Sunday, June 13, 2010

World Cup: or, why I haven't been posting much lately...

Well, it's the World Cup.

Continuing this trend of 'painfully obvious, you may have also noticed my beer reviewing has been a lot less frequent. Three games a day (while working in a bar), plus a dearth of new brews at the LCBO, plus planning for some upcoming nuptials (holy crap, I can't believe it's less than a month...) have made June my lowest beer-reviewing month yet. Seriously, I checked it out on Beer Advocate, where I usually post about 18-22 reviews a month (think about that for a moment), but for the month of June, I only managed a paltry seven. And four of those happened before the World Cup began, so you can see where the state of my attention span is at right now. It's hard to drink objectively when all you can hear are 80,000 vuvuzelas....


So, like a couple who's got a few minutes before their dinner reservations, I offer you a quickie!

Beer: Erdinger Hefeweizen
Brewery: Erdinger (Erding, Germany)
Type: hefeweizen
ABV: 5.3%

Yes, that's my new kickass World Cup glass. Pretty impressive, really. It came in a five pack purchased for me by my one-and-only (I knew I was marrying her for a good reason...), and when held to the light it kinda looks like the Jules Rimet trophy, which is all kinds of awesome.

(That's the opening match between South Africa and Mexico in the background, by the way. You may recall it started at 10:00AM. Gotta toast in the World Cup right!)

Pours a light, opaque yellow, typical for the style. When first poured, it produced a truly majestic head, pretty much filling the entire soccer ball section of the glass. Looks about right for a hefe. *MRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!

The nose is subtle. A bit too subtle... All the usual suspects are there -banana, clove, yeast, wheat, lemon, coriander - albeit in a very muted form. I might even be stretching a little to say that I can detect them at all. Hmmm...

I was right to 'hmmm....'. The taste of this brew is decent, but quite one-sided and uninteresting. It's essentially a weaker-flavored hefe - still tasty to drink, but unimpressive. The wheat and malt pair well with the citrus, but that's about it.

Mouthfeel is slightly watery, decent effervescent crisp to the finish.

I was a bit disappointed with Erdinger; it wasn't quite the experience I was going for to ring in this happy occasion. To make sure my opinion wasn't swayed by the moment, a second sampling a couple days later confirmed by diagnosis. I do have to clarify this point, however: I would more than happily drink an Erdinger than most brews out there, but when compared with the big boys like Weihenstephaner, Schneider or Hacker-Pschorr (and even a few locals, like Mill Street's Belgian Wit), it doesn't hold up as well. I'll certainly enjoy the last few bottles in the gift pack - and will relish drinking them out of my super-awesome glass for the duration of the Finals, but I don't think I'll be picking up Erdinger too often in the future. (Grade B-)

Cheers to South Africa 2010!


Friday, June 4, 2010

God in Heavens! - My Dieu du Ciel! Sample Pack

Another friend makes a trip to Montreal, another sample pack for me! How awesome is that?
(Thanks again, Lori!)

Dieu du Ciel! is one of my favorite Quebec breweries, sporting an impressive and diverse brew lineup, a passion and dedication to unique styles, and a fantastic labelling design. As I think I said in one of my first reviews, I love when breweries incorporate artwork into their bottling; that extra effort demonstrates a holistic approach to beer production - beer bottles should be attractive outside, tasty inside. Dieu du Ciel! means God in Heavens! en francais, and the amusing naming does not stop there. Most of their brews have some fantastic names - usually involving a complicated french pun or wordplay, but still worthy of remembrance. The brewery's most famous brew, Peche Mortel Imperial Stout au Cafe (currently Canada's highest-rated brew on beeradvocate, and extremely well-received south of the border) means 'mortal sin', which given the pitch-black colour of the brew, is quite appropriate. Unfortunately this brew was not part of my sampler pack (one of my many, many beer goals is to sample this national treasure) but there are still loads of goodies to be found here!

Here are some of my favorites:

Beer: Fumisterie ("Smoke screen")
Type: Belgian pale ale
ABV: 5%

First of all, I love this brew just because of the label - it looks like an Ent and a Viking had a lovechild. Awesome.

The reason for the name is because this beer is made partially from hemp. According to the brewery website:

"Fumisterie, which loosely translates as “smoke screen”, was given its name in reaction to laws – created under false pretext – that prohibit hemp crops, a beneficial plant with multiple ecological uses." Good uses like beer. Go hemp!

Poured into my fantastic Duvel goblet. A nice ruby-russet hue, with about a 1/2 inch of head. Some lacing, a thin ring survives.

The nose is...different, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Toasted malts (not roasted), caramel, tea, and a creamy, milk product scent. Some folks on beeradvocate have said yogurt; I tend get buttercream. The point is there's something 'dairy' about it, which might just be a characteristic of fermenting hemp. Not really sure.

Not a bad little brew: certainly flavorful and unique. Toasted malts and caramel up front, with some of that dairy-cream flavour The creaminess is countered by a grapefruit-tea hop character, giving the brew a slightly bitter finish. Not quite balanced, but certainly drinkable.

Mouthfeel is velvety and creamy; the carbonation works well here.

I weigh in favor of this brew - drinking new and unique brews tends to put me in a great mood as it is - but there's definitely some areas of Fumisterie that need work. The taste is a little unbalanced, and the cream/butter isn't the greatest flavor. Still, a solid brew - and worth trying just for the name! (Grade: B)

Beer: Rosee d'Hibiscus ("Pinkish hibiscus", according to the website)
Type: Herbed/spiced wheat ale
ABV: 5%

No name-silliness here - this brew is all about hibiscus. More fantastic artwork here. Just love it.

Poured into a chalice. Looks like strawberry juice, similar to Fruli, the famous Belgian strawberry beer. Strawberry in colour, a few clouds of head, little lacing.

The nose is quite nice: strawberry, raspberry, pale wheat, hibiscus flowers, citrus tartness, honey.

The taste is considerably drier than I'd expected; I guess when I see strawberry, I expect strawberry. Certainly a great deal more rose-petal flavor, combined with pale wheat and citrus. Finishes long and dry, slightly puckery. Lingering aftertaste, very dry. Smooth mouthfeel, with a slight crackle of carbonation to the back of the tongue.

Not a bad little brew, certainly good for what it is. I enjoyed drinking it, but let's face it, how often does one really crave a rose-flavored beer? Not something I'll drink too often, but it was worth a try nevertheless. Sometimes this happens; brewers will test out a new method of making beer and they'll do it well, but are under no delusions that it will become a top seller because it is so unique. They do it for pure enjoyment. And hey, I'm always one to support a brewers' desire for experimentation! (Grade: B+)

Beer: La Paienne ("the pagan")
Type: Blonde ale
Cool design on the bottle - a slightly minxy girl making a pagan offering at a Stonehenge-like monolith. (Seriously, you should check out the brewery's website for more awesome artwork - my personal favorites are Aphrodesiaque and Equinox du Printemps)

A lovely golden hue, slightly opaque. Looks like mead or honey. Very little head to speak of, only the slightest ring and a lonely island in the middle.

Nose is nice: grain, fruit, a touch of honey, light hops.

Actually one of the better blonde ales I've tasted recently. I'm not a huge fan of the style, as it can tend to be a bit boring - predictable and good, but still, boring. This one was quite the opposite. Sweet, but not overpowering. Grassy and floral, some biscuit character near the middle. Finishes hoppy and slightly dry. Very refreshing. Medium-thick body, light carbonation.

I'm usually not a fan of blonde ales, but I've been enjoying this one very much. Smooth and enjoyable, I can certainly see myself drinking several of these in a night. Unfortunately, this one is particularly hard to acquire, as it is only available in these sample packs. If you're lucky enough to pick up this 12 pack, I highly encourage you to do so! (Grade: B+)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

"Iceland is nice, Greenland has ice!"

Beer: Skjálfti
Brewery: Ölvisholt Brugghús
Type: Steam lager
ABV: 5%
On yet another random sojourn to the LCBO, I came across this:

Naturally, if I ever see a beer bottle as awesome as this, you can be damned sure I'll be picking one up. Hell, where should I start? First, it's got runes and umlauts, which is all kinds of awesome. Secondly, it's from Iceland, which I'm fairly certain is the most little-known-about country in the world, save for Super Ghana. I don't really know much about Iceland, other than it was a stomping ground for Eric the Red and the rest of the NFC North champion Vikings a few years back, they lovingly donated Bjork to the rest of the world, and they don't much cotton to reliable European air travel and stable banking. Actually, I've always hoped to one day visit this mysterious island in the far north. From what I've heard and seen, it's quite a beautiful, picturesque place. It's geological destiny shaped by volcanoes and seismic tremors, the landscape is ever-changing and volatile. Paying tribute to this unique heritage, the brewers named this beer Skjalfti, which means "earthquake."

Pictured: Iceland.

Iceland's brewing tradition has been considerably stunted due to one of the world's longest experiments in prohibition. Like most of the western world, the first years of the 20th century saw the rise of anti-alcoholic fervor in Iceland, which culminated in a 1908 referendum to ban the sale and production of alcoholic beverages. Eventually, like in other countries, people's heads began to clear somewhat, and Iceland welcomed both wine (1922) and liquors (1934) back to their tables. But not beer - or at least not beer over 2.2% (i.e., beer). So unfortunately, Icelanders had to wait a good while before their next (legal) sip of beer. How long do you ask?

Oh, not long, not long, just 1989.


That's right; Icelanders had to suffer through pretty much the entire Cold War before they could have a proper pint. Naturally, when the Icelandic parliament finally (reluctantly) permitted the sale and production of beer on March 1st, 1989, folks in Reykjavik calmly toasted the new arrangement in a civilized, respectful manner. And by that, I mean they got piss drunk for about a week. As one bar owner said: “I remember a lot of drinking and a lot of pissing all night long and the next days, and it [was] not stopping.” Welcome back to the fold, dear brothers, welcome back. March 1st is now pretty much a national holiday (Beer Day) in Iceland, and apparently a lot of Icelandic ex-pats and wishers-well celebrate the day in the United States as well.

In this new permissive culture, Icelanders have taken to brewing with truly spectacular zeal; homebrewing has skyrocketed, as has their level of alcohol consumption, up some 4L per person annually from pre-1989 level. On an island this small, and with such a small population, there are still only a few major breweries, but they seem to be getting along just fine. This is my first experience with Icelandic beer, and hopefully it won't be my last.

Skjalfti is what is known as a 'steam lager', a style made famous in southern California; it's also sometimes known as California Common beer. Basically, steam beer utilizes a lager yeast that ferments at a bit higher temperature than other strains (remember: lager yeasts ferment cooler than ale yeasts), which made for easier brewing in the hotter climes of SoCal. Refrigeration was at a premium during the Gold Rush years, in which steam beer quickly became the most popular brew in the state. Steam beers almost have a pale ale character to them - crisp and malty, with a juicy hop tang and fruity notes. "Anchor Steam Beer" from San Francisco is the original and benchmark for the style, having resurrecting it after nearly a century of non-use; clearly, Olvisholt was greatly inspired by this legendary American brew.

I poured this one into a lager glass. A copper-golden hue, with about a 1/2 inch of head. Decent retention: a substantial ring of foam survives, as does some patches of lacing.

The nose is terrific, similar to a mild IPA. Apple, hops, resin, lemon, caramel, biscuits. Very inviting.

The taste isn't too far off from this. A bready, malty character pairs well with juicy, herbal hops. Citrus, caramel and a good piny, earthy character make for a highly drinkable brew. All the flavors are balanced well; brews with all these notes have a tendency to get scattered and miss the mark, but Skjalfti certainly did not. It's slightly watery, but with a decent level of pucker from the juicy hops, it's really hitting the spot on a warm evening such as this. Medium, biting carbonation.

A great example of the style, very drinkable and refreshing. At about 3 bucks a bottle, it's pretty reasonable, and seriously, how often are you going to have an Icelandic beer? Try it if you can.

Sleeper hit for the summer, in my books (Grade: B+)

Cheers to Iceland!