Monday, November 13, 2006

A reward for the patient or amnesiac

The first time I was introduced to Westvleteren 12, the legendary "yellow cap" with near-mythical status around the world as quite possibly the best beer in the world, I was firmly warned upon opening the bottle to stand back, keep a close eye on it, and wait a good minute before attempting to pour it into a glass. While I wondered whether this stoic ritual was merely an indication of the presumed reverence of the virgin taster, I noticed something peculiar happen within the glass. As a puff of vapor steamed off the lip of the bottle, I noticed the actual volume of beer within appear to grow slowly in size, pausing only at the point when I worried some of the valuable stuff might end up on the not-so-valuable Toronado bartop. Turns out, the unknown quantity of CO2 gasses that collect in this considerably alcoholic, well-aged, bottle conditioned, and highly carbonated beer can lead to the occasional volcanic eruption upon opening. As the slight change in temperature between the liquid and the outside air changes the level of solublity of the immersed gas, the collecting head of gas in the neck of the bottle makes the liquid puff up noticeably in a strangely lifelike manner. Pouring the beer into a glass before allowing at least a little of the gas to dissipate would result in a great enough temperature change that the beer would foam uncontrollably, eliciting peals of celibate laughter from brewing monks everywhere.

Why am I rambling on about the liquid thermodynamics of this exquisitely rare beer? Well, if you were either patient enough or forgetful enough to have cellared a bottle of the cork-finished holiday ale we brewed last year, you're certainly in for a treat if you decide to open it now. While washing bottles for our X'06 dark Belgian strong with secret herbs and spices (and no, there's no mustard in there) and in need of some inspiration to keep me scrubbing, I opened the last bottle of our X'05 dark Belgian strong with other secret herbs and spices, and immediately wished I had made much, much more.

Upon releasing the cork, a snake of fog drifted out of the neck and lingered in the air like some sort of malt genie. And as it faded, the liquid in the bottle began the same expanding illusion that I'd only seen in the Westveletern, the result of a well-kept cellar ale loaded with more volumes of CO2 than the atmosphere knew what to do with. While at first the taste had the slight taint of glass, it quickly evolved into a velvety-textured complexity of dried fruits, toffee and brown sugar. While certainly not a contender for capping the yellow cap, it's the closest we've ever gotten to the wicked and mysterious essence that defines the classic Belgian holiday ale. You may want to take a quick peek in your pantry to see if there's one still gathering dust in the corner... If not, X'06 is hitting the bottling line this coming weekend.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

And now, your moment of zen.

Sometimes, when a long, hard day at work has whittled away at your reserve, exhaustion and frustration rending your soul adrift on tumultuous waves of anxiety and fear, and your mortal coil wound tight with existential ennui, you need something of peace and oneness to relieve your stresses and re-center your core with the ancient and timeless wisdom inherent in the simple, subtle, yet fathomless beauty of haiku.

Beer haiku.

Clear your cluttered mind with some examples of these daily tokens of truth:

after the pitchers
I manage to say nothing
loudly and often

For some it's half full
for others it's half empty
I just want one more.

as long as there's beer
you will never feel lonely
though maybe alone


Drink with me brothers
It’s time to forget the past
and make new problems.

If you're feeling the pulse of intergalactic chi aura rushing through your beer chakra now, maybe you need to outfit your dog in some karma-catching caninewear.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Tasting notes - Urthel Tripel

That's Brewery de Leyerth Urthel Hibernus Quentum Tripel, to be precise. With the world's best import beer buyer currently on maternity leave and kegs of homebrew stashed up like a squirrel's autumn bounty in the basement, I haven't had much opportunity to dip my toes in any new ales lately. But when I recently came across this oddity, whose label proudly boasts itself as (in English, nonetheless) "Belgium's newest cult classic", it was like the beer-blogging Cthulhu within me was roused from its ancient and terrible slumber. I'm just a total sucker for hyperbolic liquor labels, I guess. That, and the folks at Leyerth appear to have adopted a belgique Snuffy Smith as their spokesmonster.

Proudly endorsed by Snuffy Smith.
Perhaps in owing to a palate that's been affected in part by American craft beer's generally higher hopping rates, this tripel kicks a bit more bitterness on the front end than you'd expect from the style, but quickly evolves into the classic fruity acidic sourness you find in the regional archetypes - Westmalle, Chimay Cinq Cents, etc. (compared to American versions of the style that usually don't have any tartness to balance the natural sweetness of the sugar added to boost the alcohol content). If anyone out there needs a refresher course in the difference between a tripel and a "strong golden" ale, they need do nothing more than sit down with bottles of Urthel and Duvel (and me, if you insist) to get a quick lesson in just how different these pilsner-hued ales really are.
Urthel also brews a hop-driven harvest-style ale (post to come including comparison to the newest addition to the Chouffe family of artisanal ales) as well as a dubbel and a quadrupel ale. More information is hard to come by from the official site, however, particularly if your Dutch is a little rusty. So, while the site entices you to "discover the secret", you're likely to just leave more confused that when you arrived. And, if you don't have the patience for the ticker text at the bottom of the "English" page, here's what you're missing:
...The Urthel website is completely renewed, with more background information...The good old Knuyst has disappeared from the cafés and the new Paché-glas has made its entrance...Beware of The Bockerijders of Ghorp, the new Urthel Bock 6.5 is arriving...Frightfully delicious...More about the fairy-tale of the Erthels ...and more ...much more...

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Friday, November 03, 2006

Forget "craft" and "micro" - this is artisan brewing

A fitting subtitle to an article about the deep brewing scene within the district commonly referred to as Wine Country. I've gone on numerous tangents about the unparalleled quality and diversity of the north-of-the-north-bay brewing scene, but it's always nice to see it reinforced by the real (read: inky-fingered fish wrap) press. And if the images of Ken Allen showing off his precious copper brewing kettles (complete with rawking retro sci-fi-tastic copper control panel!) and Vinnie Cilurzo's collection of oak barrel Belgians doesn't get you drooling, maybe you need to spend an afternoon sipping Brother David's Double while playing frolf at the Anderson Valley biergarten. Reading this almost makes me want to go down to the cellar and crack open that magnum of Supplication I've had aging down there the past couple years. Almost.


Very well put

Quite simply summed up, one of the reasons I do love geuze oh so very much.