There Are Oysters in My Beer

•December 1, 2010 • Leave a Comment

After a multi-day work trip to Raleigh, North Carolina, I decided to unwind with a new beer upon my arrival home.

Over the Thanksgiving weekend I was visiting my in-laws and we took a trip to the 9th Street Italian Market in Philadelphia.  As we were approaching 9th street, Red noticed a sign that read The Craft Beer Store and promptly brought it to my attention.  We made a note to examine the establishment on our return trip.  While I was not overly impressed with their selection or prices, they did have one beer I had not seen before: Island Creek Oyster Stout from Harpoon’s 100 Barrel Series.

The premise of the beer is certainly a unique one: incorporate oysters in the brewing process of the stout.  This beer contains oysters from my native state, The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which not coincidentally is also the home of Harpoon brewery.  I feel it was my duty as a native New Englander to give the beer a go.

The Island Creek pours a deep dark black with a light sandy head.  The nose is sweet with malt and very sweet coffee notes.  After the very sweet nose, I am expecting a very malty sweet rich mouth feel.  Instead, I am welcomed with bitter chocolate that is a nice juxtaposition from the sweet nose.  The flavor expands and rounds throughout the mouth with smooth warm malts that are only slightly sweet and the finish is a slightly mineral and perhaps with a touch of salt on the tip of the tongue.  The mouth feel is smooth and drinkable without being thin.  Although, it has a relatively low in ABV of 5.5% there is just a touch of heat from the alcohol.

The Island Creek Oyster Stout won’t blow you away, but you won’t be disappointed either, this is a solid after dinner winter brew that will work well with a variety of dishes.  This subtle richness of this beer will pair excellently with a well aged gruyere, but could also hold well with chocolate dish because the 35 IBU and touch of mineral will cut through some the richness while the coffee notes will play will with the chocolate.  I will even go out on a limb and recommend this with a gamey stew.  I can see this stout holding up well against a hearty lamb.

Enjoy the flavor the oysters bring…

Saúde!

Double Bastard Ale by Stone Brewing Company

•November 22, 2010 • 4 Comments

It’s no secret that I am an unapologetic fan of Stone Brewing Company.  Since 1996 this brewery has consistently delivered brilliant beers.  Indeed, some of their libations pass as currency.  About a month ago, I was fortunate enough to be acquainted with a Baltimore Ravens fan and when his team was set to battle my beloved New England Patriots he foolishly wagered a six-pack of Stone’s Ruination IPA on the outcome of that gridiron mêlée.  It is suffice to state that all my wagers should result in such delicious victory.

Nevertheless, I digress from the topic at hand, Stone’s Double Bastard Ale.  In addition to their outstanding regularly produced beer, Stone also releases limited runs that are released annually or in the case of our ale today, seasonally.  Stone’s Double Bastard is released in November and has done so annually since 1997.

This is not an ale for the faint of heart and the bottle duly warns those who may be faint of palate.  From the bottle:

Warning: Double Bastard is not to be wasted on the tentative or weak.  Only the worthy are invited and then only enter at your own risk. If you have any modicum of hesitation DO NOT buy this bottle.  Instead leave it for a worthy soul who has already matriculated to the sublime ecstasy of what those in the know refer to as “Liquid Arrogance”

If you have never had any of the Stone beers, prepare yourself.  Stone truly makes extreme beers and for that I am exceptionally grateful.  The regularly available Arrogant Bastard Ale is above 100 IBUs.

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The IBU is a take on the European Bitterness Unit (EBU).  Quantifying the bitterness in a beer was once a less than perfect science.  However, IBU and EBUs are measured through the use of spectrophotometry.  Yet, even this can yield results that will not necessarily equate to the experience on one’s palate.  While a spectrophotometer can accurately measure the bittering units in a beer it doesn’t take into account the other components of the beer, specifically the malts.  An English Special Bitter will have a lower IBU than an Imperial Stout, yet to anyone’s palate the ESB will clearly taste more bitter than the ESB.  21st Amendment’s Back in Black labels itself as 65 IBUs, but its aggressive malts masks much of the hops

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The 2010 Double Bastard Ale is an American strong ale.  It is an aggressively hopped ale, but is brilliantly balanced with malt.  It pours an enticing amber mahogany.  There is minimal lacing in my brandy snifter, but the viscous barley wine style pour style still imparts a beautifully sweet and bitter nose.  There are wonderful subtle floral notes that linger on the peripheries of warm brown sugar, dark fruit, and ripe banana, but they are wonderfully cut with brawny interjection of bright citrus and pine.

Double Bastard Ale

Photo Courtesy of Kitchen Treats

With the ‘Bastard’ moniker, I expected a stark bitter bite.  Instead, I was treated to a well balanced ale that has the full mouth richness of a barley wine that exhibits flavor components of molasses, fig, and pineapple that is rounded with baking spices and a touch of pine.  The minimal carbonation contributes to the richness of the ale.  There is only the tiniest hint of heat form the 11% ABV of the ale and it only serves to accent the luxuriousness of the ale.

I fully imagine this ale will age exceptionally ale.  While I can only speculate, the robust molasses will enhance the fruit flavors as they blossom with age.  If you decide to cellar this ale, Stone recommends that this ale be cellared at 55 degrees, which should be right in line with other ales and wines in your cellar.

Once again, Stone serves up a winner with its 2010 vintage.  Find one and enjoy.

Saúde!

Fireside Chat Ale by 21st Amendment

•October 25, 2010 • 1 Comment

The 1920s ushered in the era of prohibition, flappers, the Great Depression, and the Golden Age of Radio.  As the depression worsened in the early 1930s, those that were fortunate enough to do so would gather around the family or neighbor’s radio and take some time to enjoy such programs as Professor Quiz, the Champion Spark Plug Hour, and The A&P Gypsies.  However, the programming that elicits the strongest remarks and memories from the individuals of this era are President Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats.

Starting in March of 1933 Roosevelt would give 30 of these addresses to the American people with his final Fireside Chat occurring in June of 1944 a little less than a year before his death.  Roosevelt’s easy style bred a type of familiarity and reassurance that was tremendously successful.  The Fireside Chats would far surpass the number of listeners from even the most popular programming.

After class, I found myself at The Liquor Pump talking to Harry and he had just received a shipment that included 21st Amendment’s Fireside Chat Ale.  This was exactly what I had in mind and the Beer of the Week was decided.

Like one of Roosevelt’s addresses, 21st Amendment has me huddled around this beer and I am enjoying its message.  From the playful artwork on the can –Roosevelt is enjoying (I presume) a beer from a snifter by the fire and if one looks carefully, he is chatting with an elf in the chair opposite him – to the quick dark teak colored pour this ale entices the senses right from the start.

The warm white head lasts quite a while which gives ample time to take in the demonstrative malt notes which are completely laced with the scent of an overly ripe banana that is neither cloy nor has the sharp notes of banana like a Belgian.  As the head dissipates leaving a significant amount of lacing, the notes of spice – primarily nutmeg and clove – become evident.  The slightly sweet malts are made complex by the dry taste of raw cinnamon and clove.  The finish is long-lasting; the malts disappear, but as the malt fades I am left with a touch of fruity chocolate, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  One particular aspect that is of particular note is how wonderfully bitter this ale tastes.  No one would ever confuse it with an IPA, but most winter ales are aggressively malty, which tends towards quite a bit of sweetness.  21st Amendment uses a generous amount of Magnum and Goldings hops that round out not only the taste (self-styled as 45 IBUs) but cuts a good amount of sweetness from the nose as well.

This is by far the best winter seasonal in recent memory.  I appreciate bold flavors, but many of the winter seasonals have so much spice that it becomes a jumbled mask of flavor that can hardly be defined as beer.  Others are so unimaginative that they don’t even warrant a second thought.  Fireside Chat is now the measuring stick by which all other winter seasonals will be measured.  It is eminently drinkable.  It is absolutely packed with flavor.  Yet, as a relatively powerful brew at 7.9%, it cleverly disguises itself as a flavorful session beer.  That is quite the powerful deception.

It’s time to crank up the old Victrola and throw another log on the fire because I envision quite a few more of these finding their way to me.

Saúde!

Odyssey Ale from Allagash Brewery

•October 19, 2010 • Leave a Comment

With the return to grad school, I have been negligent in posting a Beer of the Week.  I cannot promise that this will fully return to form during the school year, but I will endeavor to imbibe fine libations as often as humanly possible.

One of Harry’s last recommendations is an ale created by Allagash Brewery located in Portland, Maine.  Their offering, Odyssey, is a Belgian strong dark ale.  Allagash ages and blends this wheat ale in a two stage process.  During the first segment of the process the batch is divided into two portions and some is aged in New American Toast Oak while the remainder is placed into stainless steel.  Allagash states that this segment of the process takes over six months.  Once the ale is sufficiently aged, the second stage is to combine these disparate batches and then bottle condition the ale with Candi sugar and inject another round of yeast.  These additional measures are quite evident in the fullness and strong flavor structure of this ale.

My Odyssey was served in a 750 ML bottle that was corked and bottled in January of 2010.  Per the recommendation on the label, I poured my ale slowly into a wide mouth glass.  Odyssey pours a beautiful rosewood color with a sandy white head that retreats quickly from the middle leaving a small white ring along the glass with little to no lacing.

The nose is strong with unsweetened vanilla bean and brown sugar.  A touch of dark fruit clings to the aroma with a tease of slight oak and spice – clove and the faintest whiff of nutmeg –  that is almost to subtle to detect, but gives a preview of what is to come.

My first taste is full of explosive flavor.  I am overwhelmingly thankful for the aging.  The traditional and almost severe fruit and yeast flavors that are found in the traditional Belgian flavor profile have been tamed and submissively sit in the corner.  There is only the mildest hint of banana flavor.  Instead, I am welcomed with big malty brown sugar and fig flavors that are controlled by the fabulously dry finish.  I was concerned when I first inhaled the aromas.  I thought Allagash had made the mistake of aging Odyssey in bourbon oak barrels.  I have yet to find a bourbon barrel beer that has not been cloy to the point of being undrinkable.  (However, I have been informed that my search is about to come to an end.  Bourbon County Imperial Stout by Goose Island is apparently the nectar of the gods.  We shall soon find out).  I will go out on a limb and speculate that Allagash has procured old wine barrels for their aging process.  There is a very distinct dry wine like finish that is slightly tannic and completely wonderful.  Even for me, this is a hearty beer.  There is distinct heat from the high ABV of 10.3%, however it isn’t so hot that I would have guessed that high of an alcohol content just from flavor.  Nevertheless, if there is one flaw in this ale (and an admittedly small one at that), I think this heat somewhat detracts from the overall experience of this delicious ale.  With the strong vanilla nose and high ABV, bourbon is never far from your mind with this ale and that is not necessarily what you are expecting or want from this style.

Nevertheless, this is a fine, fine ale.  The mouth feel is smooth and lively with little carbonation.  This is a delicious dessert beer that will fantastically pair with a caramel bread pudding or sticky toffee.  Odyssey will also match well against a robust Dominican or Cuban cigar.  The delicious flavors of a Cuban Montecristo #2 – specifically the leather and wood – will match beautifully with the middle spicy notes of nutmeg and wood flavor of the Odyssey (if Cuban cigars were legal that is).

If you don’t want to cellar this ale (and you certainly can; store it around 50-54°F), now is the perfect time to have it.  This the right beer for a crisp autumn evening: warm, dark, and fulfilling.  So, pop the cork, pour a glass, and enjoy it with your favorite Cuban cigar of the legal pre-embargo variety, of course.

Saúde!

Campari or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bitter

•October 14, 2010 • 2 Comments

A long time ago in a cocktail lounge located in the heart of New Jersey, Red and I were introduced to the apéritif Campari.  It started as a simple experiment.  Bitter?  Sure.  Apéritif?  Sounds divine; our appetite could be whetted.  Something new?   Of course we’ll try it.

Before delving into this fine spirit, I would be remiss if I didn’t start with a little history on the beverage.  Apéritifs were invented in the 1840s by Joseph Dubonnet.  The original purpose of his concoction was to use it as a vehicle to deliver quinine to French soldiers.  While I enjoy my aperitifs, my preferred method of quinine ingestion is still the British Army method: a gin and tonic.  Nevertheless, we must give a tip of the cap and give thanks to malaria for these delicious beverages.

Campari was developed not long after Dubronnet’s initial foray.  In 1860 Gaspare Campari unveiled his new drink to the world.  Gaspare Campari was an exceptionally gifted drink master and was a maitre licoriste by the age of 14.  Gaspare Campari’s unique beverage is comprised of over 60 different ingredients.  The exact formula is still a closely guarded secret, but there are a few ingredients that are generally accepted to be true in the formula.  The first and possibly one of the most exotic is cochineal dye which gives Campari its distinct red coloring.  Cochineal dye, if you are not familiar with it, is made from the insect: Dactylopius coccus. The dye is produced from the female insect, which is dried and reduced to powder.  Additionally, it is suspected that cascarilla bark from the Bahamas, which has a strong bitter flavor, is also used.

Campari like all good aperitifs is complex.  Despite dozens of previous experiences, there are subtleties and nuances to Campari that I still discover when I enjoy it.  It is a bitter drink, but how bitter is still a bone of contention with Red and myself.  I find it to be bitter with a slight sweetness to it.  Red however finds it to be very sweet on its own with an overtone of bitter.  I must once again admit some slight deficiencies in my palate and side with her because the physical evidence outweighs my perception.  If a bottle of Campari is left alone long enough (30 days or less is sufficient time), when one twists open the cap of the bottle there is a rim of crystallized sugar in the grooves of the screw top.  However, I would be thoughtless if I did not include a caveat with declaring this beverage ‘sweet’.  If you are expecting Campari to be sweet like a cosmopolitan, lemon drop, or some other horrific mocktail or disgusting shooters, you will be overwhelmed by the bitter component of Campari.  This is a beverage for nuanced and sophisticated palates and I don’t think Campari would have it any other way.  I like to think of Campari in a similar vein as a strong and robust rauchbier.  You prepare yourself.  You sit back and brace, but it generally doesn’t matter.  Despite how prepared you are for it – unless Campari is your beverage of choice – that first sip is likely to take you aback.  This is where a superb bar chef can make all the difference in the world.

I believe a quick preface is in order to qualify my previous statement and to understand the rest of what I will write.  Red and I were fortunate enough to live near my favorite bar, Catherine Lombardi, in New Brunswick, NJ for several years.  The owners Francis and Mark are exacting and their cocktails are nothing short of magnificent.  Part of their exacting nature is how they train their bar chefs.  Without going into too much detail (that is for a later blog entry), the best and brightest in the area will come to work for these gentlemen because such is the nature of their enterprise.  It is a finishing school for those that desire to make their name in the culinary and mixologist world.  Our bar chef of choice was an exceptionally talented gentlemen that carried the nondescript moniker of Jon.

Enjoying the establishment as much as we did, we became quasi-regulars and Jon quickly recognized and understood our palates and knew what cocktails we would enjoy.  On perhaps our second or third trip, Jon recommended a Negroni to Red and upon hearing a quick description, she quickly agreed.  The generally accepted recipe for a Negroni is as follows:

1 part Bitters (Such as Campari; this is not to be confused with Angostura or Peychaud’s bitters)

1 part sweet vermouth

1 part gin

This cocktail is a play on the Americano.  It is much stronger than the Americano as it substitutes gin for the seltzer in the Americano.  The Negroni is a strong well rounded drink.  It is floral and herbaceous from not only the Campari, but also the vermouth.  Again, I cannot emphasis enough the importance of using good vermouth.  Vermouth is usually some cheap liquor one will have in their bar in the event someone (generally me) comes over and wants to make a martini or Manhattan, but using an inferior vermouth will absolutely destroy an otherwise well made cocktail.  The gin gives the Negroni substance and a fullness that I find lacking in the Americano.  For me, the Americano is a libation for the summer in the middle of the afternoon at a café and the Negroni is a perfect drink to begin an excellent dinner.

Shortly after this night, Campari became Red’s favorite spirit.  As a result, we experiment with Campari and recently we have been playing around with ginger beer and how to incorporate its unique properties to different cocktails.  One of these creations was the Crimson Gradient.

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It is important to note the difference between ginger ale and ginger beer.  Ginger ale is the weak sister of ginger beer.  Ginger ale is sweet with mild hints of ginger.  Ginger beer is generally darker and while still sweet it is robust and intensely spicy with significant heat from the ginger.  Without going on too much of a tangent, without a good ginger beer it is impossible to make a Moscow Mule, a Dark and Stormy, or a Crimson Gradient.  Ginger ale is NOT a suitable substitute.

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Crimson Gradient Ingredients:

3oz. Campari

6oz Ginger beer.

Simply take 3 ounces of Campari and top it with 6 ounces of ginger beer.

This drink is beautiful to behold.  Much like its name suggests the red of the Campari intensifies towards the bottom of the glass.  Not every cocktail needs to be complex to be excellent.  Much like the Manhattan, this drink is beautiful in its simplicity.

I find the Crimson Gradient to be an excellent summer to early fall libation.  It is refreshingly bitter, yet imparts significant heat from the ginger beer.  The nose is herbaceous from the Campari, but while I find this cocktail to be bitter and heated, but there is just a touch of sweetness to make this cocktail balanced.

There is never a wrong time to foray into experimentation and to try new things.  Campari is for the bold and fortune favors those who dare.  Don’t let the perception scare you away.  Embrace it and learn to love the bitter.

Saúde!

The Manhattan – The King of Cocktails

•September 16, 2010 • 5 Comments

To me the Perfect Manhattan perfectly made is the perfect cocktail.  It is subtle, nuanced, and sublime.  The Manhattan has a storied and honorable past.  Unfortunately, I find that this libation has become unfavorable – or even worse, forgotten – by those born after 1970.  It is reprehensible that drinks ending in “tini” have become the staple of ‘cocktails’ that are found in most establishments.

A quick aside: I must vociferously state that while these unconscionable beverages are given a ‘martini’ moniker, they are absolutely and unequivocally not martinis.  Just because the contents of a shaker find their way into a funny shaped glass, that does not make them a martini.  A martini is made with gin – and only gin – and vermouth.  If you were to try and make an argument that a martini can also be made with vodka, I would politely listen to your argument and then pistol whip you with a Walther PPK out of principle.

Moving along, I am taken aback and quite saddened at how difficult it is to find a barkeep worth their salt.  I was at a steak house in Chicago recently (I will withhold the name to protect the guilty, however the establishment’s name  may or may not rhyme with Dr. Seuss’ character who gives a ‘Who’) and I requested a perfect Manhattan to start off my evening.  They couldn’t properly attend to my request.  After two attempts, I had to finally give the standard proportions and directions to have my libation made properly.

A poorly made Manhattan always fills me with sadness.  The Manhattan is a vehicle for great creativity for true bar chefs.  The Manhattan is beautiful in its simplicity.  However, an innovative bar chef will take the basic ingredients and bring this drink to new levels.  Many bartending competitions begin (or end) with the competitors concocting their version of the Manhattan.

I will give a quick primer for those not intimately familiar with this lovely creation.  The basic Manhattan is made with sweet vermouth, whiskey – rye whiskey is my and the traditional liquor of choice however, I am much more forgiving with the choice of whiskey used than I am with the liquor for a martini.  I think the subtleties of different whiskeys such as Canadian, Tennessee, or bourbon allow for more creativity with the Manhattan – and it is generally garnished with a maraschino cherry.  The Perfect Manhattan halves the portion of sweet vermouth used and replaces it with dry vermouth.  Indeed, the Manhattan was the first cocktail to incorporate vermouth.  Prior to the creation of the Manhattan, vermouth was traditionally enjoyed by itself.  One of my favorite authors, a man of superb taste and the consummate imbiber of fine spirits, Papa Hemmingway, was very fond of his vermouth, which is nothing more than wine fortified with herbs.

The standard recipe for the Manhattan is as follows:

2 parts whisky

1 part sweet vermouth

Stir in ice

Strain into a cocktail glass

Add two dashes of Angostura bitters

Serve with a cherry

This is an adequate recipe and I would never balk at drinking a well made Manhattan.  However, like any true aficionado, I am never fully content with any libation.  There are almost always ways to make improvements.  As I previously stated, I enjoy my Manhattans perfect with a ratio of two parts rye to .5 parts dry and .5 parts sweet vermouth.  Additionally, I use a tablespoon of maraschino cherry juice and coat the inside of the martini glass prior to pouring the contents of my shaker over the two cherries nestled at the bottom of my glass.  I have experimented with Luxardo Maraschino Originale 32° as the glass coating instead of the maraschino juice, but I find it a little too heavy and sweet for my taste.  However, Red, found this style to her liking and it has been colloquially named as a ‘Ms. Manhattan’ for the time being in the 12 O’clock household.

I actually quite enjoy the frothiness that is imparted upon the Manhattan when it is shaken.  The final step is something that is often overlooked, but is a vital component to the Manhattan (as well as many other cocktails): bitters.

Traditionally, two dashes of Angostura bitters are used to finish off this drink.  Recently, I have changed my bitters of choice to Peychaud’s Bitters, which is a staple in another rye drink that has been all but forgotten (but hopefully, seems to be making a small resurgence), the Sazerac.  I rather enjoy the lighter more floral anise style nose of Peychaud’s Bitters.  It is a pleasant departure from the ubiquitous, but wonderful Angostura.

While the Manhattan seems to have been unceremoniously dumped to the trash bin of alcoholic history, I have hope.  Rye is making a comeback.   Inevitably, the Manhattan must follow.  Find a bar chef with true chops and creativity and order yourself the finest cocktail ever made.  You will not be disappointed.

Saúde!

Rogue 21 Ale Addendum

•September 4, 2010 • Leave a Comment

In short order, I am leaving to attend a long time friend’s wedding.  However, I would be remiss if I didn’t post a quick addendum regarding Rogue 21 Ale.  I contacted Rogue and they have confirmed that the Rogue 21 Ale is indeed bottled conditioned as I had suspected.

This ale is in a very limited run.  So, I highly recommend picking up a couple of bottles: one for now and (at least) one to cellar.

Saúde!

Unibroue Maudite

•August 30, 2010 • Leave a Comment

For Harry’s selection for the Beer of the Week we head to a country that is better known for its hockey, maple syrup, and poutine than its beer.  This week we head to Quebec to sample Unibroue Brewery’s Maudite Ale.

This ale pours a coppery red with a finely carbonated head that dissipates quickly and leaves a thin white ring.  Like last week, I served this beer two ways: in a pint glass (to better judge the head retention) and then in a brandy snifter, which is the method recommended by Unibroue.

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I am beginning to believe that the brandy snifter may be my go to vessel for all of my craft beer and not only those styles that generally call for it.  The snifter certainly retains the aroma of the beer better than the wide mouthed pint glass.  This is a certain boon to beers that have their head dissipate quickly.  However, I wonder if this is a disservice to those brewmasters who take the time to craft a beer that retains its head – and thus, nose – longer.  I need to reflect a bit more on this.

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The nose is a yeast filled fruit blend of apple and plum that rounds out with an aroma full of clove.  There is no mistaking the Abby heritage of the brewmaster who first developed Maudite.  It fills the mouth with a sweet heaviness from the generous malt, but it isn’t as heavy as I would have expected from the initial taste.  There are hints of coriander and cinnamon that give a warmth and a touch of spice to cut through the sweetness.  The finish is full of banana that I am certain is from the yeast strain used for this ale.  The most surprising characteristic is the total lack of heat from the high alcohol content.  I was completely taken aback at the 8% ABV.

The Maudite is best served at cask temperature.  As it warms it opens a bit more and the floral components of the ale are much more pronounced in the nose and the finish takes on more of a spicy finish.  Additionally, this is an excellent beer to cellar.  There is a touch of cloudiness to the beer.  This is due in part to the yeast that has been added to the beer.  This yeast will consume excess oxygen in the beer and should help retard the carbon dioxide from oxidizing.  Moreover, the high amounts of alcohol will also protect this beer while it is aging.  Unibroue states that Maudite can be cellared for 5-8 years.

While this is touted as a red ale, there is little doubt that this is more closely related to its Abby style cousins than traditional red ales.  If one is an Abby aficionado or is looking to delve into the Belgium style of beers, you will not go wrong with Unibroue’s Maudite.

Saúde!

Rogue 21 Ale

•August 21, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I don’t even know where to begin.  Red didn’t even speak for a solid three minutes after trying Rogue 21.  It was simply quite amazing.

I’ve been in Chicago all week and Chicago has some fun local beers like 312 from Goose Island Beer Company, but none of them are worth hopping on a two hour flight to enjoy.  This is why I was especially excited for my flight home.  Harry said he had received Rogue 21 Ale from Rogue Ales and was saving me one for the Beer of the Week.

While you can never judge a book by a cover, wine by its label, or a beer by the bottle, it was clear that Rogue was taking this beer very, very seriously.  Rogue 21 Ale is delivered in a 750ml black ceramic container that in addition to a traditional cap also has a rubber stopper attached so that the remainder of your beer can be saved and enjoyed later.

I never research a new beer before I try it.  I don’t want to be unduly influenced by outside opinions.  This methodology also has its downfalls.  As I began pouring my Rogue 21, I realized that my pint glass was not going to be the best vessel for this brew.  It was a thicker brew.  It was not in the same neighborhood as barley wine, but it was viscous enough for me to realize that a brandy snifter was going to be a much better choice for this drink.

Entering the glass, it settles with a handsome amber hue that is lightly touched with a bit of ruby undertones.  I felt that the nose of the Rogue 21 was fairly faint when enjoyed from a pint glass, however this more subtle nose may have been of my own doing.  As I realized that the pint glass was likely the wrong container for this ale, I rushed to retrieve a brandy snifter.  Therefore, I blame the subtle nose and head to my inconsistent pour not to the beer.

Without a doubt, the brandy snifter was the correct choice.  The nose is warm, vibrant, and beautiful.  The 14 ingredients create a complex interplay of brown sugar, caramel, and fig with a hint of floral perfume.  Like the first intake of a well made cigar, the first taste is something to savor and enjoy because there is a lot going on in this beer.  There is a big rich mouth feel that wonderfully coats the entire mouth and lingers for an unbelievably long and sexy finish.  There is playful mixture of oak, ripe cherry, vanilla, and a touch of molasses.  This beer is decadent and delicious.

I must admit a bit of a bias.  I absolutely adore ales like the Rogue 21.  It is sweet, but not overly malty with that beautiful brown sugar roundness and just enough hops to remind you that you are drinking a beer and not a barley wine.  I unapologetically have a weakness for Dogfish Head’s Indian Brown Ale (indeed my first – and so far only – homebrew attempt was a clone of the Indian Brown Ale) and Rogue 21 is its more sophisticated, well mannered, successful, and polished billionaire brother.

Without a doubt, this has been my favorite Beer of the Week.  However, I would be remiss if I did not also state that to date this is my favorite beer to have ever come out of the Rogue Brewery and that is saying something.  I do not know if the Rogue 21 is bottle conditioned, however given the exacting care that seems to be given not only to the beer, but the container itself I suspect that it is bottle conditioned.  If it is, I will certainly purchase several more bottles and lay them next to some of my treasured bottles of wine in my cellar and let them rest for several years.  I have little doubt that these beers will age exceptionally well.  Once I have verified if they are bottle conditioned or not, I will make an addendum to this blog.

Without reservation, I give the Rogue 21 my highest recommendation.

Saúde!

Beer In A Can? Yes, Please.

•August 12, 2010 • 1 Comment

The thought of drinking beer that is dispensed from a can is antithetical to the desire of most people who enjoy good beers.  I was once one of those people.  I imagine that this aversion to drinking canned beer stems from the quality of the beer (and calling it beer is quite generous) that is usually found in the aforementioned cans.  Cans are reminiscent of beers like PBR, Bud, and Schlitz.  Just knowing that the tag line, “Just a Kiss of the Hops” was an attempt to make Schlitz appealing is appalling  Because of these dreadful drinks canned beer unfortunately, still has a negative connotation today.

Canned beer has some advantages over their bottled brethren.  The most popular misconception for the cause of a beer to go bad is temperature change.  While wide temperature fluctuation will contribute to spoilage, it is secondary to the biggest contributor to beer spoilage: light.  Most companies that care about the taste of their beer and the palate of their consumer will use the dark brown bottles that are thankfully nearly ubiquitous today.  They filter out a good portion of light.  The green bottles filter much less light than the brown bottles and the clear bottles obviously don’t offer any protection at all.  So, what’s even better than brown bottles? Cans.  Canned beer doesn’t let in any light and it has the additional advantage of having a better seal than bottled beer, which contributes to superior containment of carbonation.

This is all well and good, but if the beer inside the can is still abysmal, all of these advantages are for naught.  Fortunately, there are a handful of breweries like Oskar Blues and 21st Amendment that can their beers exclusively and their beer is outstanding.  This is of course our segue to our beer of the week, Back In Black by the aforementioned 21st Amendment Brewery.

When Harry recommended a 21st Amendment beer I was excited.  21st Amendment has some fantastic brews.  I experienced twice the anticipation as I had never before quaffed a black IPA.

The pour lived up to my expectation.  It pours quick and clean…and black.  However, my first thought was, “This isn’t right it’s too thin, but then I remember I’m not looking at a porter; I’m pouring a pale ale.  The head is light, thick, and and a very light tan,  Thankfully it is not as creamy as it would appear to taste.  The beer is dark.  It’s really dark; it’s not stout dark, but I would be fooled without a close inspection.  As the head slowly dissipates there is a firm and lingering lacing in the glass.

As I bring the glass to my nose, my initial anticipation of malt was correct.  There is a thin malt nose that has bits of pine brightness from the hops that come through.  Surprisingly, it doesn’t have that strong nose that you would expect from a pale ale.  However, the dark malts that are used for this beer are evident from the nose to almost the finish.  The malt keeps the beer slightly sweet, but there are hints of earth, unsweetened chocolate, and pine from the hops to balance the beer.  I really enjoyed the transition of tastes.  It’s slightly sweet up front, balanced in the middle and finishes slightly (the can proclaims that Back In Black weighs in at 65 IBU, but I find that number to be a bit high) bitter.

I like the beer, but I don’t love it.   Despite the labeling I don’t think that the IPA designation is a proper one.  There is a distinct lack of boldness that one would expect from an IPA.  With the heavy usage of dark malts, Back In Black is much closer to an American Pale Ale style than an India Pale Ale.  I wish 21st Amendment had been more aggressive and liberal in their use of hops.  Not only would more extensive hopping have given Back In Black the more robust nose it needed, but it would have also brought the beer more in line with an IPA style.  The limited hopping is also evident with the lack of complexity in this beer, which is diametrically opposite with many of the other 21st Amendment brews.

This is a fun beer, but I won’t be running out to stock this in my secret stash.  It is a novel beer and I like the thought behind it, but to hit the mark you need to deliver on the expectations given.

As I finish my glass, I will go to the box and grab 21st Amendment’s Brew Free or Die IPA to remind myself that there are some outstanding canned beers.

Saúde!

 
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