Thursday, October 29, 2009

return home

I have been back in the states for a while now, and am finally settled in ann arbor enough to write a new post. I had been on a big belgian and sour kick after reading wild brews and brew like a monk. Drank my way through quite a few of the trappists: Chimay Blue, Westmalle Dubbel, Achel Blong, Chimay White, and Orval.

It is kind of sad that I have not really (as a conscious beer geek) had these beers before, but I always find myself buying the cheeper american belgian stuff when I have a craving. I finally committed to spending a little extra cash and can say that while the beers themselves probably don't warrant the mark up, the experience was worth it

The one beer that I would spend the extra money again is Orval. That is namely because it is unlike anything else made in the world. Super funky on the nose and palate and bone dry on the finish, it was both interesting tasting, and as a result of the high level of attenuation, easily drinkable.

Kind of transitioning out of the belgian thing as i find myself craving hops again. Founders wet-hopped harvest ale really hit the spot, and I have been nursing a six pack of Great Lake Burning River for the past week.

One last notable beer experience was my recent consumption of five year old avery the beast and six year old avery grand cru. These are by far the oldest beers I have ever had. Both sit at around 15 percent alcohol and have held up well over the years. They each drink like a glass of maple syrup, with some savory oxidized notes. I will have to revisit both and take more detailed notes.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Special Brew

I haven’t written a blog entry in a while, partially because my creative energies have been focused elsewhere, and partially because I haven’t had cause to do so. On Saturday, that changed. I spent the day eating pie and drinking beer while helping out at Emerson’s beer and pie competition. Not only that, but I got the chance to hear food and beer experts discuss the finer points of food and beer pairing as they judged the various entries. While the whole day certainly ranks as one of the high points of my stay in New Zealand, there was one part of the day that was particularly memorable. That was when Richard brought out some 3 year-old (I think) Bourbon Porter.

Emerson’s Bourbon Porter is a beer I knew of before coming to New Zealand. Namely, because one of beeradvocate’s Alstrom bros, gave the beer an A rating. This beer is not for the faint of heart, coming in at a sizeable 9.2% alcohol, a good deal of which comes from the bourbon cask aging. The strong influence of the bourbon came through straight away on the nose with a big hit of bourbon and the accompanying vanilla and oak from the casks. As you would expect, there was also a sizeable amount of heat, but age appears to have softened the alcohol from what was probably (I do not know what the beer smelled like fresh but can guess it was pretty hot) a harsh smack in the face, to a gentle, pleasant component of the aroma. There was also an interesting savory soy sauce or marmite like note to the nose from autolysis of the yeast, a smell that could perhaps be seen as a flaw, but which I found added to the complexity of the nose in a positive way.

The palate was much more subdued than the nose. The malt backbone has held up well over three years, lending structure to the body, and a brown sugar like sweetness across the palate. The finish was super dry (probably from the beer sitting on a pile of yeast for a long period of time) with yeast and a bit of bitterness at the back and a pleasant warming sensation down the throat.

Other beers of note that I have tried in the past weeks:

Harrington’s Wintertide:
Style: Winter Warmer
ABV: 6.8%

Pours a clear dark reddish brown with a two inch tan head. Smell is banana like sweetness with faint cloves. Taste is sweet upfront with a spicy kick from cloves and coriander and a bit of oily bitterness at the back. There is a nice balance between sweet honey and malt flavors and the spices and hops. Sweetness deepens and becomes more dark-fruit like as the beer warms. Body is medium with light carbonation and a slick finish. Honey presents itself on the palate, contributing to a slick tongue coating like quality. Overall an interesting beer, that employs spices and honey in a restrained enough way to preserve balance while keeping things interesting.

Harrington’s Big John Special Reserve:
Style: Wee Heavy
ABV: 6.5%

Pours an opaque near black with big foamy tan head. leaves significant lacing down the glass. Smell is whisky and oak upfront followed by dark fruit/brown sugar sweetness. Just a hint of alcohol as the beer warms. Taste is caramelized sugar with some oaky/earhty notes through the palate. Closes with a gentle roasted bitterness and a slight kick from the alcohol. Mouthfeel is almost creamy but comes up a bit thin. medium body and low carbonation. Alcohol and mouthfeel are weak for the style, but otherwise a solid brew.

Emerson’s Harvest Ale:
Style: American Pale Ale
ABV: 5.3%

The beer pours a medium amber with two inch foamy head. Smell is big resinous pine and citrus hops with a detectable sweet malt underneath (level of hop aroma reminds me of home). Palate is more subdued, probably because the beer isn't super fresh, with sweet passion fruit coming first, followed by gentle malt sweetness that lasts until a subdued but oily hop bitterness at the end. Body is a bit thinner than I would like, with low carbonation and an oily finish.

Moa St. Josephs Tripel
Style: Tripel
ABV: 9.5%

Pours a ruby/orange with big fluffy slightly off-white head and noticeable carbonation bub bling through the beer. Leaves patches of lacing down the glass. Smell is cloves and heat from the alcohol at first. When the bottle is emptied, yeast becomes a component of the nose. A little bit of banana or sweet fruit comes through as well. Taste is sweet upfront followed shortly by peppery spice that lasts through the sip until hot alcohol at the end of the sip and down the throat. Again, sourdough like quality comes through form the yeast when I empty the bottle, acts to balance out some of the heat. Overall not an overly complex flavor profile but well balanced and quite enjoyable. Fizzy carbonation but relatively low carbonation. Yeast dries out the finish.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

How a Beer Geek Kills Three Hours in South Dunedin

Several days ago I found myself faced with what seemed an impossible task. I had just finished conducting an in-store tasting at the pack n’ save in South Dunedin and had three hours to kill before heading to the All Blacks rugby test against France. Naturally, my first thought was to find a spot to enjoy a few beers. I quickly realized, however, that I did not know where to find a decent beer in south d. What I did know, was that the Dunedin Malt House homebrew shop was just a short walk away and figured someone there might have information on a pub.

The answer I received upon inquiring about a pub was a glass of Invercargill honey pilsner. Not exactly what I was expecting, or searching for, but a nice drop nonetheless (I won’t post a formal review but the pilsner had a wonderful biscuit-like quality on the tongue with a hint of residual sweetness from the honey). I did not find any information on a pub, but I left having also tasted a lovely one-year-old SN Bigfoot clone, and with an appetite

I put beer drinking on hold long enough to have a kabob, and while eating, I met two travelers from Montana who joined me for dinner. Eventually we did find a pub, I had a very large bottle of Speights, after which I parted ways with my temporary companions and headed to the stadium. After the rugby match, I realized that I learned two things from my strange experience.

First, that things usually have a way of working out, although sometimes not in a way you could ever predict. The second thing I learned is that mass-produced beer in New Zealand is actually not that bad. The Speights I drank at the pub, and the Steinlager I enjoyed form a strange plastic bottle at the ruby match were both decent beers. They were nothing insanely tasty, but easy drinking: good for larger than average consumption. I would venture to say that New Zealand has an edge on the states in that respect, in that the equivalent mass-produced options in the states are flavorless and frequently riddled with off-flavors.

More serious beer reviews to follow in the next week.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Cold Weather and Beer

Cold weather has an interesting effect on craft-beer drinkers. It inspires them to seek out cold-weather beer: the spiced holiday ale, the rich imperial stout, or maybe the barley wine that has been aging in the cellar for a year or two. I do not have a cellar from which to grab a barley wine, nor do I have access to an imperial stout, but it has been cold recently and I have adjusted my beer-drinking habits accordingly.

The first beer I purchased in this seasonal spirit was Emerson’s Taieri George Ale, a spiced ale of the sort usually found in the States around the winter holidays. While I prefer to keep my love for all things spiced (cakes, pies, breads and the like) separate from my passion for beer, I thought I might as well give this one a taste.

Taieri George Ale: 6.8% ABV

The 500ml bottle indicates that the beer was released on March 6th, and that it is a 2009 vintage. At 6.8% alcohol, and with a malt-dominated profile, this beer is a potential candidate for aging. Served in a snifter, the beer pours almost pitch black with a one to two inch creamy tan head. There is a strong aroma of cinnamon and nutmeg with a vanilla-like sweetness behind the spices. Tastes of spices upfront, with a firm malt-sweetness throughout the sip, and a bit of dry bitterness from the dark grains towards the back. There is also just the faintest bit of alcohol heat. Mouthfeel is smooth, a bit thin, with a medium body and light carbonation. Certainly an interesting tasting beer, maybe a bit too spiced for my liking (a feature which could mellow out with a bit of aging).

The second beer to find its way into my glass was Emeron’s Dunkelweiss. The dunkelweizen style is simply a hefeweizen (German, unfiltered wheat beer) to which dark grains have been added. I like hefeweizens and enjoyed my only other experience with the dunkel variety (Weihenstephaner’s Hefeweisbeer Dunkel), so I was excited to crack this bottle open.

Dunkelweiss: 6.3% ABV

I would have preferred to pour the 500ml bottle into a wheat beer glass, but given my limited glassware options, I settled for the snifter. Beer pours dark brown with a large tan head. Smell is chocolate, banana, cloves and bread (smells like chocolate banana bread). Taste is spicy clove upfront, followed by a dry bitterness and subtle malt sweetness. Body is medium to full with a dry finish. This beer smells outstanding, tastes good, and drinks easily.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Hockey, Emerson's, and Brown Ale

Today, I went to Eureka Café and Bar to watch the Stanley Cup. Unfortunately they did not have any Molson or Labatt to quaff while watching the game, so I had to get creative. I took the opportunity to begin my education on Emerson’s range of beers. Emerson’s, for those of you reading from outside of New Zealand, seems to be the largest, most successful, craft brewery in the country. Their beer also seems to be widely regarded as some of the best that the country has to offer. In particular, their pilsner is surrounded by a noticeable amount of buzz. So, that is where I began:

Emerson’s Organic Pilsner 4.4%

On-tap at Eureka Café and Bar. Served in a nonic pint glass.

A: Pours a clear, golden straw with active carbonation bubbling from the bottom of the glass. A half-inch white head remains even after the beer settles. Leaves substantial lacing down the glass.

S: Sweet citrus pretty much dominates the nose on this beer, quite nice and quite unexpected. As the beer warms the grain comes through a bit, but not much.

T: Sweet citrus and malt upfront, balanced by a firm bitterness at the back and biscuit-like/dry grain around the edges.

M: light to medium body with crisp carbonation and a clean/dry finish.

D: Super drinkable. Clean, refreshing, and light enough to put back easily.

I decided to follow up the pilsner with a more elusive offering, their current Brewer’s Reserve (a rotating style, produced for on-tap consumption), Very Brown Ale. Before I begin my review, I would like to take a moment to muse on the brown ale style. The brown ale, in my experience, is a brown colored ale, with a medium body, subdued (almost no) hop presence, and a firm caramel sweetness. I find the style to be quite drinkable, but rather unremarkable and unbalanced. Emerson’s version of the brown ale, however, is a much more interesting take on the style:

Emerson’s Very Brown Ale 5.5%

On-tap at Eureka Café and Bar. Served in a nonic pint glass.

A: Pours a deep brown with hues of red peaking through the glass. Thin off-white head remains after the beer settles. Almost coats the glass, leaving a sponge-like lacing.

S: Smell is subdued, with gentle roasted sweetness the only aroma really coming through.

T: Taste is very nice. Much more balanced then other brown ales I have had (which are always a bit too sweet for my liking). Caramelized sweetness is balanced by a significant coffee or dark chocolate-like roasted bitterness. Very enjoyable flavor profile.

M: Mouth-feel is quite light for the flavor. In my opinion, this is what keeps it from being a porter. Medium body with light carbonation and a lingering bitterness.

D: More interesting than the usual brown ale, which makes it enjoyable to drink.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Castle Macadam and Rodenbach Grand Cru

Yesterday I made the 40-minute walk from my house to Castle Macadam. It is not, as it’s name suggests, a castle. It is a beer store, a genuine, mouth-watering (at least for a beer geek like myself) bottle shop. It is exactly the sort of place I’ve been looking for since arriving in Dunedin, the sort of place I am used to frequenting in the states.

Castle Macadam has been mentioned several times in my search for a beer store, but given my disappointment with the other stores recommended in the same sentence, I was hesitant to make the trek. It was only after the topic of beer stores came up in my conversation with Chris O’Leary, and after he gave his approval of the place, that my hesitancy turned to reserved optimism.

Entering the store brought me a feeling of comfort. It sounds silly, but it is nice to find a store where the staff (one man in this case) really know what they are talking about, where you can go, even with no intention of buying anything, just because it is an enjoyable environment.

I will hopefully be posting more about Castle Macadam as I plan on returning not only as a customer, but also to learn a bit more about the retail aspect of the beverage industry. I bought a bottle of Rodenbach Grand Cru, which will be the subject for the remainder of this post.

If I had to name the major weaknesses in my experience as a beer drinker I would name one broad geographical problem, and several style specific issues. Geographically speaking, I find that I rarely buy beer produced outside The United States. This is simply because it does not make sense to spend the extra money on foreign beer, when there is a brewery in the states making a similar product. While this is a nice problem to have, it means that when it comes to Belgian style beer, I have very little experience with actual Belgian beers, or at least not as much experience as I would like to have.

On a more micro level, I just simply haven’t consumed a lot of sour beer: Lambics, Guezes, Krieks, Flanders Red and Bruin. Rodenbach Grand Cru, as a Flanders Red, falls squarely in the center of both the geographic and stylistic black holes in my palate experience.

My research into Rodenbach Grand Cru revealed that the sour complexity of the beer is achieved through the use of five yeast strains. Grand Cru in particular uses yeast, and a barrel-conditioning period of 18 months to achieve a ridiculous level of sour fruity complexity. I have posted my review below.

Rodenbach Grand Cru 6%

750 ml bottle poured into a wine glass.

A: Pours a dark reddish brown with a fizzy tan head

S: Wow. I don't have much experience with any of the sour beer styles so that is probably why I was blown away by the smell and taste: Vinegar like sourness mixes with sweet cherry and vanilla. There is some oak as well from the aging process.

T: Again this was an eye opener. Tartness and sweetness that I can only describe as cherry-like are followed by some earthiness/mustiness from the oak and from the yeast. There may be some malt and hops somewhere in this beer but they are hard to pick out.

M: Fizzy Champaign-like carbonation cuts the medium body and acts in opposition to the tongue coating quality of the beer. Finishes pretty clean.

D: Amazingly complex beer which makes it a pleasure to consume.

Notes: If I didn't know better, I would be sure that this was brewed with cherries. It’s crazy that they achieve that level of fruitiness just through using various strains of yeast.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Emerson's, Bottling Part II, and Beervana

I would like to begin by welcoming anyone who happened upon my blog as a result of Real Beer NZ ( the online craft beer community for new zealand) which is now graciously listing my blog on their site. If an you you are in Dunedin and would like to grab a drink or trade some beer or thoughts on beer in New Zealand, let me know.

So I just got back form an awesome visit to Emerson's. Got a tour of the facility from production manager Chris O'Leary. It's quite an impressive production facility. Also had a lengthy chat with Chris about beer culture in New Zealand, distribution difficulties, beer philosophy and a whole number of other topics. Then I met Richard Emerson who graciously led me through a tasting of pretty much all of their beers. I was particularly blown away by their Smoked Porter (I think it's a brewer's reserve), which had an amazing ripe fruit hop aroma, a subtle roasted bitterness, and a gentle smokiness towards the back of the tongue. I look forward to tasting their line-up in bottled form, for reviewing purposes, and hopefully getting the opportunity to volunteer for them in the future.

Earlier in the day I helped out at Green Man, bottling Best Bitter and Stout. While I had previously stated I enjoyed the bottling process, today's experience was much more stressful. Whereas I had previously been removed from the more mechanized portions of the process, today I was in the thick of things. Besides the pressure to perform my task rapidly enough to not cause a complete breakdown in the whole bottling line, several bottle exploded a foot from my face when the ancient capping machine applied pressure where it shouldn't have to the smaller 330 ml bottled used by Green Man for some of their beer. Anyways, it was a tiresome stressful morning.

In other exciting news, I think I am going to be a volunteer at the national craft brew festival in New Zealand called Beervana. So to all the kiwi beer enthusiasts now hopefully reading my blog, I will see you there.