Another variety pack from New York state, another reason to wonder why we organize our lives like we do in Canada. Saranac is the main brand of the Matt Brewing Company of Utica to the right of Syacuse about an hour and twenty minutes south then east from here. Last year I bought a mixed twelve of theirs and was diappointed by the focus on lagers - but no problem here. Look - a belgian white, a hefeweizen...a kölsch! Nutty. These guys are working hard for my dollar in the marketplace. I praised the Saranac IPA earlier this year and gave a bit of background that I won't repeat here. let's just get into the brews:
- Summer Ale: labelled as wheat with a little lemon and herb, this beer pours a clear amber with a white rim head. It has a light body, very little aroma to speak of. Its finish is a bit odd, a small bit of edge and a broad shadow of a lemon - not the sharp of lemon juice or the sweet of lemon drop. Oddly, when I had the second a few days later icy out of the fridge, it reminded me of 7up...in a good way.
- Hefeweizen: I am quite surprised by the quality of this beer. Not as creamy a yeast strain as the other hefes I have recently tried but much truer than the other US version of the style from Rogue in that set and Harpoon's version tasted in April. It would be worth comparing to Paper City's Cabot Street. White fine rocky head over cloudy straw coloured beer. Quite pronounced clove over banana. Worthy yet the label says limited edition.
- Kölsch: a very light ale with low hop bite. Clean but uncomplex. The edge of the hops is nicely subtly ever present - a deft touch. White skim over light straw brew. I wonder if this is the Summer Ale without the lemon and herbs. I realize I am ignorant of this style so really have a hard time knowing where this sits in the range - but I thought I would find a wee bit more malt.
- Belgian White: Not a bad attempt. Better than the confused Sam Adams White and definitely above the foul lolly-poppish Brussels White. White skim over cloudy light amber beer. Light almost watery ale with some honest grain and tangy spice. Some orange peel in the nose and on the palate.
- Mountain Ale: the beer formerly known as Mountain Berry Ale. This is getting repetitive. I think it is the Kölsh without the lemon and herb of the Summer Ale with generic berry syrup added instead. The sweet of the berry clashes with the herbs and the yeast. I am thinking of a thinner Belhaven Fruit Beer and that is not a good thought.
- Golden Lager: Again, very light and it is a lager so I am not expecting to find love - but this is working for me. It has a very good balance - which it good work when we are talking light. Starting with the bottom - the yeast is creamy and delicate. Right above it there is a slim edge which is a little bit like rye. Across the middle of the tongue there is graininess and in the front a bit of sweet. A nice clean flowery attractive hint of hops in the nose. A very likeable light lager.
I found this at Galeville about a month ago. At $6.99 USD or $8.74 CND for a 22 oz bottle it is one of the more expensive brews you can buy but I think it is good value. On this visit, I actually escaped the clutches of customs additional 37% solely through the kindness of a guard who obviously pitied me upon my declaration of a few bottles of ale in the trunk. Bless them, every one.
St. Amand is a northern French country ale or biere de garde. Michael Jackson described the style and its origins in 1997 as follows:
Biere de garde, from around Lille in northern France is a classic style of beer with a nutty spiciness that accentuates the sweetness of chicken or pork It was originally made big and mafty and laid down for summer when the weather was too hot for brewing hence the name. "Keeping beer" or "stock ale" is the long-gone British equivalent last sighted in Kent after the advent of artificial refrigeration we gradually dropped the style, but the French kept it as a year-round pleasure. Look out for it in champagne bottles, wired and corked and sometimes tissue-wrapped.That bit of storage brings out a little bit of tang and a little bit of mustiness. It is a little like a Belgian ale yet there is a particular fresh fruitiness to the too few bieres de garde I have tried that sets them apart. This particular one has a rough graininess that has mellowed a bit like a hint of whisky. I am perhaps reminded of Unibroue's Raftman in that regard. Unlike Raftman, however, the grain is matched with old autumnal hops, the green faded away, not some much bitter as sort of a strong tea thing. Beneath that is an apple pear fruiness in sweet toffee malt. The yeast is somewhat thin milky chalky and maybe a bit spicy with that adding to the hoppy musty thing. The head is billowy tan leaving great gobs of foamy lace, the beer itself medium amber.
I am a little uncertain as Brasserie Castelain appears to have redone its branding with one internetter - un internetteur - suggesting that this is relabelled for the US market:
Comments - First brewed 1978. Sold as Minator in Italy, and St. Amand in USA. Relabelled as Bière du Carnaval de Dunkerque.Interestenque.
Tasting Notes - An accomplished, fairly complex ale with masses of fruit, malt and bitter hops. Quite a range from the initial sweetness of the aroma to the bitterness in the finish. Easy drinking with a smooth almost creamy texture. JW: The elements come out one a time rather than blending together. KR: Excellent balance from the hops in the palate prevent a potentially cloying fruit tang taking over.
You know when they say someone or something
is truly beautiful on the inside once you get to know?
OK, I have been a little quiet around here as of late but that is because I have been on special assignmentTM and this last special assignmentTM took us to Ithaca, New York about 3 hours due south of Beer Blog HQ in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. And what a good idea it was - and not just because of Purity Ice Cream.
Ithaca is a loverly little city at the south end of Cayuga Lake, known for Cornell University and the most famous vegetarian restaurant on the planet. Touristy, academic and foodie. The perfect spot for a good beer store loaded with micros - and the Finger Lake Beverage Center is it. I have to be honest in that I have not been to a huge number of US beer stores, maybe ten or fifteen, but this one is pretty damn fine.
Row upon row upon row...
I was the nice beer blogger and asked if I could take some photos. There was a quick pow-wow after I explained a bit and sure enough it was fine. As usually happens, I find myself a bit dumb-struck in the face of hundreds of beers I have yet to buy and more so when faced with a well laid out, friendly and clean environment in which to be dumb-struck over beer. I also had to quickly calculate how much I could afford, how much I can get across the border and how much will keep my marriage on that level field we all call sanity. Once all that was done figured, it was time to talk and buy. I learned that the store was big on turnover of bottles and, as a wholesale distributor and retailer, they were able to ensure none of the bottles were sitting around too long. This is a curse of many shops with long lists - not enough nerd action. You could see that there was no dust on these bottles. Staff were friendly and knowledgeable and not a bit concerned that I was taking photos of their well-stocked shelves like the weirdo I am.
I only bought about 30 beers but I hit many of my wish list: a Belgian cassis lambic, California's North Coast "Old Rasputin" Russian Imperial Stout, a mixed six of Stoudts from PA and Bert Grant's Perfect Porter from Washington State among others. Price seemed good, though to be honest I was a kid in a candy store. This may be nothing to a citizen of the USA but the simple layout of single bottles over six-packs over 24 cases of region after region, brand after brand, brewer after brewer is quite a revelation to a Canadian. The idea of a growler selection, above, let alone a fill your own growler on a Sunday strikes the average Canuck like...well...something very hard to the temple that also makes you happy.
All in all a quick visit has left me about 20 beer reviews behind, which is not a particularly bad place to be with the summer here and all. I will definitely go to Finger Lakes Beverage again. I will probably go there again in about a month when I pass through Ithaca again and have a little more time. You go, too. Go on. We're watching.
By the way, the Customs officer moment was good:
Customs: (kind of offical-like) ...and where did you buy these beer?
Customs: yes but where?
Me: Finger Lakes Beverage.
Customs: and where is that?
Me: Ithaca? What are you wanting to know?
Customs: (quieter) I want to know because I go to school in Ithaca and haven't heard of the place...what's it near?
For the uninitiated, Bosteels Brewery's Pauwel Kwak beer can be quite a confusing beer. Even for connoisseurs, Kwak is decidedly, well, different.
One glance at its signature drinking glass with its wooden stand and handle is enough to tell most that they are in store for a unique beer. I tried Kwak about a year back for the first time in the 330ml bottles, and now the 750ml corked bottle, brought back from Brussels in 2004. The two tastings differed quite strikingly, the corked bottle giving much more carbonation and alcohol in the taste, and less of the distinctive maltiness from the large bottle as well. 4-packs of Kwak are available in Alberta, some coming with the glass, designed so that Belgian coachmen could quench their thirst while remaining in the coach. Looking through beer reviews seems to show quite a wide range of opinions on this beer with no middle ground - people either praise it highly or harshly criticise it.
This much is certain: Kwak must be tried. And tried again. I admit I was not overly satisfied with my first glass of the stuff; when I tried it a year later I wondered at myself for not buying it more regularly. Antitypical, unique even by Belgian standards, and highly complex, this rates highly.
I was in London last week, which is pleasant during all seasons, but this has been the hottest July for 30 years, so there is an extra need to refill the body's liquid reserves.
I first visited the splendid Pitfield Beer Shop, which sells both a number of bottle conditioned ales from its own micro and a broad selection of beers and ales from Britain and the rest of the world. Friendly staff that know their beers as well, so it is definitely woth seeking out, even if it is a bit out of the way for most visitors to London. I bought as many bottles I could reasonably carry, and walked back through the Clerkenwell area, where I decided to try the new golden ales on offer from Young's and Fuller's, the two independent London brewers which both own a number of pubs serving their beers.
Next stop was the Sekforde Arms, a friendly Young's local on a side street. Young's have Golden Zest as their seasonal ale this Summer. It is dark gold in color, but while it looks like a lager, it is certainly an ale. Light and refreshing, but not a groundbreaking brew. Served at the proper cellar temperature - what critics of British beer call "warm beer", this could actually have been served colder on a hot day like this. It was nice to try the Golden Zest, but the next time I will return to their Special. The brewery blurb for this 100% malt brew: Maris Otter pale malt, lager malt, English Fuggle and Golding hops come together to produce a wonderfully light and refreshing golden beer.
A few minutes walk to the Fuller's pub City Retreat, a great place on a hot afternoon (or a cold Winter evening, as I've been there before). The new ale from Fuller's is Discovery, and this was something else. An ale with a depth of flavour. It is fruity, with hints of apple and peach. A splendid summer beer, but I am not sure where it will fit in the market, as it is neither a lager nor a typical ale. According the Fuller's, this is to be added to their year-round range of ales, along with London Pride and ESB. This was served chilled, and I found that suited the beer well. According to Fuller's, this is "brewed using a unique blend of malted barley and wheat for a delicious malty taste bursting with rich, biscuity flavours. Liberty hops are added for a distinctive zesty character and fruity bite, whilst Saaz hops add a gentle bitter taste for a clean, refreshing finish."
It seems like they have both aimed for the same type of beer, with "zesty" being a common denominator. It is worth mentioning that Young's launced a beer a few years ago, the Triple A, which also aims at the drinkers who dont't want the full flavour of their bitters. This is not a real ale, and it is served chilled, rather like a Kilkenny, but with a bit more taste. Purists frown on this, of course.
If you stay in the British Museum area of London, these two pubs are just a few minutes away by bus or taxi - if it's not too hot they are within walking distance. They are much to be preferred to the more busy and touristy pubs in the Covent Garden/Soho area, being frequented by people who live or work in the area. You can look up their addresses on http://www.youngs.co.uk and http://www.fullers.co.uk, where there is plenty of information on their beer range, too. And, if you have more time on your hand, both breweries have tours of their premises and they have brewery taps and souvenir shops. Young's even have published books on the history of the brewery and their pubs, see a review on my self-named Knut Albert's Beer Blog.
Good use of a sideboard - click the images
A real surprise was in store when I hit the LCBO the other day preparing for a dinner party on a stinking hot summer Saturday. They had actually brought in a bunch of extra hefeweizens, southern German wheat ales with a measure of yeast left in.
- Rogue Half-E-Weizen: a loose rich white head falls to a white skim leaving generous lace over a slightly cloudly yellow straw body. Corriander and hops balance well, their bittering leaving some astringency while the lightly creamy yeast with its presence of banana intercedes. A medium light version of the style without the German committment to full bore clovey creamy goodness. $5.05 for a 22 oz bottle.
- Erdinger Weizen: I am a little unsure if this is a real hefeweizen as the labelling is "weissen" but the little neck sash says "mit feiner hefe in der flasche gerfeift" which in my hack German I take as "with fine yeast left in the bottle". Even with that the nature of this beer still leaves me wondering a bit. White foam over cloudy yellow leaving no lacing. Light body without the phenols of banana or spice that indicate the style. A clean cream yeast without complexity but very refreshing.
- Schneider Weisse: This is the business. One of my favorite beers that for some reason screams "lunch" with a cold cut sandwhich. How many things scream that in life? It is rich and creamy good with lots of cloves and banana. A fine white head over medium brown with almost a greyish tinge. As befits the style, very moreish and heat-wave cutting.
- Schöfferhofer Hefeweizen: this hefeweizen pours a tall egg white meringue over cloudy straw ale. A layer of hop astringency cuts and to a degree hides the yeasty phenols of banana and clovey nutmeg. Not as rich as others from Germany in the style though richer than the American cousins here. Lemony grapefruit in the finish.
- Edelweiss Weissbier Hefetrüb: white foam over dark yellow or light brown cloudy ale. Simply lovely. Lighter than the Schneider Weisse with a lemony brightness it does not share. Clove aroma and banana-clove in the mouth. The brewery has had only 530 years to get it right. Clean finish with a nice drying hop astringency.
- Saranac Hefeweizen:I am quite surprised by the quality of this beer. Not as creamy a yeast strain as the others but much truer than the other US version of the style from Rogue above and Harpoon's version tasted in April. It would be worth comparing to Paper City's Cabot Street. White fine rocky head over cloudy straw coloured beer. Quite pronounced clove over banana. Worthy yet the label says limited edition.
- Hacker-Pschorr Hefe Weisse: The last of this set, perfect on a summer warm evening with a game from Fenway on the tubes, soothing to aches and pains from old timers soccer. Niether lemony or particularly creamy, this is quite a grainy rendition of the style with both banana and clove as supporting class. Massive rich white head over cloudy dark straw beer verging on orangey. There is something savory as well in the palate, making me thing of soaking a pork roast in this one. Of the selection above, most like the Rogue with that beer's untraditional use of corriander but the notes of spice here are in the yeast. Another amazing expression and, for what it is worth, one of the best logos in all of commerical trade.