OK, this is beer porn, in that many of the products are brewed on the other side of the world and are for most practical purposes unavailable; it's also big and heavy, with many colour pictures of bottles and labels and whatever you call those things they put on the pumps to tell you what beer it is (beer clips, I think). Each beer has a column which invites you to record your own tasting notes, but the glossiness of the book discourages it even if you were of a mind to fill all the boxes in. You will also come across words such as "quaffable" (see below), which some people snigger at, but then it is a fair enough word to describe the kind of liquid that can be drunk in great big gulps without making you feel queasy.Big and shiny and about beer! That is doomed to be on my bookshelf soon.
This beer has been in the LCBO most of the summer, a US pale ale from Big Hole Brewing of Montana brewed under license here in Ontario at Wellington - but not listed on their web site. Why contract brew an obscure beer - at least in this market - and then not advertise it? Who knows. 24% of beer advocates give the thumbs down to the original but only 7% boo the Canadian version. Weirder still.
It is called an English style pale ale but why? Out of the 650 ml bottle, rocky foam over clear still amber, it is sort of a duller version of a canned version of Old Speckled Hen - and well in the wrong direction from Hen's Tooth. Nothing offensive at all but the malt tastes a bit like there is syrup as well as grain and, so, has a bit of cloy. The hops are twiggy and rough...which is ok but not swell. There is some orange in the fruit which would benefit from a cleaner boost of Goldings. The water seems unhardened which I like but a fuller yeast presence would bring it together better. But for $2.95 at 5.7% it probably deserves a good value sticker from A Good Beer Blog central.
I have come across an old pal from about ten years ago at Robin Garr's fantastically deep wine pages - where I used to write stuff like this. Tom Cannavan, has joined with Roger Protz, whose books on beer are in my collection to create a very comprehensive UK-based site on ales and lagers called beer-pages. What a team. Have a look.
The contract brewed US version of a classic brewed under license from Whitbread from England. This is one of the great beers I have never gotten around to trying.
A sweet or even milk stout if lactose, milk sugar, was actually added by the good brewers of Ohio - a practice which may well be outlawed in the UK. A deep espresso foam head resolves quickly to a rim with some foamy patches fed from the active deep brown brew below. It is not as thick or heavy a stout as I might have expected but rather a mid-weight smooth creamy brew. I'd say it was like bubbly chocolate milk if it were not for the secret rule of beer reviewing that you are never supposed to say "bubbly chocolate milk". Rather, it is more like milk chocolate, plus a bit of dark coffee and a tiny bit of herby hop and maybe licorice at the end just to place a stop to it all.
It is quite pleasant, subtle and easy without being at all flabby or simplistic - and, working from memory, well flattered by the Lancaster Milk Stout I had last summer but never really reviewed. One review is quite unhappy though most BAers approve some heartily.
I have noticed some reports concerning a Florida law suit between the family of baseball hero Roger Maris and the Anheuser-Busch company. You can follow the case by reading articles like this in the Gainesville Sun but this passage notes one of the key issues which came to me as a bit of a surprise:
The attorneys said statements were based on court documents believed to be true, but a TV-20 report was shown in court in which Jacob said "Mr. Maris" repackaged old beers and sold them as if they were new in violation of the brewery's freshness policy. On questioning from Maris attorney Madison MacClellan, Jacob said he had no proof the Maris family was aware of any tampering if tampering was occurring, and he agreed the percentage of outdated beers found in Maris' territory - a tenth of a percent - was far less than the same year's 4 percent national average and 7 percent average in the Midwest, where the brewery is based.It is not so much surprising that this would be alleged as it would that it would be a practice. Simple me being what I am, I would have thought that the actual cost of the beer in a mass produced beer would not be significant after R+D, marketing, branding, transportation...that sort of thing so that salvaging the actual beer would not make economic sense.
- Denver Pale Ale: This pale ale has taken a bit of a separate path from many US pale ales. There is the good body, the balance of hop and malt but a bit more as well. It is a nice light mohogany with a lace-leaving tan head. A wee sniff detects a bit of that singularity with a dusty rich tone with the slight bit of malt sweet. A sip confirms there is actually a bit of chocolate malt in the back there behind a green and roughish hoppy and pale graininess edge which cuts the round sweet malt up front down the middle. It makes it a very three dimensional taste. Jungular even...not the philosopher...the tropical forest. There is also a bit of fresh acidic lift brightening all that flavour. Nice yet the advocates have questions: do they boil down to "is there too much going on"?
- Ridge Line Amber Ale: I don't know if I liked this. I have a hard time with amber ales as I really do not know what is trying to be achieved. Initially it reminded me of that Canadian style of ale I have discussed here, here and here. These ambers are ales which do not take a stand as far as I am concerned, soft-landers for folk who will move on once they get the idea of what real ale is all about. There is a level of cloy about the sweetness that is not fruity so much as brown sugary...without being sugary...just brown...kinda. Not even a complexity of crystal malts. An easy entry beer. But then in this one there is a bit of a backbone of edgy hop and pale malt graininess and no sourness to the yeast - though there is a bit of a tang. It is not that far off a Creemore come to think of it. So while it is pretty with an off-white lace-leaving head over a swell-looking deep-amber sip, it is still not something I would ever buy a six of to have a six. I want hops or roast or sour or smoke or fruit or something that makes me say wow. This just does not wow me even though it could be a great amber...or even the greatest. Maybe I am unfair. Here are the BAers starting with the top marks ones - yet the BA classifies it as a Scots ale! With nae reeky smoke and nae black malt, its nae Scot, Jimmy - ye ken? Maer like a wee glaekit sook.
- Hot Shots Extra Special Bitter: Faith restored. This is a really attractive lively ale with a rich active fine head over medium dark straw...or maybe, say, oxidized apple. It is quite carbonated and even may have some yeast floaties. Some brewers would call this their IPA but it properly sits betwixt pale ale and India pale ale with a bit more sweet and a bit more heat and a bit more hop as the one but not so much as the other. There is a nice orangey note in its hops which really recommends it as there is also a creaminess and smokiness that hint...but only hints...of white chocolate.
- Titan IPA: Lots and lots of green hops...maybe. There is a thing you can do with a highly hopped beer and that is harden the water. Water hardening is a venerible tool of the brewer so not an adjunct or adulteration. Burtonizing it is sometimes called. Making the water like Burton-on-Trent, home of Bass Ales and the entire pale ale style. Trouble is what is added is sulfate and if you are sensative, that can be a headache makers. Al Korzonas says in his excellent Homebrewing: Vol.1 notes:
Sulfate accentuates hop bitterness and lends a long dry finish to beer. Miller claims that together with high sodium levels it is said to give a harsh flavour but many ales have bery high levels of both ions and are not unpleasant...Elsewhere he notes that Burton naturally has 630 to 725 ppm of sulfate while Dublin has 50-55. Pilzn has 5. It is my little theory that a lot of what makes people like one beer or the other depends on their acceptance of the water composition - not just as a flavour component but whether it sets of a reaction of some sort. I tend to like the soft water beers. But I won't go on about that. Oh. I just did.
Anyway, this is a fine example of an IPA with a decidedly long dry finish lent to it by something. A fine filmy foamy white head sits on amber ale. The first sip is pretty malty cut with a large dollop of those green hot hops, a bit pine sappy and chewy. It reminds me of a hard water version of Flower Power, my benchmark US IPA, with the long soft richness of that fine beer not sticking around but rather yielding to that long dry finish. The final long last steps of that finish, after the hops and malt and heat fade, are somewhat minerally. BAers give 100%.
There are a few times my good wife is very pleased with this hobby. One is when there is Guinness in the house and one is when there are lambics. These historic vestiges of a Belgian need to capture summer fruit are made without added yeast...because the valley of the Senne is loaded with airborn natural yeasts. In the winter when these beers can be made, the windows at fairly musty unsanitary breweries are opened to expose open wort vats of straight gueuze (or geuze) or fruited lambics in traditional flavours like cherry kreik or black current cassis and the beers undergo spontaneous fermentation after which they are casked. This handy web page will likely tell you more than you need to know about the process.
One difficult thing about them, particularly the fruit beers like the raspberry - or framboise - by Mort Subite that I reviewed last March is that they really can come across as only an incredibly concentrated take on the fruit. One friend recently exclaimed when trying her first cassis: "the children would drink this for God's sake!" Well, it is sort of the fruit juice the Lord made. The other difficult thing is buying something that calls itself lambic, is a wee bit cheaper only to find out that it is a syrup based brew and not the real deal with fruit gurgling in the ale through fermentation. I try to stay away from those. But let's see how these work out:
- Lindemans Kriek: This pours a bright red with brown tones with a whipped mousse head of pink. There is lots of cherry flavour but also a rustic hoppiness cutting through. It is a sweet cherry flavour but, as it to be expected from the style, a vineous sour tang to the beer.
Lindemans lambics always seem to have more to them for me than others, something twiggy or a veracity to the fruit like you get when it is your hand that does the picking. This is especially the case when you drink them at room temperature. This 375 ml bottle from Vlezenbeek, Belgium probably cost 5.99$ USD so it is pricy but when you think about the real costs that go into production, it is not unreasonable. Click for a bigger view. BAers rave.
- Chapeau Exotic: Pineapple beer. Not this sort of pineapple beer but still pineapple beer. By Brouwerij De Troch in Wambeek, Belgium. As still a beer as ever I have had. It smells like a jube-jube of a slightly overripe pineapple husk. There is fairly true pineapple flavour...truer than the aroma...but do you want that in a beer? Sharp acidic effect in the mouth like the real fruit. You know...I don't think this is a syrup based lambic. I think some Belgians actually import pineapple to make this. What a weird world it is. 1.5% alcohol, too. Really weird. Advocates are rightly unkind. Thankfully only a 250 ml bottle. Hey...they make banana beer!
Update: Having noted that the label on my bottle is not the label I see elsewhere on the web and noting the 1.5% alcohol content which would not sustain shelf life...I am wondering if the LCBO has been fobbed old stock? Look at the advocates comments. The ones who rate high say the head was huge or at least it was highly carbonated. Those that do not found it flat. Hmmmm....
- Belgian Pêches: By the Lefebvre brewery at Quenast, Belgium. At 3.5%, a whopping 133% stronger than the last one. A lightly pinked straw brew with a little cloud to it sits under white foam. The smell is pure ripe fruit. As with both of the previous beers, there is a orchard reality to the fruit, the flavour is textured and maybe a bit over ripe compared to grocery store stickered facsimile. The one advocate calls this syruped but, for me...ok...I dunno. The body is light otherwise and no real hoppy flavour. Hey - there is actually an ingredients list: water, malt, wheat, hops, yeast, peach juice (20%), sugar, flavour...FLAVOUR!?!? What the heck is that supposed to be? Ok - it's got to be a phoney. Yet I have been offended by other lambic phoneys more.
- Lindemans Gueuze: From Vlezenbeek, Belgium. I yapped about gueuze earlier this summer but only found this example a few weeks ago in Ithaca at the Finger Lakes Beverage Center. A fine white foamy rim over deep straw brew. This is a drier version of the style than the other two, juicy and maybe a bit cider-ish. More pear juice than apple in the fruit - maybe passion fruity, too, but have I had a real passion fruit? Have you? I've had a kid's juicebox with the words "passion fruit" on it...and is it passion fruit or passionfruit? But not like added flavour. It is all coaxed out of the pale malt. Brightly acidic as well. Just 4% so the kind of beer your mother may like...ok, the kind of beer my mother likes. Plucky Belgians. But BAers seem to want more. More acid. More barnyard funk from the wild yeasts. Is there anything the advocates won't demand?
- Mort Subite Gueuze: By Brouwerij De Keersmaeker in Kobbegem, Belgium. This is one of the ones I yapped about last time. By the way, I have instituted a policy hereabout of benchmarking which is a fancy way of saying I get to repeat myself to figure out if any of this makes any sense. If you are going to be paranoid, I say you better do the checking up on yourself by yourself. It is sweeter and a bit richer or rounder in body than the Lindemans with a bit sour under it all. Less like cider, less brightly acidic, more barnyard perhaps. Still only 4.5% but that is three times that somewhat insanely odd pineapple thing above. The head was a nice off white and quite a rocky mousse of it all, the beer ever so slightly lighter in colour. There must be some quite beefy gueuzes out there as, again, many advocates find this comes up short.
- Lindemans Cassis: This is the best of the bunch. Very fruit forward true black current flavour. Not sweetened like black current juice but full of the twiggy real berry flavour. I used to have 20 old bushes behind a barn I owned and this is the essence of a clear summer evening's picking at the height of the season. There is a huge pink/purple lace-leaving mousse head over purple ale. Really lovely. Underneath, creamy yeast and French bready wheat framing the black current. Aged green hops accentualte the fruit. The finish is astringent. Wonderful.
I haven't checked the ranking hereabouts on Google for the one word search "beer". We had been in the 80s and 90s for a while. Today we are #22. Knut must be the reason.
I have a flaw — or perhaps it's a virtue — in that I feel unsettled around people or things that are indecisive. Don't get me wrong — I appreciate ambiguity, especially creative ambiguity that forces one to think and interpret. But there is ambiguity, and there is indecision.
I'm not entirely sure which description applies to Köstritzer Schwartzbier, the black lager of Köstritz, Germany. I really had no idea what to expect when I opened the can. After all... a black lager?
It poured with the consistency of a regular lager, with a big gassy head that dissipated fairly quickly, leaving behind a decent lace. On the way into the glass it looked like a cola, but with finer bubbles. It appeared black, but like a cola was in fact a deep rich red, almost purple. I held the glass up to the sun and barely a ray made its way through. Yet it didn't appear to be as thick in texture and consistency as a stout.
I gave it a sniff, but didn't detect much aroma — just a faint beery aroma with a remote toastiness. I let it settle for a minute and then sipped.
At times like this I wish I had the descriptive talents of our own Good Beer Blogger Alan, as the flavors I found in the Köstritzer were not easy to pin down. It had the texture and consistency of a lager, which is to be expected I suppose, but with a more lingering presence in the mouth. On the other hand, it looked like a stout, but did not have the earthy nose and weighty heft of a stout.
There was a sense of espresso, or perhaps it was bittersweet chocolate. I'm not sure, because it was not really the taste of those things, but more like the dry and bitter aftertase of them. Each sip left a slightly parched feeling in the mouth, making me wish for a sip of water.
It's not unusual to feel that effect from stouts or hoppy bitters, but in those cases it follows a burst of rich and robust malt and hop flavors. The Köstritzer had the feel and aftertaste of a robust brew, but without the primary flavors!
Lagers are, by their nature, light in flavor, but a good lager still has that hint of fullness to it — a roundness to the flavor, with a memory of yeast, that lingers after the initial sharpness of the hops. Perhaps Köstritzer has that too, but if so I didn't notice, because the dry toastiness of its stout-wannabe aspect barged in and got in the way of any delicate lager subleness that may have been there.
After a few sips I started to grow accustomed to this unusual and unexpected beer experience. Perhaps it had been too cold at first. Perhaps my tastebuds simply can't reconcile certain combinations. It didn't taste bad, but I never really got to love it.
I kept thinking of that awful movie Hollywood Homicide, which suffered from the indecision of not knowing if it was a crime movie or a comedy, so it never quite lived up to either. Same thing with Köstritzer — is it a lager, or is it a stout? It isn't really either, so where does that leave you?