First off, I had to go back and make sure that I've written about the story of the Saison style because it really is one of my favorites. It had been so long that I just couldn't remember but sure enough, it was one of my first posts. Follow the link to get a little refresher course.
Onto the beer at hand, Bam Biere from Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales. I'd tried this beer once before, early on in my craft beer drinking career. This Dexter, Michigan brewery has been long heralded for its commitment to high quality, traditional brewing. The thing that most differentiates this brewery from others is the maturation in wooden barrels. Most beer in this day and age go through a quick maturation process (or secondary fermentation) in stainless steel tanks. This gives the beers flavors a chance to congeal and for any extra sedimentation that would ultimately produce a more aesthetically pleasing beer (this factor is more important in some styles more than others). Jolly Pumpkin takes a different route. Their beers, all of them, mature in oak casks. This is not to say that all of their beers will take on a "woody" flavor profile because the barrels in question are fairly neutral. What it does mean is that because wood is naturally porous, the slightest bit of oxidation occurs, leading to a depth of flavor not found in most other beers. Enough about the brewery, onto the beer.
Bam Biere is one of a couple different Saison (Farmhouse) brews these guys create. The first item of note has to be the package. A nice, sturdy 750 mL bottle with great artwork. I know that this has nothing to to with its contents, but it's a nice touch. A big hiss sounds as the crown cap is cracked. The beer pours a vibrant golden peach color with insane carbonation. The head is hard to contain in the glass. After a couple top-offs, the glass had a sufficient amount of fluid. Great color, tons of tiny bubbles (appropriate for style), and a head that wasn't going anywhere. As far as I'm concerned, this beer has a perfect appearance.
I'm going to skip ahead here for a second and let you know that I was enjoying this beer alongside another piece of Red Hawk from Cowgirl Creamery that I wrote about not too long ago. Not exaggerating one bit, this may be may new favorite beer and cheese pairing. Just saying...
The nose has it all. In no particular order: white pepper, coriander, fresh-squeezed lemon juice, lightly kilned malt sweetness, a faint floral quality (from the hops I'm assuming), and of course, a little bit of that funk that I love so much. I feel that I harp on this all the time but there is balance in the aromatics of this beer which I adore.
After battling through the mountain of foam, the first sip made me again realize why I love this style so much. Sweet, sour, spicy, and bitter flavors jump all over. The high carbonation helps this medium to full bodied brew dance on the palate. It starts off with a slight tang on the front of the tongue. As the beer moves into the middle of your mouth, the malt comes into play, showing sweetness that's balanced off by the peppery esters from the yeast. That lemon juice that was apparent on the nose makes its presence known on the sides of your tongue, near the back, only to be finished off with a crisp bitterness from the hops. An absolutely brilliant representation of the style.
Even better news, this beer comes in at a mere 4.5% abv. Most in this style will hover around 7%. With this alcohol content, Bam Biere jumps into the lead for my favorite session beer. Now, to bring it back down, this beer is not only tough to find in the Seattle area, but it's also expensive. $14 for a 750mL bottle is steep. At this price, I won't be keeping a case of this on hand in the fridge. What I will do, is suggest that if you find one of these in a store, pick it up and enjoy it. I'm also going to suggest that this could be a perfect aperitif for those throwing a dinner party. This beer will go perfectly with just about any appetizers you can throw at it, and it would look great in a champagne flute, to boot.
Knowing that I was going to take Monday off, Sunday night seemed like the perfect time to taste something really good from the cellar. I wasn't in the mood for a lot of anything, so I ruled out anything in a bomber (22 oz. bottle). From that point on, the decision came quickly. Dogfish Head Brewery's Olde School barleywine called and I couldn't help but pick up.
Having recently bought a couple bottles from this year's release, I figured it would be a great time to try one some that had been in the bottle for well over a year now. For those that think beer is only to be drunk fresh, this isn't your typical beer. Brewed with an insane amount of malt and hops, secondary fermentation taking place over figs and dates, this beer rolls in at 15.04% alcohol by volume. That alcohol, along with the hops, act as preservatives in the beer which aid in aging. Really, a beer with this kind of alcohol content needs to be aged to extract some of the more subtle nuances that could be hidden be harsh alcohol flavors present in a young version. With that said, I enjoy this beer fresh as well which is making the bottles I just picked up very tempting to crack. On this night, my patience has been rewarded.
For the style, this beer pours a very clear burnt orange with much more carbonation than I remember. The head quickly rises to a couple of fingers and about a half inch's worth stays around for most of the drink. Pretty impressive for a couple reasons. One, beer this high in alcohol has a very tough time holding any kind of head. And two, a beer with this kind of strength is most definitely a "sipper," meaning it takes a while to get through.
If there is any beer that just attacks your nose, this is it. Every aspect, the sweetness (malt and candi sugar), dried fruit (the aforementioned dates and figs, but also apricots), earth-driven bitterness (non west coast hops), and alcohol, are all there in force. What gets me excited is the balance coming through. Yes, there is a lot of sweetness coming through which I'm not a huge fan of, but there's that bitterness coming through to bring everything back into perspective. Good nose.
On the tongue, the dried fruit flavors have me swimming. Though even sweeter tasting than it smells, there is an acidity that picks up the slack for the balance of this beer. Delicate hop bitterness furthers the notion of earth that completes this as a complex beverage. Again, this is absolutely huge. Every inch of your palate is covered and your entire upper body gets a piece of the action. Up in the head, aromas (a.k.a. fumes for those who can't handle the alcohol) invade your entire nasal cavity. The warmth going down fills your throat and chest. When it's all said and done, as the flavors linger, a smile is always left behind.
This is yet another beer that may have an acquired taste. It's big and isn't bashful about its flavors and/or its strength. For those who can find it, any vintage, pick some up and put them down for a while. Crack them when you're in the mood to just chill for a while. Also, if you have anywhere to go, you may want to split it. Enjoy.
On a recent trip to Full Throttle Bottles in Georgetown, I found three different beers from Africa. Although all similar in style, I had an inkling that they would all have noticable differences. The lineup:
Brasseries du Maroc - Casablanca (Morocco)
Meta Abo Brewery - Meta Export Lager (Ethiopia)
Kenya Breweries - Tusker Premium Lager (Kenya)
While doing a little research on these beers, the thing I found most interesting is the category into which these fall. All three, stylistically, are "American Adjunct Lagers." In short, this means that though a portion of the beer is made with malted barley, more cost effective ingredients (i.e. rice and corn) are used to make the flavors more mass marketable (bland).
First up, the Casablanca. Oddly enough, there was a very slight haze in this beer. This didn't bother me at all but this style is known for being bright (beer terminology for extremely clear). Nice level of carbonation, absolutely no head retention, and a very typical light golden color. The nose is very limited. Slightly sweet with a little bit of grass. Nothing great, but nothing all that off-putting either. That feeling bled over into the flavor department as well. Very light flavors with a decent balance of sweet and bitter. All in all, a very boring beer, but just as good as any macro-lager you'll find in this country.
Next in line was the Meta Export Lager. The color of this beer is a clear version of the Casablanca. A very pale gold but this had a little bit less carbonation. The initial smell is pure sweetness, much like overcooked corn. After a little time spent in the glass, aromas of butterscotch started poking through. For the beer geeks out there, this would be a great example to pinpoint the smell of diacetyl (the compound responsible for this smell that is serious flaw in lagers such as this). In the mouth, the sweet, buttery characteristics overpower any hop bitterness that may be lingering beneath. I would not recommend this beer at all.
Lastly, the Tusker Premium Lager. In the glass, this is by far the most carbonated of the bunch, which is helping to maintain the slightest bit of head. Again, pale gold in color. It really was amazing to see how close all of these were in color. Like that Meta, this was also extremely clear. The lightest nose of the group led to me thinking of Perrier with lemon. That hunch was confirmed upon the first sip. Very thin, high carbonation, and a minerality that couldn't be missed. If this were a wine, I would most likely attribute that to terroir, but I have to assume that all of the ingredients used by this brewery are imported, so that idea goes out the window. The lowest alcohol of the tasting (4.2% abv) makes this a great session beer on extremely hot days.
My father joined me in this tasting and his vote went to the Casablanca. I feel it was perfectly adequate and by far, the best representation of the style. Because of the fact that I'm not big on the style to begin with, I have to say that the Tusker was my favorite. This one got the nod from me because of sheer drinkability.
I would have no problem suggesting these if it weren't for the price. These were all purchased as singles for around $2.00. One can easily find something comparable for about $.50 a pop. Fun to say I've tried, but I probably won't be seeking these out anytime soon.
This post will be solely devoted to a cheese that has quickly become an American classic. Even though they've only been in business for around ten years, Cowgirl Creamery produces what is easily one of my favorite cheeses, called Red Hawk.
Dinner on Saturday night was started simply enough with this cheese and a perfectly good baguette and I wouldn't have wanted it any other way. Once unwrapped, this peachy orange round of cheese emits those classic funky smells that any good washed rind cheese should. For those that don't understand, I'm sorry, but it just smells like a barn. It's not like I've spent a whole lot of time in a barn, but my limited experience comes in handy when trying to describe the scent of this cheese. I get smells of animals. When I say this, I mean all parts of the animal, including its droppings. I get wet hay, mud, and damp wood.
As soon as I cut into this cheese, I immediately remembered why I like it so much. The texture is perfect. No two ways about it. If I could enjoy one texture of food for the rest of my life, this would be it. The cheese perfectly blends gooey and creamy textures, resulting in a cheese that maintains just enough of a bite to hold its shape, but still soft enough to spread like slightly chilled butter. As strange as it sounds, it feels good to even squeeze this cheese in your fingers. Red Hawk is a triple cream cheese with an 86% butter fat content.
Not that I really care, but for those who are quick to complain about this number, please keep in mind that aged parmigiano reggiano has more fat per ounce. Just wanted to add that to keep this number in perspective.
Once this cheese gets into your mouth, it's all over. Flavors of cream of mushroom soup, the best butter you've ever eaten in your life (and yes, there are huge differences in butter), salt, and a little bit of cedar completely take over your palate. Add that to the imagination of you eating that bite in the middle of that fully operational barn I spoke of earlier. The combination of pure decadence on the tongue combined with funk and earth running amok in your nasal cavity is so, so good.
This cheese brings excitement to four out of the five senses and I'm guessing that if I thought about it long enough, I could make a case for the sound. No matter. This cheese, though a little pricey (about $20/pound), needs to be sought out. Even for those who don't like (or think they don't like) washed rind cheese, I can't help but think this one will win you over.
In previous entries, I haven't hidden the fact that I'm big on Baltic porters. My favorite examples blend the dark, rich malt backbone of a great imperial stout with clean fermenting lager yeast. The combination allows for a velvety smooth mouthfeel that doesn't get too complicated with all of the ale yeast esters that could potentially muddle the purity of the flavor that I appreciate so much.
With that said, I was more than a little excited to get my hands on the first bottled release of the Alaskan Brewing Company's version, simply called Baltic Porter. In the Seattle area, there is still quite a bit hanging around in bottle shops, as well as most local grocery stores with even a decent beer selection. The brewery claims (both on the battle and the website) that this vintage brew can and will age gracefully for years to come. As you will read soon enough, I believe this to be true, but I always like to drink one young to have a reference point for how the flavors are evolving.
Not having done any research on how this beer was created, I couldn't help but wonder about the yeast used for this brew. Baltic porters are one of the very few beers (if not the only one) that can be brewed with either a lager or an ale yeast strain and still be considered stylistically correct. Through numerous tastings of beers within this style, I have come to the conclusion that I usually prefer the lagered version. My initial assumption that this beer from Alaskan would most likely be an ale seemed to be confirmed upon opening the bottle.
A good sized hiss launched the aromas I would typically associate with a really good stout. Both dark and milk chocolate, deep roasted coffee, and a very distinct smell of Coca Cola Classic. Almost scary close to Coke. Another very obvious component on the nose is that of dark (maybe dried) cherries. After I went on their website, I realized it wasn't that crazy because they used 500 pounds of cherries during the brewing process. There was a musty, smokey quality to this beer that I couldn't exactly put my finger on. This smell blew off after a minute or two in the glass which opened a hole for the sweet aromas of vanilla and Red Vines to come through. A very interesting nose that I'm hoping comes together after spending some time in the bottle. To me, this beer just seems a little disjointed in the aromatic department.
The appearance was a little odd, too. Dark brown, almost black in color when the glass was upright. When tilted or swirled, the color seemed to disappear and what used to be really dark, looked almost like a tawny port. The light tan head rose and fell quickly, adding to the Coke/beer correlation that I got in the nose. As the drink went down, minimal lacing was left behind. Very surprising for a beer that comes across very sweet on the nose.
Though I still can't find it online, this has to be fermented with an ale yeast strain. There's just too much going on with the secondary flavors of this beer for it to be a lager. The first sip had me confused, to say the least. Bitter, and I mean bitter, chocolate flavors with a mouthfeel I'd normally associate with milk chocolate. This beer enters the mouth very smooth, but finishes with almost a tannic kick. I later learned that this beer was aged on toasted oak chips which could contribute to both the absurdly bitter flavor upfront as well as the tannins on the back. Both of these aspects should (and probably will) fade with time. Even as the beer started to go down, the sweetness perked up and started to bring things into balance, boasting flavors of cheap cherry cordials (the kind that are 16 for $1 at Bartell). For the record, I like cheap cherry cordials so this statement isn't a knock in any way. Black licorice, dried figs, and a warming bourbon-esque quality rounded out the flavors.
As I said before, the mouthfeel on this beer is pure silk. The problem is that it takes too long to get to that point. When first poured, the carbonation is simply too high and really takes away from the beer. Fairly good-sized bubbles ripped across my tongue and only heightened the bitter aspects of this beer, while washing away the potentially balancing sweetness. That said, once the carbonation started to escape and the beer gets a little air, this beer progresses nicely. The bubble size shrinks and the beer goes creamy.
All in all, a really tough bottle to gauge. There are very few beers that I would say this about, but it's just too young. Although I thoroughly enjoyed many of the flavors that I picked out, they didn't exactly harmonize. The bitterness was a bit harsh while the sweetness seemed a bit sticky. I'm happy about the fact that I have a couple of bottles put away to see how this beer does in the future, but I won't be opening them any time soon.