Friday, September 30, 2011

Clown Shoes Eagle Claw Fist

I say this a lot in the blog, but it is a great time to be a craft beer lover in the state of Texas. Craft breweries are popping up everywhere, and more and more breweries are coming into this state (of course I wish there were more coming, but that's a whole other issue). One such brewery is Clown Shoes from Ipswich, Mass. They've been here for a little over a month or so, and for whatever reason I haven't gotten around to trying any of there beers before now. They are known for controversy as much as they are for how their beer tastes which is unfortunate. There are folks out there that seem to me to be a little to easily offended when it comes to Clown Shoes labels. If that gets your dander up, then I can't imagine how one would make it through a day in this world. Frankly I don't care what the label looks like, its whats inside that matters.
The Beer: Labeled an Imperial Amber Ale this one weighs in at 8% abv. The beer pours a ruby amber with a taupe colored head. Very malty on the nose, caramel, toffee, and then you get hints of citrus fruit and hoppy oils. The mouthfeel is full bodied, creamy, very small bubbles of carbonation that lead to this creaminess. Very hoppy, far hoppier on the tongue than the nose indicated. Caramel and Vienna malts in the flavor profile. Very resiny on the finish. Initially I felt the flavors were muddled, there wasn't a vibrancy to the beer. I had just bought the beer and had put it in the fridge to cool down, and maybe I hadn't waited long enough, because when I went back to have a second one, the vibrancy was there, and the flavors were all the same, but they stood out more and this was when I realized I liked the beer thank you very much. This one gets a B + from me.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Deschutes The Stoic

Deschutes is one of those breweries that has a good line up of regular beers and seasonals that are available in six packs. Then, however, they take things up a whole other level with their special releases. Their Abyss Stout is top notch and one that is considered a "must have" for beer nerds. We are lucky in Houston in that we not only get their six-pack line up but we are starting to get most of their special beers as well. We've been getting their Bond Street (named for the street where their original brew pub was on) series of beer (you may have seen Hop In The Dark, Hope Henge among others). Now we are getting their really special beers like Abyss, Black Butte anniversary, and the subject of my post today, The Stoic.
This one is an usual beer to be sure, before my tasting notes, here are the stats: A quadruple style (which really isn't a true style so call it an American Strong Ale if you want), fermented with pomegranate juice and then portions of the beer are aged in used oak wine barrels, and used oak rye whiskey barrels. Oh yeah it weighs in at 11% abv.
The Beer: The beer pours a light orange color with a thin white head. There is notes of oak, pomegranate, vanilla, fruity esters. The mouth is medium bodied, very fruity, notes of white wine, oaky, spicey, very small hints of pomegranate flavors. Some alcohol burn is present as well. A tartness starts to show up as the beer warms. I keep going back to sweet, almost cloyingly so, with no counter. Sure there is a hint of oak, and some alcohol flavors, but its just a little sweet. If it was dialed back just a bit, and maybe some more oak or even whiskey (which I didn't get at all) it would be a balanced better beer. Its a beer to try as it's not ridiculously expensive, but one I don't know if I'd go out of my way for. This one gets a C from me.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Samuel Smith Yorkshire Stingo

I have soft spot for English Brewer Samuel Smith. Back when I was first getting into craft beer a friend of mine bought me a Samuel Smith Gift pack that contained 3 beers and a logo'd pint glass. Those beers (Nut Brown Ale, Pale Ale, Oatmeal Stout) really opened my eyes to some great beers and some insight into British beer and brewing traditions. In this day and age of huge brewing companies that are getting ever bigger (see, SABMiller's recent announcement that they are buying Foster's), Samuel Smith's stands out for being a family owned, brewery that was founded in 1758. In fact according to one source that I read for this post, Sam Smith is determined to continue old school traditions, using horse drawn carriages to deliver beer near their Yorkshire brewery. However tradition goes deeper than the surface, it goes down to how they brew which is using traditional methods specifically the Yorkshire Square. A Yorkshire Square is a cubic structure usually made in stone or metal (Sam Smith's uses Welsh Slate) and its prized because of a couple of things: it collects yeast during fermentation very efficiently due to the a hole in the top of the cube. During brewing a highly flocculated yeast is used and as it ferments and foams up the yeast travels through the hole and remains there on the top, while the beer stays below. (I know a hard visual to understand, but something I would love to see in practice). The other reason this method is used is that it can lead to a full bodied beer with fruity notes.
Sam Smith uses the Yorkshire method to brew all of their ales, including this one named Stingo. Stingo is a style of beer that dates back a few hundred years, and this particular one is aged in oak casks that previously held cask conditioned ale. It is stored in these casks for up to a year or more, and then bottle conditioned.
The Beer: The beer weighs in at 8.0% and pours a chestnut brown with a thin taupe colored head. The head dissipates quickly leaving just a thin barely there film on top of the beer. The nose is full of toffee, malty, vanilla, some oakiness as well, fruity esters. The mouth is medium bodied, notes of treacle, vanilla, oak, caramel, some dark fruits like figs and plums an oakiness is there as well. As it warms there is a spiciness that I can't place, it adds a nice level of depth to the beer. Also notes of cherry. There is a wine like quality to the beer as you finish it up. In true British style for what this beer is, there is an understated quality about it which is one reason why I really enjoy it. Its a big beer by traditional British standards at 8.0%, but light in body which makes it easy to drink. I don't get any alcohol quality to this one which makes sipping it slowly very enjoyable. A great beer and one more reason to go out and try some other Sam Smiths beers (I'm also partial to their Imperial Stout).

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Life and Limb 2

If you've been reading this blog for a while you'll notice right off the bat that I didn't put a brewery in front of the beer name. There's a simple explanation as there are two of them: Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head. Two icons in the craft brewing industry came together back in 2009 and brewed the original Life and Limb. It sold so quickly that few people were able to get their hands on one including yours truly. It was because of that disappointment that I was excited to see they had decided to brew another batch of L&L for release and it was this last two weeks that it started to show up on the shelves.
L&L is an interesting brew in and of itself. As stated on Sierra Nevada's website, the life portion of the name comes from the living yeast cells in the bottle, so one knows this is a bottle conditioned ale. The Limb comes from the two syrups used, maple and birch.
The Beer: The beer weighs in at a hefty 10.2% abv and pours a very rich dark brown, almost black, with a thick taupe colored head. The nose is full of black malts, vanilla, oaky, honestly a little disappointed here. The beer doesn't have a powerful nose, and what is there is very subtle. That subtlety ends at the first sip. Its medium bodied, very malty, sweet, coffee, roasted malts, vanilla, syrupy. I don't think I have ever had birch syrup before, but there is an earthyness to the brew that I think comes from the maple syrup used. I don't get a lot of alcohol in the beer its easier drinking than expected. Some cherry notes as it warms, there is a chocolate cake quality to the beer. Its not overly sweet mind you, but its just what it reminds me of. This is a good unique beer, maybe not a home run, but a very solid brew that is worth looking out for if you can still find it around town.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Wet Hopping

I'm Baaaaccckkkkk....... yes I am well aware that it has been way to long since I've last posted, and even then it hasn't been very consistent. My only excuse, is that things have gotten crazy as life can tend to do. Between having a new baby at home, and starting a little non-profit up called Open The Taps , maybe you've heard of it, but if not, check out the link. I'm hoping my limited posting has now changed, and I'll be back doing what I enjoy, blogging about beer, bars, and everything that entails. So, enough of that stuff, let's get on to the post.

I received a text message a couple of days ago from a friend about me doing a blog post on wet hops. Well now just happens to be a good time to do a post for a couple of reasons. 1) its hop harvest season, 2) a great beer resource has been released that would help give me information on Wet Hopping. That great resource is The Oxford Companion to Beer (edited by Garrett Oliver). Just in thumbing through this thick tome its clear that its something every beer lover should pick up and read.
First a little history of what wet hopping is and what it isn't. Many folks are familiar with the term dry hopping which is adding the traditional dried hops (or pellets) to completely brewed beer (usually occurs in cask or keg). Wet hopping however is very different then this process. Fresh hops off the vine are around 80% moisture, they are harvested once a year, and then they are dried or kilned and this is what is usually used in brewing beer. In the simplest of terms the drying of the hops stabilizes them so that they can be stored and used at any time of the year. However, during hop season, those that live hear hop growing areas have an opportunity to make a unique beer. Hop season runs from late August to late September depending on what hop variety you are talking about. To make a fresh hop ale, hops are harvested, packaged loosely in a cardboard box and shipped quickly to an eagerly awaiting brewery. These fresh hops need to be used within 24 hours of harvesting, so everything has to happen FAST! Once the hops arrive at the brewery they are used just like regular hops are, with one exception: (Per Oxford Beer Companion) because of the high moisture content one has to use 4 to 5 times wet hops as they do dry hops to get similar results. Because of the short turn around from harvest to brewing, wet hopped beers are one of the last truly regional ales around. You won't see many if any wet hopped beers from Texas breweries because we don't live near a hop growing region. However you do see a great many of the style in regions of California, Washington, and Oregon, all near areas of prime hop growing regions. The good news is that we do get some wet hopped beers in Texas from breweries outside the state.
Before getting to a wet hopped beer, I wanted to get a better understanding of what to expect regarding the differences in the flavor profile between a beer hopped using the traditional process and one being wet hopped. I reached out to knowledgeable beer man and owner of the soon to be open Hay Merchant, Kevin Floyd to get his thoughts on this issue. Kevin feels that wet hops have a more subtle flavor profile than their dried counterparts, but that subtlety allows for more layers of flavors. This subtlety brings more balance and more spicier notes. Kevin also gave me my favorite quote in trying to describe wet hops: "a dry hop can be a one note chorus, but in comparison that same hop when its fresh comes off like a full symphony." Well with that quote its time to have a wet hopped beer. Last week I was lucky enough that Anvil Bar and Refuge tapped a cask of Wet hopped Moylan's Hopsickle, and figured if your going to have a wet hopped beer, go big or go home.
The Beer: (Check here for my thoughts on the dry hopped version). The nose is very earthy, hops are present, but not over powering. The mouth feel is intense, mouth coating hops. I remember the other one being like biting into grapefruit, this one was more earthy, and grapefruit pith. Its big, and complex, but no single flavor wallops you over the head. Quickly though after a few sips, the flavors stick to the side of your mouth and it starts to saturate your taste buds. Its a big beer, but very little alcohol. Not a session beer, but maybe a one beer a session beer. I wouldn't know what I would drink after this one since your taste buds are overwhelmed. Having said that it was interesting because of the wet hops and wasn't a one note musical, but many subtle notes that came to together nicely.