Thursday, October 6, 2011

New Glarus - Chocolate Abbey

Not to be made into a liar, my journey through Wisconsin continues with an extended stay in New Glarus.  This review for their Chocolate Abbey may have been inspired as much by my wife as myself.  I am always excited to get my hands on a few flavor of New Glarus, but when my wife saw the word "chocolate" on the label I knew that this review would be written sooner than later.  Besides, let's be honest, how amazing does a Chocolate Abbey beer sound?  I know.  I thought so too.  Let's pour!

Picture is my own.  Label art used without permission for educational purposes.
Aroma 12/12
There is not a lot here to balance out all the sweetness, but with an aroma this good you might not want it.  It starts out with an amazing cocoa powder and banana blend, almost like a bananas Foster without the alcohol.  Amazing!  As the beer settles, a bubble gun aroma overtakes the nose and does not let go until a cream and chocolate pair dance into the scene and steal your attention.  As the beer warms a cherry aroma develops and its origins are a mystery.

Appearance 3/3
What initially appears as a matte brown ale, actually turns out to be a wonderful dark copper when it catches the light.  Ruby highlights abound and are capped by a pale tan head.  The head's retention is excellent but slides down the glass easily and leaves no lacing.

Picture is my own.
Flavor 18/20
This is a much more subtle beer than the aroma would imply.  First in the mouth is a brief cherry like tartness before mellowing into a backbone more true to the Dubbel style.  It is uncertain how cherries came out in the flavor (and aroma) as no cherries are mentioned anywhere on the bottle, but their presence is unmistakable.  The backbone is a muffled, dark cocoa, a balancing amount of earthiness, those mysterious dark cherries, a hop bitter on the back on the tongue, a taste of alcohol (but not the true "warmth"), and Belgian yeasts struggling to be heard in the background.  The finish returns us a bit more to the aroma with a moderately dark chocolate, a slightly sour bite perhaps from our hop friends, and a bitter that combines with the chocolate note to make a lovely coffee bitter several seconds after the beer has left your mouth.  Just let that flavor develop and pay attention to it!  It's very tasty.  You may also catch the revival of the Belgian "bubble gum" aroma on the occasional exhale.  Not much to speak of in the finish, just more of the cocoa and a light hop bitter which leaves the mouth neither dry nor watering.  A slurp reveals the warmth that has remained all but hidden.

Mouthfeel 4/5
The carbonation in this beer is perfect right down to the very end.  It is never out of character and its smooth nature only enhances the drinking experience.  Full bodied and thick, it is never syrupy, but fairly filling for just on 12 oz bottle.  It does remain a bit slick in the mouth.

Overall Impression 9/10
So much of this beer is excellent without being over the top - most notably the chocolate.  It provides an amazing aroma, but truly allows other ingredients to shine throughout the rest of the beer.  In fact, the chocolate was quite modest; it could have stood to stand out a little more.  However, this mature use of ingredients that are often heavily leaned upon by lesser beers is another fine example of the brewers' skills at New Glarus.   Excellently crafted while reigning in some traditional large flavors, this beer is an exercise in discipline.

Total 46/50
This score just goes to show that not just big beers can earn high marks.  Sure, this beer could be bigger!  They could blast us with chocolate and mocha flavors while making the Belgian aroma strong enough to think our noses are septum-deep in a freshly picked bunch of bananas.  The alcohol could be more apparent and strong in presence.  But you know what?  Not all music is a rock concert.  Not everything needs to be played at ear drum shattering levels.  Sometimes some Frank Sinatra is required.  This is a beer that has tamed all of these ingredients and whose nuance has apparently even added mysterious "overtones" in the form of cherries.  I still have no idea how those got there other than a possible combination of sweet yeast flavors, a slight hop sour, and dark chocolate notes.  I swear there are chocolate-covered cherries in this.  This is a technically superior beer that happens to be pretty darn tasty too.  I'd probably choose some of their other Thumbprint series over this one (Hello, Imperial Weizen!), but this is definitely worth trying.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

New Glarus - Cabin Fever

Here is another of the many promised New Glarus reviews!  This particular one is dedicated to their wins at the GABF, particularly the Black Top, which was reviewed at Sud Savant just last week.  This review is for one of their beers that is not new to their lineup, the Cabin Fever Honey Bock.  Granted, it's the beginning of fall and no one has Cabin Fever quite yet (depending on how dank your cubicle is), but with all the fall produce available (homemade honey included) and the trees starting to turn color, the color of a bock appealed to me and so did the honey aspect.  Not just darker beers get enjoyed this time of year, you know!  Let's pour!

Picture is my own.  Label art used without permission for educational purposes.
 Aroma 10/12
First to the nose are strong straw/grain notes with a little musty hint trailing them.  The honey and crisp (not sharp) citrus follow behind them, but soon take over as the primary scent.  The sour of the citrus and the malts combine at time to make an almost peat-like aroma, but it is far and few between.  The pale malts involved were roasted little if at all.

Appearance 2/3
It's like looking into a piece of yellow topaz.  Not a great variety of shades, but a brilliant singular color with a tornado-like column of carbonation ascending the center of my tulip glass.  The head is ivory, ample, and full of medium-sized soapy bubbles.  These die down to leave a cream-like layer covering the top.

Picture is my own.
Flavor 17/20
The beginning is very neat.  The sweetness of pale malts and the tone of the honey combine to make the illusion of an apple flavor.  The malts are first, then comes the citrus and honey and for a moment an apple has suddenly snuck its way into the bottle!  After this neat blend, it flows seamlessly into the backbone of the beer which starts out with the tang of citrus and sweetness of honey, but eventually the pale sweet malts steal the show and do not let go.  The finish is a distinct farewell from the cream-like malts, almost bordering on vanilla flavors, with the faintest of hop bitter for balance.  There are times that when the combination of flavors in this beer are almost floral without being perfume-like or too faint and dainty.

Mouthfeel 5/5
The nuanced, light flavors are matched well with a well-carbonated beer that has more body than one would expect in a beer this light thanks to the abundance of pale malts.  The dying of the carbonation in the mouthfeel, despite the ever-ascending column in the center of my glass, adds a creamy mouthfeel to the already creamy-flavor.

Overall Impression 8/10
Clearly a Helles bock, and not the traditional variety, this beer is bright and vibrant at every turn.  The color shines, the flavor braids the three primary flavors (citrus, honey, malt) into a spring-like medley, and the carbonation is just right.

Total 42/50
If one were suffering from Cabin Fever this beer would do one of two things:
1.  Bring a little bit of sunshine into your life, thus "curing what ails ya."
2.  Make the lack of sunshine in your "cabin" glaringly obvious and further exacerbate the suffering.

Thankfully, it is only the early fall and I did not have to undergo such experimentation.  What I do know is that the honey sings in this beer without feeling like you took a spoonful of it in your glass.  I also know that if I were suffering from cabin fever, I could easily put down 6-7 of these and give myself something to do while trapped indoors.  As it stands, this bright sunny beer was perfect for this beautiful fall day.  I went on a "scenic drive" today and with all the yellowing leaves, bright skies, ripe fall fruits, and fresh honey at local farmers' stands I cannot imagine a more perfect pairing for the day than this bright, vibrant, delicate offering from New Glarus.  I think I'd gladly suffer from this Cabin Fever anytime.  Cheers!

Picture is my own.