Thursday, June 28, 2012

New Belgium - Cocoa Molé

HAPPY 20TH ANNIVERSARY NEW BELGIUM!!  From a struggling Colorado basement brewer, to a "What's a Fat Tire?", to a craft brewing giant (3rd largest in the US) in 26 states; not bad for 20 years work! Of course, today's review will help commemorate their milestone as I crack open a bottle out of their Lips of Faith series - Cocoa Molé.  Having expressed some disappointment with some chile beers in the past, a lot of craft beer friends recommended Cocoa Molé as a solid go-to beer.  I'm always up for a recommendation so I picked it up on a recent trip to the Chicago burbs.  I've been looking forward to it ever since.  Let's pour!

Aroma 11/12
Most of the aroma here is definitely from the roasting of the ancho, guajillo, and chipotle peppers used in its brewing.  It's a smokey, peat-like aroma and dominates the scene early on.  In fact, I initially gave its aroma a rather average score.  Good things come to those who wait.  After warming ever so slightly, the chocolate comes out full force and is almost a new aroma altogether after blending with the roasted peppers and a new cinnamon note.  I never thought chocolate could smell so alien to me!  Very neat.  The blend itself is seemingly fleeting as that on subsequent sniffs, each ingredient is determined to stand out on its own.  I don't say this in a bad way.  It's like a revolving door of different aromas.

Appearance 3/3
Wow, did this pour darker than expected!  It pours a dirty brown into the glass, a calling card from the chocolate malts and, if you've ever cooked with them, probably the ancho chiles.  First glances, make this beer appear very opaque and dark.  Closer inspections reveal a dark burnt mahogany and when held to light, shades of plum!  Yes plum! The purple shades are unmistakable and a complete surprise.  What other secrets does this beer hold?  The head is beige, dense, and offers better than average retention and size.

Flavor 20/20
This is insane!  And by insane, I mean insanely awesome.  There is SO much going on here, but as in the aroma, each item insists on having its moment in the sun.  Normally, I look for a great blend, but with so many unique ingredients, I don't mind the opportunity to soak them all up.  We're first given a heaping ladle-full of nearly bitter cocoa malts along with the slight saltiness from the roasted peppers.  Heading into the backbone of the flavor, the cocoa malts become sweeter with the addition of caramel malts and a dash of cinnamon.  Next the peppers come forward in a cloud of sweet smoke, roasted flavors, and some chile heat (yes!).  If you hold the beer in the mouth, the roast begins to blend very interestingly with the sweetness and later on the spices start to blend with the chiles' heat.  Lots of cool stuff going on here!  The finish, as expected, adds a flash of heat to the back of the throat and leaves it to tingle on the tongue.  It also shows a strong cinnamon that (and this is important) does not dominate the entire damn beer.  The aftertaste is a lingering warmth in the mouth and a dull sweetness.  I am so impressed with this beer!

Mouthfeel 5/5
This beer feels solid in the mouth without being downright heavy.  Its sturdy mouthfeel undoubtedly given by the loads of sweet malts involved in its manufacture.  The carbonation is dead on: not absent, not too much for a bigger beer, just enough to keep it from being thick though it has virtually no foaming when in the mouth.  It keeps this big, sweet, and spicy beer drinkable, despite that "big, sweet, and spicy" often fight against that characteristic.  The bottle reads 9% ABV, but I never saw a trace of it through the other flavors.

Brownie points for cool "Dia de los Muertos" style bottle art.

Overall Impression 10/10
Loved it.  This beer did so much right!  The aroma foreshadows the beer to come, the appearance has a few surprises, and the mouthfeel is just right.  The flavor... oh man, the flavor.  While it may not be unique ingredients among beers that try to harness that Aztec-based "xocoatl," it certainly seems to be the first that has done it right.

Total 49/50
Cocoa Molé has eradicated so many of my pet peeves involving beers of this style!  First off, most beers that use cinnamon (winter warmers, pumpkin beers, this "cocoa/Hispanic" style) completely overuse the cinnamon.  If I wanted that much cinnamon, I'd buy a box of Red Hots candy.  I don't know why this is so prevalent in craft beer.  If your Grandma made an apple pie and all you could taste was cinnamon, I don't care how good a cook your Grandma is, you wouldn't eat it.  This beer hides the cinnamon brilliantly behind the roasted flavors and the heat.  Well done!  Second... A CHILE BEER IN WHICH I CAN ACTUALLY TASTE THE CHILES!!!!!  It seems that all chile beers shy away from the fact that there are chile peppers in their beer.  They advertise it well enough for those adventurous to try it, but those brave souls are often left wanting when the beer contains virtually no detectable heat!  Does this seem counter-intuitive to anyone else?

Thankfully, New Belgium has shown the way with how chile beers should be brewed.  It uses the cinnamon wisely and sparingly, while allowing the chiles to do what they do best - be flavorful and amazing.  When I was prepping to do a beer review today, I was in a bad mood.  I didn't know if I'd be able to give a beer a fair shake.  This beer absolutely turned that around!  Beer Advocate indicates that this is a "limited (brewed once)" beer.  I certainly hope not.  It is one of the best chile beers I have had to date and I would buy it on a regular basis.  Kudos to New Belgium and their MANY more anniversaries!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Green Flash - Palate Wrecker

When you see a beer emblazoned with such an appellation, it really demands that you pick it up.  I mean, c'mon... Palate Wrecker?  It jabs your curiosity with a red hot poker and challenges you at the same time.  I know exactly what this beer is made to do and when you're in the mood for that hoppy, bitter, sticky goodness, nothing else will do.  There's no IBUs listed on the label, but it states a 9.5% ABV.  Good, I never really liked my liver anyway.  I'm ready to crack this open, I just hope it doesn't crack back.  Let's pour!

Aroma 11/12
Starting off, this beer leaves no hop scent unturned.  It begins with a strong grassy smell, adds resin, grapefruit, pine, and dabbles with some oranges.  The malts come through as hay-like with a touch of mustiness, but also offer a distant bit of brown sugar which has to shout to be heard through the citrusy hops.  Once the beer settles a bit, the hops fall into a pine & citrus partnership, with a bit of herbal tickle that keeps us mindful of the hop plant's relations in the Hemp family (cannabaceae, pronounced can-uh-BAY-shee-ay).  The citrus comes across as so sweet and fragrant that it borders of floral.  Very nice.

Appearance 3/3
As expected this beer showed great head, lacing, and retention.  The sticky head was a slightly yellowed ivory color and covered the surface well after the pour.  The color is more copper and amber than I expected.  Well, I guess most IPAs are copper and/or amber, but this appears more red when just sitting in the glass.

Flavor 17/20
I was about to take the first sip of this beer and I began to wonder as I raised the glass to my mouth, "Will this be a really sweet opening to this beer to balance the malt or just rush right in with bitter?"  Answer:  It SLAMMED me with bitter.  I take that back, there's a light sugary citrus note that floats for just a moment before being comically crushed with an anvil.  Despite this barely exaggerated description, there really is more to this beer but you've gotta pay pretty close attention to find it behind the "These-go-to-eleven" level of hops.  After the bitter explosion, if you hold the beer in the mouth, you'll get quite an intense resin flavor mixed with a pseudo-balancing citrus sweetness, honey, and some sugary, caramel malts.  Not only does holding the beer in the mouth help find these flavors, but so does acclimating your palate to the bitterness.  Halfway through the bottle, these flavors become much easier to detect.  Good heavens is this beer bitter!  The finish is, you guessed it, ridiculously bitter.  However, a quicker swig lets the caramel malts help fend off most of the bitterness.  The beer is sticky in the back of the throat and makes saliva difficult to swallow.

Mouthfeel 4/5
Adequate carbonation in the beginning, but toward the end of the bottle the carbonation has abandoned ship which does not help to finish off this monster beer.  The alcohol warmth is invisible behind the hops and the body is just as heavy as the sticky head and remnants in the back of the throat would have you believe.  Normally, I'd say the minimal level of carbonation is perfect, but in a beer this strong and heavy I could really use a few extra bubbles.  There is nothing small about the mouthfeel of this beer.

Overall Impression 8/10
For what it is, it's a kick ass beer.  No really.  It might just kick your ass.  Large aroma, gargantuan flavors, and a car crushing mouthfeel all make this not a beer to be taken lightly.  True to it's name, it is a palate wrecker.  Those looking for balance or nuance look elsewhere.  You'll not find it here.  If you've got a hankering for hops... this. is. it.  

Total 43/50
Well, I was looking for hops when I bought this and boy did I find them.  This beer absolutely walloped me in the mouth and did not apologize afterwards.  It then kicked my cat and pinched a baby.  I'm not sure where it got the baby because I don't even have kids.  Palate Wrecker is an insanely accurate name and description for this beer.  This is both good and bad.  It's good because it doesn't leave you wondering if the brewer meant to make a more nuanced, balanced DIPA/IIPA.  He/she did not.  They made this beer to destroy you.  It's bad because FAR more often than not, I want to drink a beer with balance.  This beer sacrifices drinkability, balance, nuance, and complexity all in the name of what your tongue can endure.

This is not a beer I could drink every day.  It is, without question, a special occasion beer.  It's the beer you keep on hand to see how many IBUs your craft beer buddies can take or when you're REALLY in the mood for something hoppy.  However, it never claims to be anything but.  It says Palate Wrecker right on the friggin' label.  What did you think you were getting?  Due to its honesty and implying the brewers' intentions, I cannot rate it lower.  This beer is exactly what it wants to be.  No apologies.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Bent River - Jalepeño Ale

Well, the time has finally come. If you’ve been reading for a while, you know that I compare virtually every beer that involves chipotles, chiles, jalepeños to the beer that I’m going to review today: Bent River’s Jalepeño Ale. It’s a local craft brewery so you won’t find this particular brew on your grocery store shelves (even though their new expanded facility does include a bottling line), unless you’re a Quad Cities native and have a few months to wait. Some of us are just lucky bastards who can go straight to the brewery and don’t have to wait at all. Speaking of which… Let’s pour!

Aroma 11/12
The vegetable scent of the jalepeños is intense! The peppers are not a supporting character in this beer; they absolutely steal the show and run away with it. A rich breadiness is behind it as is a kind of salty, mysterious sweetness – at least there's some sort of sweetness in there to balance all those jalepeño flavors. The chile heat is also there, even if it is the most faint of the aromas. There’s no extract here, this has got to be the work of real peppers. Very unique. Very intense. Kinda scary!

Appearance 2/3
There’s no real head to speak of, but I’m coming to expect this more and more from pubs that serve draft beer. The color is a mix of pumpkin oranges, ochres, and bright copper pennies. It looks about how I would expect this beer due to look based on past experiences with the style.

Ketchup and mustard bottles for color comparison.

Flavor 18/20
Oh man, is this stronger than I remember! This is a seriously more potent batch. It starts out by introducing itself with a salty, spicy shout with plenty of neutral 2 row malts behind it. This is my guess. I don’t know the actual grain bill, but it would seem to be confirmed by the thick body that these flavors ride in on. Next the vegetable flavor of the pepper fades in as does a lot of heat. I mean a lot. Well, at least for a gringo like me. This is definitely not a “Oh maybe if you search for it, you might find a slight tingle behind the cinnamon and caramel and whatever other spices we added in here to make this beer seem well-themed.” This is a “Oh shit, who put something in my beer!” type heat. If you wouldn’t put Tobasco on your eggs, you might not enjoy this. In its defense, I don’t always remember it being this way (see the “Total” section below for a full explanation). As you hold the beer in the mouth, the chile heat fades a bit and the neutral malts really stand out. It’s joined by a light bitter, which goes well with the previously described malt. The whole time I’ve been drinking this, I’ve been trying to put a finger on the sweetness that this beer has. Normally one would suspect the malts, but given their “plain” flavor one eliminate them fairly quickly. The sweetness is the natural sweetness from the pepper! Just like a fresh green pepper can be sweet when eat raw (or roasted!), these jalepeños have that same clean, sweetness and they add their very incognito sweetness to the brew. The finish remains bitter with neutral malts, as well as a heat that needles the back of your throat. The aftertaste is only the heat of chiles, just like the parting shots of a meal at a Hispanic restaurant that maybe included few too many dashes of hot sauce.

Mouthfeel 4/5
The presumed 2-row malts give this beer a nice heavy body and a really nice, moderately-sized foaming action in the mouth to keep things from feeling too sluggish. Obviously, the heat from the chiles comes into play more than a little bit. Not much else to say here.

Pic from:
Overall Impression 8/10
This is really an enjoyable beer if you’re in the mood for something spicy and extremely unique. I’ve never had another beer like it. The roasted chile notes permeate every aspect of this beer and their authenticity is amazing. Finally, a pepper beer that doesn’t try to cover up or shy away from the peppers! The body is sturdy, but not burdensome thanks to some good foaming action. The beer itself might be improved by a more balancing sweetness, perhaps lended by an increase of crystal malts to the grain bill (or anything with a bit of light caramel for that matter).

Total 43/50
As I mentioned earlier in this review, this brew is a LOT more potent that I remember. Previously, it was not quite so outspoken about its spiciness, though it was still far from shy about it. It seems to me that it used to have more a balancing sweetness that not only rounded out the beer, but added more complexity to it as well. While this beer isn’t a one-trick pony, both its featured characteristics, the authentic pepper notes and the heat, come courtesy of the jalepeños. Those mild criticisms aside this is a great beer to pace oneself with. Its body and heat both almost insist that you sip it. When all is said and done, finishing this beer is almost like finishing a spicy meal. It was tasty, there was a little bit of spicy pain (“It hurts good,” my mother would say), and you really enjoyed it, but there is a slight sense of relief when the pint is finished. Needless to say, I highly recommend it. Cheers Bent River! You keep brewin’ it and I’ll keep drinking ‘em.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Beer Filled Weekend

This tale of ale begins because my wife was made a Matron of Honor at her best friend's wedding and so we sallied forth to Chicago for the weekend. Most things happened at the Drake (um, WOW!), but as my wife had any number of responsibilities to attend to, this left me with quite a bit of free time in between scheduled activities. Needless to say, I got my Chi-town drink on.

Thursday: To be honest the weekend seemed to give me a preview of things to come when I received my Maker's Mark "newborn" notification. I became a Maker's Mark Ambassador back in October of 2011. This is simply a neat program they have where you can learn quite a bit about the Maker's Mark process, get some cool promotional items, your name on a barrel of whiskey, AND purchasing rights to said barrel. Well, more than half a year later, I finally received notice that my name is on a barrel and aging as we speak. You also get rights to purchase your barrel plate with your name on it. To check out more about the program (or to sign up) you can go here.

They even throw in business cards!
Friday: We headed to Chicago.  One of the first things that needed to be done was to take the wife and the bride to get their nails done (technically, they were "Mani pedis," but I can never bring myself to say, or even type, the phrase "Mani pedi" without feeling like a complete idiot.  I was informed that this would take an hour and a half, so on the recommendation of a good friend (@vmoon54) I left in search of The Pour House.  This was a really nice, big place.  If you have a Granite City by you, the interior is decorated sort of like that.  There's lots of dark wood, exposed limestone, stainless steel, etc.  It's very modern and clean.  There are also TV's covering virtually every square inch of wall.  They were all Panasonic and one was easily the largest TV I've ever seen that wasn't a projector or lots of smaller screens piece together to make on big screen.  Oh, and then there was the beer.  I counted 72 (6 bunches of 12) taps close to me, then there was a break, and then there were another 72 taps.  I don't know if they were duplicates, but I can only assume some were different since they advertise 90 taps.  I had the good fortune to wander downstairs to the restroom while the door to the cooler room was open.  The cooler room is about 9 feet wide and seemed about 50 yards long, all filled with kegs, lines, and pumps.  Since I don't generally bring my camera with me to the rest room I was unable to take a pic of this.  While there, I tasted a Jolly Pumpkin ES Bam (WOW!), a Lexington Brewing Co Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale (like a boozy creme brulee!), and my very first Sixpoint Resin!  Let me say that it's reputation is well earned.  Oh, and Old Town Pour House also gets bonus points for showing Euro Cup soccer matches.  Not that I'm a big soccer fan, but there were a ton of England fans there drinking, cheering, and making for a great atmosphere.  I couldn't help but get into the game! The rest of the night was an open bar at the rehearsal dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant call Le Colonial. While their food was ridiculously tasty, their beer selection was subpar (Amstel, Stella, Heinekin, something else, and thankfully Sierra Nevada) so I mostly stuck to rye and whiskey the rest of the night.

Look at that monstrous TV!
Saturday: The day of the wedding. My wife was needed first thing in the morning so I had a bunch of time to kill. The first thing I did was show up at the Map Room. It's just a little corner place that seemed like it could barely contain the reputation it has. Funny story about how I came to choose this location. About a week or two ago, I posted on Facebook if anybody had any Two Brothers - Hop Juice Black for sale or trade. I was unable to attend their Hop Juice Festival this year, but still had a yankerin' for that once-a-year, festival released brew. I get an email from a good friend saying he saw some on Craigslist Chicago. Long story short, I bought 4 bottles of Hop Juice Black from a guy off of Craigslist AT COST. If there are any BeerAdvocate folks out there, you can do a trade with "dlello2" with no problems. He couldn't stay long, but we shot the bull a little bit and I continued to drink beers that I normally do not have access to, namely: Stiegl Goldbraü, Ommegang Abbey Ale, and Unibroue Maudite. Well, we have access to some of these beers, but only via bottle. Also, because I see these bottles all the time (with the exception of the Stiegl), it's harder to make that purchase. When I get bottles, I want to try something new or that I might not be able to get again - to jump on those opportunities. In any case, it had a pretty casual vibe with great beer at good prices. They even have pint glasses full of pretzel rods at each table. Nice touch. My only complaint is with the bartender that day. He recommended to me the Ommegang "double." I asked what it was called since I didn't know Ommegang had a beer called a "double." He looks at me and shrugs, "Just double." Clearly, that is not accurate. If you don't know, that's OK, but please say so. Also when a customer at the bar (I was eavesdropping from one of the tables) asked what dry-hopping was, he gave the long answer of someone who doesn't know but is doing their best to BS it. His answer revolved around an analogy between fresh herbs and dry herbs vs. fresh hops and dried hops. This, of course, is completely false. Maybe he was new, but Map Room still needs to make sure their people know their stuff. Even on a Saturday around noon. In his defense, he was very nice and even offered me a few unusual coasters they had lying around.
Stolen from

Sweet, sweet, Hop Juice Black.

While I was sitting in the Map Room, I happened to get a message from the Twitterverse saying that I should come to the Haymarket Brew Pub.  My first experience with Haymarket was at the 2011 Midwest Brewers Fest in Plainfield, IL.  They rocked my socks off at that time, so I figured this was as good of an excuse as any to venture over there.  I picked up some friends en route and we got ready to sip some brews.  We had gotten our first drink when I finally met @ChicagoCousin from the Twitterverse.  His name is Gary and not only was Gary a pretty cool guy, he's also enough of a regular that he proceeds to give me a full tour of the place!  I even got to meet Brewer Pete Crowley.  Very cool!  We had to leave all too soon, but I bought a hat, had some brews, and know that I'll be back there again.  Thanks Gary!

Sort of a back room area.  To get to this separate room, you must pass
through a corridor which shows off all their brewing equipment and tanks.

Sunday:  Fortunately, that is not the end of my weekend of craft beer related fun. When I arrive home Sunday afternoon, inside I find a monster 26.4 lb package that has been awaiting my arrival home since Friday. This is the first half of a tremendous beer trade from trading buddy Eric. I'll just let the picture do the talking.

L to R: Baudelaire Beer, E.S. Bam, Bam Biere, Weizen Bam,
Fuego del Otoño, Calabaza Blanca, Maracaibo Especial, &
Madrugada Obscura
That's right, there's 8, count 'em, 8 bottles of Jolly Pumpkin for my drinking enjoyment! This is an enormous haul for me, especially since I have absolutely none of this in my area. Needless to say, I'll have to find a way to make it worth his while. This is kick ass!

Note: After I was packing up all these beer post-photo, I discovered an ADDITIONAL beer tucked away amongst all the bubble wrap and packing peanuts!  I've been wanted to try this and  will be reviewing it very soon.

In Chicago & its surrounding burbs, there is a huge beer scene waiting to be discovered, place by place.  Don't pass that up!  Especially if you live there!  You never know what new cool thing lurks through the next doorway: unusual taps, cool bartenders, raucous customers, knowledgable acquaintances, different ambiances, and  maybe even some new friends.  There's still lots of places I need to see (Finch's, Publican, Metropolitan, Hopleaf, Rock Bottom, Wild Onion, etc), but this was a darn good start.  My kind of town....

Thursday, June 14, 2012

New Holland - White Hatter

Here's another installment from New Holland Brewing's "Hatter" series.  It seems like just about every type of Hatter imagineable has come forth: Imperial Hatter, Regular Hatter, Rye Hatter, Farm House Hatter, Black Hatter, White Hatter, Oak Aged Hatter, and even a Hatterday (see what they did there?) tour at the brewery (actually scheduled for this upcoming Sautrday, June 16, 2012).  It seems like an awful lot of their eggs are in this one basket.  I am a little confused on the plethora of styles present here, but I've never held a little creativity against a brewer and I'm not about to start now.  Let's pour! 

Unfortunately, I was at a local pub and was unable to
take my usual round of photos.  Sorry!

Aroma 9/12
The fresh hop cones are very forward and are rich with spice, pine, resin, and a lesser bitter grapefruit.  For a beer that also claims to be also a pale ale AND a Belgian white, I’m getting very little none of either of those styles.  At this point, I’d have guessed that I’m smelling an IPA.  The malts are non-existant and what little sweetness I can detect could just as easily be from the hops’ citrus.  Does any of this make this a bad smelling beer?  No, just underwhelming given its claimed style.  The beer has to warm quite a bit before the Belgian yeast becomes detectable at all.

Appearance 1/3
This is utterly indiscernible from an adjunct lager except that the macrobrews have a better head. Granted, this is on tap, but I still expect a little something.  The color is a light, golden yellow with extremely high clarity (if you can read reversed text, you could read looking through this glass).  To be honest, it looks more like cider than ale.

Flavor 15/20
Thank goodness the flavor is interesting!  Frankly, that’s the way I prefer it (hence the weighted scoring of this category).  The beer begins by with a little bit of Belgian yeast sweetness and really nice dry, crackery malts.  There also appears appear to be a scuffle amongst all the spices present (peppery hops, cloves) in which no one is a winner and the effect is a jumble in the mouth.  It doesn’t take long before adding an undeniable lemon zest citrus and foaming up in the mouth very pleasantly.  The citrus flavor along with a substantial mouthfeel would have me believe that the wheat percentage of this malt bill is fairly high.  The finish drops out the citrus (and all other sweetness) all together and shows a reprise of the dry, crackery malts.  It also adds a nice bitter, which is complimentary and never threatens to overthrow the malt flavors.  Though in the aftertaste, all that lingers is that same bitter, made all the more intense by the fact that it’s unaccompanied.  As a pale ale, this is a decent, citrusy version of the style.  As a Belgian, it’s virtually non-existent; even more so than in the aroma.  At least in the aroma, it had the decency to show up as the beer warmed up.  In the flavor, it is all but completely AWOL.

Mouthfeel 5/5
The carbonation is a high point of this beer!  It’s crispness really compliments that of the malts and its moderate foaming action in the mouth never contradicts the beer by feeling thick & silky or way too light & mousse-like.  The body feels very full, undoubtedly a contribution of all those dry malts.  No detectable warmth or flaws.

Overall Impression 6/10
This is the story of a better than average beer made less by under-delivering on a promising sounding style.  Had the sweetness from the “Belgian white” come through to sweeten the pale ale portion of the brew, you’d have yourself a interesting combination and probably some great aromas.  Instead, it stands as a pretty decent pale ale with a twist (Get it?  Like a twist of lemon?  Get it… oh nevermind).  However, the mouthfeel is awesome for the pale ale style and the carbonation is spot on.

Total 36/50
I think the “Overall Impression” section says it all. If you drink this for a combination of styles, I think you’ll be disappointed. If you drink this as a pale ale, you’ll probably dig it. The malts are everything they should be for a pale ale: lightly bitter, dry, and crisp. The hops are nicely aromatic, but contribute little other than citrus and spice to the flavor. This is a beer that should’ve been better than the sum of its parts… and the sum of its styles.

Warning: Colors in advertisement's glass may be darker than they appear.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Ommegang - Gnomegang

"Little" did I know that Gnome Week was from Jun 6-9, 2012!  Here is a small press release that explains it better that I can.

Brassiere d’Achouffe Gnome Week Celebrates 6,666 Years of Enchanted Brewing
Be Part of the Magic, All Across the USA, June 6-9, 2012.
A larger and clearer picture can be found here.
(COOPERSTOWN)  Belgian brewery Brassiere d’Achouffe is going tastefully small while celebrating the 6666th anniversary of gnome-style brewing during Gnome Week. The celebration kicks off 6/6 and continues through 6/9 The four-day event features a release of Chouffe ‘Biere de Soleil’ as well as the return of Brewery Ommegang‘s ‘Gnomegang’ collaboration ale. On the final day of the event ‘the world’s smallest toast’ will take place with tiny Chouffe mugs and fittingly tiny coasters at 6:66pm, at 190 participating locations across the nation.

The myth and magic behind Chouffe is that it began 6,666 years ago (the postal code in Houffalize, home of Brasserie d’Achouffe is 6666). While Chouffe opened as a brewery only 30 years ago, it was 6,666 years ago that ancient gnome ancestors discovered the magical Chouffe brewing water. The present-day gnomes passed the source of the water and the Chouffe recipe on to Pierre Gobron and Christian Brauweraerts in 1982, and pledged them to keep the Chouffe tradition alive.

Gnome Week is being celebrated in a variety of ways including 190 in-bar promotions, an interactive Facebook page, and the World’s Smallest Toast. The Facebook page includes a schedule of events, a countdown to the World’s Smallest Toast, links to participating venues, an amusing Gnome-Thyself photo app, a Twitter feed, and beer descriptions with beer locator.

To commemorate the week is an iPhone and Droid application called: Chouffe Little Gnome. When each of the Gnome Week coasters is scanned by a smart phone, they immediately spring to life in full animation. The app is available for download at the Apple App Store or Google Play store searching “Chouffe”. For a demonstration of this engaging technology, download the app and scan the coaster images.

(Taken from:  | Beer Nut

Since I have such a high respect for d'Achouffe, I wasn't about to let this anniversary go past unmarked!  I quickly dug up my only remaining bottle depicting a gnome and threw it in the fridge.  That bottle is collaboration between Brewery Ommegang and Brassiere d'Achouffe is a wonderfully punny brew named "Gnomegang."  Now, Gnomegang was originally in production in early 2011 and hasn't been seen since.  As you read above it's finally BACK in production (though again likely to be a limited edition), but the bottle I'll be reviewing today is from the original release in 2011 (thereby aged just over one year).  Let's pour!

Hell yeah, cork & cage!

Aroma 12/12
Good gracious!  This is fantastic!  The smells come in waves after the beer is first poured.  First is a thick malt, but it is hard to get a grasp on because it is quickly overcome by a very floral Belgian yeast.  Oh, what a treat!  Just when you're getting used to that the smell of candied cloves arrives!  I don't even know if it's possible to candy a clove, but if it is I'm sure that this is what it would smell like:  sugary, cloves, and hints of vanilla.  This just keeps getting better and better.  The malts then become more detectable and they are a bready, dense, caramel-drizzled lot.  As the beer warms, the 9.5% ABV can be picked out at times as can hints of honey.  If there's anything else you'd want in a Belgian-style golden ale, I certainly can't think of it.

Appearance 3/3
The head is a pure white generous two fingers of fluffy, light, and tightly packed bubbles that seem to dance when the glass is jostled.  The brew itself is a wonderful, bright golden (imagine that) hue that is only slightly hazy.  This is an unfiltered beer and there's a bunch of sediment at the bottom of the bottle, but only a few crumbs sneak into my tasting glass and settle on its bottom.  The light this beer lets in truly help it to shine and show off a variety of light and dark gold alloy colors.

Flavor 20/20
This is lighter than the aroma would have us believe, but still a ridiculously good beer.  It begins with a wash of Belgian yeast flavors, which are quickly joined by a caramel.  The caramel then begins to turn dark and blend in a very complimentary way with an alcohol warmth.  Things then become a bit spicy as the cloves come forward ever so slightly, but the spiciness is truly limited because a strong fruitiness take center stage.  This lighter fruit is definitely the featured flavor and is akin to apples, honey, and a lighter floral note.  These more delicate flavors are much easier to detect when held in the mouth.  On a quick swig, the stronger Belgian yeast and cloves tend to take over.  I strongly recommend letting the lighter flavors do their thing.  You will not be disappointed.  The finish is a resurgance of the beefier flavors and they intend to remind you that this is not a light, sissy beer.  It's full of strong cloves, a much more detectable warmth, distinct Belgian yeast banana goodness, and even a left jab of balancing hops.  What an impressive beer!  The aftertaste is mostly a boozy bitterness that quickly leaves the mouth dry.

Mouthfeel 5/5
Considering this brew has a 9.5% ABV the warmth is largely undetectable unless the brewers want you to detect it.  This is a nice feat when brewers do this and especially when they allow that warmth to blend well with other flavors.  The beer itself is very full-bodied, but never heavy thanks to the abundant carbonation and its large foaming action.  Even though the carbonation is very full, it never becomes prickly or intrusive.  Great job!

Overall Impression 9/10
This beer sets itself apart from the lighter Belgian varieties by utilizing a nice alcohol warmth (especially as the beer itself warms) and an aggressive clove.  It tastes like a much larger, stronger version of the style. However, there is more than meets the eye.  The beer hides away its lighter flavors to those who would bother to search for them.  Top marks in aroma, head, and mouthfeel.

Total 49/50
While I certainly appreciate the complexity of flavor of this brew and it's seeming ability to please all comers by offering an aggressive side when quickly gulped, and a more nuanced side when held in the mouth, it did was not a "wow" moment when I first drank it.  I think that's the only thing holding it back from an otherwise perfect rating.  This beer has it all, big body, huge/gorgeous aroma, pleasing mouthfeel, complex flavors, and all the brewing prowess of two amazing breweries.  Is there anything that I can name that is bad about this beer?  Not really.  The cloves and alcohol tend to be more aggressive if the beer warms too much, but as the recommended temperature for consumption  on the label is 40F/5C, I certainly can't fault them for that.  I suppose if anything, I'd want the stronger flavors to be the banana-y Belgian yeast and the floral notes from the golden ale.  I know that this is a variety of Belgian strong, but must "strong" always equal distinct alcohol?  Why can't the other flavors be the strong ones?  In any case, thank your lucky stars that they're producing this again.  Don't screw it up this time!  Buy a bottle or two.  You won't regret it.  What a great beer!  Happy Gnome week everybody!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Surly - Furious

Red has long been the color that signifies anger.  We see it when raging, bulls charge at it, and that little button that always threatens global nuclear war seems to fancy it as well.  It only follows that I could only take so much of this red can glaring at me like the eye of Sauron every time I opened the beer fridge.  "Too long has it watched me.  Too long has it haunted my midnight snacks." (I'm pretty sure that's a direct quote from Tolkien)  While I'm ready to finally sample this brew, I may have second thoughts if I have to throw the One Ring Tab into Mount Doom in order to finish it.  OK, enough Lord of the Rings references.  Let's pour!

I'll never get tired of juxtaposing cans next
to big, fancy tasting glasses.
Aroma 11/12
This smells like a big, damn IPA.  Pine and resin are front and center, ready to take on all comers and they brought back up.  Citrus fruits are abundant and one can easily find grapefruit, lemon zest, and pineapple without searching too hard.  Put those fruits together and you've got one acidic combination.  Alongside the citrus are the malts that smell like dark caramel candies that have just begun to crystallize.  They provide the semblance of balance, but this is a true hop-leaning IPA.

Appearance 3/3
It doesn't pour especially thick, but everything else in its appearance says that it is.  The head is stiff and barely moves when first poured, the bubbles slog around the glass slowly when swirled, and there's a pretty nice amount of lacing.  This looks a big beer.  The color is phenomenal!  I can't even call it copper; it truly is a red beer.  Though there are shades of copper in it along with magenta, ruby glints, and bright sunset oranges.  Wow!

Flavor 17/20
After the first two categories, this beer has raised its expectations exponentially and, for the most part, meets them.  First to the tongue are the malts.  They're somewhat brown sugary sweet, show caramel, and have a nice authentic grain flavor to them, but they fall short of the dark, rich, sugary notes detected in the aroma.  Things then lighten a bit and become a distinct, delicate citrus.  This citrus is not what one would expect given the plethora of hop aromas, but it does blend extremely well with the malt's more sugary notes and the resinous bitter that has taken shape.  If this brew sits in the mouth long enough, it turns almost entirely bitter and it's not hard to believe the label's 99 IBUs.  Slurping really lets the spicier notes of the hops come forward.  The finish is another example of the hops present in this beer!  They're a deep, inky bitterness that quickly vanquishes any of the prior flavors and lingers to prevent any hope of a clean finish.

Note: This particular beer was canned on 12/13/11

Mouthfeel 5/5
This is a monstrous, full-bodied IPA.  All the malts make this beer a giant, but without feeling syrupy.  It has the carbonation to thank for that.  The bubbles are so diminutive, but span the border between acting as "normal" carbonation and lending the beer a creamy texture as it foams ever so slightly.  At 6.2% ABV, there is no noticeable warmth, but on a good, deep slurp you may sense some among the spicy hops.

Overall Impression 7/10
A great first impression likely ruined by deteriorated hops.  The aroma is huge, the appearance spectacular, and the mouthfeel is spot on.  The flavor is wondrously malty, but the depth of hop flavors is lacking at this point.  Not to say that they are absent, but they're not what I caught in the aroma: pineapples, grapefruits, pine, resin, and lemon.  I would be very interested in reviewing a fresher sample.  The fact that this beer scores this highly even under the suspicion of hop deterioration speaks very highly of it.  A fresh can could yield even higher marks.

Total 43/50
Dammit, even though I kept this can in ideal conditions I feel that may have spoiled a great drinking experience by trying to hold on to this beer.  This is the second review in a row where this has happened (although the first one may have already been older as it was from a trade), and it really motivates me to get cracking on all my hoppy beers!  Long story short, this is a great beer as is, but I can only imagine it fresh.  If it has all the hop flavors that I think it might, this beer is an out of the park home run.  Looks like I'll be visiting those relatives in Minnesota sooner than I thought.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

21st Amendment - Brew Free! Or Die

Today marks the official 68th anniversary of the D-Day invasion on the beaches and fields of Normandy, France.  I know I just got off my soapbox from Memorial Day, but there is no way we can possibly honor too highly the memory and deeds of these soldiers.  In short, watch the first 30 minutes of Saving Private Ryan and you should be able to accurately visualize about 30% of the horror these men endured and eventually conquered.  Ken Burn series "The War" (episode 4) is also a great perspective on this historic day.  What other beer could I possibly drink besides 21st Amendment's Brew Free! or Die IPA.  I've never had it before, but based on my other 21A experiences, I don't plan on being disappointed.  Let's pour!

But before we do, check out this kick ass can art!  It's awesome enough to come in a can, but to wrap the can in this great artwork is just one other way that 21A is setting the bar higher.  For those that aren't familiar with Abraham Lincoln's exploit smashing through mountains, you'll be extra surprised when you see him killing scores of vampires.

Washington looking
Honest Abe smashing
through a friggin'
Teddy looking thrilled.  I
always liked him best.

Aroma 10/12
It seems like it has been a while since an IPA entreated me with a nice, distinct pine aroma so this brew is a refreshing change of pace.  Behind the pine is a light herbal note and an even fainter sharp citrus.  The beer smells thick and balances the hops extremely well with a rich, bready malt.  This is no sweet bread, but a thick slice of homemade wheat bread.  Extra points for the balance even if the citrus malts do get a bit stronger as the beer warms.

Appearance 3/3
It shows a great head size, fair retention, and little lacing.  The head was a nice ivory color that threatens to take up a hue or two from the orange beer beneath it.  The color is a cheerful shade of fresh spaghetti squash that enjoys being made brighter by the beer's high clarity.  It's a blend of gold and copper and takes for its own the luminosity of both these metals.

Flavor 14/20
Boy, was I right on the mark before about the malts not being sweet!  The first sips are dry, crackery, bready malts with a fair amount of hop bitterness.  To those expecting something a bit sweeter, this may come off as bland, but rest assured those malts are in there not only giving some flavors but also adding to the big body of this beer.  By holding the beer in the mouth, one finds a continuation of the initial flavors but with more grain flavors and an ever-so-faint citrus.  Extremely faint tropical fruits are detectable on an exhale, but even a wine taster's slurp yields very little additional flavor.  The finish shows more pale malts, but little else.  Oddly, some additional flavors come to light in the aftertaste when on the occasional exhale one can nice whiff of a dried tropical fruit; it also has a lingering bitter.  For an IPA, this really is lacking in hop flavor.  In full disclosure, it was canned on 1/05/2012, so I'd love to try this fresh and be completely wrong about it.

Mouthfeel 5/5
All the aforementioned malts give this beer a full-bodied, rolling feeling in the mouth, and with the perfect amount of "barely there" carbonation I can see myself drinking this beer even on the hottest of days. I'm not sure I'd call it 70 IBUs, but then again hop deterioration might just be to blame.  The 7% ABV is also completely undetectable.

Overall Impression 7/10
There is a lot going for this beer: a pleasant aroma, great mouthfeel and body, and a bright color.  However, the flavor seemed to fall flat.  All that remained was really a bitter note that went with the bready malt; I found none of the great hop flavors!  Overall it tasted like a milquetoast version of a pale ale, but with a heavier body and none of a pale ale's great crispness.  Does 5 months kill almost all hop flavor?  Apparently so in this brew, though I have sampled others that were not this effected.  I wonder what makes the difference.

Total 39/50
I fear that I may have underscored this beer based on a less than fresh can (5 months old), but I can only score what I have in front of me.  I'd love to try this again fresh, but until then I'm afraid this review remains.  This is not a sweet IPA.  In fact, it's not much of an IPA at all.  I take that back, it has the body and mouthfeel, and even meets us halfway in the aroma, but as far as taste... this comes off as rather bland.  The malts are good, even if they don't lean toward a sweeter flavor.  That's fine.  IPAs are varied and don't have to have a sweet malt present for balance.  However, when the hops are absent in an IPA, then we have problems.  The only thing this beer took from the hops was a "good" aroma and some bitter.  Other than that, the flavors and aromas, which should be strong and forward, are not even meek, they're nonexistant.  This was a disappointment after having 21A's Bitter American (which I would gladly buy a case of), but I look forward to trying this beer again when fresh.  Until then try a different IPA... and remember our veterans.