Thursday, April 28, 2005

Tasting notes - Westvleteren 12

Ambrosia? Routinely championed as the greatest single beer in the world, Westvletern 12 (aka "yellow cap") is shrouded in boozy mystery for the rest of us lay-drinkers as it's always been the sort of beer that's touted as being impossible to find outside of Belgium.
But, as you can see from the picture, it's not all that obscure an item these days. Look! The label's even (mostly) in English. In fact, I've long been of the mind that W12 was only #1 on those two sites because of it's scarcity. And let's be honest: as a result of the hype, it's almost impossible to enjoy fully. But that's not the whole story (see short rant below). Let's begin this review in typical BeerAdvocate fashion:

Cap reads: 15.10.05 Which is interesting, as it's only April. Fascinating. Poured a ruby, cherrywood amber into my hand-engraved "Beer Hunter" goblet, with traces of pink diamonds in the close-knit bead of dense yet snowy, tight yet billowing head. Raisins, prunes, figs, and other Near East fruits and vegetables danced across the palate before a warming - yet brisk - alcoholic bitterness entered the room for a friendly game of pinochle. They all left a few minutes later after a bittersweet tussle, only to have a finish of oaked sherry and lycee call in the middle of the night to mention they'd forgotten their wallet... A marvelous encounter...

Truth is, it was simpler than that - it's a hot (read "you can taste the booze, man") and dark brew with layer after layer of flavor. Des and I agreed that the up-front alcohol burn seemed out of sorts for a beer that's given such ga-ga reviews, but it's possible the anticipation of "the perfect beer" left us a bit on the defensive side. The interplay of deep flavors is nonetheless phenomenal, increasingly complex as it warms up - yet with characteristics that I've found just as intriguing in a draft of St. Bernardus 12 (whom St. Sixtus has taken to court) or Aventinus Eisbock or even a bottle of (seriously!) Allagash Grand Cru. I must admit, however, that the thought of sitting down at the café across from the monastery with a freshly poured glass of yellow cap sounds like nothing less than beer heaven. It is truly special stuff, and well worth 5, even 6 euros. But is it worth $20?
This is straying from the format of a "tasting notes" post, but I think it's a relevant tangent/rant. Consider if you will: Across the street from the St. Sixtus Abbey is a café where regular, non-Trappist folks like you and me can sit down and enjoy the fruit of their labor for around 3 euros per glass, and if you drive up to the monastery to load up your trunk with a couple cases (five's the max), you're shopping in the ballpark of 1.50 euros per bottle. And that's the way the monks want it - affordable, local, and unpretentious. In fact, they're apparently quite disturbed by all the second-hand labeling and somewhat clandestine distribution, noting defeatedly that "once the beer leaves the monastery, there's nothing we can do". Knowing full well that 330 mL bottles can go from anywhere in the range of $10-$25 has the monks concerned about regular people's ability to afford what they see as a simple, basic element of sustenance - along with bread and cheese - not an item reserved for the wealthy and privileged. Capitalism seems to be doing these folks a disservice: They don't want to charge locals more for their beer, so they refrain from expanding their capacity and distribution in any way that would increase their production costs, which has resulted in a sort of black market export trade where prices go unchecked abroad, in turn leaving the monks debating how to continue their business within the terms of their strict moral code.
I bring all this up because, in the end, you're going to come across some bottles at some point and ask yourself, is it worth it? It's an extraordinary beer. Is it the best in the world? Probably not. And if the bottles you come across are stamped with a price tag that seems extreme, it's still a tough call. Someone as obsessive as me is going to have to try at least one (or two) bottle(s), but for the vast majority (I can't believe I'm writing this) I'd recommend skipping it. You're not only alleviating some of the guilt the monks of St. Sixtus feel, but also telling the folks selling it that you're above the hype. It's a very tough call, considering that it is a very fine ale, and hell -you probably wouldn't even be reading this if you weren't open to the idea of plopping down a Jackson for less than 12 ounces of beer (I'll write about the überexpensive Deus when I've gone totally nuts). But considering that the quadrupel style is being more commonly approached by domestic craft brewers, it's becoming less and less of a novelty item and worth considering the many equally wonderful options you have with considerably less spiritual baggage.
If, however, you've found yourself in that café across the street from the abbey, do yourself a favor and reward yourself with one the world's rarest beers. And bring some back for me...


Monday, April 25, 2005

Tasting notes - Geuze Boon

I have to hand it to the beer buyer (or "team leader" or whatever they call them) for San Francisco's downtown Whole Foods. Say what you will about the store in general, it's prices, etc., but the fact that you can find specialties there that don't even show up at Toronado during Belgian beer month is quite the feat of beer conjuring. Just how many bottles of Boon Geuze do they expect to sell, anyway?
Ask for it by name: Goat's Bone.
Maybe, just maybe, to make the buyer (leader, swami, shaman) feel loved for their efforts, I'll just go ahead and buy the whole damn lot of them.
In the wonderfully weird world of lambics, Frank Boon (bōn) is widely credited for sustaining, if not expanding, the style's acceptance and appreciation around Belgium and the rest of the world. That's no small matter, either, when you consider the product he's selling is a wildly fermented, purposefully sour beer that involves one of the most complicated, time-consuming brewing techniques in the world, when most people would be happy kicking back with a bottle of MGD.
Nevertheless, his success - on top of the current faddishness of farmhouse ales and other imported curiosities - means that a guy like me doesn't have to settle for a fruit lambic when he wants something uniquely refreshing anymore. While the more popular members of the lambic family - framboise, kriek, peche, etc. - consist of old and new lambic ales blended with fruit in the aging process, geuze is an exercise in balance, blending an aged, flat lambic with a young, sweet lambic to referment in the bottle until it's characteristics warrant the comparison: the champagne of the beer world.
Bill Metzger writes of the geuze :"It is as if (Boon) stuffed a piece of the Belgian countryside into a bottle and shipped it overseas." Which is a good way to begin reviewing the drink, since even before you've poured a glass (but after you've opened the bottle, thank you very much), you're presented with some seriously earthy, mushroomy, dare I say funky aromas. Once the smoke clears, however, you're in for quite a special drink. For anyone who's experienced a seriously tart, super dry lambic like Cantillon's Bruocsella or the balsamic vinegar terror that is the Duchesse de Bourgogne Flemish red ale, you can relax: this isn't even in the same ballpark as some of those monstrously acidic ales. The comparisons to champagne are warranted in that it's bone dry, extremely effervescent, with the fine taste of grape skins and a truly winey finish.
And the smell of mushrooms and sherry filled the room.
We enjoyed it as an aperitif before dinner, and I think that's its rightful place. I imagine it as being as crisp and refreshing with almonds and charcuterie as a glass of prosecco, but since we're not quite in that social echelon, it went quite splendidly with a bag of sea salt & vinegar potato chips. Whereas you're likely to find the die-hard geuze drinkers complaining that the Boon version is too soft or too delicate, I would advise the amateur lambic enthusiast to ignore those lemon-faced masochists. There ought to be no shame in brewing a delicate, refreshing, and altogether drinkable version of a beer that the average drinker is often warned to avoid. Don't let either camp fool you: it's delicious stuff. They're just worried that we're going to get the last bottles off the shelf.


Friday, April 22, 2005

Beer law archaeology

In a country where alcohol was illegal less than a century ago, it's always curious discovery time when folks go digging through old beer laws (which, not surprisingly, the Interweb™ is rife with). Apparently, it hasn't stopped people from dusting them off and trying to enforce them now and again, either. Most recently, the mayor of Duluth, Minnesota unearthed a 15-year old state law proclaiming that if "public buildings are going to serve beer, they must also offer the option of Minnesota brewed beer", which probably sounds pretty bitchin' to the Minn-craft brewing scene, and rather unrealistic to your average 7-11 owner.
The article continues to exclaim: "This may pose a problem for events like Grandma's Marathon." Of course, it doesn't say why. Maybe Grandma's a teetotaler. Or maybe, unlike folks out here, they haven't yet discovered the joys of drinking and marathon running.
Let's just hope they leave it at reinstating goofy post-Prohibition laws rather than going all the way back to (gasp! no!) the days of soft apple cider. Happy Friday, everyone! the very merry month of May

As I mentioned in my last post, it's getting about time for you kids to dust off those steins, put on your finest lederhosen, find yourself a nice fest and get your oompah on. Why? Because it's springtime, and in the German beer-drinking world, that can only mean one thing: maibock. As Oktoberfest is actually celebrated in September, "May" bock style beers are presented in April. Which means they're out there - right now, in fact! - waiting for you...
Unlike the big & heavy bock beers associated with the "liquid bread" of the Pauläner monks, the maibock style doesn't include dark malts and is more hop-accentuated, replacing the chocolatey, roasted aromas with a spicier, floral note, and the richer mouthfeel with a lighter, more noticeably alcoholic taste. They are, simply put, the perfect quaff for folks like me who like their Bavarian lagers with a little more meat on their bones without always opting for a dunkel (or an eisbock, for that matter). Compared to your routine biergarten quenchers, maibocks typically run 3-4% higher in alcohol, as well as exhibiting much more malt and hop character - excellent for those sunny afternoons that still have a hint of the winter chill on the breeze.
Some excellent examples you can find quite easily on the West Coast include the Sudwerk Maibock and Rogue's classic Dead Guy (confusingly called) Ale. If you're in San Francisco, though, you can do even better than that by heading out to spots that proudly serve fresh taps straight from the source: both Walzwerk and Suppenkuche host überfabulous bars with seasonal imports you're hard pressed to find anywhere else - so if you head out now, you may lucky enough to find something as wonderful as the Mai-ur-bock we chanced upon in the woods last week...

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Beer + Hiking = Naturfreunde

Okay. Say you're in the Bay Area, it's not a weekday nor is it the second Sunday of the month, you're a little thirsty, and you don't mind a pleasant 1-mile hike (that is, unless you want to start in downtown Mill Valley and confront the 676 steps of the Dipsea trail) along the west face of Mt. Tam. Might I suggest a leisurely walk to the Tourist Club? The beautiful offspring of an Austrian hiking movement (the "Nature Friends"), this old mountain home is one of many hike 'n drink destinations established by some polka-loving folks back in the old country which can be found all over the world. And it's fabulous. In fact, I love this place so much, I almost regret making it more publicly known (and I wouldn't be shocked if the caretaker 86'ed me for chatting it up, either). Without further ado, a brief guide:
Rule #1: Be sure to bring some snacks, unless all you're craving are little German hikers' sausages (and trust me, I've seen met plenty of heavily-accented folks literally drool when they notice the display case). You'll want to "lay down adequate ballast", as Michael Jackson would say, to prepare yourself not only for the fine beers, but also for the walk back home.
Rule #2: Show some respect. This is a club, with private members. The members work very hard to keep the place running (you can go volunteer the second Sunday of any month or at the fests to see for yourself just what kind of upkeep the place requires) and rightly deserve table rights. Over the years we've seen the place turn into a venue for oversized parties to come and take the place over, make a mess, and create extra work for the members. It's not a bar, and the members are not there to serve you.
Rule #3: Make a donation. They don't accept tips (see above), but do expect a small contribution to the club per guest in exchange for your chance to enjoy a leisurely afternoon on their property.
Rule #4: Prepare your belly for some serious beerlove. This place pours a mighty (and mighty cheap) pitcher o' brew.
Not your average oasis.

For a time, the beer selection wasn't all that exciting. Maybe the Spaten Oktoberfest and something from SF Brewing on tap, and some bottles of Schneider Weisse and Aventinus [I'm not really complaining] in the fridge. My, how things have changed. One of the current residents has taken it upon himself to create a mighty beer cellar, and has succeeded in collecting some items which would amaze any fan of the craft.
On tap just this past week we found the stunning Wintertraum lager from Weltenburger (the cloistered brewery also responsible for the phenomenal Asam Bock) and equally yummy Einbecker Ur-Mai-Bock aside the ubiquitous [fill in blank with generic Munich brewery] helles lager. Bottled selections included a spiced German ale (outrage!) called Gose, which Randy Mosher calls a "spiced white ale", as well as (gasp!) a variety of Belgian ales. Not only did we get to partake in a 2001 Cantillon Lou Pepe, but also an outstanding apple witbier from Brouwerij Huyghe. That nameless brew - on draught, no less - from the brewery famous for its sleepy pink elephants, was apparently from one of 20 kegs to make it into the US as a test batch. Similar in design to Unibroue's apple Éphémère, it was as if it had been designed specifically for the task at hand - enjoying a perfectly breezy Spring day overlooking Muir Woods with family and dog after a 20-minute walk through fields of wildflowers. Lastly, we tried a Scotts ale called Alba, a delicious ale brewed with spruce and pine tips.
Of course, if you're tired of relaxing and need some excitement, you ought to attend one of their oompah-heavy fests. Oktoberfest is naturally the busiest one (to the point that they even keep the date a secret until about a week prior), with revelers stuck Hosen-to-Hosen while waiting for some of the 40 (!) kegs they go through. April, on the other hand, is nearly over, meaning a Maifest is sure to be around the corner. Heck, if you call, they might even tell you what day it's happening!
It's truly a hidden treasure for anyone who's up for a nice pint in the sun. So go, enjoy yourself, share snacks with the members, and keep it a secret from anyone who isn't wonderfully pleasant to be around.

Hop crop, pt. 2

Behold! Oh, ye of the bitterest bine, ye of the aromatic cone! Santiam hops arise anon!
What you're looking at here is two weeks' growth from a bare root. The Willamette and Goldings have also succeeded in passing the "slug snack" stage and are well on their way to dominating the yard. With the sun hanging in the sky a bit longer and the temps starting to rise, they've been close to doubling in size every day. And you thought I was kidding about posting updates! Only 6 months to harvest! Yes I am a dork!


Friday, April 15, 2005

Skip, Go Naked, suffer Snakebite

An apology to our reader(s): I'm sorry. Yesterday I published a post which was out of line on two counts. 1) I referenced an article that's apparently only available to people who decide to purchase it through or those who haven't taken their recycling out in a couple weeks. 2) My post was longer than the actual article was. That's inappropriate. If the NY Times feels 750 words is more than enough to devote to a generally unremarkable beer article, then I should respect that with an even briefer post. So, as my gift to you, here's an article on beer cocktails. Again, my apologies.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

By any other name...

I don't know when the New York Times became the pantheon for beer journalism, but they've yet again grabbed a spot on this blog by publishing a little piece on that baseball and bbq favorite: pilsner. Unlike other recent articles they've put out, however, this one raised a little bit of debate in our happy household. And thusly, I bring you my snarky reasons for explaining why an imported vs. domestic pilsner tasting is fundamentally skewed. I'll try not to spray too much while I rant.
"In a tasting of pilsners, the panel was struck by how vibrant and alive the American brews tasted in comparison to some of the European beers."

The first, and most obvious reason is inherent to what makes pilsner so successful in the first place: its fresh, startlingly clean, crisp palate. In order to enjoy that, the beer has to be a) fresh, and b) clean. Take the contender that took last place in the tasting as an example. The true joy of enjoying a beer that's defined by its "naked" flavor profile is in being able to isolate and identify flavors via their freshness. Any beer shipped from as far away as the Czech Republic (sound familiar?) in green bottles (eh?) and then left to collect dust on liquor store shelves as the passing patrons scrunch their faces up in attempts at pronouncing the name (oh, c'mon!) is doooooooomed to taste anything but fresh. Noble hop aromas vanish within no time. Even perceived bitterness fades quickly in lighter beers, only to be steamrolled by light-struck, oxidized, stale cardboard flavors. And let's not forget the kicker: beers brewed for export are different than the beers brewed for the locals. Not only are the recipes and aging schedules different, but many brewers toss the fabled Reinheitsgebot out the window when it comes to the product headed for American shores. Colorings, preservatives, artificial flavors - all the stuff that could get your kneecaps broken in countries where even adding sugar to the finished product involves lengthy court cases - are added willy-nilly in an attempt to make sure the finished product is at least beer-ish by the time it's finally cracked open in a Reno roadhouse.
The second, more contentious point (between beersnobs and casual beer drinkers, that is) concerns the nomenclature involved. A Bohemian farmer with an infestation of corn in his fields is more likely to curse the hopdevils and burn the lot down before adding it to his grain bill. But that's exactly what domestic brewers do - the Canadians are especially guilty of this one - corn, rice, rye, and other adjuncts are all fair game in our lagers, and we don't hesitate to call them pilsner. So where does that leave the baseline for comparison? Since it's obviously not accepted as a strict style in North America - arguably unlike the situation in Europe, where consumers have long expected a very specific look and taste from the style - it's difficult to consider what the parameters for the tasting ought to be unless you're surrounded by a bunch of certified beer judges. And I'm not exactly suggesting that for a fun time, either.
The final, most nebulous argument concerns regional tastes and palates. Hop on a flight to Germany, have a Bitburger Pils in the airport bar (which one, you say?) and you're likely to be struck by not only how different it tastes compared the stateside version, but also by the realization that that is the taste they've all been yabbering about for the past 150 years. Lagunitas Pils, for example, is a fine beer, but would a Czech recognize it as such? Don't even get me started on Rogue's wonderful, if odd, Imperial Pilsner. Quoth Lew Bryson: "A German would throw his kids in the river if he brewed a beer like that". Truth is, pilsner's pretty darn expensive to make, what with all the special equipment and lagering involved; handling decoction mashes and keeping the beer cold for long periods of time requires a lot of energy and a lot of space. So what do we do in such a profit-margin-conscious society? Brew two-week ales and get them on the trucks, that's what! That's why the wonderful, albeit rare, American lagers in this test did so well - these are truly enthusiastic brewers, which can't always be said of our friends across the pond.
If you're like me, however, and wanted to get a taste of the poll's winningest brew, you'll have to fill that gas tank and hit I-5 northbound, 'cause it's not available in California. So you'll have to head up to Stockton, instead, and indulge in our region's best example of the style at Sudwerk Privatbrauerei Hubsch, at least until it closes or changes owners. Sigh. I guess there's always Trumer. Sigh.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Firkin awesome

Next to the usual CO2-pressed lines, tap beers touted as "on nitro" or "on cask" are a mainstay of your cookie-cutter West Coast brewpub. But how often do you get to sit down and do a three-way horizontal tasting of the same brew poured each way? Plus all the firkin jokes you can handle? How could we resist? The folks at CAMRA would certainly've been proud.
Sidenote: While the term "firkin" simply denotes a specifically sized keg (9.5 US gallons), its use in contemporary brewing circles connotes a beer being matured and pulled from the same cask via a beer engine, thanks mostly to a chain of brewpubs in England bearing the name. The brewing world is full of great terms (wort! bung!) but etymological Valhalla is reserved for the ones that look like misspelled curse words .
The test subject was the newly-minted pale ale "Shining Star" from our local brewpub. They describe it as "crisp" and "well-rounded", which is fairly accurate (if not a little vague) in terms of a West Coast style. The Iron Springs proprietary yeast strain exhibits more distinctively British characteristics (less hop accentuating, rounder malt flavor) than a California ale yeast would, but the beer is still dominated by Cascade hops in all its faithful, grapefruity bitterness in both nose and finish.
The CO2 version was unremarkable, but a good baseline for anyone who's ordered a pale ale in a brewpub in Northern California. Giggly preconceptions aside, however, the batch matured and served in the firkin was quite interesting. While it wouldn't have won any beauty contests, it certainly delivered the most complex character of the bunch and went down like any true session ale you'd ever want to find. What really surprised me, though, was the nitro version. Whereas I had visions of creamy, Boddingtons-like sweetness, it was the exact opposite. With the finer bead of the nitrogen unable to clean the resin off the palate, the balance was totally unhinged by the hops, pushing the sticky, piney, less respectable facets of the Cascade to the fore. All in all, an interesting test, but the cask ale easily outshined the others. Of course, a 9.5 gallon keg in a 100-seat pub doesn't last that long either, making it all that more precious in comparison to the daily fare.
Some of the results of letting a beer go through its conditioning phase in the same container that it's dispensed from were to be expected - a hazy appearance and a hint of yeast bite from the lack of filtration. Even your run-of-the-mill homebrew is racked off the sediment once it's completed its residency in the carboy as a final act of clarification. And unlike delicately decanted ale-on-lees, firkin ales are pulled forcefully by a hand-drawn piston, which not only stirs it up a bit, but accounts for a portion of the creamy mouthfeel in what is otherwise a very lightly (and naturally) carbonated libation. What surprised me was how the character was even rounder, more floral, and complex than I'd expected. Granted, the warmer temperature (55º F!) that it was served at might have contributed to the perceived complexity, considering the nitro and CO2 versions were considerably colder.
While the Shining Star is no longer on cask (we got the dregs, yum!), you can always find "real ales" at the Magnolia Pub & Brewery, or you can just go and brew your own. And if any of this sparks your interest, just think: only 11 months until the 3rd annual firkin festival at Triple Rock!

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Words of advice to young festers

With the summer beer festival boom fast upon us, it's important to heed some seasoned festers' salient guidance for getting the most from your tasting adventures without making an ass out of yourself. Rule #1: No howling.

En garde!

Dining out last night, we ran across a mysterious bottle listed on the menu simply as L'Amalthee, in a 750 ml bottle for $15. Apparently they'd already run out of them, having only had a few in stock, so I wrote the name on the back of my blood donor card (you never know what paramedics might have on hand in an emergency) and went home to do a little researchin'.
Old man Internet didn't have much information about this French farmhouse ale, but I do love this curious write-up from the Paul Marcus Wines newsletter:

Charles was introduced to Pierre Lebbe by one of his wine producers. Pierre is a goat cheese producer whose family hails from Belgium, which of course has a great beer-making tradition. So he decided to make beer - from organic barley that he grows and malts himself.
[JB] I like beer.
[MM] This one is a cloudy, yellow-gold. I smell a wheaty note, and it tastes malty rather than hoppy. Also lemony. After I swirl it a bit, the aromatic hops start to emerge from behind the barley. There's a little mint/cilantro in there, and a distinct whiff of pine.
[JB] I like beer.
[CA] I definitely get the lemon and the pine and the wheat-esque flora. But better bet is barley. To me, that green bit suggests Italian parsley. It's got great length. Aromatic hops, wild yeast, and a goat on the label - what's not to like?!
[JB] Ummm...Beer.

If that doesn't get your curiosity up (especially JB's intriguing insight), I don't know what will. Grows and malts himself? Goats?The reward for finding me a bottle of Éphémère Cassis has now been doubled for whomever out there hunts me down a bottle of this puppy: Brasserie Lebbe, Organic Beer, 'L'Amalthee' ($7.99, 750 ml).

Monday, April 11, 2005

Where were you?

Saturday night: You're at the San Francisco International Beer Festival. You've got your plastic 2 oz. specimen cup with another shot of Shiner Bock and a tremulous smile on your face. You're taking in the reverberant noise, scoping the tasting booths thinking, "Well, this is it, this is the life of a beersnob - or is it? Why do I feel like there's something... missing?"
Ohhhhhhh, it's Belgian. It's Belgian beer month. Motorhead is in the air, there's Deleriums everywhere, oh yes it's Belgian. It's Belgian beeeeeer month. At To-ro-na-do! [Sung to the tune of Copa Cabana - ed.]
That's right. While you were practically begging the volunteer at the Chimay table to pour you more than just a thimble of foam at Ft. Mason the other night, the rest of us found some slightly larger thimbles of some of the best beer in the world. In all fairness, while the SF Brewfest comes but once a year, Toronado's Belgian beer month lasts, well, a month. And it was apparent from the 9pm surge that a number of folks had bussed across town to make it a package event. I'm sorry, but while you were waiting in line for a few precious drops of Amstel Light, the rest of us were going deaf to some "international" beers on a whole different level.
The line-up for early April can be seen in these three shots, thanks to Des' steely camera hand. The 'tenders said that they're going through new items constantly, and to expect many of these to be off the boards shortly - only to be replaced by new, equally delicious surprises. So, where to start?
Well, your approach to the rather intimidating menu will depend on your tolerance for a) severely alcoholic beers, and b) weirdness. Don't worry too much about the latter: as the least traditional beer on the board is the Duchesse De Bourgogne, the uninitiated can order fearlessly while I sit in the corner crying for a glass of geuze or faro (alas, neither to be found, although some nice offerings from Brussels' Cantillon come close to sating my appetite for sour, wild beers). In fact, my only complaint about the current draught line-up is the dearth of session beers on the menu. And with a few of them ringing in at around 12% abv (that's three pints of Guinness, fellow brewfesters!) it pays to choose your libations carefully lest you want an abrupt end to your evening early or risk forgetting where you last saw your pants. So, some picks:
St. Bernardus Prior 8 & Abt 12: Phenomenal abbey-style beers that remind you that "Trappist" is just a designation, not a level of quality. We all agreed that the Chimays of the world could do best by paying attention to the amazing depth of flavor these two brews showed. Hopefully, they'll bring out the 6 and the tripel to make for one hell of a vertical tasting (followed by some horizontal napping).
Dupont Moinette: Probably the smoothest farmhouse ale we've ever tasted. Much less tart than its counterparts, with a warming glow that seems to radiate from the glass. Bitchin'.
Abbaye de Rocs Grand Cru: When a brewery like de Rocs calls a beer their "grand cru", you pay attention (same goes for when La Binchoise calls a beer their "special reserve"). These folks aren't kidding. Deep amber, sweetish, and packed with layers of flavor as it opens up and warms in your hand. Stellar.
Delerium Tremens: This one's on and off the board all year round, but there's no better time to have it than when the Belgian love is flowing. It was, after all, recently named the "best beer in the world". It faces some pretty stiff competition here, and you're likely to enjoy a spirited debate regarding that lofty title when you place your order at the bar.
A side note: Special thanks to the gentleman who, reviewing the bottled beer list while sitting next to me, decided that he needed to try the truly extraordinary 2002 Fantome Noël and offered to split it with me and the bartender. Outstanding!
Undoubtedly I'll have some more tasting notes as this blessed month continues, but until then - op uw gezondheid!

Reward offered!

rob: so unibroue now makes an ephemere with cassis
des: oh!
des: yom!
rob: we must find it
des: yeah!
And so the quest began. At the whim of bitter gods and unruly continental distribution networks, we struck out to scare up a bottle of this elusive nectar. Heir apparent to the light yet stunning blend of Belgian ale and apple cider Éphémère, Unibroue has unveiled this version with the addition of black currant. In such an assuredly champagne-like ale, this version sounds like it could easily become the beergeek's kir royale. But I can't find it. Whoever can find me a bottle will get a big, honking, whoopdedoo, wowsers, excitingly huzzah reward that I haven't quite figured out yet. Of course, if nobody finds it in Northern California, I guess I can always drown my sorrows in a Lindemans Cassis. Rumor has it there's a cranberry version, somewhere, out there, as well...

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Link worth clinking

In case you haven't read it yet, the SF Bay Guardian is home to a pretty classy column on drink and drink culture. From the dark, peaty void of whiskies to the sunshine gleam of a mid-morning tequila tasting, Matt goes where noone with a 9-5 could ever dare to follow... With a HST tribute, to boot. Cheers!

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Tasting notes - La Gourmande

From the never-ceases-to-amaze Fantome Brewery in Soy, Belgium, comes this recent addition (to our market, at least) to their line of curious, secretly spiced saison-style ales. This one comes on strong with a hit of lemon verbena in the aroma and a big, citrusy bite at first taste. It has a brief, sparkling existence on the tongue with the grassy, yeasty middle you'd expect from the style, but quickly returns to the lemon flavor in a long, lingering finish. A summer's beer for those whose tastes run to the farmhouse end of things? Or simply the brewer's 180° turn from the "plums and raisins soaked in port" profile of his Noël style? Highly recommended.


Thursday, April 07, 2005

Almost worth it

If you can handle the frat party atmosphere, the bridge 'n tunnel alcoholics [like me!], and the Marina - untucked! - vibe of the affair, you might as well take a hike down to the San Francisco International Beer Festival. Do like the locals do: come in your best pajama bottoms and search out the beer with the highest percent of alcohol - then yell as loud as you can to tell all your friends!
For all the abuse we heap on this obnoxious little event, it's worth nothing that the visitor who peeks in the dark corners of the room for special treats will be duly rewarded. But if you're like us, you might be best off saving your hard earned $55. Instead, consider packing your camping gear and spare liver and meet us up at the real brewfest in May. Compared to the spazfest that the SF party inevitably is, the Boonville Beerfest is a slow lope'n a beeson tree. Or something.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Haven't they seen Robin Hood?

I bet the French wouldn't be doing this if the Trappists unleashed their shaolin caged tiger closed fist fighting style. What, you thought they just made beer and bread and cheese and gardened? Granted, who goes to France to drink beer? With a couple notable exceptions, it's a place better suited in climate, client, and culture to that other sinfully delicious fermented beverage. Don't say boycott just yet!

And you thought they'd stop at Stella

ImBev's on the offensive. Just in time for baseball, bbq season, and misguided Cinco de Mayo parties, they're bringing us - the US beer consumer - a Brazilian bevvy with a Hindu name.

They know what you're all thinking. You're thinking, "Hey bro, Stella Artois is nice, and all my hipster bebop dancepunk buddies drink it when they finish their week at the graphic design firm, but it has that awful, lingering beery aftertaste." You're thinking (and AB knows this, too, so if you're all anti-Euro you can just get yourself a Bud Select, cowboy) that you want a beer that finally doesn't taste like beer.
In its defense, it seems like the "no aftertaste" tagline seems like an afterthought to Brahma's rollout in North America, in response by the overwhelming push by domestic megabrewers for market share in a country whose taste (take #1 import Corona as the benchmark) is running to the lighter side. Folks who've tasted it in its North American guise seem to think it's a fair brew, quoting an interesting aroma of tea and herbs, and a distinct graininess in the flavor.
Even former #1 import Heineken is striking back with its own take on the trend. Is it backlash against beers that simply don't taste all that great? Should we be afraid that folks in this country want drinks that don't taste like anything at all?

Cactus flavor? What?

I thought this had to be an April Fool's joke. But no. It's proof that the big companies have enough money to test market just about anything.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Words of advice to young publicans

There's a lot of wonderful information out there about brewing and the industry, thanks entirely to the sheer generosity of the people involved: brewers, by and large, are truly open and helpful people, eager always to pass on wisdom gleaned from the collective learnings of this endeavor we call beer. Some advice, however, is truly transcendent.