21 February 2010

Little Sumpin' Extra! Ale

Little Sumpin' Extra Ale (bottle)
Petaluma, CA
8.742% ABV

Gotta love that pinup girl illustration on the front of the bottle. These limited release Lagunitas releases always have the most awesome bottles.

Pours light orange, slightly yellow, with a thick white head that dissipates pretty quickly. Somewhat hazy. Smells like a pretty standard DIPA, strong crisp bright hops with a sweet citrusy malt balance. Very West Coast.

Tastes very similar, strong bitter hoppiness with a bit of a citrus malt underneath. A bit mono-flavored, but good.

Overall a decent DIPA, a nice offering from Lagunitas, but probably not as good as their regular offerings.

My overall BA review: 3.65/5

Troubadour Obscura (Mild Stout)

Troubadour Obscura (Mild Stout) (bottle)
Ursel, Belgium
8.2% ABV

This was one of the Christmas season specialty ales we got at the store. It's been in my coal room for a couple of months, but with a beer like this that shouldn't affect the quality.

Pours dark brown, slightly amber, with a thick brown foamy head. The head leaves significant lacing on the inside of the snifter. Beautiful. Smells strongly of Belgian yeast, slightly tart, with a bit of a roasty backbone underneath. Hints of sourness, perhaps some lactobacillus?

Flavor is very complex. Strong roasted malt notes up front, much like an ordinary British stout, but with a significant Belgian yeast presence. Also some sourness, again probably from lactobacillus, and with a dry malted aftertaste. Sourness becomes more prominent as the beer warms. This beer has a moderate thickness, with a low carbonation and a mild drying astringency on the back of the tongue. Very slight chewiness.

Overall this beer seems like an almost perfect mix of a great Belgian Strong Dark Ale and a nice British stout. Could be a bit more tart, could have a bit more complexity, but overall, very nice.

My overall BA rating: 4.35/5

20 February 2010

Lagunitas Censored

Lagunitas Censored (bottle)
Petaluma, CA
5.9% ABV

Gotta love Lagunitas. Gotta love, that is, if you're at all a fan of West-Coast hoppy ales of various varieties. Luckily, I am. So....

Pours dark red, mostly transparent, with suspended bubbles all through the glass. Thin white bubbly head that becomes soapscum pretty much immediately. Significant lacing. Lagunitas labels this one as a "copper ale," which generally refers to color, but I get a significant coppery aroma here, possibly by power of suggestion. Malty, slightly dry aroma, similar to a nice ESB.

Malty dryness also dominates the flavor, with a nice dry hoppy finish and aftertaste. Hops are less prominent than anticipated, although as the beer warms I get a more classic West-Coast hop flavor. Mouthfeel is moderately thick, with a high amount of carbonation and some significant hoppiness.

Overall this is a very nice beer, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to someone interested in ambers. Not enough fruity notes. This, as mentioned above, reminds me more of a dry ESB than an amber, but fans of Laguintas will probably get a lot from this beer.

My overall BA rating: 3.8/5

Bell's Batch 9000 Ale

Bell's Batch 9000 Ale (bottle)
Comstock, MI
12.5% ABV

Sorry about the infrequency of posts lately. I've been writing up beers in my notebook, but have been a bit lax about posting them. I'll probably do a round-up post on those half-dozen beers or so in the next few days.

I also, as of this afternoon, have created a Twitter account. Those interested can follow me at twitter.com/danieleharper. Whether Twitter will be useful to me or whether it'll sit by the wayside collecting virtual dust is an open question, but we'll try it out. Similarly, I've also joined the new online beer community BeerVoice, with my profile being here.

Anyway. I first saw Batch 9000 when I was looking for my all-grain brewing ingredients. I bought a bottle and drank it as soon as I got home, but didn't bother to review. It was quite worthy, so I bought another bottle the next time I was there and it's been sitting in my fridge waiting for a writeup for two weeks. Nobody ever said I was first to the party.

Pours a rich brown coming out of the bottle but dark black in the glass. Thin brown head dissipates pretty quickly, expected for the ABV. Smells sweet with the molasses and the licorice, little of the maltiness or hoppiness expected from a good RIS. Tastes similar, very sweet and syrupy, a slightly dry and astringent aftertaste. Somewhat spicy as the beer warms a bit, think cloves. Mouthfeel is thick, with a low carbonation and low hops. Overall I enjoy this beer for what it is, appreciating the brewer's art, but it doesn't fit any easy categories, and the sweetness overwhelms what should be a roasty style.

My overall BA rating: 4.05/5

08 February 2010

Anderson Valley Deep Enders Dark Porter

Anderson Valley Deep Enders Dark Porter (bottle)
Booneville, CA
5.5% ABV

Science Fiction geeks will get how much I love having a beer with the word Ender in the name. Although I'm sure that was completely unintended by the brewery.

Anyway, pours a dark mahogany-black color with a two-finger brownish head. Very opaque, no light shines through. Smells of rich chocolate malt with a nice roasty character. Lots of malt, with a hint of hops for balance. Slightly dry.

Flavor is very drying, lots of roasted maltiness with a slightly astringent aftertaste. Otherwise some strong coffee notes, hints of chocolate, overall somewhat bittersweet.

Overall drinkability is decent. I find it a bit dry for my tastes in a porter, but not overwhelmingly so. Fans of the style should give it a shot.

My overall BA rating: 4.05/5

Flying Dog Garde Dog

Flying Dog Garde Dog (bottle)
Fredrick, MD
5.5% ABV

I've never had a Biere de Garde, so this'll be a new style for me. I've intentionally not read the BA reviews yet, as to let myself try it without bias.

Pours dingy orange/yellow with a thin white head that dissipates to soapscum pretty much immediately. Translucent, very yeasty body. Aroma's strong on citrus and a mushy hoppiness, hints of some noble varieties but mostly earthy esters. Some yeastiness.

Flavor is very similar, with lots of orange-peel flavors and a strong yeasty first impression. This is followed by a dry finish and a bitter hoppy aftertaste. Mouthfeel is nice, with a crisp carbonation and a nice thickness that coats the tongue.

Overall this is a decent beer, easy to drink, but nothing special. It might make a nice summer beer, a change of pace from the IPAs and hefes I'm usually drinking around that time. It's also one of my favorites from Flying Dog, a brewery whose products have not numbered among the best in my estimation.

My overall BA rating: 3.55/5

05 February 2010

The Session: Cask Beers

This month's Session is about cask-conditioned beer:

Viewers of this blog have read my opinions on cask-conditioned ale, and probably once too often. So, let's hear yours, and not only yours. Why not invite brewers and drinkers and bemused casked-spectators to contribute essays for the Session?

Make the post a definitional thing: other than that CAMRA description, what 'is' cask-conditioned ale? Or, make it an encomium: how cask-conditioned ale will transform the world. Or, make it a style harangue: why saisons, for example, should have no place in a cask, or should.

Or, make your post a lifestyle essay: how you first lost your c-c-a virginity. Make it a cultural debate: how Americans have 'extremed' the cask experience, or how Americans need further lessons from the British.

Make it an ale vs. lager knockdown: can lagers be cask-conditioned? Make it a zymurgical and practical thing: how does your brewery commercially produce and transport cask-conditioned ale?

Make it a 'pesce' PETA thing: can one be a vegetarian and drink cask ale? Make it a beer ticker thing: who makes the best, and who serves the best?

Make it a cellarmanship thing: how should a pub handle a cask? Make it an international thing: where was the most unexpected place you drank a pint of cask-conditioned ale? Make it a geek thing: at what temperature to serve, to sparkle or not sparkle, and how clear should clear be?

Make it a sad story. Make it a love story. But ... make it! And make it here, Friday, February 5.
 Cask. Damn. I thought about not even bothering this month, since, well, I don't have a very wide experience with cask. My one beer review from cask is for New Holland's The Poet, which I had at the brewery last fall. I didn't even post that review onto this blog, since I didn't input it until several weeks later, when I was posting a bunch of stuff from notes. Sure, the Poet on cask was good enough to make it into my year-end post, which also happened to be last month's Session, but is it really fair to judge an entire serving style (and, for some people, an entire beery way of life) from such meager experience?

Why haven't I experienced cask? It's not from lack of interest, but lack of availability. Until a year and a half ago, I lived in Alabama, where beer was more likely to be served out of an ice-chilled can than a warm cask, and since then I've lived here in Kalamazoo, where beer is much more widely available but beer bars still tend more towards the college crowd than to us serious beer geeks. Which is fine by me; Bell's gets plenty of my business even without emphasizing their credentials in that world and without offering things like cask ale and brewery tours. To most people in the area Bell's is a great place to go for a few beers and a place to see a great live show on weekends, and if the money they make allows them to make such amazing beers, more power to them. Really.

Okay, sure, I could drive up to Grand Rapids and visit Hopcat, or back to Holland and visit New Holland, and even in the south I could have gone to Nashville's Boscos and have some cask ale once a week, but traveling is a pain in the ass and, I think, gets away from some of the whole point of cask: it's local. Cask ales (from my understanding) are unpasteurized, unfiltered, and mostly unrefrigerated, and thus don't travel well, which means that by and large the beer made for that consumption is meant to be served pretty much immediately and close by. I don't doubt you can ship a barrel of cask Stone RIS or Duvel or whatever all around the world if you want to, but shouldn't brewers of cask focus on their local customers, on making beer as fresh as possible for those right around them?

And in that sense, it's probably a very positive thing for the beer community. Focusing on the beer made in your neighborhood helps to grow organic communities of beer people, and for that matter makes beer a much more ecologically "green" product than other food items. (It also helps to grow the numbers of people who see how easy it can be to make beer in their own backyard, but that's another issue.) It's a serving type that should be expanded, and I'm definitely going to be tasting a lot more of it as my beer travels take me further from home, but for now I guess that's really all I have to say on the topic.

04 February 2010

All-Grain Milk Stout

I just had a long brew day. This was my first all-grain brewing experience, and I feel like it turned out pretty well, although I'll definitely change a few things in my next batch. Lots of fun, and hopefully the beer will taste amazing.

Here's the recipe I used.

7.5 lb Maris Otter malt
2 lb Chocolate malt
1 lb Crystal 20L
2/3 lb lactose
1 oz Northern Brewer (60 min)
1 oz Fuggles (30 min)
1 vial White Labs Irish Ale Yeast (WLP004)

(Note about that "2/3 lb lactose." The second beer I ever made was an Oatmeal Stout and I didn't have a scale at the time. I wanted to use about a quarter pound of lactose and eyeballed it. Today I weighed what I had left, shrugged, and decided to use it instead of the pound of lactose I bought yesterday.)

I ended up with a FG of 1.042, which was on the low side, but it came about because I had some temperature control problems. I think I understand the small glitches in my process, and I'll definitely do better next time.

What am I making next? Not sure. Maybe a witbier, or maybe I'll try my hand at another IPA.

(Update 2010-02-22: Measured final gravity at 1.010. Should be an ABV of around 4.2%)

02 February 2010

Fuller's 1845

Fuller's 1845 (bottle)
London, England
6.3% ABV

I've been kind of into English beers lately, and also into looking at the history of brewing, particularly British brewing. Could a taste of Fuller's 1845 really be far behind? It's odd for me that BA lists this as an English Strong Ale, since at 6.3% ABV this is about average for American Pale Ales and the like -- "strong" in American parlance starts at seven percent and goes on up. So it goes.

Pours a deep red ruby-ish color with a thick brown/white head. Very clear, with only a slight haziness. A very nice first impression, to say the least. Aroma reminds me greatly of their London Pride (I had one last night, so it's fresh on my mind) -- a rich malty body with a hint of mild British hops laid on top. Some yeasty esters, hints of fruit.

Most prominent flavors are of a dry malty bready body with hints of fruit. Strong drying aftertaste and a nice bitter finish. Lots of yeast in the flavor over time, and the hops become a bit more pronounced as the beer warms. Mouthfeel is fairly thick with a decent carbonation and a nice crisp hoppy finish.

If this is what Londoners were drinking a hundred and fifty years ago, the Brits need have no shame about their historical beer culture. Very nice.

My overall BA rating: 4.45/5