Tuesday, January 29, 2013

January 29: Dragon's Milk Aged in Oak Barrels can't slay Clint Eastwood

The Leche de Dragon. Obviously, the only other person badass enough besides Chuck Norris (who's shirt I'm wearing tonight) to drink Dragon's Milk and survive is CLINT EASTWOOD.
Coogan's Bluff, the first collaboration between Don Siegel and Clint, who also made Dirty Harry
Dragon Milk is a 10% High Gravity Series from New Holland aged in Oak Barrels. This is what the back has to say about it.
"A barrel-aged stout with roasty malt character intermingled with deep vanilla tones, all dancing in a oak bath"
The dragons I read of kick people in the face and turned knights into s'mores. This doesn't quite kick you in the face with its awesomeness, but there is a bit of oak...smoozing...involved. There's some vanilla at the end of a long roast and chocolate attack. The oak aging doesn't take any heat off the 10% though, which would be nice. It's rich, tasty and more heat than I'd like, but overall satisfying. This isn't a Great Divide Yeti but does hold its own. Rating: B

Monday, January 28, 2013

January 28: Karl and the Tale of the Fifty Fifty Eclipse, Elijah Craig 12yr.

Barrels of Fun

We deviate, dear readers, from the norm this evening as David and I head out into the great unknown. We are hitting up a favorite establishment for a special flight of a beer that I’ve been waiting to try for a while: Fifty Fifty’s Eclipse. This is a highly regarded series of imperial stouts that are aged in a variety of whiskey barrels. Four different versions of this beer on the flight this evening, with barrels of corn whiskey, Bernheim Wheat, Old Fitzgerald and 12-year Elijah Craig adding their respective forms of deliciousness to the beer.

All four of these stouts are well-made, with the barrels adding a various levels of spiciness and sweetness to the chocolatey goodness present in the stout. If I was grading these beers individually, based only on flavor, I would be giving the Elijah Craig barrel an “A” bordering on an “A+”, the corn whiskey an “A-“ and the other two solid “B+”s. David’s opinion differs slightly from mine as he prefers the corn barrel over the Elijah Craig, but I find the EC Eclipse displays a wonderful balance of sweet bourbon, oak flavors and vanilla with a expertly crafted, chocolate-heavy stout. This beer tastes like the younger brother of The Bruery’s infamous Black Tuesday, except that BT is literally twice as strong of a beer, no small feat considering the Eclipse is 9.5%. This beer is smooth to drink, and I would love to have it on a regular basis. David and I are both slightly disappointed, though, in the lack of major distinction between the different aging apparatuses. They are definitely unique, but the barrels seem to only determine a smidgeon of the taste. David and I propose that this is a beer that doesn’t need to hide its faults behind a curtain of heavy barrel aging; we would both have loved to taste this beer sans any barrel augmentation.

Total Eclipse of the Heart? Almost...
So…if you read ahead because you love spoilers, you would see that my score doesn’t reflect at all the previous paragraph. Grading on taste alone, these beers are fantastic and deserve to be mentioned in the hallowed halls of beer’s noble kings, but they are not accessible, price-wise, to the common consumer. A 22oz bottle of the worst of the group, the Old Fitzy, was being sold at $30 a pop. The tasting itself was $28 for four 4oz pours. You can get a respectable bottle of scotch at a better price per ounce. This is a great beer, but not a good choice. I cannot in good conscience convince you, if you are someone just now beginning to chart your course of exploration through the craft beer forest, to seek out this beer. If you love stouts and are trying to go down the checklist of the world’s best, then by all means find the Elijah Craig version of this beer and consume it. Otherwise, spend your money buying 2-3 beers like Port Brewing Bourbon-Aged Santa’s Little Helper and the Barrel-Aged Yeti from Great Divide, to get a good and delectable feel for the style.

Rating: B+  

Saturday, January 26, 2013

January 26: Trevor and the tale of Petrus Aged Pale

Hello again dear reader.  As we continue our beer adventure, I can't help but wonder if choosing "barrel aged" as a style was misleading, as virtually any beer can be barrel aged.  It's not a style, so much as a technique, as we've seen from the incredibly diverse offerings so far.  Well, today's choice is no different.  Hailing from Bavik Brewery, one of Belgium's largest, family owned brewing superpowers, Petrus Aged Pale has been highly decorated in recent years, laying claim to Europe's Best Wood Aged Beer, the World's Best Specialty Pale Ale, and the World's Best Wood Aged Beer awards at the 2011 World Beer Awards.  Petrus, which is derived from the Latin word for "Rock", is commonly used to designate St. Peter who, like the Petrus Bottle proclaims, holds "The Key To Heaven".  That's quite a reputation, and more than a little pompousness to measure up to.

The key to Heaven?  Not so fast....

The beer pours a crystal clear, golden straw color, with a fluffy two fingers of head that hangs around about 5 minutes.  Normal so far.  It's when I take the first whiff that I realize I'm entering the funky realm.  The nose is Brettanomyces, barnyard, and green apple, emphasis on the GREEN.  The taste follows suit, adding white grape to the party, in case it wasn't already interesting enough.  The oak taste is there, but subdued, and serves more to blend all of the other very loud flavors together.  The mouthfeel is balanced, with the malt standing up respectably to the bitterness from the brett, and whatever hops are involved.

I have to say this beer caught me by surprise.  I thought something aged in oak barrels for 20 months would be distinctly woody, but I failed to consider that the porous nature of wood allows for wild yeast and bacteria to play games with the contents.  The result is sour and refreshing at once, and highly drinkable, in fact, I was about to try and figure out if there is anything I don't like, but the glass is empty, so.....

I give it an A. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

January 24: BrewDog Paradox Aged in Glen Grant barrels is Clutch City

Big beer here! Big beeeer! Fittingly, my favorite show is on as I arrive home and I have a long awaited barrel aged brew waiting for me. Those devilish bastards at Brew Dog continue to produce bold beers and this is no exception. A 10% imperial stout aged in a former 1970 Glen Grant cask. It was an expensive bottle, but hopefully worth every penny. I’ve had many Bourbon Barrel brews but never one which spent time in whiskey. Glen Grant is a Speyside whiskey founded in 1840. Here is a flavor profile and a picture, which you’ll probably recognize the label.

Glen Grant 31yo 1970/2001 (45%, Samaroli, Sherry cask #1025)
Nose: Rich, polished and sherried. Taste: Smoky and quite extreme in the start, sweetening out in the fruity centre. Very chewy; nice tannins: 89 points - here is a malt that earns most points on the palate - a sherry monster, not for everybody.

This pours coal black and has an intense chocolate aroma, without much of a bitter roast flavor. It also has a relatively strong scotch whiskey smell but it’s not quite as intense as some of the bourbon-aged beers I recently tried. Can’t wait to see the difference between this and my recent bourbon sampling.
This is a dank beer, but a relatively thin body despite the beer’s complexity.  The scotch delivers a distinctly different taste than bourbon, it’s much airier, a little smoky, but it really smooths the chocolate and alcohol out. It really cuts out any heat from a relatively thin bodied beer, which is Clutch City

I’m pretty enamored with this. It’s different from what I’m used to, and that’s one of the many wonderful points of this blog. I had no interest in trying a scotch-barreled beer before I went searching for barrel-aged beer. I certainly wouldn’t pay $10+ price tag normally. More so, I’m not especially a huge scotch fan – bourbon, damn sure – but the scotch I leave up to Karl and David, who are well educated and passionate about the stuff. This beer has opened up a new world for me. Awesomeness prevails.

This Paradox is unique and extremely satisfying. Definitely a ‘dessert’ or special occasion beer. The high price tag, complexity and alcohol demands it to be a sipping beer. But jebus it delivers. For a special occasion, treat yourself. Barrel aging simply ads something extra to the beer you don’t find 90% of the time. Here, it’s not subtle in aroma or taste, but it ads the extra punch to get it over an A rating for me: A-

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

January 23: Karl and the Tale of the Stone Vertical Epic: 11.11.11 Aged in Red Wine Barrels

This one goes to 11
You may have noticed, dear reader, that the pictures from my previous two posts included a beer with a background of a vinyl record album. I collect records like Florida collects old people, and I’m going to see how long I can continue to pair the beverages I consume with something from my collection. Today’s entry may just look like I sat a beer in front of a black background, but keen eyes will be able to decipher the shade of black made famous by Britain’s loudest band. I thought the soundtrack to “This is Spinal Tap” would capture perfectly any beer that contained the words “epic” and “11” in its moniker.

As for the beer, I have to say I was not terribly excited to open this guy. I have expressed my harsh opinions about Stone before, and usually when you seen the word “wine” associated with a beer, that means you are about to pucker up and hop aboard the sour choo-choo. 500ml of sour is not how I like to spend my rainy California nights, but it’s for love of the game that I soldier on. What I am interested in is the fact that this is a Belgian Strong Ale brewed with Anaheim chilies and cinnamon. Add on the barrel aging and this is going to be an interesting ride…

I hope I don't consume a beer that I think should be paired with this
The beer’s color seems to fade from bottom to top. At the bottom it looks like slightly watered down airplane coffee, with the top exhibiting a more pleasant light toffee color. There are some soapy residues that attempt to form a head, but they flee the scene rather quickly. The nose is about what I expected: hints of the cinnamon and chilies, and then the smell of a wine weekend in Temecula. It is interestingly pleasant. After meeting expectations so far, this beer smashes them on the tongue. This Vertical Epic is easily one of the most layered and complex tasting beers I’ve ever had. The barrel aging is a major contributor to this, adding cherries, grapes, oak and a lingering vanilla. The chilies are there on the back end, adding an interesting finish to the standard Belgian Strong characteristics that make up the backbone. Since it’s Stone, I expected hops to be somewhere, but like many a Spinal Tap drummer, they are no longer with us. It is more carbonated that I was expecting, and not nearly as sour as I was dreading. The finish is dry and slightly tart, with the chilies and vanilla acting like Tap’s signature two-note ending. There is no trace of alcohol, despite this guy being over 10% ABV. Honestly it was very difficult for me to grade this beer; it is a really fascinating beverage, and I would love to try the white wine-aged version. It was a little difficult to finish all 500ml myself, and I don’t think it’s something I want to have on a regular basis, but it would be fun to drink and discuss with people knowledgeable and appreciative of beer. Easily my favorite beer I’ve had from Stone.

Rating: B+

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

January 22: Trevor and the quest for the English crown, a short story.

It's rare that two of my favorite things join to make something excellent, but that's the case with today's offering, which combines beer (hooray!) with history.  Hailing from the Traquair House Brewery in Scotland, (the gates of which have been closed since the Bonnie Prince Charlie passed through them), Jacobite Ale is a Scotch Ale brewed with coriander in an 18th century copper vessel, and fermented in oak casks.  It was first brewed in 1995 to commemorate 250 years since the end of the Jacobite Rebellion.  Having never heard of this particular rebellion, I did some digging.  Here's the scoop.  VERY abridged...

Jacobite simply means "follower of James" as in II of England, the last of the Stuart monarchs.  In a series of uprisings between 1688 and 1746, a bunch of pissed off clansmen kept trying to restore the house of Stuart to the throne.  The most famous uprising is the last, and is the one this beer is actually commemorating.

Jolly fellows, those Jacobites...

In 1745 "Bonnie Prince Charlie", or Charles Edward Stuart, emboldened by support from his cousin Louis XV of France, went to the Scottish Highlands all by his merry self and rallied the Jacobite clans to his cause.  The army marched South to invade England with absolutely nothing under their kilts and tartans.  Here, we have an amusing anecdote.

The Jacobites employed a shock tactic in battle known as the Highland Charge.  It basically involves a bunch of bloodthirstly Scotsmen removing their kilts and runnig full tilt at their enemy, screaming at the  tops of their lungs.  The opposing force, stunned by the pale thighs and menacing, er...you get the picture, would'nt fire as quickly as usual, and ended up getting overwhelmed and tea bagged in short order.  No matter how many times I think of this, it's always funny.  Try it sometime.

Anyway, the Jacobites and their "Bonnie Prnce" were soundly defeated in 1746 at the Battle of Culloden, ending the threat of London being invaded by fierce, bearded men without pants.  Feel smarter?  Me too.

Now for the beer.

I poured this into a pint glass, so as not to be haunted by pantsless clansmen, and because it is, in fact, a Scotch Ale, and ought to be consumed from such a vessel.  It pours a luminous, ruby-brown, gorgeous, actually, with a thin, tan head that vanishes almost immediately.

The nose is all dark fruit and booze, more like a Belgian Quad than a Scotch ale.  The coriander, which brewers (including myself) typically overdo, leaves only a pleasant hint, which I appreciate.

The taste is plums, raisins, and figs up front, slathered in toffee and vanilla (contributed by the barrel, no doubt).  There is an immediate boozy warmth that doesn't leave, and the finish is slightly smoky and sweet on the lips.

The mouthfeel is where this beer goes wrong.  It's thin, has very little carbonation, and can't stand up to the alcohol, which (though only 8%), begins to overwhelm everything about halfway through the pint. 

All things considered, I find this to be an excellent example of what barrel aging can add to a beer.  Without the barrel, this would be a decent Wee Heavy, but would lack the complexity to deserve a recommendation.  The extra time spent picking up the toffee and vanilla notes from the wood serve to balance the taste, and deliver a much more enjoyable experience.

Rating: B+ (the plus is for the barrel)

Monday, January 21, 2013

January 21: Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron Group Beer

Protecting beer from airport baggage handlers with diapers?

12% Brown Ale brewed in Paraguayan Wooden Vessels - the largest made since before the Prohibition?!

Our first barrel aged group beer has it all. And we really enjoyed this unique brew from Sam Calagione and crew.  Check it out
(video: 7 minutes)

Group ratings all around: A-

Sunday, January 20, 2013

January 20: Smuttynose Zinneke Belgian Style Stout Aged in Bourbon Barrels and a Half-Assed 1st Beer and Food Pairing Attempt

I’m relatively new to the East Coast, and I’m excited for this blog to introduce me to some of the regional breweries. Smuttynose is based in Portsmouth, NH and here they have made a pretty interesting stout using Belgian yeast. 

To go along with the chocolate flavor I assume this will contain, I’m pairing it with a pork loin and blueberry sauce for dinner. It's a weak attempt at my goal of pairing beer and food this year because I didn't actually plan the meal and beer to happen together, but it’s still a start! At the very least, I can glean what works and doesn't work from this experience.  

 There’s a roasty smell, like a stout, but mouthfeel reveals the influence of the Belgian yeast.

Instead of having the dark roast aroma follow through in the flavor, the Belgian influence rounds out the typical stout feel with a sweetness. It’s not as complex or intense, but it gets points for being flavorful and refreshing. The body is also not as heavy as other 8.4% alcohol stouts. The Bourbon Barrel influence is at work here with nicely rounded caramel and vanilla notes. 

Happy to meet your acquaintance Smuttynose, and I look forward to many more of your fine refreshments.

Rating: B

The beer complimented the blueberry and pork quite well actually! Thanks to the Belgian yeast and a lighter, sweeter beer, this worked well with a lighter red meat and sweet blueberry sauce.