Scotland: Paradox Islay #004, BrewDog, Aberdeenshire

bdpi1What a mess. I hadn’t realized the label was made of hard card stock stuck on with two-sided sticky tape. I might take it down to the lab and get James’ near teen DNA off of it. Bottle 131 of 200. By opening it, I probably just threw away the 100 bucks I could get from some guy in Kansas on eBay. Sent as a sample by the brewery when they were but boys a few years back. I decided to open it after watching a little Horatio Hornblower that was accompanied by a Bourbn County stout. No doubt you have known that moment, too.

As promised, it is all Islay on the nose, the beloved smoky low Islands Scots whisky. Land of my fathers. Because the stout sat in a barrel of the 1968. My mother’s cousin-in-law was a canny and, for the Clyde, stylish post-war whisky broker in the southwest so I am sure he would approve. He certainly would recognize it. Deep deep mahogany under mocha rim and froth. Aroma of the malt but in the mouth it is sharp. At first, a hammer of old Dutch man’s licorice with all the salt that goes along with seaweedy Islay – then something like a stout with something like a whisky. It isn’t really anything like “balanced” and I wonder, honestly, if it is more of an artifact than a beer. Dry and a little like something I would call harsh but on the lovely side of harsh. Descriptors like “whopping”, “foolish” and “two by four to the head” come to mind. Planky. Sae halp ma bob. That is all I can say.

One sole BAer went mad for this early Holy Grail like example of experimental 21st century UK brewing.

Belgium: Pannepot GR ’05, De Struise / Deca, W’ Vleteren

I must have been very good today as this is the bottle I decided to open. I mowed the half the lawn. And I held the fort at my desk with a certain style. I’ll likely even keep the empty as it even has the mark of importers Roland + Russell, the kind folks who forwarded this sample.

But, you know, it would be bad enough keeping things straight if it were just the fact that Brouwerij ‘t IJ in Amsterdam has a beer called Struis. But these guys of De Struise don’t even have a brewery. Celebrator explained the deal last December. Well, they are adults so that is up to them but it’s no way to run a railroad, I can tell you that. Professor Unger tells us that the accumulation of capital was the path to brewing dynasties…at least as far as medieval low country brewing went – why is it that just because we are in the next millennium we throw all that wisdom right out the window? Kids. Go figure.

Anyway, this brew is a bomb at 10%. The label includes “candy” as an ingredient. I really hope that means candi sugar and not a Mars bar or Bubbalicious. That would be a real let down. It pours nutty mahogany under a thick beige head. Oloroso gently meets balsamic on the nose. In the mouth, it is a cross between Duchesse De Bourgogne and…um…Newkie Broon. Just a first impression but that’s what it was. Then – much to your relief – there is more: a sort of a black cherry thing, vanilla, balsamic, molasses and herbal/medicinals like maybe those in Orval hop profile. All in all, lightly soured and oaked brown ale of great complexity that shows no sign of its massive strength whatsoever.

Greg has more. The BAers go all gushy and blush.

Single Cask Brews: Manufacturing Scarcity Or Pure Genius?

I just about flipped out when I saw this post over at 2 Beer Guys (from the April 16, 2008 issue of The Coloradoan) about the Odell Brewing Co. (with whom I am not familiar but which I am sure is nice and run by fine folk, and all) doing a limited run of a series of single cask beers – each brew never to be repeated and the cask retired:

…Each batch of the ale, which will have more vanilla and caramel tones, will make enough for only roughly 120 cases before the recipe is retired, creating an exclusivity factor not usually associated with beer. Each 750 mL bottle – hand-corked, hand-signed and numbered – will sell for $24.99. “It’s a one-time kind of thing,” John Bryant, Odell chief operating officer, said of the process they hope will put them at the forefront of the market.

Excellent. Because we all need another mechanism to raise prices through exclusivity. But am I being fair? Am I being a rogue consumer who is too tight with the wallet. I would encourage, first, that you consider two posts by Stan from last January in which he makes a number of points relating to overly limited runs of barrel-aged beer and the effect on price and popularity. And isn’t that very last point, popularity counter-intuitive? Makes me wonder whether some of these high rated beers are a lot like the 60’s – that many who claim to have experienced them were never really there.

But my point is more, I hope, to the point. What is the basis of a $24.99 price tag on these bottles of beer? Is anything else at that price point? I trust that each of you will consider your responsibilities as an active player in the market and avoid artificial inflationary events. And, sure, it will be a price that is paid but so is “jerk tax”, that premium you pay whenever a vendor can get you for one reason or another. Why not $18.99 or $35.99? Using the math from the story, scrapping the barrel after only one use adds 450/1440 or 32 cents to each bottle or about a tenth that the corked bottle does (if what a US brewer told me last month is true.) Are you so out of control that you don’t care? Are you the sort that will run to this, that will try to profiteer even? Or will you just say no? What do you fall back on to make this decision?

Photos From My Visit To Jolly Pumpkin, Dexter, Michigan

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It was a Ron-a-thon last Friday at Jolly Pumpkin. After leaving London, Ontario, Canada at about 1 pm and we hit Dexter, Michigan at about 5 pm just as Ron Jeffries was finishing up a days work. He gave me an hour of his time and by the end of it I was thinking this had been one of the most intense hours of beer I have had without taking a drink. Being the doe-eyed schoolgirl that I was, perhaps a bit like Ron in Bamburg, in awe of the moment of course I did not take notes until I got to our hotel in Ann Arbor. But I did get a brain full.

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Barrels everywhere. Everything is aged in oak. Barrels from bourbon and brandy distillers. Barrels from Firestone and other brewers seeking vanilla where Ron seeks tang. A 2000 litre barrel newly in from France. Being in a room full of barrels of beer is an interesting experience. The feeling was much more like cheese making than other brewers with their steel conical fermenters and bright tanks. These was life around me and it was asleep, seeking slow funkiness. Lame? Deal with it.

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I got an education. While Michigan has twice the brewers of Ohio, it has only 1% of the state’s market, compared to 6% nationwide. This means brewers have to seek markets out of state. I was happy to do my bit and introduce Ontario importers Roland and Russell to Jolly Pumpkin as was announced on Monday. Ron apologized when he explained the price would be high but I had to assure him that ten bucks for a 750 ml of some of the most thoughtful ale made on the continent was quite reasonable given what else we have to put up with.

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Ron makes beers unlike others. Beers that have the dryness of oak with less of the vanilla than others impart. There is a lambic, the only true one in North America, that has been three years in the wood soon to be released on a six month cycle. When I asked about the source of the wild yeast strains, Ron said the make of Cantillon told him you can make lambic anywhere. I have particularly liked the Bam and Bam Noire which I think are up for the CAMWA beers of the year award for 2007. I did, by the way, share the concept of CAMWA and think it is now Jolly Pumpkin approved. They have done well with 50% expansion in each of the first two years and 30% for both 2006 and 2007.

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The hour flew by and the generosity shared was quite the thing. We took a case of large format beers for just around 75 bucks and others to spare as well. Likely the best value in beverage that I can think of. A couple of hints. Ron recommends, as they age, chilling the beers before opening as they create be quite the fountain. I recommend leaving them to get to that age to get to this state as time enhances their complexity to a degree I have not experienced before with beer.

About Oaked Beer: Bam Noir, Jolly Pumpkin, Dexter, MI

jpbn1Just a few days after saying that I could not find copies of Celebrator magazine – I find one at Jolly Pumpkin’s store in Dexter, Michigan. I also found this Bam Noir labeled as Batch #246 even though the brewery does not list that one as a Bam Noir batch. No never mind. Numbers can have that quality.

This beer is a great introduction to the style of this brewer. The drying planks of oak are there in the glass with the tang picked up from whatever was in the pores of the wood. I find that there are hazelnut, fig and brown sugar notes with twig hops. At 4.3% it’s a great candidate for the CAMWA brew of the year. Soft water. But be warned – a full 15% of BAers reject this one. Conversely, Bam Noir makes me want to roast a chunk of fatty salmon as it would cut through that richness well.

Holland: Struis, Brouwerij ‘t IJ, Amsterdam

I have a sticker on my hand that says “$6.20” and on my desk I have a 330 ml bottle of Struis. In the US, that price gets the best part of a decent six pack of craft beer. In Ontario, it gets you half a six of Unibroue’s Trois Pistoles or a large Chimay Premiere. So, for my dollar, this beer from Brouwerij ‘t IJ has got some pretty good competition and really has some explaining to do.

Richly clinging pale pine lumber head over orange amber ale, much muddier after the final pour and yeasty shake. On the nose a hop basket – your Grannie’s knitting basket that is as these have a haunting waft of musty attic. On these mouth, it starts to make sense. This is like Orval taken up a notch or two with 9% alcohol and a bigger maltier profile. Rather than cover up the booze with malt, this one blends it in with the orange peel, twiggy and lavender hops giving a aged spicy effect. This sits over fig and raisin malt. Steely finish. My creaky Dutch tells me the label’s claim of biobeer as well as ongefiltered and ongepasteuriseerd refers to some organic status, unfiltered and unpasturised. Imported to the US by Shelton Brothers, there is strong but not universal BAer support.

Is a small bottle like this worth it? For a try, sure – go ahead. After a try, if you love it, why not buy more? But if it is not the beer you absolutely love, I see the price point as a real issue for this one when you consider it sells for the same price as a 330ml Chimay Premiere at the fine bottle shop Cracked Kettle in Amsterdam. Where’d that price difference come from in mid-Atlantic transit?

Sour Beer Studies: Duchesse De Bourgogne, Verhaeghe, BE

Why did I pick another Flemish Red so early on in these Sour Beer Studies? I think I am still wary of those dry lambics in the stash and Stonch has spoken so highly of the style that I thought what the heck.

First thing to note is that is this a beer that was kept on the wood as well so could be a cross over post to the About Oaked Beer series, too…so I will. Then, interesting to note that Michael Jackson claims the Verhaege family (no latter “h” in my 2000 edition of his Great Beer Guide) has been brewing in Vichte since the 1500s and that this beer is brewed in oak vessels dating from the 1880s. The brewery’s website is in Flemish but I once worked in Holland and like to pretend I can hack my way though. Well, I can’t really (though I know Smaak: zoet-zurig, fruitig means “Taste: sweet-sour, fruity”) but there are plenty of photos on their history page including those big oak vessels. 4% of BAers do not like it but they really do not like the style which makes it difficult even if it is honest.

The beer pours deep chestnut with a quickly resolving tan head. On the pop of the 750 ml cork top there was a whiff of candy floss that dissipated leaving the aroma of sweet cherry candy and balsamic vinegar. A soft and still sourish ale in the mouth but by far the most approachable I can remember trying. Plenty of fruit and sweetness like a Polish cherry wine but under layers of soft water and a hardwood veneer of a more dignified sort than your average rec room panelling. Somewhat like sweet Cinzano, too, with herbal notes of rosemary and thyme. Far less sour than the Panil Barriquée that I tried a few weeks ago. A slight dryness right at the end in the middle of the tongue. I want to braise fennel root and lamb chops in it.

Funny to find myself thinking it but this beer could do with a wee boost of sourness. Maybe I am getting the hang of this stuff after all.

About Oaked Beer: Musette, Allagash, Portland, Maine

Along with the Sour Beer Studies, there are other classes of beers that set themselves apart in some way other than reflecting traditional styles. Brewers are reintroducing techniques like beer on the wood to explore the limits of what beer can be and we’ll look at them in this series. Dave Line in his 1974 text The Big Book of Brewing wrote about using wooden casks from a home brewing perspective at a time when he saw it as a dying art:

It is a great thrill to draw your own beer from the wood. The management of this beer is an art and it may take years to develop all the skills. I am by no means an expert, but I take comfort in the fact that I am learning the art of one of our most treasured crafts, and that perhaps my efforts will prolong the traditions of our heritage.

Musette by Allagash is another nod to that tradition, this particular one aged on bourbon barrels for three months and then bottled in May 2006 – 32 years after Line feared for the loss of the heritage. At 10% it certainly reflects Line’s preference that beers attempted to be aged on wood be high gravity. At opening, there was a breath of autumn apple from the bottle that stayed with the ale after the pour, providing maybe a hint of calvados mixed with the raisin-malty aroma. It pours a thick clingy white foam head over deep orange amber ale. In the mouth plenty of roundness of raisin, date and apple with a Belgian musty yeast all cut by a hardwood vanilla dryness from the oak with a bit of tea astringency in the finish. Described by the brewer as aimed at the Belgian made Scotch ales like this silly one reviewed last January, the effect is somewhere between dubbel and barleywine. Very nice but not cheap at $15.59 USD for 750 ml.

Belgium: Goudenband, Brouwerij Liefmans, Oudenaarde

goudenLight tan foam over fairly lively chestnut ale, this Flemish oud bruin has a tangy vinegary sweet aroma. This beer is far less sharp than my previous Flemish experiences of this sort from Rodenbach Grand Cru yet bigger than the other Flem I have known Petrus Oud Bruin. There is a creaminess with all the acidity that is really surprising. “Vineous” may work with other examples of this style but this one is clearly ale, even if quite tart. If you go with it, it is also quaffable…maybe if you transpose from fruit juice as it is somewhere between granny smith apple and pineapple juice just in terms of tartness. But, with all that, there is also cherry and oak and vanilla and maybe the best Pepsi you have ever had as well as even dried fruit like prune and fig and molasses. Yes, as complex and balanced as a fine wine if you need to compare.

This is perhaps the best chance you will have to taste what a medieval ale was like. $4.95 for a 330 ml at the LCBO. Try one and a half in a hefeweizen glass if you can. BAers generally on board.