Sunday, May 31, 2009

Lost Abbey Angel's Share 2008 (Brandy Barrel)

Angel's share is somewhat of a specimen. Only available via mailing lists until this year, and now only in limited quantities at a few lucky beer stores. There is also a bit of a tumultuous story with the 2008, with reports of early bottling and unactivated yeast creating low carbonation levels. I was lucky enough to get 3 bottles of this stuff, one of which was put to the test through a preliminary assessment. The next two will be consumed at yearly intervals.

I can certainly attest that the carbonation tales are true: the yeast has either not had enough time to fully activate or there was some problem in bottling these. Nonetheless, this is still a good beer. The nose offers vanilla, chocolate, figs, raisins and a healthy dose of brandy.

The palate has loads of stewed fig, chocolate, port-like dark fruits, and a heavy brandy flavour. The alcohol is extremely noticeable at 13% abv - but as with many high gravity beers this should mellow with time. A challenging beer to consider this early, but thus far I have had better beer for a lot less money. Then again, if you drank a great Hermitage too young you might have a similar notion. Time shall tell.

Very Good+ to Excellent
$34 at Ledger's Liquors

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Russian River Beatification Batch 3

Another experimental beer from California - this time a cross between a lambic and a wild ale. This is one sour puppy with an apple heavy nose and a palate with pineapple, a touch of vanilla, lime and lemon. This is woody and very clean and has great layering - but man does it make you pucker. For me that's fantastic, others may be put off by the sourness, even though it is by no means out of balance. Another extremely drinkable beer with a reasonable ABV (around 6%), this is creamy with some obvious lactic notes. Love it.

$23/750ml at City Beer

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Lost Abbey Saint's Devotion

I spent the last few days in California with a good friend of mine formerly of Vancouver and now of Chicago. Fortunately, he is also a beer afficionado so it was time to open some goodies I had been saving. Lost Abbey's Saint's Devotion is a wild version of their standard Devotion ale, spontaneously fermented with Brettanomyces yeast. The only way to detect the difference is the brown vs. green label: clearly a sign of the 'leetness' of this beer. I was lucky enough to pick up this rare beer at the Lost Abbey night at Toronado during SF beer week.

A yeast-tactic nose that smells like baking bread already promised some rambunctiously funky times ahead. The palate was certainly wild with lots of funky bread, must and apple notes. The bitter finish was slightly out of balance and less smooth than some of the other wild ale offerings we sampled during the week; however, this is an eminently drinkable beer with a clean and sharp palate. Air certainly helps to mellow this beer and warmth brings out the full complexity of flavour and balances the 'wildness' with the rest of the beer. 6.25% ABV.

Very Good+
$20 at Toronado

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Greatest Beer in the World?

Today was a momentous day - the day I say goodbye to 10 years of post-secondary education and hello to my new Juris Doctor degree: yes, law school is now complete. As with any such momentous occasion, celebration must be extended over many days. This, given I just finished an exam a few hours ago, is my amuse bouche.

Westvleteren is considered by many to be not only the greatest Trappist brewery in the world, but also the producer of two of the world's best beers: Westvleteren 8 and 12. For those not in the know, Trappist breweries were traditionally operated by monks who use the proceeds to support their ascetic existence. Many of the Trappist breweries are now contracted commercial operations. Westvleteren, however, remains true to its origins. As such, one can only obtain the beer at the monestary on select days. Furthermore, the monks brew a limited amount of beer with no plans to expand. They make enough money to meet their needs and that's that. Accordingly, Westvleteren beers are extremely hard to come by and are perhaps some of the rarest in the world. Lucky for me I got my hands on two bottles of glorious monk's brew.

Westvleteren 8

Made in a dubbel style, this is really unlike any dubbel I've ever tasted. With a small but persistent head, this pours a cloudy dark brown in the glass. The nose is really spicy with some subtle fruit ester notes like plum and fig. Tasting this is quite unlike any other beer really - it's as if my Belgian dubbel jumped into bed with a wet temperate forest and produced a love child. The palate is slightly medicinal, has lots of spice and herbs, and finishes with a decent but very unique hop kick of grass and earth. I also got bread notes here, likely from the yeast. This beer is not at all sweet like many other Belgian beers, instead treading the line between subtle malt sweetness and the bitter complexity of multiple hop profiles. The finish here is disturbing in its length, which I measured at around 2-3 minutes. But, that's what hops can do. The booze is also very nicely integrated. In the end this has a sense of balance, restraint and provides the drinker with a profoundly refreshing dryness unheard of in Belgian dubbels. Just as the monk's would like it.


Westvleteren 12

The granddaddy of all Quadrupels and considered by many to be the best beer in the world. Unfortunately for me, my bottle had some carbonation issues which ensured less aromatics due to a dissipated head. Nonetheless, this was just as unique as its less alcoholic brethren. The beer poured a malty burnt caramel brown in the glass - almost like liquified caramelized sugar. The nose had dates, raisins and caramel and promised more depth and intensity than the 8. Accordingly, this beer is distinctly sweeter than the 8 but still a lot less sweet than many Quadrupels with its very full palate of raisins, dates, figs and caramel. This also had a moderate hop finish - less hoppy than the 8 - that added forest, mushroom, leaves and dirt. I am not sure why my bottle had so little carbonation, but overall this beer has a great fullness and completeness to the flavours, which is quite uncommon. There really is so much going on in this beer you can't grasp it all in only one bottle. Very good stuff, I only wish I got the fully carbonated experience.


In conclusion, what is so great about the Westy beers is their balance and their incredibly unique flavour profile. I've never tasted hops like this in a Belgian style beer and everything is put together with perfection as no element overwhelms the other. Many Quads and Dubbels rely so much on sweet malts and fruity yeasts that they lose a little complexity and completeness. That is not the case with these beers, which have every feature of the brewing process in perfect harmony: malt, hops and yeast as a choir rather than a rambling crowd. Are they the best beers in the world? I don't know - at least not for my palate. Are they incredibly unique and worth trying? Absolutely. A great treat for this great occasion.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Stone Vertical Epic 07

Pouring with a moderate head, the colour on this beer is a cloudy molten yellow. Made in a belgian strong ale style. With a lot of spice, citrus, pineapple, banana and other tropical fruit on the nose, this smells fantastic and is amazingly layered. The palate was full bodied (I think about 9% abv), and yet smooth and creamy. I tasted the same flavours as on the nose, but think it is worth noting the very long lingering finish. Also, the flavour layering on the palate is really subtley integrated and the beer is exceptionally easy to drink. A fantastic effort.

$7/22oz at Ledger's Liquors

Stone Vertical Epic 08

Perhaps needing more age, this was made in a hoppier more American style than the 07. THe colour is straw-like and much lighter than the 07. The nose has a pleasant combination of floral and herbal hops and Belgian yeast aromas. The palate was quite a bit heftier than the 07, despite the colour difference, but it was also less complex and layered and the finish not as long (but I find this comes with age). While enjoyable, this just lacked the elegance of the 07, although in a year I bet this will be a very different beer.

Very Good to Very Good+
$6.50/22oz at Ledger's Liquors

Stone 12th Anniversary Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout

With the hops shortage in 2008, Stone was forced to innovate to provide bitterness to its beers. They did that here by adding a lot of bitter chocolate, which as any beer afficionado knows, is the perfect pairing for stout.

The colour on this very high alcohol oatmeal stout (9% again) was very dark brown and pretty much opaque. The nose had plenty of chocolate, with some cherry, fig and coffee as well. There was a detectable note of alcohol lingering behind all those aromas. The palate was creamy and highly roasted. I suspect a lot of chocolate malts were used in this beast. With lots of mocha flavours, this beer does not taste overly alcoholic, despite noticeable traces. Essentially this is a very flavourful beer that does not yet have a lot of complexity but is certainly great for the price. Not to mention that paired with dark chocolate, this is just hedonistically loveable.

Very Good (will improve with age)
$6/22oz at Ledger's Liquors

Monk's Cafe Flemish Sour Ale

I love me a good sour ale, and the Flemish style is a great twist on the classics - one that is a good entry into sours generally with its balance of sour and slightly sweet. It's unfortunate that crappy sugared lambics have created a bad reputation for the sour genre, adding a cooler-style veneer to a drink that many have no idea was originally sour. While not a lambic, the Flemish sour has been given a similarly bad rap with the Duchesse du Borgogne, which is carmelly sweet.

This beer on the other hand is made in the traditional style started by Rodenbach. With not much head (1 inch that dissipates fast), this beer has a nose with lots of cherry, strawberry, and a little balsamic. The palate is light and fluffy in texture and has a great concentration of fruit in the mid-palate - lots of cherries and strawberries and a little forest underbrush. The finish is short, but the flavour is robust and the price is right. Highly recommended as an intro to the world of sour ale.

Very Good+
$3/11.2oz at Ledger's Liquors

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Russian River Redemption

It seems I'm on a bit of a beer run these days - I suppose leading up to American Craft Beer Week next week: a Congressionally declared event no less!

This particular beer is one of Russian River's basic offerings, although it doesn't quite live up to their other great everyday beers such as Pliny the Elder or Damnation. This is a Belgian blonde style ale that is actually a bit more lager-like than I expected. It tastes like citrus fruits and bread, with a little apple to round it out. There is a small hop kick and some herbs on the back end too.

This is very simple, but well made, well carbonated and good with food. My rating below reflects my attempt to be 'objective', although if I relied entirely on personal preference I would rate this lower since it's not so much my style.

Very Good
$8 / 750ml at Ledger's Liquors

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

De Proef Flemish Primitive Wild Ale Batch #1 "Pig Nun"

Adorned with some Hieronymus Bosch monstrosities, this ferral beer is made in a unique style of brewing created in Belgium where wild native yeasts are used to "spontaneously ferment" the beer, which here seems to have started out as a blonde strong ale. Each batch is nicknamed after one of the strange creatures on its label - in this case a pig wearing a nun's habit.

I think this particular bottle, which I acquired at a Toronado cellar sale, had lost a little integrity in the cork as it came out a little too easily and the carbonation wasn't quite what I had hoped, thus giving the beer a significantly smaller head than expected. Nevertheless, all the classic blonde ale character was in the nose with lemon, sweet malts, and licorice root. The palate was where all the wildness came out, which was lesser than I expected, but still fantastic: bread, grains, biscuits, and a touch of funk gave the citrus and root flavours a real kick. Amazingly, despite the high alcohol (9%) this was very drinkable and clearly could be a great session beer (other than getting you hammered quickly).

The finish was very dry, and as the beer warmed it developed and changed its flavour profile with some pretty interesting funky and farm-like elements that are hard to describe. This is a chameleon on the palate and should be experienced by anyone who takes beer seriously. An outstanding creation. I can't wait to try some of the more recent batches with (hopefully) better carbonation than my bottle.Note: De Proef also makes some great collaborative wild ales with American Brewers in its "signature series".

$15 at Toronado Cellar Sale

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Brew Dog Paradox Port Dundas Imperial Stout

Aged in port barrels. I found this very soft on the nose and somewhat closed. There were some strange metallic notes coupled with dried dark fruits (probably from the port barrels). The palate was broader with raisin, chocolate, caramel, and plenty of cigar and tobacco. Again, this was very smooth for a 10% beer, but I found it a bit one dimensional and less interesting than the Speyside. I also didn't get a lot of port characteristics on the palate. Maybe these would expand with age, but as of now this was a bit simple. However, as with the Speyside this paired amazingly with chocolate.

Very Good
$10 USD

Brew Dog Paradox Speyside Imperial Stout

Aged in whisky barrels. Sitting at 10% abv, the nose on this was very chocolatey and inviting with hints of whisky vanilla coming through. The palate was very smooth, with no noticeable alcohol and plenty of bitter chocolate, vanilla and herbs. This almost tasted like a 'cream soda' beer and was quite refined in taste, even with the candied elements. I appreciate that the booze was dialed back in the flavour (probably due to the barrel aging), but also how it gave thickness and body to the beer. The barrel aging is quite subtle and far less intense than some of the extreme barrel aged stouts from the US. And, as a bonus, this is a great pairing with chocolate.

Very Good+
$10 USD

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Russian River Damnation 23

Damnation 23 is essentially an oak chip aged version of Damnation, made every 23 batches. While oak chips in wine can produce some incredibly disgusting results, in the hands of a deft brewer, oak chips can add a subtlety, complexity and creaminess to a beer that is really quite exceptional. Luckily Russian River brewer Vinnie Cilurzo knows how to make beer and balance all the important elements.

The Damnation 23 smells a lot like a Belgian tripel, but is rounder and fuller on the palate, with an almost lactic quality to the beer. Pouring a moderately browned yellow, this had lots of herbs, citrus, cream and vanilla when tasted. There is really an amazing mouthfeel here, and the lactic qualities introduced by the oak chips give the beer an outstanding ability to pair with smoky BBQ flavour. A great way to make a trippel, and as with all Russian River beers, the carbonation is just about perfect.

Very Good+ to Excellent
$13/22oz at City Beer