Thursday, April 16, 2009

Ommegang Hennepin Saison

It’s bright and alive in your mouth, and with citrus overtones. Yet, this beer is also sweeter than I would have expected – but not in anyway oversweet. IT comes in at 7.7% ABV, but it’s a light bodied beer, so quite good for summer drinking, yet with enough ‘kick’ to be warming in the winter.

A gorgeous golden hue when poured. Quite well carbonated, like sparkling wine on the tongue. A clean finish.

Hennepin was a Belgian missionary who ‘discovered’ the Niagara Falls.

I recommend it, as a very drinkable brew. Complex, but yet not challenging.

I got a growler full of this from The Charleston Beer Exchange

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Brabant American Wild Ale from Avery Brewing

I received a bottle of this limited-edition wild ale from Rick at Big Foamy Head. It's been in the back of my beer fridge since it arrived here in February. My intent was to allow it to age for a year or two, but then a cloud of WTF came over me recently. You know the drill. So I decided to break it out and pair it with something I thought it might compliment, or vice versa.

Brabant is a barrel-aged wild ale from Avery Brewing, and was extremely limited in production (only 624 cases produced). It was brewed using the infamous Brettanomyces yeast, which gives wild ales their sour flavors. After fermentation was complete, Brabant was aged for 8 months in used Zinfandel barrels.

The result is a beer that, while definitely sour, retains a complexity and depth of flavor that required several sips for me to wrap my head around. The oddest thing I've found about wild ales is that they tend to smell a lot like they taste. That is, at least to me.

The first sniffs of this beer didn't smell sour at all. So I expected that the beer would not approach flavors as sour as I initially figured it would. I guessed wrong. Very wrong, in fact. This thing was deep with flavors of tart currants and unripe cherries. There was way more going on than I'd anticipated.

It wasn't until I allowed the beer to rise in temperature a little that the aromas I was looking for started to lift off of the beer, and began to match the flavor almost exactly. In fact, the warmer this beer became, the deeper those flavors of bitter fruit began to come through. And I love that about this style.

In addition, Brabant was the perfect compliment to what I'd decided to pair it with. Left on my own for dinner, I tend to eat things my wife would rather not. Tonight, it was Boudin Noir, or blood sausage. Earthy, mealy, laden with spices, and protein rich -- Boudin Noir got along quite nicely with Brabant. It was Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman all over again.

At the Great American Beer Festival two years ago, I ran into this couple who'd been to Belgium on several occasions. They said that one of the most common things they saw wild ales paired with was horse meat. I'm not 100% sure I'm ready to pair a beer named after an actual horse, that has horse blanket aromas, with meat from an actual horse. But for this meal, it more than sufficed.

Thanks again to Rick for an excellent experience with an American Wild Ale not many people get a chance to explore. It was truly art in a bottle.

8.6% ABV
Limited Production
Avery Brewing's Brabant

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Lost Abbey Gift of the Magi 2008

Since this is my first review I thought I'd start off with some caveats. My sense of smell isn't that great and my palette isn't as educated as my fellow writers so from me you'll get discussions about the really special beers I have been fortunate enough to get in my hometown of San Diego and elsewhere, in terms far simpler than the hardcore beer geeks can put it. With that out of the way, to the beer!

My home away from home, O'Brien's pub, had some Lost Abbey beers on tap around the holidays. I've got a 2007 bottle aging at home but I took the opportunity to finally drink it since it was on tap that day. Semi-related, I got to meet Tomme Arthur, a very nice guy for being such a genius, a couple weeks later at a special Lost Abbey night at the same place. I told him I really enjoyed his beers and his reply was "yeah, you look like you do"...I'm still not quite sure how to take that.

This year's Gift of the Magi is a deep amber color (Tending towards golden to compliment the frankincense and myrrh) with very little carbonation; there's almost no head on it. The smell was very sweet, reminiscent of apple juice. As for the, I now know what myrrh tastes like. Bitter, but not packing anywhere near the punch of a lot of our other local brews. It's also a little resiny, which is to be expected given the ingredients. This beer, if it were a book, would be like Pynchon or Faulkner as opposed to Dan Brown or John Grisham. It's not something you grab for fun, like a Red Trolley or a Leine. You pick it up, sit back and take it in slowly while trying to not let the complexity overwhelm you. When you're finished, you're left with the feeling that you've been challenged and you've bettered yourself for having gone through the experience but you're not whooping it up and looking around for another to chug. It's a very contemplative beer that I respect and is definitely a great special occasion beer, I'm very much looking forward to finding out how time changes the bottle I've got on reserve for a special occasion.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Visit to Russian River

Last month I had the opportunity to travel to the Napa area to run a marathon, visit some wineries and of course check out the beer scene.

I'll start out with a mile-by-mile course description

Ok cutting to the chase, the gem of our trip was a visit to the Russian River Brewery and here is what I think you need to know.

Russian River Brewery is located in the heart of downtown Santa Rosa. If you are from the Midwest, you will be struck by the facade that screams, "I was once an AMF Bowling Alley." Perhaps someone can confirm my suspicions as I couldn't corroborate that with google. Once inside, you'll see vintage beer signs from the heartland and yes, the bar and pub tables are fashioned from bowling lanes. The famous chalk boards display the available taps, American styles on the left and Belgian styles on the right.

Russian River doesn't offer official tours. I'm told that they may accommodate you if there is staff available. We elected to focus on the tasting and didn't bother to ask. Fortunately the pub affords views of the Barrel Aging room as well as the main brewery.

I started out with a Consecration: A strong dark ale aged for 6 months inside used cabernet sauvignon barrels with currants added. It's powerfully sour due to the Lacto, Pedio, Brett dosing. At 10.5%, it's not to be trifled with. My companions elected to jump right to the Pliney and commented on the balance despite the expectation of hop overload

We kept our sever busy ordering Beatification (a 100% brett beer), appetizers, Blind Pig and pizza, swapping glasses with each other. At one point someone made the mistake of ordering a half pint of Pliney. It was ceremonious placed on the table and announce to everyone in the bar as a “Tiny Pliney”

One of the most impressive things to me, and I have not seen very much written about it, was the beer sampler. If most places offer you a drag race of 4-5 getting you from A to B to know that brewery, RR gives you an F1 course where you are encouraged to cut across the track. I know of no other sampler which covers so much of the Belgian styles as well as a primer on American Pales from 20 to 90 IBUs. Weighing in at 16 beers, our table looked as though we were playing a 4 man chess game with each sampler piece carefully debated upon, each person careful not to let go of the sampler until they were sure it was the correct move.

Caption: The sampler looks to be what one might envision the dance of Sac, Pedio, Lacto, and Brett under a microscope.

In the event you are traveling with wine people, RR offers a decent selection of wines. Foodies will appreciate the antipasto, focaccia and pizza. Solidly made crust and mozzarella cheese signal that the craft in craft beer also extends to the kitchen

If you have an opportunity to bring beer back home with you I strongly suggest you check out the Bottle Barn Russian River sells a number of their beers at the brewery, however, it's quite common that the Bottle Barn will have offerings that the brewery does not. Give them a call beforehand to find out what's available. We found Supplication and Beatification at the Bottle Barn and these were not available at the brewery. I was also happy to find New Belgium Dark Kriek.

Consider picking up a 2 bottle shipper or a 15 bottle checked bag box for much cheaper than one of the many wine shipping services. Bottle Barn has the best selection that is close to the brewery. Note that Bottle Barn closes at 5pm on Sunday and 6:30 on other days.

A couple of other notes:

  • We did visit the Silverado Brewing Company in St Helena and the Calistoga Inn in Calistoga. We found both places had clean, tasty ales, but they were not very challenging. Check them out if you have time, but press on if your beer itinerary has bigger goals.
  • If you are in Calistoga and need a lunch or dinner with a quality beer, then head on over to the Hydro Grill. Hydro Grill provides quality food at affordable prices. The bar features 20 taps representing area breweries such as Russian River, Lagunitas, Bear Republic and Anderson Valley.
  • Anyone remember Primo? It's back and is now becoming available on draft and in bottles. It's not craft quality but it is distinctive and nostalgic for many.
  • If you elect to ship beer in a wine shipper, tell them that you are shipping olive oil or place that box in a larger box. If the shipper believes it to be wine (or beer) they will have to use a third party shipper and that will compound the charges and the shipping time.
  • If you must do wineries (and chances are you probably will) visit some of the smaller wineries on the Silverado Trail in Sonoma County. These are much more low key than Napa and won't turn their noses up at brewers. My top recommendation is Vincent Arroyo.

Next time I visit I won't be distracted by any 2600 calorie deficit activities and can more fully focus on the other brewery gems in the area, namely Lagunitas and Bear Republic.