Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Westvleteren to be Commercialized

In the world of the beer geek, Westvleteren is truly a hallowed name.

Based in the the Abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren and founded in 1838, the Westvleteren Brewery (or Brouwerij Westvleteren) is one of the seven Trappist breweries operating today. While they only brew three beers currently, one of their offerings, Westvleteren 12°, is routinely named the best beer in the world. The fabled brew tops both the BeerAdvocate and RateBeer charts and has become a right of passage for many beer lovers.

Up until this point, the monks have only sold their beer on site at the abbey and only sell enough to cover the expenses of the monastery. Demand greatly outpaces supply, but the monks have not budged. As the legend of Westy 12 spread, the monks began to ration the beer, with tighter and tighter limits on how much one could buy. In 2009, the limit became one case per license plate per month for the 12°, with a hard to obtain reservation required. While the quality of the beer is beyond reproach, there is no doubt that all of this scarcity has added to the myth and driven even more demand for the beer.

Last week, a kind Belgian soul that had dutifully been sending bottles of Westy 12 overseas at no profit to himself announced the monks had asked him politely to stop. Rumors began to fly, with some positing that the monks were set to announce commercial sales of their beers. It turns out those rumors were correct, as the monks have announced they will indeed start to sell their beer outside of the abbey for the first time ever.

In an effort to pay for renovations to the abbey, discussions are underway with Belgian warehouse chain Colruyt for the first foray in commercial sales for the brewery. If all goes to plan, Belgian consumers will be able to buy a gift pack containing a mix of Westvleteren Blonde, 8°, and the fabled 12°.

Details are relatively sparse at the moment, with no definite figures on how much beer the monks plan to sell outside the abbey, or how long for. The operator of the brewery has said "we are required to at least temporarily to brew more beer," which gives the impression that the monks aren't planning this as an ongoing venture.

Source: De Morgan (in Dutch)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Samuel Adams Holiday Porter Review

Brewery: Boston Brewing Co. | Beer: Samuel Adams Holiday Porter
Style: English Porter | ABV: 5.8%
| IBUs: 35
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Samuel Adams Holiday PorterShowing up every winter for the last six years in Sam Adams' mixed seasonal pack, Holiday Porter has built a reputation as one of the brewery's best beers. It's what Sam Adams describe as a traditional-style British Porter and was brewed as a tribute to the original beers and those it was named after.

While it's still pretty far from the holiday season, the unseasonably cool weather here in Houston has me in a wintry mood, so I figured it was as good a time as any to post my notes from the 2008 batch.

There's a pretty complicated ingredient list behind the beer. The backbone is built from Two-Row Harrington, Metcalfe, Copeland, Caramel 60, Munich 10, and Carafa malt varieties along with flaked oats to help round everything off. It's hopped with East Kent Goldings, Fuggles, and Spalt Spalter noble nops, with more Goldings added during a bout of dry-hopping. As usual, everything is brought to life with the house ale yeast.

Here's how the describe the finished product:

Robust and full bodied. Deep, rich and roasty malt balanced with traditional English ale hops and a touch of German Noble hops.
It's still not December yet, but let's dig in anyway.

Appearance: A murky, deep dark brown body that blocks most light, except for a few ruby highlights. Up top, two solid fingers of tan-tinged head with good retention and great lacing.

Aroma: Equal proportions of roasted malt, milk chocolate and toffee with some hints of dark fruit and nuttiness thrown into the mix.

Taste: The taste follows the aroma well, but is a little less sweet and adds a mild coffee dimension. This is very much a Porter, but perhaps a little lighter in intensity than usual. The aftertaste is nicely roasty and nutty.

Mouthfeel: A silky body that's perhaps a little fuller than medium accompanied by smooth carbonation. Dries in the finish.

Drinkability: Securely in the middle of the drinkability spectrum.

Verdict: Holiday Porter is certainly a welcome inclusion in the Sam Adams Winter seasonal pack and fits the season well. But, that being said, I can see why they don't offer it year-round - it's just not very compelling.

Grade: B-

Note: While the review above is being posted in October 2010, the tasting notes contained within were taken when the beer was fresh in December 2008.

Rogue Santa's Private Reserve Review

Brewery: Rogue Ales Brewery | Beer: Santa's Private Reserve
Style: American Red Ale | ABV: 6.0%
| IBUs: 44
Serving Method: 22 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Rogue Santa's Private ReserveThink about winter seasonals, and what comes to mind is a parade of rich, dark, and warming beers. While that makes sense, it can get a little old. That's why I love when brewers release lighter winter seasonals that buck the trend.

Rogue apparently shares my opinion, as their Santa's Private Reserve is an American Red Ale. While it may not yet be winter, it's cold enough outside that I decided to post up my review of 2008's batch.

A double-hopped variation on the old Saint Rogue Red, Santa's Private Reserve is a big Red Ale with ABV and IBU ratings to match. The backbone is built from Carastan, Crystal, Rogue Micro Barley Farm Dare, and Risk malts varieties. It's hopped with Chinook, Rogue Farm Revolution, and Freedom Hops. As always, everything is brought to life with the house Pacman yeast.

Rogue is a brief in their description, noting on that it is "reddish in color, with a roasty, malty flavor and a hoppy spruce finish." Let's pretend it's December and dig in!

Appearance: A crystal-clear, rich reg-orange body with brilliant orange highlights. Up top, two creamy fingers of off-white head that hang around a long time, leaving great lacing.

Aroma: Citrusy and somewhat piney hops over a caramel malt base. Basically a Red Ale with the hops cranked up.

Taste: Up front, a properly bitter splash of hops with citrus, tropical fruit and piney character. Underneath, a toasty, biscuity, and caramel-like malt backbone keeps everything balanced well. Bitterness continues throughout the aftertaste.

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

Drinkability: A great session beer if you're into hops.

Verdict: I'm always happy to find great Winter seasonals besides the typical Stouts, Barleywines, etc. and Santa's Private Reserve fits the bill well. If you're looking for a Winter seasonal heavy on the hops, but perhaps not as heavy as Celebration, this is a great option.

Grade: A

Note: While the review above is being posted in October 2010, the tasting notes contained within were taken when the beer was fresh in December 2008.

Flying Dog Kerberos Tripel Review

Brewery: Flying Dog Brewery | Beer: Kerberos Tripel
Style: Tripel | ABV: 8.5% | IBUs: 27
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into tulip glass

Flying Dog Kerberos TripelWhile there have been a few different Flying Dog beers here on Pintlog, I have yet to review one from their Canis Major series of big beers. We're starting the series off today with Kerberos, a Tripel with a mean bite.

Believe it or not, but this is actually the first Tripel that's made it on top PintLog, meaning we have to stop for a quick description of the style. One of the traditional Trappist style, the Tripel is stronger than Enkel (now generally known as "Blond") and Dubbel, but a little weaker than the Quadrupel.

Tripels are a little darker than a Strong Golden Ale with a fuller and maltier body to match. They typically have lots of peppery phenols, citrusy esters, sweet malt, and spicy hops. They're strong in alcohol content, but usually have a sneaky masked punch you have to watch out for.

This particular Tripel is named for the hound that guards the gates of Hades in Greek mythology and seems to slot right into the middle of the IBU and ABV range for Tripels. As for ingredients, the backbone is built from Pilsener and Aromatic malts and it's hopped with Golding and Saaz hops. It's bottle conditioned for authenticity, so this dog is still kicking when you bring it home.

Flying Dog are brief with their notes, noting only that it has a "dark golden color and a sweet flavor with a dry and spicy finish." Let's see if the beer speaks for itself.

Appearance: A slightly hazy golden-amber body with less than a finger of off-white head that burns out rapidly and leaves no lacing.

Aroma: A nicely complex combination of fruit (most notably orange), spices (clove and coriander), yeast, and some bare whiffs of alcohol. It certainly smells like a Tripel, that's for sure.

Taste: A mix similar to the nose: apple, orange, pepper, and yeast all over a mild malt backbone. Alcohol is more noticeable than in the nose, but still far from brash. The finish is peppery and citrusy.

Mouthfeel: A medium body with moderate carbonation and a drying finish. At times you can detect some slickness and mild burn from the alcohol.

Drinkability: Rather easily drinkable, but the alcohol content will slow you down eventually.

Verdict: Kerberos is a tasty brew, but falls short of brilliant. Certainly not a bad showing for an American brewery without a tradition of brewing Belgian style beers.

Grade: B

Belhaven Scottish Ale Review (Nitro-Can)

Brewery: Belhaven Brewery Company Ltd. | Beer: Scottish Ale
Style: Scottish Ale | ABV: 5.2% | IBUs: ~30
Serving Method: 14.9 oz. nitro-can poured into pint glass

Belhaven Scottish AleSituated in Belhaven, Scotland, the Belhaven Brewing Company has been brewing beer since back in 1719. They held out as an independent company all the way until 2005, at which point they were acquired by Greene King.

Until that takeover, they were the oldest and largest independent brewery in Scotland. While it's sad they had to sell, 286 years was a pretty damn good run.

Their flagship beer and the beer they've been brewing the longest is the somewhat unimaginatively named Scottish Ale. It's available in both bottles and nitro-cans, and I'm a sucker for the widget so that's where we're starting

There's not much information out there about ingredients, process or specs, so we'll have to deal with a simple description from the brewery:

Malty and hoppy. [...] Delivering a sweet, smooth and creamy finish, Scottish Ale has a stunning ruby colour in the glass. Magic.
It's certainly not a magical description, but it's what's insides the can that counts. Let's activate the widget and jump in.

Appearance: A crystal-clear, orange-brown body capped by two amazingly solid fingers of creamy head that endure until the bottom of the glass and leave great lacing all the way down.

Aroma: Spicy, earthy hops and assorted fruit over toasty malt with some mineral notes. It's all muted a little by the dense head.

Taste: Essentially what's promised in the nose, but with the intensity ratcheted up a notch. Earthy hops and fruit (banana and apricot) over a backbone of sweet, lightly toasted malt. There's some nuttiness and a hint of smokiness added in, giving it a little more character. The aftertaste is fruity with toasty malt.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied and highly creamy with typically smooth nitro bubbles. Dries in the finish.

Drinkability: An easy-drinking brew that makes for a great session choice.

Verdict: Straightforward, yet tasty, and nicely sessionable, Belhaven is a great example of the lower-alcohol style of Scottish Ale. If you're a fan of nitro creaminess and you're looking for a new quaffable new brew, this is a great choice.

Grade: B

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Deschutes Cinder Cone Red Review

Brewery: Deschutes Brewery | Beer: Cinder Cone Red
Style: American Red Ale | ABV: 5.4% | IBUs: 55
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Deschutes Cinder Cone RedHere we have another case of a review that is way too late for its own good. I was checking out the Deschutes site looking for information on this beer and it turns out it was retired earlier this year. D'oh!

Anyway, Cinder Cone Red was brewed from 2003 through 2010 as Deschutes' spring seasonal. A Red Ale, it was named after northern slope of Mt. Bachelor turns red as the snow starts to melt in the spring. Very clever.

As for ingredients, the backbone was built with Northwest Two-Row Pale, Caramel, Dextrin Black Barley malts and it was hopped with a mix of Cascade, Amarillo, Simco, and Tettnanger hops varieties. It was an interesting mix of hops and malt, one which Deschutes claimed to "captivate thirsty palates with its toffee-like flavor, intense citrus aroma and defined bitterness"

Let's hop in the Delorean and take a taste, shall we?

Appearance: Pours an ever-so-slightly hazy, rich orange-brown body with a solid two fingers of off-white head. Great retention and lacing.

Aroma: Citrusy and floral hops over a sweet caramel malt base. This smells great.

Taste: Lots of hops right off the bat. They're citrusy, juicy, a little spicy, and decently bitter for the style. The Amarillo and Tettnang combination is just brilliant here. Underneath, plenty of lightly-roasted caramel malt in the backbone. This is certainly a well-hopped Red, but it's still well-balanced. The aftertaste is nicely bitter.

Mouthfeel: The body is a little fuller than medium and the carbonation is nice and smooth. Dry finish.

Drinkability: Tasty with a mild alcohol content, this makes for a brilliant session brew.

Verdict: Cinder Cone Red was a real hit. I loved the combination of hops, and the rest of the beer wasn't too shabby either. It seems odd to me that a beer this tasty and sessionable was a seasonal, it seems like the kind of beer that would have flown off the shelves year-round. I'll really miss this one.

Grade: A

Note: While the review above is being posted in October 2010, the tasting notes contained within were taken when the beer was fresh in May 2009.

Samuel Adams Blackberry Witbier Review

Brewery: Boston Brewing Co. | Beer: Samuel Adams Blackberry Witbier
Style: Witbier | ABV: 5.5%
| IBUs: ~15
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Samuel Adams Blackberry WitbierWhile my review of Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat didn't go so well, I'm back to give the other the other year-round Sam Adams fruity wheat beer a shot.

Unlike Cherry Wheat, which is just sort of a general wheat beer with added fruit, Blackberry Witbier is brewed with a specific style in mind (guess which one!). According to the marketing, it was brewed as the companies own version of the Witbier, with all of the the classic flavors along with some subtle sweetness and tartness from blackberries.

It was first brewed as part of the Beer Lover's Choice promotion in 2008. In that contest it defeated a coffee-themed Stout by a margin of 60-40 and became part of the regular year-round lineup.

These guys are always generous with the ingredient details, and this particular beer has an interesting roster. Its backbone is built from Two-row Harrington, Metcalfe, and Copeland pale malts along with malted wheat and it's hopped exclusively with Hallertau Mittelfrueh noble hops. In addition, there are Oregon Marion blackberries and the orange peel and coriander traditional to the style. Everything is brought to life with the house ale yeast.

Here's how the describe the finished product:

The blackberries are brought together with a hint of traditional orange and coriander to complement the malt character and give a smooth finish that’s both sweet and tart.
Sounds good to me. Let's dig in!

Appearance: A nicely hazy golden-honey body with lots of particles in suspension. Certainly a little darker than the average Witbier. On top, one finger of creamy, off-white head that features good retention and lacing.

Aroma: Lots of juicy blackberry over a bit of pale-ish malt and some subtle spiciness. The blackberries are more sweet than tart and somewhat grapey.

Taste: Not quite as berry-like in the flavor profile, but still rather grapey, spicy, and now somewhat sour. Underneath, there's a solid bready malt backbone to keep everything grounded. The aftertaste is grainy and slightly juicy.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied and dry with sharp carbonation.

Drinkability: I'd call it about average for a Wit; nicely refreshing.

Verdict: While it's probably more of a Fruit Beer than a true Witbier, the end result is not particularly exciting regardless of style. Compared with Cherry Wheat, this is a much more pleasing proposition.

Grade: B