New England IPA & Trash Panda

One of the biggest trends in beer, especially over the last year-plus, has been the proliferation of New England IPA, an extremely hazy, unfiltered, juicy version of the American IPA and Double IPA styles that have taken over craft brewing.  Until about three weeks ago, the state of Arkansas had not seen a major local example, but that changed when Lost Forty Brewing in Little Rock released its Trash Panda IPA.

So what’s the story on this style?  Largely a regional variation of the standard American IPA for many years, the general consensus is that NEIPA originated at The Alchemist Brewery in Stowe, Vermont with its now-highly regarded Heady Topper.  For a long time the #1 rated beer on BeerAdvocate (and currently chiming in at #9), the unfiltered, slightly hazy, tropical juice bomb of an IPA would now be considered a very restrained version of the style, much like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale may seem compared to more hop-forward and bitter American Pale Ales.

Many of the most well-known and highly rated version of the NEIPA are now extraordinarily hazy, cloudy, and thick, bearing a very close resemblance to orange juice or pineapple juice.  Fittingly, that tends to be pretty similar to the flavor profile, as big dank tropical and citrus hops are the stars in these beers.  And though that milkshake-like appearance may seem a bit off-putting on paper, the aromas coming off the best examples of these beers make them impossible to turn down.  Packing all that hop aroma and flavor, and really dialing back a lot of the typical bitterness of an IPA, makes for an irresistible beverage.  That said, these are not the lightest of beers, and you may find yourself feeling a bit full after a pint or two.

So getting back to the here and now, a very important aspect of the New England IPA is that it really should be enjoyed fresh.  The cloudiness settles out, the hops age quickly, the aromas fade, and what was once irresistible gets a lot less exciting.  Though there are many incredible versions of this beer out there (I count 5 in the top 10 on Beer Advocate, and 11 in the top 20, with seven of those from Tree House Brewing in Massachusetts), short of trading via mail or ordering online from one of the few sites that ship to us, it was very difficult to get a fresh example anywhere in Arkansas, if then.

Lost Forty’s Trash Panda IPA, named after the ring-eyed varmint you might find sifting through last night’s rib-bones if you walk outside at the wrong time, is the first large-scale production of New England IPA in the state, and it doesn’t disappoint.  I’ve had this beer twice now, once at the Great Arkansas Beer Festival and once at Big Orange Midtown, and the glass of pineapple juice-like liquid set in front of me yielded tropical aromas of mango, melon, tangerine, and of course pineapple, as well as a certain green leafy substance, and the flavor profile matched. And though this beer looks heavy, it actually drinks fairly light and easy, with only moderate bitterness to create balance. 

Hopefully this is the first of many examples we see in the area (Edit: On a smaller scale, a big nod to Rebel Kettle for variations they've done on this style).  And remember, these are best enjoyed as close to the source as possible, so get it on tap if you can, in a growler or crowler for immediate consumption or from a can that hasn’t been sitting around for long, for the best results.

JAB

8/7/17

Guided Tastings: What Does That Mean?

You’ve seen it here on my website and in the ads that may have directed you here: Guided Tastings.  In Home Tastings.  Q&A Sessions.  Sounds cool, but maybe abstract as a concept since there aren’t a ton of people offering these.  So, here’s an explanation for an in-home, guided tasting, provided by Jeremy Bruner, Certified Cicerone®.

My job is first and foremost to be an educator, so a guided tasting is an opportunity for me to teach, and for you, the customer, to learn as much about beer as possible in the window of time we arrange.  In the typical tasting session, which runs about two hours, I will guide you and your friends through several different beers and, simply put, help you learn more about them.  These can be a variety of different styles, from several different countries, all by the same brewery, or multiple examples of a style you already know and love; it’s really up to YOU what it will be.  You can try 10 two-ounce samples, or 4 eight-ounce samples, or even go deep on a single beer.  Again, it’s up to YOU.

While you’re tasting, I’ll be teaching you how to evaluate and talk about beer, so that you can apply what you learn to your own sampling later on, and know what to look for when you order a beer next time you’re out.   We’ll talk about the history of the style and its common characteristics, how it’s made, why it’s famous, what kind of food it pairs best with, as well as about the breweries that make it and the specific beers in hand.  And of course, any questions you have, I will answer—many times that’s the most interesting part of the night, when even the teacher might learn something new!

Pricing on these events is typically on a per person basis, which decreases based on the number of people in your group.  I provide the glassware and any other supplies needed to enjoy the tasting.  If you’re coordinating with dinner/snacks, I can help you select the best accompaniments for the cuisine involved.  Note that the customer is responsible for purchasing the beer via direct reimbursement (I will purchase the beer, you’ll pay me back at direct cost), in addition to the tasting charge for my services.  I can work with you to make this happen at just about any budget, so please contact me to discuss specifics, and/or if you have questions that aren’t answered here.  My fees for a two-hour session start at $100 for a small group, less than your total tabs at the bar on an average Friday night!

Contact me through the website, at Jeremy@InfiniteBruner.com, or call/text 501-932-7777 for more information!

SB 284

You may have heard about a bill recently introduced in the Arkansas State Senate, and subsequently passed and sent to the Arkansas House of Representatives, which will establish a new permit class for the sale of wine at grocery stores.  On its face, this bill seems innocuous enough, and certainly seems to be one that should garner support from the average wine drinker in the State.  There is a case to be made that the consumer should have as much access as possible to ANY beer, wine, or spirit they wish to purchase.  My friends and associates in the retail liquor industry make the counter-argument that allowing additional alcohol sales in grocery stores will create unfair competition with liquor stores, which are legally prohibited from selling groceries, and I also believe that is a fair stance.  I tend to side with job creation/maintenance and keeping Arkansas dollars in the state, versus funneling them to large corporations and their shareholders, so a reasonable guess could be made as to my leanings on the *substance* of the bill.

Of course, no legislation exists in a vacuum, and the back-room workings on SB 284 are of as much, if not more, concern as the legislation itself.  The bill is heavily backed by (and one might presume, at least partially written by) Wal-Mart, and sponsored by a senator from Northwest Arkansas; again, this is not surprising, as one would expect a major corporation to do its best to maximize dollars spent and profits earned, and for a local politician to support the local corporation that probably helped support his election.  A short history lesson tells us that, as usual, it’s more complicated.

Efforts to create ballot initiatives to “go wet” in several dry counties, including my home of Faulkner County, have been heavily backed by Wal-Mart in the past.  Those same efforts have been strongly opposed by county line liquor store owners in surrounding areas, particularly in Conway County and Pulaski County, with the primary form of opposition (besides money) being the invocation of Wal-Mart as the corporate beast looking to reap local dollars and… funnel them to corporations.  So, the machinations of SB 284, as described here in the Arkansas Times, are eye-opening if not completely surprising:

“ Sen. Bart Hester is handling the bill for Walmart, which struck a deal with a handful of owners of some major so-called county line retail liquor stores… In return, Walmart said it wouldn’t push for eight years for more local option elections in dry counties from which the county-line liquor stores make huge profits currently.”

Oh boy.  And that’s before you get to the actual language in the agreement, which actually goes much further (see link to article and agreement below).

The only thing clear about this is that it raises a lot of questions that don’t have clear answers.  Wal-Mart, thwarted by the county liners in 2014, has decided to sleep with the enemy in order to further a different set of corporate interests, which is certainly their right.  But what does this mean for the dry counties left in wretched, arid dust?  In eight years (which if you’re counting at home, actually means the 2026 mid-term elections, almost TEN years away), will Wal-Mart be back as a proponent for wet referendums?  If actual citizens decide to attempt a referendum on their own and put the people’s will against county line money (which I think is the more appropriate route, as a grassroots effort, than the Wal-Mart-backed profit-motivated attempts of the past) in the next eight years, is Wal-Mart going to come out *against* that effort, and therefore against their actual best interests?  Will they abandon the county liners once they get what they want right now?

There is an interesting bit of language in the agreement, which reads that the coalition agrees “not to participate in any Statewide, County, Township or Local Option efforts” during the eight-year window.  If this becomes a legally binding document, this language appears to prohibit Wal-Mart and the other entities involved from putting forth efforts, either for or against, any independently initiated referendums. 

I’d of course like to say that it shouldn’t matter, that we should doggedly pursue better choices in our towns and counties, that we can beat back the pounding drums of corporate money, that we don’t need their help to increase our options in places like Faulkner County.  Our ability to learn, our ability to try new things, our ability to serve, our ability to make our own adult decisions, are all hindered by the status quo, and I would like to think that we could make a difference on our own, without the participation/interference of the Wal-Marts and Krogers.  But we know the reality: money talks, and in this case, the money is huge, and with the passage of this bill will be fully aligned against the people in many parts of our State. 

Because of the agreement that comes along with it, and the clear effort to continue lining the pockets of the county line liquor store owners at the expense of those of us that are forced to pay them and those who will have to compete more directly with grocers, I can’t see this bill, so innocent on its face, as anything other than a direct assault on the very things it pretends to promote: access and choice.

 

The Arkansas Times article referenced can be found here:  http://www.arktimes.com/ArkansasBlog/archives/2017/02/10/the-grocery-store-wine-bill-whiskey-sellers-protest

Included in that link is a document with the specific terms of the agreement referenced above, also here: https://gallery.mailchimp.com/dfbfc56dfe6da08e916c4b2f5/files/a573bec2-802e-4ca3-af13-8320629d0c71/ABRA_agreement.pdf

 

JAB2/14/17

Podcast: Black Dude White Dude 01/15/17

A couple of long-time friends of mine, Todd Cate and Leo Cummings III, started a podcast about a year ago called Black Dude White Dude, and I have to say they have a really cool dynamic.  It doesn't hurt that they actually are my friends, but listening to them sounds like sitting around with buddies and talking about, well, whatever the discussion brings your way.  

They were kind enough to invite me on last week to discuss beer, Infinite Bruner, and various aspects of the beer scene.  As a bonus, I also got to talk about two of my other favorite things: Hamilton and the Chicago Cubs.

Please, please check these guys out, and check out this special episode featuring yours truly.  Set aside some time, we go for awhile!  Link below, or search for Black Dude White Dude on iTunes:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/blackdudewhitedude-08-2016/id1109043660?i=1000380106462&mt=2

JAB - 1/18/17

Beer: An Education

Today I’m excited to talk about something that’s been in the works for a little while, and that I’m finally getting to announce officially!  The news has been out for a couple weeks, but… I will be conducting a class, Introduction to Beer and Beer Service, via the University of Central Arkansas’s Outreach & Community Engagement program, on Tuesday, September 27 from 6-10 pm at the UCA Downtown facility (1105 W. Oak St., Conway.) 

From the beginning of my studying toward certification as a Certified Cicerone® and the subsequent launch of Infinite Bruner, I have consistently discussed education and improvement of the customer experience as my primary reasons for going into this business.  The class I’m offering this fall seeks to accomplish both of these goals.

During the last twelve years, few things have evolved and changed as much as the beer industry, with its huge focus now on craft and local products.  Evidence of craft’s growth is everywhere around us, from the many breweries that have started operations in Arkansas over the last three years, to the new availability of more major brands in our market.  We have the highest number of breweries operating in America since before Prohibition, and 75% of adults live within ten miles of a brewery (though not in Conway... yet!) With that boom, the amount of information and product out there can be overwhelming.  This is where I come in.

Introduction to Beer and Beer Service is designed first and foremost as an educational class geared toward servers, bartenders, and others in the beverage service industry.  Though not affiliated with the Cicerone Certification Program®, the class will be helpful in preparing attendees for the Certified Beer Server exam, the first level in the Program.  Big picture, however, is that by learning more about beer and proper techniques for serving and presentation, attendees will be better able to serve their customers and provide a memorable experience that keeps them coming back for more.  It’s a win for everyone!

Additionally, and equally important, almost everything taught in the class is applicable to drinking beer at home.  From a lesson on different beer styles and their history, to proper glassware and pouring, to learning how to evaluate and discuss beer, this class will improve the connoisseur’s experience with every beer they pour.

One of the things I’m most excited about regarding the class is that we’ve been able to add an evaluation portion, which will include sampling of several styles, discussion of terms and language regarding aroma and flavor, and a takeaway framework for how to learn more about beer through tasting.

If you’re interested, please visit the following links for more information and registration for the class.  See you all on September 27th!

http://uca.edu/outreach/

http://uca.edu/outreach/community-education/

http://uca.edu/outreach/lifestyle-leisure/

https://www.regonline.com/Register/Checkin.aspx?EventID=1857054

JAB 9/5/16

Price Point: It’s Not Them. It’s You.

It’s rare that I actually consider the retail price of beer in my evaluation of the beer itself.  But last night, I had a very different experience: I opened a bottle of a barrel-aged oatmeal stout (nope, not naming names), which I paid $29.99 for back in November, and poured it into my snifter. I then proceeded to drink one of the most unremarkable barrel-aged beers I’ve ever had.  Was it good? Yes, it was decent, drinkable, well-made… but for a $30 beer, no, it did not meet expectations associated with that price tag.  I thought further: if it had only been $20, would I still be disappointed?  I think I still would have been, since that’s apparently my threshold for expectation based on price.  At $10, I would have probably sighed, then moved on to a different beer, never to think of this one again.

Mostly I think it’s disingenuous to think about price when evaluating beer, as I have no way of knowing what a brewer’s actual costs are related to that beer, and therefore have no business trying to determine the fairness of the price.  That said, I have a pretty good idea of the cost drivers that may contribute to more money leaving my pocket in order to get a taste.  Here are a few:

  • Barrel Aging: This one’s obvious; barrel-aging a beer requires maintenance and storage, and often temperature/climate control, for long periods of time, with the financial return to the brewery coming long after the beer was actually brewed.  It’s a given that these beers will likely have actual costs higher than their non-aged brothers, in addition to taking on so’called opportunity cost (profits that could have been made on beer produced more quickly). For breweries with a portfolio containing a large percentage of barrel-aged brews, this will escalate prices even higher, as they will not have as many lower-cost beers with higher profit margins to help offset the costs of barrel-aging.
  • Lagering: This is a less noticeable effect, as it generally won’t send a price tag skyrocketing, but it takes several weeks longer to produce a lager than an ale, due to longer fermentation periods.  Those beers will stay in the tank, or other finishing vessels, longer than their ale sisters. 
  • Ingredients/ABV: Generally, it takes a larger amount of ingredients, namely malt, to reach a higher ABV in a beer, though it can also be done with adjuncts, additional sugars, etc.  Similarly, it logically takes more hops to make a highly-hopped brew.  There are also certain ingredients, namely when it comes to hops, that are very expensive relative to other options.  The Citra hop, which has absolutely boomed over the last few years, is notoriously expensive as the demand far outweighs the supply available to brewers.  A beer that uses a rare, seasonal, or generally pricey ingredient, such as Moody Tongue’s Shaved Black Truffle Pilsner as an extreme example, is obviously going to cost more for the consumer.  Poor harvest years due to droughts, flooding, etc. may also temporarily raise the costs of ingredients, which may or may not be passed along to the consumer.
  • Independence/Size of Brewery: The bigger the brewery, the more resources it will have available, and the more economies of scale it will be able to utilize to keep costs, and therefore prices, low.  Any brewery owned by AB-Inbev has an immediate advantage over your independent, local option, beginning with purchasing power and efficiency of operations.
  • Location of Brewery: Different countries, different states, and different counties and towns for that matter, have wildly varying regulatory and taxation requirements related to the production of alcoholic beverages.  Additionally, distribution channels are hodgepodge even within individual states.  A beer produced in a highly regulated and taxed state may have huge costs attached to it before it’s even in the fermenting vessel.
  • Gypsy Brewing*: Gypsy brewers certainly have many advantages over their brick-and-mortar cousins, namely skipping out on the huge investment of capital necessary to build and license a functioning brewery.  However, they still have to rent space from those breweries, and that expense comes at a premium.  While an existing brewery will factor in usage and space of their own facilities in coming to a final price, when they charge a gypsy brewer they will rarely just try to break even.  In the end, the cost of space and facility usage for brewing a single beer or batch may be significantly higher for a gypsy brewer, by virtue of not owning their own facility.

  • The Experience: Three Floyds Dark Lord and Cigar City Hunaphu are both released as part of a major on-premises festival.  Bourbon County Rate came with a very cool package and an awesome release/pick-up event.  Cantillon is freaking Cantillon.  All of these have something beyond the beer itself to be excited about, whether it be a great bottle share while waiting in line, an awesome collection of beers being served alongside, or being, you know, the best brewery in the world (Cantillon, my opinion).  Price becomes less of a factor when you’re getting something beyond the liquid, tangible or intangible.

  • Prestige: This one’s the kicker, and where breweries tend to get in trouble with the public, especially when their idea of the beer’s/brewery’s prestige level is not matched by the consumer’s view.  Given the success of its KBS, Founders can likely command a higher price for a bomber of its new barrel-aged imperial stout than, say, Pabst might be able to.  The consumer will intrinsically believe that there’s a good chance Founders’ product will be worth the money, given the previous track record.  However, a newer, less-established brewery charging $40 for a four-pack may not get the same benefit of the doubt.  Add on to this the concept we often see in wine, where the higher the price point, the more prestigious the bottle is believed to be, and you have a recipe for disappointment.  I have never tried Fifty Fifty’s Eclipse series, but I tend to assume that if they sell it for $30-plus a bottle and people keep buying it, it must be a pretty damn good beer.

Of course, for every consumer, there’s a different point at which price even comes into play, psychologically, when consuming beer or any other product.  My tipping point tends to run around $10 for a single 12 ounce bottle, or $20 for a bomber of 750 milliliter bottle, as noted previously.  For many people that number may be significantly lower, and if you’re a big fan of barrel-aged sours, for example, especially the ones that are actually produced in Belgium, those numbers better be higher!  This threshold can get even bigger for a beer that I already know I love—there’s probably not a viable price point at which I wouldn’t buy at least one bottle of Bourbon County Stout, and the price of a bottle of Rare this year seemed (mostly) reasonable.  If I’d made it in via the lottery, I was prepared to buy my allotment, without hesitation.  Going back to the original point, though, if I felt like it was worth buying the beer, period, it rarely ever would come into mind later when drinking the beer. 

 So back to that barrel aged stout that led all this off: instead of disappointment in the beer, I initially actually felt ANGER. Like I’d been gouged, taken for a ride.  Now I will say that I generally really like the brewer of this beer, and doubt they set out to short-change me.  But I will also say that I doubt I’ll ever drink a beer they make without thinking of the $30 (plus tax!) I spent on a beer that I, fairly or unfairly, felt didn’t warrant the price tag.

And there’s the rub.  The flavor, the aroma, the mouthfeel, and the appearance of a beer, on their own merits, have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH HOW MUCH THAT BEER COST TO MAKE!  Price is certainly often a function of quality (see “Prestige” above), but in the end, it’s a function of the costs involved in making the product and the desired profit margin on the product and on the brewery’s portfolio as a whole.  This brewery used a lot of malt and oats to make an oatmeal stout.  They used water that is increasingly precious in the area in which they produce the beer.  They aged it in a barrel that took up space in a climate-controlled facility that could have been used for other, more profitable ventures.  They packaged the beer and marketed it.  I may think it tasted like a $10 beer, but their cost accounting records very likely would not agree.  To reiterate, I have no idea what brewer’s costs are, even though I can make some reasonable guesses.  And I have to doubt that they put that kind of effort into making a shitty beer, and regardless of the outcome I still know that costs have to be recouped.  Unless the final product was infected, or in some other way unfit for consumption, they have to, as a business, at least try to recoup those costs.  It becomes harder and harder to truly be angry the further I go down that rabbit hole. 

So that brings me back to the original decision to purchase the beer.  I felt like I could take a chance on it because of my familiarity with the brewery, the style, and of course the capacity for my bank account to absorb the hit.  If you feel like you can afford to take a chance on a given brew, at the price point at which it’s being sold, then buy it! And then forget about it when it comes to evaluation of the beer itself.  If you are tasting a beer and THEN getting angry about the price, the beer may not be the actual problem.  Disappointment, sure, but if anger is the emotion you’re feeling (and holding on to) about a beer you just didn’t like… It’s not them. It’s you.

JAB - 4/24/16

*Note: The section on gypsy brewing did not appear in the original post, and was added on 4/28/16.

25 Beers of Christmas: Barrel Aged Old Ruffian

Great Divide – Barrel Aged Old Ruffian

American Barleywine

10.2% ABV

Great Divide Brewing Co. – Denver, Colorado

 

I cannot think of a better beer to celebrate a long Christmas Day with family, with many gifts, rich foods, and hopefully a warm fire (though not this year), than Great Divide’s Barrel Aged Old Ruffian, an American Barleywine that drinks like an English one.

This deep copper brew pours somewhat thick, though it has very high clarity, and a half-inch of sudsy light tan foam builds on top.  The aromas are incredible and immaculate, with raisins, figs, cinnamon apples, tons of vanilla, and candied apricot.  Rich, thick toffee and caramel provide the backbone.  The beer is boozy and warm with sherry and alcohol notes.  If they made this as a candle, I’d buy them by the case.  The taste is of caramel and toffee and lots of vanilla, with some oaky, boozy notes, and again figs and raisins, with a vinous, sherry-like flavor.  It is full-bodied with medium-low carbonation, and sweet up front with a moderately bitter finish.  This is a highly hopped beer, ringing at 90-plus IBUs, but the barrel aging smooths out a lot of the hop flavor and bitterness.  Barrel Aged Old Ruffian is as close to a perfect beer as I have had.

This beer, along with most Barleywines, will pair best with cheese: blues, funky goats, and Stilton or Roquefort are all excellent options.  Rich beef or roasted pork dishes may be able to stand up to them as well, as will caramelized desserts like crème brulee.  Pour this beer at 55-60 degrees into a snifter, chalice, goblet, or a large wine glass, something you can cup in your hand to continue warming the beer as you drink.

Great Divide has no shortage of other great products, including the original Old Ruffian, which really accentuates the hop profile more than this barrel-aged version, as noted above.  Its Yeti line of imperial stouts, including the original Yeti, Oak Aged, Espresso Oak-Aged, and Chocolate Oak Aged, and Oatmeal versions (along with the now retired Belgian version, which I adored) are all spectacular.  Great Divide’s Titan IPA and Hercules Double IPA, along with its Hibernation old ale, are all well-regarded.  These beers are available in around 30 states, which unfortunately do not include Arkansas at this time, but does include most major markets.  Barrel Aged Old Ruffian has been somewhat limited in the past, but I have started to see it more and more on shelves everywhere.

One note that I hate to need to add: I believe the ABV of this beer used to be higher, around 12.7%, and I remember it with that higher ABV and a fuller, thicker body and richer nose than the bottle I drank yesterday.  I don’t know if it’s a permanent change or just character of this batch; if a permanent change to create wider availability, I think that would be a mistake, but as of this writing, I don’t have the info to discuss any further.  Still a fantastic beer and one I’m proud to cap off this countdown!

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and so on to all of you who followed along!

JAB – 12/26/15

25 Beers of Christmas: Oude Gueuze Tilquin a L’Ancienne

Oude Gueuze Tilquin a L’Ancienne

Gueuze (Lambic)

6.4% ABV

Gueuzerie Tilquin – Rebecq-Rognon, Belgium

 

For several centuries, brewers in Belgium’s Senne Valley have created spontaneously fermented beers, allowing wild yeast and bacteria to react with their mash in open containers to create funky, sour lambics.  These beers are hopped only for preservative effect, and focus on the wheat malt and exotic yeast and bacteria strains that give them their final character.  Traditional lambic is relatively uncarbonated, but blending young versions with aged versions creates a secondary fermentation and related carbonation: that final product is Gueuze.

Many brewers blend only their own lambics to build a Gueuze, but Gueuzerie Tilquin obtains some of the best lambics in Belgium to create their blend. Cantillon, Boon, and Lindemans, among many others, all contribute their outstanding lambics to the mix.  The final product is a beer that champagne lovers should enjoy immensely, as it is sparkly and effervescent, fruity and refreshing.  Although this is a Christmas list, Oude Gueuze Tilquin is the perfect New Years Eve beer.

This beer pours a darker gold, hazy from the wheat in the grist, with ruby/pink highlights.  An inch-plus of pinkish white foam, craggy and thick, lingers atop the beer.   The nose is a very clear funky, barnyard character, with sweet, fruity notes from the yeast and a light impression of cherry or raspberry.  The taste includes bracing acidity, hay, and wild berries, Sauvignon blanc and Brettanomyces, with a light tinge of green apple.  This beer has extremely high carbonation, very dry and refreshing, with little aftertaste. The acidity presents as tart but not puckering.

A stange glass, which is a taller, narrow cylinder, is traditional for lambics and Gueuze, though a snifter or tulip will also work great.  These beers should be poured around 45-50 degrees, though a little cooler won’t hurt as the beer will warm as you drink.  Watch the speed of the pour as these develop a big foam stand rather quickly.

The dryness and carbonation of Gueuze makes it a great partner for seafood, even oily fish or fried preparations. It’s most at home with traditional Belgian dishes like moules frites, aka steamed mussels and fries, escargot, and scallops.  Terrines, pates, sausages, and tangy cheeses will also contrast or match with the acidity of the beer.

As of this writing, I have not tried any of Tilquin’s other products, though its Oude Quetsche, a fruit lambic, is also fairly popular.  Tilquin is distributed in 29 states across the U.S. and the District of Columbia, and luckily that has included Arkansas and Illinois, the two states I’ve called home.

If you have someone in your life who says they just can’t get into beer, I say that this is the one they should try; it may just bring them around.

It’s Christmas Eve, y’all!  See you with #1 sometime tomorrow!

JAB – 12/24/1

25 Beers of Christmas: Bourbon County Brand Stout

Goose Island – Bourbon County Brand Stout

Imperial Stout

13.8% ABV (2015)

Goose Island Beer Co. – Chicago, Illinois

 

It’s nearly impossible now, in the Year of Our Lord 2015, to be a beer fan and not feel inundated with discussion and marketing of Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout and its variants.  Considering that this beer used to sit on shelves for months, readily available on tap at the brewpubs throughout the year, this is both amazing and, for many people (including me) quite infuriating.  To this day, BCBS is my favorite beer in the world, but the great lengths one must go to in order to acquire a decent quantity does lessen my enjoyment… at least until I get that first taste of the year, soon after its Black Friday release.

This could not be a proper 25 Beers of Christmas list from Infinite Bruner if it didn’t include Bourbon County, as it has been an integral part of my holiday experience for many years now.  From bringing it home to my Arkansas family at Christmas in 2007, to enjoying it or its variants while wrapping gifts almost every year, to enjoying either a BCBS or the Bourbon County Brand Barleywine on Christmas Eve for the last several years, it is a constant in my recent memories of the season. 

BCBS pours jet black, inky like motor oil, with thin, deep brown lacing and bubbles residing atop the beer.  The aroma is oak, vanilla, deep milk chocolate, bourbon, and a slight roastiness.  The taste is strong with bourbon, contributing a warming feeling throughout, with vanilla, maple syrup, bitter chocolate, and low earthy hop notes.  The beer is highly bitter on the finish, with a boozy bite.  Carbonation is quite high, though within the thick, massive body it feels more moderate.  The high bitterness melds with the high residual sweetness to create a complex balance.  When fresh, this beer has typically had a bit of an alcohol burn, though the 2014 and 2015 versions have eliminated a lot of that for a much smoother drinking experience. I, for one, miss that flash of hotness from the previous versions.

Bourbon County Brand Stout should be poured at 55-60 degrees (if you can stand to wait that long) and I have to recommend a snifter as the proper glass, though I have used a large red wine glass (globe shaped, inward-rounding lip) as a substitute before, which basically just serves as a giant snifter.  This beer is also a prime candidate for aging, as the alcohol and bitterness will mellow over time and different flavors and aromas will accentuate, ebbing in and out of prominence.  The max time per the bottle is five years, but I have a feeling these will last much, much longer.   However, if you only obtain a limited quantity, drink it fresh, as the brewer intended!

Most imperial stouts, especially barrel-aged ones, require intense desserts to match, but Bourbon County is a beast unto itself, and only the richest chocolate will survive.  A chocolate lava cake, “hot chocolate” from Mindy’s Hot Chocolate, a Mexican dark chocolate torte all will pair well, but a chocolate chip cookie most certainly will be obliterated.  I, for one, almost always drink this beer alone, since it’s as big of a calorie-bomb and sugar-bomb as any of the treats mentioned above.

Goose Island’s beers are available just about everywhere in the U.S., and Bourbon County (in theory) can be as well, but may be very difficult to find due to the limited quantity produced.  Several variants are also made, with the most widely available being a Coffee version and a Barleywine aged in the same oak barrels. 

We’ve only got two beers left in the countdown after today! Look for them both on Christmas Eve, as I don’t expect any of you to be logging on to Infinite Bruner on Christmas Day.  You should be spending time with your families and, of course, drinking beer!

JAB – 12/23/15

25 Beers of Christmas: #4

Boulevard – Tank 7

Saison / Farmhouse Ale

8.5% ABV

Boulevard Brewing Co. – Kansas City, Missouri

 

Boulevard Brewing makes its second appearance on the countdown with, simply put, one of the best beers made in America, and one that’s quickly becoming a flagship of the brewery.  When I was in Kansas City over the summer for a bachelor party and Boulevardia, Tank 7 was on tap just about everywhere I went (and I mean Ev. Er. Y. Where.), and it was nearly impossible to turn down at least one glass.

Tank 7 is deep gold with a light orange tint, with a lot of haze but no sediment, clearing as the beer settles.  An inch-plus of pure white bubbly foam sits on top and lasts a while.  The nose is lightly doughy malt and then a blast of fruit hop aromas: grapefruit, lemon, mango, papaya, honeydew, and lime, with the mango most prominent.  There are strong peppery-spicy phenols from the Saison yeast.  The flavor profile is similar, with mango and papaya most prominent and a backing of lemon-lime citrus.  The peppery phenols are high in the mix.  All very complex and very bright.  The beer is extraordinarily dry, well-attenuated, with enough sweetness up front to hold up the big hop bite on the back end.  The deceptively big body is almost hidden by the dryness and carbonation, allowing this beer to sneak up and kick you sideways.  This stands with any of the best Belgian-made Saisons.

Saisons will pair well with just about any food, with some of the best being fatty terrines, pates, and sausages, along with rich cheeses.  Fresh seafood, including sushi, will be a great match along as the fish is not too delicate (the carbonation may overwhelm it then.)  Since this beer has higher alcohol and body and huge carbonation, even richer versions of any of the above (sushi with cream or mayo-based sauces, spicier sausages, etc.) will make for a fantastic pairing.  This beer backs down to no one and no thing!

Tank 7 should be poured into a tulip or chalice at about 45-50 degrees, and it tends to be foamy, so pour slowly!

Boulevard continues to be a phenomenal interpreter of Belgian styles, and their business relationship with Duvel Moortgat is a perfect partnership.  Read about other Boulevard beers at entry #23, which discusses their Bourbon Barrel Quad and Sixth Glass, both phenomenal as well.

JAB – 12/22/15

25 Beers of Christmas: #5

Bell’s Black Note Stout

Imperial Stout

11.4% ABV

Bell’s Brewery Inc. – Kalamazoo, Michigan

 

Thanks to the influence of Bourbon County Stout and many barrel-aged imperial stouts since that one, including the beer we’re about to discuss, there is no shortage (I’d call it a gluttony, but why talk about sin the week of Christmas?) of massive, bourbon barrel-aged, imperials out there to choose from.  Bell’s Black Note Stout has been around for about a decade, and it’s a testament to its quality that it continues to stand out amongst the field.  As we begin the final countdown to Christmas Day, I’m pleased to discuss in further detail one of the beers I plan to open this week, after a couple years in the cellar: Again, today’s beer is Bell’s Brewery’s barrel-aged beauty, Black Note Stout.

Black Note is a phenomenal, balanced, complex barrel-aged stout.  My gold standard is the above-discussed Bourbon County Stout, and the malt and hops are much more balanced with the alcohol here than with BCS—which is not to say I like Black Note better, just that it is more balanced.  It pours jet black, with a thin brown head that disappears immediately, leaving a glass full of black motor oil.  There’s tons of vanilla, chocolate, and mild oak on the nose, along with some boozy warmth.  The flavor is similar, with vanilla, chocolate malt (the grain, not the dessert), hints of coffee/espresso, and some moderate burnt flavors (roasted malts).  Caramelization, bourbon, and molasses, all well balanced.  Despite everything going on, Black Note is milky, silky, very sweet, with a ton of bitterness and roasted/burnt notes on the finish.  An exhilarating drinking experience.

To make sure you get to smell and taste and see (and hear?) everything going on with this beer, be sure and pour it at 50-55 degrees into a snifter or goblet, something with an inward curve at the top of the glass to hold those aromas in.  Like our other imperial stouts, this one needs a rich chocolate dessert to match up with.  If that dessert has a coffee or vanilla element to it, even better.  You know those Oreo truffles that are basically Oreos and cream cheese rolled in ball and dipped in chocolate bark?  Those would be money here.

Black Note Stout can be somewhat difficult to get your hands on if you don’t know when to look for it; I lucked into it at a store that tends to hold bottles back and discreetly put them on the shelf a few months after the initial release.  From what I can tell Bell’s is available in about 25 states, mostly east of the Mississippi (MN, IA, MO, ND, AZ, and CA not withstanding), though I did see officially last week that they will be expanding into Louisiana, Mississippi, and most importantly ARKANSAS within the next year.

Bell’s makes so many other great beers that it will be difficult to list them here.  Two Hearted, their IPA, is very highly regarded, as is their Double IPA Hopslam, and their summer American Pale Wheat Ale, Oberon.  All of their stouts are fantastic, including Expedition, Kalamazoo, Special Double Cream, and Java Stout.  Bell’s Oarsman, a Berliner Weisse, is also excellent.  There are many more that are worth a taste, so basically if you see a beer with Bell’s name on it, give it a whirl.

The part of the concert where we play the biggest hits has officially started, so stay turned for #4 through #1 in the next few days!

JAB – 12/21/15

25 Beers of Christmas: #6

Fuller’s ESB

Extra Special Bitter (ESB)

5.9% ABV

Fuller Smith & Turner PLC – London, England

 

One of my greatest travel regrets is spending a week in England in the summer of ’08 and not taking full advantage of the pubs and breweries, and/or not taking note of the experiences I did have.  As such, my foray into British beers when studying for the Certified Cicerone exam was eye-opening, only strengthening the regret that I already felt about that trip. (Disclaimer: Had a GREAT time, otherwise)  Fuller’s ESB, the stronger version of a traditional English bitter, is sublime, the perfect pint to quaff on a hot day or to put away next to a warm fire.

Fuller’s version of the ESB is very traditional, pouring a copper color with high clarity, and an attractive foam stand with very high retention.  You’ll have a beer mustache if you aren’t patient.  Toasty toffee, floral hops with a slight bite, and a very slight impression of peat come through on the nose.  Taste-wise, there’s a strong presence of light caramel and toast, incredibly smooth, with a touch of fruity esters, apples and pears.  Floral hops come through on the second wave, and bitterness is strong but a counter-balance for the maltiness. The finish carries for a long time.  This beer is sudsy, high in carbonation, thick and full on the tongue.

I like to pour this beer fairly cold, 40 degree or so, into a traditional English dimpled pint, though a nonic pint and really even a shaker pint will be fine. 

Fuller’s ESB and other traditional ESBs and bitters will match well with pork chops or tenderloin, roasted chicken and turkey, and other savory dishes with an element of roasting or caramelization.  Because of this, these beers can be a perfect match for your traditional Christmas dinner, as they will pair well with multiple foods on the table without having the ability to overpower them.

Fuller’s beers should be found in any store that carries a decent export / British section, and there are many others from this brewery that are well-known and worth trying.  Fuller’s London Pride is a traditional English pale ale, and London Porter is (you guessed it) an excellent English porter.  Their Vintage Ale is a highly regarded Old Ale, and they also produce 1845, an English strong ale, an IPA, and Fuller’s Chiswick Bitter, an traditional (more mild than ESB) bitter.

Note: My descriptors above, especially related to mouthfeel, refer to the exported bottled version of this beer.

JAB – 12/21/15

25 Beers of Christmas: #7

Moody Brews – Sixes and Sevens

Belgian Dark Strong Ale

10.0% ABV

Moody Brews – Little Rock, AR

 

The second local option in our countdown is a beer I truly fell in love with at first taste, Moody Brews Sixes and Sevens.  At its heart, this dark, delicious beauty is a Belgian Dark Strong Ale, but drinks like a dubbel with elements of British porters and bitters at play as well, making for a unique entry in Central Arkansas market.

Sixes and Sevens pours a dense mahogany, but is the color of red grape juice where the light passes through, with a half-inch of dark tan foamy head.  The aromas are cherry cola and some syrupy fruit, mild chocolate and light toast, along with some earthy hops and slightly spicy yeast notes.  The flavor profile turns things around, with milk chocolate and baking chocolate, a touch of dark fruit, cherries and plums, toast and cola.  Light peppery spice from the yeast, with little hop flavor or bitterness on the back end.  This beer is richly carbonated and full-bodied, giving it an almost-fluffy mouthfeel, and it’s sweet without being cloying, thanks to the carbonation cutting through.  And even though it’s 10+% ABV, you’d never know it (much to your detriment, I think.)  My initial review was that this is “Everything great about porter, Belgian beers, and chocolate dessert rolled into one, the best Arkansas-based beer I’ve had.” 

Pour this beer into a tulip, snifter, chalice, or goblet, at about 50 degrees.  Braised short ribs, country-style (not BBQ) ribs, simple steaks and hamburgers, and balsamic based dishes will go great with it.

Moody Brews is still in its early phases, only producing beers under that label for a little over a year now.  As such, I have only seen it in Arkansas, and primarily on tap, though Sixes and Sevens is bottled.  Moody’s other bottled beer is Half Seas Over, a tropical-inspired Imperial IPA.  I have heard about, but not tried, their Earl Grey Tea-inspired ESB and Belgian saisons.  All would definitely be worth checking out if you come across them.

JAB – 12/19/15

25 Beers of Christmas: #8

Founders – Dirty Bastard

Scotch Ale

8.5% ABV

Founders Brewing – Grand Rapids, MI

 

The Scotch Ale, when executed well, can be a truly wondrous drinking experience.  These are the heavier cousins of the lower-alcohol, lighter-bodied Scottish ales.  With almost zero hop presence, either in aroma, flavor, or bitterness, these are malt-bombs, usually rich, warm, and sweet, but that may also be the downfall.  Many Scotch ales are overly sweet, not malty enough (read: thin), or just plain don’t taste very good for any number of reasons.  However, Founders iteration, Dirty Bastard, is outstanding.

The aroma on this dark brown brew is of caramel, toffee, fresh figs and raisins, and currants or prunes.  Dark raisin bread, freshly baked.  The flavors are similar, with sticky caramel and dark toffee and figs most prominent.  Carbonation is moderate-low, just enough to balance the sweetness of the malts, and the beer has a juicy, lasting finish.  Full-bodied, rich, though lighter than you might expect based on the aroma and appearance.

This and other Scotch ales should be poured just slightly chilled, 55-60 degrees or so, into pretty much any glass, though one that will accentuate the malt aromas is preferable.  A snifter or a chalice would be great, but an English dimpled pint or nonic pint glass might be more traditional. 

Founders is absolutely one of my favorite breweries, with an outstanding lineup of beers that has few rivals.  They are probably best known for the barrel-aged KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout), a much sought-after annual release, but their phenomenal Breakfast Stout is much easier to find and just as good, if not better.  Their All Day IPA, a session beer, and Centennial IPA are great showcases for hops, as is their “Triple IPA”, Devil Dancer and their Black IPA, Dark Penance.  I must mention as well the limited release Backwoods Bastard, which takes everything great about Dirty Bastard and amps it up. And Founders Porter is one of the absolute best, smoothest, most flavorful American Porters on the market.

JAB - 12/18/15

25 Beers of Christmas: #9

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Marzen

Rauchbier / Smoked Beer

5.4% ABV

Brauerei Heller-Trum – Bamberg, Germany

 

Let’s open this entry with a short discussion of Rauchbier, an historic style native to Bamberg, Germany, and the related smoked beers made by other brewers around the globe.  The “smoke” in these beers comes from the malt used in the beer, which is smoked prior to its use in the brewing process.  Rauchbiers exclusively uses beechwood to smoke the malts; smoked beers generally may use any type of wood, ranging from lighter oak or Applewood to intense mesquite.  Executed well, this is a perfect Christmas beer, pairing well with a warm fire and a pipe or cigar, if you’re the type to enjoy one.

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Marzen is a product of the Heller-Trum brewery in Bamberg, and is THE traditional Rauchbier to try, especially if you have never had a smoked beer before.  As indicated by the title, the base beer is a traditional Marzen, well known as the beer of Oktoberfest, which provides a hefty, malty, but neutral palate for the smoked Beechwood to do its work.   This dark amber-brown, very clear beer starts with some mild caramel sweetness, and smoke aromas of pecan and light mesquite are prominent, with a slight impression of bacon.  The smokiness is evident in the flavor profile as well, though the caramel sweetness is also there to provide balance, and some floral Hallertau-like hops make a minor appearance.  I tend to have a difficult time with smoked beers, as the smoke is usually too prominent and in-your-face; this beer, however, is quite balanced, a perfect showcase for the smoked malts.

This is still a traditional German beer, and can be poured at around 45-50 degrees into a pint glass, dimpled pint, or a smaller weizen glass, and be enjoyed tremendously.  Pair this with smoked meats, like BBQ brisket or pork ribs, or Mexican food with smoky chilies or beans.

Heller-Trum produces several other variations on the smoked beer, including Eiche, is doppelbock.  These beers should be found just about anywhere other major German beers can be found (think Weihenstephaner, Ayinger, etc.)

JAB – 12/17/15

25 Beers of Christmas: #10

North Coast – Puck The Beer

Saison

4.00% ABV

North Coast Brewing – Fort Bragg, CA

 

The presence of North Coast’s Puck on this list is the result of the most pleasant drinking surprise I’ve had this year.  I bought a bottle of this beer as part of a pick-6 at a local store, intrigued because of the brewery (whose beers I’ve enjoyed in the past) and the low ABV, which is much less common in Saisons than it was when they were ACTUAL farmhouse ales.  Imagine my joy when this turned out to be the best beer I’ve tried in 2015, and my #2 beer overall (at least per my Beer Advocate ratings.)

I’ll try not be too esoteric or verbose, but it will be difficult with this beer. Puck! is light gold, clear but for a touch of chill haze, and incredibly effervescent with bubbles cascading up, up, up, cresting in an inch-plus of bright white long-lasting foam.  Lemon-lime citrus and peppercorns or grains of paradise on the nose, along with an orange/clementine note and a bit of lemongrass and even Chardonnay grapes greet the drinker’s nose.  Flavors are similar, with the Chardonnay notes even more prominent and the peppery notes from traditional Saison yeast shining.  The entire profile is bright, refreshing, and brisk, as is the mouthfeel due to high carbonation and dryness on the finish, cleansing the palate and leaving you longing for the next sip.  This is about as well as a Saison can be made, very traditional with complex but decipherable aroma and flavor.  An outstanding beer in a saturated style, especially considering it is an American interpretation of a Belgian-French tradition.

Pour this beer, along with any other Saison, into a tulip or chalice at about 45-50 degrees, and watch the light shine through it.  These tend to be foamy, so pour slowly.

Saisons were originally “provision” ales, brewed each fall to be stored and fermented/matured cold over the winter, to be consumed during and following the next year’s harvest.  They will pair well with just about any food, with some of the best being fatty terrines, pates, and sausages, along with rich cheeses.  Fresh seafood, including sushi, will be a great match along as the fish is not too delicate (the carbonation may overwhelm it then.)

North Coast appears to be distributed in all but two states—Wyoming and West Virginia—based on the most recent information I can find.  As such, when Puck The Beer is available (it is in rotating production), it should be wherever other North Coast beers are found.  In addition to Puck, North Coast makes the renowned Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout (and its barrel aged version) and Old Stock Ale.  An Irish stout called Old #38, as well as Le Merle Saison and Scrimshaw Pilsner, are also popular.  Two other Belgian interpretations, Pranqster (Belgian Strong Pale) and Brother Thelonius (Belgian Strong Dark) well-known.

JAB – 12/16/15

 

25 Beers of Christmas: #11

Stone – Enjoy By IPA

American Double IPA

9.4% ABV

Stone Brewing Company – Escondido, CA

 

Let me start this off with a quote from my initial review of this beer, posted to Beer Advocate: “When I think of the quintessential American Double IPA, this is basically what I’m thinking of.”  The first version I had of this was the 02/14/15 one, and I’ve had a couple since, none of which have changed my line on Stone’s Enjoy By IPA as simply the best American DIPA I have tasted.

The conceit of this beer is simple, really; that the freshness of a highly hopped beer, where age is of the most importance due to the fragility of hop aromas and flavors, should be slapped in big print on the bottle, rather than hidden in some Julian code (or something more indecipherable) on the back, never to be found.  The date on the bottle is absolutely the last day on which this beer should represent what Stone intended.

Indeed, what you’ll get out of this light amber, moderately foamed beer is a bomb of grapefruit and bitter citrus hop aromas, backed by grainy-sweet malt and a touch of caramel.  Hop flavors include a ton of grapefruit with a touch of acidic bite, papaya, and lime zest.  Waves of hop bitterness follow, balancing with the strong hop flavors, combining with high carbonation and slight malt sweetness to create a certain paradox: a hop bomb that’s also an incredibly balanced beer.  And don’t let this beer deceive you, because at 9.4% ABV it packs a wallop.

Let me first say that you should under no circumstances drink this beer after the date on the bottle.  Stone releases a new version every couple of months, and that’s the one you should go for.  I have seen a few larger retailers who have the old ones (I’m talking about July's, on shelves right now in December) out, but on sale.  No low price is low enough; if there was ever a time to respect the brewer’s intent, a giant fresh-hop-driven IPA is it.

You can pour Enjoy By IPA at a pretty cold temperature, 40-45 degrees, though you’ll get more of those brilliant hop aromas and flavors if you get closer to the 50 degree range.  And this one’s a pretty easy drinker, so you shouldn’t have to worry about it getting TOO warm.  A tulip glass is perfect for this beer, as is any other glass designed specifically to enhance aromas.

As previously discussed, DIPAs can be difficult for food pairing, simply because they can overwhelm a lot of foods with the hop flavor and especially with the bitterness.  Think very spicy foods, which the bitterness can cut through, as good matches, such as Thai food, Indian food, etc.  Spicy with citrus notes is even better, like hot orange or pineapple sauces or even curries.  This is especially true with Enjoy By, which features those bright, zesty citrus flavors in its profile.

From what I can tell, Stone distributes to all but nine states in the U.S.: Utah, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and, much to my dismay, Arkansas.  However, where their beers can be found, this one should be there.  They are also well known for their Imperial Russian Stout, Ruination Double IPA, and Arrogant Bastard Ale (the line of which has been spun off by Stone into a separate entity as of late 2015.)  They also recently created a second take on the Enjoy By series with an Enjoy AFTER IPA spiked with Brettanomyces; I have one in my cellar that’s off limits until 10/31/16.

JAB – 12/16/1

25 Beers of Christmas: #12

Chimay Grande Reserve (Blue)

Belgian Strong Dark Ale

9.0% ABV

Bieres de Chimay S.A. – Baileux, Belgium

 

We’ve talked previously about the Trappist- and abbey-style beers out of Belgium, which I am particularly partial to, and Chimay is a Trappist producer of the three major styles: Dubbel, Tripel, and Quadrupel or Belgian Strong Dark Ale.  Their dubbel, Chimay Premiere, comes in a red bottle, while their tripel, often known as Chimay Cinq Cents, is notable for its white bottle.  Today’s beer, their Belgian strong dark / quad, is Chimay Grande Reserve, which you’ll find in the blue bottle.  Of the three, this is by far my favorite, though all are excellent.

This mahogany brown, nearly opaque brew with its foamy, sudsy light tan head smells like dark raisins, black cherries, currants, and rich caramel.  You’ll get plums, dark pitted fruit, candi sugar, some herbal-earthy hops, and warm alcohol on the taste.  The high carbonation and full, creamy body with a moderate hop bite lend to an exquisite mouthfeel. 

Chimay Grande Reserve paired well with multiple cheeses I tried with it, including an aged cheddar, creamy Gouda, and a pungent blue.  It’s also incredible on its own, or with savory beef and/or mushroom dishes.

Pour Grande Reserve, and other dark Belgian beers, into a snifter, tulip glass, or chalice, at about 45-50 degrees, and sip slowly.  Chimay’s distribution in the U.S. is pretty wide, and all three of their primary beers should be found anywhere their products are sold.  If you are in Central Arkansas, the single bottle selection at Lake Liquor in Morgan/Maumelle almost always has these beers available, so you can pick up a mixed pack.

JAB – 12/14/15

25 Beers of Christmas: #13

Port Old Viscosity

Imperial Stout

10.0% ABV

Port Brewing - San Marcos, CA

Lucky number 13, and unbelievably the mid-point in our 25 Beers of Christmas countdown, is a beer I truly love, and am very excited to evangelize for tonight.  Port Brewing’s Old Viscosity, a rich, oak-aged imperial stout, is what I believe to be THE best year-round imperial stout on the market (though for now, that market is limited.)  This will be the last imperial stout on the countdown that isn’t a special/seasonal release.  When I lived in Chicago, this was a brew I went back to over and over (and over) again, equally due to its quality and to the fact that it was always available and always priced around $7.99 a bomber. 

The first thing I’ll say is that, despite only being aged on oak, Old Viscosity pours like a long-barrel-aged beer.  It is deep black, thick but not quite oily (despite the name) and has this gorgeous chocolate brown head atop which fades ever so slowly.  The nose is baking chocolate, vanilla, sweet molasses, toffee, and brown sugar, with a whiff of alcohol esters (apple, pear, spice.)  The flavor profile is about the same, with a touch of roasted coffee in the mix.  Some hop bitterness balances out the sweetness up front, but this is all in incredible harmony.  The beer is rich, but only moderately heavy, with medium carbonation, and goes down oh so smooth.

Despite my standard instructions, I pour this beer somewhat cold (40 degrees) and take it in as it evolves and warms.  When I first started drinking this beer, I didn’t know any better than to pour a big imperial stout into a frosted glass, and my fondness of those memories allows me to break the rules a bit here.  Of course, please, for the love of God, leave the frosted glass out of it, and go with a snifter or a large red wine glass, something you can cup in your hand to warm the liquid inside.

I’ll briefly repeat my food pairings, since this is not our first rodeo with imperial stout.  It will take some serious chocolate richness to match up well.  Triple layer chocolate cake, chocolate truffles, rich fudge, chocolate lava cake, etc. Any of those items with an element of a dark, rich fruit, like raspberry. And of course I often like to just drink these on their own, as a dessert (and who says you can’t have dessert any time of day?)

Port Brewing is unfortunately only available in a few markets: California (these and Lost Abbey beers are made in the same brewery in San Marcos), Illinois (Chicago metro), Massachusetts (Boston metro), Colorado, Arizona, Georgia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Washington state.  The good news is that where Port is available, Old Viscosity should be on the shelf year-round, and at the previously mentioned low retail price.

In addition to Old Viscosity, Port Brewing has several other stars in its lineup.  Older Viscosity is the base beer aged in bourbon barrels, and is an annual limited release worth seeking out.  Santa’s Little Helper is another imperial stout with a larger emphasis on coffee and cocoa notes, and its barrel aged version is also fantastic.  I have also enjoyed their brown ale, Board Meeting, and their Anniversary Ale, a double IPA.

Tomorrow we’ll embark on the second half of our journey.  I hope you’ve been enjoying these entries, and the beers discussed, as much as I have!

JAB – 12/13/15

 

25 Beers of Christmas: #14

Ommegang Abbey Ale

Dubbel

8.2% ABV

Brewery Ommegang – Cooperstown, NY

 

Nestled in Cooperstown, New York, just a short drive from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Brewery Ommegang is THE premier brewer of Belgian-style ales in America, and their dubbel, Abbey Ale, is the 12th entry in our 25 Beers of Christmas countdown.

The dubbel is another of the Trappist- and Abbey-style beers from Belgium, originally brewed by (and still brewed by several) monasteries in the region, that were later adopted by secular brewers and led to the separate designations of official “Trappist” beers vs. Abbey beers which emulate those Trappist styles.  Ommegang’s Abbey Ale is a very traditional version of the dubbel style, and stands among the best of its kind.

Abbey Ale pours a dark mahogany with ruby red highlights, with a massive, craggy foam stands that sits atop the beer for a long, long time.  The nose is toffee and brown sugar, with apple and pear, dark cherry pits, and Coca-Cola cake.  Raisins and caramel make an appearance as well.  The flavor is similar, with the cherry and raisin notes taking more precedence, and the cola flavor along with some licorice notes making a strong impression.  It’s thickly carbonated and full-bodied with a moderately dry finish, with just a touch of bitterness to balance some sweetness up front.

The carbonation of a dubbel, as well as its rich, malty, fruity flavors, lend it to some incredible food pairings.  Dark and savory meals including braised short ribs, mushrooms, steak, simple hamburgers, and sausages are all friends of this beer.  The carbonation will help cleanse the palate, as well as scrubbing the salt and fat from the tongue, and the fruitiness will contrast with the richness of the food, in the same way a fruit sauce or chutney might be paired with a savory pork chop.

Dubbels should be poured at anywhere from 45-55 degrees into a snifter or tulip, something with enough room to hold the beer and its massive foam stand without spilling.  This is another style that will develop and evolve as it warms.

Ommegang, again, is a premier producer of Belgian-style ales, and brew several other products that I’m happy to recommend.  Scythe & Sickle, a Biere de Garde, is one of my favorites (though it may not be currently in production), and their Three Philosophers, a traditional quad blended with Liefman’s kriek (a highly regarded cherry lambic), shouldn’t be missed.  Hennepin, a saison, is excellent and has become their flagship beer, and they are also well-known recently for their Game of Thrones tie-in brews.

Brewery Ommegang, as of this writing, distributes to 44 states, the only exclusions of which are in the Northwest (but not the Pacific Northwest) and, oddly, Mississippi.  Abbey Ale should be found anywhere Ommegang beers are sold.

JAB 12/13/15