I hadn't realized that there was a protest going on over the decision by InBev to move production of Hoegaarden from the village of Hoegaarden to another facility. A protest web site from the village asks:
If real parma ham has to have it's origin in Parma, if champagne has to be produced in a strictly assigned region, why shouldn't an internationally famous, but typically regional original product like the Hoeegarden White beer, be produced in the town of Hoegaarden.This is a good question. Why is beer not granted the sort of inherent quality that other foods and products are? One of the Celis family, revivers of the white beer style, gives her opinion here.
What to sip for for the New Year, for Hogmanay, as we wait for the baby in the sash to kick the old bearded guy with the staff out of the room as we wait for the odometer of life to click over one more digit?
What better than saison, one of the great ale styles. One, Hennepin, from Ommegang of Cooperstown is one of my favorite sips out of central New York state and actually available at better gas stations in the Albany region for under five buck a 750 ml. [Ed.: ...just imagine...] The other two are both made by Brasserie Dupont of Tourpes, Belgium. The simpler 250 ml of Saison Dupont was picked up at the LCBO for the merest farthing while the organic Forêt was at the Finger Lake Beverage Center (right about here) probably for the best part of ten bucks. Forêt says that it is made of 100% organically grown hops and barley, that it was made without pesticides or chemicals (a broad claim if ever there was) and that it was made from filtered artesian well water. That is a lot of talk. One hopes it is for the best. All three are bottle conditioned.
Michael Jackson notes in his early work The World Guide to Beer that saison is a style from south central Belgium which makes it a geographical neighbour to northern France's slightly funkier bières de garde like La Choulette. To my mind, saison is a celebration of the finest pale malt grown south of the English channel, full of fruit and soft water, perhaps earthy where bières de garde is pungent. Let's see if my pre-conceived notions are in fact accurate.
- Saison Dupont: 8 pm. New Years In Scotland has come. Very nice. Rich and round with masses of dry palt malt. Lively antique gold ale under replenishing white foam. Fruitier on the nose than in the mouth. There is a pronounced graininess to the malt with only the slightest nod to pear fruit perhaps. The yeast is slightly soured milky. There is hop which is dry, twiggy or maybe even straw-like because it is not like twigginess of Fuggles, devoid of English green or German steel.
- Hennepin: 9:30 pm. Much fruitier than Saison Dupont, not as bone dry. Golden straw under light white foam. Pear and apricot juicey with some light sultana notes later. Soft water but with a stoney aspect like Riesling. Some nutmeg spiciness to the yeast but primarily creamy. There is a bit of burlap as well but it is a hearty tone that works with the juice rather than something divergent and discordant. One of my favorite brews.
- Forêt: 10:30 pm. Golden straw under white foam. Again, drier than Hennepin but a notch fruitier than Saison Dupont. The aroma is burlap and malt, richly earthy organic like early turning spring turf. Quite remarkable. Not so much morish yet pear juicey nonetheless with lots of bread crust, the mustiness (but not dairy sour) of cheese rind with a notch of the potato peel you get in a bières de garde like La Choulette Noël. Hops mainly straw but also some twig and green. A very complex beer.
I have been thinking about which was the best beer, the best pub and the best publication for my 2005. So far I am thinking:
- Smuttynose Big A IPA. I know this is not a famous Belgian or a beer everyone rates tops but for me it comes across as simply as an act of love by the brewer for the art. Strong yet creamy, hoppy but smooth. What is your pick?
- Best pub. This has been a good year for good pubs. Twice to Syracuse and twice to Maine makes for some quality moments. I really liked the steak, the room and the brews at King Arthurs in Oswego, NY as well as the handling of the Belgians by the helpful staff at St. Veronus in Peterborough, Ontario. But for a sense of place, relaxed staff, quality beer and good value as well as kid friendly we are going with the Adirondack Pub and Brewery in Lake George, New York. Again, what is your favorite.
If I have a local the Kingston Brewing Company is likely it. The merest merriest wee half-pint this day to whisk away the cold along with a bowl of curried soup.
This Figgy Pudding Ale is one of their best ales for the KBC's signature but quite pronounced apple-fruity yeast. Using soft water and a good measure of chocolate malt forming a good part of the core plum note, this Christmas ale is quite the thing. There is also a touch of orange peel and perhaps nutmeg but a very light touch that sits well below the medium weight of the ale.
The overall effect is a bit rummy which - given the name - is exactly what the brewer likely intended.
Victory. I like everything I have had by this eastern Pennsylvanian brewer from the suburbs between Philadelphia and the Amish country of Lancaster County. Facing a 22 oz bomb of 12% vintage ale by Victory is more than somewhat daunting, requiring a wee glass and a fair bit of time. It was bottled on March 29, 2005 according to the fine print. I don't think I will need that much.
A quadruple according to the Beer Advocate, it pours deep red gold under a rim and foam of off-white. The texture is rich and creamy more than hot, no irregular stark Beglian candi sugar rising above the malt but plenty there given the candy canse stickiness on the lips and the strength of the ale. There is also a deep malt area in the middle, a figginess through which the flavours take us. Hops are almost absent but there is something cutting all this cloy, flavourlessly.
Update: I left 65% of this in the bottle sealed overnight in the fridge and what a difference...ok, it's not like it's a stout or anything but by cooling down the ale the hops come out and, all of a sudden, there is orange marmalade with a good jag of green hop nicely cradling at the back end. The fig is still there too. The colour is more orangey than red gold but those are two colours that sit side by side as far as I am concerned. A really nice Belgian-style ale.
A sad tale is coming out of East Africa for lovers of something called Bell Beer:
Beer shortage hit Kampala suburbs as food prices shot up during the festive season. Bell beer manufactured by Uganda Breweries Ltd ran out in most depots in Luzira, Kitintale and Bugolobi. At Uganda Brewery's famous Kayonza depot in Luzira, no trace of Bell beer could be seen. In some bars, where it could be found, the price shot up from Shs 1,500 to Shs 1,700 per 500 mils bottle. Most revellers resorted to other beer brands including Nile Breweries products like Nile Special and Club Pilsener beers. "It's very bad to get used to a particular drink. But given the circumstances we are in, you have to think very fast and look for an option, " John Asiku, found looking for his favourite drink in Luzira, told Daily Monitor.I couldn't find any reviews on the Beer Advocate. There is this one on a travellers page but it can't be trusted as it warns "avoid Al's Bar for God's sake!!" Every bar called "Al's Bar" worldwide is among the best - it is a well known fact.
Perfect for Chanukah, from the Shmaltz Brewing Company of Saratoga Springs, New York comes this their big holiday ninth anniversary ale brewed from 9000 lbs of malt and 9 hop varieties and comes in at a weighty 9%. The SBC appears to be a one person contract brewing operation from some of the posts on its website and, in addition to these annual ales, brews Genesis Ale and Messiah Bold. It would appear that the bottle of "9" I have in hand was brewed at the Mendocino Brewing Co's eastern headquarters in Saratoga Springs. They have also worked with Anderson Valley Brewing Company in Boonville, California. It is certified kosher according to one news article quoted on the SBC's website:
To attain kosher certification, he brought up Los Angeles' Rabbi Binyomin Lisbon to Boonville, where the ponytailed brewmeister and the devout rabbi got along famously. Since beer manufacturing doesn't involve a lot of lard or lobster, Lisbon's main concern was making sure that the cleaning products were in adherence to Orthodox kosher standards.I'll have some notes later tonight after I pop the top but it is good to see that the BAer's give it 100% thumbs up and describe it as an Imperial Brown Ale. That has to be good.
Wow. Deep red mahogony under a light mocha head that resolves to a rim. The heat is constrained by masses of malt skillfully cut by the hop selection. What fruit and flavour is not in this ale? Plum, chocolate, pear, black cherry can all be coaxed out if you put your mind to it. All in waves of grain, early on the silk of oats but then, later, a hard grainy crust of pale malt, too. The subdued hops also play out in order: lime citrus followed by twig then on to green. The finish has a cheeky black malt note that peeks and then is gone. Really amazing.
Somewhat alarming news about a new beer from Austria and its reception in Turkey:
Even before the bloody head of a sheep turned up on the brewery doorstep, the makers of Roj beer had reason to suspect their light, malty lager might not be to everyone's taste. There was the hate mail, a virulent torrent of insults invoking mothers, sisters, dogs, blood and "dreamers like you." There was the knock on the door of the brewer's Istanbul representative, who was taken from his house one evening in late September by Turkish security officers and interrogated till dawn. And there was the remarkably long time Turkish officials were taking to consider the request to allow Roj into their country.
Brewed in Vienna, Roj is proudly identified on its cans as "Kurdish beer." And Turkey, which fought a bloody civil war against Kurdish separatists, is a country where such an expression of ethnic identity until recently might have resulted in arrest, and apparently still carries a certain risk. "My life is in danger, I think," said the company's managing director, N. Keske, so spooked by threats he asked that his full name not be published. "This is your last warning," read the note under the sheep's head.
Just a short note today to say thanks for all the comments and emails. It is quite fun to have created this space about all things beery and be able to turn to it for other points of view on the stuff that I am thinking about on any given day. So have yourselves a merry little Christmas and take care with how you go through the beer. Remember - it is all about the quality.
Oh...and here's one more photo nicked from the BBC "In Pictures" web page which expresses how I really feel...