A kind correspondent, Garrick Van Buren, has invited us to listen to the podcast he created which includes a discussion of Belgian trappist beers and other brews of note. Here is the link. I haven't listened yet bit any discussion including Westvleteren which also comes with an intro from Tod Maffin, Canada's nicest futurist©, had got to be good.
Duval, Delirium Tremens, Piraat
Categorizing Belgian strong ales can be a bit of a mug's game but I am going to try to distinguish between golden stongs, dark stongs, triples and dubbles over the next few weeks by finally taking apart a small collection I have gathered over the past months. Today, the smallest of the groupings will go with a little freezing rain outside and a reciprocity of NFL from the sofa inside. Pierre Rajotte in Belgian Ale collects golden strongs and dark strongs as "special ales" as a convenience, a way to make sense of the Belgian brewers' sense of invention and the consumer's appreciation of it. At page 35 he writes:
In this category you will usually encounter hoppy beers. However, what the Belgians call a hoppy beer is not quite the same as what a North American would call a hoppy beer. To Belgians, hoppiness is more subtle and more refined. Traditional American brewing aromatic hops such as Cascade are unknown. Belgian brewers use generous amounds of low bitterness varieties such as Saaz, Hallertaur, or Styrian. This gives a generous hoppy and spicy aroma without the accompanying bitterness.From my recollections of homebrewing, one thing the Belgians might also do is age their hops to dissipate most of the acids which cause the bitterness, giving a richer rather than sharp or green hop effect. All in all just the thing for a winter's day.
- Piraat: Whisky hot at 10.5%. The pour leaves a fine white light foam head. The colour is medium straw and cloudy what with the swirl of real yeast at the bottom of the bottle. The taste is sugary mousse with a fine pale malt seam running through the middle, empire biscuit faintness of cherry. Quite juicy despite the sugar levels. The hops are subdued by spicy, with perhaps a bit of corriander, their aroma sitting below the smell of cotton candy. Not very complex but a treat given the utter disappointment with this brewer's pathetic amber. The Advocatonians approve.
- Delirium Tremens: At 8.7% this beer is noticably lighter than Piraat - which is saying something about how hot Piraat drinks. A lighter shade of straw, the head fades quickly. The nose is spicier with less of the cotton candy smell of Belgian candi sugar, a crystallized sugar 100% fermentable sucrose that is used to lighten body and raise alcohol. The taste is more malty with a nice citrus tone from the hops which also provide background spice - maybe some corriander and white pepper as well. The brewer, Brouwerji Huyghe, founded in 1654, makes some really delicious low alcohol summer beers under the name Florisgaarden and this is an honourable corresponding expression of a winter's ale. Like Piraat, the weight is not as great as the alcohol might make you imagine but this beer is more flavourful and somehow moreish, not something I thought I would think with this sort of ale. Quite a fresh finish. Towards the end of the glass, I am loving the green apple and vanilla flavours. Very fine ale. BAers approve greatly.
- Duvel: a snow white souffle of a head explodes from the bottle - be prepared. The smell is of orange-lemon icing. At 8.5% it is the lightest in strength as well as colour. The subtleties of differeence between this and the other two strong ales I have reviewed this afternoon are a bit of a challenge as this one has a little less complexity than the Delirium Tremens and a little less heat of the Piraat but otherwise they are very close. One the mouth, there is some orange peel and a milky rather than creamy effect from the yeast. If the Delirium Tremens has a hint of green apple, this is more like gold delicious - less acidic and sweeter. The hops are the most subdued and it is the least malty - finesse. Lots of lacing are left in the glass and a decent foam remains at the end when I might be tasting passion-fruit and maybe faintness of nutmeg. If you are into such things, as dedicated a website or actually websites as I have ever seen to one brand in a brewery's range. The history page alone is worth the time. Big ups from the BAs.
This very fine Belgium beer is a dark amber colour, with a creamy head. It has a malty, slightly sweet toffee flavour with only a slight bitter aftertaste. Callard & Bowsers in a bottle ! Very moreish. Don't be put off by the name. No sediment. 5.0%. As good, if not better than Innis & Gunn!Saison is one of those styles you do not hear about every day. Pierre Rajotte in his 1992 book Belgian Ale indicates that saisons and Belgian ales can all be compared but that saisons may have an note of acidity about them and are certainly less hoppy than a British pale ale. The first sip, he writes, "fills your mouth with mellow, fruity, smoothness." Michael Jackson in the 1977 edition of his book The World Guide to Beers states that saisons are from southern Belgium, French Walloonia and that they are yeastier when compared to hoppier English pale ales on one hand and the clean malt profile of a German alt beer. Worth discovering.
I had such high hopes for this post, comparing four of the brews in the South Burlington Vermont's Magic Hat Winter mixed 12 pack. Then the holidays hit, then the guests arrived, then the defence of the bottles began. Right now I have maybe 30 singles of beer stuck away for later comment at a measured pace. Enough to get me into February easy - as long as I can keep the hands of others off of them. Eleven of the Magic Hats were sacrificed to that cause. All except one of their porters named Ravell.
Porter has become one of my favorite styles, if only due to the uncertainly brewers have facing the problem of what it is supposed to taste like. Porter was one of the earliest industrial products and led to a capacity war from say 1790s to 1820s London which had a great effect on mass production of other goods as well as the local production of beer. By the mid-1800s, it had been replaced by other beers due to two discoveries - lagering and true pale malting. As always, when technologies change, tastes shift and the demand for this dark and sharp style faded to be replaced for a while by mild in England, followed by pale ales and then by the ubiquitous industrial lager-pop most drink today.
Due to the trade secrecy surrounding brewing, there is not a great deal of information about what porter actually tasted like in its heyday. Was the yeast sour or mellow? Were the hops or roast malt more pronounced? Approaching opening a porter like Magic Hat's Ravell, then, is all about paying attention to what the particular brewer considered the answer to those questions were. The beer pours brown rather than black like an oatmeal stout or deep garnet like Guinness. Its head resolves to a thinish beige foam. The taste is definitely built around a soft water profile. One of the things that makes a local beer local is the expression of the water table's mineral count. Dublin is chalky soft, Plzen is neutral and Burton-on-Trent is incredibly hard. From my recollection of the others in the 12 pack, Magic Hat is a largely soft brewing firm. [Sleeman, by comparison, is a fairly hard brewing firm.] The yeast of the Ravell, sour and fruity, is in the front of the palate, framed by chocolate malt and then some hop bitterness. I would not call this a balanced or rich example of a porter but originally porters from what we know were not round and balanced. They should not be confused with nut brown ales anymore than with oatmeal stouts. They were from an era that saw brewing and storage occur in wood and that would impart sourness like we see today in many Belgian brews. Here are the stats on the brew from Magic Hat:
Our Odd PorterThe vanilla bean note is evident once noted but really creates as many issues as it resolves. It lies under the chocolate and hops bitterness and may feed the impression that the yeast is fruity. It is not, however, an overwhelmingly vanilla-esque ale. The effect is somewhat like the use of licorice in other dark ales, as in the Sinebrychoff Porter from Finland reviewed a few weeks ago. One beer advocatonian says it is too thin, which is fair comment.
A porter brewed with whole vanilla beans. Available whenever young William and father John deem it so.
Yeast: English Ale.
Malts: Pale, Crystal & Chocolate.
Hops: Warrior & Fuggles
Alcohol by Volume: 5.60%
Original Gravity: 1.056
Bitterness Units: 22
Not the first porter I would grab but certainly worth discussing.
New Year's Resolutions? Find more people who like to write about beer. David Akin is in Toronto and has made an excellent post about some of his favorite ales. I thought from his comment in the post below that he was in BC due to his reference to one of Granville Island beer but no - he appears to be a Newf in Trana. Maybe the LCBO is holding out on the hinterland, supplying the big smoke with ales not available to we few scratching a living out on the woods beyond the GO train.
Does such a thing exist? If speaking of the North American market, is it the low carb stuff which I doubt I will ever try or is that the boondoggle of the year? Personally, I will have to review my notes in the review archives but suspect it will be American and it will be hop-heavy. Maybe it was a particular pint in a particular pub? I will have to do some thinking about this...
What was yours?
In a shocking but true accouncement as reported in the New York Times, the US government has passed a regulation that will require what is taxed as beer to be at least 51% beer twelve months from now:
Popular flavored malt beverages must have the majority of their alcohol come from the process of brewing if they want to be taxed and treated as beer products rather than higher-taxed liquor products. That's the upshot of final regulations announced Tuesday by the Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Companies will have until early January 2006 to comply. The new regulations require that at least 51 percent of alcohol in flavored malt drinks be derived from the brewing process. No more than 49 percent of the alcohol may come from other flavorings added to the product, the bureau said in a release.While this relates to beverages which are a long way off of real ale, you still would think that this would have been an obvious requirement. That would not, however, have taken into account the fact that brewing is one of the biggest business rackets going and just because it looks like beer or claims that it is beer on an income tax return doesn't mean it is a beer. One day beer will have to have its ingredients listed so that we can all see how much sea weed, which is added commonly to add body to corn sugar based brews, is in which beer. Here is the TTB announcement.
The BBC has a good piece in its Magazine section on the British temperance scene today. Apparently:
the British National Temperance League (BNTL), as it is known, has two staff and a mailing list of 1,200 people including social workers, teachers and police.What is the connection between temperence and beer? Most temperance activists were actually pro-beer until the "t-total" abstainers came along. It was not a fight against alcohol per se at first but a reaction to the flood of gin which was destroying the industrial work force of England around 1800. Beer as a source of nutrition when in the form of real ale supports the good health of labouring folk as all we here can testify. So take a moment to think of those good promoters of ale, the temperance societies.
Sleeman's Brewery has released a special limited edition Porter, called "Fine Porter," available for a limited time only in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia. I don't know how long its been on the market, but I just found out about it last week. The natural thing to do, of course, was to head to my local beer store and see if they had any in stock. They did and I bought two bottles.
Sleeman's as you may know, is an old/new Canadian brewery, founded in the 1850s. They went bust in the 1930s as a result of Prohibition (or, to be precise, because they got busted bootlegging during Prohibition, which lead to a large tax bill that forced them to sell the brewery). In the late 1980s, the great-great grandson of the first Sleeman brewmaster revived the business using the original recipes, that, according to folklore (or is it marketing?) were found in an old notebook tucked away in an attic. The relaunch of Sleeman's was a success, due in part to a major investment from one of the big American brewers. Behind the hokey ads and the down-home sentiments is a medium-sized brewery with big ambitions. Sleeman's brews a number of big-name brands under license, including Stroh's, Pabst, Pilsner Urquel, and Sapporo. They also brew the "Upper Canada" brands.
For that reason, no one should think of Sleeman's products as "craft brews." Still, their products are consistent and tasty, if not entirely distinctive. Which makes me wonder where this "Fine Porter" limited edition 2004 came from. If you believe the marketing, it came from page 68 of the old notebook. Who am I to argue? I suspect there really is a bit of good old nostalgia around the Sleeman household. While they're pumping barrels of Pabst and Stroh's out the back door for a fast buck, there might really be a sense of it being a family business.
Whatever the case, I cracked open a Sleeman's Fine Porter this evening while a batch of slow-cooking chili bubbled away on the stove. I wasn't sure what to expect -- until I read the label. Sleeman's has courteously provided a label (on their traditionally label-less bottles) complete with tasting notes, ingredients, and colour notes (in both of Canada's official languages). That makes it easy. Thus, I quote: "Bitterness of imported hops balances the malty sweetness, with roasted and chocolate aroma notes." The colour is described as "Deep rich brown," as if you couldn't tell through the clear glass bottle.
Unfortunately, I am not familiar with other Porters. They simply aren't in my repertoire. I've always thought of Porters as flat muddy beers that old people drank, so I tended to avoid them. (A silly prejudice, I know...) That said, I found the Sleeman's Fine Porter to be pretty much as described on the bottle, which was disappointing as it brought no surprise. It was definitely toasty, and the chocolate aroma was present but not strong. It had a decent heft, like any dark ale, but didn't weigh down like a stout.
I enjoyed it. It was a nice late-afternoon-on-a-winter-day-spent-at-home kind of beer. The sort of thing you might have one of while waiting for your pot of chili to age. It would go well with a nutty cheese on crackers as a late afternoon snack. In the end, it didn't quite have the kind of character I expected from something referred to as a "limited edition," but it did go down nicely and agreeably and I'm looking forward to another winter day spent at home, when I will crack open the second bottle.