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Monday, January 27, 2014

Pipeworks Brewing Co's Brother Nelson Razbeardo

  • Style:  Belgian Dubbel  brewed with black raspberries
  • ABV: 10%
  • Ease to locate: Still pretty easy to find at Chicago craft and liquor stores.  Pipeworks is also making it's way to more & more Chicago suburbs lately. Here's a link to their Beer Menu page My batch was #279-288 (as you can see, that's a lot of batches!)
  • Color: Black red liquid, slightly hazy.  
  • Head: Pink.  That was.... unexpected.  One finger of loose foam that falls almost immediately into a ring.  Delicate spotty lacing.  Pink lacing.
  • Aroma: Huge nose.  They could have called it Cyrano for the size.  Lots of tart, clean black raspberry notes, and a puckering,quality of fermented grape (hello Brother Nelson Sauvin!).  A bit of spice and a slight herbal character under it all. 
  • Mouthfeel: Medium body that coats the tongue lightly.  Mild carbonation
  • Finish: Long with juicy fruit and grape notes upfront that slide to a lightly spiced end.
  • Food friendly?: Yes.  Since this beer has a bit of a wine identity crisis due to it's hop profile, use it to your advantage.  Roasted chicken, pork tenderloin, a nicely grilled steak.  Pair it with sharp cheddar cheese or a baked brie.  This would be a great beer to serve with a charcuterie plate. 
Apple user link: The drink of choice for Inspector Clouseau?

                                                                                You know that you're singing this in your head right now.  Just admit it and accept it.
 Let's get this out of the way right up front.  I was not expecting a pink head.  I hadn't really given the matter much thought before I poured the bomber into my Pipework's snifter, but of all the things I wasn't expecting to happen, a lightly tinted reddish in nature series of tiny foamy bubbles ranked right up there.  Most of my experience with fruit brewed beers center around New Glarus offerings (although Serendipity, Raspberry Tart, Belgian Red and Strawberry Rhubarb are actually Framboise ales, so apples and oranges.  So to speak.) Maybe it was my lack of fluency in the fruit forward brewing world.  Maybe it was my American Puritanical Irish Catholic upbringing. If I was a Swedish "Hey-I'm-Comfortable-In-My-Own-Skin-And-Writing-This-Blog-Post-In-A-Co-Ed-Brothel-With-Tea-Service" beer blogger, it's possible that results would have been different.  Maybe it was just because the Brother Nelson Razbeardo's head was unqualified against all that is holy in nature PINK! Anyway, I got over it.

My Brother Nelson Razbeardo poured a blackish, deeply scarlet opaque liquid.  Since it was technically a Belgian inspired Dubbel, I suppose my first expectation was to see a brownish red liquid or at least one not so darkly tinted.  It was ever so slightly hazy, which added to the juiciness of its appearance.  And as I mentioned earlier, the pink head threw me for a loop.  How was I to know Brother Nelson would turn out to be a Ginger?  Anyway, the one finger head fell to a tight foamy ring in less than a minute. Spotty, large bubble lacing was present.  The nose was huge.  My very first thought was that it reminded me of a big, California Caberet. Nelson Sauvin hops are from New Zealand and are famous for their fermented grape, wine influenced aroma.  I didn't actually know this when I cracked this bottle open (welcome to the power of the internet!). There was an abundance of crisply tart black raspberry notes that transported me back to a warm July afternoon.  A bit of spice and a light herbal note rounded out the nose.  The beer tasted exactly as it smelled.  It was extremely juicy, a bit mouth puckering with a clean finish.  Extremely enjoyable.  A medium body coated my tongue lightly.  There wasn't much in the way of carbonation, it was there but only mildly so.  A long, fruity finish greeted me, starting with the clean taste of black raspberries and fermented grapes, sliding gracefully into the spicy/herbal note on the tail. For an ale registering a 10% ABV, I detected very little heat on the swallow. 

I would treat Brother Nelson Razbeardo as I would a fruity red wine when pairing with food.  Try it with a nice cut of beef, medium rare please, and a simple wine sauce, such as Port stained Beed Medallions .  It could also pair nicely with a Pork Tenderloin with Sauteed Apples, the sweetness of the cooked apples would be off set by the tartness of the black raspberries in the ale.  I really like that Pipeworks sourced their black raspberries from a semi local farm, Klug Farms located in Michigan.  You can find fruit and vegetables from Mick  Klug's family at the Green City Market and various farmers markets around the Chicago.  I'm hoping that Pipeworks will develop another version of this ale for next Fall, maybe taking advantage of their Michigan Strawberries that I'm personally so fond of or the gorgeous apricots that I never have enough money left to buy (damn you strawberries!)  Of course, knowing  those wacky guys over at Pipeworks, they'll get distracted by something like ramps or kale.  Although, and feel free to call me crazy here, a Kale Saison might not be such a bad thing?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Urban Legend Brewing Company's The Krispy Karl

  • Style: Russian Imperial Stout (RIS)
  • ABV: 13.0%
  • Ease to locate: Small, new brewery who only delivers to Chicagoland stores.  My batch was numbered 24 A/B Since they are a suburban brewery, it's easier to find their beers in the suburbs for once.  Also has a tap room  with growler fill and if you're lucky, you can find it on tap at your local Chicagoland craft bar.  Here's a link to their beer menu page
  • Color: A solid dark black brown with no other tints
  • Head: 1 1/2 finger dense tan head with good retention and shallow rings of lacing
  • Aroma: Great nose.  Lots of dark chocolate, roasted coffee, a bit of dark fruit and earthiness which opens as it warms.  A slight milky sweetness layered underneath.
  • Mouthfeel: Full body and creamy.  just what you want in a good RIS
  • Finish: Long and luscious with just the barest hint of booze at the back
  • Food friendly?: Nope.  RIS brews don't really play well with food.  Sip it after dinner instead of desert.  If you absolutely need to nibble on something, a handful of almonds or pecans would be satisfying with this beer.
Apple user link: This chick knows her Chicago ghosts. Part of me wants to hang out with her. The smarter part reminds me that Chicago ghosts probably feel the same way.
                                                                                         It could happen. My  cousin's hairstylist's sister knew a guy who heard this story from his dog walker.

Are breweries the new Starbucks?  I only ask this because it feels like a new one is popping up on a corner almost every time I turn around.  Just about every neighborhood here in Chicago can claim at least one brewery as their own ( I'm pretty sure that the next phase in local brewery pride will constitute theme songs and mascots.  And I'm going on record predicting that Off Color Brewing's  will be otter/kitten related.)  Apparently the Chicago suburbs are the newest frontier.  Solemn Oath Brewry in Naperville (who has been around for a while, but just started bottling recently).  BuckleDown Brewing located in Lyons.  And situated in the great city (Town?  Village? Dot on the map?) of Westmont,  my current favorite, Urban Legend Brewing Company.  I first encountered this baby brewery last August at one of my favorite beerfests.  I mean, when you get a beer from a guy dressed in a Crocodile Dundee hat, you simply have to stop and talk to him for a while, right?  I'm pretty sure that it's the fifth rule of beer fests. They were pouring three of their brews that afternoon.  Mistake by the Lake was an APA brewed with Topaz hops. This was my low IBU loving brother's favorite beer of the day.  It had 43 IBU and a very clean citrus profile.  Mugshot was a Rye Brown Porter that is now available in bombers in your finer Chicagoland craft stores and I'll admit I didn't try it.  I'm not a big rye note fan and let's face it, there are a hell of a lot of beers to sample at a good fest.  Pacing is important. So is one's ability to stand straight unsupported by the end of the day.  My favorite of their selection at the time was Catherine the Great, an approachable 7.8% ABV DIPA  with refreshing notes of tangerine and orange.  It was, in one word, yum.  So when Urban Legend began bottling this month, I basically ran to my local craft store and secured a bottle.  I probably should have gotten two.     

My The Krispy Karl... listen, I'm just going to call him Karl from now on.  Only a pretentious jerk would  insist on using an article in front of his name. And let's face it, Karl is a dude you can have a beer with and not worry that he's judging your haircut (he's totally judging your glassware though.)  He's from freaking Westmont for Pete's sake.  Anyway, my Karl poured a dark, black brown brew when tipped into the snifter.  It was a solid pour, with no other tints showing along the edges.  A thick, dense dark beige head formed.   The one and a half finger foam layer had excellent retention and produced a continual ring of shallow lacing around the rim of the glass.  This is exactly how I want an Imperial Stout to look and I took it as a good omen.  Of course I also took the fact that the bottle didn't freeze solid the moment I stepped into the dreaded Polar Vortex as a good omen, so six of one, half a dozen of the other.  The nose was clear and strong.  I could easily pick out notes of dark chocolate and roasted coffee.  Good dark chocolate and expensive roasted coffee too, like the kind you'd find in a Viennese coffee shop in Austria (yes, Down the Hatch is a moderately well traveled beer blogger.  Although I'll admit, I've never been to Westmont.  Yet.)  There were softer notes of dark fruit, mainly raisins and prunes, which ended up giving the taste a lovely chewiness.  The taste was a well balanced mouthful of dark chocolate, roasted coffee, dark fruit and just a hint of milky sweetness.  The alcohol note that is often rather pronounced in Imperial Stouts was very well hidden.  At a 13% AVB,  getting that layer of warmth instead of outright heat can be tricky.  Karl nailed it.  The mouthfeel was full and creamy, but still nicely drinkable. Soft carbonation cut the creaminess ever so lightly.   A long and luscious finish with a comforting sense of booze inspired warmth slid smoothly down the throat. 

If you're a regular reader of this blog (and if you aren't, Welcome!  Hop on in.  The water's a bit hoppy with amazing lacing)  you already realize that I love a good stout/porter.  Winter in Chicago is an excellent time to enjoy a well done big stout, especially a RIS.  But let's face it, Urban Legend Brewing was a brewery who opened it's doors in August of 2013 and only began to bottle this stout the last week of December. Sure, the head brewer, Timothy Hoerman, was a well respected and award winning home brewer.  But there is a world of difference between brewing amazing beer in your kitchen and successfully selling that amazing beer so that you don't end up living in a box on Lower Wacker Drive. It's very early in the lifespan of Urban Legend and who knows what the future will hold for this brewery?  Could they be the Revolution of Westmont or the 5 Rabbits?  If The Krispy Karl is any indication, I'm putting my money on their sticking around for a good long while.  Hopefully long enough for me to actually make it out there for a visit.  Bucket list potential.       

Monday, January 13, 2014

New Glarus Brewery's Stone Soup

  • Style: Abby Ale (Belgian Pale Ale)
  • ABV: As always, New Glarus was grandfathered in under the ABV ruling and almost never confirm their ABV percentage.  My best guess on this one is some where around 6% or so.
  • Ease to locate: New Glarus (all together now) is only sold in the great state of Wisconsin.  I figure that if they have to put up with the Packers, they need some good beer to even it all out.  Here's a link to their beer finder
  • Color: Ever so slightly hazy, liquid straw with a hint of amber tint.  Lots of visible carbonation
  • Head: Two fingers with lots of fluffy, very light ivory colored foam.  Lovely clumps of lacing.  Great retention.
  • Aroma: Heavy bread yeast with tons of Belgian esters.  Fruity and slightly spicy. Nice lemon zest character.
  • Mouthfeel: Light and effervescent.  Very easy to drink
  • Finish: Medium and dry.  Smooth and crisp on the swallow.
  • Food friendly?  Yes.  The fruitiness of the Belgian esters and the brightness from the lemon zest will pair nicely with a variety of food.  Try it with a lamb stew or something a bit more delicate, like a fatty fish.  Pair it with nutty cheeses, such as Sbrinz and Swiss.

 Link for Apple Users: I've been trying to post the Land of the Lost Stone Soup episode for 2 days, but You Tube has it missed up with a Second Grade  play.  And let's face it, Second Grade plays are only cute if you are personally resposible for one of the Second Grader's personal well being.  So you get this instead
                                                                                             Yes, it has absolutely nothing to d with Stone Soup.  But it's Weird Al!  In a fat suit!  With Ding Dongs!

A couple of months ago I took the nephew to a CSO (Chicago Symphony Orchestra) production of the children's book, Stone Soup.  It's the story of a clever wanderer (read: unemployed con man with a  rock) who transforms a village into a community by tricking them into making soup together.  Most of the story itself went over my two year old nephew's head, but he seemed to enjoy the music (and absolutely loved getting to jump around like a demented jack rabbit on the cushions after the performance.  Actually, I think more people might grow to love classical music if this was always the practice.)  The concept of the story does remind me of the culture of craft beer today.  Everyday I seem to read about collaborations between different breweries, each brewer bringing their expertise and their ideas to the mash turn.  Some of my favorite one off beers have resulted in these collaborations and I can't help but think that the community brewing strengthens the individual brewer's abilities.  What does this have to do with New Glarus' Abby Ale, Stone Soup?  Yeah, I've got nothing.  Even after reading New Glarus' explaination of the name.  the best I've can come up with is that  it's an appropriate name for a beer in this exciting period of Midwest brotherhood (and sisterhood) brewing history.

My Stone Soup poured a ever so hazy liquid straw gold.  Rumpelstiltskin could have quaffed this beer while working his lucrative loom.  A light amber tint glowed around the edges when held to the light and the carbonation visibly bubbled to the surface.  A strong two finger head formed with fluffy, just off white, foam.  Gorgeous clumps of thick lacing clung to the sides of the glass.  It was, what i like to call, a very pretty pint.  The aroma of yeasty bread and fruity esters rose strongly from the surface.  Layered in was a spicy quality and a nice brightness of lemon zest.  The bread yeast and banana ester notes were rounded out on the state by a very mile pale malt sweetness.  The spiciness from the nose became easier to distinguish as cloves and cinnamon.  There was an ever so light, musky note layered very deeply into the taste that I think really helped to balance out the fruity esters nicely.  A light, moderately effervescent mouthfeel made this a perfectly easy to drink beer.  The finish was medium in length and nicely dry.  The swallow began with a spicy, fruity crispness and slid smoothly into a barely sweet pale malt end.

Abbey Ales are extremely easy to pair with food.   Their inherit fruity, lightly spicy, softly sweet qualities compliment a variety of dishes.  Try pairing your Stone Soup with a  winter favorite, lamb stew and green beans.   The mild flavors of the dish will bring out the cloves and cinnamon notes on the beer while the esters will compliment the mildness of the meat.  You could also drink this Abbey Ale with a delicate, yet simply prepared, pan fried trout.   The beer's flavors won't over power the lightly seasoned fish (like an IPA might) and the moderate carbonation will lighten the heaviness that can sometime leaden a fried meal.  New Glarus just about kills it on everything they brew.  I do, however, wonder about their somewhat bi polar naming abilities.  On one hand you have your Serendipity, Spotted Cow and Fat Squirrel.  On the other?  Berliner Weiss.  Sasion.  Winter Warmer.  Either they use up all their imagination in one devil may care, winner take all, Mad Libs running wild like a two year old after a concert spurt or else the malaise of a long and cold Wisconisn winter just gets to them in the worst way sometimes.  But no matter what Deb Carey and crew decide to call the fermented hops that they produce, I'll happily lap them up.  I advise you to do the same.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Une Annee Brewing's Airing of Grievances

  • Style: Russian Imperial Stout (RIS)
  • ABV: 10.6%
  • Season: Winter & possibly a one time brew (my batch was #12)
  • Ease to locate: Brand new baby brewery so expect small batches and limited Chicagoland availability.  Here's the Beer Menu link
  • Color: Thick & dark.  Black brown coloring with no other tints around the edges.  Just like my hardened winter soul
  • Head: Two fingers of beige head.  Nice mix of large and tight bubbles.  Moderate lacing.
  • Aroma:  Toasty and very earthy.  Lots of dark malts.  A bit of roasted coffee but no real chocolate notes that I could detect, even after it warmed a bit
  • Mouthfeel: A heavy medium body, but not creamy enough to consider it full.  
  • Finish: Nicely dry, but relatively (and surprisingly) short for a RIS.  Sad trombone.
  • Food friendly?: Like most RIS beers, not really.   The sheer heaviness of most RIS beers overpower most food.   Since this is a lighter RIS, you might be able to pair it with a simple, hearty winter dish.  The earthiness and darkness of this beer could work with a mild cheese, such as Swiss or Gruyere.

YouTube link for Apple users: A typical family dinner for most of you.

                                                                                  Well, what else did you think I was going to post here for the video?  If you don't like it, save it for next Festivus.

For such a loyal creature of routine, I still love a good fresh start.  A snow white blank page of paper waiting for a story to flow.  A clean, just laundered sheet on a newly made bed.   That first day of Spring when it feels as if everything suddenly woke up from a very long, very cold, very Chicagoian sleep.  I especially wanted to start off 2014 by drinking something unexpected from a local, brand new baby brewery.  Une Annee Brewery  fit the bill perfectly.  Founded in 2012 by Jerry Nelson, they spent most of 2013 slowly growing a presence in Chicago craft bars and have only recently begun bottling their brew.  I've tried a few of their beers previously in bars, my favorite being The Devil's Reign.  Reign was a Belgian Golden Strong Ale made in collaboration with one of my favorite new brewpubs of 2013, DryHop Brewers.   It was the sort of ale, brewed with Simcoe and Citra in the boil and dryhop, that made me stand up  and take notice (OK, the tap take over was rather crowded so I may have already been standing.  I did stand a little straighter at least.  And probably hopped on one for for a while.  I think I mistakenly wore heels.)  The flavors were just so clean and fruity with a perfect hop finish that it was easily my favorite drink of the night, grabbing my attention away from more established offerings from places like Revolution, Half Acre and Pipeworks.  So when I was making my New Year's Eve drinking selection, I decided to grab a bomber of their RIS from my cellar.

This New Years Eve was a snowy and cold one here in the great land of Chicago.  Perfect stout weather.  I was really very excited to crack open my Airing of Grievances, and we all know what I do with a beer that gets me excited (AND I was at a party, so there were plenty of people to browbeat into taking a sample).  My Airing of Grievances poured a thick and dark, blackish brown ale.  The drink was fully opaque with no lighter tints playing around the edges.  A two finger, beige head formed and stayed for most of the drink.   The head was a nice mixture of very tight, clustered bubbles and large "Glinda the Good Witch transportation" type  bubbles.   Moderate lacing slid down the edges of the glass.  It certainly looked like a text book RIS.  The nose was toasty and very earthy.  It smelled like wet, dark mud that was popped in a toaster oven for a minute.   Lots of dark malts and their pitch black ways wafted up from the glass. I detected a faint roasted coffee bean aroma that opened as I let my pour warm for a while.  I didn't find any of the chocolate or dark fruit characters that I usually expect in a typical RIS.  The toasted grain and wet earth notes dominated the beer's taste as well, but thankfully the roasted coffee flavor was larger on the tongue than the nose.  The dark malts were easy to find in the taste, giving the flavor just a bit of bittersweet chocolate presence.  Layered in was some dark fruit, mainly prune with a little fig and a light raisin chewiness.  The anticipated alcohol heat didn't emerge until the beer had warmed considerably.  I let the beer open for about a half an hour between glasses and I noticed a marked improvement in the second try than the initial offering.   The mouthfeel had a heavy, yet still moderate sort of body.  It wasn't creamy enough for me to consider to be a full bodied beer, there was a disappointing (to me at least) lacking in the creamy department.  I like my RIS to have a tongue coating lushness that Airing just didn't possess.   The finish was surprisingly short as well.  I would have loved a layered return of the bittersweet earthiness to continue on the swallow, but it just petered out.  There was no apparent booziness or heat on the swallow from the alcohol, or at least none that I could detect. I did enjoy the well tempered, just enough dryness on the finish though. 

RIS can be a big, almost overwhelming, beer if you aren't used to the style.  As I mentioned earlier, I made it a point to share my bomber with friends at the NYE party.  Some of these people are used to my "thrusting a glass of mystery liquid into their hands with an enthusiastic You have to try this!" ways.  Some were not (they got used to it.  Or else learned to take the long way around the room to avoid me).  But none of my subjects, I mean, fellow party goers, were craft beer enthusiasts and most had never even heard of a Russian Imperial Stout. And you know what?   They absolutely loved this beer.  The lack of creaminess on the body, the too short finish and the all too tiny chocolate flavor didn't matter to them at all.  Most of them asked for a second sample.  That's when I realized that this is the absolute perfect training wheels RIS beer for drinkers who aren't RIS snobs.  They were able to appreciate the amazing earthy quality and dark fruit chewiness.  The well masked booziness (and at a 10.6% ABV, we all know that it was there in some form) welcomed them in with an almost Strangers with Candy sort of reassurance (the ones who had a second sample figured the ruse out soon enough).  RIS beers don't typically work well when paired with most meals.  The sheer largeness of most Russian Imperial Stouts plow over most food.  Since Une Annee's Airing of the Grievences is a lighter sort of RIS, try it with very simple, hearty winter meal.  A classic  Pot Roast with Carrots and Potatoes would be extremely tasty on a frigid mid winter's night.  And if this first week of 2014 has been any indication of what our tabla rasa year is going to be, we'd better get used to expecting the unexpected.  And that's sort of exciting.