The season of Yule demands big beers and there are few bigger as a style, rather than some stunt for high alcohol, than the imperial stout. The Beer Judge Certificate Program describes the style in this way:
Intensely fruity and malty, backed up by balancing roastiness and prominent hop bitterness and flavor. A "burnt currant" character may be present, along with a suggestion of cocoa or strong coffee. Alcoholic strength should be evident, along with a deep, complex malt flavor. The finish can vary from relatively dry to moderately sweet, usually with some lingering roastiness and warming character.Ka-pow. The unlight beer. Imperial stouts are the sort of beer that you need to work your way towards. I mean you don't try shoe polish on toast until a few months with Marmite, right? So looking at these three capped behemouths I have only one thought...which to open first...hmmmm...Harpoon?
- Harpoon Imperial Stout: As session 12 in Harpoon's 100 barrel series, this stout is a one of show piece for its brewer. Harpoon has won me over and turned me off with earlier examples within this series. I won't know what to make of this one before I get into it but the fact that even 4% of BAers say nay makes me think for a moment about whether I should try this one first or last...
OK, I decided to go with this one first and I am immediately intregued. It pours deepest brown under a smooth mocha head. The hops and roast are off set by some...sweetness - sweetness that immediately raises a red flag, sets the foghorn off and makes the crowd go "oooooh". Sweet means export stout not imperial stout, an export stout like Royal Extra Stout. But it is not an oil slick of sweet like that and other Caribbean examples of the style. It is subtle and does not drown out either the roast, the mint-twiggy hops or its somewhat boozy heat of 7.7%. Very interesting with notes of deep plum, coffee, chocolate, and dry burnt scraping of toast. I can't advise on the sort of bread the toast would be made of but I cannot rule out rye. Chalky creamy yeasty God's good goo at the bottle's end. Yum. I like this a lot.
- Dragon Slayer Imperial Stout: I was really excited to see this offering from Middle Ages of Syracuse, New York. My recent survey of a number of their beers left me with the impression that this is one of the great ale makers on this continent. The fact that 100% of BAers approve of this brew (three giving a perfect 5/5) does nothing to diminish my glee at possessing one 22 oz example this side of the border. Notes when I pop the cap.
OK. Next night. The appearance is the same - deep dark brownish black under a mocha foam head. The flavour is highly hopped as well as roasted. Both conspire together to absolutely hide the beer's 9.5% strength. The hop is mint and green and comes first across the palate before the big toastiness. They are bridged by very creamy yeast as well as a nice tang which may be made up of a bit of the yeast and a bit of the hops. It is dry but rich. The finish has a nice cigarette ash in vanilla ice cream thing. A real quality bit of brewing.
- Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout: The LCBO carries this beer most winters and it is a favorite of mine. I reviewed it lovingly with other selections from the Samuel Smith range last year and - at 7% - noted it is one of the lighter examples out there. [Hey, it was exactly a year ago today.] Interestingly, one source states that imperial stout was almost extinct until recreated by the British brewer Samuel Smiths in the early 1980s so this is sort of what Hoegaarden to Belgian white beer. It will be interesting to see how it stacks up side by side with others of the style as opposed to friends from home.
Licorice beer. Tonight it seems as simple as that. in 1986 I worked in Holland in an industrial seeting with older guys who sucked on unsweetened salty licorices all day. That is the main flavour in this ale, though I wrote differently last Yule - who knows if it reflects difference in flavour in the glass or in my mind?
My main blog, AsiaPundit, is
a regular an irregular contributor to A Good Beer Blog. I should be more regular but there is so little good beer in China. But there is still good beer news in Asia... and if it holds up to peer testing it could be very good news as Japan's Kirin Brewery has discovered antibodies that can protect humans from Avian Flu. And it's not just me that's excited.:
Shares of Kirin Brewery Co., Japan's biggest beverage maker by sales, rose as much as 12 percent after the company said it developed an antibody that could be used to treat avian influenza....The antibody proved effective in fighting avian influenza, including H5N1 strains, according to Gemini Science Inc., a U.S. unit of Kirin, which reported the findings at a meeting of the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy in Washington. The antibody proved effective in experiments with mice, the company said.
I am as much in favour of a nice place to have a tipple as the next guy but this is a bit much:
Aubergine, the Michelin-starred restaurant in Chelsea, west London, offers a beer list with about 15 choices. It includes 75cl (1.5 pint) bottles of Deus for £32. Vincenzo Tagliavia, the sommelier of Aubergine, said: "We are offering customers the chance to enjoy an exclusive beer. Deus stands out. Its specialness lies in the balance between the bitterness and creaminess." Other expensive beers at Aubergine include Chimay Cinq Cents, a pale ale brewed by Belgian Trappist monks and sold by the restaurant at £15 a bottle. Elsewhere 1980s vintages of Thomas Hardy ale can be picked up for £20 and a bottle of Rochefort, a chocolate-flavoured Trappist beer, £15.Seeing as I paid about three bucks (or under £1.50) for a bottle of Rochefort, which could be doubled if we are talking 750 ml bottles, is the point showing that a snobby restaurant needs a snobby price to make beer palatable to a snobby clientele? A 500% mark-up over retail is a bit stiff. The ever excellent St. Veronus in Peterborough works on what would be a 200% basis and I am absolutely delighted with that given the wonderful rooms, their selection and the service.
Shouldn't a movement that points out the quality of real beer also make the point that the best is much cheaper than wine?
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It was our first Christmas dinner tonight here at Casa del Good Beer and these are the ales we are sampling afterwards. Last year, I reviewed a number of strong ales apt for Yule but only one really was a Christmas ale, the one from Harvey's, and it was no great shakes. This year I have two US (Abita and Sierra Nevada), two French (Jenlain and La Choulette) and a Belgian (Corsendonk) to pass around. These notes followed later but I thought I would get the photo up first. According to the gathered, it was an unfair fight as the two US regional scale brewers and their versions of a Christmas beer were up against giants, smaller brewers able to express much more in their ales.
- Jenlain Bière de Noël: Dark amber or copper ale under an off white rim. This is Terry's chocolate orange beer or as the bottle says bière de garde ambrée - amber country beer. At 6.8%, this is a higher test saison with good pale ale graininess within a more-ish semi-sweet malt fruit. In addition there is some chocolate malt plus some orange peel - juicier than in a dubbel. The yeast is creamy. This is a very easy drinking ale based on lovely soft water. Respecting the French-Belgian border, the hops are tangy twiggy but not burlappy. Watered medium oloroso sherry and a touch of spruce.
- Abita Christmas Ale: The yeast is slightly milk soured in this red dark amber ale under an off-white head. There is crystal malt toffee enriching this otherwise moderately interesting US pale ale. It is good and grainy but the hops at best are twiggy but, to be honest, are Mt. Hood rough. It is an unfair comparison as it is lighter and less thoughtful than its French and Belgian comparators. The effect is nutty with a dry-ish finish overarched with more than a bit of vegetative notes. Chocolate toffee celery. No lie.
- Corsendork Christmas Ale: Mahogany ale under a beige rocky head. The burlap of the Belgians over rich brown malt. A nice acid fruitiness cuts though the semi-sweet of the malt. Rather rich compared to the others but this hides the 8.5% well. A Christmas pudding of a beer, slightly black rummy but with some spice. An especially rich dubbel you could say. Very nice.
- Sierra Nevada 2005 Celebration: It never had a chance and more than half went down the drain only because of the quality (and quantity) it was up against. A medium amber, beige rimmed ale full of strong orange peel bitter oil, some twig structured hops and a bit of dried fruitiness beneath. Not as rich as I might have expected. More like the Abita than the Euros in that respect. The sharp hoppiness is unattractive when compared to the others. In the end an adequate middle-range US IPA with a boost of brown and crystal malts. Not unpleasant but not profound.
- La Choulette De Noël: The prize. Dark copper ale under an off-white creamy rich head. The aroma is horse blanket which sat in rotting potato peels for a week. Sound disgusting? It is not but that is French country ale - beer for people who eat blue cheese and the flesh of horses. A touch of fig and date below and a bit of nut, too. Hazelnut cracked shell - dry and dusty within the richness. It would be a classic with a rib-eye steak, pommes frites and brussel sprouts. Massive flavour. I had the brewer's blond last May. I am convinced.
From the Abbaye St-Remy, again one of the five real Trappists breweries from Belgium. I had their 6 in Peterborough. Thick lace-leaving light beige pillow of a head over lively cloudy mahogany ale loaded down with grey chunky yeast. One of the murkier appearances an ale might have. The nose is all figgy burlap and spice. If Westmalle dubbel is a restrained dignified take on the style, this is a pig in the barnyard muck. There is heat above the malt, stark twiggy hop with bone dry burlap and twine in the malt. 9.2%, too. Those saucy monks.
If it were not medieval monk brew you might think this was a post-industrial expression of ale.
I forget from time to time that about 75% of the readers here are not Canadian even though we are based here at the eastern end of Lake Ontario. So I better throw this story in as a "some places are just nuts" kind of beer news story...even though it is about where I live. You see we are in a national election campaign up here and since...
Liberal [government] aide Scott Reid's "beer and popcorn" gaffe on Sunday – that the [opposition] Conservatives' proposed child-care allowance could be used by parents to buy "beer and popcorn" – the mainstream media have been full of angry reaction.In addition to the finger-pointery about which party is less nice than the other¹, the blogs have taken this on and now we have a serious "Kids Not Beer" petition followed by a less serious but inevitably more successful "Beer Not Kids" one. Join in wherever you are. The full sad story is here.
¹[Ed.: Canadian politics are just not that rough.]
It is a tough old job but someone has to do it. I picked up these two from the Trappist Monestary of Westmalle Belgium separately, the dubbel to the right at Finger Lake Beverage Center in Ithaca, NY and the tripel to the left at the good old Bath Road LCBO in Kingston. Interestingly the tripel's labelling is for the Euro market with its label in French and Flemish plus that neck sticker in English making it safe for Canada. The dubbel was imported by Merchant Du Vin of Tukwilla, Washington, USA and is all in English.
Westmalle is one of the five remaining monestaries in Belgium where their method of ale brewing continues so getting your hands on one of these bottles for 3 bucks or so it a pretty snazzy event if you think about it. What other fine traditional craft product is available at such a bargain? Here is a good article from a 1998 visit to the monestary and here is a website with some good pictures of the cafe across the street where the ales are served on draft. Merchant du Vin notes that these ales are not really that old:
The monestary is located in the village of West Malle, Province of Antwerp, Belgium, and was founded in 1794. Both the Dubbel and the Tripel are considered by many tasters as the benchmarks for the style. Westmalle Dubbel was first brewed for consumption within the Abbey around 1836; Westmalle Tripel was introduced in 1934.The Abbey's own website in Flemish is a real treat giving you a sense of the serenity of their surroundings as well as the rather low place their brewing holds compared to their other good works. Having worked in Holland years ago, I can work through the test. Try switching th's for d's and "y" for g's and j's and a bunch of other things and you may bet the hang of it. So I take this bit from the page on their choice of yeast:
Elke gistvariëteit is uniek en heeft een grote invloed op de uiteindelijke smaak van het bierto mean: "our variety of yeast is unique and has a great [err..something] on the [something-like] taste of the beer." Oh, well - it's always the adjectives that get you.
The tripel pours a very attactive honey straw with a rich white head. It is very carbonated with cloudy chunky yeast flowing around in the glass. This, I have decided, is my favorite tripel, going from memory, as - while there is the burn you should expect at 9.5% as well as the tell tale taste of light candi sugar - there is plenty of pale ale malty grain as well. Think of a chunk of light bread crust with candy cane minus the peppermint. Sort of. Under all that there are fruit notes as well, light one like pear and maybe banana as well as some hoppy white pepper spice. The yeast is creamy, giving some relief from the heat. Beige yeast settles at the bottom of the glass. Really fine.
Similarly, the dubbel is very approachable. Beige rim and foam over cloudy mahogany ale. It has a very light touch on the burlapiness of, say, Chimay Red, Ommegang or Maudit. The body is lighter, too, with the dark candi sugar far more forward than most in the style. Quite more-ish. The fruit is autumn apple and plum and with a bit of brown sugar sweetness, too. No big malty cloy and, again, cutting levels of carbonation. The hops add a faded floral effect, sort of lilac and somewhat in the background. Not a big bomb at 7% so nothing in the way of hot hot heat. Except for the burlap perhaps, if I was told that this was a fine US brown I would probably believe it.
These are the only two ales made by the monestary. The second smallest range of ales possible when you think of it. Both worthy and worth finding.
This beer is from the Michigan Brewing Company but formerly was brewed in Austin Texas by Pierre Celis who had immigrated there after played a key role in the restoration of the entire Belgian white beer style. The brewery has a Flash time-line on all that history and here are three beer blog reviews of white beer and here are four more.
This ale is an example of a high-end white at 8% rather than the roughly 5% you would get with, say, your basic Hoegaarden. It pours fairly still, golden with a snow white head that disipates to foam and rim. The initial effect is definitely Duval mixed with Hoegaarden. There is the thickness and lipstickiness of the Belgian candi sugar and the heat of a Belgian golden strong beer like Duval as well as the corrianger-orange of a white. There is also pale ale grain, as opposed to just round maltiness, as well as balance from the cloy-cutting by the bitter if recessed hops. It would be interesting to compare this ale with others of this small style. I would buy again. BAers give it a 98% thumbs-up rating.