Sunday, December 30, 2012

Flossmoor Station - 15th Anniversary

Well gang, in the last week I celebrated yet another birthday.  Besides recounting all the blessings and accomplishments of the past year, it's also a great excuse to drink whatever the hell I want.  Today, that translates into someone else that celebrated a birthday, too.  Today's review is for Flossmoor Station's 15th Anniversary Abbey style Tripel Ale.  Flossmoor's 15th anniversary has long since past as I've been holding onto this bottle for quite some time, but today seems as good a day as any to open it.  Besides, it's my birthday.  For those unfamiliar with Flossmoor Station, they're a local brewer located in (you'll never guess) Flossmoor, IL and have had some past success at events you may have heard of like GABF and those listed here.

The bottle specifically lists the brewery's 15th anniversary as July 8th, 2011.  Looks like I've been cellaring this longer than I intended.  The bottle also tells us that this brew tips the Toledos at 15.0% ABV, utilizes magnum and crystal hops, and pilsner, carapils, & demarara sugar malts.  Also, in my neck of the woods one will hardly ever see smaller breweries using nice wax-dipped bottles, which is always a nice touch.  Let's pour!

Aroma 12/12
It's the first sentence and there's already SO much going on in this beer.  The nose begins with lots of fruity aromas like apples, green grapes, honey, and a subdued Belgian yeast.  As it warms, the Belgian notes really come on strong with a pronounced banana note and a clove-based spiciness.  Later still, it becomes dominated by a wonderful sugary smell with a little warmth and a spiced-not-sweet Belgian yeast.  Finally, it puts all these things together by toning down the larger scents (Belgian, sugar, spice) and bringing out the fruity acidity.  Now THIS is a golden ale!

Appearance 3/3
Perfect.  It pours as golden as the wax crowning its bottle, but sits in the glass as a brilliant ocher color.  Oddly, looking down at the beer from the top it shows strong ruby hues!  And no I don't have red flooring.  Because I have aged this bottle so long, any sediment remains in the bottle and the resultant beer is crystal clear and bright.  The head is as white as the snow outside my window and rose to a finger in height; an impressive feat considering that the bubbles are nearly microscopic in size.  It lasted as a ring around my glass until well into the beer.

Flavor 20/20
This is an insanely complex brew!  It begins with unadorned sugary, malty sweetness and quickly moves into fruity sweetness full of apples and golden raisins.  Things blossom widely as those two flavors combine into the flavor of caramelized fruits (this is not an exaggeration).  Belgian yeast, not far behind, adds its goodness and a strong alcohol presence is felt.  Note that it is "felt" and not "tasted."  The strong warmth never impinges on the flavor itself, but gratuitously pricks the tongue while in the mouth.  A bitter note is present when holding the beer in the mouth for an extended period and adds complexity and balance to this sweet beer.  Way back in the flavor profile is a dull sour whose origin likely lies in fruity acidity.  This makes even more sense upon swallowing where the first impression of the finish is an almost citrusy splash of said acidity and a reprise of the aforementioned bitter.  The aftertaste is surprisingly clean after such a warm, sweet, clingy beer. However, the only sensation remaining in the mouth is the lingering effects of the alcohol on the tongue.

Mouthfeel 4/5
This is a beer that absolutely coats the mouth with its sweet, sugary presence.  It borders on syrupy at times, but its lighter flavors and ABV help draw it away from that characterization.  It also possesses a halfway sneaky alcohol warmth.  Granted, at 15% ABV, it's hard to do anything sneakily.  However, the flavor is never too boozy.  To the point, I've had many bourbon barrel-aged brews with half the ABV that taste twice as hot as this brew.  While it doesn't taste hot, the alcohol is undeniable in the mouthfeel and how it pricks the tongue. A lot.

Overall Impression 10/10
This is the lightest tasting big beer you'll never try.  It's not light in flavor - anything but! - but most big beers tend to be heavy handed with the hops or a very rich stout.  This beer is a giant, but still manages to taste like an excellent golden (an Imperial golden?).  The fruits and sugars are present to keep this beer sweet and innocent, even if the ABV and heavyweight body would just as soon mug you in broad daylight.  In your own driveway.  In front of your kids.

Total 49/50
Personally, I liked this beer a lot.  It's complex, big, and captures all the essentials of the intended style.  The flavors are out-of-this-world intense an unlike anything that you'll find anytime soon.  I checked the average scores on BA and RateBeer after this review and was shocked to see them so low!  Perhaps it was a different beast when it was fresh, but as it stands currently it is an "Imperial Golden" that will be my measuring stick for some time to come.  If anyone disagrees with this point of view, please remember that it's my birthday so I am right and everyone else can go suck a potato (insert good-natured wink).  Good work Flossmoor!  Please know that we won't hold it against you if you decide to NOT limit this recipe to just a 15th anniversary beer and to brew this one again.

Friday, December 21, 2012

21st Amendment - Monk's Blood

As almost all of you have heard by now, 12.12.12 was the date that the monks at the St. Sixtus Abbey who brew the famed Westvleteren 12 allowed some of their beer to be sold in the United States.  This was all over the news even outside of craft beer circles.  As this beer is often mentioned in discussions about "The Best Beer in the World," it was highly sought after and was sold out almost instantly at any location that was given an allotment of the six packs, despite its $84.99 price tag.  Needless to say, I was not able to buy any, but have a bottle of Dark Lord ready and waiting (plus a mystery Bonus Bottle) for anyone that is willing to trade.

Because I'm a little full of sour grapes right now, today's review will be for 21st Amendment's "Monk's Blood."  It's a Belgian-style dark ale that is made with cinnamon, vanilla, oak chips, and dried figs.  The new ingredients intrigue me and at 8.3% ABV it also sounds like it packs quite a punch.  Oh, and for those not willing to read the old-timey text written on the can, it reads as such,

"Legend has it that in the evening, the monks would retire to their chambers & settle in with a few passages from the Good Book.  But Brothers Nicolas and O'Sullivan had other plans.  Working in the brewhouse all day, they were forced to repeat the same old recipes the elder monks had invented years before.  They needed a little diversion, And found it in the cellar of the monastery with a fresh twist they put on the beer and the way they enjoyed it.  Brother Nicolas (or 'Nico' to his close friends) brought some hand-rolled cigars.  O'Sullivan, the outspoken one, broke the vow of silence by spinning a remix of some Gregorian chants.  Together, they'd thrown down a could nice hands of Texas Hold 'Em and savor the handcrafted brew they crafted in secrecy.  Everything was good.  Or so it seemed. But deep in his heart Nico knew they were drifting into the 'dark side' of beer.  Next thing you know, they'd be skipping Lent.  Then one night they'd face the Judgement for their actions with a hard knock at the door.  Outside, the Abbot and elders would be holding stones in the air.  A threat the brothers were sure would lead to the spilling of "Monk's Blood"

Maybe they should just stick to brewing, but as always they feature a kick-ass can design.  This particular brew was canned on March 5th, 2012.  Let's pour!

Aroma 11/12
All the things that make the strong Belgian style great come rushing out of the glass.  Lots of cloves are quickly overwhelmed by even more of the yeast's banana notes.  Raw sugar (or likely Belgian candi sugar) and vanilla intertwine, while the figs and warmth sit back at first.  Eventually the figs come on strong and mingle with the banana delightfully, even if the figs edge out the banana ever so slightly.  Warmth grows stronger as well, but never becomes intrusive.

Appearance 2/3
I'm afraid this isn't a very attractive beer at all.  Have you had or seen prune juice before?  Yeah, it's that color.  Even when held to light it's that same milky brown hue.  The head was modest in size, beige in color, and crackled and popped its way down to a ring on the surface's edge.  There is also a lot of sediment in this brew, so pour gently.

Flavor 18/20
The first sensations of this drink are much brighter than anticipated, given the prominence of the dark fruit in the aroma.  It begins with a delicate, playful vanilla and some citrus-like tones.  However, it rapidly grows dark like a bank of storm clouds being pushed across the sky.  Very quickly there are the dark figs, the cinnamon, and the earthiness of spice all present and dominating the flavor profile.  Thankfully, the cinnamon avoids my worst fears and refrains from overwhelming all other flavors.  These dark flavors are intense and feel even larger with the strong alcohol warmth.  In the finish, things remain dark but also become bitter thanks to the earthiness from the cinnamon and the newly detectable oak.  It's a combination of dark fruits, bitter, and some boozy vanilla to wrap it all up.    A word of caution to those of you who enjoy slurping to enhance certain flavors!  In this brew, all you'll find is a brash alcohol.  

Mouthfeel 5/5
This beer is appropriately carbonated, which in a strong Belgian means there's a bunch of it.  Good news though, it seems to be taking the same advice as the cinnamon and is not a distraction by being overly prickly on the tongue.  There is some of that sensation, but it's mostly due to the cinnamon and not the bubbles.  Warmth plays a large roll in this brew and is not shy about it.  I dug it.  It makes for a strong beer, yet didn't suffer the same failure as many of the new "bourbon barrel-aged" beers by tasting like "two fingers, neat."  A full body carries all these flavors perfectly.

Overall Impression 8/10
This is a very well put together beer: the gentle flavors come out and the big flavors are not permitted to destroy a lá General William T. Sherman.  The lighter, sweeter flavors are quite nice and I wish they played a larger role by perhaps utilizing a less quick and dramatic shift to the dark, strong flavors.  However, this is a Belgian strong and it is supposed to be both dark and strong so the beer can't be faulted for that.  I enjoy the  interpolations that 21A has introduced here as a change of pace, even if my personal taste would prefer something lighter.

Total 44/50
Let me just say that I am comparing beer from a can to some of the best Belgian beers that I have ever had.  To those that for some crazy reason still doubt that amazing beer can be canned, this beer stands in direct opposition to your argument.  It is a great Belgian dark with its own twists and I always love trying new takes on old styles.  This particular beer is still well worth your time, especially if you normally find some Belgian varieties too sweet.  The earthiness and dark flavors help tone those down a great deal.  I didn't get much of the oak throughout the beer, but that's OK.  There were more than enough other flavors to compensate for it.  Also, I'd like to mention that this beer left my glass far too quickly.  I was fighting to ration it the entire time so that I'd have enough beer for later parts of the review.  So while my tiny, tiny gripe is that I wish the up-front sweetness lasted long or had a larger role, the proof was in the pudding as I drank this beer faster than I could write about it.  If you have some, great!  If not, you may want to find a kind trading partner as 21A has made it official that Monk's Blood will be taking an "indefinite hiatus."  Which begs the question, if they're shelving a tasty beer like this, then what do they have in the works?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Surly - Wet

Well, this is one of those beers that I never thought I was going to be able to try. It sells quick, it doesn’t distribute outside the brewer's home state, and while I have plenty of family in Minnesota, I don’t have a go to trading partner up there. So when my wife brought back some Boston-based Wachusett beer for some friends that used to live there, imagine my surprise when they responded in kind with this little gem! Thanks Jim & Anne!  In fact, I only received this beer last night, but so much of its reputation is based on freshness that I wanted to drink it and review it as soon as possible.

For those not familiar with Surly’s Wet, it boasts on its can that the hops are picked on Day1, shipped on Day 2, and used on Day 4 so that the hops never have a chance to dry out.  Different hop varieties are used so the brew may vary a bit, but rest assured that will this much attention being paid to freshness (or "Ultra-Fresh" as the can states) you are all but guaranteed a big resiny treat.  The beer that I am reviewing today was canned on 10/1/2012.

Please excuse both my recent posting infrequency as I have just moved into my first house. There are features of said house that will definitely warrant their own post in the coming months. This also means that I haven’t yet set up a great spot to take pictures of these amazing beers, so bear with me.  Let's pour!

Aroma 12/12
Things begin with some very pleasant pine and orange rind notes. Rising up just behind those are mangos, pineapples, and some resin lingering in the background. However, once the beer begins to warm the resin takes on more of a primary role with the rind and gives a very “bitter orange” vibe to the overall character. Along with this resin comes some pretty strong grassy notes and since I happen to love that particular hop trait, it is most welcome. For those of you keeping track, yes I’ve only talked about the hop aromas thus far. The malts are in there, but are very far back and only open up once the beer has warmed. I’m thankful they show up as it gives the beer a more substantial, intense aroma and their sweetness helps to emphasize the sweet hop aromas like the pineapple. 

Appearance 3/3
This beer pours lighter than I expected, but still looks like a million damn dollars. It shines like a orange sapphire (yes, there are orange sapphires, smarty pants) and enjoys much of the same brilliance and clarity. Its robust eggshell colored head is maintained by a constantly ascending carbonation. The head forms slowly but builds tall and fluffy, before settling a bit and taking on more of a whipped cream texture. If any photographers out there are looking to create stock images of beer and what it should look like, this is it. Wow! Also worth mentioning, I’ve written the review up until this point with beer in my glass and the head is still present! I’ve never seen retention like this. Top marks and extra sparkle magic unicorn rainbow brownie bonus points to Surly for this! 

Flavor 19/20
First impressions are everything and this beer’s impression is bitter. I’m anxious to see what happens once my taste buds acclimate a bit more to the bitterness. Interestingly enough, the bitter in the first sips can be sensed in accented waves, each punctuating its own beginning. My initial notes read as, “woody, resin, long lasting bitter” and I’m pretty sure a part of my tongue went numb. Thankfully it recovered, finally acclimated, and then other flavors begin to emerge. Most notably are a muted pineapple and a sweet malt that I am having trouble placing. It’s sweet and lighter and almost sugary, which makes me think honey but the flavor isn’t correct for honey. This malt flavor is more fruitlike and definitely not the typical caramel malts used in making heavy duty West Coast IPAs. A quick wine taster’s slurp gives me little additional information, only a splash pineapple, a hint of the warmth, some nice pepper spice, and shot of pure resin. The finish is (obviously) not as intensely bitter as when I started this glass, but it still unapologetically offers its own take. Immediately after swallowing is a mellow sweetness, detectable only after one’s tongue has been adequately prepared for the resin, and then an intense aspirin-like bitter that fades in to tie up any loose ends. In hindsight, the sweet malts that confused me earlier are probably caramel malts that taste sweeter with melding with pineapple from the hops. It’s a great combination!

Mouthfeel 5/5
A big bodied beer to hold some big flavors. It rolls around in the mouth like mercury, but the hops’ spicy pepper note give a prickly sensation on the tongue and keeps it from becoming sluggish. The carbonation that was so present in the glass and contributing to the head is still ascending in subsequent pours, but this diminishes its presence in the mouth. The result is a beer that feels exceptionally smooth and silky thanks to an unobtrusive carbonation that dies quickly once inside the mouth. The warmth that became present during a slurp really never had much more presence than that. 

Overall Impression 9/10 
This beer is impressive, but definitely has the potential to be more-so if drank closer to its birth date.  I feel that the main consequence is that the fruits in the aroma do not come out as well in the flavor, resulting in a less complex beer than it was created to be. At 2 ½ months of age, this beer still has plenty going for it. It’s head and appearance were fantastic, its aroma was excellent, and it’s tasty as all get out. Right now it stands as a strong West Coast IPA, but at a younger age it could truly stand out from the pack. The only question is how to do that. How can you possibly get this beer with any less hop deterioration than Surly has tried to do?

Total 48/50
The answer to the question in the previous sentence is, “you don’t.” Surly has made more than an earnest effort to get a beer into its customers’ waiting hands that is as fresh as they can possibly make it and can it. Any further action lies in the hands of distributors, retailers, and how quickly craft beer drinkers can snatch it off the shelves. I dig this beer as a whole, with only minor nit-picky issues here and there. If Surly had the same distribution abilities as Oskar Blues, this beer would compete nationally with Deviant Dales. Hop heads should of course seek it out as fresh as possible, but if you’re not accustomed to how relentless hops can be, you may wanna sit this one out. This beer is a stern reminder than Minnesota is not just a state of quiet, polite, church-going folk. It’s also a state filled with potential hockey defensemen ready to administer a hockey stick enema if you stand in their crease too long. So noted, Surly. So noted.