Sunday, October 30, 2011

Beer style of the week; Bockbier

Week 37

Back in May I covered Double Bock, a beer meant for cool spring evenings. This week, I bring you a slightly more gulpable beer that is nearly the perfect brew to accompany, or even added as an enriching ingredient to a fall stew on a chilly, damp night.

Bock is an old style German Lager, which probably found its way out into the public via German monasteries, where monks brewed big-bodied beers with substantial amounts of barley to get them through times of fasting. Full-bodied is normal, syrupy or cloying is completely wrong for the style (see Michelob Amber Bock below). The name “bock” may stem from beers from Einbeck, Germany (shortened to beck), or it may be rooted in pagan times where the Capricorn Goat (Bock) was seen as a sign of spring and the departure of winter. The Bock myth does make the ground hog myth look a little sad by comparison.

Today many Bocks are brewed year round. They come in many different shades and colors and varying strengths. Same goes for Double Bock.

Land of Origin

Mahr’s Christmas Bock – Bamberg, Germany – 6% ABV

This is my first and only Christmas Bock, thus far. What is it to be compared to?

It pours a deep amber with a thin off-white head and some trails of lace. An initial malty aroma fades rather quickly. A Euro-hop smell picks up where the malt fades. A distant, yet constant earthy smell remains throughout. At first swallow, the malt body seems a little thin for the winter-type style, but as it warms, more malty characteristics are revealed. A little sweet caramel and lots fresh baked bread favors begin to assert themselves. The hops possess a metallic bite and just a hint of limey bitterness. This brew sweetens and displays a lightly herbal character late in the glass. All in all a pretty good winter brew.

It can be compared to (distantly) Young's Winter Warmer…if Young’s was a lagered Bock instead of an ale.

Einbecker Ur-Bock – Einbeck, Germany – 6.5% ABV Initially this brew comes across as a tad unruly with alcohol the dominant presence, both in aroma and taste. By the second, third and fourth gulps the hops begin to assert themselves and take center stage. The amber/orange color stands alone in the beer world. I had to keep looking at it and holding it to different lights and upgrading my initial appearance rating. The taste is extremely complex, that too required a raise in points. The ample malt body never achieves a platform of its own. It instead plays a wonderful supporting role to the competing stars. The off white head’s performance is marvelous, though brief. Einbecker, by the way, is the inventor of the bock style. Because I was unsure of my ability to accurately rate this unusual style beer with one bottle, I found it necessary drink a second.

Scandinavia (It seems the Bock-style beers are popular in these northern climes)

Aass Bock – Aass Brewery – Drammen, Norway – 6.5% ABV

From notes: I received this from BA friend, francisweisen (now living in New Zealand). Thanks and skoal! I sampled this beer a looooong time ago, in the 70’s...before Michael Jackson began rating beer or started dangling babies from balconies, and it's just as I remembered it. Dark brown prune juice in color with a beige/tan head and slow-sliding lace. The aroma is particularly distinct with molasses, coffee, hops, and light alcohol fume. The molasses sweet malty body emits flavors of raisins and prunes and a hint of chocolate. The citrusy hops add just the right amount of bitterness for the style. Nice any season beer! Heh, heh…I want my Aass bock!

USA and New England Bocks

Michelob Amber Bock – Anheuser Busch – St. Louis, Missouri – 5.2% ABV

One of our duties as reviewers, other than enlightening our readers is to warn the unsuspecting, so here goes.

I sampled this horrible brew in 2003 at The Tiki Bar, an outdoor grill on the beach on Marco Island. Michelob was test-marketing Amber Bock in several states and it was my misfortune for having vacationed in Florida at this time. It was a sunny and balmy afternoon. Bikini clad beauties were bouncing around, showing off what they had developed over the winter (quite a distraction from my relaxed reading and quite the chore of appearing disinterested with my girlfriend's (now wife)harsh glare beating down upon the back of my neck). The smell of grilled shrimp and burgers wafted over me, exciting my remaining senses. I wandered over to the Tiki and noticed, with curious interest, Michelob Amber Bock on tap. Hmmm! How bad could it be? Well, despite my most excellent surroundings and laissez-faire attitude, the answer, to be kind is disgusting!

Flat dark tan in color and rapidly vanishing off-white head. Sweet sugary malt and soaked corncob aroma. The pasty-mealy, cloying malt is difficult to swallow. This bland, sweet tasting, lightly hopped beer is in keeping with the A-B tradition of marketing over quality brewing techniques. Again A-B had the opportunity to enter the craft brew market by brewing a really fine bock beer. They chose instead, the road of mass-produced-type swill and major advertising campaigns. Argh! In case you’re still interested, the rest of my vacation went very well despite A-B’s attempt to ruin it.

Samuel Adams Winter Lager – Boston Beer Company – Boston, Massachusetts – 5.6% ABV

Served in a standard pint glass.
It pours a dark ruby-hued amber color with a solid 2" beige head and plenty of web and trailing lacing.
The first smell is sweet wet malt and nut bread. A light whiff of mixed fruit cup with a hint of nutmeg and peppery spice follows.
If there was a liquid honey granola bar, this would be the recipe, less a mild taste of white rum and raisins.
A bit of of lime-like citrus taste pulls through in the aftertaste.
All in all, a solid Bock...not spectacular...but a solid brew.

Should Try

Goats Peak Bock – Paper City Brewery – Holyoke, Massachusetts – ABV Unknown

Cold weather is on the way. Don’t balk at Bock.

Quote: "No matter how rich you are, you can still only drink 17 to 18 liters of beer a day." - Anonymous German nobleman

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Beer style of the week; Belgian Strong Dark Ale

Week 36 (Today is my son, Liam and future daughter-in-law’s wedding day! And niece, Jennifer’s Birthday! Cheers to all!)

Different than an English or American Strong Dark Ale, The Belgian Strong Dark Ale marches to the beat of a different brewer. Tannish to deep mahogany in color, big and bold maltiness, yet subtle in the hop and phenols department. Flavors of chocolate, toffee, coffee, dark ripe fruit are common. These are tricky beers. The alcoholic strength can be well-disguised, lurking quietly within the malty sweetness. Don’t be deceived, the Belgian Strong Dark Ale can provide a potent kick.

This is one of the styles brewed as a liquid “food” by Trappist monks to provide them with nourishment during periods of fasting. Drinking a few growlers of Belgian Strong Dark Ale on an empty stomach may bring you much closer to a God in many unusual ways.

From the land of origin

Chimay Grande Reserve (Blue) – Bieres de Chimay – Baileux, Belgium – 9% ABV

This unusual Trappist pours a deep mahogany with a frothy, foamy beige head and loads of clingy lace. The aroma is yeast, malty, hoppy with citrus and fruity notes. The body is heavy and a bit sweet and a little sour. Cloves, hops, over-ripe bananas and alcohol are in your face. A bit of spicy tastes lingers. This brew is really strong in most every way. Well made, but harmony and balance isn’t one of its strong points.

Abbaye Des Rocs Grand Cru Belgian Special Brown – Honnelles, Belgium – 9.5% ABV

This rare beauty pours an orange-tinted amber with a firm rocky beige head, and tons of sticky lace. The aroma is complex mix of crushed berries, damp earth, apples, sweet malt and light alcohol esters. A candy sweet flavor melds with fresh bread, caramel apples, mild lime-like bitterness, light pine, a hint of chocolate, and an ever so faint astringent camphor taste. A warming alcohol works its way through the crowded flavor field. The mouthfeel is buttery and smooth just after an initial fizzy effervescence. This should be a "must try" beer.


Trois Pistoles – Unibroue – Chambly Quebec, Canada -

This Dark Ale is a deep brown color with ruby highlights and tan head. The complex aroma includes roasted barley, spicy hops, fruit, cloves and fumes of alcohol. The deep rich malt houses flavors of caramel, toffee and a hint of banana. Highly hopped with spicy and lemony citrusy bitterness along with ripe mixed fruit. A powerful, well-made brew!

New England

Allagash Black – Allagash Brewing – Portland, Maine – 7.5% ABV

Served in an Allagash goblet.

Pours a blackened cola color with medium-sized khaki head and plenty of sticky lacing.

Smells of burnt roasted malts with notes of chocolate, coffee and toffee and some peppery spices.

Tastes like it smells with deeply roasted malt and mingling flavors of chocolate, resiny hop, spices and a slightly astringent yeasty background, followed a taste of dark rum.

A spritzy effervescence fades quickly and a fuller body is revealed. A bit more of the malty sweetness is noticed as it warms.

Others well worth a try

Raison d’etre – Dogfish Head (Rum-soaked prunes come to mind)

Mad Elf – Troegs Brewery (Fruity berries and extremely potent)

Local 2 – Brooklyn Brewery (Sugary and spicy and everything nicey)

Cheers and Salut!

Quote: “Life is too short to drink cheap beer” – Larry Hallahan, ‘Beer Styles’

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

This Old New England Beer Examiner examines the new Old London Pubs II

Harp, London is a mighty fine pub!;

Monday, October 17, 2011

Small packies face yet one more LARGE hurdle

If you love personal service when shopping for your favorite beer and wines, read on...;

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Beer style of the week; Belgian Dubbel (Double Ale)

Originating in the Trappist Abbey of Westmalle in 1856, here is a style that effectively bridges the Belgian Strong Dark Ale and Belgian Tripel. The Dubbel should be fairly malty, lightly spicy, slightly astringent with a somewhat (but not over-powering) alcoholic backing. Dubbles may display some plum or prune-like fruitiness, maybe even a little pear-like tastes and aromas. A bit of molasses or candi sugar sweetness is to be expected. The body should be fairly full, yet not thick or syrupy.

Dubbles are the perfect ale to make Beef Carbonade (the national dish of Belgium) with.

Pair with rich stews, a variety of cheese, salamis or creamy desserts.

From the land of origin

Trappist Westvleteren 8 – Brouwerji Westveteren, Belgium – 8% ABV

Served at about 55F in a Westy silver-rimmed glass. It pours a deep and dark mahogany with a substantial beige head and some trailing, sliding and sticky lace. Sweet malt, fruit soaked in rum, hops, yeast and a mild pine scent make up the complex aroma. The lightly herbal malt features caramel and candy sugar sweetness in a rich velvety, nearly oily body. Beautiful symphonies of flavors mingle and harmonize. Ripe banana, plums, vanilla, fruitcake, coriander and cloves vie for attention within the dark rum-like warming alcohol background. Piney esters and an ever so slightly camphor astringency provide more interesting tastes. This wonderful brew pairs nicely with Molanari salami and Cabot Vintage Cheddar, and as can be imagined, any gourmet offering. Pure bliss!

Trappist Achel 8° Bruin - Brouwerij der St. Benedictusabdij - Achelse, Belgium – 8% ABV

11.2 dark brown bottle. Freshness date etched on back label (07/12) Served in a Piraat Goblet

It pours a deep, dark orange-hued amber.

A whiff of fresh honeycomb rises immediately from the bottle to glass. A yeasty smell is noticed throughout the glass. A faded horse stable aroma lingers in the background. A sweet malty smell comes and goes. A whiff of citrus is steady, if light.

Sweet caramel malty flavors dominate early, and then give way to citrusy grapefruit and orange-zest bitterness. A mild taste of cloves and peppery spices add, rather than detract from the overall malt to hop ratio.

A taste of sweet honey and hint of bourbon gives this Trappist its unique edge. Nice Brew!

Corsendonk Pater Abbey Brown Ale – Brouwerji Corsendonk – Oud-Turnhout, Belgium – 7.5% ABV

One of the nicest colors in a to examine. Sort of a cloudy root beer/plum/teak with a nice off-white head which fades, but remains as a thin cover then reveals a runny lace. Fun to examine! The aroma is complex with a yeasty clove dominating and citrus, herbal malt and alcoholic fragrances coming into play. Medium bodied with a slightly oily feel and citrus bitterness is noticeable. Wood-pressed apple cider comes to mind.

New England

Allagash Dubbel – Allagash Brewing Co. – Portland, Maine – 7% ABV

12 oz. bottle. Freshness date not noticed.

It pours clear ruby-hued mahogany color with a two finger dark beige head and loads of lacings.

Big aromas of raisin, prune juice, caramel, molasses, and cherry brandy.

Tastes of raisins, ripe plums, caramel, toasted malt, toffee, and slight yeasty spiciness mingle and balance. A bit of apple brandy is noticed in the finish.

This highly drinkable Dubbel is medium bodied with a moderate effervescence. It becomes slight oily and slick as it warms. Very nice representation of the style!

Saint Boltoph’s Town – Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project – Massachusetts – 5.9%

Ok, it’s really listed as a Brown Ale, but I think it fits very nicely into the Dubbel style.

22oz brown bottle. Bottled on date stamped on cap top label. (Batch 10)

Served in a standard pint glass.

Pours a dark brownish amber mahogany color with a solid 2" beige head and lots of webby lacing.

Smells of roasted barley, barn, and resinous and citrusy hops blend nicely together. A whiff mixed fruit soaked in mellow rum floats in the background.

Brown Malty backbone with a touch of toffee. Evenly matched hoppy balance. A light taste of prunes with a hint of tobacco.

This is an amped up Brown Ale. It can easily slide into an Autumn or Fall Ale, or even Dubbel style profile. There's more malt, hops and alcoholic punch to this wonderfully crafted ale, than you find in your standard English Brown Ale.

Just a lovely ale for a cool evening! Very nice!

Next week; Whiskey and other boozy barrel-aged beers.


Quote: “Belgian beer has mystique: Some of it’s made by monks. Some of it tastes really, really weird. Some of its labels show elves and devils. People who know beer are sometimes unable to resist blowing huge chunks of cash on it. It is the Disneyland of beer.” – The late Michael Jackson, Beer Writer

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Beer style of the week; The Bastards-One of a kind- Imperial Blueberry Ale

Week 34

Ok, let’s see, we’ve dealt with three bastards so far, then we had a whole summer of warm-weather beers to sample and contemplate; June 19, 2011 was the last bastard. It was Imperial Pumpkin Ale (which has since caught fire and is no longer a bastard); Just before that it was Imperial Pumpkin Stout (which has also gained followers); Our first bastard, is still a bastard, Samuel Adams Utopias;

This week, we find a style that may also go the route of Imperial Pumpkin and gain some serious followers of Bluebeery Brandy (yes, I made that up just now) and lovers of strong fruit ales. Finally an extreme beer that can serve two masters, brandy lovers and strong blueberry beer lovers.

Serve with blueberry-glazed duck! Or ice-cream!

Smashed Blueberry – Shipyard Signature Series – Shipyard Brewery – Portland, Maine – 9% ABV

22oz dark brown bottle. No freshness date.

Served in a Piraat snifter.

The color is an unusual purple-hued dark mahogany. Minor particles of what I assume are blueberry pulp floats in a thin layer just beneath the tannish head.

Smells of mixed berries, roasted malt, resinous hops and boozy alcohol blend together. A slight floral scent inches forward. The smell of blueberries is there, but not jumping out.

The flavors mirror the aromas. Certainly fruit cup loaded with tart blueberries is upfront. Fruited vodka and mixed hops mingle with a solid malty taste. The sweetness is just about right.

I should be sipping and swigging, but find myself slugging and gulping. Oh oh!

Not at all what I expected...and that's good for my tastes.

Good job Alan Pugsley! Very bold brew!

So, not only will this potent brew provide a mellow buzz, it should have plenty of anti-oxidants to help with healthy brain functions! Ying and yang if there ever was…

Next week; This Old New England Beer Examiner examines Old London Pubs Part II


“Boughs have their fruit and blossom,
At all times of the year,
Rivers are running over
With red beer and brown beer” - William Butler Yeats

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Beer style of the week; Pumpkin Ale

Beer style of the week; Pumpkin Ale

Week 34

“Each year, the Great Pumpkin rises out of the pumpkin patch that he thinks is the most sincere. He's gotta pick this one. He's got to. I don't see how a pumpkin patch can be more sincere than this one. You can look around and there's not a sign of hypocrisy. Nothing but sincerity as far as the eye can see.” – Linus Van Pelt from, ‘It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown’ - 1966

Now, finally, here’s a beer that has deep roots as a New England original. Pumpkin Ale goes back to the days of the beer-loving Pilgrims. When barley or wheat grains were depleted, and beer was desired, (actually beer was needed because their water sources weren’t always safe to drink) these crafty brewers turned to other fermentable plants and vegetations. Turnip and bran and pumpkins were commonly used in place of barley malt as a suitable fermentable.

Samuel Stearns, author of ' The American Herbal; or, Materia Medica’ (published in 1801), listed pumpkin beer (among other ales) as especially healthful, noting:

"Different kinds of beer, ale, &c. are often prepared according to the prescriptions of the physicians, all of which, as well as pumpkin and bran beer, partake of the virtues of the ingredients put into such liquors."

A popular song written in the 1600’s paid homage to the pumpkin ale.

Instead of pottage and puddings and custards and pies,
Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies;
We have pumpkin at morning and pumpkin at noon;
If it was not for pumpkins we should be undone
... Hey down, down, hey down derry down....
If barley be wanting to make into malt
We must be contented and think it no fault
For we can make liquor, to sweeten our lips,
Of pumpkins and parsnips and walnut-tree chips”.

The walnut tree chips, by the way, were used in place of hops as a bittering agent. Cleaver boys, those Puritans!

Not all pumpkin ales are created equal, but most are welcoming the fall-type ales. Pumpkin ales, as of this writing, range in ABV from a mild 4% ABV to 10% ABV for the Imperial versions. They pair nicely with a wide variety of foods, from mellow creamy cheeses, to brats, to root veggies, to turkey dinner with all the trimmings, to (you guessed it, Pumpkin Pie…with pumpkin ice cream). Try drizzling an Imperial Pumpkin over vanilla or cinnamon ice cream. Lovely!

Let’s start with my very favorite mild Pumpkin Ale:

Great Pumpkin Ale - Cambridge Brewing Co. – Brewed at Mercury Brewing, Ipswich, MA – 4.2% ABV

22 oz. brown bottle. Bottled on date and Batch # stamped.

Poured in a nonic tumbler.

It has a shiny, orange-hued copper color with a thin to medium-sized white head along with some lace dotting the glass.

It smells similar to a mild pale ale with caramel malt, dry grass, tea-like hops and whiffs of pumpkin and spice that linger in the background throughout.

The flavors are very balanced. You get the pleasure of seeking the tastes rather than them finding you.

Mellow tastes of fresh doughy pumpkin bread, blend with mild tea and lemon with honey flavors. The spiciness is in check. A little peppery nutmeg, a dose of tart citrus, and then a clean finish.

Wonderful, wonderful creation here by Will Meyers of CBC!

Smutty Nose Pumpkin Ale – Smutty Nose Brewing – Portsmouth, New Hampshire – 6% ABV

This is a Pumpkin Ale our Pilgrim forefathers would surely approve of. Unlike some of the pretender "pumpkin" ales on the market, this one has Real Pumpkin inside!

It pours a hazy goldish amber with a nice off-white head and some trails and webs of sticky lace. The aroma is of pumpkin pie...with beer. A sweet biscuity malty mixes well with mellow pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla. A mild lemony citrus offers a nice balance to the malt and spices. A faint flavor reminiscent of eggnog and rum comes to mind. It really goes down easy and was gone before I had the chance to appropriately conclude this review. Yum!

My favorite Imperial Pumpkin:

Smashed Pumpkin – Shipyard Brewing – Portland, Maine – 9% ABV

22oz brown bottle. Served in a Chimay goblet.

It pours an oily, orange-hued amber color with a beige head along with some wisps of trailing lacing.

A strong and delightful whiff of rum-soaked pumpkin pie rises at first pour. I think I can actually smell the crust! The nutmeg spiciness is subdued, but thoughts of Thanksgiving dessert flood my senses. A solid malty smell mingles with some spicy and citrusy hops. Dark rum in the nose never fades.

The flavors are bold and upfront. Very little in the way of subtleties. Big spiced pumpkin taste, Big Doughy Maltiness, Big Ruminess, and not so big, yet noticeable hoppiness.

SO much better than Shipyard's other Pumpkin Ale, and not because it's much bigger. It's big but balanced and wonderfully rich and decadent.

Let's see how it ages...

Others well worth a try:

Punkin Ale – Dog Fish Head – Milton, Delaware – 7%ABV

Post Road Pumpkin Ale – Contract brewed by Brooklyn Brewery – 5% ABV

Wachusett Imperial Pumpkin – Westminster, Massachusetts – 8% ABV


Quote: “There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics and the Great Pumpkin. – Linus Van Pelt