Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Tasting notes - Brother Thelonius

Oh brother, thou art yummy. Just as I was in the midst of writing up another "reward offered" post for the newest in must-have releases, Des walks in with a surprise bottle of the object of my desires - North Coast's newest addition to their Belgian-inspired beauties, the dark strong Brother Thelonius. A compositional hero and certainly one of the most individually powerful voices in American music from the past century, it's about time for Monk to be canonized with such a reverent, meticulously crafted namesake as the folks up in Ft. Bragg have done.

Straight to the point - to the point, no fakin'.
Pouring a robust mahogany with hints of red, with the fine carbonation and tight-knit head that's the hallmark of 750mL bottle-conditioning, it definitely owes much to the hallowed abbey ale tradition. Unlike many of its dubbel cousins, however, the aroma isn't a muddy wash of fruity, banana-y yeast phenolics. Instead, it has a precise, unfussy character that shows off a clean fermentation with a nose that's all spice and dark berries, against a malty backdrop of chocolate, toffee and toast. While its profile opens up a bit as it warms up to reveal its 9% soul, its complexity is delivered with such purposeful intent, it seems wholly appropriate in honor of its subject (of course I'd like to believe that Brilliant Corners was piped into the brewhouse while fermentation was underway).
It's also nice to know that a portion of the proceeds from all Brother T-related merchandise (complete with obligatory "Straight, No Chaser" inscription) goes to benefit the Monk Institute, a jazz education and outreach program whose mission is "to offer the world's most promising young musicians college level training by America's jazz masters and to present public school-based jazz education programs for young people around the world." It's a cause that I'm more than delighted to support, even if helping out means having to buy a few cases of the stuff.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Yay appellationism!

And why not? Here's to Dee's Hill wild brews!


Tasting notes - Cantillon Gueuze

"Horse blanket. Barnyard. Old leather. Musty. Cheesy. Cidery. Fruity. Tart. Acidic. Lactic. Dry. Put them all together and you've found yourself a lambic. And a damn good one, at that." - Gregg Glaser

With the juggernaut of urbanization casually steamrolling throughout northern Europe, the brewers of the Senne River Valley have had more to worry about than the proliferation of powerfully advertised mass-market brands and the saccarification on the public's taste buds. Similar to the plight of the modern vintner, it's loss of habitat that stands as the Belgian wildbrewer's primary concern. Rather than the soil and irrigation issues that plague the winemaker, though, it's the quality and diversity of microorganisms in the air that's at risk of making historic lambic brewing a lost art.
The precise combination of wild yeasts and other microflora that populate in the "lambic valley", residing in the trees and old buildings' rafters, spreading through the breeze of the Brussels evening, is the soul of the lambic. And while kriek brewers in Belgium have had to contend with the virtual disappearance of their treasured Schaarbeek sour cherries, the modern lambic brewer faces a deforested valley along with old buildings being removed and renovated. Brewers who relocate their facilities will actually take timbers from the old location in the hopes that the resident microflora that gives their open-fermented ales their "house" character will come along for the ride.
With the knowledge that we may be among the last generation to enjoy truly wild lambics in the style that they've been made for ages, it's especially comforting to know that Cantillon is there to represent - and in full-on organic style, no less. Plainly, simply put, their Gueuze is a funkfest, in the classiest sense. The champagne of the horse-blanket and wild-mushroom set, it's a golden, effervescent masterpiece of wilderness. Cantillon still makes their lambics in the traditional manner, their gueuze being the result of a blend of aged with young lambic laid to rest and generate its gentle carbonation through a refermentation in the bottle - and it's a stunner. Deeply complex, dry and wine-y, acidic and challenging, refreshing but appetite-rousing, it's all the things history has taught us a lambic was meant to be.
First-time tasters who recoil at the pop of the cork, the cellar smells and mysterious vapors that emit from the bottle, need only allow it a moment to breathe before taking that first sip and begin to try to decipher the web of sensations that it provides. How something made only from wheat, barley, water, and aged hops could develop into something so fascinating to drink and ruminate over is amazing. That is, of course, until you realize that there's a mysterious blend of ingredients wafting past on the spring breeze.
For now, at least. Enjoy it while it lasts.

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Friday, May 19, 2006

Trendy Philly

Accoring to Google Trends, Philadelphia holds the record for most internet searches for beer. Poor li'l San Francisco doesn't even rank! Maybe that's because we know where to find beer when we need it...

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Locals only, brah

Upon arrival on one of our earlier visits to Hawaii, when we immediately began hatching schemes for how to move and make a living there, the island brewpub/biergarten idea was tossed around quite a bit. Makes sense, right? A place to enjoy a nice, cold beer in a pleasant outdoor setting with live music in the torchlit evening while sating that post-surf hunger on some island-twisted pub grub, maybe? It made even more sense after we visited the Kona Brewing pub on the Big Island, where they've essentially taken the Pizza Port model and gave it a little shot of aloha. But when the sun goes down, the mosquitoes start biting and the sunburn begins to become manifest, logic sets in and explains why it's not such a splendid idea:
Materials: You've got to ship almost everything from the mainland, except for the water, which there's plenty of, but you have to chemically adjust until it's suitable for mashing.
Temperature: Ship me a ton of fresh grapes from Sonoma to Kauai and I can ferment you a monster pinot noir. Let a batch of pale ale sit out in the 90° weather for a couple weeks and you'd have yourself a pretty toxic brew. Paying for all that electricity to keep your fermentation temperaturess down (not to mention chilling lagers and serving taps) would cost you a pretty penny in a place with little localized natural energy resources. The only thing worse would be trying to open up a cryogenics lab.
Of course, there is an answer to all of this - open your little beachfront pub while doing the actual brewing ma uka on the Big Island. You've got plenty of space, cool temperatures, farmland if you decided to expand and grow any of your own ingredients, and cheaper property. And with tourist destinations being so sparse up on the highlands (andtravelerss just begging to spend some money on souvenirs), even the brewing facility can be a cash cow of a visitor's center. Just ask how much I spent at the Kauai Coffee plantation...
Digression aside, on our most recent trip to Kauai, we were pleasantly surprised to see that there were far more local beers available than even a couple years ago (not to mention the shock of seeing Trappist ales in even the most remote burger huts). Here are a few you can expect to run into next time you spend some time in that paradise of paradises:

Keoki - Based in Lihue, Kauai, this brewery makes a malty pale ale (Gold) and a maltier amber ale (Sunset) that are both enjoyable if not as crisp and hoppy as one might like. Very soft on the palate and a perfect match for some kalua ribs.

Kona Brewing Co. - Easily the best beer on the islands. For what they lack in creativity (their line-up of pale to dark ales is pretty familiar) they make up for in quality. They do have occasional brewing experiments on tap at the main pub on the Big Island, which (along with their darn good pizzas) makes it a worthwhile destination.

Mehana Brewing Co. - Someday, a brewer in Hawaii will tell his marketing folks to quit it with the petroglyph art, but until then, you're bound to be confused by the similar packaging on all the local bottles. Although Mehana has a little more variety than Keoki in the brewhouse, the results are similarly low-hopped and malty. The red ale, however, fills a nice niche in the "evening on the lanai listening to the birds and the frogs" category, with decent body a nice caramel finish.

Waimea Brewing Co. - Sensing a theme here? If you're looking to go to Hawaii and kick back with a nice imperial stout, you might have to bring it yourself.

(Quick aside on the Kona tip: As fab as their beer is when you're in the islands, be forewarned - on tap, you're getting something freshly brewed from the hip and fonky burg of Kailua-Kona, but in the bottle you're buying a contract recipe brewed, bottled and shipped by a major brewhouse in Washington state. Drink local!)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

My party? It *floats*, my brother.

I'm just saying...
Granted, I don't think this would fit in our hot tub. Keg adaptor available? "You can enjoy that special feeling of floating while having a cold drink..."