Monday, August 29, 2011

Beer style of the week; Belgian Pale Ale

Week 30

As promised, when we covered Pale Ales way back in week one of our series, we bring you a style that is maybe the most loosely interpreted and wide ranging of all your popular beer styles.

The Belgian Pale Ale, (and I’m going eliminate some that go by the “name”, but miss the target completely) is a solid year-round ale. When the style criteria are met, Belgian Pales are especially good ales to bridge the seasonal change from summer to fall or spring to summer.

Dull golden to pale copper in color with a frothy effervescent head and lots of sticky lacing is common ground. Resinous and/or citrus rind hop nose, coupled with dry malty, woody and/or barn aromas. Hop forward flavors are supported by a solid maltiness. Some sweetness (not overly so) is the norm. Dry and clean finish with a bit of an edgy, cutting yeasty bite in the throat. Refreshing, yet substantial. Accompany foods or stand alone.

The Belgian Pale is one of the few Belgian styles that originated elsewhere, as an answer to the British Pale Ale, but of course brewed with Belgian, barley, hops, yeast and water. And as is common practice in Belgium, a little dose of citrus and/or spices may be added. The ABV ranges from between 4.5% - 7%. Although, there are those fringe Belgian Pales that are rated as low as 3.5% and as high as 7.5% ABV, we have ignored them because they cloud the style to obscurity.

The Belgian Pale Ales pair well with white meats with light sauces, pate, mellow cheeses, Thai, Indian or spicy Chinese dishes, or light buttery cakes or cookies, or creamy custards.

Land of Origin

Orval – Brasserie d’Orval – Abbey de Notre Dame, Orval, Belgium – 6.9% ABV

11.7oz brown bottle. Freshness date on label. Served in an Allagash goblet.

A true Abbey Trappist Beer!
It pours slightly cloudy orange-hued copper color with a frothy white head and loads of lacing.
Smells of spices, cloves, fruit cup and distant bananas, followed by malt and wood and resinous hop.
Flavors are wide –ranging from, fruit cup, spices, citrusy hops, and sweet malt. A little candi sugar rolls in as it warms, as does some alcoholic fuminess.
An effervescent fizziness fades from the first pour and becomes very velvety and rounded.
Just a beautiful beer and the benchmark for the Belgian Pale Ale style.

Witkap Pater Singel / Stimulo - Brouwerij Slaghmuylder – Ninove, Belgium – 6% ABV

Reminiscent of a White Ale, this Abbey Single Ale is light gold to straw in color with a fine little bubbly head. Trails of lace slowly slide down with some spotty stickiness. The fizzy effervescence hides the true malt body. Wild hoppy flavors abound with sharp bitter citrus, acidic and piney esters. Some noticeable yeasty clove-like flavors lasts throughout the glass. The brew slowly transforms as the lightly sweet malt sneaks into being, creating a mild fruity taste and smoother mouthfeel.

Westvlereten - Brouwerij Westvleteren – Westvlereten, Belgium – 5.8% ABV

Served in a Westvlereten Goblet. Another true Abbey Trappist Ale from the Holy Grail of Belgian Brewers.

Pours a pale cloudy golden with a rocky snow white and lots of sticky lacing.
A yeasty Brett smell rises, but is soon overtaken by smells of green wood, sweet malt, resinous hops and a hint of banana and distant barn.
The flavors are complex and separately distinct at first gulp, and then begin the harmonious blending and mingling. Resinous Belgian hoppiness, citrus rind, caramel malt and spiced rum form as one and invite large gulps and noisy lip-smacking. The candi sugar sweetness is the unifying factor here. It’s central in all the outward flavors. By the time the initial effervescence wears down and the ale mellows, it’s gone! And you wish you had another!

Harpoon Belgian-style Pale Ale – Harpoon Brewing – Boston, MA

12oz brown bottle. Freshness on bottle.

Pours a clear, shiny amber color with an off-white, fast-fading head. Some patchy and sticky lacing lasts throughout.
A yeasty and citrusy smell rises at once then rolls into a sweet malty, hoppy mix. A light smell of wild flowers sneaks in, along with a hint a ripe fruit.
A taste of nutmeg and cinnamon quickly vanish within evenly balanced malt to hops tastes. A light yeasty flavor also fades, leaving me with the impression that I’m drinking an English-style Pale Ale, and only imagined the Belgian-ness. It’s there, but restrained.

This is that ale that I mentioned as one that bridges spring to summer, or summer to fall in fine fashion.

Worth seeking out:

Smuttynose Star Island Single – Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Rare Vos - Brewery Ommegang – Cooperstown, New York

Hitachino Nipponia – Kiuchi Brewery – Ibaraki, Japan


Quote: “In Belgium, the magistrate has the dignity of a prince, but by Bacchus, it is true that the brewer is king." - Emile Verhaeren, Flemish writer, 1855-1916

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

EEK!!! There a fungus in my Lager!!!

But he's a cute little bugger!;

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Beer style of the week: Kolsch & Altbiers

Week 29

Although it’s a warm August day, we clearly see several undeniable signs that fall is fast approaching. The shelves of our local packies are filling up with Autumn Ale, Pumpkin Ale and Oktoberfest.

But damn it! It’s still summer! As much as I LOVE fall beers (and winter and spring beers), there are still interesting beer styles, which bring us refreshing libation from the dog days. The Kӧlsch and Altbier styles can cool the heat as well or better than any Witbier, Pilsner, Vienna Lager, or any light summer brew out there today.

The Kӧlsch style began in Kӧln (Cologne), Germany. The first official record of the style was in 1918. However, records of a pact signed by Gaffel Brewery (famous Kölsch brewer) and 21 other guilds declaring their independence from the nobles of the day dated in 1396, suggests that maybe the style goes back much further.

Kӧlsch is unique in the brewing world in that it is brewed as top fermented as an ale, then cold-conditioned (lagered) as a lager. Crisp, dry, light, yet pleasant aromas and flavors are its hallmark. Pale straw to golden colored, lightly floral scented, herbal with a mildly lime citrus bitterness, light to medium-bodied dry maltiness. Lovely!

The Altbier, from rival city, Dusseldorf is a similarly-styled beer (top fermentation, followed by lagering); although the Alt is brewed with bit more of a hop bite and a darker-roasted barley, making it similar to an English Pale Ale in appearance, yet totally German in character. Sticke Alt is a ramped up Altbier. Just a tad more malt and hops, but not in an Imperial sense.

Though perhaps a twenty minute car ride distance apart, (10 if my wife is driving) the folks in Kӧln and Dusseldorf are fiercely loyal to their home-town beer. To them the differences between their biers are dramatic. Just for fun, order a Kölsch in Dusseldorf or an Altbier in Cologne. You may set off a brouhaha! (Or is that a brewhaha) Ha ha…heh…

Kӧlsch From the land of origin

Reissdorf – Kӧln, Germany – 4.8% ABV

16.9oz brown bottle. No freshness date.

It pours a clean straw/golden color with a foamy, slow-fading snow-white head and some trailing and patchy lacing.

A mildly fragrant dry malt smell is noticed upon a fairly hard pour. A faint aroma of cut hay lasts.

A surprisingly sweet and firm malt body lives within its rather weak appearance. The delicate hop profile has a light lime-like quality with just a hint of a metallic tang.

This is a brew that requires a more careful examination to identify subtle flavors and fragrances. Nothing except the appearance profile jumps out as obvious or easy to characterize.

Gaffel Becker – Koln, Germany – 4.8% ABV

Gaffel is as fine an example of the Kölch style around. By all appearances it looks to be a thin and weak beer, but it has a surprisingly ample body and is fantastically gulpable. The hoppy aroma dissipates rapidly so catch it early. There's an ample dose of hops which balance nicely with the malt about halfway through the glass. Nice white head doesn't last too long (could have been that I drank it from a pint glass instead of an actual Altbier glass).

Authentic Altbiers

Pinkus Organic Alt – Pinkus Mueller Brauerei – Munster, (North of Dusseldorf) Germany – 5.2% ABV

Interesting dull gold with a nice foamy/frothy head and trails of sliding lace. The aroma is faintly of yeast, malt and hops. The malt is lightly sweet with a trace of herbs. Lightly lime-like citrus hops with a hint of cloves. The alcohol peeks through from time to time. Becomes sweeter and more evenly balanced throughout. This is a gulpable beer. I kept raising my ratings as I drank it.

Frankenheim Alt – Privatbrauerei Frankenheim – Dusseldorf, Germany – 4.8% ABV

11.2oz brown bottle. Dated.

It pours a lovely deep brown amber color with a big foamy beige head.

A doughy malt aroma dominates. Fragrant citrusy hops linger in the background.

A substantial biscuity and bready malt house flavors of toffee and brown sugar.

The hops are a combination of citrusy bitterness, metallic bite and peppery spices. A light herbal quality increases its presence as it warms.

This is a smooth and rounded beverage. It goes well with sausages and breaded veal dishes.

New England Kӧlsch and Alts

Long Trail Ale – Bridgewater Corners, Vermont – 4.6% ABV

This is an Altbier. Shiny copper and loaded with malty flavor. A yeasty and hoppy aroma finishes with a light herbal malt and pleasant finishing hop. The sharp metallic hop bite is as bright as an IPA without being bitter. Nice white head. Best described as a cross between an Oktoberfest and Pale Ale.

Kenmore Kӧlsch Hingham Beer Works – Hingham, MA. 4.5% ABV

Served in a tall cylindrical tumbler.
It pours the palest golden straw color possible with a snow-white head. Lots of sticky and trailing lacing throughout.
A cut grass smell is upfront, followed by a bit of barn hay and dried malt. A light whiff of citrusy hop mixes in, as does a faint metallic smell.
The malty dextrose taste is noticed first. Lime-like citrus and a touch of a metallic tang poke through.
Dry and crisp at early, it's very balanced as it warms.
So nice!

McNeill’s Alle Tage Altbier – Brattleboro, Vermont ABV unknown

This could be called an alt Alt bier, because this one is a little darker, a little hoppier and a bit more astringent than is typical of the style. It pours a hazy brown. A decent beige head sits atop. The malt body is smooth and substantial. A light sweetness balances sharp-edged bitter hops a somewhat astringent medicinal quality. It finishes clean and dry.

Sticke Alts

Uerige Sticke - Uerige Obergärige Hausbrauerei GmbH / Zum Uerige Dusseldorf, Germany - 6% ABV

I haven’t had the pleasure. It comes highly recommended. Please let me know where I can find some!

Long Trail Double Bag – Bridgewater Corners, Vermont – 7.2% ABV

12oz brown bottle. Served in a nonic tumbler.

It pours a shiny tan mahogany color with a fast-fading beige head. Some patchy and sticking lacing.

The aroma is certainly malt forward. Sweet malt followed by limey citrus and mixed fruit cup. A bit of rummy fuminess advances.

The sweet honey-like malty backbone could easily double as a Dopple bock. The German citrusy and metallic tangy Nobles hops and Alt yeast are what keeps this in the Altbier family. The 7.2% ABV makes it a Sticke.

Zum Wohl, Prost, Gott segne Sie!

Quote: “He who drinks beer sleeps well.

He who sleeps well cannot sin.

He who does not sin goes to heaven.

Amen” – German Monk

Monday, August 15, 2011

Beer style of the week; American Adjunct Lagers

Hi-Neighbor, Have a Gansett!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Massachusetts Farmer/Small Brewery rule change proposal fizzes out

A rule change proposed by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission (ABCC) that would have required small breweries that operate under the little known farmer-brewery license, to grow at least half the hops and grains they use, or get them from a domestic source, has been capped…for now, at least.

While the intent of the ABCC to promote increased farming was well-intentioned, it neglected to foresee the serious impact it would have created on small brewers across the state.

Small brewers would welcome more locally grown hops, barley and wheat into the their brew kettles, but forcing them to use ingredients that really don’t exist in sufficient quantities yet would have had devastating consequences.

While hops can be grown in parts of Massachusetts, the climate is not ideal to grow the varieties and quantities desired by small, micro and craft brewers. Barley? There are no significant barley growers in the state. Brewers, large and small need to import nearly all of their barley and/or wheat to brew a decent beer.

New England master brewer, Matthew P. Steinberg reacted to the news; “This is excellent news. Though, I feel the Farmer/Brewer license has merit and is a great idea to grow farming in MA. and if new farm/breweries could use this license to their competitive advantage, then great! It is worth the ABCC's time and energy to look into a third licensing option for the present holders of this license that will allow them to continue to do business as usual.

State Treasurer, Steven Grossman (D) said on Monday that the ABCC would hold a series of public meetings to solicit comments from the public and small brewers.

It’s refreshing to me in these frustrating, politically-charged times to find that common sense has prevailed. So today I raise a glass of fresh New England beer to “reason and sanity”.


Quote: “Beer is the cause of all radical pot-politics that men talk over it” – Otto Van Bismarck – 1815-1898

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Beer style of the week; Imperial IPA's (The HOP Monsters)

Week 27

In keeping with our theme style for the past two weeks (English and American-style IPA’s) we’re ramping up the IBU’s (International Bittering Units) and throwing out all preconceived notions about what style of beer is most hoppy and bitter. The Imperial IPA is for now, the hoppiest beer style in the world. Many American Barley Wines and some Imperial Stouts drift into Hop Monster land, but they are both a story unto themselves, better saved for cold New England winter evenings.

Double the lip smacking, jowl clenching, teeth grinding, face scrunching pleasure, the Hop Monsters are coming to steal your palette!

English IPA’s register between around 40 - 60 IBU’s, American IPA’s are rated at 40 – 70 IBU’s, the Imperials are rated between a whopping, palette ripping 80 – 120 IBU’s. In addition to their screeching hoppiness, these beers are big in the alcohol department as well (8%-18% ABV)…the mad brew scientists at Brewdog in Scotland created a 41% ABV monster called ‘Sink the Bismarck’. Mercy!

If the English created the IPA style to withstand the long ocean voyages to India while they were colonizing that land, they could have sailed on to China, New Zealand and Borneo, and back had they carried Imperial IPA’s on board. The captain would have been able to tell which sailors got into the Imperial stash by the permanent puckers etched upon their mouths.

So who really prefers beers with such a high degree of alpha hop acids? Just take a peek at’s Top Beers. 3 of the Top 10, 16 of the Top 100 are Imperial IPA’s. Add the American Barley Wines and Imperial Stouts on that list and you’ll find that perhaps 50% just LOVE the hoppy side of beer.

Food pairing: Sharp and/or peppered cheeses, Spicy BBQ, wild salmon or game meat. I have also found it to go well with 4 cheese Mac & Cheese with chorizo. Try a splash on vanilla ice cream!

Note of advice: When sampling an assortment of beers for the evening, save the Imperial IPA for last!

Pliny the Younger – Russian River Brewing – Santa Rosa, California – 11% ABV

This beer sometimes lands in the #1 spot for the Best Beer in the World!

One 1/2 pint wasn't enough, so I had a second.

It pours an amazing orange-hued amber with a medium-sized off-white head and a smattering of patchy lacing.

The aroma is certainly the high point of this brew, though the rest ain't bad either! A smell reminiscent of a fresh cut blue spruce comes to mind. Smells of citrusy grapefruit, orange and lemon zest is direct and potent. A sweet malty smell lingers through. A light perfumy rum alcohol aroma rises from the depths.

A solid, slightly sweet, almost oily doughy malt body lies a firm foundation for all the varied hop tastes to dance and frolic about. Bitter orange, pink grapefruit, essence of pink and floral hop flavors abound. A taste of over-ripe pears and hint of cherries in cream is noticed.

A rich golden rum fuminess releases in the exhale.

This is a really decadent and flavorful brew!

New England Imperial IPA

Heady Topper – The Alchemist Pub & Brewery – Waterbury, Vermont – 8% ABV

Shared a 22oz bottle with a very generous friend.
Served in Delirium goblets.
Pours a hazy pale orange color with a fluffy, but fading white head. Lots of sticky and patchy lacing rims the glass.
A big whiff of pine and wild flowers blast out of the gate. A resinous hop aroma rises and pulls a dry malty smell, along with some perfumy citrus and a little mellow rum.
The tastes follow the aromas very closely. Very hoppy, yet held in check by a solid caramel malt with some honey sweetness.
So flavorful, yet so drinkable!

Smuttynose Big A IPA – Portsmouth, New Hampshire – 9.6 ABV

22oz brown bottle.

It pours a very hazy, orange-hued amber color. The off-white head is smallish, but it lasts a good time. Patchy lace hangs around throughout.

The some citrus and piney ester smells dominate the aroma department, but they are subdued and not as strong as expected. A light smell of dried hay and grass hang around in the background.

The malt is mostly caramel sweet with a mild fruity taste.

This brew is of course all about the hops. White grapefruit, orange zest, and potent pine flavors abound. A slight metallic tang is noticed in the back of the throat. A raw and somewhat harsh vodka-like alcohol kick can't be missed.

Others to try:

Hop Monster – Paper City Brewing – Holyoke, Massachusetts – 9.5% ABV

Otter Creek Imperial India Pale Ale – Middlebury, Vermont – 11% ABV

Galaxy Imperial Single Hop IPA – Hill Farmstead Brewery – 8% ABV

Is there an Imperial IPA lurking innocently on a shelf at your local packie?


Quote: There can’t be good living where there is not good drinking” – Benjamin Franklin