Illinois: Sofie 2012, Goose Island Beer, Chicago

The beer that proves craft v. crafty is a big sloppy fib – and well within the range of possible futures for brewing generally. $8.99 last weekend just across the border. I look for it and its siblings whenever I cross over as it is one of the best values in good beer.

Lemon, pears and fine herb aromas. In the mouth, bright mid-weight beer with a creamy texture up front followed by slightly astringent green apple and lemon acidity. Overarching bready huskiness, light spice, a bit of sulfurous funk and a slightly yoghurty yeast. White pepper note in finish. Loverly and reasonable. Rare combination.

An absolutely swell beer made by a brewery owned by an international faceless monolith. Deal with it. BAers have the love.

Mmm… What I Need Is A Big Bowl Of Thick Beer!

flemish1I knew this. I think I knew this anyway:

“This process is much like how you would do in a fourth-grade germination science project, where the grains would be soaked in water for about 24 hours, drained and then laid between sheets of cloth until they sprouted,” said Amanda Mummert, an anthropology graduate student helping Armelagos with his research. After germination, the grains were dried and then milled into a flour used to make bread. Streptomyces bacteria most likely entered the beer-making process either during the storage or drying of the grain or when the bread dough was left to rise. Nubian brewers would take the dough and bake it until it developed a tough crust, but retained an almost raw center. The bread was broken into a vat containing tea made from the unmilled grains. The mixture was then fermented, turning it into beer. The final product didn’t look much like the pint of amber you sip at your local watering hole. “When we talk about this ancient Egyptian beer, we’re not talking about Pabst Blue Ribbon,” Armelagos said. “What we’re talking about is a kind of cereal gruel.”

I knew that. Not that bacteria stuff. No, not that. Forget all that medical properties stuff. Look at that word “gruel”! I think there was reference to the thickness of 1500s gruel beer back in Martyn’s Beer: The Story of The Pint which I am surprised to now read that I blogged about seven and a half years ago. There is stuff in Hornsey about beer as gruel as well. Boozy porridge. So, how is it when we are presented with these supposedly authentic ancient beers, well, they pours like water or least an IPA?

More to the point, don’t you want to try some breakfast gruel beer? Couldn’t we make it like it was enjoyed back then? Not the contemporary southern African version for 12 to 20 but the big vat whole dang community serving sized pot o’ Quaker Oats meets Budweiser. If we look again at “Village Kermis With Theater and Procession” by Pieter Bruegel the Younger (discussed in in 2007 in terms of the pub game in the lower left) we see in the lower center the making of a big mess of something being sucked back by the crowd, right across the street from the joint I’d guess was the tavern. Have a look at the painting Bruegel maybe ripped off and the detail is even better. I am not suggesting we need to get all deep about this stuff but does anyone do a village kermis with gruel booze anymore – other than, say, in rural Romanian where I am pretty sure I will never find myself? Would people folk to such a legitimate recreation as much as for another thinly veiled faux stab at brand buffing? Apparently the children’s games scholars are already at it.

Beau’s Thursday Night Tasting In the Backyard

A fun way to spend the evening. Beau’s had their quarterly business meetings in town and they all came over for a few hours of opening bottles – including the father, son and a sizable host. We nine started well with two saisons and biere de garde: Hennepin, Jack D’or and 3 Monts. Batch 10 from Pretty Things was much better than the more recent bacth 13. Lesson: let it sit.

Things got a little wobbly with three Quebec takes on Belgian white beer. We thought RJ’s Coup de Grisou was fine and a good value beer. And Barbier from L’Ilse D’Orleans was not well understood given its level of rich maltiness. But Blanche from Charlevoix was a revelation in nasal interaction with beer. Freesia. Fabulous.

Three more bottles were opened. Trade Winds Tripel from the Bruery was a bit muddled with a nice aroma. Too much of the malt ball for the style or maybe just our level of interest given the other choices. Next, the Poperings Hommel Ale, as always, was amazing. The greatest pale ale in the history of the planet? Could be.

Then the taxi was called for the eight to be off. It was time. The mosquitoes had begun to bite. Just time to open a quart of Drie Fontienen’s Oude Gueze, one of the few beer that could follow a Poperings. Like any divider of people, some were not with it. They got the first taxi. The rest of use stood on the driveway, waiting on the warm quiet summer night sipping. Then the taxi and then they were off and away.

Do Olde Geuze And Oysters Go Together?

oysgeu1-1I was out hunting for some Caribbean stout to go with the PEI oysters I picked up and the incredibly jambi Mike Mundell’s shop this afternoon. Without success. What to do?

I love oysters. I used to live in view of the Gulf of St. Lawrence on PEI’s north shore and heading over to Carr’s at Stanley Bridge for a half dozen Malpeques to suck back with my home brew. Despite the trade’s odd view of what makes for a benefit, the oysters know not what is done in their name. Quietly in their rocky shells they ignore such things, preferring to be pretty damn tasty and – at a buck and change – a great value.

So, instead of a strong sweet stout, I thought I would try them with a geuze, in the case a half bottle of Drie Fontienen’s Oude Gueze, the beer I had last New Year’s Eve. This one was bottled back on Friday, February 1, 2008 when I was having an Old Guardian for the twelfth edition of The Session. Let’s see what happens in mid-summer two and a half years later..

Wow. That is quite a combination. The barnyard funk of the geuze hits the oyster’s wharfy skank head on in your mouth. One of my more intense taste experiences when I think of it – which is all I can do given it is happening in my mouth right now. All that is missing is an overly aged chunk of blue cheese to make this as overwhelming an experience as it could be. But the aftertaste is creamy, like two waves counteracting each other leading to calm. The oyster brings out the apple notes and places the acidity in context. I am happily reaching for the next meaty oyster.

Success. Each assisted through the difficulties the other can pose. A vital combination.

Wisconsin: Stone Soup, New Glarus, New Glarus

A Belgian pale ale from the USA’s Upper Midwest. This one smells good. Either that or I smell really bad. I’ve just finished two 16 hour days so it is not beyond the realm of possibility. But I’ve been in a jacket and tie the whole time. So it’s likely the beer or the guy next to me was inordinately polite.

Medium pale golden ale under a thin rim of white. Apple and pear on the nose with a little nutmeg. More in the mouth framed in a sweetish effervescent rich ale. Plenty of bready yeastiness. Dryish ending with black tea and twiggy hops and that lingering spice. A reasonable session beer at 5.3%. Part of a New Glarus mixed 12 pack that made the trip from near Lake Superior to the east end of Lake Ontario. A respectable level of BAer respect but probably not enough.

Joints: Collaboration Not Litigation, Avery / Russian River

cnl1What to call these beers? For the last few years, brewers have been getting together to make something new together. This one has a deeperback story than most but the point is the same. In the end they are joint projects, opportunities to get together, to share and learn. And no doubt to have a lot of fun. But what do they offer us, the consumer? They are the specials of the specials. The seasonals with only one season. Yet surely they have to stand up for themselves as beer and not be the wall hanging commemorative china plate of the beer world. What can I learn from just this bottle?

Blended three years ago, it pours a lovely light cola colour with a frothy deep cream head. The aroma (aka smell) is dandy – date and sharp apple.with a floral thing that is almost rose. On the sip and swish, there is plenty of rich pumpernickel malt but with that Avery drying hard water. Dark chocolate, dark plum and a nod to cinnamon with an interesting juiciness that nods to pear or white grape. It is styled as a Belgian strong dark ale and that makes sense. Yet there is an the underlying tone. The hard water for me is not working but that is a personal thing for me that I have noticed since I tried a line up from Colorado’s Great Divide. I am a soft water man. Yet there is a rich plum dark sugar finish. Solid if, for me, slightly sub-moreish.

Plenty o’ BAer respect. Take their advice.

Grill, Shed, Steak, Rain, Bieres de Garde And Saisons

The trouble with charcoal grilling is that when the rain comes you can’t turn it off. Propane, on the other hand, has a nice dial that has a “0” setting. But there is the garden shed and, when it rains and you have visitors, it can turn out to be a delightful place to while away a late afternoon hour reading last week’s newspapers in the recycling bin, listening to AM radio and comparing a few examples of bieres de garde and saisons.

We opened the Ch’ti Blonde from Brasserie Castelain à Bénifontaine first, a gold ale called a saison (though French not Belgian) by the BAers but a biere de garde by Phil Markowski in his book Farmhouse Ales under a white mouse head that resolved to a froth and rim. It was the favorite of the set with cream malted milk, pear juice and nutty grain. Very soft water. I actually wrote “limpid cream of what graininess” but I am a little embarrassed by that pencil scribble. It gets a fairly poor rating from the BAers but maybe that is because they were not in a shed when they tried it. Castelain’s Blond (no “e”) Biere de Garde was drier but still creamy fruity, not far off the greatest example of a Canadian export ale. Light sultana rather than pear. Also dry in the sense of bread crusty rather than astringency. Lighter gold than the Ch’ti but, again, the rich firm egg white mousse head and far more BAers approve. By this time the shed dwellers had decided that steak could in fact be finger food and also that these ales were an excellent pairing with chunks of rib and New York strip. The Jenlain Ambree by Brasserie Duyck was another level of richness altogether, the colour of a chunk of deep smoked Baltic amber, the richest lacing I have ever seen left on a glass. Hazelnut and raisin, brown sugar and black current with a hint of tobacco. Lately I have been thinking that amber ales are the one style that could quietly slip away and never be missed. Placing this in the glass in the hand in the shed as the rain thumped on the roof and steak was eaten was an instructive treat as to what ambers can be, though 6% of BAers hesitate to be so enthusiastic.

I think this is the worst photo I have ever posted so I will keep it tiny unless you choose to click on it for the full effect. Apparently there is a limit to the beery photographic arts and I have made it my own. The 3 Monts to the left was picked up at Marche Jovi in nearby Quebec for a stunningly low price of under six bucks. Plenty of malteser and pale malt graininess with yellow plum and apple fruitiness, straw gold with more of the thick rich head, cream in the yeast. The water was not as soft was either beer from Castelain but all BAers love it. By Brasserie De Saint-Sylvestre who also made this biere nouvelle. To the right, the Fantome Winter was one of the stranger beers I have ever had and, frankly, a disappointment. All I could taste was radish, sharp and vegetative, over and all around the insufficient malt. In my ignorance, I didn’t realize that was likely quite an aged beer as the happy BAers explain. Neither the cork or even label, with its unmarked best before portion, give a hint as to the year but that is all right as I suspect I will consider this just a lesson learned even though I generally love Fantome.

By this time there were stars and a breeze as the cold front finished moving through.

Is It A Mooing Monk Or A Cornval?

This is the second in my triptych of posts about blending New Glarus Spotted Cow with Belgian ales of note. In the first its blending partner was Duval and I came to like the 66.7% Spotted Cow 33.3% Duval ratio the best. Tonight? Who knows?

50% Spotted Cow – 50% Orval: On the nose, this brew is eerily like Oro De Calabaza from Jolly Pumpkin: musty brett, sweet malt and a touch of light plummy fruit. In the mouth, not so much with the ODC but not bad. The corniness of the Spotted Cow does not stand out so much as you might have thought as brett masks it well. But the sweetness is there and is well cut by the must and antiqued hops. Well worth doing to stretch out the quality.

33.3% Spotted Cow – 66.7% Orval: No. Not enough corn to assert itself above the brett making just for a weirdly diluted Orval with some off flavours. Don’t try this at home.

66.7% Spotted Cow – 33.3% Orval: Here the sweetness has more corniness standing out and the ODC effect is gone. Yet, it is still a brew with brett. The Spotted Cow stands out as a quality brew with none of the off flavours of the Orval heavy version.

Results? I am really surprised by the 50%-50% blend as it was what I had in mind but was way better than I could have imagined. It bodes very well for mixing Orval with other slightly sweetish beer as sort of a brett concentrate. Is that disrespect? No more than calling this blend a Cornval. Beer blendings that say bugger off to the barley bullies.

Wisconsin: Spotted Cow, New Glarus, New Glarus

Knut made an interesting observation today about the way social media (a far better phrase than “community”) creates the unexpected, brings beer fans and brewers together on the level. No one is in charge and each is responsible for their own degree of honesty. I was so interested that I tried to use Google’s Swedish to English translator to see what the hubbub was all about and here is what I learned:

Holds up the cup. Noting that it is indeed good dark to be an IPA. For the glass to my nose to pull me in a lot of pine and citrus. Wait? May run down your nose a good way down to the glass to feel something, and facing me is not the fresh hops, you might think should be there given that it is nybrygd. The taste is quite sweet, feels a little stale and boring, not very bitter, either. Nejdu, the batches were no further at all! Really sad, it felt more like a brown ale than an IPA on the verge of DIPA.

I was stunned. It was like looking in the mirror – beer tasting notes are actually the universal language. Forget Latin. To hell (dare I say) with Esperanto. We are all one though the power of “May run down your nose a good way down to the glass to feel something.” Frère! Tovarich!!

This made me want to do the unexpected myself, bring the distant nearer. And, oddly, do it with corn. I worry about corn. And I am worried about the anti-corn forces out there, the barley storm troopers who would have you believe it is the drinker’s fault – your fault – that the maize beer is simply no good, that rice beer is the sole dominion of the macro-industrial Babbitt. I like to think corn has its place. I like to think that the Einstein or Newton of alt-grain brewing has yet to be born. He may even be among us. Uncelebrated. Unloved. He might be that lump over there on your sofa right now.

So, I took it upon myself to do what I can in the cause of corn and to start with the highest expression of corn, New Glarus Spotted Cow and add to it a Belgian of dignity / snob appeal to come up with some thoughts about what a corn brew might be. Tonight, that test is being done with Duval. I had hoped for Orval but the local LCBO was out of it. So Duval will have to do.

100% Spotted Cow: it pours a lovely slightly lemon golden. On the schnoz, it’s creamed corn (which I love), a little cream of wheat (which I also love) and a zig or a zag of yeasty goodness (who doesn’t like that?). Light bodied, slightly yogurt soured lager yeast, a bit of steely hop, fresh corn (not boiled like some of the unbest beer) and graininess. Finish is light – steel, grass, corn. What is not to like? Pure homage to the golden age of American beer. Wish it came in a can at my own corner store.

50% Spotted Cow – 50% Duval: slightly lighter with the Duval whipped egg white head. The smell is very nice. On the sniff, the sweetness of the corn now has bracing from the light spice of the Duval. On the mouth, there is a bit of a nullification like when two waves come up each other out upon the ocean… and disappear. Less corn but also less Belgian bubble gummy spiced goodness. But there is body and at the back end heat. You could see that a well handled tripel or Belgian strong gold could handle a little corn.

33.3% Spotted Cow – 66.7% Duval: More whipped egg head but not enough corn flavour to justify the blending. While both beers are more fine in flavour than most I sip on an average day, the Duval spice really overpowers here and the corn is just a weird intrusion. No, this experiment really needs to be about Duval as a adjunct to the adjunct laced brew and not the other way around. Yet, there are some flavours that start to remind me of less than thrilling biscuity fruity sparkling wines.

66.7% Spotted Cow – 33.3% Duval: This is good with the blend breaking out into a two step with the Spotted Cow sitting up front and the Duval carrying up the rear. Just a white froth head with open watery corny on the first swish followed by greater complexity with the finish marked by spice. The best of the blends and gives me hope for that ultimate Orval smackdown.

There you have it. The experiment you have all been waiting for. What did I learn? That you have to be careful pouring Duval into a shot glass as it readily explodes into a meringue of a head in the blink of an eye. And that Spotted Cow is a grand brew worth the respect given by the BAers. I have two more of these corny treats to go. What to blend with them?

Belgium: Amber Ale, Brasserie Caracole, Falmignoul

Arrosto misto. That is what the Jamie Oliver book I was thumbing through this morning called it. Mixed roasted meats. What better way to see out January, that month that begins with a hangover and ends with February. The meats were rolled in olive oil with rosemary, lemon and a little smoky chili. They were also wrapped in lean pancetta. Including the sausages. A worthy addition to my life. All slow roasted with thick slices of onion, apple, lemon and carrot. The side dish is a sort of scalloped spud, mushroom and anise thing I made up.

I needed a beer to go with it and the earthiness of Caracole’s amber ale was just the thing. It pours still with a quickly resolved head giving it the appearance of scotch. On the nose, plenty of nutmeggy spice as well as sweet malt. In the mouth, fall apple, cream, nutmeg, raisin with a solid level of twiggy and slightly minted hopping. Really lovely and very good with the smoky, meaty, root veg meal. BAers give solid respect.