney hops, along with a good malt balance. This is a refreshing and pleasing APA. I had never tried this one before but would not hesitate to have it again.

Today my family watched the Washington Redskins dominate the Dallas Cowboys with a 27-6 win. I had also picked up a bottle of Legend Brown Ale when I picked up the aforementioned Pale Ale. Colleen and I decided to enjoy the Brown Ale with some Brie and Wensleydale cheeses as the game started. The Brown Ale is said to be Legend's most popular beer. This English Brown Ale pours a reddish-brown color with an off-white short lived head. The aroma is caramel malt with a bit of brown sugar. The caramel malt taste is what you would expect from a brown ale. There are caramel malts along with some light roasted malts. Some citrus hops come through at the end, followed with a slight bitterness in the aftertaste. This is decent English brown ale, and typical of the style.

Both games saw favorable outcomes for our favored teams. The two beers from an old Virginia brewery added to the enjoyment.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

DuClaw Brewing Company, Hanover, MD

While we were in Baltimore visiting my parents, we left our son to be spoiled by his grandparents for a few hours so Colleen and I could check out the DuClaw Brewing Company restaurant in the Arundel Mills shopping center. DuClaw's has four locations in the Baltimore area. All serve their house beers which are brewed for all the restaurants at a central location. Arundel Mills is a big place but we found parking right near the restaurant. The eatery is located near an outside door so we didn't have to traverse through the mall. It was lunch time, on the Friday after Christmas, and though the restaurant was fairly busy but we had no wait for a table. The server was prompt to take our drink order, but we needed a few minutes to decide what we wanted since we had never visited before. Colleen ordered the Bad Moon Porter and I started with the Venom Pale Ale. We both decided on the Grilled Steak Sandwich, described as "Grilled flat iron steak sliced and topped with Boursin cheese and fried onion crisps. Served on a fresh baguette."

First a bit about the food. The beef was cooked medium rare per our request and was very tender. The Boursin cheese complimented it well. The sandwich was tasty, although the bread to meat proportion favored the bread too much for me. The crunchy fried onions had some spice to them and added some kick to the sandwich. Overall, the sandwiches provided a tasty lunch. But we're not here for the food, right?

Colleen was generous in allowing me more than a few sips of her Bad Moon Porter. This American Porter is dark brown with a moderate head. The rich and pleasant aroma is malty sweet with a hints of coffee and chocolate. The taste is lightly sweet, toasted malt with some roasted coffee. Bad Moon Porter has a very creamy, thick mouth feel. The aftertaste leaves you with expresso and faint hops. This is a very nice Porter.

My Venom Pale Ale was a clear copper-orange color with a thin head. The aroma was full of piney, floral hops. The flavor was crisp with a slight grapefruit citrus bite. There's a bit of pine and some malt in the background. After the swallow the flavor is dry and pleasantly bitter. This was an easy drinking beer and I had mostly finished mine when the food arrived. I could have easily had another but wanted to try another DuClaw offering.

With my meal I opted for the Black Jack Imperial Stout. I'd read good reviews of this Imperial Stout and was looking forward to trying it. I'm unsure if the recipe has changed or we got a bad batch, but I was disappointed with this beer. The stout was chocolate-brown in color with a very thin head. The light aroma was predominately malt with some dark chocolate. The flavor was dark chocolate with some roasted coffee, though the mouth feel was unexpectedly thin. The DuClaw web site list the ABV range as 7.5% – 8.5% but I really couldn't detect any alcohol in the taste. I wouldn't peg this as an Imperial Stout but perhaps an average American Stout. I found it thin and overwhelmed by both the food and the previous beers.

Of all three beers we tried the Bad Moon Porter went the best with the steak and cheese sandwiches and we both picked this as the best of the three. The Pale Ale was also very enjoyable. It handled the cheese flavor and the spicy fried onions very well. Overall, we had a good time. We enjoyed the food and two of the three beers were quite good. The non-smoking restaurant was a nice place to enjoy lunch and some good local beer.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Aargh! Promoting Iced Beer

I came across this humorous ad for The Chillster Refreezable Pint today. The Chillster pint is a plastic cup that can be re-frozen and is marketed as "Keeping Beer Cold and the Planet Cool!." The web page states:
Switch to The Chillster Refreezable Pint. It will keep your drink ice cold and help save the environment.

These Chillster Refreezable Pints are the only pints that keep your drink ice cold... without the ice. Our patent pending design uses non-toxic, refreezable ice crystals to surround your drink, keeping it frosty cold for hours.
Don't you have to use energy to freeze the Chillster before you use it? Wouldn't that use more energy resources than not over-chilling your beer glass in the first place? I actually doubt that anyone drinking a beer they want served ice cold would be nursing the drink for hours.

The web site also makes the claim that "Americans use more than 110 BILLION disposable cups each year!" Okay, I'm all for not drinking beer out of a disposable cup. So why use more energy to "freeze" a plastic cup? Let me have a reusable glass and not use that extra energy to over-chill the beer.
Scientifically designed to keep your drink cold while hands stay warm.
No gloves are needed to hold a proper non-frosted glass in the first place. (In fact, I don't actually know anyone who needs gloves to hold a frosted beer mug.)

In actuality, if someone wants to drink their Coors or other mega-beer out of a frozen mug that's probably good since they might not like what they tasted otherwise. Unfortunately, this misconception has a way of causing good beers to be served under poor conditions or other abuses. It's all too funny in a sad way.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Flying Dog Double Dog Double Pale Ale

Recently I received a package from Flying Dog Brewery in Denver (and Frederick, MD) with four different beers for my reviewing pleasure. Their Double Dog Pale Ale was included, and as a fan of DIPAs, I was looking forward to trying it out. I knew it was a big beer and waited for an opportune time. Last weekend we were relaxing after finishing up with the Christmas tree decorations and it seemed a good time to sit down and enjoy a powerful beer.

The Flying Dog's description says "Double recipe of Pale Ale dry hopped with an insane amount of Cascade and Columbus hops." Indeed, Double Dog Pale Ale is no meek beer. It comes on with a bang. I could smell the hops as soon as I opened the bottle. The pour is a bright copper-orange color. Many high hop, high ABV beers don't exhibit much in the way of a head, but this has a moderately thick head that's surprisingly long-lasting. There are lots of bubbles rising from the bottom of the glass to replenish the persistent thin head at the top. There's no ignoring the strong citrus hops in the aroma or in the taste. Double Dog also has a pretty strong alcohol flavor. I could feel this beer in my cheeks and under my eyes as I drank it. There's a slight bit of dark fruit detectable as well. The hops and malts are strong and well-balanced so the alcohol is not unpleasant, but still very noticeable. There’s no ignoring the 10.5% ABV in this one.

This is a strong, brash beer. If you’re a fan of double DIPAs as I am, it’s a beer for you. The hops are up front, as is the alcohol. But this isn't just about being in your face, there's a balance here that makes it quite drinkable. I'd suggest making it your only, or at least last beer of the evening. It would take a very strongly flavored beer to follow up the Double Dog. Thanks to Flying Dog for the sample. With Flying Dog's upcoming move to Maryland, I'm sure their beers will be having an increased visibility in the area. This was a fun beer and one I'll have again.

Update: Stan Hieronymus has a post about Flying Dog's 2008 planned release of their Canis Major series (which includes Double Dog) in a mixed eight-pack of 7-ounce bottles. Perfect for when you want a smaller serving of one of these big beers.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Samichlaus Abuse

I came across this posting on a Virginia college's "sports forum."
Oh, and there's a Samichlaus in the fridge
World's strongest beer, brewed once a day on Christmas Day. I got one (from last Dec 25) as a gift a few weeks ago. I think I'll pour it into a frosted mug and see what its li[k]e.
Now, it's no surprise the guy thinks a frosted mug was the way to go. The mega-brewers have been misleading beer drinkers for years by promoting beer in sub-zero mugs in order to prevent people from actually tasting their beers. I'm sorry that the poster didn't get to enjoy the full flavor of the Samichlaus, at the proper temperature. I came across this post because someone else on the forum directed the original poster to my post against frosted mugs, so maybe there's a good outcome to the story. In the poster's followup posts, he makes no mention of the flavor or his experience, other than to reply "too late" to the admonition against the frosted glass. He does mention it took over an hour to finish the beer. At least it had surely warmed by then, and maybe it wasn't too watered down from melting ice.

Of course Samichlaus is no longer the world's strongest beer, nor is it brewed on December 25, but that's beside the point. More on Samichlaus here.

Christmas Dinner

After a big Christmas morning breakfast, an afternoon of video games, and a quick jog through the neighborhood it was back to the table for more dining pleasures. Our Christmas dinner menu consisted of standing rib roast, oyster casserole, baked sweet potatoes, and asparagus sauteed with garlic. For a beer to go along with the repast I selected Allagash Grand Cru.

The Allagash makes a nice visual impression served in my new thistle glasses. (A Christmas gift from Colleen.) It pours a bright ruby-orange with a thick, billowing head. The head does drop pretty rapidly leaving a thin ring and plenty of lacing. The pleasant aroma of bananas and yeast gave a hint of the taste to come. The flavor is banana, clove and other spices. There's a slight citrus tang along with a slightly sweet malt. The beer is quite carbonated and a good palate cleanser. The fruit and spice flavor was gentle, but was more than adequate to stand up to the strong flavor of the oyster casserole and the fresh minced horseradish served with the beef.

Later in the evening, Colleen prepared a dessert of Flourless Chocolate Cake with Molten Ganach. This is another recipe from The Best of American Beer and Food by Lucy Saunders. We've tried a number of recipes from this book and it continues to impress. The recipe calls for a dark wheat beer so we used Victory Moonglow Weizenbock. Besides using it in the recipe itself, we also enjoyed it along with dessert.

The house was filled with the aroma of chocolate as the cakes were baking so they were awaited with much anticipation. Needless to say we were feeling a bit stuffed by this time, but the flourless cakes were very light and essentially dissolved in the mouth. They were quite tasty with warm, gooey chocolate centers. This was a good choice for a rich chocolate treat without being too filling. The Victory Weizenbock has a predominately malt aroma with clove and nutmeg spices in the background. The malts predominate the taste with some banana and clove as well. There is a bit of spiciness in the after taste to round it out. Some tingling carbonation is also present. The Victory beer had a similar flavor profile to the Allagash we had with the main course, giving a nice continuity to the meals.

Yesterday's festivities were special as always. This year no trips or visiting, just our family enjoying the day at home. It was fun to have a few special beer-related treats throughout the day. I hope your Christmas celebration was just as much fun.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Breakfast - mit Hefeweizen

Colleen made a French Toast Casserole with Peaches for breakfast this morning. This casserole has whole grain cinnamon raison bread, eggs and peaches as its main ingredients. When served, the dish is topped with warmed peaches. When I saw and smelled the casserole I immediately thought that this would be good with a Hefeweizen. Well, it's a Feast day, so why not? The only hefe I found in the refrigerator was Blue & Gray Virginia Hefeweizen. It's probably a little old but I decided to give it a try.

The casserole was delicious. The sweetness of the raisons was nicely balanced with the tartness of the warm peaches. The Virginia Hefewiezen was slightly past its prime but still worked. There was a light sweet clove and banana aroma. The banana, clove, and wheat flavors complimented the casserole nicely. The Blue & Gray version doesn't have as strong flavors as some I've had, Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier for example. However it does have a bit of spiciness to add a bit of contrast to the dish as well. I've had a desire for awhile now to do a beer and breakfast party. I think I'll keep the French Toast Casserole with Peaches and Hefeweizen in mind for when that happens.

Merry Christmas

I'd like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas. May the Peace of the Season be with you all year round.

Now all this took place to fulfill the words spoken by the Lord through the prophet: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and they will call him Emmanuel.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve

The preparations are complete. The tree is decorated and presents are wrapped. Our son is asleep and according to NORAD Santa is en route. Colleen and I are enjoying the solitude, along with some Gouden Carolus Noël and a bit of Stilton cheese. Christmas Eve is my favorite evening of the year. After all the hustle and bustle of the past few weeks, things seem to quiet down tonight, at least for short time, as we anticipate the Nativity of our Lord.

Silent Night. Holy Night.

Blue & Gray Spiced Winter Ale

After the somewhat ho-hum spiced winter ale from Highland Brewery, we decided to open a bottle of Blue & Gray Spiced Winter Ale. As noted earlier, we enjoyed this one immensely last year and went back to refill our growlers several times. Neither Colleen nor I got the same "wow" out of it this year, but we still enjoyed it. I'm beginning to think I might be losing my taste for Winter-spiced beers; I didn't find many pumpkin ales I enjoyed this Fall either.

Blue & Gray Spiced Winter Ale pours a murky iced tea color. The very thin head fades rapidly. Aroma is strong in cinnamon and nutmeg. The taste has typical mulled cider flavors -- a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, caramel. A bit of citrus hops comes through as well. This is an easy drinking spiced Winter ale. It doesn't say on the Blue & Gray web site, but my guess is that this is a spiced up version of the brewery's very popular Fred Red Ale.

As an experiment we tried heating some of the Spiced Winter Ale in a double boiler to see if it worked as a hot mulled cider-type drink. In Ultimate Beer, Michael Jackson describes Liefmans Glühkriek spiced ale that is meant to be served warmed. The result of the trial wasn't anything special. The warming actually seemed to diminish the spice flavors. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Highland Cold Mountain Winter Ale

Highland Cold Mountain Winter Ale is another one of the beers my brother in-law brought up from North Carolina when he visited. Highland's St. Therese's Pale Ale is one of my favorite American Pale Ales, and I was looking forward to trying the brewery's Winter beer.

Cold Mountain Winter Ale comes in a 1 liter flip-top bottle. The bottle opens with an audible "pop" releasing a wisp of carbonated air. The pour is a dark reddish-amber with a very thick, pillowy beige head. As the head slowly fades plenty of lacing is left on the glass. The aroma of cinnamon is immediately noticeable. As the beer warms, nutmeg and caramel notes appear. The taste matches the aroma preview with cinnamon being the strongest spice noted. There are some nutmeg, caramel and vanilla flavors too. This beer really needs to be at room temperature to loosen the flavors. The initial cold pour had us wondering about the presence of spices. I didn't notice much in the way of hops. Overall, the spices were subdued. I presume the brewer is going for a wassail-type beer here, but this left me wanting just a bit more in the way of stronger spices and more kick.

As a Winter beer, Cold Mountain Ale seemed very similar to so many Fall pumpkin beers. The ABV isn't noted but I think that is on the low side of many Winter beers. Not a bad beer, but certainly not as outstanding as I had hoped.

Beer: Eyewitness Companions

Beer: Eyewitness Companions is the last book by the late Michael Jackson, "The Beer Hunter." The book was completed just prior to his death on August 30, 2007. Jackson is listed as the Editor-in-Chief as his way of acknowledging contributions from selected correspondents.

The book has the detailed descriptions of beer one expects from Michael Jackson. The beers are arranged by geography and Jackson takes us on a trip through "Great Brewing Nations." These sections are further broken into regions and the distinctions in the beers to found, along with the brewing history of the areas, are noted. The book truly takes the reader on a world tour of great beers. The information is current and up-to-date, not simply reprinted from earlier works. (For example, the 2006 purchase of Frederick Brewing Co. in Frederick, MD. by Flying Dog is noted.)

The first part of the book is devoted to an introduction to the history, styles, and enjoyment of beer. There's enough detail to be interesting and informative, but not distract from the "travelogue" aspect of the book. Numerous photographs illustrate the beer, places and people discussed.

Beer: Eyewitness Companions is a fitting remembrance to a great beer evangelist and author. In the back of my mind I keep hope that there are more writings from Jackson that will be published in the future.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Antique Botanical Print - Humulus lupulus

I purchased this print of the hop plant recently on Ebay. The print is an original hand color engraving from English Botany: or Coloured Figures of British Plants, With Their Essential Characters, Synonyms, and Places of Growth. This periodical publication, published between 1790 and 1814, included 2,592 beautifully coloured illustrations of British plants. Most of the illustrations were drawn and engraved by James Sowerby. The engraved image of Humulus lupulus measures 6-1/2" x 3-l/2". The page is imprinted Humulus Lupulus, London: Jas. Sowerby, January 1796.

If you think about the time period when this publication was being produced, beer was an essential part of everyday life. The hop plant was probably familiar to more of the population than it is today. These hand-illustrated publications provided some of the only botanical literature available to the average person of the time. We own several botanical prints and find them to provide an interesting contrast to today's computer-reproduced illustrations.

Duck-Rabbit Baltic Porter

My brother in-law recently moved to Durham, NC and when he wrote that he was coming to visit a couple weeks ago, I sent him an email asking him to pick up a "few things" for me. Duck-Rabbit Baltic Porter was something I'd been wanting to try, but that isn't available locally. He brought this, along with a couple other beers, when he visited. After I shampooed our carpets last night, I decided it was time to relax with a glass of Baltic Porter. Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery in Farmville, NC bills itself as "The Dark Beer Specialist." Their Winter release Baltic Porter certainly gives backing to that.

The Baltic Porter pours black. That's about all there is to say about the color, this stuff is dark. There's a beige head that fades pretty rapidly leaving just a thin ring. The initial aroma of dark, bittersweet chocolate is noticeable as soon as I opened the bottle. Baltic Porters are typically higher in alcohol than standard porters and the Duck-Rabbit offering is no different. This is a big beer at 9% ABV and the alcohol is also apparent in the aroma.

The mouth feel is thick and quite smooth. There's a moderate about of carbonation to tingle the tongue as well. Initially the flavor is that of dark chocolate. The alcohol provides a warming sensation on the way down. The alcohol is well played in this one. It is not overbearing nor unpleasant. The alcohol in a big beer should be noticeable, but not over power the other flavors. Duck-Rabbit does a good job of keeping the alcohol level enjoyable. As the beer warms, roasted coffee flavors begin to emerge, along with some dark fruit. There are some faint bitter hops detected in the aftertaste, along with roasted coffee.

One of the things I find with these flavor-rich, high ABV beers is they continually draw you back for sip after sip. I have to make a concerted effort of enjoying the beer slowly. Duck Rabbit created an outstanding beer in their Baltic Porter. My bottles have an "Enjoy By" date of October 2008 so the beer probably holds up well to aging. However, there will surely be enough cold nights this Winter that need some warmth from a good Baltic Porter. Mark, next time you visit ...

Friday, December 21, 2007

Choosing Glassware - Perfection or Practicality?

My opinion on proper glassware is no secret. There's a poll on that caught by attention this morning. Which Glass? asks the question "If you could use only one glass (or type of glass) for the rest of your life, what would you choose?" The answer options are taken from from's glassware page:
  • Flute Glass
  • Goblet (or Chalice)
  • Mug (or Seidel, Stein)
  • Pilsner Glass (or Pokal)
  • Pint Glass (or Becker, Nonic, Tumbler)
  • Snifter
  • Stange (Slender Cylinder)
  • Tulip
  • Weizen Glass
  • Oversized Wine Glass
As I pondered the question, my first thought was that my current favorites are the Samuel Adams Boston Lager Glasses and some Cervoise-style glasses, neither which are on the list. But, if I could have only one glass, would it be one of those? Surprisingly, I realized that it would be a utilitarian pint glass, and more specifically, the shaker pint, even though I rarely use those these days. Yes, that heavy, created-for-mixing-drinks-not beer, much-maligned shaker pint. Why? It's stable, easy to hold, has a wide mouth, and is easy to store. Additionally, if I only had one glass for the rest of my life, I'd want one that's not so fragile that I have to worry about breaking it! So, the Pint Glass option got my vote.

When the results graph came up, I was quite surprised. The pint glass was in the lead by a significant margin. As I write this, the pint glass has 63.01% of the 73 votes cast. Check any online beer forum and you'll see plenty of raving about the proper glassware, yet when it all comes down to it, the plain ol' pint glass still rules. It's only fair to note, that as you read through the accompanying thread, it's apparent that the nonic pint is a specific favorite. The shaker still draws disdain from many beer geeks. Nonetheless, the poll results surprised me. The perfect glassware is one thing, but utility wins in the end.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Starr Hill Brewery Signs Distribution Deal With Anheuser-Busch

According to this article in the Charlottesville Daily Progress, Starr Hill Brewery has inked a distribution deal with Anheuser-Busch Inc. The Crozet-based brewery plans to eventually market its beers in independent and chain stores nationwide. Virginians still reeling from the changes at Dominion Brewery after A-B gained a major share, may wonder what other changes are in store for Starr Hill. There's no mention in the article of anything other than distribution rights, so it appears that this craft brewer will retain its character. However, one could reasonably assume that A-B wouldn't do this without gaining some bit of ownership. More details will surely be coming out soon. An expansion of production facilities is planned to handle the growth in distribution. Brewmaster Mark Thompson is quoted as saying “We want to be the next Sierra Nevada.” With the recent announcement that all of Denver-based Flying Dog's production will be moved to Frederick, MD, the Maryland/Virginia area appears poised to gain an increased presence in beer stores nationwide.

Update: I received this from Mark in reply to my email query:
Thank you for your continued support of Starr Hill. Our plan is to roll out in Fredericksburg in May of next year so hopefully your long wait for Starr Hill will be over. This distribution deal is something that Starr Hill has envisioned since day one. I founded the brewery in September of 1999 with the mission of sharing the gift of great beer with the world and this is another step in fulfilling that mission. The first step of our mission was to design four world class beers. Our four house beers (Amber Ale, Pale Ale, Dark Starr Stout, and Jomo Lager) have won 11 GABF medals and one WBC award. Each of our four beers is a multiple award winner at the GABF and something that I am very proud of. Having determined that Starr Hill could make world class beer, our brewery needed a world class distribution system. No one would argue that AB has the very best distribution system in the world. The reality of my world is that beer sales operate on a Three tiered system and I need distribution to grow the brand. This deal allows me to do what I do best which is to make world class beer and not waste valuable time on looking for a new distributor in every new town that we expand into. I can now focus on making beer instead of trying to assemble a sales system.

Update 2: The Anheuser-Busch press release is here and includes a statement about A-B's role:
“We’re committed to providing new and exceptional beverages to those adult consumers who are looking for specialty products,” said Dave Peacock, vice president, marketing for Anheuser-Busch, Inc. “Starr Hill has already developed a loyal following among craft beer consumers in Virginia, and together with our wholesaler network, we’re looking forward to enhancing the distribution and sales support for these award-winning beers.”

Brewing and marketing decisions will remain the responsibility of Starr Hill and its management.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Winter Beer Tasting at Hard Times Cafe

We attended the Winter Beer Tasting held at the Hard Times Cafe in Woodbridge Monday evening. The event is different from many tastings. At the start the brewery or distributor reps describe each of the beers they are presenting. Then unmarked samples of the beers are brought to the tables in random order. Our task is to identify the beers based on the descriptions presented earlier. It's fun but not as easy as you might think, and some of the introductions given were better than others. A few of the beers are quite obvious, but many get narrowed down to an "either/or" situation. As more beers are brought out you start questioning your earlier choices. I managed to get a mere 5 of the 11 correct, while Colleen scored 7 out of 11. There was a tie for best record with FABTS' own Lyle Brown tied for first place getting 9 of 11 correct.

The beers presented for tasting were:

Victory Hop Wallop
Wychwood Bah Humbug
Allagash Grand Cru
Clipper City Below Decks
Bell's Winter White
Delirium Noël
Dogfish Head Chicory Stout
Brooklyn Winter Ale
Lagunitas Cappuccino Stout
Smuttynose Winter Ale
Sierra Nevada Celebration (not shown)

I ranked the Lagunitas Cappuccino Stout as my favorite of the bunch. Randy reports that the Cappuccino Stout won the popularity vote and will soon join the draft line up at the Woodbridge Hard Times.

It was a lot of fun and thanks go out to all the reps and to Randy at Hard Times for putting on this event. Included in the price of the dinner was your choice of a menu item and a pint of beer. As a special treat for the event, Tom Cizauskas from Clipper City Brewing in Baltimore brought in a firkin of cask conditioned Winter Storm "Category 5" Ale. I mentioned in a previous post that I was looking forward to having this Winter release again, but I've not yet had a chance this season. So the opportunity to try it "fresh" was a treat. The Winter Storm has a crisp floral hop aroma backed by a bit of caramel malts. The mouth feel was very smooth with a very nice piney and floral hop flavor. A very nice beer and the 7.50% ABV is well masked. The cask serving makes for a smoother drink with less carbonation. It was certainly the beer highlight of the evening. If I wasn't going to be tasting 11 more beers, I'd have had another.

It was also great to finally meet Tom Cizauskas in person. I've been reading his blog for some time so I felt as if I already knew him. When I saw the bandage in his finger I knew exactly why it was there. Although I gladly drove the 40 miles to attend the dinner, I look forward to seeing events like this in Fredericksburg some day. (That's a hint, Tom. :-)

Tom has posted his write up of the event here.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout

Yes, another review of a beer from Brooklyn Brewerey. What can I say, they make good beers.

Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout is one of my quintessential Winter beers. As mentioned previously, it's one that I look forward to each Winter. This year's batch made its appearance locally a few weeks ago and we've been waiting for a chance to spend an evening enjoying it.

We poured the beer into Brooklyn Brewery snifters. This one pours midnight black with some ruby-red light making it through only at the edges. The thick cappuccino-colored head slowly fades leaving persistent lacing. This beer looks as good as it tastes. Be sure to allow the beer to warm a bit to enjoy the full range of aromas and flavor. At 10.5% ABV, Black Chocolate Stout should be sipped to be enjoyed fully so there's opportunity to savor the nuances in flavor and aroma as it warms.

The forefront aroma is dark chocolate. The alcohol also comes through in the aroma, and adds to the richness provided to the senses. There's also a slight dark fruit, sherry-like hint detected.

The flavor lives up to the preview given by the aroma. Fine dark chocolate comes through, along with some expresso flavor. There's a bit of a lingering hops at the end. The mouthfeel of this Imperial Stout is very smooth and full of body. Garrett Oliver describes this beer as "the ultimate dessert beer" in his book The Brewmaster's Table. I would have to agree. Although it could be a dessert all by itself, we enjoyed the beer with cream-puffs and chocolate brownies. A fitting celebratory treat for Gaudete Sunday!

Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout is said to be a good candidate for aging. I've got a bottle from the 2006-2007 bottling left from last year. I plan to save one from this season's release as well, and do the same for the next few years and try them all together. It will be a fun trial, although I can't imagine that the experience of drinking fresh Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout can be improved upon. I'll need to pick up some additional BBCS before it disappears from the shelves for another season.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Brooklyn Lager - A Real American Lager

Brooklyn Lager is Brooklyn Brewery's most popular beer yet I had never tried it. I finally picked up a six pack of Brooklyn's flagship brew the other day. Turns out this is no stereotypical American lager and is quite a treat.

The beer pours a dark amber color with a thick white head. There's plenty of lacing left on the sides of the glass even after the head fades. Immediately noticeable is the floral hop aroma. There's some a caramel malt aroma coming through as well. The taste is clean with a light piney hop at the start, followed by a well-balanced malt backbone. There's a slight bitterness at the end but the malt dominates. Brooklyn Lager is dry-hoped which contributes to the fresh, clean hop aroma and taste. I wasn't expecting the hop presence to be as strong as it was and was pleasantly surprised by this. Brooklyn Lager is a lager with a bit of a Pale Ale personality. Overall, I found this to be a well-done beer that easy to drink and is quite refreshing. The 5.2% ABV would make the beer easily sessionable.

The label states this is "The Pre-Prohibition Beer". If this is what American beer tasted like pre-prohibition, it's even more obvious that the "American Lager" style is not what many people typically think. This is not an extreme beer, but there's nothing lacking in it either. This is one of those beers that we should probably keep on hand.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Could I have a non-frosted mug please?

What is it with restaurants and bars serving beer in frosted mugs? I can almost understand the reasoning if the beverage in question is some broccoli-water flavored macro-brew, especially the ones that need a lime to help kill the taste. Serving the beer extra cold deadens the palate. Perhaps if folks really tasted some of these beers, the restaurants might not sell as many. Or perhaps folks would start insisting on better beer. I want to taste my beer. If the only beers available are ones that need their flavor hidden, I'm not ordering! So often though, even when they are serving something other than Bud-Miller-Coors, the frosted glass is the norm in many restaurants.

Besides masking the flavors, serving beer in a frosted glass causes bits of ice to form in the drink. Along with the water that condensates on the inside of the glass, all this moisture serves only to dilute the beer. Then there's the condensation on the outside of the glass that leaves puddles on the table and also makes the glass slippery and hard to hold. And I certainly don't enjoy having my lips stick to the icy glass rim.

On one occasion recently when I've asked for a non-frosted glass, the waitress came back with the glass and stated "Luckily we had one." Lucky indeed. I used to feel a bit awkward when asking for a non-frosted glass. Now I figure since I'm paying for it, I'll enjoy the beer served at least somewhat properly. Perhaps if more people were less accepting of these iced servings, the restaurants would change. Or at least the servers might ask before pouring.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Flying Dog to Move Operations to Maryland

Flying Dog Brewery of Denver, Colorado announced today that all of their brewing operations would be moving to their facility in Frederick, Maryland. Eric Warner's blog message states this move will take place in January 2008. About 70% of their beer is already produced in Maryland. The state of the art facility in Maryland offers more efficient brewing and bottling, along with greater opportunity for expansion. Flying Dog says that all brewery staff will be offered positions in Maryland, along with a relocation package. Administrative staff will remain in Denver.

Additional information is available in a press release posted on
There's also a Rocky Mountain News article here.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

FABTS December Meeting

The December meeting of the Fredericksburg Brewing and Tasting Society was held yesterday at Kybecca on Plank Rd. The theme for this month's meeting was "Holiday Beers." There where around 20 members gathered to sample 38 commercial beers and 2 home brews. It was quite an event. There's a partial list of the beers sampled posted on the FABTS web site.

What are "Holiday Beers"? This is a pretty broad category, as evidenced by the number of beers sampled. Also referred to as "Winter Beers" the selection included high hop beers such as Sierra Nevada Celebration or malty "Winter Warmer" styles such as Clipper City Winter Storm. Many of these Winter beers are higher in ABV, for a "warming" effect. In some cases the beers are "Wassail" style offerings and flavored with such spices as cinnamon, nutmeg, or clove. And in some cases the brewer simply relabels a year-round beer for the Holidays. In any event, there's a "Holiday Beer" to suite any taste.

There were too many beers sampled to provide detailed notes on each one. In some cases limited quantities necessitated small samples. I don't try to review a beer unless I have a full "serving" and can evaluate from the pour to the end of the drink. However these tasting events are excellent opportunities to try new beers and find ones you want to search out for further exploration. Besides the perennial favorites such as Sierra Nevada Celebration and Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, there were quite a few beers that stood out. I'll post some notes on the ones I especially enjoyed.

Flying Dog K-9 Cruiser Winter Ale is a caramel malt flavored drink with just touch of hops. Flying Dog beers are readily available in this area now that they've bought the former Frederick Brewery in Frederick, MD. I've not found Flying dog beers that I've cared much for previously and was pleasantly surprise by this one. At 6.4% ABV this Winter Warmer is easy to enjoy.

Clay Pipe Pursuit Of Happiness Winter Warmer is from another Maryland-based brewer. This 8.25% ABV Winter Warmer has a strong malt backbone that is well-balanced by a nice hoppy kick. Some in attendance suggested that this might be fresh-hopped.

Stoudt's Winter Ale is a Winter release that changes each year. This year's release is brewed with cocoa producing a rich, chocolate malt flavor. I detected a hint of cinnamon a well. Stoudts is a brewer who's beers never disappoint.

Magic Hat is a brewery whose beers I've not previously taken a liking too. However, the Magic Hat Roxy Rolles Winter Amber was quite tasty. The Magic Hat web site says this amber ale is dry-hopped with simco hops. The flavor is malty with a nice sharp hop presence.

Ridgeway Brewing Lump of Coal Dark Holiday Stout is an English-style stout from the same folks who bring us the "Elf" series of beers. (Bad Elf, Very Bad Elf, Insanely Bad Elf, Seriously Bad Elf.) This is a deep brown colored beer with coffee notes in both the aroma and taste. Caramel sweetness comes through in the flavor as well. A nice stout at 8% ABV.

Fantôme Spéciale De Noel is one of the few "sour" beers I've tried. This Farmhouse Ale pours dark brown with a fruity aroma. The flavor of sour fruit, mostly cherries, comes through the dark malts. I made a note that I want to try this one again in a larger sample before passing judgement. The tartness does mask the 10% ABV.

St. Bernardus Christmas Ale is another ABV monster at 10% ABV. This Belgian Strong Dark Ale has the aroma of dark fruit. Sweet caramel and butterscotch flavors blend with the peppery spices to create a nice beer. The spiciness lingers in the aftertaste. A nice sipping beer.

Delirium Noël is from Brouwerij Huyghe in Belgium, the same folks who bring us the infamous Delirium Tremens. Yet another 10% ABV Belgian Strong Dark Ale, this one pours a dark red-brown with a sweet aroma of raisons and other dark fruits. Some clove and candy sugar sweetness as well. The flavor matches the aroma with a yeasty, fruity sweetness over the malt, with a dry finish. My notes state to "buy some" although I left the meeting without doing so.

Next up on my list of highlights is Tröegs Mad Elf. I've always been a fan of Tröegs beers and Mad Elf held up that reputation. This 11% ABV Belgian Strong Dark Ale is flavored with cherries. I wasn't sure what to expect since I'm not a big fruit beer fan. A clear ruby-red pour with a sweet aroma. The taste is well-balanced between malt and spiciness with the sweet cherry flavor peaking through. We also sampled a 1 or 2 year old bottle of Mad Elf that had lost the cherry flavor and was mostly sweet honey flavor.

As if these and 23 other beers weren't enough, we were now in for a very special treat. Rob A. had brought in 2 bottles of Samichlaus Bier, both 1995 and 1996 vintages! Samichlaus was brewed by Brauerei Hürlimann in Zurich, Switzerland up until 1996 when the recipe was sold to the the Feldschlösschen Brewery. It is currently produced by Schloss Eggenberg of Switzerland. This 14% ABV was once considered the strongest beer in the world and everyone was eagerly awaiting the opening of these bottles. The 1995 vintage was opened first. The beer poured a very dark brown with no head. The malt aroma was very strong. The taste was unexpected. This was a very smooth, sweet, nutty beer. It reminded me of drinking a very smooth sherry. The 1996 was only slight less in flavor to me, although some in attendance though the 1996 vintage to be superior. There were only small samples per person but these were exceptional delights. Thanks to Rob for sharing! For comparison a 2006 bottle was also opened. The flavor on the recent vintage was much less intense. Even though the recipe is supposedly the same, there can be little doubt that subtle differences crept in over the years. I think I will keep my 2006 bottle stored away for a few years at least. We also sampled a Samichlaus Helles, which is being bottled in 2007 for the first time since 1986. The flavor of this was more sweet than the previous beers and not quite as malty.

After the commercial beers were finished we got to try a couple of home brews from two members. The first was a Belgian dubbel style beer from Jim (?). Unfortunately I neglected to take any notes on this one, although I do remember thinking it was good with a nice typical Belgian yeast flavor. My apologies to the brewer for not recording more.

The second home brew, from Dave F. was a "smoked pumpkin ale". Dave used real pumpkin, apple wood, and fuggles and willamette hops. This offering was very well-received. Enough of the pumpkin came through to give some sweetness which worked well with the smokey background. This was a "real" pumpkin beer, not a "spiced pumpkin pie" flavor like so many pumpkin beers. Kudos to both these home brewers for sharing.

The large variety of beer was complimented by an equally impressive array of cheeses, courtesy of James and Angela. This treat was much appreciated. Also thanks go out to our host for this month, Kybecca Wine and Gourmet. Kybecca offers a wide array of craft beers, artisanal cheeses and wine. A grand time was had by all and I look forward to the next meeting on January 12. The theme for January will be Stouts and we'll meet at Bangkok Boulevard. Be sure to watch the FABTS web site for more details. Hope to see you there!

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Session #10: Winter Seasonal Beers

This month's Session is hosted by Ted Duchesne at the Barley Vine blog. The Session is an online project where bloggers "gather" to post on a single theme. The theme this month is Winter Seasonal Beers. Read more on this month's theme here. Ted will be posting a summary of all the Session posts shortly. Beer Haiku Daily has a history of The Session posted as well.

For this Session I chose to go with the "Saranac Twelve Beers of Winter" from The Matt Brewing Company in Utica, New York. This pack contains 6 different beers; Caramel Porter, Oatmeal Stout, Belgian Ale, Scotch Ale, Chocolate Amber, Winter Wassail. The name of this variety pack is a bit misleading since there actually 6 different beers. In past years I believe the Saranac Winter mix did include 12 different beers, so perhaps the marketing is just a carry over. I do think having two each of the beers to try makes more sense.

The first beer we tried was the Chocolate Amber Lager. Right off the bat the name seems to be a contradiction. Chocolate Amber? Anyway, this Munich Dunkel Lager pours a dark chocolate brown, no amber here, with a thick frothy cappuccino-like head. A thin head lasts till the very end. There is negligible aroma, only a slight roasted smell. The taste follows with a slight roasted malt flavor. There's very little hops. The taste is slightly sweet, but nothing that's really "chocolate". At 5.8% this is easy to drink but nothing exceptional. Good with some dark chocolate candy.

The Caramel Porter pours a weak cola-brown color with a thin head. The immediate impression from the aroma is that of sherry. Also a good bit of caramel on the nose. The flavor is caramel, coffee and very sweet. There's plenty of carbonation to tingle the tongue, perhaps a bit too much. This one seems a little thin for a porter. The sweet caramel flavor is different, though a bit sweet. The Caramel Porter checks in at 5.5% ABV.

The Belgian Ale is Saranac's interpretation of a Belgian-style beer. It pours a redish-amber, almost copper color, with a 1/4 inch head that very rapidly drops off. There's lots of carbonation rising from bottom of glass that continues to the end. The aroma, while not strong, is of yeasty bread. The mouth feel is quite crisp with a spicy background. It's slightly bitter and medicinal. Not a bad beer, but not one I’d necessarily do back for. At 5.9% ABV the Belgian Ale is easy to enjoy.

The Winter Wassail is the beer we were most curious to try. The beer pours an attractive red amber color with a rapidly vanishing head, leaving some lacing on the glass. The aroma is spicy, mostly cinnamon, reminiscent of a "pumpkin ale." The mouth feel is sharp, with cinnamon and nutmeg spices. It finishes dry with a slight lingering bitterness. Spiced beers aren’t my favorites, but this one isn’t bad. It was a nice change after a string of uninspiring pumpkin beers this Fall. We enjoyed this 5% ABV beer with some Swedish Ginger Thins.

My first impression of the Scotch Ale was that of an average beer, but as I sipped and the beer warmed, this one grew on me. It pours a copper-brown with a very thin head. The malty aroma is faintly sweet. Slightly sweet malt flavor. There’s also a hint of smoke in the flavor. I enjoyed this one with some baked ham at dinner and the smoky ham flavor went well with the drink. This is is highest ABV of the six beers at 6% ABV.

And finally the Oatmeal Stout. This one pours a very dark black color with a thin, long lasting head. There's a simple aroma of roasted malt. The flavor begins with a light roasted malt. As the beer warms the sweetness of dark chocolate comes out. The stout finishes dry with some lingering bitterness. I found this to be a pretty good, not exceptional, oatmeal stout. At a mere 4.3% ABV this is the lowest of the group and it would be easy to have several.

I've had a few Saranac beers in the past and I was anxious to see how these special releases fared. The Saranac beers didn't disappoint. Overall these are decent beers, easy to drink and not given to the extreme flavors and high alcohol so popular these days. Several of the selections seemed to be a bit high in carbonation, but were all quite drinkable. My pick for the best of the bunch was surprisingly the Winter Wassail. This spiced English Ale was different than most of the beers I've been enjoying this season. Both the Scotch Ale and the Oatmeal Stout were enjoyable as well. Matt Brewing has put together a good group of beers that should appeal to a wide range of beer drinkers. I'll certainly look for the 2008 version of the Beers of Winter.

I enjoy trying brewers' mixed packs as it's an easy way to try a bunch of different beers from one brewer and this month's Session gave me an excuse to do just that. Thanks Ted.

Update: Ted has posted a roundup of Session #10 here.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

St. Nicholas, Patron Saint of Brewing

December 6 is the Feast day of St. Nicholas, one of several Patron Saints of Brewing. St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, was a wealthy and generous man. His generosity towards others led to him being the inspiration for the tradition of Santa Claus and gift giving. It's not entirely clear why Nicholas was chosen as a Patron Saint of brewing. Tradition states that Nicholas was having a beer at an inn where the inn keeper had murdered three boys and packed their bodies in a barrel of brine. Nicholas was offered some salted meat with his beer. Due to a local shortage of food, Nicholas became suspicious, found the bodies, and brought the boys back to life. He died on December 6, 345 A.D. or 352 A.D.

Inspired by this feast day, is Samichlaus Bier. Samichlaus is an 14% ABV doppelbock that at one time was billed as the world's strongest beer. The name means "Santa Claus" in the Swiss-German dialect of Zürich. Brewed only on December 6 of each year, the beer is aged for almost a year and released in time for the following year's feast day. Samichlaus was originally brewed by Brauerei Hürlimann, and later by Feldschlösschen Brewery. It is currently produced by Schloss Eggenberg of Switzerland.

Even if you can't get your hands on Samichlaus Bier, raise a pint to St. Nicholas today for his generosity and the traditions of giving he inspired.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A Beer for the First Snow - Tommyknocker Imperial Nut Brown Ale

We had our first snow fall of the season today. Nothing substantial, the ground covering didn't last the day, but it looked pretty none-the-less. In addition, the temperature is expected to be in the low 20's tonight. Seemed an apropos time to try out the Tommyknocker Imperial Nut Brown Ale I picked up last week.

On two trips to the Denver area, I've driven past the brewpub in Idaho Springs but haven't been able to stop in. As a geology major I've always been fascinated by mines, and the brewery plays off of the mining history of the area. A "tommyknocker" is a Welsh mythical creature that knocks on the mine walls to warn miners of an impeding collapse. We've only recently been able to get Tommyknocker beers locally so I was certainly interested in trying some out.

I wasn't sure what to expect from an imperial brown ale. Imperial seems to be the new "buzz word" among brewers. The Imperial Nut Brown Ale was released to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Tommyknocker Brewery. It's described as "a bigger, bolder version" of their Maple Nut Brown Ale. I've had the Maple Nut Brown in the past and enjoyed the sweet maple syrup flavor.

I poured the beer into one of the new Sam Adams Boston Lager glasses. The beer pours dark brown, with some crimson showing through at the edges. A thick, light brown head rapidly dissipates. The aroma is malt, nuttiness, with maple coming through as it warms. The flavor is roasted malt, brown sugar, maple syrup. The taste isn't excessively sweet. The alcohol warmth comes through at the end. The maple syrup flavor isn’t as strong as I remember in the Maple Nut Brown Ale. This is a very drinkable beer, though it is high ABV at 9.8%. This was a good choice for this cold evening and I'll surely enjoy this Imperial Nut Brown Ale again.

BTW, as a followup to this post about the Sam Adams glasses, I've been using these glasses almost exclusively and have been enjoying them. The glasses feel very comfortable in the hand and make excellent all around beer glasses.