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Monday, September 30, 2013

Revolution Brewery's Oktoberfest

  • Style: Marzen/ Oktoberfest lager
  • ABV: 5.7%
  • Season: Autumn (um, what part of the name aren't you getting???)
  • Ease to locate: Revolution distributes to a good portion of Illinois and some of Ohio.  I bought my six pack at Mariano's Grocery store, so they are easy enough to locate if you look.  Here's a link to their beer finder
  • Color: Clear amber with slight oaky & copper tones.  Very clear.
  • Head: 2 fingers of of light ivory fluffy foam that dissipates to a spotty film.  Delicate lacing.
  • Aroma: Very subdued.  Toasted malt, grains and a bit of spice (maybe anise)
  • Mouthfeel: Medium with decent carbonation
  • Finish: Moderate to almost long.  The earthy hop presence lingers on the tail. 
  • Food friendly: Sure.  It's a lager, after all.  You can go traditional with German food & grilled sausages or mix it up a bit with braised lamb shanks.  Pair it with (again) something traditional like Wisconsin Brick cheese or refine it with a bit of Gouda & Gruyere on a plate.

I've come to the conclusion that there are two kinds of people in this world: those who like pumpkin beer and those who have active taste buds.  I feel the same way about people who watch Dancing With the Stars, so draw your own conclusions.  Personally, when the crispness of the Autumn wind blows through the changing leaves, carrying on it the scent of apple cider donuts and popcorn balls (yes, I do live in a Roald Dahl novel.  Why do you ask?)  my mind starts to wander to Oompah bands and grown men dressed in suede leather shorts (puts a whole new spin on the Roald Dalh thing now, doesn't it?)  I love trying new Oktoberfest beers, especially from breweries that I already like.  So you can imaging my excitement when my brother brought over a six pack of Revolution Brewery's latest seasonal offering, Oktoberfest

For my fellow Apple usuers out there, the link to the YouTube video is here. Two words for you. Lederhose city.
 I have to wonder just who's idea that bit with the logging saw was?  Thankfully, there didn't seem to have any audience participation.

I love Oktoberfest beers, which is slightly odd because I'm not really much of a lager girl to begin with.  I think it stems from one of my very first positive experiences with beer.  I was at the Munich Oktoberfest a little less than a decade ago on a holiday.  I'm not really sure what I expected to experience there, but it certainly wasn't what I found.  Basically, Oktoberfest was just an American state fair that served it's sausages in a bun rather than on a stick.  There was a carny run midway, tacky souvenir booths and overpriced food stands every few feet.  The unique aspect was that you needed to pre-reserve a spot in these giant beer tents (actually temporary wooden structures that resemble giant barns) if wanted a drink.  Inside was small band, the sort you might find at a wedding held at the local VFW (our's seemed to have some sort of obsession with The Chicken Dance.  They played it at least three times.  On the tuba.  I hid under the long communal table at least three times too.  Total coincidence.) You ordered a one size fits all dinner and were served beer by the stereotypical lederhosen clad German barmaid right out of central casting.  What I found surprising was that you could only purchase and drink the beer inside these tents.  I guess in my Cinema educated head, the beer at something like this would flow free like the Danube.  But it was there in that acoustically challenged, not nearly ventilated enough for Europe, beer tent that I had my very first taste of a beer that I found delicious.  Up to that point in my life, I was strictly a wine geek.  But while hoisting a stein of beer that was nearly as big as my head (and we Cummins' are known to sport noggins of extraordinary size) I had a revelation that helped to shape my life going forward.  Beer could taste good! Who knew?  (OK, you can put your arms down.)

So ein schöner Anblick

My Revolution Oktoberfest  poured an extremely clear amber liquid.  There were slight oak and gold tints to the beer around the edging when held to the light.  A generous two finger, just off white head formed.  The carbonation produced a nice mixture of large, spacious bubbles as well as tight, baby ones.  The head very quickly settled and dissipated to a spotty shallow film after a minute or two.  Delicate bits of lacing crept up the sides of the pint.  I was disappointed in the aroma right away.  It was very subtle and difficult to find, even after letting the beer open a bit.  I could smell some toasty grains and a whiff of caramel malts.  I think I might have detected a hint of spice, possibly anise, but it was so slight that I'm still not certain if I just imagined it.  The taste was a bit bolder thankfully.  It was easy to find the sweetness from the caramel malt backbone, which was offset by the bitterness of  a woody and an earthy set of hops.  The highly resilient Barvarian grown Hallertauer Hersbrucker hops were used in brewing this lager and it was showcased well in the flavor profile. A spiciness (most likely the anise from the nose as well as a hint of cloves) was layered in under the malt & grain notes, giving this lager the depth I was searching for in the aroma.  The mouthfeel was typical for a lager, moderate, smooth and easy to drink.  I liked that the finish was mild and stuck with me for longer than I expected.  Most lagers have a finish that I just don't care for, but Revolution's stayed balanced for the most part until the tail, where the bitterness of the Nobel hops took center stage for once final chorus.

Oktoberfest /Marzen beers are unique to their season, something that you can't really say about many other brews.  Sure, most people enjoy their stouts and porters in the cooler months and Bock beers are always welcome come Springtime.  But you can walk into most craft stores and purchase a decent stout in the middle of August if you so prefer.  And I don't know about you, but I'm not really bothered by the idea of imbibing a glass of my favorite Bock in November if the mood strikes me.  Pouring a pint of an Oktoberfest, even a very good one, outside of the Autumn months just seems....wrong.  Like Miley Cyrus sort of insanity wrong.   When pairing Revolution's Oktoberfest with food, I'd take my cues from the season (just as that Liam Hemsworth should have taken his cues from the rest of humanity.)  You could certainly play it safe by slapping a few brats on the grill and calling it a day.  You could also stick with tradition and bake some deliciously salty homemade soft pretzels (this is an amazing recipe and not nearly as difficult as you might expect), much like the ones I was served in the Munich beer tent.  But why not go a bit bolder?  Try meal of  lamb shanks with sweet potato & roasted chanterelles rissotto and serrano vinegar sauce for a special dinner one crisp evening.  What you wear to the table is your own business and no one else. I only ask that if you do go with the lederhosen, please make sure that you actually have the legs for them.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Brewery Ommegang's XV Anniversay Ale

  • Style: Belgian-Style Dark Ale (Quad)
  • ABV: 9.60%
  • Season: One & done
  • Ease to locate: Large liquor stores that carry Ommegang.  I received this as a Christmas present and sat on it for a while, but I still see it on shelves at places like Binny's or Fischman Liquors  (who actually had at least 2 on their shelf as of 9/19/13.  Yes, I checked when making a beer run.  I'm always thinking of you guys.  Always.) It comes in a tin cylinder. 
  • Color: Dense, very dark brown, but not quite black.  Slight ruby tints in the light.
  • Head: Thick, light tan 1 & 1/2 finger head with lots of sticky lacing
  • Aroma: Lots of dark fruit (such as plums and raisins), candy sugar and a bit of sweet caramel malts.  Distinct Belgium yeast aroma that grows stronger as it opens up.
  • Mouthfeel: Medium with a nice amount of fizzy carbonation.
  • Finish: Moderate.  The expected, yet sneaky, alcohol warms your throat as it goes down smoothly.  One of the nicer finishes I've experienced in a while.
  • Food friendly: Sort of.  I'd try pairing it with some roasted or braised red meat, like a nice prime rib.  Serve with buttery cheese, such as Swiss, or a selection with a bit of a bite, like an extra sharp cheddar.

It's easy to over look the obvious sometimes.  Last Christmas, one of my bosses bought me a selection of  beers that some guy at Binny's talked him into purchasing.  Now, I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, but I'll admit that the three beers that the boss bought were still squatting in my cellar over seven months later.  New, fresher, more exciting (by my obviously ignorant standards anyway) beers had come and gone, but this New Yorker along with some Canadian "Eh?" beers,  were still sitting like birds in the wilderness, waiting for the house to buy a drink. 

Side note: It's been brought to my attention that anyone viewing my blog on an Apple device can't see the YouTube videos that I post (I should probably start checking my blog on my phone more often, huh?)  For you guys, I'm going to start posting the link to the video posted.  For the full Down the Hatch experience extravaganza. 

Grandma sings Birds in the Wilderness

                                                                                           My dad would sing this song all the time.  The actual words are "Here we all sit like birds in the wilderness.  
                                                                                          The house won't buy a drink."  Watch the grandma as she realizes that she needed to change the lyrics to suit her audience. 

 I didn't forget about this beer.  How could I?  The boss questioned me about the bottle every so often.  I kindly responded lied through my teeth about waiting for the right night to share it.  And every time I went down to my basement cellar, fully outfitted with the latest in beer technology, it stared back at me accusingly.  Around June, I transferred it upstairs to my fridge, partly out of guilt, mainly out of the need for cellar shelf space.  And I insisted that I was just waiting for a special occasion to crack open the bottle.  But this summer was a difficult one for my family and the "right" special occasion just never presented itself.  Finally, on one random Friday night, I decided to throw caution to the wind and open the bottle (read, get it the hell out of my fridge .)   I wasn't excited by it, but both my brother and my father wanted a beer so it seemed like a good time to get rid of it give it a shot..  Ommegang packaged this Quad Ale in a special, ready to gift, cylindrical tin that reminded me of something I might have found in the Swiss Colony catalog.  So, of course, it couldn't be that good, right?  Here are two things that I have learned in my life, 1) never get involved in a land war in Asia and 2) don't bet against Ommegang when it comes to producing amazing American style Belgiums.  
Looks like a stout, drinks like a deliciously bitter sweet, dark fruity piece of heaven .

Ommegang's XV Anniversary Ale poured a dark, almost black, brown liquid.  Soft ruby highlights edged the outskirts of the glass when held to the light.  A very , one and a half finger light tan head rose from the bottom up.  Huge clumps of foam clung to the glass, creating a dense coating of Belgium lace.  The strong aroma of dark fruits, such as plums and raisins, whiffed up from the brew.  Mixed into the aroma were softer notes of the typical candy sugars and yeast esters that you might expect from a Belgium style ale.  A soft, malty, caramel sweetness supported the rest of the aroma perfectly.  It was a wonderful beer to just sit and sniff on a cool Friday evening (what?  You guys don't lounge around your backyard sniffing beers on the weekend?  Weirdos.)   The taste of this dark ale, however, was much more complex than it's pretty straight forward aroma.  I found the malt backbone to be more present and complex on the tongue than on the nose.  Mixed in with the flavor of the caramel malts were notes of toffee, molasses and a bit of chocolate.  The fruit profile expanded as well.  In addition to the plums and raisins, I could also taste some dried cherries.  The slight tartness from the cherries assisted greatly in keeping the overall sweetness (mostly from the candy sugar) in check.  This was the sort of ale that tastes best on a mid sixty degree night, maybe snuggled around a fire pit, in the company of people that make you laugh.  The mouthfeel was medium with a good amount of fizzy scrubbing bubbles clearing away the malty sweetness.  I really enjoyed the moderate finish.  It started off a bit sweet, but between the very slight tartness of the cherries and the just right carbonation, it became dryer as the mouthful progressed.  A very low hit of alcohol warmth emerged on the tail end, trailing its way down my throat ever so pleasantly.
You know that I love Belgiums.
You know that I love lacing.
    You do the math.
 I would serve Brewery Ommegang's XV Anniversary Ale with a slightly filling, but still early Autumn friendly, meal.  Possibly a Prime Rib with Thyme Au Jus served with a side of French style Haricot Verde (green beans) for an early Fall weekend dinner.   I could also see this Quad working well along side a simple, but satisfying, ever so savory/sweet bowl of Roasted Butternut Squash Soup.  I'm not sorry that I took so long to break open this bottle to enjoy.  I'm also not sorry that because of my poor planning, my family and I imbibed it with Subway sandwiches (OK, maybe I'm slightly sorry for that.  There's a reason that you don't see Jerrod hoisting a few with his turkey on whole wheat.)  Instead I choose to be glad that I learned a valuable lesson from the experience: Don't judge a beer by it's hokey holiday packaging.  Yes, the tin might have been some marketing genius' idea to get people to grab their bottle instead of a typical bottle of wine for a holiday party.  But think how incredibly lucky that host would be to receive this delicious strong ale instead of an umpteenth  bottle of comically  named holiday wine ("Santa's Candy Cane Zinfandel" anyone? No?  Bueller?)  I also learned that my boss, who hadn't typically bought me a present in the past, really enjoyed being able to do his Christmas shopping at a liquor store.  I'm thinking of sending his with a list this year.  Anything to make my his life a little easier, you know.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Cigar City Brewing & De Proef's Tropical Tripel

  • Style: Tripel
  • ABV: 9.50%
  • Season: One & done
  • Ease to locate: Check your local bottle shop or liquor store with a good craft selection.  I bought mine at Fischman Liquors but I've also seen it at places like Binny's and even on draft at places like Owen & Engine or Louisville Beer Store (shout out to Louisville readers!)  Basically, it's in a good selection of the US for sale right now.
  • Color: Hazy, cloudy golden orange
  • Head: One finger dense foam with good retention and lacing
  • Aroma: Mixture of fruits tropical (like mango & pineapple) and stone (such as peach). Some citrus with bits of coconut and a mild sweetness from Belgium candi sugar
  • Mouthfeel: Medium to full with lost of active carbonation
  • Finish: Long with a smooth sweetness
  • Food friendly: Somewhat limited.  I could see it working with Greek food and some lighter, vegetable heavy  pasta dishes.  Serve it with creamy cheese, such as brie or with sharp varieties like cheddar

Sometimes two heads are better than one.  I recently watched a Sundance program named The Writer's Room where Jim Rash (extra points of you are silently singing "Dean-a-ling-ling!" in your head right now) interviewed the writing team behind HBO's Game of Thrones.  Of course there was the expected humorous story about the scene that got away and the requisite shocking yet closely held secret hinted at, but not spoiled (FYI- they know who John Snow's mother is from merely reading the already published books! I, too, could know this if I took the next six months off from work and did nothing but obsessively post index cards connected by red string on my TV room wall.)  What I really enjoyed discovering was their writing process as partners.  The idea of writing with a partner is a unfathomable concept to me, much like the popularity of anything titled "Real Housewives" or spray cheese from a can.  Collaborations are becoming more commonplace in the beer world too.  These partnerships have the potential to result in something amazing where brewers bring out the best in the each other (I think its safe to say that I am waiting like a kid at Christmas for the upcoming Pipeworks and Begyle brew collaboration.)  Of course they also can sometimes produce the beer equivalent to Miley Cyrus and Robin Thick  at the VMAs.  Florida favorite Cigar City Brewing and the Belgium De Proef Brewery (who, by the way, have the most "clean room" sort of website that I've ever seen.  I imagine all of the brewers to all look like this guy)  recently partnered up to brew a version of a Tripel, named appropriately enough, Tropical Tripel.  Luckily for us, this collaboration leaned more towards the  partnership of Jamie Lanister and his lady knight than whatever the hell was happening at MTV a couple of weeks ago.  But you're all picturing Tyrion twerking now, aren't you?

SIDENOTE: I've only recently discovered that Apple products don't support Flash so a portion of you can't see the YouTube vidoes that I post.  I'll start posting a link for all of you from now on.  
                                                                                                                       There's always one guy like this at every beer fest I've ever been to

Link for Apple users:  GoT Twerk

The name Tripel comes from the increased amount of pale malt that brewers routinely use when brewing this beer as opposed to when brewing a Trappist Simple beer (three guess as to what the multiple amount is.)  Basically, by increasing the malts utilized, they create a strong pale ale.   It's a relatively young beer style, first brewed in Belgium (or the Netherland depending on which source you believe) in the 1930s.  One story of how the term came about was that the original gravity of these beers tended to be done in multiples of three (think 3%, 6% or 9% ABVs)  Another was that the breweries which first made the style popular would mark their casks with "X" to indicate the strength of the beer inside, Tripels indicated by a "XXX" pattern on the barrel.  Today, a Tripel is known by its cloudy golden color, bitter sweetness and sneaky heat from the higher alcohol content.  The more I learn about Tripels, the more I wonder why these beers aren't higly popular here in the States.  We come from a land of DIPAS and Bourbon barreled everything.  A super strong pale ale seems right up our bigger is better alley.

I was so excited to use my brand new Pipeworks snifter that I completely forgot to use the Cigar City one I own.  You know, the brewery that actually made the beer
My Tropical Tripel poured an hazy, amber golden beer.  It looked slightly tropical to me, sort of like a glass of fruit juice with a cloud of sand stirred up in it.  The beer's color became deeper and richer in the orange tones when held to the light.  A solid one finger head of springy, white foam rose in the snifter.  The head sported rather good retention, drifting down to a shallow layer after a few minutes.  Decent , spotty lacing clung to the lower section of the glass.  I smelled the tropical in this tripel right away.  The scent of mango, pineapple and peach were easy to distinguish.  I searched for the promised coconut note, but couldn't really find it until the glass warmed a bit (and even then it was very slight.) A sharp orange citrus flavor was layered on the nose, as well as some sugary sweetness.  The taste followed the nose for the most part.  Tropical fruit, a bit more of the "crunchiness" of toasted coconut, the bite of citrus and a bready yeast note were layered on each other.  There was also a much needed sweetness from the Belgium sugar that is traditionally used in Tripels.  I didn't find any obvious heat from the alcohol , but I could feel it a bit when I swallowed.   Tripels are known for their sneaky alcohol presence, and this brew certainly fit that bill.  The label mentioned that this tripel was finished with "medium  toasted oak" and as a person who is moderately opposed to anything overly oaky, I can't say that I could taste the oak's presence at all.  But I certainly could feel it as I swished the beer in my mouth.  I wasn't expecting the fullness of the mouthfeel, which was nicely tempered by the high carbonation in an effort to balance things out.   The finish was long and drawn out, yet deliciously sweet with the candi  sugar flavor.

I was sneaky and didn't tell the family that Tropical Tripel was a Belgium/Florida collaboration.  My family are Belgium lovers true and true and I wanted to get their unbiased opinion on this beer.  When I first tasted it, it was so different from what I had imagined that I was a bit worried that this would not be well received by the Down The Hatch clan.  This is also why I never win anything when I go to Vegas either.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  Even the sister-in-law who prefers her Mike's Hard Lemonade (don't worry, she has other qualities that make up for this intense personal deficiency) liked it and asked for a second pour.  I would serve this beer with light, Mediterranean meals,  maybe some healthy fish recipe with a Greek spin.  Try it with lemon basil shrimp. The simpler,  truer the flavors used, the better this beer will taste with food.   It could possibly also pair well with lighter pasta dishes, heavy on the fresh vegetables and light on sauce.  Think of meals such as a classic Pasta Primavera, loaded with lots of fresh, farmer's market (or grocery store produce aisle that you causally refer to as "your" farmer's market) vegetables.  Personally, I think it makes a great before dinner sort of drink.  Just don't try to twerk when holding the glass.  Drink responsibly, people.