Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Leffe Brune

Zythology is funky sounding word.  One of those words you really only ever use to make yourself sound smarter than you are.  So it peaked my interest when I saw it on the website of today’s beer.  You are invited to become a zythologist by touring the Leffe brewery in Dinant, Belgium.  It’s appearance seemed oddly familiar and as I read further, that familiarity only grew.  I had seen this pathos heavy rhetoric somewhere else…  A few minutes later I got my answer, AB-InBev.  I should have known!  Almost everything they publish uses the exact same writing style and graphic design in the aim of eliciting feelings of vague excitement and pristine cleanliness.  This bottle of Leffe Brune may have been brought to me by the “King of Beers,” but it still sports a claim to the year 1240.  Lets see if tradition trumps modernity.

Leffe Brune
So far so good.
Well, looks solid.  I couldn’t get a good picture of it, but when held against strong light, that darkness reveals itself to be a delightful ruby.  Smells just right for a Belgian Abbey ale too, sweet with a tiny hint of the toasty notes found in the darker malts.  Heck, the head even did that thing where it recedes from the edges of the glass but continues to poof up in the middle.

Ooh, ich mag es so gern!

I like the flavor, which seems a slightly more astringent version of your standard British or American Brown Ale.  Or I guess it would be more accurate to say the British and American types are slightly less astringent versions of Leffe Brune.  The mouthfeel is fairly smooth with only a little sharpness perhaps from the yeast variety.  Or maybe it’s the hops.  Or the water.  What do you think I am, a zythologist?  But seriously, it either the yeast or the malt if they used chocolate or coffee.  It’s hard to say.

I wasn’t around to taste the beer in 1240, but my guess is that tradition has trumped modern capitalism in this case.  Leffe Brune strikes me as a very European beer from the bottle to the finish.  Definitely one I’ll be remembering. Maybe I should stop by Dinant for that brewery tour. Looks like it's hosted in a beautiful space. Also quite European.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Bedlam!, Ale Asylum

Today’s beer is described by its makers in avant garde terms.  “Chaos as art” is apparently its motto.  The brewery’s web page for it is mostly a copied and pasted entry from beeradvocate  where a user waxes poetic over astronautical rhetoric.  I’m imagining a barley and hops Jackson Pollock or Reggie Watts.  That sounds good to me.  Artistic expressions that stretch your mind can be quite pleasing.  But they can also go overboard.  Think of the enjoyable dissonance of Bartok on one hand and phrase words of annoyance reordering a randomly the on the other.  The question is which one this beer will be.  So as your beer blog curator, I present to you Ale Asylum’s Bedlam!.

Nice deep orange color!

The bottle claims the citra hops and belgian yeast create notes of summer fruits.  Even though that’s a common term used by a lot of breweries and reviewers, I’m not quite sure which fruits specifically count as summer fruits.  And what’s the alternative?  Winter fruits?  I'll have to look into it. Anyway, if that term refers to oranges and grapefruits, then it’s right on. Maybe a hint of apricot as well.  The taste doesn’t immediately strike me as being particularly chaotic, but not because its component parts do not clash.  The single minded hops of the IPA side and the nutty curveballs of the Belgian side are diametrically opposed.  But instead of spinning off each other into an ambiguous cloud of cognitive dissonance, they seem to bore directly into one another and cancel each other out.  It’s like the airborne streaks of paint of the aforementioned Pollock just happened to fall into the outline of a Hirst.  You’ve got random streaks of paint, but the big picture is of monochromatic dots.

As far as where Bedlam! falls in the avant garde, my mind likes the task of dissecting all its moving parts but unfortunately my stomach sees it as the annoying reordered words.  Out-there art can be good for the brain.  However, beer ultimately gets processed by a dumb mass of cells limited to chemical reactions and pressure variances as a means of communication.  Physiological forums are not particularly ponderous.

Update! Apparently there are winter fruits. And spring fruits and autumn fruits. Who knew? Aside from millions of people all over the world, that is. Oranges fall into winter and spring but grapefruit and apricot are summer. Two out of three isn't too bad, right?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Shiner Bock, Spoetzl Brewery

I recently watched a short documentary called “How Beer Saved the World.”  This film contained a lot of interesting information, but it wrapped it all in the overly dramatic cliches of adult educational programming.  Every piece of trivia was shockingly revealed to you between three and five times by a host of experts causing you more to question their academic professionalism than to better absorb the lesson.  The music made each event in the history of beer sound on par with man learning to walk upright.  One speaker even suggested abandoning BC and AD for BB (Before Beer) and AB (After Beer).  That AB was the closest it ever came to mentioning a company other than MillerCoors (corporate sponsorship anyone?).  Of course the biggest cliche was all the secularised “sunday school questions” where the answer was invariably “beer.”  Come on, at least the little church going kindergarteners have to choose between “Jesus” and “God.”  As painful as it was to watch, this film was produced for a syndicated cable channel.  So obviously there’s money to be made here.  Maybe I should give it shot…

Texas is well known for cowboys, steak houses and capital punishment, but it also has a long history of something else.  Something liquid.  Something alcoholic.  Beer.  In the small town of Shiner, mere hours from the Mexican border, the brave men of Spoetzl Brewery create a famous bock.  But bock is a German style.  Yes that’s right.  This part of Texas was settled by Germans.  Germans who brought something with them.  Something bubbly.  Something very valuable.  Beer.  These industrious men and women built a society from nothing in a strange land surrounded by foreign people.  But they could never forget where they came from.  They sowed barley and transplanted hops so they could make something better than water.  Something older than the wheel.  Something with the power to save millions of lives.  Beer.  Their descendants have continued the legacy.  They have courageously toiled for over a century in back breaking labor to produce something delicious.  Something malty.  Something that saves a baby from a burning house every week as a warm up before flying all over the world to fight crime and drop jobs down people’s chimneys.  Spoetzl Brewery’s Shiner Bock.

Shiner Bock
Lovely ruby hues.

Okay, so we’ve got one of those quickly dissipating heads here.  Within about a minute it’s pretty much gone.  Noisy little guy too.  Kind of like rice crispies right after you add the milk to the bowl.  I love the color and clarity.  It’s simplicity seems like a visual approximation of the aroma.  The flavor quickly follows suit leading me to question why this has been labelled as a bock.  It tastes more like a pilsner with just enough darker grain to affect the appearance.  Bock may be an odd choice to describe this brew, but bock is an odd choice for a hot climate such as Southeast Texas.  If you approach it from the direction of the standard American Pilsner, it becomes a pretty tasty alternative to the big boys.  It also helps you feel better about the thin, highly carbonated mouthfeel and faintly acetic tones.  Bottom line, save this one for those hot summer days when you’re not particularly in the mood for sweets.

Oh yeah, I stopped writing in the superlative infotainment style.  I just couldn’t keep it going.  I guess I’m just too deadly serious about my passion.  Not able to crack jokes about this momentous invention.  This magical, life giving, evil defeating beverage.  This stepping stone from neolithic cave men to masters of nature, the universe and everything!

I mean beer!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Rampant Imperial IPA, New Belgium Brewery

Rampant.  What does that word make you think of?  Vikings?  Weeds?  An annoying social fad that is quickly engulfing all your friends?  While “rampant” has it’s own meaning regarding the leg position of a usually quadrupedal animal, the modern English usage of the word leaves it adjectivally tethered to its etymological sibling, “rampage.”  Think “rampagent” or “rampagey.”  That makes rampant the perfect word to describe today’s beer, a claimed Imperial IPA.  That combination conjures images of hops rampaging through an innocent mouth like Vikings through the North Sea.  I present to you New Belgium’s Rampant.

Rampant IPA
I even have the right glass!

Imperial of course is a reference to the imperial stout and its massive size.  It’s a more self confident way of saying double IPA.  That tells me I should prepare myself for the American style kick of hops popularized by the guys at Stone and others of their ilk.  But I also know New Belgium is most famous for following the zymurgic traditions of Belgium, so I should also be ready for a hint of fruity funk.  As I get my first whiff of the stuff, the imagery is of dry hopping a beer while the dregs in the primary are right there next to you.  So floral hoppiness mixed with grains and bready yeast for the non brewers.  Once it hits my tongue I instantly know this is nothing like Stone bitterness.  It’s firmly in the set of IPAs I like to call grapefruit beers.  Not bitter, but tart like citrus.  At 8.5% ABV I know there has to be a sizeable amount of malt in there, but it plays a purely supportive role.  I guess it’s busy counteracting the bitter punch of the hops.  It’s hard to believe the three varieties used (Mosaic, Calypso, Centennial) are all in the double digit alpha acid camp.

I was wrong at the beginning of this post.  That other meaning for the word “rampant” is a much better descriptor of this beer.  The aforementioned leg position is the well known stance of the lions in several European crests, so it has a strong connection to royalty.  New Belgium’s Rampant is a beer of the great power and sophistication you would expect from a king.  But it is also benevolent.  So what if I don’t have any democratic freedom?  If it tastes like this who cares?

New Belgium Rampant
Long live the king!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Lilja's Sasquatch Stout, Pangea Brewing Company

We’ve all heard the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover.”  Many of us have also heard the common rebuttal, “That’s what the cover is for!  It tells me what’s in the book so I can decide whether or not I want to read it!”  Even if you’re not familiar with the counter-argument, chances are that’s how you effectively live.  You try not to judge unduly, while defining “duly” however you want.  Case in point, what is your immediate reaction to this beer label?

Graphic designers may want to shield their eyes.

Okay, first off, what’s with the water level Super Nintendo Donkey Kong?  Is he throwing a glass of beer at me?  Why is it in a different font than the rest of the bottle?  Green eyes.  Black finger and toe nails.  Three tag lines?  What is this Monty Python’s “Penultimate Supper?”  You can’t see it in this picture, but the top right corner holds the words “ylnevaeh spoh.”  Sounds Russian, right?  Nope.  Spoiler Alert, it’s heavenly hops backwards.  Surely people who think this label is good can have no taste of beer, right?  Wrong.  This hokey cover delivers Lilja’s Sasquatch Stout, which is actually quite good.

Small head, perhaps from the high ABV.

Talk about a dark beer.  You have to work pretty hard to find the red tones on the edges of every stout’s glass.  Turning, raising, searching.  The aroma is really smooth and inviting even though the imagery that comes to my mind is over-ripe fruit and wet fur.  Kind of like how haggis smells and tastes like dog food yet still manages to be quite good.  It only takes a second to place this stout in the coffee camp, but it’s not being served black.  That smoothness from the aroma returns to build a milk stout mouthfeel even though this bigfoot has no lactose added.  Overall, very satisfying and much better than the odd label leads you to believe.

After taking a look at their website, I have to say that label isn’t really all that surprising.  The page for Lilja’s Sasquatch Stout is home to four whole well-written paragraphs about sasquatch, tying it back to the beer only by insinuating a six pack of the stuff will keep you safe from a six foot tall, four hundred pound hominid.  The ingredients list claims to use a hop variety that is also a class of primate. No problem, I can google "simian hops" and find out what they are, right?

Or maybe not...

Not to worry though, it wraps up with a picture of a transgender bovine with spots shaped like the continents.  I don’t know if they’re rich enough to be called eccentric or if they just fall into the crazy category but whatever they are, their beer is delicious!