Friday, February 26, 2010

Two New Glarus

I mentioned this briefly before, but a buddy of mine from Wisconsin brought back a stash of beer from me when he was up there during Christmas. I ended up with about a mixed case of beers from New Glarus. NG is only available in Wisconsin so its quite a treat to try some of these beers. The brewery is run by husband and wife team Daniel and Deb Carey (if your remember my entry from my New Belgium tour, the brew equipment came from he CO brewery). Daniel Carey is not only the owner he is the brewmaster and helps turn out some of the best and unique beers in the country. In fact Mr. Carey has some strong brewing chops having been Production Supervisor for Anheuser-Busch prior to starting up New Glarus in 1993. New Glarus has won quite a few awards including Small Brewery of the Year in 2005, and Mid-Size brewery of the year in 2006. NOt only are they good, they are growing!
Because of the large stash of NG beer that I received, I'll be posting notes on a couple of their beers every once in a while, starting today.
Crack'd Wheat: This is a Pale Ale Hefeweiss which was all I needed to read on the label of the beer to get excited about it. It weighs in at 5.95% and pours a hazy golden yellow, bubbly with a thick white head. The nose is hoppy, citrus, bananas, and clove. The mouthfeel is full good carbonation. Hoppy, grapefruity, cloves, and banana, citrus peel bitterness. Slightly resiny on the finish. This is a wonderful beer and surprisingly combines the citrus-y flavors of a pale ale with the banana and spices of a hefeweiss. This one gets a B+ from me. BA thoughts?
Black Wheat: It makes me sad to know that this one is a retired beer from NG, but I'm glad I was able to try it. This is a winter style dark wheat beer that weighs in at 5.7%. It pours an almost pitch black with a thin white head. The nose is full of banana, clobes, spices, chocolate, bubblegum, and rich malts. The mouthfeel is chewy and full. NOtes of chocolate up front, along with the expected cloves, cinnamon, banana, spices. Oh the spices in this beer are wonderfully complex. Its hearty for such a low abv beer. Great spices, great chocolatey notes as well. Good solid beer that gets a B+ from me. BA's give it love as well.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Quick Hits: Upcoming Events Edition

Its a great time to be a lover of craft beer in Houston. There seems to be beer related events every week. Just last week we had the Petrol Station/Flying Saucer Stone RIS Vertical. There are even more events over the course of the next few weeks and months:

- Yes, I've knocked the idea multiple times, but it doesn't mean I won't try the beer. On March 17th, James Watt the brewer for Scottish brewery BrewDog will be at local beer institution Petrol Station serving to controversial Sink the Bismark.

- March 14, Rice Village watering hole and the original Beer institution of Houston Gingerman will be hosting a Texas Beer Tasting. Event starts at 3 pm.

- Speaking of Petrol Station, on March 29th they are hosting a Beer Vs. Wine dinner.

- Of course I've mentioned it before but Beer Camp II is coming up at the end of March. Unfortunately tickets are sold out.

Well thats a brief example of what's coming up in Houston. If you know of any other events, put them in the comments section and I'll post them on the Calendar on the right hand side.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Odell India Barleywine

This small brewery from Fort Collins is quickly becoming one of my favorites. We are unlucky enough to not get it here in Houston, however I try to pick up a couple of bottles of their beer whenever I am in Denver. Per Odell Brewing's website this is a cross between a barleywine and an IPA. I'll raise my glass to that.
The Beer: It weighs in at 9.7% and 65 IBU's. It pours a light caramel color with a thick dense head of off white foam. Very hoppy on the nose. Citrus peel, resiny, malty, toasty, caramel, malts. The mouthfeel is full, almost sticky, chewy, caramel, sweet, HOPS (yep capitalized), grapefruit marmalade, syrup. Super hoppy but with tons of deliciously sweet malty backbone. Gorgeous lacing along the glass, with plenty of patterning along the inside of the glass. There is an earthyness to this beer that brings to mind a good English barleywine. Notes of toffee, bread pudding. Jammy with bits of white pepper. One interesting thing I notice as the beer warms, the finish weakens. The up front flavor still tends to slap you across the face, but the finish is more watery, with just a bit of lingering hop resins. This one gets a B+ from me. Here's what the folks at BA say.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Well its not ending any time soon

A few days ago I asked the question "When will it end" in reference to the on going arms race to see who can create the highest abv beer. Well another salvo has been launched, this time by German Brewer Schorschbräu as pointed out in a reply in the above linked post.
Schorschbräu, in response to Brew Dog's "Sink the Bismark" beer weighing at 41%, has promised to brew one to 45% using the traditional Eisbockverfahren method of freezing the beer, removing the water, and thereby concentrating the sugar and alcohol levels. in their press release they even called out Brew Dog for cheating by using Whiskey barrels to increase the beer (James of Brew Dog points out there was no barrel aging for this beer unlike Tactical Nuclear Penguin).
My question remains the same though, WHY? Whats the purpose? To create something that tastes like whiskey? Why not drink whiskey then? Is it a pissing contest, see which ones bigger? Isn't that a tad childish? Also what about the taste? Which of course is the key? With all due respect to the brewer's I'm just not sure how either of these would actually taste, and taste like you know BEER! Or some semblance there of. You've seen this week I like big beers, but they still taste like beer. Why can't we appreciate beer for all that it is, instead of trying to make it something that it probably shouldn't be.
Of course if I had the opportunity to try it I would, but honestly I can't imagine it would taste all that good, I don't believe you can hide the alcohol in something that big. So of course the question remains "When will it end?" A collaborative 50% brew to make up between these two warring breweries?

Nogne Barleywine

Another day another post on a barleywine. Unintentionally this week's theme has become barleywine, and you know what I'm OK with that. This particular one is from the Nogne brewery out of Norway. Just like here in the states, home brewing interests inspired two friends to start their own brewery back in 2002. They are very proud of their beer, and each bottle is subtitled with the motto - "The Uncompromising Brewery." Nogne has become incredibly popular over on this side of the Atlantic for making some amazing beers, some unique, some strong, all very good. Unfortunately as of right now they aren't imported into Texas, but I was fortunate to get my hands on this bottle of theirs. Their barleywine as some interesting history. The recipe was used to celebrate Nogne's 100th batch, but it was only available in small batches. The brewer's noticed its incredible popularity and decided to release it commercially (lucky for us!).
The Beer: This one weighs in at 10% and 80 IBU's. It pours a very dark brown with a thick taupe colored head. The nose is figgy, hoppy, citrus, and really rich malts. The mouthfeel is rich, chewy. Loads of hops, citrus, earthy notes, figs, and raisins. Notes of warm dark bread, toffee. Creamy, bourbon like. Vanilla notes. Its warming, but not from the alcohol which is hidden pretty well. Tons of dark concentrated fruits like prunes, raisins, figs, hints of citrus peel. Citrus peel bitterness lingers through the finish. A wonderful barleywine that gets an A from me. Here's what the folks at BA think.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

2009 Central Waters Bourbon Barrel Barleywine

A friend of mine is from the Wisconsin area and over Christmas he was able to visit some of his family. He is also a fellow craft beer lover (as well as an amazing home brewer), so he brought back a slew of beer to share with me. Most of those were New Glaurus beers (posts on those later I promise) but there were some from other WI breweries as well, including this one from Central Waters Brewery out of Amherst, WI.

The Brewery: Before I get to the beer, a couple of notes about the brewery. First just from the initial look at the website you can tell they are not just your ordinary brewery. Like many others (namely New Belgium) they have an intense interest in doing things environmentally friendly and have recently installed 1,000 sq ft of solar cells in addition to other environmental things that they do like radiant floor heating and energy efficient equipment. The brewery started in 1996 in an old Ford Model-A dealership, a few years later however the original owners sold the brewery to the current owners Brewer Paul Graham and a home brewer Clint Schultz. They worked hard to keep not only the solid list of beers already being brewed but to expand into some more interesting offerings. Their list of brew's looks pretty solid, especially the seasonal offerings. Some like the one today are aged in bourbon barrels, however I am unsure of which bourbon.

The Beer: This 2008 GABF Gold medal winner weighs in at 11.5%. It pours a rich amber brown with a medium sized tan colored head. Notes of bourbon, oak, vanilla, caramel, and some nice floral and earthy hops, along with figs, raisins, plums, oh my. The mouth is rich and chewy with little carbonation. Oaky, vanilla, slight notes of bourbon on the finish. Dark fruits like plums and figs. Charred oak is evident as well adding an interesting depth to the beer. Caramel and hints of alcohol show up after another sip. Very malty. As it warms the bourbon flavors become more pronounced along with notes of cherry. Warming it almost becomes sherry like. A wonderful beer that gets a very excited A- from me. Here's what the folks at BA had to say.

When will it end?

Recent news has set the beer blogosphere and beer forums like Beer advocate on fire. What's that news you ask? That an IPA weighing in at 41% abv (yes you read that right) has been made by Scottish brewer's Brew Dog. You may remember a few months back they received quite a bit of publicity when they created a beer Tactical Nuclear Penguin that weighed in at 38%. However shortly after the release of that beer, another brewery Schorschbrau released a beer weighing in at 40%. Before all of this there was of course Sam Adams Utopias weighing in at around 26-27% abv. Now why the controversy, why this post? Well, my question is in the title...where does it stop? When do we go back to brewing beer because it tastes good, because it has all the nuances that a great beer should, versus brewing beer for no other reason than get some cheap publicity (sorry but I truly believe that's all this is). Beer is NOT whiskey (yes I know beer from a certain point of view is the basis of whiskey), beer is NOT wine, beer is NOT cognac, beer IS beer.
Another issue I have is how are these brewer's getting this high in alcohol? Sam Adams has made no secret that they are using "ninja yeast," to get the alcohol that high. Basically a highly active champagne style yeast along with using other yeasts help create this beer. Both of the Brew dog's beer use a freeze distillation process. Some of you might say well its distilled so it can't even be counted as beer. Well this is where I actually do back folks like Brewdog. Freezing the beer, removing excess water leaving behind alcohol and solids has been going on for years in Germany (reference my recently reviewed Eisbock for some background). So just because they used a non standard brewing practice doesn't mean its not beer, but I still have some question as to whether or not using Eisbeer methods would get alcohol that high, what else are they doing and why?
Another argument in support of going as high as possible in alcohol is that its no different than other breweries adding tons of raspberries, or aging in whiskey barrels, or using brett in beers. Except for the fact that all those things were going on around the world for hundreds of years, its just that for the most part we (especially here in the US) have rediscovered these methods over the past few years. Never have brewers pushed the level of alcohol to the levels that folks are doing so today. Not to say that's bad, but to compare it to methods that were traditionally used and are just now coming back into vogue is nonsense.
My last point on this and honestly probably the most important, is that very few (if any) of these high octane beers taste good. Yes there are those that will swear up and down that the beers are good (but then if you look at BA some folks think Sam Adams Triple Bock tastes good), but there is nothing that's going to hide 41% abv, its not going to taste like beer. If you want whiskey, have a dram, if you want beer, have a pint (or snifter, or mug, etc). I don't mean to bash Brewdog, but wouldn't they be better served working on their beer, making all of their offerings better, working on distribution to the states (which I know they ARE starting to work on) to ensure their beer is better when it arrives? I've had a few BrewDog beers and I'm about 50/50 so far on what they've made and I hear about the same thing from other folks that I've talked to. So why not work hard and improve what you've got vs going out for what I consider a cheap publicity stunt? Many will compare BrewDog to Sam Adams Utopia, or Dogfish World Wide Stout. My response is that for the most part both SA and DFH have a pretty strong line up of beers, they have worked incredibly hard to improve the quality of their brews across the board, working on distribution issues, and then they have worked to release these high octane beers (and if you remember I wasn't a huge fan of WWS). My feeling is Brewdog can't compare themselves to DFH or SA for those reasons.
How far are we from a 50% beer that's been fermented with multiple strains of champagne yeast, triple frozen, freeze hopped, loaded in bourbon barrels, blended with alcohol, and someone tries to call it beer? Will folks still stand up and proclaim that it is? Where does it stop and when do we go back to enjoying beer for beer's sake and not trying to make it something its not.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Quick Hits

We'll call this edition of quick hits Good News, Bad News. First up unfortunately the bad news.

- Last week in the DFW area there was a horrendous snow storm (yes you heard that right, snow storm). Unfortunately it affected Fort Worth brewery Rahr and Sons, causing the roof to collapse. Worse still it looks like it coule be at least a couple of months before they are able to start up operations again. The only good news from this issue is that their distributor Coors, was able to get all bottled product out of the brewery and is storing it at their warehouse so they can distribute it. There are some good pictures and updates from Paul Hightower on his blog. Hopefully Rahr and Sons will be able to bounce back and continue the strong brewing of beer.

- A little late I know, but a unique vertical is occuring in the city of Houston this week. Bars Flying Saucer and Petrol Station are paring up to do a 6 year verticle of Stone's Russian Imperial Stout. Each night a different bar will host, tapping a different year of Stones RIS. They will also be tapping other different Stone brews. For example at last nights event they tapped Stones Cali-Belgique. For more details on how the tasting is going down head over to Ronnie Crocker's post about the event on Beer, Tx.

- Lastly, and a little more bad news for some is that Beer Camp II is coming! You may remember my write up on the original Beer Camp. Well the 2nd one has been announced for Mar 28th, unfortunately the tickets are sold out. They went in less than a day which at 50.00 a pop is amazing. I was out of town the day the tickets went on sale, but thanks to my wonderful wife I was able to score a couple of tickets. Here is a list of beers that could be available for tasting. As with last time I'll be posting my thoughts and notes on the tasting. If you want to be kept in the loop on all things Beer Camp, keep checking out the website, and follow beer camp on twitter.

Well thats it for now, back tomorrow with more tasting notes!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Dogfish Head Olde School Barleywine

Everyone knows I'm a huge fan of barleywine (and if you didn't the name of the blog should be a clue). I'm always on the look out for new ones, especially when I am out of town. This particular offering from DFH is one of those picked up outside of Houston. Unfortunately it's one of the few brews we don't get from this Deleware based brewery. As with most DFH offerings this one is big with a capital B.
The Beer: This one weighs in at a hefty 15.0% and pours an orangish color with a thick foamy off white head. The nose is of alcohol, hops, citrus peel, caramel malts. The nose is full and chewy, strong hop flavor up front. Notes of biscuits, marmalade, syrup, strong alcohol notes, but it doesn't ruin the flavor. This one unexpectedly is over the top, flavor wise. All flavors are intense, not just the alcohol. In the finish there is an unexpected smoothness that keeps this beer drinkable. A sipper for sure, but still something that over time gets better, smoother, like a good bourbon, which this beer has some notes of. Soul warming on a cold night. Great beer, really enjoyed this one and it gets a B+ from me. Here's what the folks at BA think.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Russian River Consecration

I had this beer back when I was in Denver over the holiday's. As I mentioned in earlier posts we had the chance to hit up a few breweries up in Fort Collins, on our way back to the city we stopped by the Oskar Blues brew pub in Longmont. This has place has some really great food, but it also has an amazing guest tap list and it was here back along the wall that I saw they were offering RR Consecration. Living in Texas I jump at the chance to have anything from Russian River and this day was no exception.
The Beer: Consecration is a dark Belgian style ale aged in Cabernet Barrels. It weighs in at 10.0% abv. It was poured into a 12 oz snifter. Deep dark ruby read with a thin white head. sour cherries, oak, vanilla all on the nose. The mouthfeel is shocking. Effervescence, sour, just mouth jolting taste bud slamming sour. Oak, caramel, tartness, incredibly wonderful. Something new that would shock BMC drinkers, it expands one's thoughts of beer. It makes you sit down and contemplate the meanings of things..meanings of beer, life, LOST, anything. Having said that, its a wonderful small doses, I couldn't imagine drinking more than the 12 oz that I had at one sitting, it would be just too much. A great beer that gets an A- from me. The folks at BA love it too.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Avery Sui Generis

Avery brewing out of Colorado has a growing reputation for not only their solid line of beers, but their exceptional special release beers. Beer's that I've enjoyed like their Anniversary Beers, Collaboration Not Litigation, and Maharaja one of the best DIPA's around. Recently they have gotten into barrel aging certain beers, the first of these was Brabant No 1, and exceptional brew aged in Zinfandel barrels and made with two strains of wild yeasts. Their second beer from this series was released during Great American Beer fest. Only 138 cases were made and they were only available in the Avery Tap Room. Unfortunately the release day was the day before I arrived in Denver for GABF, lucky for me though a friend from Houston arrived early and picked up a bottle for me. So what is this beer? It is a blended barrel aged sour ale. Ok so what does that mean? It's a beer brewed with 1 special yeast and two different bacteria including Brettanomyces, lactobacillus and pedicoccus, respectively different batches are aged in different barrels and then blended for the final product. 20% aged in Cabernet Savignon, 35% in Chardonnay, 13% in Port Barrels, and finally 13% in Bourbon barrels.
The Beer: It weighs in at 10.2% and pours a hazy orangish brown with a thick dense head of foam. The nose is funky, sour, tart, notes of vanilla and oak. This is a full bodied beer, tart, sour, oaky, vanilla, winish notes. Its all here, warming to oak and bourbon, sour cherries, slight portish notes. A predominant flavor is cherries its reminiscent of a Manhattan with the flavors of bourbon. Tons of lacing here. More flavors coming through, green apples, tart, bready, figs and port, wine and cheese, earthy. Wonderful beer that with each sip and each sniff more flavors are brought forward. Yes its sour, yes its tart, there is no doubt that this is a sour ale, but there is so much more that it becomes balanced to me, hiding the alcohol relatively well. This is an absolutely wonderful beer that gets an A from me. Here's what the folks at BA think.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Colorado Brewery Tours

Back in December I was in Denver visiting my in-laws. While there I did what any beer lover would do: visit some breweries. We spent one day up in Fort Collin, CO, home to New Belgium, Odell Brewery, and Fort Collins Brewery. It's two of these that I really want to talk about today.
The day we went up to Fort Collins, the first brewery we hit was New Belgium. I had been to this brewery about 5 or 6 years ago, but was excited to see it since I knew they had done some expansion in that time. New Belgium not only makes good beer, they are also a good company. We started the tour in the tasting room, before heading up stairs to see their mash tun, lauter tun, Pre-Run Vessel, and kettle. While here and sipping some Le Fleur Misseur the tour guide talked about the company. After working there for a year each employee gets a bike that they can ride to work (even though it was pretty cold this day, there were a lot of bikes out front), after 2 years they are offered ownership within the company. This last part is huge in developing a company that truly cares about the product. Secondly NB is one of the first (if not the first) to be significantly operated by Alternate Energy, whether solar, or wind powered. They have also developed complex system as part of their brewing process that reuses materials, or energy created in previous steps of the brewing process to help power later steps. To pay for the equipment it took to put this process together the employees agreed to forgo a couple of years of profit sharing which to me shows how much the company and its people care not only about what they are doing, but how they are doing it.
Its not all about the environment, its also about their growth. They are currently in 26 states, and they've got a new bottling line (the old one went to New Glaurus) that allows them to fill 700 bottles/min. Not only is NB bottling of course, they are also canning. I found out something interesting about the canning process of the ubiquitous Fat Tire. Unlike the bottled version, the canned version is "canned condition" which leads to a fuller taste. Unfortunately I have not done a side by side comparison to find out how they differ in taste, has anyone else?

From New Belgium we headed to a brewery that I had not only never visited I had never had any of their beer: Fort Collins Brewery. I had seen their beers in the Denver Stores, things like Kidd Lager, Z Lager, and 1900 Amber. None of these really ever excited me, and frankly their labels were pretty weak looking. Well I learned never to judge a book by its cover. The Kidd Lager is a delicous Schwarzbier, Z lager? A rauchbier, and a very good one at that. The IPA was very good as well. All of these surprised me in their depth of flavor and drinkability. FCB actually has a pretty good even unusual line up of standard beers (a raucbier and black lager standard who else does that?). They also had some brews on tap that were special. My favorite and the most unusual was a steinbier. Whats a stienbier you ask? The beer is brewed using heated stones placed into the boiling kettle. The addition of these stones heated the wort to boiling. In addition these stones acquire a layer of caramelized malts which when placed into a second vessel helps stimulate additional fermentation. Its an unusual process that created a beer unlike one I had ever had. It was a basic lager, but with some unusual undertones in the flavor. Caramel yes, but also stoney and minerally, very good, delicious. All in all my trip to FCB was one of my favorite, not because all the beers were amazing, but because it opened my eyes up to a brewery I had not tried. That right there is one of my favorite reasons to go to brewery tours: the opportunity to try and be surprised by something you otherwise wouldn't have.

Dogfish Head World Wide Stout

Wow, this year has really gotten away from me. Its February already and I have barely posted to the blog. Well the good news is, that stops now, and I have a lot to talk about. Posts on news in Houston, posts on tasting, and posts on brewery tours. First, let's get started with posts on tastings. This is a beer I picked up while in Denver over Christmas, it's one of the few beers from Dogfish Head that is not available in our fair state.
The Beer: To say beer is a stout is like saying the Empire State building is just a building. This one weighs in at whopping 18% abv. It's not for the faint of heart, this is not an introductory craft beer. It pours an incredibly inky black with no light shining through. A thinnish taupe colored head. The nose is unsurprisingly of alcohol, malts, raisins, dried fruit. Let me repeat that, lots of alcohol. The mouthfeel is oily, slick, viscous. Its not like liquid beer, more like beer syrup. There are notes of deeply roasted malts, dried fruits, lots of alcohol all throughout the taste. Notes of cherry cough syrup, notes of coffee. There is some amazingly complex flavors here, but it is so overwhelmingly covered by the alcohol its hard to find some enjoyment in the beer. I do think that this beer could be wonderful in a few years. As the alcohol notes lessen and the malt notes come to prominence this beer could really shine. My job? Keep a couple the bottles I have and try it in a few years and report back. For now? This beer gets a C mainly for the hope of what this beer could be. The folks at BA? Tend to like it more than me.