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Monday, October 28, 2013

Goose Island's Matilda

  • Style: Belgian Strong Pale Ale
  • ABV: 7.00%
  • Season: Year round
  • Ease to locate: Where ever fine craft beers are sold.  Honestly.  Goose Island is in the process of expanding distribution across the country for their specialty beers.
  • Color: Golden yellow with amber tones.  Ever so slightly cloudy.
  • Head: 1 & 1/2 finger white head with patches of globby lace
  • Aroma: Bready yeast, caramel malts, floral hops and banana esters dominate.  A good amount of citrus, as well as a bit of spice
  • Mouthfeel: Light with an expected amount of carbonation
  • Finish: Medium.  Nothing remarkable about it.
  • Food friendly: Here is where this beer really shines. It's an incredibly easy to pair beer.  Try roasted chicken, vegetarian dishes, creamy pasta or oily fish.  Serve it with creamy cheese, such as brie, or with a goat cheese like Chevre.

Apple user's link: Bing Crosby & Danny Kay in the family way
                                                                                                          This scene from White Christmas breaks me up every single time I see it. 

This week Goose Island released their latest bottles of vintage ales, often known as the Sister Series because they all share female names and cat fight over borrowed eyeshadow and stolen boyfriends.  Halia is a farmhouse ale with peach notes (I was able to try this one over the summer and it was really lovely.  Very effervescent and refreshing on a humid August day.)     Gillian is a farmhouse ale brewed with strawberries (it was released awhile back under the name Scully and if you don't get the reference   I don't want to know about it.   Lalalala, I can't hear you.  But the truth is out there.)  Lolita, yet another farmhouse ale, aged in wine barrels with raspberries (and one of the odder colors for a beer.  Maybe not the best choice to ween your PBR buddy into craft with.)  And lastly, Juliet, the final of the farmer's daughters, aged with blackberries. These beers are priced this year between $20 and $30 a bomber.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Go back and reread it if you doubt your senses.  Now, on one hand, I can justify buying a bottle of Gillian for a special occasion instead of a bottle of equally priced wine.  For a special occasion.  But between you, me and the lamppost?  It's much more likely that I'll pop over to my local craft/well stocked grocery store and pick up a bottle of one of the quieter sisters, such as Sofie (click here to read my May 2013 post on her) or the almost forgotten middle child known as Matilda. 
These photos are from my niece's christening.  Yes, I was in charge of the drinks.  No, I was not in charge of the drinkwear. 

Side note:  the photos in this post were taken at my niece's christening, but my review notes were made while drinking my Matilda at a later session.  Taking my time to really get to know the beer.    From a proper glass.  Without the 2 year old nephew trying to sneak a sip.

My Matilda poured an ever so slightly cloudy, golden yellow liquid with soft amber tones. A white, one and a half finger head of tight, springy foam foamed.  The head never fully disappeared, but settled into a shallow film that lingered on he surface of the ale.  Globby patches of thick lace clung to he sides of the glass, reminding me just how much I appreciate a Belgian style beer.  I smelled the typical bready yeast scent immediately, quickly followed by some sweetness from the malt.  A soft aroma of banana esters mixed in with the doughy sweetness and floral hops, making for one lovely pale ale.   Layered into the nose was a distinct hit of citrus notes, mostly grapefruit and a bit of lemon peel.  There was a minimal presence of pepper under all other other notes, just enough to give the scent a bit depth.   The taste reflected he nose very well.  In addition to the bready yeast, caramel malts, esters, flora hops, citrus and spice notes, the welcome presence of soft fruit flavors emerged on the tongue.  I could taste pineapple, apricot and pear.  As the beer warmed, I found notes of hay and grass come to the surface as well.  It was a perfectly light pale ale that surprised me with it's complexity the more I drank of it.  The mouthfeel was light to medium with a decent amount of carbonation helping to dry out the layers of flavors.  The finish was medium.  There was nothing particularly exciting about it, but also nothing that distracted me from my enjoyment of the drink.  Quite honestly, I think that it was the unremarkable finish that contributed to making a perfect food sort of ale.

Pale ales are often very easy to pair with a variety of foods.  So are most Belgian beers.  Put the two together and you have the makings of a fine, use the good silverware and invite the neighbors, sort of meal.  Matilda, looking very company ready in her fancier than the average beer bottle, is a wonderful substitute for wine with dinner.  A Rustic Roasted Chicken with Savory Sweet Potatoes and Glazed Carrots will impress even the most just judgmental of guests (try it the next time your mom comes for dinner.  She'll probably be so astounded that she may even make your brother do the dishes.). Or pair it with an oily fish like Salmon with a Brown Sugar Glaze for a at home date night.  I'm not making any promises as to what might come of of such a meal with the one you love.  But let's just say that Goose Island's two sisters didn't become six sisters without a little help.

Monday, October 21, 2013

New Glarus Brewing Co's Serendipity

  • Style: Fruit beer
  • ABV: 4.00% 
  • Season: Once sporadic, NG has put it into regular rotation so you can pretty much find this beer on shelves almost year round.  In Wisconsin, that is.
  • Ease of locate: The good news?  NG makes plenty of this popular beer now so you don't have to elbow the hockey mom next to you in line for a bottle.  The bad news?  You have to get in line in Wisconsin.  
  • Color: Juicy crimson liquid with amber and brown tones.  Slightly hazy, like fresh pressed fruit
  • Head:  One finger's worth of slightly off white foam that settles very quickly to a ring around the snifter.  Low, spotty lacing
  • Aroma: Heaven.  If heaven is filled with the scents of tart cranberries, sweet cherries & cidery green apples. 
  • Mouthfeel: Medium body with a bit of slick syrup, but just enough carbonation to keep it on the lighter side
  • Finish: Medium and smooth
  • Food friendly: Yes.  Keep it light and fresh.  Simple poultry and pork dishes work well, but dinner salads with fruit that echo the beer's notes (such as cranberries or apples) would be delicious.  Tomato based appetizers are balanced out by the ale's jammy qualities.  Serve it with a mild cheese, such as brie.

Two weeks ago Colorado hosted the annual rabid beer geek convention, otherwise known as the Great American Beer Fest (GABF).  I've never been, but I imagine it to be a weekend filled with craft enthusiasts linking arms with heroic brewers while slurring singing the the beer equivalent to Kumbaya.  In my (admittedly warped) head, there are highly competitive beard growing contests, panel discussions such as "The New Frontier: IBUs Pushing the Boundaries Beyond what Nature and God Approves" and workshops on how to actually pronounce "Reinheitsgebot" .

Apple users link:   This is pretty much how I picture GABF 

                                                                                 This accurately depicts GABF.  Only slightly more coherent.

GABF does give out medals.  And since we, as a country, have consented to raise a generation of participation medal hording adults still proud of the "everybody wins" trophy from their 1st grade spelling bee, we all know that medals are very, very important.   If a beer takes a medal, it MUST be good, right?  I mean, take for example the winner list from Wisconsin : Miller?  Leinehkugel?  How can these awards not be the perfect barometer of what is right and good in the craft beer world????  (I know.  Excuse me, Marie.  Your beer snob is showing.)  Think of it as the equivalent of Jeff Daniels winning the Emmy last month over Bryan Cranston.  The Newsroom is a fine show and it's slight enough in content so as not to leave you with a nasty hangover the next day, but it ain't no Peruvian Morning Breaking Bad.  Actually, many breweries were shut out this year of even entering their beers in the competition (rumors of on-line problem made it seem like the brewery equivalent of the Ombacare website.)  So what I'm saying is that one needs to take all winner lists like these with a grain of caramel malt.  But please don't tell New Glarus Brewing that I said this.  Because they rounded out the Wisconsin winners list with a Gold for their Blackberry Sour and a silver for the amazing fruit beer, Serendipity.  And god knows that I don't want to risk getting my New Glarus stash confiscated at the border on the grounds of being a smart ass.
I defy you to look at this and not be thirsty.   It's like Jamba Juice, only better.  Because it's beer, people.

My Serendipity poured a slightly hazy, crimson liquid.  Brown and amber tones ran through the beer, giving it depth and a sense of juiciness.  It reminded me of fresh pressed fruit juice.  One finger's worth of just off white foam formed on the pour, but settled extremely quickly.  The head dissipated into a shallow ring around the snifter, leaving just a small amount of delicately spotty lacing.  The aroma, in one word, was glorious. Tart, mouth watering cranberries mingled with the sweetness of the ripe cherries.  A solid backbone of cider bitten green apples helped to round out the fruit ale.  This was the sort of beer that makes you want to linger, taking the time to sniff the gorgeous aroma and enjoy the beauty of the appearance.  But, since beers are meant for drinking and my neighbors sometimes wonder about me smelling my drinks all the time, it does behoove me to remember to take a sip now and then.  The taste was basically the aroma, only ramped up to eleven.  A jammy, yet not very sweet, balance of the cranberries, cherries and sour apples practically exploded on my tongue.  There was a note of caramel malt sweetness laying just under the juiciness.  As the beer opened up, I could taste very minimal characters of floral and earthy hops.  The mouthfeel was moderate.  There was a slickness of syrup tempered by a good amount of carbonation which kept the drink from becoming too heavy.  The finish was medium and smooth, but otherwise it was the lest remarkable quality of the beer.
It's like a rorschach test for craft drinkers.  What's in your glass?

An exceptional fruit beer such as Serendipity is excellent when simply drunk on it's own.  I'm keeping a supply of various New Glarus fruit beers to take with me to my family's Thanksgiving gathering this year.  A glass of Belgium Red, Raspberry Tart or, of course, Serendipity will make an excellent pre-dinner drink (even the sister-in-law who hates beer, likes New Glarus' fruit beers.  Miricles do occur.). You can try serving it with a meal that echos the fruity aspect of the beer, such as Cranberry-stuffed Cornish Game Hens.  Or pair this beer with tomato based appetizers, letting the jamminess of the fruit counter the acidity of the tomato (try these Tomato Quiche Tartlets.  Very simple to make, but since it has the word "quiche" in it, everyone thinks you slaved all day.  I won't tell if you don't.)  Of course, if you you looked at the GABF winner's list, you might come to believe that Millers, Leinehkugel and New Glarus were the only three breweries in the great state of Wisconsin (I personally got distracted by something foamy and stopped counting at 66.)  Medals are nice and they make great selling points when printed on the side of a six pack.  But personally, I'll make up my own mind when it comes to deciding what bottle earns a spot in my dark basement shelf  beer cellar.  And beleive me, there is always a space open for a bottle from New Glarus.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Perennial Artisan Ales' Heart of Gold

  • Style: Wheatwine
  • ABV: 10.00%
  • Season: The brewery considers it a Fall beer, but since I bought mine during summer, I'm thinking St. Louis might play a little fast and loose with seasons down there.
  • Ease to locate: Perennial started distributing to Chicagoland earlier this year.  Their website is under construction (and has been for awhile).  Here's a link to their Facebook page.  Or try beer menu for stores that carry it.  
  • Color: A reddish honey gold.  Hazy and solid looking.
  • Head: A fluffy, light beige 2 1/2 finger head.  Oddly enough, very little lacing produced.
  • Aroma: Caramel malts, honey, lots of wheat grains and some light bready yeast.  Light note of herbal, earthy hops as well.
  • Mouthfeel: Slightly syrupy, but leaning towards moderate mouth feel than thick.  Not much carbonation.
  • Finish: Medium and nicely boozy
  • Food friendly: I would probably not choose to serve this with a meal, but as a pre-meal drink.  Put together a plate of smelly cheese, such as Gorgonzola, and tangy cheese, like Edam.  

YouTube link for Apple users:  Charlie Brown knows how Perennial Artisan Ales must feel in the Chicago market
                                                                  I imaging that this is how Perennial Artisan Ales must have felt like when they finally entered the crowded Chicago craft beer market.

Some drinks just lend themselves to certain seasons, even if that wasn't the brewer's original intention.  Sometimes a  beer that is produced all year long just feels more appropriate during certain months.  I first tried Perennial Artisan Ales' Heart of Gold at a small tasting I happened upon early in the summer.  Perennial Artisan  is a young brewery out of St. Louis, Missouri who will be celebrating two years of business on October 19th.  They had just begun to sell their beers in the Chicago market and had a wide array of beers at this tasting to try.   I think it takes a special sort of chutzpa to try to enter an almost saturated Chicago market right now.  We have so many exciting and unique breweries already stationed here that you have to work extra hard to get an out of state brewery noticed.  I'll be honest, while most of them were OK, none of the Perennial brews blew me away.  However, I kept coming back to their Heart of Gold wheatwine.  It was interesting, especially since at that time I had very little experience with wheatwines (I've augmented my education since that time.  The things I do for this blog....)  But the beer just felt wrong.  Out of place.  Like a Wookie at a Klingon convention.  I couldn't quite put my finger on it.  I ended up buying a bomber of the beer.  Mainly because I felt bad for the poor out of state brewer who seemed to have attracted a less than lucrative crowd.  (Read:  locusts who see free booze before them and will hover around as the booze is flowing freely.)  I literally saw one woman try each beer three times because she couldn't remember if she had sampled every bottle yet.  It was like watching a brilliant, but highly lit, con artist play Three Card Monte with plastic cups. I even felt slightly taken advantage of by the time she was passed out on the floor finished.  I opened my bomber recently and BAM!  It hit me what was bothering me.  This wheatwine was practically screaming to be drunk while when leaves cracked under my feet and football blared on the big screen. 

Talk about big heads

My Heart of Gold poured a gorgeous reddish gold color with honey highlights scattered throughout the liquid.  The brew was perfectly hazy and solid with an almost ombre effect in the glass.  I didn't expect such a large head to form when I poured the beer into my pint.  What you see in the photo above was not the result of an imperfect pour (I poured another two glasses out of that bomber and each time, the results were the same.)  The head was two and a half to almost three fingers of fluffy, large bubbled, light beige foam that never quite settled into a drinkable layer.  I was expecting some amazing, clumpy lacing to form from such an abundance of foam, but nada.  Zilch.  No lacing for you today!  I found it not only disappointing, but such a missed opportunity (and made me question if the beer was over carbonated on accident by the brewery itself.)  The beer smelled very sweet with an abundance of caramel malts and honey.  The sweet notes were tempered by those of the wheat grains and a small aroma of herbal, earthy hop bitterness.  A bready yeast scent was layered delicately under it all.  The taste was similar to the nose.  Lot of sweet caramel and chewy, tangy wheat grains.  The herbal and earthy hop notes weren't pronounced, but was still present and distinct.  The 10% ABV was well represented by a omnipresent boozy element.  I found the heat of the booze rather dominant on the back of the swallow, verging on hot and too in your face to be harmonious with the rest of the flavors.  There was very little carbonation was present in the mouth, which I sort of missed.  I know carbonation isn't really expected in a wheatwine, but the syrupiness of this beer could have used something to break up the mouthfeel.  The finish was neither here nor there, medium with the booze note rolling down my throat at the tail.
With a head like that, I was expecting an amazing lace show.
But as you can see, as the foam fell very little lacing was produced.  Such a tease.
Wheatwines aren't known for their wide spread food pairing abilities.  I don't think that I'd recommend serving Heart of Gold with a meal.  It struck me as a sort of appetizer & cheese plate kind of beer.  In my family, we like to have something to nibble on while gathering together to watch football on Sundays.  Of course since one of my sister-in-laws is a personal chef, our football finger foods go well beyond Cheetos and onion dip.  Try this wheatwine with a bowl of Sugar Coated Pecans to capitalize on the sweetness of the beer.  Or completely embrace the Fall season and toast up some Spicy Pumpkin Seeds to round out your cheese platter.  While I wasn't overly impressed with Perennial Artisian Ales' Heart of Gold, I appreciate having an alternative beer to serve during these transitional Autumn months.  A person can only drink so many Oktoberfest beers before she starts to feel like an overstuffed  St. Pauli Girl. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Spiteful Brewing's Messenger IPA

  • Style: IIPA
  • ABV: 10.4%
  • Ease to locate: Chicagoland only (for now).  Here's a link to their twitter page, but I'd try beer menus first.  My batch # was 48.
  • Color: Slightly hazy amber with gold edging
  • Head: 1 finger white foam.  Minimal, delicate lacing
  • Aroma: Not a huge nose.  Orange zest and grapefruit mainly.  Some tropical fruit (pineapple mostly).  Slight caramel malt sweetness.
  • Mouthfeel: Medium body.  Smooth.  Decent amount of carbonation giving it a needed crispness.
  • Finish: Moderate with a Citra hop forward tail. 
  • Food friendly?:  As much as a IIPA can be.  The citrus & tropical fruit notes would work well with a sweet barbeque sauce.  Or try it with mild white fish or a simple crab salad to give the meal a bit of oomph.  Pair it with a creamy cheese, like brie, or with a peppery selection, such as Pepper Jack.

Sometimes it takes a bit of time in order for someone to hit their stride.  I try not to judge most things, good or bad, right away.  Unless you cut me off in traffic.  Then you are a one strike, worthless waste of space,  who deserves to get stuck behind the 93 year old woman in the Volvo going 13 MPH on a long, one lane street.  But for everything else in life, I'm probably going to cut you some slack and let you get a bit of  experience under your belt before making a final decision about you one way or the other.  With so many new breweries opening here in Chicago (I'm pretty sure that at least three alone have opened just while I wrote this sentence) it's very easy to drink one beer from a young brewery and rashly categorize them.  But you see, I think that the good ones grow beyond just breaking ground for a retail store/tap room/place for geeks to hang when Kuma's Corner is packed to the gills.  The good ones learn from each beer that they brew and use that knowledge to make the next one in the pipeline better.

Apple user link Why I don't cycle
                                                                                                                                 Not easy to watch.  But after the 3rd or 10th viewing, it's not so bad.

Spiteful Brewing is just beginning to hit their stride.  I've tried quite a few of their earlier efforts (check here and here for other Spitetful posts from me.  Go on.  I know you want to.) I liked some of their younger work, but none of them blew me away.  There was an aggressiveness to their hop profile that, at times, made me put them into the category of "I'm glad I tried it, but I don't necessarily need another bomber for later."  But I've noticed that their releases in the last few months have become, well, for lack of a better word, thoughtful.  Their latest Imperial IPA, Messenger IPA, has a sophistication that their brown ale, Burning Bridges (you did read the linked post I mentioned up above, right?) lacked.  Could Spiteful just have continued to pump out super hopped beers, one mouth puckering IBU bombfest after another?  Sure.  Other breweries do.  Some even do it quite successfully.  Why not then our favorite cycling enthusiasts (who may or may not be a bitter sort of group to begin with.  I mean, if my job involved exercising outside all day in bumper to bumper traffic, I doubt that I'd be Little Miss Mary Sunshine either.)  But Spiteful Brewing seems to want to be more than a one trick pony.
The juiciness of this almost jumps out of the glass

My Messenger IPA poured a slightly hazy and solid looking liquid.  The amber glowed as it was held to the light, with golden edging creeping around the sides of the glass.  A finger's worth of head formed, very white and tight in appearence.  There was minimal lacing clinging to the pint with  traces of delicate, petite foam rimming the top of the beer.  The head settled to a uniformly shallow layer after a few minutes and hung out for most of the drink.  It was a rather pretty beer; juicy & gorgeous.  The nose left me a bit disappointed.  I was hoping for a nose that matched the attractiveness of the IIPA's appearance.  Unfortunately, the bottle that I poured had a less than exciting aroma.  I would smell the Citra hops with all of their grapefruit and orange zest glory.  But even those notes were shallow.  I made out some tropical fruit scents, mostly pineapple but maybe a smidge of mango as well.  A little caramel malt sweetness could be detected under it all.  Honestly, I wasn't expecting much taste-wise after the uninspiring nose.  Thankfully I was dead wrong.  As slight as the aroma was, the taste made  up for it in spades.  There was an abundance of juicy citrus flavors, with the grapefruit, orange zest and lemon spritz springing to life on the tongue.  Just the right amount of the pineapple and mango flavors emerged under the citrus notes, helping to bring a fruitiness to the palate.  Caramel malts rounded out the dominant flavors with a well thought out temperance.  Over all, it proved to be wonderfully balanced Imperial IPA.  The mouthfeel was medium, not syrupy or thick like other IIPAs I've tried. There was also a lovely crispness form the carbonation.  A moderate, Citra hop forward finish rounded out the sip, making it easy to take another.  IIPAs are known for sneaking the heat of alchohal into their beers and this one did it almost masterfully.  I never noticed the taste of the booze (I certainly felt it after a quickly  qwafted pint though.)

Not much lacing-wise, but a tenaciously tight foam
I'm OK with little lacing if the head is so well crafted.  You can't have everything.
Big beers like IIPAs can be a challenge to serve with a meal and not have them over power what's on the plate.  But no matter what the style, if a beer is well made and beautifully balanced, it can be paired with the right food.  For your next tailgate, try a simple & slightly sweet honey barbecue sauce slopped on a platter of wings or a rack of ribs and paired with Messenger IPA.  The hoppiness will help to even out the sticky sweetness of most sauces.  Alternatively, this brew would be stunning with a plate of crab cakes and a simple salad of greens and cranberries.  Use the citrus notes to brighten the entire meal in place of a heavy vinaigrette.   Honestly, I can think of a dozen meals that this IIPA would be delicious drunk along side of.  I suggest that you grab a bomber and experiment.  But if the video above has taught us anything, don't try it when riding on a bicycle.  That's not the sort of stride you should aim to hit.