Thursday, March 30, 2006

What are you doing Brew Year's?

Brew Year's Eve? From the finely tuned marketing engine of the ABA (the same folks who brought us Beer Serves America - get it?), next Friday will mark the 73rd anniversary of the repeal of prohibition, thus ending the speakeasy era, and coaxing the world of organized crime towards distributing more illicit substances. Sounds like a fine evening to grab that dusty zoot suit from your swing craze days out of the closet and find yourself a good moll to share a Prohibition Ale with, no?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Honey, I'm just gonna go out and quit smoking again

Think the Germans haven't done anything to advance the art of beer drinking since they turned the common riding boot into a drinking vessel? Think again. Introducing: NicoShot. Yet another in the long line of product ideas called "mix product X with beer and try to convince the public it has health benefits." Now if only they distilled it, they could call it Cold Turkey. Get it? Cold Turkey? Get it?

March Fairfax beer roundup

It wouldn't be appropriate for me to just let the local brewfest pass unnoticed here, but no, we actually didn't go this year. We are, however, hooked enough into the local beer scene that we got to hear all about how empty it was on account of the sketchy weather and 101 northbound being closed due to a 30-car pile-up, and how the anarcho-syndicalist leanings of the the townsfolk meant that the appearance of the local real estate tycoon's name on the tasting glasses created quite a frothy stir, and how all the beers were just kind of okay this year, and how all the booth workers got totally tossed, and how oh, did you get to try that new one from Iron Springs? Well, no, no we hadn't. So it was down to the pub for a taste of the new oak-aged barley wine.
This is the beer they should have served at Toronado's barley wine festival this year. It was great to see their name on the big board at the fest regardless - getting a tap there is considered quite the coup - but this newer version of the beer is something wholly new and special.
It's no mystery that I'm a sucker for oaked beers - especially when that oak has been soaking in bourbon for a while. My love affair began with Allagash's Curieux, and I dare say that the oaked Barstow-Lundy is in the same league. It's complex in that it's soft on the palate while being prickly in all the right places, warming from its hints of bourbon heat, but not aggressively alcoholic or cloyingly sweet (it kicks in at around 8% abv). It's only available at the pub on tap, and in limited quantities. Perfect for a not-quite-yet-spring-even-though-the-calendar-says-so evening. Kudos to Mike and Coley for possibly their best creation yet - one can only hope for more forward-thinking experimentation in the brewhouse. It is Fairfax, after all...

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Last, unfortunately least

It's regrettable that there just isn't much good to say about it, but I figure it's only fair to comment on the third installment of Unibroue's Éphémère series as I've already made such a big to-do about the other two. Simply put, the cranberry version of this wheat/fruit hybrid ale is less than exciting. Unlike the other two (apple and cassis), it tastes decidedly artificial in its flavoring. The slightly tart, hazy wheat foundation is there, but the cranberry overtones were just a bit off. I said that the Éphémère cassis was the beer world's kir royale - this one is the beer world's happy hour cosmo.
Sad, truly. Much like my camera battery dying when I took the above photo, it's not the most pleasant way to end the series. But on a positive note, there's a batch of new releases coming down from the great white north's answer to Ghent in the coming months, and I'd be shocked if they weren't worth raving about as the vast array of Unibroue releases usually are. Until then!

Monday, March 13, 2006

I'll just have a water, thanks

In case you're wondering, this may be why Oslo is the world's most expensive city to live in.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The birds and the bees

Long after the last apples of autumn have fallen from the tree, and even the remaining specimens left in cold storage are starting to show signs of age, there is a way to relive the Indian summer, with its dusty heat and lazy bees, shimmering sidewalks and air perfumed with sun-baked bark and leaves. It's name is cyser, and it's like a trapdoor timewarp to happier time when winter just won't take a hint and leave.

Fuji apple and clover honey = hazy delicious.

Cyser is a synthesis of cider and mead which is greater than the sum of its parts, pairing the crisp, tart acidity of fully fermented apple cider (as compared to your standard store-bought hard cider, which is almost always pasteurized and watered down with unfermented, sweet cider) with the strange sweetness and wildly fragrant character of fermented honey. It's completely regional in flavor, totally dependent on the the varieties of local apples and flowers, and it's as simple (or as complicated) to make as you want it to be.
From my limited experience, it's become apparent that the making of cyser is best suited to the brewer with an experimental streak, as the best results we've obtained have been the result of procedures which would make most brewers shudder in terror. Doing certain things like not boiling the honey or apple juice, allowing the resident yeasts and bacterias do their part to compliment the fermentation process, allowing for exceedingly high temperature fermentations, and settling the cyser on lees for an extended period of time are just some of the techniques that seem to promote a more nuanced, earthy result - one that more accurately reflects the individual nature of the ingredients, location, and even the quality of the season in which it was concocted. It's riskier, but surely worth it. And when spring finally does roll around, and you find yourself picnicking in the grass with a hunk of Parrano, a crusty sourdough baguette, and a glass of sharply effervescent cyser in hand, you'll have a joyful glimpse of the seasonal nature of it all - an experience uncommon for brewers to entertain, but at the crux of the art of winemaking.