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Peter LaFrance

Thursday, December 31, 2009

BEER IN 2010

Greetings to 2010 and good riddance to '09!

And now I will pause and, a weather finger to the wind, will make a prognostication... In the next year there will be a move to Mild.

That is to say, there will be a chance for brewers from the mega-micros to the brewpubs will discover the range of flavorful brews that have been known in the UK as "Mild."

These are amber ales, with a touch of hops (usually Kent or Brewers Gold) on a non-too-sweet malt base. The beauty of this brew is that it is tasty and yet is only 4% at most in alcohol content by volume. This gives the brewer a brew that costs less to produce, it gives the consumer a chance to look "correct" and still have a tasty beverage that they can enjoy for taste and less for effect. It gives the brewing industry a truly "temperate" beverage that is a challenge to the neo-prohibitionists.

Best of all, it gives me a reason to put two - not just one - six pack on ice the next hot summer day that comes around.

And that is a very comforting thought on a cold and frosty last night of 2009, in Brooklyn, USA...


Peter LaFrance

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Taste of… Black Cauldron Imperial Stout

Grand Teton Brewing Company
Victor, ID (USA)

Preface: I would like to thank the good folks at Grand Teton brewing company for sending me this bottle of Black Cauldron Imperial Stout.

Appearance: This is an incredibly dense dark black beer. It is topped with a sparkling closely knit head of tiny bubbles that form a good Belgian lace on the side of the glass.

Aroma: The first impression is of prune, the second is more of a ripe plum, the final impression begins to include a very slight phenol. The flavors revealed between sip and lip announced neither flavor nor aroma.

The first impression is a steely grain sensation. Next comes a more metallic aroma with citric undertones. The lip to sip aromatics echo the previous.

Mouth feel: There is a full but not viscous feel to this brew.

Flavor: The immediate flavors and station is one of dried fruits particularly dried cherries and plums. The second step reveals some lasses that before the flavor is finished becomes a burned candy flavor. The third step reveals some sour cherry at the very back of the sensation chain. Overall, there is not a great deal of sweetness.

Finish: The flavor profile is echoed in the finish. As noted above, this is not a sweet beer. It must also be noted that it does not have an ashy flavor. The finish is remarkably smooth dry and balanced.

Comments: I will admit that the label, what could be assumed to be to alewives, rather attractive at that, standing over a black cauldron with a sheaf of barley in their hands I was intrigued.

There must be a great deal of sweet to this beer and has not been beaten to death by bitter hops.

The label notes that this brew is 8% alcohol by volume. There is no information on a label to hint at whether they used in ale or lager yeast to ferment this beer. It is called “Imperial Stout”, a moniker that has no official definition in the most brewing dictionaries. Nevertheless the label portends a comforting rather than threatening beer.

The contents deliver on what is anticipated after looking at the label. After the first half of a pint the warmth does have a tendency to creep up on you and that’s not a bad thing.

As this is the holiday season and is it is almost 1130 in the morning as I write this, I do believe I shall not dispose of what’s left of this beer after this tasting. I do believe I just might take another 15 minutes or so to enjoy what’s left of this brew.

Grand Teton Brewing Company: http://www.grandtetonbrewing.com/

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Beer Goes With… Redux


Two Saturdays ago the folks in Waterbury, CT held the fourth annual Brass City Brewfest in Library Park. The event featured beers from all over the North Easter New England area. There were also a few of the major breweries represented and considering that there are actually only three of them they were well represented. The import companies, especially those affiliated with Belgian brewers were very popular with the tasters.

The special feature of this event was a speakers tent where there were featured four beer related topics presented by a number of speakers.

Those interested in tasting beers, rather than setting personal consumption records, were introduced by Gregg Glaser, the editor of the Yankee Brew News, to the special six styles that every beer drinker should be aware of.

A maple sap beer was poured and sampled while sergeant and publican Albin Weber of the Fifth Connecticut Regiment, a speaker in the military uniform of that unit as worn during the American Revolution in the 1700’s explained the importance of beer and taverns at that time in history.

An owner of a local homebrew shop showed the basic equipment to make home brewed beer and answered essential questions for those there to question her after her presentation.

And then there was a quick explanation by a local brewer of why canned beer is good beer if the beer in the can is good beer before it went into the can. If it was not good beer before it went into the can the can is not to blame for that. But I digress…

It is food and beer that are the usual topic at hand for this blog so I will post the question… What is the ideal beer-fest food? What kind of food makes for a happy beer-fest food-wise?

I can tell you that at the above mentioned event there were three or four food venders. All under the watchful eye of a government food inspector with her clipboard and instant read thermometer.

My pulled pork on a bun was safe as far as the inspector was concerned.

I will admit that I was drawn by the tattoos of the woman serving the food rather than the actual food itself.

The beer at hand was a two ounce taste of locally brewed brown ale mixed with a two ounce sample of a beer made with honey. It was a good pairing of beer and beer and food.

The competition was formidable… especially the hotdog. The rest is noted on their very professional looking menu (posted at the top of this blog) leading me to suspect that this menu is not tailored specifically for beer events.

All of that noted… I repeat…

What is the ideal beer-fest food?

What kind of food makes for a happy beer-fest food-wise?

Friday, August 14, 2009

That First Taste of… homebrewed Pale Ale

As I remember it, the weather was warm so it had to be either late spring or early autumn of 1976 or 1977 when the idea of brewing my own beer found me, as I sat on the floor of a now-defunct book store in Ossining, New York. The slim, thin paperback book was written by some British fellow and had been published in Canada. All of the measurements were in the metric system and the temperatures were in Centigrade. It told me how to brew my own beer. It told me not only could I brew my own beer but that it was even better than anything on the market.

At the time I had just finished a few years in New England, Vermont to be specific. There I had been introduced to “stubbies” of Labatt and Molson, the “stronger” beers from Canada. Now that I was back in Ossining I was sure I could find more of the same. I was wrong and had to survive on Schmidt’s’ Tiger Ale, Ballantine Pale India Ale and Pabst Blue Ribbon.

It was the Pabst Blue Ribbon that got me thinking that there might be something to the homebrewing idea. The bottles I would haul back and forth from the fridge to Fiories’ Beverage were sturdy, heavy duty, brown and crown capped. The book said that these were ideal for homebrewing. And then I told someone else about my idea and there was no stopping. You can brag about how many brews you downed the night before but you have to deliver if you brag that you can brew your own beer.

And so it was that the two of us (me and the person I had boasted to) stood in the musty old wine supply house on Spring Street in a rather dingy corner of what folks were calling SoHo (South of Houston Street). The one and only sales person was reciting a list of bits and pieces that we would need to get the brewing thing in operation. As I listened to the list it occurred to me that the book had mentioned that the experience should set me back only twenty or so American dollars. This was getting out of hand. Begging poverty we departed and wondered what the next step would be.

Not to be deterred we figured that if a wine supply shop was the place to go it might be a better idea to see if there was one closer to Ossining, headquarters for the operation. Those were the days of the rotary dial telephone, the telephone books of white and yellow. Both of us, recent veterans of higher education, chose the yellow pages and found a business called “Wine-Art” in Elmsford, NY.

It was a short drive to the small shop set just off the road. When asked for a homebrewing supply list the proprietor paused and asked what kind of beer we liked to drink. At the time Bass Ale was the most exotic brew I knew of so I threw that name out for consideration. He nodded and said that we were looking to brew pale ales and that it would not be too difficult. He went on to explain that malt syrup would be the basis for the brew. The hops were in a small envelope and looked like the final results of a rabbit’s digestive process. He then offered us two different foil envelopes marked “yeast” with red stars on them. These few things on the counter, he then asked how we were planning to brew the stuff up. I showed him the book and as I did I noted, at long last, the Wine-Arts logo on the back cover.

He flipped through it and told us that we were on the right track and that although we could probably find a kettle large enough to boil what he called “the wort”, we should probably use a glass “carboy” and five gallon “food-grade” plastic bucket for the “secondary” and “primary fermentation”… the book will set you in the right direction he said. The rubber tubing and funnel for pouring could be obtained from any kitchen but it would make sense for us to also spend a few dollars on a thermometer and hydrometer… about fifteen dollars.

We walked out of that place with the makings for the first homebrew, a five gallon glass water bottle, a white plastic bucket with tight fitted lid, a hydrometer and a thermometer about a foot long and an inch and a half around. It was a bit thing. The hydrometer, a thermometer shaped thing with a slender shape rather than the rotund temperature instrument, was a bit more mysterious. There was also a small tin can, about the size of two tinned fish cans, with a Mite-Mo label on it… something called dextrin. We were ready to brew our first beer.

I will not bore you with the details of the boiling, cooling, fermenting, and bottling of that beer other than to assure you that we waited the full two weeks the book said to wait before opening that first bottle..

I will, however, try and tell you what that first sip tasted like…

It smelled sweet from the start, a toasted grain bread aroma. Then the cool liquid cooled but didn’t chill my mouth followed in a nanosecond by a brown sugar candy flavor that was almost immediately speared by a sharp tang of almost metallic bitterness that quickly slid back as the sweet brown sugar returned and slid to the back of my mouth with the swallow of the beer. Then, as I opened my mouth there was a resonance of all those flavors in the back of my mouth and into my nasal passages where the green minty grapefruit aromas came and went as quickly as a thought. It was a sensation like none I had ever experienced before.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

That First Taste…

I have often wondered what it was like for that first brewer to taste the first beer on earth. Naturally that never happened because the brewing of beer took time and evolved over thousands of years.

However, I can imagine, about six thousand years later, a brewer in London, England, as he opens the first bag of the new coke-roasted malted barley.

It had been specially ordered, at great expense he would add, along with a good deal more hops that he was used to using, to go into the new triple thread or what some of the brewers were calling “porter” after its popularity with the working men of the district. He had tasted and rather enjoyed his first porter and had it on good authority from many of the other brewers that this would be the answer to the pale ale swilling gentry and the stale ale merchants who were holding stock well past prime and selling it for two penny less on the market. There would always be short selling middle men and the gentry could have their rather expensive pale ale!

Now, back to the brewer who, ever since he can remember, has tasted only malted barley roasted over wood fires. Even the most closed roaster could not keep out that slight hint of smoke that he knew by heart. He was convinced that he could even tell which maltster had roasted the grain by the mixture of wood and type of wood used to roast the grain. Of course it was also his imagination… but eight out of ten correct choices at the tavern when he had been challenged was almost enough to convince him of his talent.

Let us join him on that early morning in May when he strode into the brewhouse and there they were… the first bags of malt specially roasted in one of the new coke fired roasters.

Before he could let the thought cross his mind he knew there was no touch of wood in the air that always came with a new malt shipment. Just his imagination… His sharp knife slit the top of the bag and a stream of the palest roasted malt he had ever seen spilled down the side of the bag. For a moment he watched the last of the grains spill out and reached down to take a few between his fingers only when the stream stopped.

He tested the first few grains between his front teeth and then sucked them into his mouth and chewed them with his back teeth to taste the bready heart of the grain. There was too little to tell but the difference between anything he had ever tasted before was making him impatient for another taste to prove what he already suspected.

The next half fist-full of pale ale malt was something like he had never tasted before.

The pure malt flavors were essential and his mind must have raced imagining consistent brews like he had never had a chance to brew before. If this was the pale malt in such a pure flavor state he could only imagine what the various roasted malts would taste like.

All from a first taste…

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Music to Drink Beer By

There is a legend in the bar business that Country Western music is real beer-selling music. It seems the songs about prison, a dog/horse/mama dying, love-gone-bad, and hangovers are the perfect accompaniment for the mass consumption of industrial beer.

On the other hand the consumption of a high octane (highly alcoholic content), ten year old, ebony opaque elixir that pours like sweet crude oil must have a music that would fulfill the sensual requirements for its enjoyment. I can envision that brew should be tasted to the hypnotic sounds of a French Canadian fiddle player, and the warm smell of wood fire in a cast iron stove set on a huge flagstone set in wood floor in the corner of an ancient wood frame farmhouse halfway between Montreal and Quebec City, on a frosty September night.

And then there is the sound of inlet waves on a stifling hot summer afternoon in August as they slap against the pilings and the sides of the fishing boats in a small marina, that begs to accompany a pitcher of ice cold lager.

However, music is the subject of this rant and so I shall return to topic and observe that I can think of no seventeenth century classical music that would call out for the enjoyment of the quaffing of a beer to complete the moment.

The music heard where beer was enjoyed in the world of Bach and Mozart would have been the music of the masses. The lack of pretense that is the essence of honest beer would be the perfect accompaniment to the balladeer, the dance band, the solitary stringed instrument or vocal group.

If this is accepted as truth the precedent is set and it is simply a matter of following the thread from the popular music of that time to the popular music of today; which brings us back to the romantic impressions that are iconic Country Western.

Here is a music that evokes all that folks in the United States hold sacred, self contained, insular characters who answer to no one and will whip your behind if you don’t agree with them. This is a romance that holds the honesty of manual labor above the slick maneuvering of paper-pushers. No stinking imported beer for these folks. These folks are red, white and blue nationalistic who will cling to their American beers, if they can get them for $12.00(US) a case of twelve ounce aluminum cans, all the better.

As for me, if it wasn’t so freaking isolated you would find me sipping my Imperial Stout in Quebec listening to that fiddle player for the rest of my life…

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Taste of Left Hand St. Vrain Tripel

Left Hand Brewing Co.
Longmont, CO (USA)

Preface: This bottle has been hiding in the back of a closet, in the dark and never more than 70F… how long it has been there I cannot tell you. The company site says it is a seasonal and other site notes also make it a seasonal but I have no idea when it was first brewed or if this is a latest edition of the brew. Nevertheless, the following are my notes. It is 9% avb and I intend to finish the bottle so wish me luck…

Appearance: This is bright golden, crystal clear, well carbonated brew. The head is fairly tight knit foam of fine and medium sized bubbles that are not long lasting. The Belgian lace is thin.

Aroma: The first impression is a steely grain sensation. Next comes a more metallic aroma with citric undertones. The lip to sip aromatics echo the previous.

Mouth feel: This is a relatively light feeling brew.

Flavor: The first flavors are slightly tutti-fruity and then there is a sugar candy flavor that steps in and takes over. The second impression is not substantially different from the first. Aspirating the last sip (taking a small sip and sucking in air through lips drawn together to give the beer an air-kiss) reveals no additional aromatics or flavors.

Finish: There is a rush out the door by these flavors, save a banana flavor that lingers for a while longer. In the end there is more than a trace of sugar.

Comments: If I didn’t know any better I would say this is a “high-test” wheat beer fermented with some Bavarian strain of yeast… but then I should know better.

I would prescribe this brew as a summer solace to be taken on the patio of a cafe in the shade of leafy trees just after a thunderstorm.

Left Hand Brewing Co.: http://www.lefthandbrewing.com/

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Why Stout goes with ... "Hanger" Steak

Preface: The above picture was taken at The Brasserie Artisinale and Bistro Le Reservoir (9 Duluth East, Montreal, PQ). The photo is but a crude representation of the remarkable food on that dish. If you can determine, from the above illustration, the origin and name of the tuber (roasted, with flavor similar to a potato) nestled under the beef steak I would appreciate knowing what it is.

This morning I found this illustration hiding in an empty file… it brought back such fond memories of Montreal, and it is such a fine day here in Brooklyn, I am going to read, once again the piece I posted in March about visiting The Brasserie Artisinale and Bistro Le Reservoir.
Settle down and I’ll tell you all about it again…

"You see, “Hanger steak” is a cut of beef that is found attached to the last rib at the spine, near the kidneys. In French it is called onglet. Italians know it as lombatello, and the same cut of beef is called solomillo de pulmon in Spanish.

Many years ago it was known as “Butchers Steak” in the United States. According to legend it was the cut of beef the butcher would keep for themselves.

These fellows knew a good thing of course… being in the business as they were. It is very tasty, when properly cooked, and a not-in-demand-cut. Customers are more interested in tender, easier to cook cuts of meat, or a piece of chuck steak for pot-roast if they are thrifty. Hanger Steak takes a deft hand and the understanding how different ways of cooking affect that particular cut of meat.

It is essential that the serving size be thick but narrow cuts of the steak cut diagonal to the grain, or striations of the muscle. It is also important to have the grill or broiler hot enough to char the meat on contact. These two things are essential because it is not desirable to give the muscle any reason to contract. Anything less than a searing heat will cause the thick muscle strands react by loosing water and contracting. However, when placed on a properly heated grill or under a properly heated broiler the charring is quick and frees the particular aromatics that make cooked beef special.

Contrary to legend, this charring does not “seal in” juices, as anyone who has allowed a roasted cut of rare beef knows. The cutting board starts out with a glimmer of roasting juices well before any slicing is done.

The third essential bit of knowledge necessary to insure the steak is tasty and not trash is timing. The interior temperature of that slice of steak should never get over 120F… this is rare, not “blue” (not barely warn- cool) but blue is best. Those who insist on well-done should be encouraged to find other sustenance.

There you have the essentials to cooking a “hanger steak.”

What about a beverage to go with that tasty bit of beef?

Might I suggest a fine dark beer?

And where might this perfectly cooked “hanger steak” and fine dark beer be found?

Le Reservoir.

Where is Le Reservoir?

The Brasserie Artisinale and Bistro Le Reservoir can be found at 9 Duluth East

Avenue Duluth is a pleasure of Montreal that shouldn’t be missed. As well as Le Reservoir, there are at least a dozen other pubs, bars and restaurants; including Chef Martin Picard’s Au Pied De Cochon (536 rue Duluth Est). His poutine with foie gras is legendary.

I digress… Le Reservoir has an unassuming brick front with doors that open out to the sidewalk and give the fifty or so seats a out-door feeling. For those who want to dine al fresco, there is additional seating on the roof. The bar is to the rear of the room, facing the kitchen. The wine and beer chart is over the service window to the kitchen, behind the bar. The brewery is off to the right as you sip one of the four or five brews on tap. The white walls, high ceilings and wood accents give the place a comfortable, casual feeling.

The menu is simple and featured ox tongue, fried calamari and assorted cheeses as well as the onglet pictured above. It was the best onglet I have ever eaten. It came with sautéed fiddle-head greens and a tuber I have yet to find again. (It was as long as a finger and twice as thick. It seemed to have been roasted.) The char on the beef was crisp and intense. The interior temperature was just before blue but not quite warm. (Body temperature?) Fiddle-head greens are forest ferns before they unfurl. Clenched up before unfolding, they look very similar to the neck of a violin where the strings are keyed to the proper tension. At Le Reservoir the greens were crisp and enjoying a close friendship with the butter it was sautéed in. The aforementioned starch was a hint of nutty flavors with a firmness and flavor similar to potato.

All of these flavors needed to be paired with a brew that was pallet cleansing but also rich enough to not get lost in the beef intensity. The answer was the house “noire” or black beer.

The house “noire” was sturdy ale of about 7% abv and based on roasted rather than patent malts. The hops were kept to a minimum but were floral in the flavor. This richness of the roasted malt complemented the beef and the freshness of the floral hop flavor made the fiddle-heads flavors intensify as well.

Desert was a chocolate pot pudding with a dusting of fleur de sal (fluffy sea salt). It was savory on its own but with the “noire” it was enhanced to the point of symbiotic fulfillment.

And that’s why stout goes with hanger steak…"

Monday, July 27, 2009

Oysters… Stout or Pilsner?

Preface: The above picture was taken at the Spotted Pig (314 West 11th Street, New York, NY). As you can see, those lovely bivalves are properly chilling and the beverage at one o’clock is what’s left of a pint of Stout. The reason it is a pint of Stout is because there was no pilsner style brew on tap at the time. If there had been a pilsner style lager on tap I would have opted for the crystal elixir.

I know that popular, romantic connections of the Irish Stout and copious amounts of oysters most likely has its origins less in culinary enjoyment and more in the fact was that at the turn of two centuries past both oysters and stout ale were considered sustenance for the unwashed masses. An oyster house was not a pretty place.

All of that aside, the flavors of neither one really accentuates or contrasts with the other. Start with a chilled oyster, freshly shucked by a sure handed shucker, sitting shimmering in a limpid pool of saline and bivalve so fresh that a drop of lemon juice will curl its edges. The flavors here and the textures recall the sea and a gelatinous richness of perfect Piscean aspic. The Irish Stout is a deep, rich, almost thick elixir that is full in the mouth and finishes with a tannic dryness. It lands with a thud on the delicate sea creature… unless the sea creature has been around a while or is as big as a dinner plate. The following notes rendered from a conversation I had on this very subject, long ago and far away, with Chef Rick Moonen…

Appearance: The delicate colors of the oyster and the subtle flavors are paired perfectly with the crystal clear, sparkling golden pilsner style of lager. The first impression of any food is what it looks like, if you are unlucky enough not to be in the kitchen and enjoying the aromas first. In this case sparkling and subtle are essentials.

Aroma: Yes, there are distinct aromas to every type of oyster. It is a mixture of the saline brine of the sea and the Piscean essences of various intensities. These are echoed by the ever so slightly sweet malt aromas followed by the fresh green tang of hops from a well poured pilsner style lager in a slender pilsner glass.

Mouth feel: The sparkling Pilsner and the slick ouster give the mouth a full feel and a rich finish.
Flavor: The combination of saline of the oyster and the tang of hops is enhanced by the slightly sweet grain addition from the malts.

Finish: The final notes from the oyster are given a refreshing coda from the last of the hops, in a most diplomatic way. So subtle you don’t notice they have gone.

Comments: If you want to abuse your taste buds with something other than a nice Pilsner style lager I wild suggest you try a sparkling white wine. The acid in the wine will rape the poor ouster in its own brine and leave you with gas as well.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Why Pale Ale goes with Deep-Fried Twinkie

Preface: Here we have a traditional American treat… deep-frying. I do not believe that there is any form of comestible that cannot be deep-fried. Ice cream, pickles, okra… well, there might be a bit of a fuss with leafy greens but then why would anyone want to eat leafy greens?

On Atlantic Avenue, In Brooklyn, NYC… there is “The Chip Shop”. Here they deep-fry almost everything on the menu… with curry chicken an exception. So on a fair day in July I ventured in and the following are my notes…

Appearance: The deep-fried Twinkie comes, as can be deduced from the above illustration, sliced in half, sauced with raspberry sauce and topped with whipped cream. The whipped cream on top of the Twinkie calls to mind the creamy head on pale ale. The golden color may resemble a pilsner but no matter.

Aroma: The sweet aromas of the warm (well it was deep-fried) Twinkie are almost caramel accented. The sweet aromas from whatever the Twinkie is made from are almost citric. The Pale Ale has a caramel aroma that is only slightly accented with a hop flower tang.

Mouth feel: Naturally there is a hot and cold game being played here.

Flavor: The creamy whipped topping as well as the filling from the Twinkie have company in the sweet malted barley flavors of the brew. All of this sweetness is held in check with just a wisp of the hop bitterness in the brew.

Finish: The better Pale Ales will have a rather lengthy hop tang that clears the senses for the next sip of the tasty but not emphatic brew. This lasting finish from the brew is helpful in keeping the very sweet flavors of this dish from becoming cloying.

Comments: The contrast in temperature and lightly hopped brew vs. the onslaught of the sugars makes for a taste contest that should be experienced at least once in a lifetime.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Why Stout with Steak & Eggs?

Preface: Once again I venture into the world of “brunch” to explore a popular pairing of food and beer. In this case a basic brunch dish has been paired with a pint of stout. The above pictured dish was served to someone recovering from a lengthy bout with beer the previous day, which the beer won. Thus, the consumption of the above was a matter of survival as well gustatory gratification. I digress…

There are a few solid reasons that Stout is a better beverage to serve with steak and eggs than either lager or Bloody Marry…

Appearance: The plate of eggs, warm, rich and runny, aromatic roasted potatoes and a charred slice of beefsteak is an imposing sight. A tall pilsner glass appears effete but a proud pint of stout (all pints are proud) is a visual stimulus promising rich roasted flavor friendships.

Aroma: As noted previously, the roasted potatoes and the charred beef have distinctive rich aromatics. The roasted malted barley of the stout (especially when served at 50F) is noticeable and echoes both the char of the beef and the roasted tuber aromatics of the potato.

Mouth feel: The first thing I do when presented with a dish like this is place the eggs on the beef and slice across the yolks, allowing the rich yolks to “sauce” the meat. This makes for a rich and slightly viscous sensation that is well met by the slightly astringency of a good stout.
Flavor: Again, as noted above, the char of the beef and the richness of the egg is a fine match for the rich chocolate and patent malts in the stout as well as the slightly astringent character of the roasted non-malted barley.

Finish: Stout has the character to finish off the rich flavors of the eggs and the meaty richness of the beef juices and then cleanse the pallet for more. Lager style brews may finish well but they can’t stand up to the rich flavors. A traditional Bloody Mary numbs the flavor receptors with Horseradish (or should so if done properly).

Comments: I can attest to the curative effects of this dish on a hangover and comfort food. The fact that I am not a “brunch” fan withstanding, this is a dish I will treat myself too when the body needs nourishment and the soul solace.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Why to Witt with Eggs Benedict

Preface: In the late 1800’s, on the island of Manhattan, at either Delmonico’s or the Waldorf, a rich white person either challenged the chef or was suffering from a hangover. The former was a woman and the latter a man. Eggs and hangovers I can understand. I expect the Delmonico’s legend must have been a response to her sense of comfort food. I prefer to believe the Commodore at the Waldorf version of the legend.

Over time this dish has been adapted to respond to as many names as there variations on what you can put between a poached egg and a toasted English muffin before swaddling it all with a rich sauce. A basic list of variations can be found: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eggs_benedict

The version pictured above is the “Eggs Norwegian” with a slice or two of Norwegian salmon in place of the slice of ham.

Tasting notes…

Appearance: The snowy white eggs, napped with golden yellow sauce, are the upside-down of a well poured Weiss/wheat beer.

Aroma: If you are lucky the notes of toasted bread from the muffin will be wafted upward with the distinct rich aromas from the sauce and the egg. An American Wheat will be crisp and clean the pallet. A Bavarian Witt beer will have sparkling clove and banana aromas that will have nothing in common with the dish but will synergistically create sensory anticipation.

Mouth feel: Both the egg dish and the various versions of wheat beer will have a smooth, rich feel in the mouth. The egg yolk richness needs no introduction and the enthusiastic carbonation of most wheat beers brings a very full mouth filling sensation.

Flavor: Done properly, the richness of the poached eggs enhances the crunch or the toasted bread and, in this case, the salinity of the salmon. The distinctive fruity flavor of the Bavarian Witt or the distinctive acidic flavor spike of Belgian Witt is particularly complementary.

Finish: The creamy rich combination of egg and sauce is nicely chased away by the crisp flavors that most wheat beers have. In particular, the clove flavor of the Bavarian wheat beers and the sparkling finish of American wheat beers are effective in cleansing the pallet.

Comments: I cannot attest to the curative effects of this dish on a hangover. However I can attest to the soothing effects of this as a comfort food. The fact that I am not a “brunch” fan withstanding, this is a dish I will treat myself too when the time is perfect to relax and enjoy. This is not something to be rushed through. It also seems to demand to be served al fresco in the back yard of a small bistro… but I digress.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Taste of Brew Free or Die I.P.A.

21st Amendment Brewery
Cold Spring, MN (USA)

Preface: Yesterday I had the chance to meet Nico Freccia, one of the founding fathers of 21st Amendment Brewery, Restaurant and Bar. The initial meeting place was an Indian restaurant on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. When I got to the address Renee Davidson, the brewery representative was there in a “Hell or High Water” watermelon hat… another story. She told me that they had found a “bar” around the corner that might be better. The “bar” was Blue Smoke. (That was like saying that they had decided on a local restaurant and chose Les Halles.) I can only assume that Mr. Freccia made the best of a marketing opportunity. The follow are my tasting notes from this morning…

Appearance: The copper/bronze brew has a slight chill haze and is well carbonated. The head is a rocky, long-lasting rich head of small to medium bubbles. The Belgian lace is slow to form and fall.

Aroma: First aromatic impression is more hop than malt, with the hops coming in as green rather than metallic. The second take on the aromatics brings a grassy and fresh grain accent to the initial green hops. The third dip into the aromatics is such a combination of the first to sensations that it is hard to distinguish where the individual notes leave off and the contrasting or complementary note begins.

Mouth feel: What we have here is a mouth-feel that is almost obese.

Flavor: Between lip and sip there is not a hint of what is to follow. After the initial refreshing sensation the mouth fills with a rush of hops and an undertone of roasted malts. The second taste reveals more of the malts under a still rather emphatic bitter sensation. By the third sip the malt has come forward but the truly bitter hops push it aside. This is a multi hopped brew and the result is a hop flavor that starts out grassy and finishes by drying out the sweet flavors from the malt.

Finish: This is a long finishing brew and that is a good thing. The time it takes to fully appreciate this I.P.A. is the time it takes for the flavors of a sip to finally fade.

Comments: The appearance and flavors of this I.P.A. are on style. The fact that it is in a can makes it even more interesting. The fact is that there is no good reason that full-flavored crafted brews cannot be canned.

21st Amendment Brewery: http://www.21st-amendment.com/

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BeerAdvocate: N/A


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Taste of Rahsaan Roland Kirk Stritch Stout

Angel City Brewing,
Torrance, CA (USA)

Preface: This is the third selection form the musical line of Angel City brews. Thanks to the folks at Angel City for send me this sample of their special brew. And, for the record, I do not read the promotional materials sent with beers or the information from any of the sites listed in these tasting notes before I taste any brew.

Appearance: Actually crystal clear, this deep dark garnet red brew is topped with a thin head of large bubbles that fall quickly into a thin layer of small creamy bubbles. The Belgian lace is thin.
Aroma: The first aromatic sensation is of rich burnt malted barley. The second impression brings some coffee/ espresso notes to the front. The final exploration brings the coffee notes to the forefront.

Mouth feel: This is a mouth filling brew. The flavors are far ahead of any carbonation influences.

Flavor: First impressions, following the initial refreshing sensation of cool brew, is a strong coffee/barley flavor speared by a spike of sharp metallic tang. The second sip reveals a touch of dry astringency that softens the metallic tang. The third dip into the pint brings a bitter, non-metallic cover to the coffee and astringent touches of the dry flavor from what I believe to be patent malt.

Finish: There is a real rush for the door by the major parts of the flavor profile of this brew. Then there are a few traces of vegetal green flowers and sweet barley. In the end the finish takes enough time to pass so that the rest of the brew isn’t chugged.

Comments: First of all, what is a “stritch” stout? Next, is it my imagination or are stouts getting less dense? First comes the “see through” Guinness product… then Guinness 250(Guinness Porter) and now Angle City with this “yes you can see light through the glass” brew.

This is not necessarily a bad thing… I’m just wondering if I am the only one noticing this.

I would do this brew a world of good to become acquainted with some low-and-slow truly buried-in-the-pit smoked pig… yes a whole pig. Which means a few cases of Rahsaan Roland Kirk … or even better… a keg… and a sandy beach… and a sea breeze… and crystal clear aqua water as warm as a…. but I digress.

The Brewery site: http://www.angelcitybrewing.com/beer.html

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Follow up: The Angle is now an Angel... and I grasp a "stritch" sax.... what is a "stritch" stout?

Monday, June 29, 2009

A Taste of… Pugsley’s Signature XXXX IPA

Shipyard Brewing Co.,
Portland, ME (USA)

Preface: Thanks to the folks at Shipyard for send me this sample of their special brew.

Appearance: A crystal clear copper penny colored brew with a carbonation of very small bubbles. The head is a very light sandy tan rocky head of large and creamy small bubbles that tat some of the fanciest Belgian lace I have seen in a long time.

Aroma: First impression is floral hop cone fresh almost peppermint. Second impression picks up a prune and a bit of roasted grain. The third time reveals the rich malt barley aromas.
Mouth feel: This is a big assed (seriously) brew.

Flavor: The first is a refreshing sensation followed by a very sweet sensation of grain and burnt sugar candy. The second sip has the hops in the front with a vengeance. There is also warmth that can be attributed to the 9.25% alcohol by volume. The third quaff was bitter hop spikes skewered by the alcohol into a serious spike of metallic flavor.

Finish: The finish takes so long that the finish of the first sip was still saying goodbye when the third swallow pushed it aside and left its calling card and lasted for a long time leaving an almost anis finish.

Comments: I am not a big fan of extreme brews and this is a big beer. If it were late in October I might suggest this as an afternoon warm-me-up brew, sipped slowly before supper. As it is a summer morning I feel as if it is out of its element and yet I just might let the next hour or so slip by as I actually finish this 225 ml bottle.

In the chance of being repetitive, I think a bowl of shelled walnuts and three or four samples of local cheddar cheese would do this brew no harm.

The Brewery site: http://www.shipyard.com/

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Friday, June 26, 2009

A Taste of Red Chair IPA 2009

Deschutes Brewery,
Bend, OR (USA)

Appearance: There is a bit of a chill haze to this burnished copper colored brew. The almost white head of loosely knit medium and large bubbles tat a fine Belgian lace as it slowly recedes.

Aroma: The sensation is a crisp hop flower sensation… the second pick up some toasted malt but just a trace. The third deep aromatic reception brings more of the malt to the front.

Mouth feel: This is a fairly full bodied brew but not flabby.

Flavor: The moment between first is a refreshing sensation followed by a sweet burnt candy flavor that is rushed out of the way by the spikes of hop flavors. These hop notes are aggressive but not offensive. The second sip revealed how well the sugars and bitters blended. The third swallow asked for another but not too soon.

Finish: The finish takes some time to finish its job. Actually it is long enough that you don’t want to dive right back in… rather relax and enjoy.

Comments: The grounds staff were mowing the lawn in front of this building so I was “sensually distracted” until the window was closed. However, the flavor profile was nicely balanced. The long finish lends more to contemplation than quaffing.

A bowl of shelled walnuts and three or four samples of local cheddar cheese would do this brew no harm.

The Brewery site.: http://www.deschutesbrewery.com/splash/default.aspx

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What they say...

Deschutes Brewery Releases Newest Member of Bond Street Series: Red Chair IPA

BEND, Ore. – The newest member of the Deschutes Brewery Bond Street Series is set to debut in mid-May: Red Chair IPA. Like the other beers in the Bond Street Series, Red Chair IPA began at the community Pub on Bond Street in downtown Bend, Oregon. These hop-centric ales are available only on tap and in 22-ounce bottles. The Bond Street series also includes Hop Trip, a fresh hop pale ale, and Hop Henge IPA, an experimental IPA.

All beers in the Bond Street series were initially available only at the downtown pub in Bend, which has gained a reputation as a venue for Deschutes’ brewers to experiment with innovative recipes. Brews that become wildly popular with the locals eventually make it into bottles, and Red Chair IPA is a prime example.

Brewer John Abraham describes Red Chair as a juicy IPA. “You will find no cloying, mouth-puckering bitterness here. In its place is a straight-up, succulent, citrus punch to the nose. This is due to the experimental nature of some of the hops, as well as how late in the process they were added.” (Read Abraham’s blog post about Red Chair IPA.)

Red Chair IPA is named for the oldest operating chairlift at Mt. Bachelor: a classic, old-school double that locals seek out on fresh powder mornings. “When I first tasted this beer, it didn’t have a name yet,” says Bobby Martin, Deschutes Brewery bartender and avid snowboarder. “I thought, ‘This beer is so good it’s just like a powder day at Bachelor with nobody around, and you’re riding the old rickety red chair. That’s it! Let’s call it Red Chair!’ Fast forward a few months, and here it is: my favorite beer ever, perfected and ready for public enjoyment.”

Red Chair IPA will be available throughout the western U.S. from May until September in retail establishments that carry the Bond Street Series.

Beer Geek Information:
6.4% Alcohol by Volume (ABV)
55 International Bittering Units (IBUs)

Cooking with Beer:
The brewery team recommends pairing Red Chair IPA with hot-n-sour soup, enchiladas with mole sauce, or thin crust Margherita pizza.

Best Setting for Consumption:
The long, slow ride up the Red Chair lift at Mt. Bachelor. If you don’t live in Central Oregon, a front porch swing will do.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Taste of… Howling Wolf Weizenbock

Grand Teton Brewing Co.,
Victor, ID (USA)

Appearance: This is a cloudy copper colored brew with plenty of carbonation. The head is a dense, well packed foam of small bubbles that leave a thin Belgian lace.

Aroma: The first aroma is similar to the traditional weizenbier… slight banana and some cloves. The second aromatic impression has the slight hint of toasted barley joining the initial aromatics. The third aromatics blend the first two sensations with a hint of hop floral.

Mouth feel: What we have here is a mouth-feel that is almost obese.

Flavor: Between lip and sip there is a rush of banana and then the rush of refreshing coolness followed by a tsunami of banana and bubble gum. The flavors are intense… The second impression follows the first in specifics but with a warmer sensation. The third impression is more intense than the first two… I’m afraid to take another sip.

Finish: It has been almost a full minute since I finished this tasting and there is still a coating of flavors on my pallet, slowly leaving a sweet, almost viscous sensation.

Comments: This is one intense brew. It has the character of the Bavarian brews but the heft of a fast-food eating, live in their auto when not on the couch American. It must be noted that more is not always better.
This is a sipping beer that would be best served in small tasting glasses after a big meal.

Grand Teton Brewing Co.: http://www.grandtetonbrewing.com/

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Taste of… Lester Young Porkpie Hat Dark Lager

Angle City Brewing,
Torrance, CA (USA)

Preface: This is the second of a series of four brews bottled by Angle City.

Appearance: A deep dark red garnet colored brew with plenty of carbonation. It is topped with a sandy tan colored head of small to medium bubbles that fall leaving a good Belgian lace.

Aroma: First impression is a coffee/caramel aroma. The second take turned into a prune/coffee sensation. The final take confirmed the second impressions.

Mouth feel: This is not a big bodied brew. However, it is no light-weight either.

Flavor: A wall of roasted malt hits you first, followed by a speed-bump of hops. The second go around revealed a bit of prune and then some bitterness from the shy hops. Finally the third sip leaves you convinced that there are a few layers to both the prune notes and the deep roast of the barley.

Finish: This brew, as noted in the Mouth Feel notes, is no heavy-weight and the flavors that linger leave quickly and cleanly.

Comments: Recent tastings have been served a bit warm. The temperature that this brew was served probably could have been on the colder side. However, being a dark lager with 5.7% alcohol by volume, it would not be at its best served chilled to 40F or so. I believe that this would make a fine session beer on a brisk autumn or crisp spring afternoon. A soul soothing macaroni and cheese would be the perfect pairing.

Angel City Brewing Company: http://www.angelcitybrewing.com/beer.html

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Taste of... Audacity of Hops 2009

Mayflower Brewing Company,
Plymouth, MA (USA)
Special for the 2009 Craft Brewers Conference

Preface: The Brewers Association commissioned this beer and it was brewed at Mayflower Brewing Company by brewers from Cambridge Brewing Company and members of the Massachusetts Brewers Guild. The label notes that it is 8.5% alcohol by volume, 60 International Bittering Units and had an Original Gravity of 1.072 SG… "The Audacity of Hops Symposium Ale represents New England as an existential bridge to the Continental Motherland and the Western U.S. brewing. It makes the point that we’ve started a few revolutions of our own! An audacious hops charge is balanced by pale, aromatic malts and complex Belgian yeast character."

Appearance: The crystal clear, golden bronze, highly effervescent brew is topped with a pure white rocky head of medium to large bubbles. The head falls into a fine Belgian lace.

Aroma: The first impression is almost a floral perfume pushed aside by a pronounced toasted grain aroma. The second “nosing” finds more of a balance and by the third return an undertone of unbaked bread appeared. Between lip and sip there was a touch of hop floral.

Mouth feel: There is a lot of body to this beer and there is a creamy carbonation that fills it out even further.

Flavor: The first impression is warmth. Then a grain and toasted grain flavor becomes more pronounced but that heat just will not let up. The second impression brings the hops to the front but that warm caress as it is swallowed is sensually notable. The third swallow brings the malty sweet heavyweight out to battle the hop hero of huge proportions and let the rumble begin…

Finish: My flavor receptors staggered to a neutral corner as the prize fighters left the building in better shape than they found it. Clean and crisp…

Comments: The temperature that this brew was served probably could have been on the colder side. This would have settled down the carbonation and let the fruit develop from a cool place rather than springing out fully developed. This will be tended to calm down the boisterous flavors. However, as it was commissioned by the beer godz I figured I would serve it at 50F. When I finish it I am leaving for a long walk to a long lunch. If this was the brew waiting for me I would be lunching of a thick, rare steak.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

A Taste of… Sam Smith Organic Strawberry Fruit Ale

Melbourn Bros.Brewery
Stamford, Lincolnshire, England

Preface: This is a recent arrival from the folks at Merchant du Vin. It came accompanied by a bottle of Cherry Ale and Raspberry Ale. The decision to taste the Strawberry was made because the Raspberry was too cold to appreciate. This bottle of Strawberry Fruit Ale was opened at cellar temperature.

Before I get to the actual tasting I must note that fruit beers are not my favorite brews. However, all beers have a time and place.

Appearance: It looks like traditional ale but it smells all of strawberry… The brew is crystal clear and topped with a very fragile head of tan bubbles of impressive dimension.

Aroma: As noted above there is a significant aroma about this brew as soon as it is uncapped. The first serious aromatic exploration revealed a rather fresh scent of the berry. The second exploration continued the fruity notes and so it was time to sip…

Mouth feel: There is a surprising light mouth-feel to this brew.

Flavor: Between lip and sip there was hint of berry but not unpleasantly so… the first cool impression is then filled with a rather authentic flavor of ripe strawberries. The berry flavor is spiked with a carbonation that starts out creamy and then lends that flavor of sharp almost citric character. The second sip revealed more of the creamy sensation and less tang. The final swallow was less than perfectly balanced.

Finish: The final flavors are fresh and fleeting… there is only a touch of the berry left in the end.

Comments: The temperature that this brew was served probably could have been on the colder side. This would have settled down the carbonation and let the fruit develop from a cool place rather than springing out fully developed. This will be tended to when the other two bottles are tasted.

Cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches would be a rather urbane accompaniment to this beverage.

Company Site: http://www.merchantduvin.com/pages/5_breweries/samsmith_organic_fruitbeer_varieties.html

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Friday, June 19, 2009

A Taste of… Keelhauler 22

Full Sail Brewing
Hood River, OR (USA)

Preface: Once again I reach to the back of the fridge and find what might be a relic… I can’t find any promotional literature or sell-sheet. There is no “Best By” date on the bottle. However, it does note that the contents are in the style of a Scottish Ale and the alcohol by volume 6.8%... and so another Friday begins.

Appearance: The crystal clear almost red amber brew is topped with a very rocky light tan head of rapidly collapsing large and medium size bubbles. They tat a very loose Belgian lace

Aroma: The first impression is a touch of sugar candy with under-notes of prune. Next comes a toasted malt aroma, followed by that prune note. Finally the aromas blend together and the sugar candy wins with the toasted malt and prune falling away.

Mouth feel: There is a surprising light mouth-feel to this brew.

Flavor: Between lip and sip there was hint of sweet malted barley and then the warmth and tawny sherry flavors exploded. The second sip woke up the hops and they came late to the table but you know they are there. After the third sip the flavor receptors have been overcome and you could be convinced that this is fairly light bodied brown ale with a bit more alcohol than expected.

Finish: The last impression is slightly metallic and hovers between sweet and dry but can’t make up its mind.

Comments: First impressions are always important and this brew comes in as homely a label as I have seen in a long while. I do note that it is a vintage Brewmaster Reserve. With relatively high alcohol content I imagine this could take a bit of cellaring to reach its peak flavor.

The pairing of this brew with a crumbling hard salty cheese or rich Stilton would do it no harm.

Company Site: http://www.fullsailbrewing.com/default.cfm

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Friday, June 12, 2009

A Taste of… Charlie Parker Pale Ale

Angel City Brewing Company

Torrance, CA (USA)


This is the second of four bottles sent to me by the folks at Angle City Brewing Company. It has been kept at cellar temperature.

Appearance: A crystal clear, golden, almost burnished bronze brew is topped with a very rocky head of larger and medium sized bubbles that fall slowly into a serious Belgian lace.

Aroma: The first impression is a hint of yeasty bread, but just a hint. The second impression is of cool and refreshing sensations as it takes time to find any striking aromatic. The third round of sensory impression reveals a British biscuit (we call them crackers, the food, not the people) note.

Mouth feel: There is a very full mouth feel here...

Flavor: Between lip and sip there was hint of sweet malted barley before a sharp spike of hops speared the senses and relaxing only slightly to let a bit of toasted malt sweetness appear. The second sip had me looking for an alcohol content… at 6.8% abv it was tasted a lot warmer. The third round went to the traces of bourbon flavor that clung to the rear of the pallet.

Finish: The finish is a last sweet bourbon sensation followed by the lingering sensation of a new mown lawn.

Comments: There is nothing on the bottle label to tell about ingredients, fermenting process or ageing process so my sense of having noticed traces of bourbon might be echoes of memories of listening to “Bird” and drinking way too much bourbon with friends as we solved the problems of the world… as only twenty one year old intellectuals can.

Seriously … I find that the flavors of this brew would be right at home on the table in any high end steak house. It might even be enough of a match for grilled lobster.

Company Site: http://www.angelcitybrewing.com/beer.html

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Taste of Lost Continent Double IPA

Grand Teton Brewing Co.
Victor, ID (USA)

Thanks to the folks at the Grand Teton Brewing Co., this bottle arrived in good shape. It has been kept at cellar temperature. There is no “Best by” date on the bottle. Surprisingly enough, there is no mention of this brew on their web site.

Appearance: This copper colored, effervescent brew had minute “floaters”… The head was light brown foam of medium to small bubbles, tatting significant Belgian lace.

Aroma: The first impression is of floral sensations of no identifiable hop nature. The second impression picked up an undertone of sweet caramel or brown sugar. The third impression was similar to the second, with little change.

Mouth feel: The mouth feel is very full, bordering on the obese. There is a very thick impression that I cannot attribute to any specific cause.

Flavor: Between lip and sip there was a slight increase in the sweet sensations in the aromas. The first flavor is caramel sweet and it takes a moment for the hops to make their way into the event. The second flavor impression is more tuned to the hops and these hops are as aggressive as can be imagined. I was almost afraid of the third taste impression but soldiered on… by now my mind had wrapped itself in enough sensations to find a balance, but it is tenuous. There is a flavor similarity to dry sherry.

Finish: The lingering tang of hops and the equally long lasting caramel note last longer than some might consider comfortable.

Comments: Not too many years ago I received a sample of one of the first canned microbrews that had similar mini-floaters and an almost viscous character. Therefore I am going to hold any other comments in reserve until I can contact the brewery and see if I might obtain another sample.

Stay tuned… as they used to say in the days of radio.

Company Site: http://www.grandtetonbrewing.com/

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Attached is today's blog tasting notes for Lost Continent... has anyone else noticed these characteristics?

Did I perhaps get a "phunky" bottle?


Peter LaFrance

----- Original Message -----
From: Chuck Nowicki, Sales and Marketing Director
To: Peter LaFrance
Sent: Thursday, June 11, 2009 7:10 PM
Subject: Re: From P. LaFrance - BeerBasics.com

Are you in reference to the “floaters”? These are bottle conditioned and have yeast in the bottle.




So that's what I saw! The possibility did cross my mind when I wrote those tasting notes. I checked the bottle and there was no mention of "bottle conditioned" and so I assumed the worst. Pouring an unmarked bottle-conditioned beer can give the pourer fits... messes with the mind... I'm glad it was all a dream.

Thanks for the information...


Peter LaFrance


Case solved!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Taste of… Twilight Seasonal Ale

Deschutes Brewery
Bend, OR (USA)

Thanks to the folks at the Deschutes brewery, this bottle arrived in good shape. It has been kept at cellar temperature and, according to the “Best by: date of 09/18/09, it is quite young.

Appearance: A sparkling clear golden brew with a fine carbonation is crowned with a white head of medium to large bubbles resulting in a rocky head with a good Belgian lace.

This is a very clear, clean red copper colored brew with a head that is well constructed and slightly tan. The glittering bubbles knit together into a rocky but not too thin head.

Aroma: The initial aroma is classic roasted malted barley. The second sensation introduces a hint of fresh green grass and a hint of orange. The final aromatic exploration reveals a classic hop flower aroma.

Mouth feel: The mouth feel is a pleasantly creamy sensation. No surprises here.

Flavor: Between lip and sip there was a distinct impression of the malted barley aromas intensifying. First flavors to arrive are the emphatic sensations that the classic hop aroma suggested. The barley is there in a solid supporting role. The second sip, since you have already been introduced to the massive hops tang and the buxom barley, allows the two to relax together. By the third sip they have settled down as a flavor duo and seem to really like each other.

Finish: The final sensory suggestions left by this brew are relaxed remnants of the major players in the aromatic and flavor dance… malted barley and classic (non-Cascade) hop aromas and flavors, that in the end leave neither a noticeable sweet or dry coda.

Comments: Twilight is a name suggestive of end-of-the-day relaxations. If that was the marketing departments’ goal it worked with me. After finishing (Yes, finishing…) this bottle I just might call it a day… At five percent alcohol by volume I can’t blame it all on the alcohol or hops…

This is a beer that would go well with a sandwich of thin sliced baked ham and a touch of smooth mustard on lightly toasted rye bread. It would also go very well with an hour or so of good conversation.

Company Site: http://www.deschutesbrewery.com/splash/default.aspx

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Monday, June 8, 2009

A Taste of… Angel City Vitzen

Angel City Brewing Company
Torrance, CA (USA)

This brew, accompanied by three others, came as a pleasant surprise last week. I had the pleasure of meeting Michael Bowe, president/brewer of Angle City Brewing at the Craft Brewers Conference in Boston this year. On the heels of the Anderson Valley Beer Festival he took the liberty of forwarding this bottle of Vitzen, along with Charlie Parker Pale Ale, Lester young Porkpie Hat Dark Lager, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk Stritch Stout. I am interested in the story behind the names of those brews.

The label notes on the Vitzen note: “Angel City Vitzen is a true German style hefe-weitzen, decoction brewed with over 60% wheat malt and our own proprietary German yeast strain.”

The tasting notes for the Vitzen follow…

Appearance: In the style of a traditional Bavarian wheat beer, this is a hazy bright copper colored brew with a finely knit head of sandy bubbles that leave a well defined Belgian lace.

Aroma: The initial sensation had hints of cloves and a bread undertone. The second sensation is almost citric with the cloves still in front. The third impression is yeasty and still the cloves hang in there.

Mouth feel: The initial mouth feel is pleasantly effervescent, for such a well toned finish. There is no “flab” to this brew.

Flavor: After the first refreshing sensation the flavors of bubblegum and banana cut a sensual swath followed by less bubble gum and more banana.

Finish: The finishing flavors are echoes of the first flavors with a slightly sweet note lingering after the identifiable flavors depart.

Comments: This is one of two wheat beers brewed in the United States that I could wrap my taste and mind around and appreciate as a well made example of the style. I believe that most wheat beers brewed in the United States are not meant to be in the Bavarian or Belgian style and celebrate a style unique to North America. That said, I would enjoy this brew as an accompaniment to a serving of grilled firm fleshed fish and charred veggies. Throw in a steamed lobster and I would be a most happy fellow.

Angel City Brewing Company: http://www.angelcitybrewing.com/beer.html

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Friday, June 5, 2009

A Taste of… Wacko

Magic Hat Brewing Company
South Burlington, VT (USA)

This is not the first time I’ve encountered this Wacko…

On a recent road trip through New England I stopped in at the brewery in South Burlington and met Matt Cohen, the brewer of Wacko and the rest of the Magic Hat line of brews. The initial part of the tour was given by the Curator of Curiosities, Krissy Leonard, an articulate and able guide.

At the end of the visit we were presented with two growlers of Magic Hat brews. One was Wacko. Both growlers survived two days in a car and hotel rooms.

When the Wacko Growler was opened it was well chilled and it was a hot Saturday afternoon. I did not keep notes for that tasting but I do remember it being refreshing enough to result in a rather short shelf life.

Today’s more analytical notes…

Appearance: (The label lets you know there is “beet juice color” in this brew.) What we have here is a slightly hazy (chill?) golden brew with just a hint of ruby (think cranberry). The head is a slightly sandy construction of large and small bubbles resulting in a rocky foam that leaves very nicely knit Belgian lace.

Aroma: As soon as this bottle was opened there was an aroma of malty beer. The first impression is slightly confusing due to the slight pink and the anticipation of something citric or fruity. Thus the first impression is that of new mowed lawn with a whiff of malted grain. The second and third impressions pick up a fleeting image of cranberry (blame that on the color). From lip to sip the impression was unchanged.

Mouth feel: The initial mouth feel is pleasantly effervescent and then the first flavors kick in…

Flavor: Initial impression is a dry sensation and a quick spike of unidentifiable hop tang. The second impression is almost citric but without a sharp spike sensation. The third impression has no argument with the previous two.

Finish: The last sensation is a memory of the first flavor sensations. It finishes fast and fleeting.

Comments: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m sure, the folks at Magic hat constantly amaze me. There range of beers is both amusing and entertaining. I’m never quite sure what I’m getting, but it will be interesting.

Magic Hat Brewing Company: http://www.magichat.net

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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Taste of… Odd Notion Summer 2009

Magic Hat Brewing Company
South Burlington, VT (USA)

Preface: This sample was provided by the good folks at Magic hat, arrived in good condition and has been kept refrigerated until an hour before opening. It is marked “Please drink by the end of the month notched – Aug 09.

Appearance: A very crystal clear, sparkling, golden brew is topped with a thin, white head of closely knit small white bubbles.

Aroma: The initial aromatic sensation is slightly phenolic with unusual undertones to a sweet malt. The second impression shifts the phenolic hints to a more herbal impression (not hops). Finally, when you get the deepest aroma impression it brings the malt to the front and the initial impressions remain in support roles.

Mouth feel: This is a well defined body with a creamy sparkling impression.

Flavor: After a refreshing cool impression the first flavor is familiar malt flavors with undercurrents of gingerbread spicing. The second impression is includes sharper sensations of drying mint or spice. (These unfamiliar flavors in this “beer/ale” are driving me nuts…)The third quaff was so refreshing I didn’t try to identify flavors… just enjoyed.

Finish: The finish was quick and left little more than a trace of the flavors and aromas on a dry palette.

Comments: The folks at Magic hat constantly amaze me. Their web site tell me that this brew is brewed with pale malts, Apollo hops, with 5.9% abv., 17 IBU, yeast: Belgian ale… in their words “Golden in color and light in body this low hop bitterness ale is refreshing to drink and finishes with a subtle spicy complexity from a very unique Belgian yeast strain… Belgian candy sugar.”
In short… don’t think about this beer… just drink and enjoy.

Magic Hat Brewing Company: http://www.magichat.net/oddnotion/

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Third Day of The 2009 New England Brewery Tour


Today was the easiest day of the tour... just one brewery.

This afternoon it was a visit to The Gilded Otter in New Paltz, NY.

I'll admit that this was not the first visit to the Otter. Their brews are not only clean and balanced, the staff is knowledgeable enough to be able to make pairing suggestions that make the visit even better.

This time the challenge was pairing one of the brews with their Reese's Pieces pie... Not surprisingly the choice was their Stout. Although the stout came off a bit dry the combination with the pie was a very good match.

At lunchtime, in the middle of the week the "Otter" has a mix of local business folks, and professors and students from the local college. The outdoor seating is comfortable and the service is friendly and more than adequate.

After three days of traveling and visiting breweries it was time to take a break so it was back to Brooklyn.

Tomorrow you can expect some of the pictures from the places visited: Northampton Brewpub, Jasper Murdock's, Harpoon (VT), Magic Hat, The Alchemist and the above mentioned Gilded Otter.

Flat Bread, and Opa! Opa! were not visited because they opened at 1600 hours ( 4:00 pm) and did not fit into the travel schedule. Davidson Brothers and The Adirondack Pub & Brewery also fell out of the deck because of timing.

In the end it came to six out of ten and that's not too bad...

What does this mean?
It means another tour in the near future.


Peter LaFrance

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Second Day of the 2009 New England Brewery Tour


First of all, as you may have noticed, there have been no pictures. Blame that on technology. They will follow on the web-site. (I have some super pictures - and video of the fermenters at Magic Hat and the new bottling line at Harpoon - Windsor, VT).

We began the day at Harpoon (Windsor,VT) after a short drive from Norwich, VT. We discovered there have been some major changes there over the last year. One of the most impressive is the "brew-pub" part of the operation. It was still being worked on while we were there. The new bottling line was also impressive. At over 400 bottles a minute they have developed a system that gives them a chance to make even more of an impression on the national market.

The brewpub aspect, as well as the merchandising area will be impressive when finished. In particular, the care to detail is going to make a visit there memorable.

The next stop was the renovated facility at Magic Hat. Their new open fermenter system was a beauty to see and gave a olfactory impression that was memorable. Again, pictures and video to follow.

Unfortunately Flat Bread was not open when we got there in the early afternoon. And so it was off to Waterbury and The Alchemist. This brewpub was just getting its first rush when we got there. One fellow had been there most of the afternoon it seemed and was enjoying the results. More to the point the beers there were tasty, clean and refreshing. One, just over 4% abv was a real fine brew. As we were expected at a fine restraunt later we just had a small plate of cheese. The Vermont cheeses they presented were served at the best temperature and were better than at the place where we had dinner.

And now the big confession... after consideration it is time to return to Brooklyn. The New York breweries in Lake George will have to wait. On the way back we will visit The Guilded Otter and call it a trip.

Thanks for following and I'll let you know when and where the pictures and video will be posted.


Peter LaFrance
( http://www.beerbasics.com )

Monday, May 18, 2009

The First Day

The First Day


It is the evening of the first day of the New England Brewery Tour 2009. I must say it was a mixed case of missing the chance (one should always call ahead to make sure the place you want to visit is open for business), making the best of a situation (visiting a brewery or brewpub unannounced and finding it ample but not impressive), and finally finding just what the tour was all about (the good beer, interesting brewer and good food).

The first stop was Opa! Opa! A steakhouse brewpub in Southampton, MA… We arrived there at 1230 hours and the sign on the door said it opened at 1600. (Should have called ahead.) The stand-by was the Northampton Brewpub… the place was hard to find and was enjoying a slow day for the wait staff and a too busy day for the brewing staff. However, the fish sandwich was tasty and the waitress was pleased almost beyond words when I asked her to pick the brew to go with my fried fish sandwich. (The fish was tasty and not oil-drenched and the IPA was a nice complement).

Then came Brattleboro and the cases of the closed shops… first the older brewpub was shuttered and the newest brew-bar (Long Trail) was closed on Monday. So much for calling ahead…

The final stop, The Norwich Inn was right on. Since this was not my first visit here I did know what to expect. What I was not expecting was a visit by Tim, the original brewer, visiting with Pat, the new (last three years) brewer. The tour of the brew house was informative and fun. The brews later in the pub were tasty and paired well with the smoked brisket. After a walk to make room for desert the Porter and molten chocolate cake were the best ending to a brew event I could imagine.

In short, two out of five seems a fairly good score.

Tomorrow it will be Harpoon, Magic Hat, Flat Bread and The Alchemist… stay tuned!


Peter LaFrance
( http://www.beerbasics.com )

The New England May 2009 Brewery Tour


Today is the first day of the New England 2009 Brewery Tour.

The tour should consist of visits, announced and some unannounced, to the following breweries (brewpubs): Opa! Opa!, Southampton, MA - Northampton Brewery: 11 Brewster Ct, Northampton, MA - Jasper Murdock's, Norwich, VT - Harpoon Brewery, Windsor, VT - Magic Hat Brewery, South Burlington, VT - Flat Bread, Burlington, VT - The Alchemist, Waterbury, VT - Adirondack Pub & Brewery, Lake George, NY - Davidson Brothers, Glens Falls, NY and the Guilded Otter, New Paltz, NY.

The tour will last from today through Thursday.

Each evening, if there is web access, I hope to post an account of the days events and pictorial proof that it actually happened.

Stay tuned....


Peter LaFrance
( http://www.beerbasics.com )

Friday, May 1, 2009

A taste of… Guinness 250

St. James Gate

Preface: As you can see from the picture above, this tasting did not take place “in house.” The draft was drawn at The Waterfront Alehouse in Brooklyn, NY. I can assure you that this was a “beer-clean” glass and was served at slightly below the suggested serving temperature. That said…

Appearance: This brew in a deep dark brown with garnet hints when back-lit with a mini-Maglite. There is little note of carbonation. A thick, dense bone-white head of fairly large bubbles sits atop the brew.

Aroma: The first impression is clean with neither noticeable malt nor hop aromas. The second impression, after the brew warmed for a few minutes, brought out some malt aromas. The third impression offered little else. The lip-to-sip impression heralded some sweetness.

Mouth feel: The refreshing cool sensation had little or no carbolic acid spike to affect the following flavors.

Flavor: The first impression is of a slightly less emphatic version of the expected flavors associated with traditional Guinness stout. The second impression reveals a sturdy roasted malt flavor with a noticeably dry sensation. The third impression presents more questions than observations.

Finish: The final effect is a very dry finish with a lack of the depth of flavors associated with traditional Guinness Stout.

Comments: First a caveat – This brew was poured at 40-45 F, a bit cool for full appreciation. That said, it occurs to me that the ghost of Arthur Guinness might have been influencing present day brewers to offer a brew more in the style of the original Guinness porter. The folks at Guinness might not like my observation that this seems to be a Guinness “Light”… Could it be that this is an attempt to develop market share by “adjusting” their recipe to fit a perceived demand for a less “aggressive” flavor profile? (Consider that traditional Guinness, on draft in the US is 6% abv and this product (on draft) is listed at 5% abv.)

Notes from the Guinness Press Release:

Brewing Process:
• Crafted and brewed in Ireland, the GUINNESS 250 Anniversary Stout is a new innovation product that uses a unique brewhouse process. This process blends two malt types in a double “brew stream” along with water from the Wicklow Hills, and of course as in all GUINNESS Stouts, roasted barley to create the deep rich color and enigmatic flavor
• The fermentation process for the GUINNESS 250 Anniversary Stout uses GUINNESS’ own yeast which has been extended to allow for more conversion of the natural sugars. The result is a more malty flavor profile
• A triple hop addition regime provides a hint of bitterness

Product Style:
• Look: A near white frothy stout beer head of larger bubble size than GUINNESS Draught, to be poured on draught in a one-part pour or gently from a bottle (as opposed to the two-part pour of GUINNESS draught). It is vibrant, unique and distinctive in color – still dark with a distinctive stout head
• Flavor: This stout has a crisp effervescent taste with a balanced malty, roasted / hop flavor. The malty, roasted, bitter flavor balance is enhanced when released with a lively, refreshing and smooth carbonated mouthfeel

Pricing: 6-pack GUINNESS 250 Anniversary Stout bottles = $7.99-8.49
ABV: 5%
Caloric Value: 136.3 calories per 11.2 oz. bottle

Brewery site: http://www.guinness.com/us_en/

What others thought:

Rate Beer: http://www.ratebeer.com/beer/guinness-250-anniversary-stout/101769/

Beer Advocate: http://beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/209/49122

Peter LaFrance
(peter.lafrance@beerbasics.com )

Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Taste of… Jenlain Blonde

Brasserie Duyck
BP 6
59144 Jenlain - France

Tel. +(33) 3 27 49 70 03
Fax. +(33) 3 27 49 74 81

Preface: As you can see from the picture above, this tasting was not done “in house”. In fact I had some help in sampling this brew and I thank my good friend Mark for the use of his living room as a setting for the tasting and his taste receptors for their participation. His comments are bracketed.

This bottle of Jenlain Blonde was obtained from a reputable retailer and kept refrigerated after being purchased. Its retail cost was $8.95(US)

Appearance: This is a slightly cloudy brew, light amber with light brass tones… lightly carbonated with a slightly dense bone white head of small bubbles that formed a full head.

Aroma: First impression is a slightly toasty sensation with a touch of green grass/wet hay. The second impression revealed a bit more malt. It should be noted that there was a plate of sliced smoked ham in the near vicinity that did make an aromatic impression. In the lip-to-sip the sweet aroma/flavor stepped forward.

Mouth feel: The initial mouth feel is pleasantly effervescent, almost creamy, with little carbolic acid spike.

Flavor: The first impression, after the creamy mouth feel was of hard rock sugar candy. The second impression added a slight touch of caramel. The third taste reveled a malted grain flavor. Throughout there was little hint of hops. (This is a refreshing beer that would be really good on a hot day.)

Finish: The sugar candy flavor dries out and leaves a slightly citric finish on the pallet.

Comments: (This reminds me of a Duvel I had once… refreshing and not too heavy.) I am not unfamiliar with the Jenlain line of brews and will admit to having been a fan of these brews for a number of years. The bland cheddars and smoked ham that I tasted with this brew did little to add to the flavors of the brew or help me appreciate what character there was in the cheese. A sharper cheese, perhaps a bowl of steamed mussels would have been a much better idea. In fact a tin of sardines in light oil with a crisp loaf of bread would have been even better.

The brewery site: http://www.duyck.com/

What others Say:



Saturday, April 11, 2009

A taste of… The Gnome

Smuttynose Brewing Company
Portsmouth, NH

Preface: As you can see from the above picture, this brew was not tasted “in-house.” The tasting was on the occasion of this year’s Good Friday. On this afternoon an old acquaintance (in both senses of the context) and I met for an annual toast to the day. (A tradition of some thirty years with only an occasional interruption…)

And so The Gnome tasting at the Blind Tiger ale House in New York City was simply a continuation of a tradition of non-politically correct celebrations. The following tasting notes are therefore to be considered “holey” accurate…

The cost of the above glass of Gnome: ($7.00 US)

The following are my tasting notes:

Appearance: The Gnome is a cloudy tangerine colored brew (not golden and not quite orange) with almost no head.

Aroma: There are almost no aromatics to the brew but for a straw grass hint at the moment between lip and sip.

Mouth feel: After the initial liquid refreshment there is a rush of grapefruit and lemon juice citric sensations.

Flavor: These sensations are intensified in the later flavor impressions. There is a definite sharp acidic tang to this one.

Finish: The sharp citric flavors leave quickly with only traces of their being there left for any consideration.

Comments: The brewer took a good shot at Belgian-style ale. As this was the last of the Gnome left in New York City I did feel he might have been a bit old in the tooth. He did seem a bit too civilized for such a funky and often quite crude style of beer. It was a similar experience for me watching Carle Rove lay down some “rap” on that infamous YouTube clip. (Find it yourself…)

And now a word from the brewer…

Commercial Description:

“The Gnome was brewed in homage to the recent arrivals of hoppy Belgian beers that we’re starting to see here in the US. I was really shooting for that beautifully soft hopping that’s found in the Houblon Chouffe, however, the Gnome has developed its own unique characteristics and flavor profile. The base beer is a Belgian triple brewed with White Labs Chimay-style yeast. I really liked the fruit character from this yeast, but man, that stuff still hasn’t dropped bright. The hopping was done with Vanguard, Sterling and East Kent Goldings. I think this beer has a lot of potential, though I’d like another shot at brewing the style. There is a very limited amount of this beer, so if you happen to see it on tap, go ahead and share a pint with your gnomies!”

Malt: Weyermann Pilsner Malt, CaraHell, Cane Sugar

Hops: IBU ¬ 75
Bittering Hops – Vanguard
Flavor – Sterling
Dry Hop – East Kent Goldings
9% abv

The brewery homepage: http://www.smuttynose.com/index.html

Smuttynose Brewers notes: http://smuttynose.blogspot.com/2007/01/short-batch-gnome.html

What others are saying...

RateBeer: http://www.ratebeer.com/beer/smuttynose-the-gnome/69896/

Beeradvocate: http://beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/141/35225