Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

30 September, 2015

(After)Nooner Delight: Nooner Pilsner by Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

Sierra Nevada's Nooner Pilsner is a relatively new addition to the brewery's regular line-up. There was a Nooner Session IPA early in 2014 but that gave way to Nooner Pilsner later that same year.

Nooner is Sierra Nevada's take on the German pilsner. The German pils is, at least as far as American definitions go, a slightly more diminutive take on the style than its Bohemian cousin. It's lighter in color, in body with less hop bitterness and less malt sweetness. I have no doubt people who know more than I will take exception to this definition but I'm going with it.

The German documentary Hopfen und Malz Verloren showed how the big brewing conglomerates in Germany today have watered down the pils over the years. This combined with the fact that I don't know of any German pilsners that are shipped over here with enough celerity to be considered "fresh" on Madison store shelves leads me to concede that I may never have tasted the Platonic idea of a German pils. Here in Madison the Great Dane brewpubs have Verruckte Stadt ("Mad Town"), the Dane's take on the style. I personally like Verruckte Stadt but am not in a position to judge its authenticity.

With these caveats, here's my Nooner pablum.

It pours a slightly dark straw color. No chill haze this time around as Nooner was quite clear. I got about an inch of frothy white foam atop by beer and this head lasted for quite a while. German pilsners are apparently supposed to be quite bubbly and, indeed, Nooner had lots of bubbles making their way up.

This beer was pungent. I could smell it as I shuffled around with my camera trying to get a decent shot. And it smelled F-I-N-E fine. With the glass sitting on the sill it was the malt that I smelled first with its cracker-like scent. Putting the glass to my nose I caught a bit of malt sweetness that was like honey and graham cracker. The hops were also well represented on the nose with grassy notes undergirded by hints of citrus.

Nooner tasted much like it smelled. The cracker malt scent was more like baked bread to my tongue while that honey-like sweetness was more like bread dough. The sweetness was not very pronounced but it was easily discernible. The hops were at first herbal/grassy but there were distinct floral notes too. Looking at Sierra Nevada's page, it seems the floral flavors come from French Strisselspalt hops (and that citrus scent is likely to have come from the German Saphir hops.) I'm not sure that I've ever had a beer with Strisselspalt hops previously. Combined with Saphir, Tettnanger, and Perle, you get this wonderfully piquant mélange of botanical goodness with floral and grassy flavors at the fore of the hop brigade.

Being a lager, Nooner is clean tasting as you'd expect. There's also some dryness with a bit of bite from the carbonation. It finishes quite dry with a grassy/peppery bitterness that lingers for a goodly amount of time. My glass was left with some great Schaumhaftvermoegen all around.

I was going to write that I was impressed with Nooner but that's unfair as it implies a certain set of (low) expectations for the beer that I did not have. I have a lot of respect for Sierra Nevada and drank plenty of their Pale Ale back in the early 90s. Instead I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed Nooner and its mellifluous combination of flavors. The multifaceted hop profile stood out yet always let the malt have its due. With its gentle malts, medium-light body, and hops that showcase their flavors instead of overwhelming everything else, Nooner goes down easy. Mind you, at 5.2% A.B.V. it's not a session beer.

Junk food pairing: Pair Nooner with soft pretzels smothered in melted Velveeta cheese food product mixed with ghost pepper salsa.

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|| Palmer, 4:03 PM || link || (0) comments |

28 September, 2015

Good Morning Campers!: Hoppy Lager by Sierra Nevada

It's autumn now so what better time to drink the last of this year's vernal brews, right?

Sierra Nevada seems to be at the vanguard of collaborative brewing, at least as far as large microbrewers go. Their latest collaboration saw them partner with German brewery Brauhaus Riegele, founded when the most recent white visitor to North America was Leif Erikson, to produce an Oktoberfest. Subsequent iterations of the beer will feature collaborations with different German brewers. Last year Sierra Nevada began Beer Camp Across America which saw them come together with twelve other breweries across the country. Close to home they paired up with New Glarus to produce an ESB called There and Back. Farther afield they conspired with Ballast Point to brew Electric Ray, an India Pale Lager. The beer was brought back for an encore this past spring with a slightly tweaked recipe and a new nom de beer - Hoppy Lager.

I'm not sure who begat the IPL moniker but it's one of the more recent entries in the ongoing marketing atrocity that labels everything with some West Coast hops an India something-or-other. I've noticed the IPX phenomenon attacking cider now. We now have India Pressed Cider and India Wheat Cider because apples just aren't good enough, apparently. And now that winter approaches, you can have your Double IPA lip balm. Too potent for your delicate lips? Don't worry because there's session IPA lip balm too.

While the IPX moniker and the marketing abuse of hops generally (hop cigars, hop shampoo, hop bar soaps, hop air fresheners, and do any locals remember when Madison Sourdough put hops into bread?) have most certainly become a bad joke, that doesn't mean that tasty beers cannot be had with that unfortunate moniker.

Hoppy Lager pours, contra my photograph, a bright gold color. The beer was quite hazy but I suspect this was chill haze – Stone Brewing's blog has a nice explanation. The haze results when malt proteins bond with hop polyphenols at cold temperatures. Going by the blog post, I'd guess that the age of the beer is partly to blame. The haze doesn’t affect flavor and, if I'm going with the age hypothesis, I certainly can't knock Sierra Nevada. You can see the big, foamy white head for yourself. (It lasted a goodly amount of time.) But the haze obscures all of the bubbles going up the beer.

As I've come to expect from this style, the aroma was full of the requisite hoppy scents, i.e. – citrus and floral, from both Citra and Equinox varieties. But the malt was also evident here with the aroma having a very sweet component that smelled of honey and apricot.

Hoppy Lager had an intriguing mix of flavors. As hops go a dull(ish) blood orange or tangerine flavor was the first thing I noticed. A relatively new variety of hops, El Dorado, are used here and descriptions emphasize its big tropical fruit flavors so I'm assuming that they're responsible for the up front fruity flavor. There was also a floral flavor to be had and I presume that came from the Equinox hops. As in the nose, it was subservient to the fruity hop flavors.

Despite being a hop forward brew, the malt made its presence known. It tasted rather sweet to my tongue – reminding me of bread dough. But I also tasted something like plum – a fruitiness that wasn't sharp or bright like citrus. Perhaps this is the malt and the Palisade hops working in combination. The carbonation

The finish was dry with a healthy dose of spicy hops providing a lingering bitterness.

Although it had a clean flavor, Hoppy Lager was just too sweet for me. The malt flavor stood too far apart from and in too great an opposition to the fruity-floral essences of the hops. It's like there were warring factions on my tongue instead of complementary groups working together to find a zymurgylogical gestalt. The high carbonation added a bit of détente by way of dryness but not enough. As someone who is not a big fan of hop forward beers, I found that I didn't mind the 55 I.B.U.s of bitterness here. I think this is likely because of the fruity hop flavor along with the malt that refused to cede to the botanicals.

Junk food pairing: Hoppy Lager is a fairly big beer. The malty sweetness gives it a medium body and it clocks in at 7% A.B.V. Pair it with something sharp-tasting, something that will cut through the IPL miasma such as Snyder's Jalapeno Pretzel Pieces or Cheez-It Duoz Sharp Cheddar and Parmesan crackers.

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|| Palmer, 1:05 PM || link || (0) comments |

16 September, 2015

The India Pale Lager from Up Nort: IPL from Leinenkugel's

Yesterday I looked at Central Waters' IPL and today we have another. This time it's from Leinenkugel's.

Apparently the powers that be at Leine's took some time off from brainstorming more "shandy" flavors (can a limited edition yuzu-chipotle-tamarind "shandy" be far off?) to address the current hop craze. The result was their new(ish) IPL (a.k.a. – India Pale Lager). It is at once a concession to current trends with a firm emphasis on hops and its attendant "I/India" marketing meme as well a nod to tradition in being a lager.

The beer was initially introduced last fall on draught only at various establishments in the brewery's hometown of Chippewa Falls as well as in Madison and Milwaukee. But in late June/early July (or thereabouts) bottles hit store shelves. According to Leine's website, IPL is available year-round.

IPL pours a beautiful clear gold color. I got a really big foamy, white head that proved to be in no hurry to go anywhere. In the beer itself there was a goodly number of bubbles forming on the bottom of the glass and then floating upwards. From a visual perspective, IPL was quite aesthetically pleasing.

IPA had a similar smell to that of Central Waters' Summarillo. There was a distinct citrus/grapefruit aroma along with pine from hops. Leine's claims there are five varieties of hops in IPL but their website only lists two - Hallertau Mandarina Bavaria and Ahtanum. Elsewhere I've read that the remaining ones are Hallertauer Herkules, Citra, and Cascade. A nice mix of German and New World hops that mirrors the style's mix of trendiness and tradition. The malt aroma here was more prominent than Summarillo's with more potent notes of honey and raisins.

Although IPL and Summarillo are in the same ballpark as far as flavor goes, there are some significant differences. Both have a prominent citrus taste. Four of the five hops in IPL contribute citrus qualities with Hallertauer Herkules being the lone holdout. However Leine's went for grapefruit whereas Summarillo leans more towards orange. IPL also distinguishes itself with those Hallertauer Herkules hops. They take no guff from their citrusy counterparts and impart a strong, fragrant piney/resiny taste. Again we have that trendy/traditional dichotomy at play. While the hop flavors were certainly out front, there was a definite malt sweetness to be had. There was a certain earthiness to the malt on the nose which was lost on the tongue. The malt tasted more doughy with a caramel flavor too.

The beer finished clean and dry just like one would expect. Those Hallertauer Herkules stayed the course and left some lingering spicy/pine bitterness. My glass was left with some really nice, thick Schaumhaftvermoegen. With Leine's IPL your glass will be pretty from pour to final swig.

IPL is a very fine beer. It's a bit bigger than Summarillo coming in at 6% A.B.V. and 57 I.B.U.s. Still, it was rather easy drinking with a medium-light body and a nice smoothness. Caramel malts give a bit more sweetness for the hops to play off of but the beer never tastes heavy. There's simply a really nice interplay of flavors here. Yeah, the emphasis is on the hops but the malt never lets you forget it's there. To my tongue the citrus/grapefruit flavors come first and then are superseded by the spicy/resiny ones which take you into the finish. This seems rather fitting for a beer from Leinenkugel's, a brewery steeped in German lager traditions. It's as if they let the young whippersnappers their turn but then followed that up by giving notice that tradition endures.

Junk food pairing: Pair IPL with some Asian fare such as Oriental snack mix with its Yin/Yang pairing of delicate rice crackers and wasabi-laden peas or for a heartier meal, fry up some shrimp chips. You know, those oddly-colored chips that are like Shrinky Dinks until you fry them whereupon they poof up like a Cheetoh.

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|| Palmer, 12:58 PM || link || (0) comments |

15 September, 2015

After the Beers of Summer Have Gone: Summarillo by Central Waters Brewing Co.

As I write there is still just under a week of astronomical summer remaining and Summarillo is a summer seasonal so, technically speaking, this review is quite timely.

Earlier this aestival season Central Water introduced its new summer seasonal, Summarillo. Billed as an India Style Pale Lager, it is hopped solely with Amarillo hops. Hence the portmanteau name. The IPL is a relatively new marketing gimmick crafted by American brewers to capitalize on the tendency of many lemmings drinkers to go rushing headlong towards any beer whose style incorporates the word "India" or a capital "I" in abbreviation of the word.

I'm not really sure what an IPL is. Sam Adams released one called Double Agent a few years ago while Wisconsin Brewing Company brewed an "India White Lager", an IPL crossed with a witbier. Leinenkugel's also has one. A working definition of IPL might be a pale lager that is hopped without Noble hop varieties or with them in addition to American hop varieties. Or something. Honestly, they're just Bohemian-style pilsners made without Saaz hops as far as I can tell.

I was rather underwhelmed by Double Agent, to be blunt, and WBC's take was all Frankenstein-like with the witbier being stitched onto the IPwhatever concept. So how does Summarillo compare?

It pours a brilliant, summery yellow for starters. Curiously enough, it was slightly hazy. I presume this was a chill haze. My glass was adorned with a lovely, pillowy white head that had Viagra-like staying power. I mean there was foam left at the bottom of my glass after the beer had been deposited into my maw. There was a healthy amount of bubbles in the beer making their way up to the perma-head.

Not being a lupulin expert I was not overly familiar with Amarillo hops going into this. The aroma, however, was redolent with its characteristic citrus, floral, and resiny bouquets. As someone who tends to drink beers hopped with Noble hops or other similar varieties (e.g. - Liberty, Northern Brewer), I found myself drawn to the Amarillo. It was like a siren's call tempting me to taste its elixir. Except it was a scent. A siren's scent tempting me to taste its elixir.

Unexpectedly, the malt was also present here with a bready scent. Being a bit cynical, I figured that the hops would be the be-all-end-all of the beer with the actual beer part of the beer being neglected. It was nice to be wrong, at least on the olfactory side of things.

The taste was similarly luscious. Those hops were front and center here with floral and citrus notes being most prominent but there were also a resiny taste and a peppery spiciness to boot. But, as with the aroma, the malt was not totally neglected here with a slighty sweet bread flavor in the background. Moderate carbonation lent a bit of dryness. It had a medium-light body but a slightly lighter mouthfeel owing to all those hops.

Summarillo finished clean and dry as you'd expect from a lager. A piney/resiny bitterness remained on my tongue for a spell while my glass was left with some really fine Schaumhaftvermoegen on all sides along with a large dollop of head at the bottom.

This beer was a most pleasant surprise. As a rule I don't care for India whatever beers because the hops are given free rein to run roughshod over the graininess. Summarillo is certainly a hop forward beer yet the malt is a vital component to the overall flavor and not a fleeting token essence buried deep in the background. I loved how the floral and citrus flavors from the hops combined to taste almost sweet. As I've drunk more gruits I've become appreciative of floral tastes in beer and I think that's a big reason why I liked the Amarillos. Plus Summarillo was hoppy without being extremely bitter which I greatly appreciated. I shall be seeking this beer out next summer and I cannot recall the last time I actually sought out an IPwhatever.

Junk food pairing: Pair Summarillo with Chicken in a Biskit crackers or, for braver souls, try a spicy hot chivda.

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|| Palmer, 8:45 PM || link || (0) comments |

From the Vaterland: Döllnitzer Ritterguts Gose

I recently found that Riley's had some gose from the Fatherland in stock - Döllnitzer Ritterguts Gose. I just had to try it and bought one of the half liter bottles.

I'm not exactly sure where Ritterguts is brewed currently but, according to Ron Pattinson, it was originally brewed in 1824 in the eponymous establishment. The name comes from that of a country estate called "Rittergut Döllnitz" which was in the vicinity of Leipzig. Leipzig, in turn, was ground zero for gose production in the 19th century. Pattinson says that one Johann Philipp Ledermann began brewing gose at Rittergut Döllnitz in 1824 and that he had been a brewer in the town of Goslar, the ancestral home of the gose.

I apologize again for the rather lousy photography. That's two (or more) posts with sub-standard photography in a row. Apologies aside…prepare for unapologetic, sub-standard writing!

When writing these reviews I sometimes wonder if I should bother to define the style. I mean, if you were to write multiple reviews of gose beers in a short period, you wouldn't bother to write that gose is a sour wheat beer flavored with salt and coriander in every one, would you? This is exactly the type of situation that prompted someone to invent paralipsis, I suppose.

Ritterguts is a brilliant yellow that is slightly hazy. My pour resulted in a nice white head but, unfortunately, it didn't last very long. Truth be told, there are times when my glass just looks perfect. It's got a great head and there's effervescence everywhere. I click the button to take a photo only to be told by the camera that there's no memory card in it. By the time I go find the card in one of my computers and insert it into the camera, the beer is no longer ready for its close-up – the head has gone. This, however, is not one of those times. The head really dissipated very quickly. There was a smattering of bubbles going up the beer. Another insider's secret: I've been reviewing so many Berliner Weisses lately that there are times, such as here, when I look at the beer and see it as being under-effervesced. "So much for being a 'Champagne of the North'," I think to myself. Then it dawns on me that the beer at hand is, in fact, not a Berliner Weisse and can have whatever level of carbonation it damn well pleases.

I got some lovin' good vibrations upon taking a whiff. The expected tartness was rather low on the nose and so I caught bread, the coriander, and even a bit of salinity. Ooh, I could just tell this was going to be a full-flavored premium gose. That lemony/citrusy tartness was much more prominent in the taste than it was in the smell. Having said this, Ritterguts was by no means an extreme beer in this regard. The sourness was happy to let you know it was there but I could, joyfully, taste the coriander. I've tasted more than a few goses where either the coriander was indiscernible or buried by fruit. Here there was neither too much nor too little. Just the right amount. I was also surprised by the amount of salt in Ritterguts. It wasn't salty per se but one could definitely taste how the bread-like/crackery malt flavors as well as the coriander were enhanced by it. The beer had a light body but I think the salt gave it a slightly heavier mouthfeel as it amplified some of the flavors. There was also enough carbonation to lend a little dryness.

This beer is not filtered and so there was a fair amount of yeast on the bottom of the bottle. Had I been paying attention I would have noticed that there are instructions on the label saying to gently shake the bottle so as to mix the yeast into the beer. This I did not do and so my terminal pour was quite yeasty. I rather liked how the yeast brought its own slight tartness to the beer and complemented the lactic sourness.

Ritterguts finishes slightly dry. The tartness slowly fades while the dryness from the carbonation lingers for just a bit. I could taste no hops.

Döllnitzer Ritterguts Gose is one of the best examples of the style I've tasted. I loved how the yeast abetted the sourness while the salt highlighted the malt and coriander. The interplay of the flavors here was just wonderful. There's nothing extreme with each flavor getting its turn to shine. Everything was in correct proportion and in its place. Ausgezeichnet! I suspect that it was fairly fresh which goes a long way. It is 4.7% A.B.V. and I gleefully drank the whole bottle in a short time.

Junk food pairing: Pair Döllnitzer Ritterguts Gose with Ethiopian chechebsa. Chechebsa is flatbread fried in clarified butter seasoned with berbere. (Think Buraka's doro wat.) Dip in yoghurt for added tartness.

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|| Palmer, 3:10 PM || link || (0) comments |

The Pinot Grigio of Beers: Festina Peche from Dogfish Head

Dogfish Head's summer seasonal is Festina Peche, a "neo-Berliner Wiesse" made with peach. To demonstrate just how beloved craft beer is here in Madison, I can tell you that this beer was on sale at the BP on the 2800 block of Atwood Avenue. Even our little neighborhood gas stations have relatively generous selections of good beer. At least those gas stations in nice, hip middle class neighborhoods.

Dogfish Head is well known for its IPAs with temporal names as well as more extreme beers, amongst which is 120 Minute IPA, a brew that is 15-20% A.B.V. and 120 I.B.U.s. World Wide Stout and Olde School Barleywine, Fort, and perhaps others are also quite potent being in the 15-20% A.B.V. range. The brewery is not afraid to use ingredients not normally involved in brewing, such as raisins and granola, including ones little-known to the modern American palate like wattleseed and gesho root. Their Ancient Ales series is a bit of beer archaeology in which the brewery recreates the brews of yore using as their guide the residues left on millennia old pottery.

Considering that I genuinely appreciate their often off-centered approach and their willingness to unleash beers completely out of left field, I would think that I'd drink their beer more often than once every several years. Truth be told, when DH pulled out of Wisconsin back in 2011, I couldn't have cared less. For one thing, I have no interest in IPAs made by the brewing equivalents of Vestal virgins would do nothing but add hops to an eternally boiling batch of beer. Secondly, DH's beer tends to be expensive. By no means are all of their brews abhorrently priced to a parsimonious person such as myself, but I tend to notice 12 oz bottles priced at $9-10 most often and recoil in penurious horror.

Lastly, Dogfish Head are one of the primary offenders of portraying craft beer as the domain of a bunch of petite bourgeoisie lotus-eaters. Witness how their American Beauty beer "captures the spirits of the band's (the Grateful Dead) 30 years of touring and recording." At first I wondered if there was LSD in the beer. Also note how DH lists a comparable wine for their beers. Piercing Pils isn't just comparable to a Riesling, it's comparable to a "Late-harvest Riesling". It is this kind of stuff that explains why Budweiser hits so close to home when they poke fun at the craft brew scene with commercials that say, "Let them sip their pumpkin peach ale. We'll be brewing some golden suds" and tweets that read "Nobody cheers for the guy who brings a watermelon wheat beer."

Craft beer was formerly microbrew and microbrew was about drinking beer that had flavor instead of being some kind of homeopathic preparation which may have been a part of beer at one time but was left with only malty memories of it. Today craft beer drinkers are expected to pair their brew of choice with French cheeses and understand the difference between early- and late-harvest Rielsings.

Rant over. Is Festina Peche any good?

Sorry about the lousy photo. I just cannot take a decent photograph unless it's near the summer solstice and the sun is shining high in the sky. Festina Peche is a lovely straw color and is slightly hazy. My pour produced only a small, fizzy head that dissipated rather quickly. You can kinda sorta see in the photograph how there was a modicum of bubbles in the beer going up. Not exactly "Champagne of the North" in appearance but still quite inviting.

The aroma was inviting as well with the lactic lemony/citrus tartness being the first thing I managed to smell as well as being the most prominent scent. Beneath it was a bit of peach as well as crackery notes. That wonderful citrusy lactic tartness comes shining through upon tasting the beer. The sourness here is what I'd describe as moderate and much, much more subdued than my near death experience drinking Destihl's Counter Clockweisse. On the other hand, the tartness here is prominent yet it allows other flavors, such as a hint of bread/grain, to come through. It is said that appearances can be deceiving and so it is here. Festina Peche may not look to be the most effervescent beer ever brewed, but the carbonation comes through to your tongue and so there's a bit of dryness to counter the sour.

And what of the peach? I found the fruit's flavor to have been rather faint. I put the beer all over my tongue and let it rest on the roof of my mouth and against my cheeks but the peach flavor remained distant. It was present and easily discernible but I was disappointed, at first. Then again, Dogfish Head never promised a wave of peach would come bursting through my door like the Kool-Aid guy. After a while I came to rather appreciate the level of peach in the beer.

Festina Peche finished with a lingering lactic tartness along with some dryness from the carbonation. Alas and alack, my glass was left with no Schaumhaftvermoegen.
To answer the question I posed above: Yes, Festina Peche is good. Very good indeed. The tartness was not overbearing which meant that it played well with the other flavors. While I would have liked to have tasted more peach, this is no hanging offense. I found Festina Peche to be quite sessionable. It is 4.5% A.B.V. which is perhaps just a smidge high for the style but, more importantly, it has the requisite light body and flavors that never overpower. Instead it offers a tasty blend of flavors that find a nice balance with one another.

Junk food pairing: Pair Festina Peche with some Walkers Crispy Duck and Hoisin potato chips for the main course. When dessert rolls around try FP with a waffle cone of Cherry Amaretto Fudge ice cream from the Chocolate Shoppe.

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|| Palmer, 12:06 PM || link || (0) comments |

09 September, 2015

a spicy, hopless concoction from up nort: groot by oliphant brewing

Oliphant Brewing is one of Wisconsin's newest microbreweries. It lies in downtown Somerset - up nort in St. Croix County, within spitting distance of the Mississippi River, and not far from the Twin Cities. Proprietors Matt Wallace and Trevor Wirtanen caught the homebrewing bug and decided to open a brewery back in 2011. Their dream was realized last year when their 3 bbl brewhouse opened.

I found some crowlers of Oliphant at Riley's last month. Since I'd not seen them before nor have I since, it seems likely that they did a bit of self-distribution when they were here for The Great Taste of the Midwest. There were three flavors, if I recall correctly, and I went for their gruit/grut, groot.

groot pours a lovely, deep mahogany – a nice break in the line of yellow beers that I've been drinking lately. My initial glass was clear but there was sediment at the bottom of the crowler which ended up in the terminal pour. I got a nice, big tan head which lasted for a while and there were some bubbles making their way upwards from the bottom of the glass.

The aroma had a doughy sweetness but I also smelled clove, vanilla, and cinnamon. I couldn't help but think of gingerbread cookies with this completely – in a good way - unexpected scent. The taste was very similar with a bready malt sweetness and clove being the most prominent flavors. There was a sense of drinking gingerbread cookies here but ones that were from Jamaica. This was not liquid cookies as there was also bit of an earthy, woody flavor present too. I later emailed the brewery to ask what botanicals were in groot and was told that there were clove, caraway, juniper, and rainbow peppercorns. I couldn't detect the caraway so it must have become part of the gruit's botanical gestalt but I can see that the juniper and peppercorns were likely the primary contributors to that earthy flavor I tasted underneath the gingerbread.

groot was rather dry on the finish owing to the carbonation with the clove lingering until the next sip. My glass was, sadly, left without any lacing.

This was a most surprising beer. The usual gruit botanicals like bog myrtle, yarrow, and mugwort are nowhere to be seen so Oliphant gets points from me for taking the path less traveled. I also appreciate that they brewed a gruit that didn't attempt use a bitter tasting plant to as a hop substitute. There is no bitterness here at all. The spices are really about complementing the malt rather than playing against it. It should also be noted that I am not the biggest fan of clove. I don't dislike it but I prefer it be part of a larger seasoning regimen. It's a prominent flavor here but I drank a couple glasses or more of groot. The Dulcinea and my medieval Fretourys of Applys batter got the rest.

Aside from the spices, groot had an easy-going medium-light body and was very smooth. It's 6% A.B.V. so you'll want to share your crowler and/or, like me, use some in a historical recipe. Hopheads will likely avoid groot and I am sure many others will as well with a crowler costing $8.99. Not cheap, although cheaper by the ounce than most bombers but more expensive than growlers. Plus the can is not reusable. Crowlers are the craft beer equivalent of the vortex bottle.

Junk food pairing: Pair groot with a bag of Lay's Greektown Gyro potato chips. These chips have some kind of magical lamb dust on them which will go well with the earthy, woody spices in groot.

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|| Palmer, 1:11 PM || link || (1) comments |

08 September, 2015

The Curiously Sour Brew: Counter ClockWeisse by Destihl Brewery

Yet another Berliner Weisse. They just keep-a comin' and I can tell you there are still more in my basement. I am going to have to hurry because the time for light, fizzy, tart wheat beers is slowly coming to a close. In just a few days we're looking at lows in the 50's – that's 10-12°C, for you metric folks – which means it's almost time to switch to stouter brews in anticipation of the leaves turning and the onset of winter.

This time we have Counter ClockWeisse from Destihl, an installment in their Wild Sour series. Destihl hails from Bloomington, Illinois and I am fairly certain that I'd managed to avoid their beer until this summer when some of their cans caught my eye. This shouldn't be taken as discourtesy towards the brewery but rather it's the case that it has just flown under my radar. I suppose they don't have a reputation one way or another other that has really grabbed my attention. But now Destihl has it.

Counter ClockWeisse pours a moderate deep yellow and is surprisingly clear. Destihl took the appellation for the style, "Champagne of the North", to heart. My pour produced a big, pillowy white head that stuck around for a while. And there were bubbles galore going up the beer. A lovely brew, bright and sparkling – the complete opposite of the cloudy day I drank it.

As expected, a lemony tartness took pride of place on the nose with its attendant acidity. There was also some bread to be had and what I took to be saltiness. It was very odd to smell this last aroma. Not bad, by any means, but quite unexpected. Taking my first sip I was reminded of the first time I'd ever tasted a Berliner Weisse. This stuff was sour. Not just sour, but eye-closing, lip-puckering, sour. I thought that this is probably how a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster tastes. This was likely the most sour Berliner Weisse I've ever tasted. The tartness was a bit less lemony on the tongue than on the nose with the flavor being more generically citrus than a specific fruit. After a couple of sips the sour remained potent but my palate recovered a bit and was able to discern the fizziness and dryness from the carbonation as well as salinity and some grain.

Neck and neck with the salinity for the title of most curious flavor was a sweetness that was vaguely fruity but also a bit malty. This is a light-bodied beer and only 3% A.B.V. so the sweetness was surely a product of bacteria. Destihl says that it the beer undergoes "unique, spontaneous wild yeast and lactic fermentation". It was very peculiar. Tasty, but peculiar. This sweet flavor carried into the finish which also had some dryness from the carbonation plus a lingering citrus tartness. My glass was left with no Schaumhaftvermoegen.

Counter ClockWeisse has much that helps it stand out in the crowd. It's highly intense tartness, a curious salinity, and an unexpected sweetness all render it a unique entry in the world of the Berliner Weisse. I would also add the lack of hops in the finish. Normally a bit of spicy hop goodness can be had in the finish but I could discern none here. Overall I enjoyed Counter ClockWeisse. I really liked the sweet'n'salty thing against a backdrop of massive tartness. I do offer the caveat that this beer was basically my upper limit of sourness. With most Berliner Weisses I've had, you get an initial blast of sour that mellows as you drink to nicely tart. Here you get a sour flood of Biblical proportions which mellows to mere Three Mile Island overload.

Junk food pairing: Pair Counter ClockWeisse with cracklin. If you cannot get your hands on any, go for a big bag of pork rinds. Sit back and let the beer fight it out with the porky fat goodness on your tongue.

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07 September, 2015

Uh-oh, little girl, Maillard reaction - And it tastes like this!: Heliostat Zwickel by Metropolitan Brewing

Wowzers! Zwei zwickels in one summer! First I had Urban Chestnuts' version and now I have Metropolitan's Heliostat, the brewery's summer seasonal available on draft only to maximize freshness. (Is New Glarus' Yokel a zwickel?)

When I wrote about Urban Chestnut's brew I admitted that I was flummoxed as to the difference between the zwickel and the kellerbier or if there was even a difference to be had. I was also unsure if they were distinct brewing styles or descriptors of serving processes, i.e. - are these beers simply unfiltered/unpasteurized helles lagers? Truth be known, I still don't know. But once more unto the breach…

Heliostat pours a brilliant straw in color – a pretty summer brew, to be sure. However, I was taken aback when I wiped the condensation from my glass to find that it was clear. Zwickel or kellerbier makes no difference – either is to be unfiltered. Where was my yeast and all the attendant B vitamins? Since the beer seems to be distributed in July, I can only imagine that the yeast had done some settling by early September. He who hesitates is lost, right?

On the nose Heliostat had that wonderful biscuit aroma that I expect from hell German biers as well as a grassy hop bouquet. Heliostat surprised me when tasting it as it had a very prominent taste of fresh grassy/floral hops. I wonder what type of hops was used here? Northern Brewer? Whatever they were, they were incredibly tasty with an almost fruity note to them. More floral tasting hops, please. In addition to the wonderful hoppiness the fantastic Teutonic malt aroma translated to the tongue with cracker and bread crust flavors. Carbonation added a hint of dryness while some doughy sweetness lurked underneath it all.

Heliostat finishes clean and dry with a lingering grassy/herbal hop bitterness. It also left some really nice Schaumhaftvermoegen on my glass.

What is best in beer life? To crush citrus hops. See IPAs driven before you. Hear the lamentations of the hop heads.

Despite the absence of the yeasty haze, Heliostat is a fine beer. Very fine indeed. It has those melanoidin-y/Maillard reaction-y bread crust malt flavors that I crave so dearly in no small measure. The icing on the cake are the fresh grassy and floral flavors from the hops which are the closest thing to the month of May (in a boreal clime) to be captured in a glass that I've ever experienced. Despite prominent hop flavor, Heliostat is not an especially bitter beer. The wonderful malt flavors are somewhat in the background but are by no means hidden behind a hoppy miasma. Heliostat has a medium-light body and is 5% A.B.V. which means that it's not a session beer. It is, however, almost preternaturally good at chasing away the summer heat, if only temporarily.

Heliostat is, to the best of my knowledge, still awaiting your growler at Whole Foods here in Madison.

Junk food pairing: Pair Heliostat with something spicy. I recommend Kettle Brands' Spicy Thai potato chips. However, Flamin Hot Cheetos will do if you can't get to a higher end purveyor of junk food.

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06 September, 2015

A New World of Flavor That Got a Bit Too Old: Don Durio's Filthy Mustachio by MobCraft

Don Durio's Filthy Mustochio was MobCraft's 14th crowdsourced brew. It won in November of last year and even came with a tale of an apocryphal Spanish 16th century Spanish explorer. The beer made it to shelves in January. It was brewed with cashews and durian, a southeast Asian fruit renowned for its malodorous aroma. When I bought this beer I figured that the recipe won the vote purely on novelty terms with voters keen on seeing a stinky fruit having its 15 minutes of fame. This coupled with my understanding that MobCraft had precious little, if any, experience making lagers did not give me high hopes for Filthy Mustachio.

The beer poured a nice dark straw color and was clear. I got a decent white, frothy head that disappeared fairly quickly. It did, however, have the requisite bubbles going up the glass. A very pretty beer. Too bad the head went away with such celerity. I'm not sure if this was because of the age of the beer or if the head dissipated that fast when fresh as well.

With the durian's reputation, I was rather worried that I'd sniff the beer and inhale a miasma. Instead my nose was greeted mainly with a biscuity/grainy aroma. When I inhaled extra deeply I caught an odd, musky fruit scent which I took to be the durian. It was by no means unpleasant but it was also rather faint. Although I was relieved that my nose was not assaulted by the fruit, I was a bit worried that my tongue would not be so lucky.

My fears were allayed quickly as Filthy Mustachio yielded primarily the moderately sweet taste of malt and cracker with a high dose of carbonation. The cashews were present but offered a subtle nuttiness. Also in the background was a bit of sweet fruitiness. Never having tasted a durian I had no idea what to expect them to taste like. I tasted something fig-like here which was pleasant enough.

The brew finished just this side of dry with the carbonation and a touch of spicy hops attempting to keep some maltiness at bay.

It's difficult for me to judge Filthy Mustachio since I drank it somewhere around six months late. I'm not sure if the fruit and nut flavors would have dulled over this amount of time. As it was I'd have liked them to have been just a bit stronger, a bit more up front instead of adding to an overall flavor which I found to be un-pilsner-like. Not bad, mind you, just not clean. I was hoping for a nice clean pilsner base upon which the durian and cashew were layered upon. Plus I tasted no hops. I've had pilsners that were this old and, while they certainly had lost hop flavor, they did not lack the presence of lupulin as did this beer. I'd wager that most of the imported pilsners on store shelves are roughly this old.

One thing that I really liked about Filthy Mustachio was the use of cashews. I am intrigued by the use of nuts in beer. Lazy Magnolia did a fine job utilizing pecans in their Southern Pecan Nut Brown, for instance. The cashews work well here but I wonder how they tasted in Filthy Mustachio when it was fresh. I'd imagine that a pistachio would be a more suitable companion to the clean, crisp flavors of a pils.

Junk food pairing: While drinking Filthy Mustachio eat Cheez-It Duoz Sharp Cheddar and Parmesan. The latter especially have a bit more salt than the average cracker and help highlight the cashew and durian in the beer.

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02 September, 2015

The Brew of Dr. Moreau: Orange You Glad? by MobCraft Beer

It's been a while since I've even tasted a beer by MobCraft. The Madison brewery is famous for crowdsourcing recipe ideas that often times transgress more style boundaries than Lady Gaga and involve so many herbs, spices, nuts, twigs, berries, and fruits that Rheinheitsgebot proponents are sent into apoplectic fits by merely contemplating the existence of such beers. I've had some MobCraft brews that I thought were almost, but not quite, entirely unlike beer. Others have been quite tasty. They say that absence makes the liver heart grow fonder so I was rather keen on trying some MobCraft after a hiatus.

Orange You Glad? won the vote back in February of this year and, I presume, was released in the spring. Described on the label as a "sour hefeweizen", it is really a Moreauvian concoction with a gose having been grafted onto a hefeweizen that is the half-sibling of a San Pellegrino. Its original name was apparently "Orange You Glad You Weren't Beat Up By a Banana?" with the orange on the label giving that right hook to a banana. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, the federal folks that approve beer labels, nixed the initial one so the beer was rechristened and the banana was replaced by a door (?!) - kind of like how Stanley Kubrick CGI'd a bunch of shadowy voyeurs into the big orgy scene in Eyes Wide Shut.

Orange You Glad? pours a very cloudy yellow. There were even some bits of sediment floating around in my glass. I'm not sure what they were but I have lived to tell the tale so, whatever they may have been, deleterious to one's health they were not. I got a goodly sized white head that looked like it belonged to a glass of 7-Up. The bubbles were large and POOF! Gone in a few seconds. There were also lots of bubbles in the beer itself going upwards and onwards.

On the nose I caught a moderate amount of lemony sour from the lactic acid bacteria, a lovely bit of blood orange fragrance, and some doughy/honey malt sweetness. On my first sip my tongue was accosted by the carbonation. It then latched onto a mild lemony tartness from the lacto and wheat. Faint but still discernable were orange zest, coriander, and some of the trademark hefeweizen esters that taste like banana. It was light and refreshing but merely passable with the carbonation almost overpowering the other flavors, none of which was particularly prominent.

I discovered that the secret here is to let the beer warm up a bit. This did not take too long in the 85° heat, I can assure you. It was like drinking a whole different beer. The carbonation struggled against the other flavors that had a newfound potency. Most pronounced was the revivified lactic sour which took on mouth puckering proportions. The fruity esters took their rightful place near the top of the flavor heap with the orange zest receiving a boost as well. Perhaps most tasteful to me was that the coriander went from being barely discernible to glaringly obvious. I enjoy coriander very much and thought it was in harmony here with the sourness and fruity flavors.

The beer finished dry with the sour trailing off leaving a slight blood orange tartness behind to meld with some mild Noble hop spiciness. Considering that the beer's head disappeared in no time flat, I was unsurprised that my glass was left ohne Schaumhaftvermoegen. Perhaps citric acid inhibits protein foam building. Or some such thing.

Once Orange You Glad? warms up a bit and reaches beerlibrium, it is a light, refreshing (5.4% A.B.V.) blend of fruity flavors complemented by sour and some spice. It's just a really nice mix. I do wish that I was able to taste the grains more, however. The emphasis here is clearly not on the malt but I do think it would have benefitted from a bit more of a bready base. Still, this was a rather tasty brew.

Junk food pairing: Orange You Glad? has a lot going on. Ergo you are going to want a junk food that is up to the test. I recommend some Cheez-It Extra Toasty crackers smothered in Sharp Cheddar Easy Cheese. I love the surplus Maillard reaction toasty goodness of the crackers and you get extra processed cheese food product to pierce the cornucopia of flavors in the beer.

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01 September, 2015

A Sour, Boozy Blitzkrieg: Yuzu by New Belgium Brewing

I now go from imperial pilsner to imperial Berliner Weisse.

My bottle of New Belgium's Yuzu was packaged in June 2013. However, New Belgium also tells me that Yuzu is "Delicious now and differently delicious later." I'm not sure that they were thinking two years later but I feel better now for having let the bottle sit in my basement for a stretch.

Perhaps like me when I first saw the bottle in the store you are asking, "What is a yuzu?" The yuzu is a Japanese citrus fruit that has a tart flavor. New Belgium describes the taste as being a cross between grapefruit and orange. This was, as best as I can recall, my initial encounter with yuzu. On paper it sounds like pairing the venerable Japanese fruit with Germany's renowned sour wheat beer is a match made im Himmel.

Yuzu pours a light gold and is cloudy. This "Champagne of the North" from Colorado is as effervescent as all get out. My pour produced a big, foamy white head which was slow to dissipate. Furthermore there were bubbles galore forming at the bottom of my glass and then making their way upwards. With its light color and all those bubbles, Yuzu just looked like summer in a glass.

My nose first caught a lemony tartness from the Lactobacillus followed by a tropical fruit aroma. I can't really assign a specific fruit to it but it was sweet and rather sharp as opposed to being mellow and earthy. The aroma was just a generic tropical fruit smell kind of in the same way that Blue Moon ice cream is a generic fruit smell. You know it when you smell it. There was also a hint of grain in there, likely the wheat.

When I dared take a swig, I immediately tasted bread – the wheat – which was odd. A fruity tartness came next which I take to have been my introduction to the yuzu. It was moderately strong and not as sharp as the tartness one associates with Lactobacillius. Speaking of which, there was also some lemony tartness from the lacto. The carbonation was generous and full here lending a bit of dryness and, I would imagine, added to the overall tartness of the beer. A malty sweetness became more apparent as the beer warmed. Lastly I caught what I think of as medicinal flavor which is usually caused by a phenol of some ilk. I suppose I'd label this as an off flavor but it wasn't overpowering and it certainly didn't ruin the beer.

Yuzu finishes with some of that omnipresent tartness as well as an alcohol burn. There was just a smidgeon of some herbal/grassy hops there as well to dry it out.

At the end I was left with some fine Schaumhaftvermoegen on my glass and a bit of a buzz. Yuzu's light body belies its 8% A.B.V. Part of what made this beer so easy to drink was that it wasn't very sour. The Lactobacillus' flavor was rather restrained and I caught no funkiness from the brettanomyces that New Belgium notes as being in the brew. Not having drunk any Yuzu back in 2013 I am unsure if the restrained sourness here was simply the beer being differently delicious later or whether this was situation from the beginning. Either way I really enjoyed the tart citrus flavors that the yuzu brought to the table. I think they commingled with the malt to produce something a bit sweeter than the lacto sour and added a nice layer to the already complex elixir.

Junk food pairing: Yuzu is a big beer with some bold flavors so you'll need some equally complex junk food to go with it. I heartily recommend Flamin Hot Limón Cheetos dipped in guacamole. This will provide a hint of complementary citrus flavor but mostly you get a Maginot Line of mellow, creamy tasting fat, cheese, and fried cornmeal that dares Yuzu to penetrate it with its sour, boozy blitzkrieg.

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|| Palmer, 2:26 PM || link || (0) comments |

Beera Incognita: Pilo by Lakefront Brewery

I seem to have hit the brews from last summer section of my stash of beer that lies on my basement floor.

Pilo (pee-low? pie-low?) was the ninth release in Lakefront's My Turn series in which employees of the brewery get to design the beer they've been pining for. Chris Pilo is, as near as I can determine, the Production Control & Safety Coordinator at Lakefront and it was his desire to have an imperial pilsner. And so it was done. Pilo came out some time last summer.

I kept the bottle in my basement so it remained fairly cool and out of the direct path of the skunk-inducing rays of that refulgent orb in the sky. Considering the storage conditions and the beer's potency, it is an imperial beer, after all, I didn't expect the flavor to have degraded that much.

My photo isn't too bad this time around so you can see that Pilo pours a light gold color and was a little bit cloudy. My pour resulted in a nice fluffy white head, though it didn't last very long. There were lots of bubbles going up the glass.

My Pilo didn't have a whole lot going for it on the nose. I caught a citrus smell as well as waves of amber grain aroma. The citrus surprised me and I wasn't sure if some West Coast aromatic hops were used or whether my nose had gone awry because I was expecting more of a Noble hop aroma to be present. I don't consider this to be a defect as the beer was not fresh and pilsners deserve more love than I was able to give to Pilo.

The expected hoppiness ended up on my tongue rather than in my nose. There was a distinct spicy hoppiness to go along with the grainy flavor and a syrupy sweetness that tasted of bread dough and apricot. All those bubbles in the glass added plenty of fizziness and a hint of dryness too. The sweetness gave the beer a medium-heavy body. While the requisite hop flavor was present, there just wasn't enough to cut through the rather thick sweetness. Again, I cannot say if the beer was brewed with less hop flavor than I expected or if it had faded with age.

Pilo finished dry with a lasting herbal hop bitterness. My glass was patterned with a goodly amount of Schaumhaftvermoegen.

It is difficult to judge Pilo because of the age of my bottle and my ignorance of the imperial pilsner style. An imperial German pils? Or a Bohemian? Or another version of the pilsner? On the other hand I would expect a pils of the imperial variety to simply have had more hop flavor. Pilo had the hoppiness of a normal German pilsner, by my tongue, so there should have been more of that spicy bitterness. My guess is that this had a lot to do with age so I am not counting this as a strike against the brew.

More difficult for me is the extreme malty sweetness. A pilsner, to my mind, should have malt flavors that are cracker-like and biscuity instead of doughy and sweet. Pilo tastes clean in the sense that there aren't any fruity esters but it just doesn't have that sharp, crisp flavor going. I can't honestly say that I've had any imperial pilsners before. I may have but I can't recall them so I'm in beera incognita here. I would expect an imperial pilsner to have some malt sweetness but here is just seems to be a bit overly abundant even when considering the beer's age. It was more like a well-hopped Märzen than a pilsner.

Pilo is a big beer at 8% A.B.V. yet it hides the alcohol well. I didn't get a burn as one might expect. Perhaps I was just too occupied with the abundant malt sweetness and relative paucity of hop bitterness. Regardless, I enjoyed Pilo. It could have used a bit more hoppiness but I'd bet that it would have been there a year ago. And the malt sweetness wasn't cloying as there was still some hops to be had and plenty of carbonation too. Not an ideal summer thirst quencher but it hit the spot as I sipped it out on my porch.

Junk food pairing: If you have any Pilo at your disposal then drink it now and pair it with something spicy like Snyder's Hot Buffalo Wing Pretzel Pieces or a bag of Flamin Hot Cheetos. Let all the fizz and booze wash the spice away.

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|| Palmer, 12:05 PM || link || (0) comments |