Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 Year End Round Up

The last day of 2010 is as good a day as any to look back on what I think was a fantastic year in craft beer, and specifically craft beer in Texas. Look back to 2009 to see what I said about this year.
1) One of the big things this year in Texas was more Texas Breweries opened: Jester King, Ranger Creek, No Label Brewing all opened this year and are producing good beers. In the case of Jester King and Ranger Creek they are producing beers that aren't like any produced in the state. No Label produces one of the best Hefe's I've had. The good news for 2011 is that this trend is bound to continue with many new breweries planning to open. Established Texas brewers continued to put out great beers, notably Real Ale starting a barrel program, releasing popular beers like Sisyphus or Devil's Backbone aged in wine barrels. Saint Arnold released DR 10 a barleywine and started the interesting and educational Moveable Yeast Series where they take their regular beers and brew them with a different yeast. 512 out of Austin continues to expand their line-up brewing double IPA's, Bourbon Barrel Pecan Porter, and a Double Brown Ale. Expect new brews from all these breweries continuing to expand horizons.
2) Unfortunately with the good comes some bad. In a state with so few brew pubs its sad to lose any, and Texas lost two this year: Award winning Covey in Ft. Worth, and the Houston branch of Two Row's. I wasn't a huge fan of Two Rows, but they had installed a new brewer and things were looking up. Speaking of looking up, there is a movement to bring a branch of popular San Antonio Brewpub Freetail to Houston, so look for more info on this in the coming year.
3) 2010 may be remembered as the year that Beerfests finally made it. There were 3 big beer fests this year: Brewmasters International in Galveston, Houston Beer week capped by Monsters of Beer, and Austin Beer week. All were successful to various degrees, but the key is that they WERE successful, lessons were learned and the coming year will bring bigger and better things. We know things will be bigger from this interview that Ronnie Crocker had with Monsters of Beer founder Cathy Clark, going from 10 breweries and 600 attendees to 50 breweries and 3000 attendees. Quite a big step, but I have no doubt that Houston and Texas beer lovers will support it. Plan ahead, Houston Beer week will be the week of November 12.
4) Along with great beer festivals came an increase in restaurants holding beer dinners. There were quite a few during Houston Beer week of course (including this amazing one at Catalan). However other restaurants have stepped up and held other beer dinners most notably Vic & Anthony's where Chef Carlos Rodriguez stepped out side the usual V&A fare and served some amazing food pairing them with brews from Dogfish Head, Stone, and Brew dog on 3 different occasions. Chef Rodriguez promises more to come and has already announced that the first beer dinner of the new year will be on 11 February featuring beers from Colorado's Left Hand.
5) As with last year, more and more beer books are being released, further helping to educate and entertain beer lovers. This was my favorite book of the year, and frankly one of my favorite beer books period.

For next year, besides new breweries, new beers, bigger and better beer fests, one of the most important things is that the Texas Legislature will be in session and hopefully a new bill will be submitted to allow breweries to sell beer on site. Unlike wineries who can sell wine in their on site tasting rooms, breweries in Texas don't have this luxury. 2 attempts have been made, so maybe, just maybe the third time is the charm. The new year promises to be big one for Texas craft beer lovers and I'll be here posting my thoughts. What were your highlights of this past year? What are you most looking forward to? Leave your thoughts below.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Stone Lucky Bastard

Stone Brewing out of California is one of those in your face craft breweries. They don't do subtlety very well. They've been that way since day 1 and announced it to the world when they released Arrogant Bastard, an American Strong ale that teases you right on the bottle with the phrase "You are not worthy". It packs a wallop of hops and an abv of 7.2%. They are well known for making very hoppy very strong beers, and in fact I count Ruination as one of my all time favorite DIPA's. Its with this knowledge that I was eager to pick up Stone's newest release Lucky Bastard, a beer celebrating its arrogant history, the beer is a blend of Arrogant Bastard, Oaked Bastard, and Double Bastard.
The Beer: This one weighs in at 8.8% and pours a chestnut rusty brown with a thick taupe colored head of dense foam. The nose has notes of vanilla, massive hops, and some caramelly malts. The scents assault you, and in your face as expected from a Stone brew. The mouthfeel is chewy, a bit harsh, tongue quenching bitterness up front. Notes of malt, caramel, a dusting of coco, vanilla. But this are all quickly washed away by a thick layer of resiny much so that nothing else is left on the pallete than hops and more hops, everything else is washed out. This beer is great as a hop bomb, but I think it fails at highlighting the great individual beers. This one gets a B- from me for that reason. A good but not great beer.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Freetail Houston

A couple of weeks ago right before Thanksgiving was my birthday and as I am want to do, I celebrated with a special beer. This year wasn't just any beer it was Freetail La Muerta (thanks to Dave for picking me up a couple of bottles). There may be two questions your asking yourself. The first is "Whats Freetail?" Well its a scratch that, its an amazing brewpub out of San Antonio, TX producing some of the best beers not only in Texas but the country. Freetail has become so popular that they are looking at expanding, but instead of just looking within San Antonio, they are looking out to other cities within Texas. This news came at the same time as Houston lost its one and only brewpub Two Rows, so folks in Houston have started a grassroots movement to bring Freetail here. This group of beer folks have started a website Freetail Houston and twitter feed to show the Freetail folks how much support there is for them in this fine brewpubless city. They have even worked to bring Freetail owner Scott Metzger to town to show them the love. Hopefully Scott will see the light and bring an amazing brewpub to Houston.
Now back to the questions. We've answered the first, the second question you may be asking yourself is "What's La Muerta." Well its there once a year brewed Imperial Stout. The beer is brewed in celebration of Dia De Los Muertos and is available only at the brew pub. They have a huge party on release day and you can buy 750ml's then. This year there were 450 bottles of this fine Imperial Stout made. The bottle that I opened for my birthday was number 36. Now that we've answered the questions let's get to the beer.
The Beer: This Imperial Stout weighs in at 10.2% and pours black as coal with a thick dense cafe colored head. The nose is full of thick luscious malts, roasted malt, chocolate, some alcohol, some dark fruit notes. The mouthfeel is full with a capital F. Creamy viscous, literally chewy. Gobs of roasted malts, coffee, dark chocolate, raisins, and some alcohol astringency. With all these strong flavors I'm surprised by how drinkable the beer is now, but really wonder how awesome this beer will be with some age. This beer is simply amazing one of, if not the best, Imperial stout I've had. This is an easy A bordering on the rare A+ from me.
It's a beer like this that makes me hunger for a brew pub that will make rare and experimental beers. While Imp Stouts are starting to border on being over done, this is so well done its not to be over looked. Additionally looking at some of the Belgian and sour ales that Freetail brews just makes me want them to chose Houston even more. So if you live here, support the movement to bring Freetail here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary Grand Cru

This beer represents a bitter sweet moment for me; the fourth and final installment of Sierra Nevada's wonderful series brewed to celebrate their 30th anniversary. First there was Fritz and Ken Ale (an Imperial Stout), then in July we got the Charlie, Fred, and Ken Helles, followed by Jack and Ken's Barleywine in August. While these beers not only celebrated Sierra Nevada but other founders of the craft beer movement. This last one though is all about celebrating Sierra Nevada, its a blend of Oak-Aged Bigfoot, Celebration Ale, and their flagship Pale Ale.

The Beer: The Grand Cru weighs in at 9.2% and pours an orangish amber with a thick dense creamy head of taupe colored foam. Lots of hops on the nose, some caramel malts and toffee as well. The mouthfeel is medium bodied, with tons of hops present, sweet caramel and toffee, treacle, before leaving lingering hop resins on the tongue. Some notes of alcohol as well. Chewy, very drinkable, but lots of citrus and piney hops. This one is very good now, but I think will age very well. The hops will lessen and the malt characteristics will come to the fore front. Sierra Nevada did an outstanding job with this series of beers and went out with a bang. Here is to at least 30 more years.

More Holiday Beers

I said in my previous post how much I love this season for beers and so its time for another installment of Holiday Beers.
Mikkeller Santa's Little Helper: A favorite of mine from this gypsy brewer weighs in at 10.9%. The beer changes its recipe every year tweaking each time striving to reach perfection. An ale brewed with spices this one pours a dark brown almost but not quite black with a thick tan colored head. Spicy and herbal on the nose. Notes of spruce and sweet malt. Low carbonation with a full creamy mouthfeel. Rich sweet malts up front, notes of spruce, spice, candied dark fruits, rye bread, ginger, caramel all blend together to create a Christmas experience. Santa's Helper indeed. If you left this out next to your fireplace you might wake up on Christmas morning with Santa happily asleep the empty bottle clutched in his hands. This one gets a strong A from me.
Delerium Noel: From the makers of Delerium Tremens, the last time I had this brew was back in 2008 and I thoroughly enjoyed it. A 10% Belgian dark ale that pours a light hazy brown with very little head. Candied sugar, fruity esters on the nose. Medium bodied, some notes of alcohol, fruity, plums, candied sugar, fruity, slightly sweet. Some brown sugar and vanilla notes show up as it warms. Its a little sweet for me and I'd love to see how this changes as it ages. Very plummy some sour cherries as well show up. A good beer that gets a B+ from me.
Samichlaus 2009: This leads credence to the theory that Christmas seasonal beers are the best for aging. Samichlaus is an original "extreme" beer from Austria, weighing at at a robust 14%. Unlike others though this one is a lager, not an ale. Brewed once a year on December 6th, aged, and only then is it bottled. So this one bottled in 2009 was actually brewed back in 2008. The beer pours a rusty brown color with a thin and quickly dissipating head of foam. The nose is of cherries, and alcohol, dried fruit, sherry, dark bread, chocolate. Medium body with very little carbonation. Cherries and prunes, notes of alcohol. I close my eyes and think I'm drinking a fine port. The liquid coats the tongue begging to be paired with a strong cheese or chocolate. This is simply amazing and shows what beer can be. If you have a bottle of this, keep sitting on it, as I think this one can age for many more years. A great A beer.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

A Plethora of Holiday Beers

This year for the first time in a while there seems to be some new Christmas or winter seasonal beers on the shelves. At the very least they are new to me. Instead of filling numerous posts I'm combing my thoughts on a few of these beers. They'll be more of these in the next couple of weeks as I make my way through as many as I can. This is my favorite season for beers because so many beer during this time are cellar worthy as are each of the ones I'm posting about today.
Ommegang Adoration Ale: A Belgian Style Christmas ale from one of the best American brewers of belgian ales. This one has been around for a few years but its the first time I think its been available in Houston in bottles. A 10.% beer brewed with spices like coriander, cardamom, Mace, and grains of paradise. The beer pours a chestnut brown with a thick taupe colored head. Malty, fruity, spicy on the nose. I can smell cardamom and coriander. The mouthfeel is thick and chewy. Flavors of sweet malt, figs, prunes, candied oranges, fruit cake. Spicey, chewy, dark bread, dark fruit. As it warms qualities of scotch show up. Sweet but finishes dry. A very gog complex beer to sit in front of a warm fire with on a cold winter night. An A- from me.
Duvel Triple Hop: While not a true seasonal like others its been released around this time so I included it in this round up. Its your traditional Duvel recipe kicked up a bit. It weighs in at 9.5% and is brewed with Saaz, Amarillow, and Styrin hops, then again dry hopped with Styrin. It pours a pale golden color as expected with a thick pillowy white head of foam. The nose is of pale toasted malts, spicey yeasts. Medium mouthfeel, lots of carbonation, slightly sweet toasted malts, spicey and floral, yeasty bready notes. Letting it warms helps to bring out notes of pears and apples. A great beer that does great honor to the Duvel tradition. An A grade.
Gulden Draak Vintage Ale 2010: A vintaged version of the popular Gulden Draak Belgian age. Weighing in at 7.5% it pours a hazelnut brown with a thick dense head of taupe colored foam. Malty caramel notes on the nose. Brown sugar. The mouthfeel is medium bodied, god carbonation. Notes of Raisins, sweet caramel, malts, a slight hop bitterness. Carbonation is high giving this dark beer an effervescence. Notes of cherry as the beer warms, yeasty notes, figs. Spicey. A good beer that gets a B+ from me.
Golden Carolous Noel: We finish this round up as we started: A Belgian Style Christmas ale, except this time from an actual Belgian Brewery. This one weighs in at 10.5% and pours a rich copper color with a dark taupe colored head. Malty and spicey on the nose. The mouthfeel is medium bodied with a good level of carbonation. Flavors of sweet malt, spice, Christmas bread, candied sugar. Dark fruits, raisins figs, rich, rich, malt. Ginger bread, sprucy, slightly sweet. This beer tastes like Winter, it tastes like Christmas. If someone asked me to think of a scene to compare this beer to it would be traipsing through a snow covered forest in search of the perfect Christmas tree, then back at a cabin by a fire sipping on a fine beer. In a nutshell that's what this beer is. This may be my new favorite Christmas beer. A strong go out and get this grade of A from me.