Friday, June 4, 2010

Ommegang Hennepin Review

Brewery: Brewery Ommegang | Beer: Hennepin
Style: Saison | ABV: 7.7% | IBUs: ~25
Serving Method: 750ml bottle poured into tulip glass

Ommegang HennepinEarlier this week, I posted my first review of an Ommegang beer with their Ommegang Abbey Ale. Now I'm back with Hennepin, another of their year-round offerings. Hennepin is a Saison, and just like earlier with Ommegang, this is the first example of the style I've reviewed here. You know what that means, we get the obligatory "first review of a style breakdown."

Saisons, also known as Belgian Farmhouse Ales, were originally brewed at the end of the winter to be drunk throughout summer. Therefore, the beer had to be fortified enough to last, yet still be refreshing and quenching when it was drunk. Saisons had been fading in popularity, but have enjoyed a comeback recently, especially in the US. Traditionally, the style is a bit of a grab bag of different beers with different brews with different characteristics, but the style is now coming together a bit. The BJCP decribe the style as:

A refreshing, medium to strong fruity/spicy ale with a distinctive yellow-orange color, highly carbonated, well hopped, and dry with a quenching acidity.
Named after Father Hennepin, who discovered Niagara Falls, Ommegang classify Hennepin as a Grisette. From my research, Grissette is an arcane sub-classification of Saison/Farmhouse, though there isn't much out there to go on. Anyway, here's how Ommegang (poetically) describe Hennepin:
As you pour this rich golden ale into your glass, consider your surroundings. Are you in a restaurant? Outside on the deck? Is it hot and humid? Cold and brisk? Take a drink. Feel the way Hennepin is bright and lively in your mouth with a warming mix of spicy gingersnap and citrusy hops. Refreshing. Relaxing. It's true: no matter where you are, Hennepin is the perfect ale for all seasons.
Refreshing and relaxing is just what I'm looking for right now. Let's hope it can deliver.

Appearance: A nicely hazy golden-straw body with three fingers of slightly off-white, bubbly head that sticks around and leaves good lacing.

Aroma: A honeyish malt body with fruity (golden fruit, citrus, and banana), yeasty, and spicy (clove, coriander, and pepper) notes. Some traces of booze, but not much.

Taste: Up front, a sweet pale malt character with fruit, spice, and ever-so-mild molasses twinge towards the end. It's somewhat sour and dries towards the end. Hints of alcohol in the end, in just the right proportion. It may not the most complex flavor profile, but it's quite satisfying.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied and smooth with good carbonation. Crisp with a dry finish.

Drinkability: Generally good, but reined in a little by the moderately-high alcohol content.

Verdict: Hennepin is a great beer to sit down with an enjoy on a peaceful Summer evening. It may not be the most complex Saison out there, but it's still well worth a try.

Grade: A-

Deschutes Black Butte Porter Review

Brewery: Deschutes Brewery | Beer: Black Butte Porter
Style: American Porter | ABV: 5.2% | IBUs: 30
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Deschutes Black Butte PorterI recently reviewed my first Deschutes beer, Mirror Pond Pale Ale, the Oregon brewery's most popular offering. What better choice for the next review than the beer the company defines as its flagship?

Named after an extinct volcano in nearby Sisters, Black Butte Porter dates back to the first days of Deschutes back in 1988. Deschutes doesn't provide much information on the ingredients, but Jonathon over at The Beerocrat called them up and got the details. The hops used are Cascade, Galena, and Tettnanger, while the malts used are Chocolate, Wheat, and mid-level Caramel. Nicely done, Jonathon.

Here's how Deschutes pitch Black Butte:

Black Butte is rich in flavor yet easy to drink, with a creamy, smooth mouth feel. The slight hop bitterness up front only enhances the distinctive chocolate and roasted finish to come.
Sounds good to me, let's dive into this volcano.

Appearance: A hazy, deep dark brown body with ruby highlights and a finger and a half of caramel-tinged head. It leaves a fantastic curtain of lacing that leaves the glass virtually opaque.

Aroma: Roasted malt, bitter chocolate, and dark coffee with hop notes around the edge. The classic Porter aromas, used to great effect here.

Taste: Much the same in flavor as in taste. An abundance of rich, roasty, and chocolaty malt. There's a splash of hop bitterness in the back for added complexity. The aftertaste is of roasted malt and bitter coffee.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied and velvety with a smooth carbonation. It coasts the mouth well, allowing the flavors to linger a long time.

Drinkability: With a tasty flavor profile, a medium body, and the alcohol content clocking in at just over five percent, this is a very drinkable beer. If you love dark malt, you could drink this all night.

Verdict: Black Butte is smooth, chocolaty, and tasty as all hell. Well worth seeking out for fans of Porter, Deschutes have brewed up a solid example of the style here.

Grade: A-

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Stone Smoked Porter Review

Brewery: Stone Brewing Co. | Beer: Smoked Porter
Style: American Porter | ABV: 5.9% | IBUs: 53
Serving Method: 22 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Stone Smoked PorterAh, smoked beer (or Rauchbier in German), what a treat! Drying malt over an open flame goes back for millennia, though with kiln drying becoming the standard way to dry malt hundreds of years ago, smoked malt has become a bit of a specialty. Until recently, the only place still smoking malt on any sort of large scale was Bamberg, Germany, the last real stronghold of Rauchbiers.

As with many traditional styles nearly lost to the ages, smoked beers have enjoyed a bit of a resurgence in America with the craft beer renaissance. One of the best known examples of smoked American beer is Alaskan Smoked Porter, which has been in production since 1988 and on my "must try" for years. While that beer might not be on shelves here on Houston, Stone's Smoked Porter is.

In production since 1996, Stone's Smoked Porter was one of the company's first beers back in their first year of production. As for construction, it's hopped with Columbus and Mt. Hood varieties, though (as usual) Stone make no mention of the malt varieties used. Here's how they describe Smoked Porter:

This beer pours a gorgeous deep mahogany crowned by a creamy head. Dark, smooth, and complex, with rich chocolate and coffee flavors balanced by a subtle smokiness, this brew is equally delicious with meats or fine chocolates.
Unfortunately, I'm fresh out of meats and fine chocolates, so this baby is going to have to fly solo.

Appearance: A dark brown, very nearly black, body with only a handful of red highlights. Up top, a generous, tannish and creamy head that sticks around a good amount of time and leaves great lacing.

Aroma: Lot of smoke over chocolate and roasted malt. Simple, yet effective.

Taste: Much the same profile in the mouth: peaty smoke over a chocolaty, roasty, and somewhat bitter malt backbone. A subtle hop presence contributes to the bitterness, giving this beer great balance. I could definitely handle more smokiness, but what's here is great. The aftertaste is smokey and roasty.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with smooth carbonation and a dryish finish.

Drinkability: About what you'd expect from a nearly six percent Porter. No problems whatsoever polishing off the 22 oz. bomber.

Verdict: Without the smoke component this would still be a solid Porter, but with it in the mix this is a most satisfying brew. If you've never tried a smoked beer, this is a good place to start.

Grade: A-

Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale Review

Brewery: Deschutes Brewery | Beer: Mirror Pond Pale Ale
Style: American Pale Ale | ABV: 5.0% | IBUs: 40
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale AleFounded as a small brewpub in downtown Bend, Oregon back in 1988 by Gary Fish, Deschutes has grown into one of the most talked about breweries in the country. Known best for their big beers like The Abyss, Black Butte XXI, and Mirror Mirror, the company also has a very full protfolio of year-round and seasonal brews.

To start off, I decided to go with their most popular beer: Mirror Pond Pale Ale. Described by the brewery as "the definitive American Pale Ale," Mirror Pond goes through four hop additional during the boil and a round of dry-hopping after. They only mention Cascade hops in their marketing, so I'm unsure what (if any) other varieties are used. As for the backbone, Deschutes mention they use Crystal malts to offset the hops for a solidly balanced beer.

I love a nicely balanced Cascade-driven Pale Ale, so let's get to it.

Appearance: A slightly hazy, pumpkin-colored body. On top, a finger and a half of off-white creamy head featuring excellent retention and lacing.

Aroma: Floral and citrusy Cascade hops over a solid caramel malt base. Classic American Pale Ale all the way.

Taste: A wave of Cascade hops in the front, a little more grapefruity then in the nose. Underneath, a sold caramel malt backbone keeps everything well balanced. Sure, I'd love to see more focus on the hops, but I suppose that's what IPAs are for. The aftertaste retains the balance, with equal doses of bitterness and sweet malt.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied with moderate carbonation. It gets a little watery in the finish, limiting the aftertaste's strength a bit.

Drinkability: This is an easy drinking beer, just what you want from a Pale Ale.

Verdict: Mirror Pond is a great example of the American Pale Ale style. While not the most complex beer out there, this does make for a very solid session beer. I can't wait to see what these guys are cooking as far as IPAs and Double IPAs go.

Grade: B+

Ommegang Abbey Ale Review

Brewery: Brewery Ommegang | Beer: Ommegang Abbey Ale
Style: Dubbel | ABV: 8.5% | IBUs: ~25
Serving Method: 750ml bottle poured into tulip glass

Ommegang Abbey AleBrewery Ommegang is an American brewery based out of Cooperstown, New York that has really taken the Belgian theme to heart. They brew only Belgian-inspired beers and even designed the brewery to ape traditional Belgian farmhouse architecture. Pitching your American brewery as thoroughly Belgian takes either confidence or madness, so you know the beers are either going to be awesome or terrible. Based on the fact that Brouwerij Duvel Moortgat bought the joint back in 2003, I'm pretty sure they're the former and not the latter.

What better beer to start with than the one that shares the name with the brewery. Like a band's first album being "self-titled," Ommegang named their first beer Ommegang Abbey Ale. A traditional-style Dubbel, Ommegang picked up a gold medal in the Dubbel category at this year's World Beer Cup. Looks like these guys really can walk-the-walk when it comes to their Belgian credentials.

Here's the brewery's description of the beer:

Meditate on this dark ruby elixir. Breathe in its deep emanations of fruit and spice. Is that clove you smell? Licorice? Fig? Sip serenely as revelations of honey, toffee, chocolate and dark dried fruit delight your senses. Can a beer be holy? you wonder, and Where can I get a grail on-line?
This burgundian brew gives off a variety of aromas, including plum and cinnamon, and packs in flavors such as caramel, toffee, and licorice. At 8.5% abv, it is known to cause spontaneous meditation.
My order from hasn't shown up yet, so it looks like this tulip is just going to have to do.

Appearance: A dark, murky brown body capped by a creamy, tannish head that features brilliant growth, good retention, and little lacing.

Aroma: Burnt sugar dominates over spices, dark fruit, and mild booze. I could stand a little more intensity, but what's here is good.

Taste: A burnt sugar and caramel malt body accompanied by lots of spicy and fruity notes. There's a lovely flourish of alcohol towards the end, but the bulk is hidden masterfully. The aftertaste is spicy and boozy.

Mouthfeel: A slightly fuller than and nicely creamy medium body with moderate carbonation and drying finish. Some slight alcohol burn in the mouth.

Drinkability: About average for the style; a slower beer but rather far from sipper territory.

Verdict: Ommegang Abbey is a thoroughly tasty proposition and nicely authentic for an American brewery's Dubbel. Well worth a try.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Abita Abbey Ale Review

Brewery: Abita Brewing Co. | Beer: Abbey Ale
Style: Dubbel | ABV: 8.0% | IBUs: 32
Serving Method: 22 oz. bottle poured into tulip glass

Abita Abbey AleAbita's Big Beer series is the company's showcase for bigger (duh) and more artisanal beers. Earlier this year I reviewed Andygator,and now with Abbey Ale, we can complete the set. Abbey Ale is a Dubbel and is actually the first example of the style to be featured on PintLog.

Traditionally a Trappist style, the Dubbel sits above the Enkel (now generally known as "Blond") and below the Tripel in the typical Trappist lineupThe BJCP guidelines sum up the style as "a deep reddish, moderately strong, malty, complex Belgian ale."

Abbey has slightly beefier stats that a typical example of the style, but they're not beefy enough to give me concern. As a nice little bonus, for each bottle sold a 25 cent donation is made to St. Joseph's Abbey down the road in Saint Benedict. Here's how Abita describe Abbey:

Dark amber in color, the aroma of caramel, fruits and cloves invites you to contemplate the creamy head of this "Dubbel." Abita Abbey Ale is a malty brew, top-fermented and bottle aged to rapturous perfection.
Let's get started and see if this brew is a saint or a sinner.

Appearance: A moderately hazy deep reddish-brown body topped by a very generous cap of pillowy off-white head that sticks around a long time and leaves great lacing.

Aroma: A sweet and rich mix of dark fruit, molasses, caramel, slight nuttiness, dark bread, and mild spiciness.

Taste: Up front, sweet and toasty malt with a caramel and burnt-sugar character that turns chocolaty towards the end. Accompanying the malt are mild, herbal hops and plenty of Belgian yeast with an earthy clove character. Mild alcohol towards the end segueing into a yeasty and raisiny aftertaste.

Mouthfeel: A thick body with smooth carbonation and a dryish finish.

Drinkability: With the full body, bold flavor profile, and moderately-high alcohol content, this comes close to sipper territory.

Verdict: It may have a hard time competing with the Belgian originals, but Abita have brewed up a pretty damn decent Dubbel here. Just watch out for the well-hidden alcohol punch.

Grade: B

Anderson Valley Hop Ottin' IPA Review

Brewery: Anderson Valley Brewing Co. | Beer: Hop Ottin' IPA
Style: American India Pale Ale | ABV: 7.0% | IBUs: 80
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Anderson Valley Hop Ottin' IPAAnderson Valley Brewing Company was founded way back in 1987 by Kenneth Allen in Boonville, California. The brewery takes advantage of the unique local culture, using both words from the regional language Boontling and the "Boonville Beer" (a local mythical creature that is a combination of a bear and a deer) in their marketing. Allen runs a sustainable operation, with a massive photovoltaic array and its own wastewater treatment plant.

Anderson Valley showed up on Houston shelves last year and to get started, I decided to go with the company's best known beer: Hop Ottin' IPA. Meaning "hard working hops" in Boontling, Hop Ottin' is a big IPA brewed with lots of "high-alpha Pacific Northwest hops." After the boil, the beer is dry-hopped with whole cone hops to notch it up even more. Anderson Valley describe it as having "a delicious citrus aroma, and an intense hoppy bite," making it "a hop lover’s dream."

Alright, the Boonville Beer is beckoning, let's crack this thing open.

Appearance: A nicely hazy, red-orange body capped by two fingers of creamy, off-white head that endures well and leaves terrific sudsy lacing.

Aroma: A blast of citrusy and piney hops over a substantial toasty caramel base. Well-hopped, to be sure.

Taste: Up front, the same citrusy, piney, and slightly resiny hop character from the nose make a big, nicely bitter splash. But it's not all about the hops though, as the rich toasty caramel base is able to keep everything decently balanced. There aren't many signs of the seven percent alcohol content. The aftertaste is biscuity and still quite bitter.

Mouthfeel: A creamy, medium body with moderate carbonation and a dry finish.

Drinkability: The hops and alcohol content keep it about average for the style.

Verdict: Hop Ottin' is a damn good beer and a great example of a highly bitter, yet balanced IPA. I'm looking forward to seeing what else these guys brew up.

Grade: A