Saturday, December 31, 2011

Beer bLoNg's Early 2012 Beer Line-up

There’s a lot of stuff in the beer cellar right now, and I thought I would share a bit of what will be coming out of there in the next month or two. For starters, there are tons of Christmas beers (almost literally), including many macro-brew varieties that I just never got around to trying during the holiday season. Furthermore, a lot of the beers in this list are not new to me. I’ve had quite a few of them in the past some of them on numerous occasions, but either failed to take tasting notes or took rather poor ones that are simply not good enough to produce a respectable review. 

So here’s the list, starting with the first row and then moving onto the second (an serious business) row.

Row One

Orval, Belgian Trappist Ale; 6.2 percent; Florenville, Belgium. I’ve had this quite a few times in the past and certainly look forward to tasting it and reviewing it in the coming weeks. Its scores on and BeerAdvocate are impressive, and, based on my past samples, I expect my review to be nothing but positive.

Dahls, Juleøl (Christmas beer); 6.5 percent; Oslo, Norway. I’ve never had a Dahls brew, but the company is owned by Ringnes (which is in turn owned by Carlsberg), so I don’t really expect it to taste much different than many of the other macro-brew Christmas beers widely available in Norway. That said, most of these 6.5 percent versions are quite robust and tasty.

Erdinger, Schneeweisse Winterbier; 5.6 percent; Erding, Germany. What can I say? Everything I’ve had from Erdinger has been top-notch, and I expect nothing less from this one. I’m somewhat surprised I never had it before.

Silenrieux, Joseph Bio/Organic; 5 percent; Silenrieux, Belgium. I’ve previously sampled their Sara Buckwheat Ale and really liked it (I took good notes, so expect a review of that one soon). 

Rodenbach: Grand Cru; 6 percent; Roeselare, Belgium. I’ve had this once or twice before and loved its fruity and sour feel. I can’t wait to try it again.

Lancaster Brewing Company, Strawberry Wheat; 4.7 percent; Lancaster, PA, USA. I’ve had this in draft form numerous times at their brewpub and loved each one of them. However, I had a bottle of it over the summer and found it wanting in flavor and appearance. We’ll see how this one goes, but I’m not expecting it to be a top performer.

Berentsens, Stelliger Divum Juleøl; 19 percent; Egersund, Norway. I’ve never had this Christmas beer before, but I’m very much looking forward to it. At 19 percent ABV, it’s either going to be seriously complex or nothing but booze. I’ll be letting this one sit in the cellar for a few months before trying it, so the review will have to wait (assuming I am patient enough to keep away from its lure).

Nøgne Ø, Imperial IPA (#500); 10 percent; Grimstad, Norway. A very outstanding IPA. I’ve had it twice, but my tasting notes are rather rough, and this one deserves a quality rating. So, I’ll try it a third time before giving an official reviewing. But, its damn good, I promise!

Lervigs, Jul; 6.8 percent; Stavanger, Norway. I’ve sampled several of their products – e.g. the Konrad’s Stout, Lucky Jack APA, and White Dog Norwegian Wheat on several different occasions, and each sample revealed a respectable level of quality. I received this one as a Christmas gift and will probably use it to liven up my February.

Mack, Juleøl; 6.5 percent; Tromsø, Norway. I’m sure I’ve tasted this somewhere along the line, but I can’t really remember it. Mack is one of Norway’s larger brewers, and I don’t expect this one to be much different from the other 6.5 ABV Christmas beers out there (not necessarily a bad thing, really).

Hansa, Juleøl; 6.5 percent; Bergen, Norway. I’ve had it dozens of times, but never gave it an official review. So, I picked one just for that purpose. 

Fredrikstad (Hansa Borg), Juleøl; 6.6 percent; Sarpsborg, Norway. Well, let’s wait and see. I’m not expecting it to be much different than the Hansa Juleøl listed previously. Maybe I should have a drink off between the two of them.

Row Two

Port Brewing, The Lost Abbey, 10 Commandments; 9 percent; San Marcos, CA, USA. This one has been sitting in the cellar for some time now. It’s only half mine, so I’ll have to wait until convening with the other ‘shareholder’ before reviewing it. My expectations are high.

Port Brewing, The Lost Abbey, Judgment Day; 10.5 percent; San Marcos, CA, USA. This one is a Christmas gift, so it’s all mine! Again, my expectations are high.

La Rulles, La Granda 10; 10 percent, Rulles, Belgium. I’ve had this on several occasions, and could just write a review based on my notes. But, this one has been in the cellar for some time now, and I plan on popping it open in the coming weeks. So, I’ll wait with the review.

Haandbryggeriet, Bestefar (Grandfather); 9 percent; Drammen, Norway. Haandbryggeriet makes some really remarkable and somewhat experimental stuff. So, it goes without saying that sometimes experimentation can go awry, resulting in some really weird brews. The ratings for this one are very good, and I’m looking forward to reviewing it myself. 

Paulaner, Hefeweissbier Dunkel ; 5.3 percent; Munich, Germany. I cannot believe I’ve never had this one. It’s not rare or anything, but I just never managed to find the time for it. I drink their Hefeweissbier all the time. I suspect this one will not be much different than the similarly styled Erdinger.

Nøgne Ø, Bitter; 4.5 percent; Grimstad, Norway. I’ve had this probably a scillion times or so, and I could easily write a review for it now. But, I’ll just wait and write one after consuming this particular bottle. 

Haandbryggeriet, Fyr og Flamme (to be excited, lit. fire and flame) IPA; 6.2 percent; Drammen, Norway. As I said before, Haandbryggeriet makes some really remarkable and somewhat experimental products. So, it goes without saying that sometimes experimentation can go awry, resulting in some really weird brews. I have no idea what to expect from this one.

Haandbryggeriet, Røyk Uten Ild (smoke without fire); 8.5 percent; Drammen, Norway. Had it before and loved its smoky profile. I cannot wait to give it a review for this blog.

Herslev, Økologisk Hvedeøl: 5.6 percent; Roskilde, Denmark. I’ve had their crazy, but tasty Pilsner. This one has been in the cellar for quite some time, so I think it’s about ready to sample.

Ægir, Ratatosk, Double IPA; 9 percent, Flåm, Norway. My expectations for this one are high, as they usually are for Ægir’s stuff.  

Mikkeller, Beer Geek Brunch, Weasel; 10.9 percent; Copenhagen, Denmark. I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time. Out of all the beers on this list, Beer Geek Brunch is probably the one I most look forward to. For some reason, I’ve had a hard time finding it. The local bar I frequent - Henrik Ø og Vinstove – carries it, but they were always sold out when I asked for it. So, I patiently waited for it to turn up at the wine monopoly, and finally it did.

Mikkeller: Beer Geek Breakfast – The other ‘coffee’

While Mikkeller officially hails from Copenhagen, Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, Mikkeller’s brewmaster, manager, et al., brews beer in a variety of locations throughout Europe and the United States. Mikkeller’s Beer Geek Breakfast is brewed at Nøgne Ø, which lies in Grimstad – a small rural community along the southern coast of Norway. Both Mikkeller and Nøgne Ø brew some of the finest products in Scandinavia, and I cannot think of more logical collaboration. 

Popping the cap and pouring it into a glass reveals the unmistakable stout signatures: The body appears with a super dark brown color and a dense, medium-sized brown head. Tight and sticky, the lacing says all business. The aroma is an attention getter: The vitalizing smells of coffee, along with sweet malts, brown sugar, and dark chocolate, accompany the Beer Geek Breakfast nose. The same can be applied to the taste: Roasted coffee clearly dominates (perhaps a bit too much), but is supported by faint hints of chocolate, roasted malts, oats, and some smoky notes that transition into a slightly bitter finish. The alcohol is virtually undetectable. Not surprisingly, the mouthfeel is creamy with a mild amount of carbonation. I highly recommend to any stout lover out there.


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Innis and Gunn: Rum Cask Oak Aged Ale – A complexity of sweetness

Brewed by Belhaven, Innis and Gunn’s Rum Cask Oak Aged ale is, in my view, a seriously underrated beer. According to “Larsblog”, Innis & Gunn’s regular Oak Aged edition “has met with a divided reception among beer enthusiasts”, and I assume this applies to the rum cask edition as well. Whatever the case may be, I found Innis and Gunn’s Rum Cask Oak Aged ale really fun to drink, and I highly recommend it to any sweet tooth out there.

The body appears as a delicious looking mahogany color. In terms of head, well…there’s not much to speak of really: It’s tiny and short lived, which has been my experience with their other oak aged products. The lacing is a bit thin and runny as well. But, the aroma and taste make up for whatever is lacking in the head and lacing. Taking a whiff uncovers a complexity of sweetness: Vanilla, baby bananas, oak, and a touch of rum seem to culminate in an overarching aroma that reminds me of something like butterscotch. Innis and Gunn really concocts a wonderful treat for the nose with this rum cask version. The taste is much like the aroma. It starts out sweet – almost like candy, dissipates into a variety of flavors like vanilla, bananas, and rum, and then coalesces into a sort of butterscotch kick. Overall, however, the vanilla taste and aroma are (thankfully) more reserved than their standard, but still enjoyable, oak aged version. In fact, the synthetic feel of the vanilla focus in the standard version is what some people don’t like about it. The finish in the rum cask version is sweet, spicy and just a tad boozy, while the mouthfeel is slightly watery with average carbonation. 

The casking process used by Innis and Gunn is interesting and somewhat laborious. Again, “Larsblog” provides a detailed description of how this beer is casked.


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Beer Street Journal:

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Grans: Julebrygg – One of life’s amusing contradictions

Sometimes life’s surprises are amusing in a contradictory sort of way. And for me at least, drinking Grans Julebrygg is one of those occasions. As a background to those unfamiliar with Grans products, the company is one of Norway’s larger beverage producers and well…their beers can be total drain pours (see my Ratebeer rating for Grans Lade Gaards Mørk Lager). But Grans Julebrygg is a definite hit and, in my opinion, one of the most flavorful low ABV Christmas beers put out by a Norwegian macro-brewery. As Ratebeer’s ClubGonzo rightfully points out, Grans Julebrygg is “a definite Christmas beer by Scandinavian standards, while still being very original in style, compared to the Norwegian market”. 

The Julebrygg experience begins with a dark amber color and a robust, foamy beige head. Wow, the lacing is solid! Is this really a Grans product? Giving it a whiff reveals a powerful array of sweet malts, caramel, and lots of raisins – certainly more potent than other julebryggs out there. Is ask again, is this really a Grans product? Overall, the taste pretty well balanced and closely resembles the aroma; Lots of dried fruit – primarily raisins, along with some bready, malty, and caramel flavors. The mouthfeel is a bit too watery for a julebrygg, although the carbonation is pretty active.

So, finally, I’ve found a Grans product that I can actually drink, but also one that I can thoroughly enjoy and for a reasonable price.  Overall, Grans Julebrygg is a really good value and an amusing contradiction to some of their other products.


Grans Bryggeri:

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Founders: Porter – From USA to Norway, in a suitcase

Since their 1997 debut, Founders has grown to demonstrate their seriousness about brewing first-class beer, as seen in the brewery’s rising status on BeerAdvocate and Ratebeer. Indeed, I have yet to encounter a Founders beer that says anything otherwise. All told, their Grand Rapids brewery crafts about five year-round products and eight or so seasonal and specialty brews. And Founder’s Porter is, without a doubt, one of the best porters around and, in my view, their flagship product.

Founders Porter is one of the 15 beers that I legally brought back to Norway with me during a recent trip to the US. I had large volumes of this porter during my trip, so perhaps from being under the influence of jet lag, I decided to give my bottle to a close friend who’s a big Guinness Draught fan. After tasting this porter, he has not only become a Founders fan (and routinely asks me about what I might bring with me after the next return home from the US), but he has also begun to look beyond the rim of the Guinness can in search for new beer experiences (note to Founders, you will certainly have a generous market here in Norway).

Life outside the bottle begins with a modest and bubbly light brown head and a super dark brown color  – an unmistakable porter indeed. The lacing clings to the side of the glass as if it was fighting for its life, which in a sense I suppose it is. Powerful and faithful to the style, the porter’s aroma comes with a coffee focused nose, accompanied by discernable notes of chocolate, roasted malts, and caramel. The carbonation is low, with a smooth and creamy mouthfeel. The taste is awesome: sweet and malty in the start and transitioning to a faintly bitter finish. There’s definitely something smoky to the flavor – smoked ham perhaps. And the 6.5 percent ABV speaks volumes about Founders’ seriousness with this porter.

So, if you have the chance to sample this, I’d definitely jump on it, but please don’t ask me to bring one back from the states. I have sampled few porters that have a level of complexity and flavor that rivals Founders Porter. 


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Founders: Centennial IPA – A first-class and approachable IPA

Since their 1997 debut, Founders has grown to demonstrate their seriousness about brewing first-class beer, as seen in the brewery’s rising status on BeerAdvocate and Ratebeer. Indeed, I have yet to encounter a Founders beer that says anything otherwise. All told, their Grand Rapids brewery crafts about five year-round products and eight or so seasonal and specialty brews. And Founder’s Centennial IPA is, without a doubt, one of the best IPAs around.

Life outside the bottle begins with a huge creamy slightly off-white head and a translucent orange color  – a perfect representation of what an IPA should look like. The lacing clings to the side of the glass long after the beer has vanished. Powerful and faithful to the style, Centennial’s aroma comes with the predictable pine, flowers, and citrus fruit notes, along with definite hint of malts that nicely compliments the hoppy nose. The carbonation is robust, with a medium body. Not surprisingly, the taste is hop forward. However, generous support is provided by some of noticeable malty notes that trade in some of the bitterness for complexity. Citrusy flavors dominate, followed by some grainy, earthy, and bready tones. The finish delivers a lasting bitter punch, but overall, this is an amazingly well-balanced and easy to approach IPA. And the 7.2 percent ABV speaks volumes about Centennial’s seriousness.

So, if you have the chance to sample this, I’d definitely go with it, even if IPAs are not your favorite style. It’s well balanced and far more complex than many IPAs out there, but with a bit less of bite as well.


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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Lancaster Brewing Company: Boss Hop Double IPA – In your face

Lancaster Brewing Company is located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a small city smack in the middle of the world’s second largest concentration of Amish (Holmes Country, Ohio is the largest). Over the years, I suppose I’ve tried nearly everything Lancaster produces – both in bottle and draft. Overall, their products are hits or misses of sorts, but nothing too terribly exiting or terribly terrible. But Boss Hop Double IPA sort of debunks that experience. 

Overall, Boss Hop is an outstanding DIPA, a fact that I have come to appreciate after several different samples. Indeed, my first impression of Boss Hop left me wanting more, and I found more after several samples over time. Life in the glass begins with a hazy amber color, producing a solid standing white head with tight and sticky lacing. The nose is all hops, as the name suggests: sweet, with florally, mildly fruity, and piney aromas, accompanied by a faint earthiness. Like the nose, Boss Hop’s taste is all hops: It starts out sweet, with notes of pine and tropical fruits that transition into a dry and “in your face” hoppy finish, just as it should be. It’s seriously aggressive, relatively complex, and an attractive sight as it sits in the glass – definitely worth the time.


Lancaster Brewing Company:

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Berentsens: Jule Avec – A serious holiday treat from a maker of many things

Located in Egersund, a small fishing town on the southern tip of Norway, Berentsens manufactures a variety of beverages like soda, apple cider, and of course beer. Jule Avec is the first Berenstens brew I’ve sampled, although I do have one of their intimidating 19 percent ABV Christmas beers maturing in the cellar. At 9 percent ABV, Jule Avec (2011 sample) is a remarkably flavorful beer, with substantial amounts of complexity and balance. 

The body appears with a super dark brown tone and a sizable, fluffy tan head. Being dense and clingy, the lacing suggests a very serious Christmas beer, which indeed it is. The aroma is a relatively rich blend of sweet malts and dark fruits, most notably raisins. The taste is largely sweet, with references to chocolate, caramel, and again lots of raisins. Given the 9 percent ABV, I was surprised to find no clear reference to booze, although it was a bit noticeable after some warming. The body is medium with a syrupy mouthfeel and a somewhat dry finish.

If you have the chance to try this, I definitely recommend taking it. Comparatively speaking, it’s reasonably priced, potent, and very tasty certainly one of the better Christmas brews out there, and it’s brewed by a company that doesn’t even specialize in beer.
On a separate note, Berentsens has a pretty nice description of the history of beer in Norway, although it’s written in Norwegian (see last link below).


Berentsens Brygghus:

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Mikkeller: Spontanale (lambic gueuze) – Love it, hate it, but certainly try it.

While Mikkeller officially hails from Copenhagen, Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, Mikkeller’s brewmaster, manager, et al., brews beer in a variety of locations throughout Europe and the United States. Mikkeller’s Spontanale is brewed at De Proefbrouwerij, which lies in a small rural village just a few kilometers northeast of Ghent. You might say that this site is a bit off the mark for brewing what is essentially a lambic gueuze – a style traditionally brewed in Belgium’s Senne Valley, where the “wild” yeasts from the Senne River, along with wild yeasts lurking within the brewery, spontaneously feed on the sugar-rich worts of some of the region’s finest breweries. This process gives rise to those sour, cidery, and super dry lambic beers that people love, hate, or have yet to try. My particular encounter with Spontanale was with a friend, and we both arrived at similar conclusions: While Boon, Cantillon, and Lindemans brew measurably better lambics, Mikkeller’s Spontanale is a damn good attempt at making what some see as the most complex, if not funky and offensive beers around. 

Popping the cork and pouring it into a glass reveals the unmistakable lambic signatures: The body appears as a translucent amber color with a rather large, fluffy, slightly off-white head. The lacing is a bit thin and runny, which seems to be the case with most lambics I’ve tried. The aroma slaps you in the face even when sitting a meter or so away from the glass. For Spontanale, the nose is a bit less “wild” than some of the more robust lambics out there. To be sure, the pungent smells of barnyard, vinegar, wet hay, horse blanket, etc. accompany Spontanale’s nose, but it’s certainly far less aggressive than a Cantillon gueuze, for example. The same can be applied to the taste: While the sourness is aggressive, it has less potential to offend, disgust, and sicken; amaze, arouse, and instigate; or amuse, enchant, and gratify when compared to that same Cantillon. Not surprisingly, the mouthfeel comes with lots of carbonation, and the finish is quite dry, as with any respectable lambic.

I certainly recommend trying Spontanale if for no other reason than to show your support for Mikkel’s ceaseless capacity to make some of the most interesting, innovative, and complex brews around. If you’ve never tried a lambic, Spontanale might be a nice, somewhat mild and well-balanced introduction to something you will probably either love or hate. But, if you want to dive right into the seriously rougher side of beer, then I do suggest going for the more aggressive Cantillon gueuze instead. 


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