Friday, September 28, 2012

Can Superman Outrun the Green Flash?

Beer: Green Flash West Coast IPA
Brewery: Green Flash Brewing (San Diego)
Type: American IPA
ABV: 7.3%

Green Flash is an up-and-coming brewery from San Diego that has seen a huge increase in its output over the last year, meaning that the brewery is able to get more of its product out east.   This is due to a highly-necessary change in facilities, which has allowed its yearly output of beer to increase from 14,000 barrels in 2010 with their older brewery (Vista) to an expected 35,000 per year in the new facility (Mira Mesa).  While still not the largest brewery in the area - the legendary Stone Brewery holds that title with over 100,000 barrels yearly - it still represents a significant jump, positioning them to become the second-largest brewery in the San Diego area.

Due to the odd politics and wranglings that involve bringing new beers into the LCBO, we somehow still don't have any Stone brews among our shelves, but this month Ontarians - if they are lucky - might see the first (of hopefully many) Green Flash brews in our province.  My new policy with the LCBO is that I could get angry and frustrated about our lack of selection, but unless there is something really productive I can do about it (which are only so useful), there's no sense in getting really angry about it.  Every so often a few good, exciting brews sneak into the system, so I enjoy them when I can, and supplement my beer cravings with the occasional out of province beer hauls.   This brew is pretty damned exciting, and I'm glad to see it there, so I'm not going to piss and moan about our situation.   I also have to give a shoutout to a member of the UpTown staff who was able to help me track down a fourpack of this.  I checked out the LCBO store listings, and saw that UpTown had a few leftover (it's a limited release, so don't expect it to be there for long!), but this proved to be out of date.  The employee called around to the various stores - which involved several long periods of being on hold - until he finally tracked one down, and had the other store put some on hold.  Big thanks are in order!

The bottle label displays a Green Flash sunset over the Pacific Ocean, wreathed in barley and hops, and it comes with an appropriate warning: "Extravagantly Hopped."  I'll just warn everyone right now - they aren't fucking around.   This brew is hopped to holy hell, so if incredibly bitter and tangy hopbombs aren't your think, you might want to give this one a pass.  But if you are, like me, a hop-head, then read on - this one is terrific.

Poured into a nonic glass that is geared for single bottle use.  Slightly hazy caramel amber, with a terrific billowing head that just won't quit.  The retention on this is outstanding, as is the sticky lacing that covers the glass from top to bottom.  This is one exceptional-looking brew.

Nose is a powerful blend of citrus hops (grapefruit and lemon) and sweet caramel malt.  The two dominant scents play off each other nicely, as the brew simultaneously smells bitter and sweet, which is an excellent combination.

A real hopbomb, this.  Lip-smackingly puckery with citrus hop bitterness, which is soon countered with a sweet caramel-toffee blast.  Finishes long and bitter, with a great citric bitterness lingering on the tongue.  A few other spices play into things here - mint, herbal tea being the two I can identify.

Alcohol content is hard to detect, given the influx of sweet and bitter flavours one has to deal with.   Creamy, with a bitter puckery finish.

If this is the only Green Flash brew that makes it out this way, I will be severely disappointed, yet happy that I was able to at least give one a try.  This was one hoppy brew, and was well worth picking up, despite the higher price point (around $14 for a four pack).  With the limited nature of this release, and the cost, I won't necessarily be stocking my shelves with this brew - my wallet would kill me - but I will certainly hold on to a few, because this is one of the biggest hop bombs to hit this province in quite some time.  (Grade: A)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Most Joyous Autumnal Equinox to All!

To all you wonderful people out there, I wish you a happy autumnal equinox, a solemn and dignified Mabon for my Wiccan friends, and most importantly, a most splendid birthday to Frodo and Bilbo Baggins!  Happy Hobbit Day to all!  (Seriously, look it up: September 22nd is Frodo and Bilbo's birthday!)

In the past couple of years I have grown more and more fond of autumn.  It's cooler (and after this brutal summer, not a moment too soon), I can wear jackets, blazers, and dress shirts again without roasting alive, and all the best holidays are within the next three months, which means plenty of seasonal brews ahead.  Most of us have already embraced the changing of the season, whether it be by hitting up the local Starbucks to get your seventh Pumpkin Spiced Latte, prepping your Hallowe'en costume (either Captain Malcolm Reynolds or Jake Blues for me this year), or hitting up the grocery stores for more fall-ish ingredients.   For me, in addition to the preceding autumn activities, I am of course super-jazzed because it's the start of pumpkin beer season, and there's already several old favorites - and a few new ones - on the shelves.   Of course, the first new pumpkin brew I'll show you is not something one can pick up in Ontario.  Oh no, Big Brother would never allow that.   It really is unfortunate that I have to keep supplementing my cellar through the occasional US beer run, but until something changes in Ontario, I'm either going to have to continue doing so, or be satisfied with the LCBO's selection.  This year, it's not too shabby - there are a few good pumpkin ales on the horizon - so those who don't feel like making the trek cross the border won't be without their pumpkin fix for the season.  But if you so happen to be down America-way, check out this pumpkin ale from Smuttynose, appropriately named: "Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale."

Beer: Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale
Brewery: Smuttynose (Portsmouth, NH)
ABV: 5.8

Simplicity is in the name as well as in the label; it's like the designer of the label decided "it's a pumpkin beer, so here's a stock photo of a pumpkin."  Oh well, stock photos are generally Smutty's way of doing things, and it usually works pretty well, and of course, it's what's inside that counts.  Still, I do like a crazy fall themed label, but since this was my first pumpkin beer of the season, I didn't really mind so much.  Let's crack one open!

Picked up a sixer of these guys at Consumer Beverages in Orchard Park, NY about three weeks ago.  It didn't feel right to open them just yet, but I knew I would eventually want one, so I've been waiting patiently until today!

Poured into a Bell's glass, because sadly, I do not as of yet have a Smuttynose glass.   Caramel-amber in colour, like the baked maple squash I'll be making in two weeks for Canuckian Thanksgiving.  Somewhat murky, and with a thin head of foam that displays terrific retention.  Lots of lacing as well.  Great looking brew.

Nose is pumpkin puree, a bit of sugar and cinnamon (though the overall sensation is far from sweet), clove and mild citrus hops.

Tasty autumn brew indeed, though I must say that the pumpkin flavour is a bit more subdued than in the nose.  No matter; the brew is unmistakably suitable for the season, with pumpkin, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, and a nice hop bitterness to cleanse the palate.  Really wish I was sitting in a deckchair with a picturesque New England fall vista in front of me and a strong nip in the air, but on my couch watching Premier League highlights works equally well.  Medium bodied, slightly creamy, mild carbonation.

One of the issues I have with pumpkin beer - like I do with many holiday foods and beverages - is that I go crazy for them as soon as the season begins, only to find that as we get even closer to Hallowe'en and those cold, unforgiving late autumn nights, I tend to get a bit tired of pumpkin ales and will probably be craving something Christmas/winter related.  For this reason, Smuttynose will be a welcome addition to the pumpkin lineup, because although it certainly has pumpkin qualities to it, it is more of a "fall beer" for me, so it will be a welcome change from all the other pumpkin ales I'll be drinking.  Liiiiiiiike this one:

Beer: Black Creek Pumpkin Ale
Brewery: Black Creek Historic Brewery (Toronto)
ABV: 5%

Black Creek is a brewery that is very near and dear to me, and so I might be accused of swaying my opinion a little too much their way.  But hey: beer is an intensely personal thing, at least for me, and I'll experience it precisely the way I want to.  The brewery is located at Black Creek Pioneer Village in northwestern Toronto, and is an awesome place to visit for a look at life in early-mid 19th century Ontario.  Reenactments, horse-drawn buggies, you name it.  It also happens to be the site of my parent's wedding way back when, on a cold January day.  They held their reception in the Halfway House, which is now a candle-lit restaurant, with the brewery located just down the stairs.  I've been to the brewery recently, and got to chat with the brewmaster about his current offerings.  Because the brewery is geared specifically towards the creation of historic ales - using the ingredients and methods available at the time of the original settlers - I tend to give special credit for the effort, considering the fact that the result is probably going to differ from what we are used to drinking today.  The stuff that gets sent out to the LCBO is, if memory serves, produced off-site, with the carbonation levels we are used to.   Their latest release is a pumpkin ale, pumpkins being a popular brewing ingredient for early European settlers in the Northeast.

Poured into a nonic glass.  Dark caramel-amber.  Quite dark for a pumpkin ale, almost hitting Southern Tier Pumking levels.  A thin head of foam that dissolves into a thin ring.

Nose is sweeter than the Smuttynose, with the pumpkin hitting you alongside some burnt brown sugar and caramel.  Cinnamon and nutmeg as well.  Not bad.

Good pumpkin flavour, not much depth here, but certainly drinkable.  The spice flavour is a mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice.  Maybe a bit of maple syrup as well.  Thinner bodied than I'd like, and the carbonation is quite low.

Not bad, actually, although I doubt it will become my go-to pumpkin ale for the season, I certainly wouldn't turn it down.   Nothing special, but it has all the standard elements of the pumpkin ale style so you should be satisfied.

Looking forward to some more fall-themed brews as we head into that most joyous of seasons: autumn!  Happy first day of fall everyone!

Friday, September 21, 2012

"Sorry Goose, but it's time to buzz a tower."

The battle between "mainstream" and "craft/micro" brewing has gone beyond the simple us vs. them dichotomy, and has recently moved into the tricky and controversial area of "make them become us."  When smaller breweries grow beyond the confines of their local markets and achieve a larger share of the industry, the bigger players in the game will begin to take notice.  As we have seen before, there are many strategies that the megabreweries can use in order to maintain their hegemonic dominance over the market, and they have the considerable resources to do this.  These can include the controlling of retail space to the exclusion of craft products (why, for example, does Bud Light need a whole facing to itself, while the craft beers are usually crammed into one smaller out of the way location?), smothering the market with pervasive advertizing and exclusive tap arrangements for bars/events, and the always unfortunate and expensive tactic of the lawsuit, which has been the particular bane of Sam Calaglione's Dogfish Head.  These tactics suggest an antagonistic relationship between the brewing players, which certainly exists to some degree; however, one would be mistaken to suggest that the goal of these tactics is the total elimination of exciting and flavorful beer from our society.  Despite my opinions of them, I must  say that the megabreweries are not stupid, nor are they oblivious to the prevailing trends in the beer world.  As we have seen in the recent election kerfuffles with Romney and Obama, both political parties know that there are some votes that they simply cannot win, and so their camps simply do not bother to court these unwinnable demographics.  The same is true with the world of beer: no matter how much the world tries to jam Bud Light and Stella Artois down our gullets, a sizable minority of us will always want something more.  Therefore, the more astute of the megabrewing companies have adopted a "if we can't beat 'em, join 'em" policy with regards to their more significant competitors.   Actually, "if they are a threat, buy them!" would be more appropriate, as over the past few years many a larger craft brewery has been purchased by a larger consortium - Creemore by Molson-Coors, Unibroue by Sapporo, etc. - so that the larger consortium can enjoy a piece of the market that they otherwise would never have been able to sway with their existing products (a few of the bigger breweries - Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada - have maintained their independence, however, and still maintain a massive distribution network).   There are of course positives and negatives for both parties with regards to these sales, and because the terms of each sale present different possible outcomes for each situation, I can't really say whether or not it is a good thing for the craft beer world.  It is simply a reality we have to work with.

Goose Island of Chicago is one such brewery whose status in the Midwest has been so strong that it has been able to distribute its products across the country, with only a few exceptions.  This process has been accelerated by the brewery's takeover by Anheuser-Busch in 2011.  Many more pubs with a craft beer selection will now sport more than a few of those iconic Goose Island goose head taps for their standard offerings than ever before - one hopes.  While this takeover will mean the departure of former brewmaster Greg Hall, it has not meant that the more esoteric and flavorful brews will necessarily see a decline in their production.  Over the years, their seasonal releases (Bourbon County Stout and their Christmas Ale) have achieved legendary status among craft beer circles, with releases of the former - lovingly abbreviated "BCS" - generating extremely high demand.   Hopefully their production will continue, and will not be affected by the takeover.
Coach K is not looking pleased. 

I've been to Goose Island's brewpub in Wrigleyville a few years back, but at the time I can't say I was really a big enough craft beer fan to have appreciated the significance of where I was, so I didn't really get much out of it.  The lager that we drank was good, as I recall.  But what I remember most vividly about the experience was not the beer itself, but rather the fact every single one of the pub's many televisions was turned to a different March Madness game (it was the weekend of the first round), and each TV had a good dozen people glued to the action.  I've never seen anything like it; Americans are truly obsessed with college basketball.  Hopefully I'll be able to revisit the pub someday armed with my current knowledge of the brewery and its offerings, and will generate new, beer-related memories.

Here's a quick look at two of Goose Island's brews I've had the pleasure of encountering recently - hopefully I will be able to add to this list in the near future!

Beer: Honker's Ale
Type: English Bitter
ABV: 4.3%

Poured into a nonic pint glass.  Classic bitter appearance for this brew: caramel-copper in colour, slight haze, thin but sturdy head, with some lacing.

Nose is caramel, malt, toffee, bread, earthy hops, a touch of grain and roasted bitterness, as well as some fruit (peach). 

Bready, with a touch of fruit, earthy hops and caramel sweetness.  Decent, highly drinkable bitter with enough flavor to keep me interested and a low enough ABV to guarantee some serious session drinking.    

A bit thin-bodied, but decent carbonation and some creaminess.

Would be really nice to have this on draught at some point.  This beer is downright decent, and though it lacks any memorable characteristics, it certainly is an easy drinker I'd revisit.

Beer: Pere Jacques
Type: Belgian Dubbel
ABV: 8%

I picked up this brew at Premier Gourmet in Buffalo, which is an amazing store worthy of a post of its own.  It's like a supermarket, where one half is wine and the other half is beer/spirits, and in between are a whole array of kitchen gadgets, cheeses and other products that could very nearly destroy my bank account if I were to indulge myself.  A little pricier than Consumer Beverages, but the selection is a little larger and you just feel that extra bit snooty walking through the aisles.  I picked this brew up because of the label before I even noticed that it was a Goose Island brew - it just looked so much like an unassuming red wine bottle that it caught my eye.  This brew is a Belgian dubbel, which means that it will have some elements of red wine to it.

This one went into my trusty handy-dandy Duvel glass, with the pour producing a lovely ruby-chestnut concoction, with about three-quarters of an inch of off-white foam, which survived throughout the tasting and left some flecks of lacing.

Nose was quite nice, with notes of plum, sherry, pear, medicinal/herbal hops, a touch of pepper and caramel malt.

This is a solid dubbel, though not without a few little quirks that keep the brew firmly in the "good", rather than "great" camp.  The same tasting notes are there - lots of fruit, herbs, sherry and Belgian yeast flavor - but are a bit overpowered by the medicinal character of the brew.  Still, there is a nice warming alcohol feel to it, which is delivered with tart, but mild carbonation.  Medium bodied.  A little bit hot, I'd have to say; had I thought ahead, I'd have picked up a second bottle to age for a year.

I enjoy dubbels a great deal; with some tweaking and perhaps a bit of aging, this brew would really be quite something.

With no recollection of how the brewery's current output compares to its pre-ownership state, I can't really say anything about the current quality of Goose Island's brews, other than the fact that the two I've had here were both solid takes on their respective styles.  Goose Island is a huge brewery, with approximately fifty or so beer listings indicated on Beer Advocate, so there remains a great deal more of the brewery to explore.   Perhaps a benefit of the recent takeover might be that with the resources of Anheuser-Busch, more Goose Island brews can find their way outside of their usual markets - and, dare I say it, in Ontario?  Here's hoping.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The One Pub Man

In the world of soccer, there's the one club man.  In the world of beer and pub culture, there's Arthur Reid.  Both are rarities in this ever-changing world, and both deserve their special respect.

In the case of the former, a one-club man is a player who spends his entire career with the same club, without ever being transferred or loaned out (although the conditions for inclusion into Wikipedia's list of these players are fairly unforgiving, I think it's fair to give some consideration for a player who puts in an immense swath of time with the same club, with only the odd years near the end of their career.  Bobby Charlton will forever be a Manchester United man, but did play a few years in Preston and Waterford right before his retirement, and the great Pele himself played exclusively for Brazil's Santos before a near-retirement turn with the fledgling NASL team the New York Cosmos).  In the years when football clubs were manned almost exclusively by local talent, this was still somewhat of a rarity; now, it is extremely uncommon.  In a world of multi-million dollar transfer fees, cutthroat promotion and relegation, and the international talent pool - which leads to teams whose makeup is more akin to a United Nations summit than a local football club -  having one player put in their entire career with the same career is a truly exceptional achievement.  This is the reason why I almost never wear a jersey with a player's name on the back as it so likely that this player...will...someday...break...your...heart.   It is truly something special where despite the chaos of the global soccer market, some players will always wear your colours. Some current one-club men of note include: Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes of Manchester United (since 1990 and 1994, respectively), Francesco Totti and Daniele de Rossi of A.S. Roma (1992, 2001), Jamie Carragher of Liverpool (1996), and my favorite former Gooner, Tony Adams (1983-2002).

But when it comes to steadfast loyalty and dedication to one's family, these guys have nothing on Arthur Reid.

Reid, a 90 year-old former labourer from just outside of Bristol, has sipped pints of bitter at his favorite local pub - and only this pub - nearly every day for the past 72 years.  Cliff and Norm - take notes.   Mr. Reid has lived in the little town of Warmley for his entire life; he has never married, never had children, and rarely goes on vacation.  As a labourer in the days of the full work week and minimal consideration for such novelties as "sick leave" and "vacation pay", Reid would put in between 80-100 hours a week, with Sunday being his only reprieve.  However, when the whistle blew for quitting time at 3pm, our dedicated ale man would invariably make his way to The Griffin for his afternoon pint.  This cycle continued for more than seven decades.  "I've always worked hard and enjoyed visiting the pub - I've never seen the need to go much farther," Reid explains.  Amazingly, his dedication goes even further; not only does Arthur frequent the same pub everyday, but he almost always has the same pint of draught each time: Courage Bitter from Wells and Youngs.  So regular is Arthur's appearance at the pub that the staff often worry that something has gone terribly wrong if he hasn't passed through the doors by 3:30.   His astounding patronage of the pub has not gone unnoticed by the staff and community of The Griffin; in honour of his 90th birthday, Arthur's favorite seat in the house has been given the royal treatment: a plaque celebrating his 72 years now adorns his chair.

When Mr. Reid eventually stops going to his favorite pub, will this signal the end of the "pub era"?  Perhaps so.  This sort of dedication to the local pub is something that probably is going to be a relic of a bygone era soon enough, at least that is what the statistics are telling us.  British ale enthusiasts have long lamented the demise of "the local" over the past few decades, with hundreds of pubs closing each year (as of 2011, this averages out to be about 25 closures a week), to be replaced by more modern establishments with macro lagers, dozens of TV screens, loud music, and a lack of a welcoming environment. No gemuetlichkeit, as the Bavarians would say.  It's such an alarming trend that it has become a common news/editorial topic in the newspapers across the political spectrum.  Simply put, the culture is changing: the pub is no longer necessarily the centre of people's lives, now that there are so many other options for entertainment and means to acquire alcohol on one's own terms.  Legislation has played its part as well, with the ban on smoking inside establishments (I still think this is a good thing) and stronger driving laws (ditto) leading many people to do their consumption at home, if at all.  With the growth of the suburb, people are less likely to live within walking distance of a pub such as this, and driving down to one isn't really an option, nor should it be, of course.  

Who wouldn't fancy a pint at Ye Olde Fighting Cocks?
I have never been to England before, but I have an image of what the "perfect pub" might be, with its low lighting, wooden exterior, a gleaming tapline and a sense of community and mirth.  You don't mind going to the pub alone, because you are sure to see someone you know there.  The barman knows your order, and wonders if you will have "the usual."  The pub has its own jokes and routines, cherished memories and wonderful stories.  In the world of Tolkien, I'm thinking of a Green Dragon for the big people.  I don't know how much this vision resembles reality, but I certainly know that whatever the reality might be, it is going into decline.  But some people out there - Reid included - still think that this idea is not dead, and is worth fighting for.  Robin Turner of the Daily Mail cites the example of Cardiff locals fiercely defending the impending closure of their beloved Vulcan Pub (to be replaced by a mall parking overflow lot), which they successfully did, as evidence that those who love the pub aren't ready to see it go quite yet.  With more people attuned to the emerging world of craft beer, some pubs are meeting that demand by producing their own house ales.  One pub is attempting to fully turn back the clock by banning TVs, "fruit machines" (slot machines), lagers and food.   No idea whether it will work, but I can see the appeal.

Turner explains that one of the biggest proponents of the English pub (and one who could forecast its eventual decline) was George Orwell, who spent some time musing over what the "perfect pub" would look like.  "Orwellian" in this sense is actually a good thing.  His recipe for a great pub included only four ingredients (much like the ale this pub would serve): authenticity, integrity, character and independence.  I too have my local establishments, and I can see these four ingredients resonating through the walls and shining from the taps.  I go to these pubs because they are familiar, friendly, and the source of so many fond memories.  I go because they know me there.  To return after a long absence is like a communion, where I reconnect with what was once lost.   I don't think these pubs will ever be the same for me like the Griffon is for Arthur Reid, but I can see the connection and understand a little bit his remarkable dedication.   If there's a pub out there that fits Orwell's criteria and is something you cherish, the best way you can vote for a better pub experience is with your beer-drinking dollar.  It's your pub - use it!

Cheers to Arthur Reid, and long live the "perfect pub"!

Monday, September 10, 2012

I Feel Pretty, Oh So Pretty (Things Beer and Ale Project)!

Just looking at the number of posts from this year as compared to last has been shocking to say the least, dispicable to say the least.  So, since I keep taking so damn long to do new posts and reviews, I've decided to simplify things a bit and focus on one particular beer as much as possible, and save those massive, time-consuming posts for every so often.   So, without further Apu, here's a nifty little blonde I had the pleasure of picking up in Buffalo, who was a bit hard to get, but was certainly worth the wait.

Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project is a new brewery on the scene that has been gaining increased attention of late due to their seemingly bizarre takes on traditional styles, out-there bottle artwork, a name that suggests an association with a 70s revival band, and the fact that they don't actually have a brewery.  The "Project" is meant to be quite literal, in that - as the website claims - "projects can change, they can end," because this isn't necessarily a long term solution.  Here's why:  the Project's founders Dann and Martha Paquette, homebrewers from Massachusetts, haven't been able to afford a brewery, so instead they rent one, and use it to brew whenever they can.  The Pretty Things team provides all the labour, the ingredients and the initiative; all the brewery has to do is give them use of their facilities.  Bottling, label design, and packaging are all done by the four (!) members of the team, and the result is a brewery that looks, feels and is independent.  Despite all this, the brewers seem to have figured out their business to the point that their wares can be found in many spots around the Northeast, as far as Western NY and Pennsylvania.   Here's a quick look at their flagship brew!

Beer: Jack D'Or
Brewery: Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project (Cambridge, MA)
Type: "American" Saison/Farmhouse Ale
ABV: 6.5%

Their flagship brew is called Jack D'Or ("door"), and is described by the label as being a "Saison Americaine", with the "Americaine" usually meaning that it is a traditional continental style of brewing that has been jazzed up with American style hops and perhaps a different yeast strain or malt.  Sure enough, a gander at the PT website gives us those ingredients: classic earthy hops often used in English or Belgian Brewing (Fuggles, Styrian Golding), as well as an American "C"-hop (Columbus), that will give the brew a stronger citrussy punch.   Another addition is the use of rye grain into the mash, along side the typical wheat and barley malt that is normally found in a farmhouse "saison."   My prediction here is a brew that is light, citrussy (puckery, rather than light lemon), and with a good earthy character.  We shall soon put this prediction to the test!

Tall 22oz bottle (they only do brews in this size, which is fine with me) from Consumer Beverages in Orchard Park, NY.  Consumer Beverages is a small chain of beer stores found throughout the greater Buffalo area, and although the selection at each varies somewhat, they tend to all have a great variety of craft brews from the Northeast, as well as the usual big suspects (Stone, Bear Republic, Dogfish, Great Divide, Goose Island, Oskar Blues).  Definitely a great spot to go for a Buffalo Cross-Border Beer Run, at any rate.  As usual, Pretty Things utilizes some trippy artwork on the bottling for Jack D’Or that is most certainly worth a second look.  The bottle label explains that this mustachioed fellow is supposed to be a barleycorn lord of some kind (sporting a pin straight from the annals of Screaming Lord Such) standing in a mash tun.  Intriguing to say the least.

Poured into my trusty Duvel goblet, which has definitely become my go-to glass when I'm not exactly sure what glassware to go with.   Golden, lemon drop yellow in colour, with a sturdy head of an inch or two.  Slightly hazy.

Nose is quite pleasant and floral, with subtle notes of lemon, funk, herbal hops (Styrian, and, for the American Saison touch, Columbus), perhaps a bit of peach or other fleshy fruit lingering in the back as well. 

Dry, grainy, and with a good balance of citrus, herbs and bitter funk, this brew is quite enjoyable.  The finish is long and bitter with a lingering citrus pith and herbs flavor.  Wheat malt is subtle, but there.  Great brew, this is: dry and flavorful.  Slightly creamy, good carbonation, slightly astringent.  The addition of American hops is a common method to "re-invent" an old style of brewing, and usually the end result is pretty good.  This brew is no exception.

I’ve been consistently impressed from Pretty Things, and this brew is no different.   The Americanization of the Saison paid off pretty well with the citrusy bite and assertive bitterness.  I will get this one again for sure if I come across it.   

Monday, September 3, 2012

Horizontal Tasting - Raspberry Lambics

Keeping with our theme of different beer tasting ideas, here's a rough sketch about what a "horizontal" tasting   might look like.  For those lazy buggers who haven't checked out the previous post, a horizontal is just a fancy way of saying "a tasting of similar kind."  For the casual drinking type, this means that you and your guests try to keep within an agreed upon theme for your samplings.  This could follow whatever theme you wanted, be it regional (the brews of Pennsylvania or Denmark, for example), ingredient based (rye beers or a particular strain of yeast/hops), brewing style (only Russian Imperial Stouts or hefeweizens), a particular brewery or whatever theme you want.  The possibilities are fairly broad, but the only variable that you really should try to keep more or less isolated is the year the beer was brewed.  It's not really fair, say, to compare various Belgian Dubbel ales when one has been cellared for a couple of years and another was bottled within the past few months.  As we've seen many times before, aging a brew means that the brew is going to change somewhat, whether it be a mellowing or smoothing out of flavor, a reduction of the carbonation or alcohol bite, or what have you.  It's like comparing a 2006 Merlot to a 2011 - to really assess the brew's merits, you really should compare that 2006 to another 2006.  Again, if this is more technical than you'd like to get, don't worry about it too much.  Sometimes, it can be difficult to determine when a brew was actually brewed, and the vast majority of folks probably don't care that much.  However, if you are doing a tasting of similar styles and one really jumps out at you, have a look to see if the brew is a year or so older than the rest.

For today's mini horizontal, let's have a look at three brews of the same style - a raspberry lambic ale - which all hail from Belgium.   As we've seen before, lambics are a peculiar style of beer.  Unlike pretty much every other beer in the planet, lambic ales undergo the fermentation process naturally, rather than by virtue of the brewmaster adding his or her yeast at the key moment.  Due to the unique geography of the region - for those interested, the vast majority of lambics come from the Pajottenland, which is SW of Brussels - natural yeast strains have set up shop in the fields and farmlands, which means that all the brewer has to do is invite the yeast to float on by and do its thing.  The resulting brew tends to be extremely sour, with some bizarre flavors such as lactic acid, citrus, funk, "musk" and the dreaded "horse blanket", whatever the hell that means.  It's amazing that the early brewers didn't just pitch the stuff, but then again, people still love Blue and Limburger cheese despite their powerful rank.  For some batches, the brewmaster will combat this sweetness by adding fruit, with the common additives being cherry (kriek) and raspberry (framboise or framboos it is often called).  Blending different batches can also result in a more specific flavor, depending upon the level of sourness or sweetness the brewer wants to achieve.   Thus, there can be incredible variation between brews of this type, which makes the raspberry lambic an excellent subject for a mini vertical!

I should take the opportunity to thank my friend Jeff for bringing these brews back from Belgium and sharing them with the group - cheers man!

Without really knowing how the three would taste, we opened them more or less at random, so I'll go at them in the order we did.

Beer: 3 Fonteinen Framboos
Brewery: Brouwerij Drei Fonteinen (Beersel, just south of Brussels, and one of the better names for a brewing town!)
ABV: 5%

This is a special release brew that was picked up at a festival at the brewery.  I missed some of the story on this, so I apologize for missing the details, but suffice to say, this isn't your everyday lambic brew.

Poured into that little snifter there.  Nice colour on this, which is a soft murky cherry.  Thin head that doesn't last long, save for a few wisps round the middle.  The colour is the most important feature, and it is brilliant.

Great nose on this, with tart fresh raspberry dominating things.  A bit of funk and musk in the back, with assertive sourness as well, which is typical of the style.

This brew has an impressive balance to it, with the sweet/tart raspberry pairing nicely with that funky sour lambic backing.  As we shall soon see, lambics that have fruit added to them to cut the tart acidic base can do so to varying degrees, with the end result being either extremely sour (like the Cantillon we'll get to in a moment) or very sweet and sugary, like Lindemans Framboise.  Now, my palate for the sours is still improving but I'm still not wild about them.  I have my limits, and this brew is just sitting neatly at that level.  Carbonation is firm, but not overpowering.

Might not be an everyday thing, but certainly worth the occasional go, especially when sharing with others!

Moving things along, we arrive pleasantly at the entry from Cantillon, which I have to admit has one of the most intriguing labels around.  I'll just leave this here for you to consider.

Sort of looks like the Black Knight from Monty Python sans helmet, seated on a pile of reeds and having some drunken sexytimes with a lady he picked up because she happened to be already nude and convenience is always a factor for Knights on the go.  Sad thing is, I'm not that far off - the only part I got wrong was the identity of the man.  The dude having one of the better afternoons a straight male can have is intended to be the legendary Gambrinus himself.  For those not in the know (i.e., me), Gambrinus was a mythical figure from the Middle Ages whose based-identity could be any number of a series of Flemish rulers or their family members, or someone connected to Charlemagne.  The important thing to know is that Gambrinus is that his supposed claim to fame was that he created malted beer that was seasoned with hops, and bequeathed this gift to the people of Belgium, a gift the Belgians have thankfully not squandered.  For his love of beer and his contributions to it, Gambrinus is now considered to be the patron saint of brewing.  My kind of fellow.  Adding to his legendary status is his love of beer and women, with this delightful blonde here enjoying his company.  This saucy little beer label, though certainly worth a double-take, has not been without controversy.  According to this blog, the infamous  Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms initially banned this brew from the United States because of its "indecent" label, a policy they have since changed.  Nice to know that Ontario isn't the only uppity province when it comes to beer labeling.

And here we are, with "Rose de Gambrinus."

Beer: Rose de Gambrinus
Brewery: Cantillon (Brussels)
ABV: 5%

First thing you notice about this brew (aside from the blonde) is the colour, which is a bright scarlet-cherry.  The folks around the table with me agreed that it seemed a bit artificial, and although I have to say it didn't look that way to me, it did seem to be overly dark considering how sour this brew was.

Nose is incredibly funky, with a real acetic acid sourness hitting me squar in the back of my nasal cavity.   This has been my problem with many a Cantillon brew - goddamn, these mothers are sour.   Only a touch of raspberry, which becomes more prevalent as the brew warms up and my nose becomes accustomed to things.

Again, sourness is the name of the game here.  Very tart, with fresh raspberry, lemon, a bit of grain and funk.   This one certainly grew on me after a while - like a bag of sour candy, your tastebuds eventually get to the stage where they can handle what was once overwhelming.   Still, this one is just a hair above my absolute threshold of sourness that I can endure.  Carbonation is sharp, and the brew is medium bodied.

So yes, if you are a sucker for all things sour - or like sultry ladies on your beer labels - this one is for you.   But despite the boobage, this brew was just too much for me.   I just don't think Cantillon is a brewery I'm going to like, but I'll keep trying, dammit!

Last but not least is the entry from the Boon brewery, of perhaps the most appropriately named Belgian lambic brewing town of all - Lembeek.   Unfortunately, due to the intoxicating effects of liquor, I don't have a close up shot of this brew, but in the shot of all three above, Boon is on the right.

Beer: Framboise Boon
Brewery:  Brouwerij Boon
ABV: 5.5

The colour of this brew is visually quite striking - a deep maroon colour that reminds me of a red wine or port.   Probably closer to what cherry juice actually looks like than the  bright coloured concoctions we've seen so far.   Similar colour of raspberry pie or jam.   Half inch of white head, solid retention.

Nose is quite sweet, with the cherry coming through quite nicely.  But instead of tart and funky like the first two, this one was far sweeter, with a smell more akin to cherry pie or jam.   Dark cherry, at the very least.  Only a bit of funk and lactic in there as compared to the first two.  

Sweetness is the name of the game for this brew.  Certainly a great lambic if you like them a touch sweeter than those sour bombs.  The lactic acid and tart funkiness is kept in check, allowing the raspberry some time to shine.  Oddly enough, however, with my tastebuds so accustomed to the taste of sour raspberries, this one came off as being too sweet for right now.  Borderline cloying, in fact, but still quite drinkable.   If I see this brew again, I'll be sure to make this brew the only lambic - or at least the first one of the day - so that I don't have that comparison again.

Amazing how much difference you can find in a style just by comparing a few variations of it in one sitting.  My vote, along with the votes of the rest of the party, went with 3 Fonteinen's Framboos, because it sat nicely in the middle between tart and sweet, funky and fruity, with the other two occupying the other ends of the sweet-sour spectrum.  All three had their merits; the horizantal tasting allows you to see where you tend to sit.  A horizontal tasting is a great way to see what aspects you like in a style beer, what the possibilities within that style might be, and to pick out the different characteristics the brewer intended in his production - i.e, did she go for a particular hop or flavor over something else?   It's all about exploring the possibilities, which in the craft brewing world can be diverse and wonderful.   Happy tasting everyone!