Thursday, July 29, 2010

Check Out this Amazing Beer Cellar

Not really much to say here, other than "holy shit."

This guy (Grant Curlow aka GCurlow on BeerAdvocate) makes me want to step my game up post-haste!

I'm Sick of All of the "World's Strongest Beer" Bullshit

Beer geeks just can't get enough of high ABV brews. Back in the day when Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head and Jim Koch of Samuel Adams were jockeying for the title of world's strongest beer, everyone had a lot of fun. It was new a whole new territory, requiring new techniques and ingredients, and gave birth to legendary beers like Utopias and World Wide Stout.

Contrary to popular opinion, Utopias was not actually the strongest beer on the market a year ago. That title actually went to Schorschbräu Schorschbock, a German beer that clocked in at 31% ABV, besting Utopias by four whole percentage points.

This was accomplished by freeze-distilling the beer, a process where the beer is placed in freezing conditions so that water will freeze out, leaving a more potent brew behind. As Utopias was fermented without the process of distillation, this might sound a bit like cheating. However, Schorschbock was an Eisbock, a totally legitimate German style that requires a level of freeze distillation.

In my mind, this meant Schorschbock was not a cheat, and had earned the title honestly. However, I still think an important distinction should be made between high-test beers that have been fermented "naturally," and those that employ distillation.

Anyway, late last year the titled changed hands again when BrewDog, a brewery with a flair for the dramatic and a keen eye for publicity, came out with Tactical Nuclear Penguin. Clocking in at 32% ABV and using the same freeze distillation process, the Imperial Stout was potent enough to just beat out Schorschbräu Schorschbock for the title and garner the brewery lots of publicity. It was all very tongue in cheek and I thought it was a cool move from the Scots.

But things didn't stay like that for long, as Schorschbräu countered with a 40% ABV version of Schorschbock, knocking BrewDog off the top of the hill. BrewDog then counter-countered with with Sink the Bismark!, an IPA clocking in at 41% ABV*. Again, it was all very clever, but it felt a little contrived. Guess what happened next? That's right, Schorschbräu came back with a 43% ABV version of Schorschbock.

If that wasn't bad enough, BrewDog countered again earlier this month with The End of History, a 55% blond Belgian ale soldI shit thee notin the remains of dead woodland creatures.
Obviously, at this point we were clearly getting into farse territory, and I'm sure BrewDog understood that, as they announced The End of History would be their last excursion into high ABV beers.

That's where we stood last week, with yet another world's strongest beer, this one costing over $750 and coming with a free squirrel carcass. The whole world's strongest beer race had turned into a played-out publicity stunt game, but it looked like at least with the introduction of what I'm calling the "carcass-card," things would calm down.

Wrong! The reason I bring all of this up is that today a Dutch brewer just announced another world's strongest beer: 't Koelschip Start the Future. This time though, shit got real. Instead of messing around in the 50% range, these Dutch madmen have churned out a beer clocking in at an amazing 60% ABV, totally blowing BrewDog and Schorschbräu out of the water.

However, that being said, I could not give a shit if I tried. I stopped caring back when Schorschbräu countered Tactical Nuclear Penguin. Since then, it's just been a parade of contrived press releases attached to what I'm sure are pretty shitty beers.

How about you? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

* A few German labs got a hold of the stuff and both claim it doesn't hit the 41% ABV claimed on the bottle, instead topping out at about 30%. All of that horseshit and it doesn't even measure up?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Samuel Adams Imperial Stout Review

Brewery: Boston Brewing Co. | Beer: Samuel Adams Imperial Stout
Style: Russian Imperial Stout | ABV: 9.2%
| IBUs: 50
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into tulip glass

Samuel Adams Imperial StoutSomehow, I never got around to posting a review of the star of the Sam Adams Imperial series, the Imperial Stout. Allow me to remedy that real quick.

Brewed in the Russian Imperial Stout style, Imperial Stout is one of the biggest and baddest brews Boston Brewing Co. has ever brewed up.

The malt bill is huge, calling for a combination of Two-Row Harrington, Metcalfe and Copeland pale malts, Caramel 60, Munich, Special B, Smoked Malted Barley, Roasted Unmalted Barley, and Malted Wheat. East Kent Goldings are the exclusive hop used and everything is brought to life with the house ale yeast.

Here's how Sam Adams describe the finished product:

Huge roasted malt character with smoky, chocolate, and coffee aromas and flavors balanced by an earthy English hop bitterness.
Sounds about right, so let's dive in.

Appearance: A solid black body with a big dark caramel colored head that leaves nice lacing. It certainly looks the part.

Aroma: Rich and complex: bananas, dark fruit, bitter chocolate, sweet roasted malt and alcohol.

Taste: The malt body is massive, bitter, and very roasty (almost burnt at times). Still getting some strong banana and general dark fruit flavors. Definite dark chocolate and coffee notes in the mix too. Plenty of alcohol to compliment everything, but never so much to step on anyone's toes. The aftertaste is big and roasty.

Mouthfeel: Full and velvety body with low carbonation. Dries nicely in the finish.

Drinkability: A sipper, but perhaps a little bit quicker than average for the style.

Verdict: Imperial Stout is another solid beer from the new Samuel Adams Imperial Series. Miles ahead of the Imperial White, and a shade better than the Double Bock, this is my pick from the collection. Well done Jim, this is great stuff.

Grade: A

Samuel Adams LongShot Cranberry Wit Review

Brewery: Boston Brewing Co. | Beer: Samuel Adams LongShot Cranberry Wit
Style: Witbier | ABV: 5.0% | IBUs: 22
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

 Samuel Adams LongShot Cranberry WitContinuing my late as hell wrap-up of the 2009 LongShot mixed pack is Carissa Sweigart’s Cranberry Wit. A sales representative for Samuel Adams, Carissa won the employee contest in 2008. What's even more impressive is that she had never entered a homebrew contest before. Way to start out strong!

Carissa was inspired to brew Cranberry Wit as a tribute to both the Witbier style and her home town of Cape Cod. As for ingredients, the backbone is built of flaked wheat and Belgian Pilsner malt, Sterling and Golding hops make up the hop bill, bitter orange, cinnamon, coriander, grains of paradise, and Ocean Spray cranberry juice are the special ingredients and everything is brought to life by a combination of Belgian Witbier Forbidden Fruit yeasts.

Here's how Sam Adams describe the finished product:

Carissa’s brew is bright, fruity and refreshing. The perfect beer to sip on a chilly day, this crisp brew is flavorful and well rounded.
Sounds good, let's check it out! (Just a quick reassuring note: the notes below were taken when the beer was still fresh back in 2009.)

Appearance: A deeply hazy, golden-orange body capped by a creamy off-white head that's ever so slightly rose-tinged. The head sticks around a while and leaves good lacing.

Aroma: Bready wheat with some nice spiciness and light yeast character. Essentially your standard Wit so far; not much from the cranberries here.

Taste: Cranberries come alive in the flavor. A splash of moderately sour cranberry juice layered nicely over the bready and moderately spicy Witbier underneath. The aftertaste is wheaty with a nice hint of cranberries.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with good carbonation and a drying finish.

Drinkability: A brilliant session choice (if this were available outside the mixed six-pack, of course), just keep in mind the ABV.

Verdict: Carissa has brewed up a solid enough Witbier with a nice cranberry twist. It may not be an earth-shaker, but I can see this working well as a Samuel Adams Summer seasonal.

Grade: B

Note: While this review is being published in 2010, the tasting notes contained within were taken when the beer was fresh last year.

Samuel Adams LongShot Traditional Bock Review

Brewery: Boston Brewing Co. | Beer: Samuel Adams LongShot Traditional Bock
Style: Bock | ABV: 6.8% | IBUs: 28
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into Pilsener glass

Samuel Adams LongShot Traditional BockWell, it's that time of year again, when Samuel Adams releases it's LongShot mixed pack. While I should be posting reviews of this year's beers, I'm actually wrapping up the reviews of last year's. Late pass! Don't worry though, the notes below were taken when the beer was still nice and fresh last year.

Anyway, we're checking out Alex Drobshoff's winning entry from the 2008 contest: Traditional Bock. Alex was inspired to create up this recipe after talking with some friends about how German beer exported abroad was never as good as the real stuff back home. He decided since he wasn't able to fly out to Germany whenever he was in the mood for a good German beer, he'd take a shot at brewing up an authentic German Bock himself.

Since Bocks need to be lagered and Alex was not in possession of an underground cave, he could only work on the beer during the winter. It took two winters to get the beer where he wanted, and after picking up a few blue ribbons, he was ready to submit it to Sam Adams. The rest, as they say, is history.

As for construction, the backbone is built from 2-Row, Munich, Crystal, and Chocolate malt varieties, Hallertauer hops are used exclusively, and Märzen lager yeast is used to get everything going.

Here's how the guys at Sam Adams pitch the beer:

Alex's beer features hints of rich plum and cherry aromas paired with its toasty, malt flavor make this a great beer to linger over on a cool evening.
Let's pretend that it's a cool evening back in 2009 and crack this bad boy open.

Appearance: A clear, brownish-orange body capped by over a finger of creamy, off-white head featuring decent retention and lacing.

Aroma: Rich malt with great nutty and dark-fruity notes; certainly on point for a Bock.

Taste: Just what you'd expect to find in a Bock: earthy, nutty, bready, and ever so slightly chocolaty dark malt. There's some balancing bitterness from the hops, but not much. Towards the end, a nice little flourish of booze that shows up and compliments everything perfectly. I think the best way to describe this is somewhere between what passes as a Bock today and a Doppelbock.

Mouthfeel: A smooth, medium body with good carbonation and a drying finish.

Drinkability: It goes back easily, just keep in mind the moderately high alcohol content.

Verdict: Another hit from the LongShot series, Alex's Traditional Bock is a real winner and dead-on for the style. If this were on the shelves all the time, I'd be sure to pick up a six-pack every now and then.

Grade: A

Note: While this review is being published in 2010, the tasting notes contained within were taken when the beer was fresh last year.

Independence Pale Ale Review

Brewery: Independence Brewing Co. | Beer: Independence Pale Ale
Style: American Pale Ale | ABV: 5.5%
| IBUs: 39
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Independence Pale AleIt's time to check in with Austin's Independence Brewing Company again. This time, we're trying their Independence Pale Ale. That makes its full name "Independence Independence Pale Ale", which appears to be one of those self-titled album situations.

Anyway, the beer is an American Pale Ale and was apparently inspired by the unlikely heroes of Texas, hence the beautiful label art featuring Angelina Eberly. The backbone is built from Two-Row Pale and 20° Caramel malt varieties, Horizon hops are used for bittering, Cascade and Saaz hops are used for dry-hopping, and the whole thing is brought to life by American Ale yeast.

Independence describe the finished product as "bright, bold, and hoppy [with] a distinctive citrus aroma and clean, hoppy finish." Sounds right to me, let's crack it open.

Appearance: A somewhat hazy orange body with a finger of off-white head that leavers decent lacing.

Aroma: Mild, citrusy and somewhat grassy hops over caramel malt. A little thin, but appetizing.

Taste: Very similar. The same hop profile (though more intense) over a solid, biscuity malt backbone keeps everything balanced. There's a hoppy aftertaste, stronger than I expected, that is certainly welcome.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied and refreshing with ample carbonation.

Drinkability: Very quaffable, as you'd expect from a Pale Ale.

Verdict: Independence is a very drinkable, straightforward Pale Ale. It's not going to set the world on fire, but it will work perfectly for a session. I would prefer the hops to be cranked up just a little bit, but then I'm a certified hophead, so I could say that about most beers. Mild and inoffensive, this makes a great "gateway beer" to turn someone onto craft beer.

Grade: B+

Dogfish Head Immort Ale Review

Brewery: Dogfish Head Brewery | Beer: Immort Ale
Style: American Strong Ale | ABV: 11.0% | IBUs: 50
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into tulip glass

Dogfish Head Immort AleIt's always exciting to see a new Dogfish Head beer show up on shelves in Houston, so when I saw Immort Ale for the first time a while back I picked up a few packs despite the high price tag.

First brewed in 1995, Immort Ale is released each spring. It's built with English and Belgian yeast yeast strains, peat-smoked barley, juniper berries, vanilla, and maple syrup from Sam Calagione's family farm then aged in oak tanks at the brewery.

I've seen this called a Barleywine, but I don't quite agree with that. I think it fits better in the catch-all American Strong Ale category, so that's where it's going.

Here's how Dogfish describe the finished product:

Vast in character, luscious & complex. The sweet and earthy flavors meld magnificently in the Immort Ale. But, be warned the abv is 11%, so after 1 or 2 you may start feeling immortal (even though we promise you won't be).
A big Dogfish brew with a witty name is almost always a good thing, so let's get started.

Appearance: A dark and murky red-brown body capped by a little less than a finger of off-white head that recedes rather slowly but leaves little lacing.

Aroma: A rather complex combination of smoke, oak, vanilla, and dark fruit over a rich malt base. As you'd expect with a beer that weighs in at eleven percent alcohol, there is plenty of booze around the edges.

Taste: Just as complex as the nose suggests. Oak, smoke, and peat on top of a rich malt backbone. There's lots of assertive alcohol throughout, but it never seems out of place. Oaky malt and a good amount of alcohol in the aftertaste.

Mouthfeel: The body is a little fuller than medium and is accompanied by adequate carbonation. There's some definite warmth in the cheeks and throat from the substantial alcohol content.

Drinkability: Unsurprisingly, given the big flavor profile and eleven percent alcohol content, this is quite the sipper.

Verdict: Once again, Dogfish Head have pushed the boundaries and come up with something special. Immort Ale really is a complex and unique brew, but also probably one of those "love it or hate it" beers. Luckily for me, I love it.

Grade: A

Friday, July 9, 2010

Rogue Chocolate Stout Review

Brewery: Rogue Ales Brewery | Beer: Chocolate Stout
Style: American Stout | ABV: 6.0%
| IBUs: 69
Serving Method: 22 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Rouge Chocolate StoutAccording to their Web site, Rogue originally created Chocolate Stout for export to Japan. Apparently a success there, the brewery released the beer in the American market back in 2001. Since then, the beer has built up a loyal following and rather deep trophy case. In fact, Rogue notes that it's the only American beer to win an award at the prestigious Mondial de la bière festival in Strasbourg, France.

As you'd hope from a cholatey beer, actual chocolate is added to the beer, in this case imported Dutch bittersweet chocolate.Its backbone is built from Northwest Harrington and Klages, Crystal 135-165, Beeston Chocolate, rolled oats and roasted barley. Cascade is the only hop variety employed and it uses the house Pacman yeast.

Here's how Rogue describe the finished product:

Ebony in color with a rich creamy head. The mellow flavor of oats, chocolate malts and real chocolate are balanced perfectly with the right amount of hops for a bitter-sweet finish.
I love a well-made chocolaty beer, so hopes are pretty high here. Let's see if it can live up.

Appearance: An intensely dark brown body with only the barest hints of brown highlights around the edges. Up top, two fingers of creamy tan head that sticks around a long time and leaves good sheets of lacing.

Aroma: Wow, this is certainly a chocolate themed beer! The aroma profile is absolutely dominated by creamy milk chocolate that reminds me of premium chocolate powder. There's also some dark roasted malt, coffee, and faint alcohol notes to be found, but it's mostly about the chocolate in the nose.

Taste: A big dark-roasted malt profile with plenty of the chocolate powder flavors going on throughout. Certainly one of the most chocolaty beers I've ever tried. As for the Cascade hops, they certainly let their presence be known. It's sweet, and yet nicely bitter at the same time, making it a very balanced beer. The aftertaste is roasty and chocolaty with good bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied and wonderfully creamy with smooth carbonation. The finish is sweet at first with the hops drying it a little as it goes on.

Drinkability: About average; you won't be pounding it like a light lager, but it's hardly a sipper either.

Verdict: Here's a chocolate beer that really delivers in the chocolate department. But, it's not just a one-dimensional beer though, there's enough complexity here to make this a real winner.

Grade: A

Green Flash West Coast IPA Review

Brewery: Green Flash Brewing Co. | Beer: West Coast IPA
Style: American India Pale Ale | ABV: 7.3% | IBUs: 95
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Green Flash West Coast IPAGreen Flash is a brewery with a lot of positive buzz, so when I first saw their neon green six-packs here on the shelves of Houston last year, I was pretty excited. Founded in Vista, California in 2002, Green Flash Brewing Company is the brainchild of Mike and Lisa Hinkley. The company brews up a combination of west coast and Belgian inspired beers and has racked up an impressive collection of awards and accolades.

West Coast IPA is Green Flash's flagship brew, so that's where we're starting off. The beer is pitched as an "extravagantly hopped, full flavored, medium bodied and copper colored" American IPA. The brewery doesn't disclose anything about the malt bill, but here's how they describe the hopping process:

A menagerie of hops are layered throughout the brewing process. Simcoe for unique fruitiness and grapefruit zest, Columbus for strong hop pungency, Centennial for pine and citrus notes, Cascade for floral aroma. A multi-dimensional hop experience.
Sounds like it's just up my alley. Let's dive in.

Appearance: The body is a lovely hazy and red-orange with tons of sediment in suspension (like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale). On top, a generous, fluffy, off-white head with great retention and lacing. Top-notch presentation.

Aroma: Tons of pungent, brassy, citrusy (grapefruit and orange), and piney hops fill your nose as soon as the bottle is cracked. It's almost perfumey. There's a rich caramel malt base underneath it all and a few hints of booze. There's a complex tale to unravel here.

Taste: The hops are just as present in the flavor as they are in the aroma, but more bitter and less sweet. Still very citrusy with plenty of grapefruit and juicy orange flavors. As for the caramel malt backbone, it's there, but it lets the hops take the spotlight. Lingering bitter aftertaste.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied and smooth with moderate carbonation. Leaves a good resiny coating in the mouth to ensure a long bitter aftertaste.

Drinkability: Providing you're a hop fan, this goes back pretty easily.

Verdict: This is a great American IPA, with a hop profile that certainly lives up to the West Coast moniker. Many times when I find myself craving hops I'm not in the mood for an all-out high-ABV hopbomb, and this is exactly the kind of beer I'm after. I'm looking forward to trying the other Green Flash offerings showing up here in Houston (and my fridge).

Grade: A

Saint Arnold Announces Movable Yeast Series

Earlier this week, Saint Arnold announced the release of their "Movable Yeast" series of beers. This new line is all about the different flavors yeast can impart on beer. To showcase these flavors, the series will feature existing Saint Arnold beers fermented with a different strain of yeast.

Saint Arnold will brew up a batch of the base beer and split it into two 60 barrel fermenters. There, the "control" will be pitched with the usual yeast strain, while the new beer will be pitched with the new strain. Each beer will get a clever new name and be shipped off in kegs to restaurants. According to founder Brock Wagner, the brewery is hoping restaurants will serve the two versions side-by-side, so consumers can really get a feel for how much the yeast has changed the flavor profile of the beer.

The plan is to release a new beer will be each quarter. First up in the series is Weedwacker, which is based on the company's popular Kölsch, Fancy Lawnmower. Weedwacker will be fermented with a Bavarian Hefeweizen yeast, which will impart the traditional clove and banana flavors. Also, in a nod to the Hefeweizen tradition, the beer will be served unfiltered.

In November, Saint Arnold plans to release "Altared Amber," which is Amber Ale pitched with Belgian Trappist yeast. Planned for February is Bitter Belgian, which marries Elissa IPA wort with Belgian Trappist yeast. Following that in May, Brown Biite will combine Brown Ale with Alt yeast.

You'll be able to find the Moveable Yeast series in select Texas restaurants starting August 16th. You can find more information on the company's Facebook page.

Image via Saint Arnold