DEAR BEER

Letters from a beer snob to his drink du jour

DEAR LA FIN DU MONDE,It’s December 21, 2012 and some weather reports are calling for apocalypse today. Is the world actually going to end? Heck, none of us ever really knows for sure that we’re going to wake up tomorrow no matter what day it is. So just in case, I thought I’d spend these possible last moments with the most appropriate beer possible for this occasion, a Canadian delight called La Fin du Monde. (French for “The End of the World”.)
Many a supermarket shelf contains offerings from Québec-based Unibroue, which typically carry dramatic names like “Maudite” (damned) and “Don de Dieu” (gift from God). And of course one of their most popular is La Fin du Monde, a tripel top fermented golden ale brewed with a special spice blend and which even comes with an instructional video.
If this is it for planet Earth then one could do much worse than to spend the last moments watching the fireworks with you, La Fin du Monde. A hoppy floral and citrus aroma leads to a unique and complex flavor from the added spices. The taste is far from overpowering, yet it goes a long way to almost completely mask the 9% alcohol by volume. So warning to the lightweights out there: a few of these downed in short order may leave one feeling like it is la fin du monde indeed.
★★★★
La Fin du Monde. Unibroue, Chambly, Québec, Canada. (9.0% ABV)
DEAR LA FIN DU MONDE,

It’s December 21, 2012 and some weather reports are calling for apocalypse today. Is the world actually going to end? Heck, none of us ever really knows for sure that we’re going to wake up tomorrow no matter what day it is. So just in case, I thought I’d spend these possible last moments with the most appropriate beer possible for this occasion, a Canadian delight called La Fin du Monde. (French for “The End of the World”.)

Many a supermarket shelf contains offerings from Québec-based Unibroue, which typically carry dramatic names like “Maudite” (damned) and “Don de Dieu” (gift from God). And of course one of their most popular is La Fin du Monde, a tripel top fermented golden ale brewed with a special spice blend and which even comes with an instructional video.

If this is it for planet Earth then one could do much worse than to spend the last moments watching the fireworks with you, La Fin du Monde. A hoppy floral and citrus aroma leads to a unique and complex flavor from the added spices. The taste is far from overpowering, yet it goes a long way to almost completely mask the 9% alcohol by volume. So warning to the lightweights out there: a few of these downed in short order may leave one feeling like it is la fin du monde indeed.

★★★★

La Fin du Monde. Unibroue, Chambly, Québec, Canada. (9.0% ABV)

Filed under la fin du monde unibroue beer tripel canada december 21 2012 4stars


DEAR SUPPLICATION,
I like to brag to my friend who works in the beer business about the fancy brews I buy. His usual response is something along the lines of, “Damn it, when are you going to stop screwing around and try something from Russian River?”
If only it were so simple. Santa Rosa, California-based Russian River’s marvelous reputation is widespread but unfortunately its distribution is not. They say their production is at full capacity and they have no plans to expand it anytime soon. So one cannot exactly saunter into their nearest convenience store and walk out with some Russian River. Only a limited number of places carry their stuff, and even then with a rotating stock you’re probably only going to be able to buy one or two varieties at a time.
"Supplication" happened to be one of the brews for sale at one of those places, Wally’s. According to the kind attendant, Supplication was a must-try and was not going to be available for long. It’s a sour brown ale aged in pinot noir barrels for 12 months with sour cherries along with brettanomyces, lactobacillus, and pediococcus added to the barrel. Yes, those last three are bacteria to give it that wonderfully delicious sour taste.
And for all this you can expect to pay about $15 per bottle. Hey, I wonder if that attendant gets paid on commission?
So it’s hard to find and costs about as much as two six-packs of the cheap stuff — definitely not an everyday beer unless you’re some sort of alcoholic version of Mitt Romney. But is it worth it?
Yes, without a shadow of a doubt. A subtle cherry scent carries over into a subdued, delicious flavoring. The first sip is tart and balanced out by the perfect level of sweetness, all with a top-notch brown ale underneath.
Supplication, you’re worth the hype and you’ve set a new standard for sours.
★★★★★
Supplication. Russian River Brewing Co., Santa Rosa, California. (7.0% ABV)

DEAR SUPPLICATION,

I like to brag to my friend who works in the beer business about the fancy brews I buy. His usual response is something along the lines of, “Damn it, when are you going to stop screwing around and try something from Russian River?”

If only it were so simple. Santa Rosa, California-based Russian River’s marvelous reputation is widespread but unfortunately its distribution is not. They say their production is at full capacity and they have no plans to expand it anytime soon. So one cannot exactly saunter into their nearest convenience store and walk out with some Russian River. Only a limited number of places carry their stuff, and even then with a rotating stock you’re probably only going to be able to buy one or two varieties at a time.

"Supplication" happened to be one of the brews for sale at one of those places, Wally’s. According to the kind attendant, Supplication was a must-try and was not going to be available for long. It’s a sour brown ale aged in pinot noir barrels for 12 months with sour cherries along with brettanomyces, lactobacillus, and pediococcus added to the barrel. Yes, those last three are bacteria to give it that wonderfully delicious sour taste.

And for all this you can expect to pay about $15 per bottle. Hey, I wonder if that attendant gets paid on commission?

So it’s hard to find and costs about as much as two six-packs of the cheap stuff — definitely not an everyday beer unless you’re some sort of alcoholic version of Mitt Romney. But is it worth it?

Yes, without a shadow of a doubt. A subtle cherry scent carries over into a subdued, delicious flavoring. The first sip is tart and balanced out by the perfect level of sweetness, all with a top-notch brown ale underneath.

Supplication, you’re worth the hype and you’ve set a new standard for sours.

★★★★★

Supplication. Russian River Brewing Co., Santa Rosa, California. (7.0% ABV)

Filed under 5stars beer russian river sour beer california

DEAR SAMUEL SMITH’S ORGANIC CHERRY ALE,They had a beer tasting at the store last night: sample five beers for a dollar. Sounds awesome, right? Except this week’s theme was California IPAs, and despite being fond enough of beer that I maintain a Tumblr about the stuff, I simply cannot stand IPAs. Even the ones I like, I don’t really like. Those are just the ones I can tolerate without wondering if I’d be better off drinking the other IPA, isopropyl alcohol. (Note: that’s rubbing alcohol, and no I would not be.)
So after downing my flight I needed a chaser and I needed something tasty. So yes, I stooped to buying a fruity beer. But I figured I couldn’t go wrong with you, Samuel Smith’s Organic Cherry Ale, the fruity sibling of one of my favorite beers of all time.
Your cherry-ness is overpowering in the aroma and taste. I was expecting something a little bit subtle. There is nothing subtle here. Fortunately cherries taste great so that was okay with me, except that it made it difficult to fully appreciate the beer underneath. And the cherry flavor lacked the sourness that you’d find in a cherry lambic beer, so it seemed a little incomplete.
I think you work well as a fruity beer, with emphasis on the “fruity” rather than the “beer”. No regrets here.
★★★
Samuel Smith’s Organic Cherry Ale. Samuel Smith’s Brewery, Tadcaster, United Kingdom. (5.1% ABV)
DEAR SAMUEL SMITH’S ORGANIC CHERRY ALE,

They had a beer tasting at the store last night: sample five beers for a dollar. Sounds awesome, right? Except this week’s theme was California IPAs, and despite being fond enough of beer that I maintain a Tumblr about the stuff, I simply cannot stand IPAs. Even the ones I like, I don’t really like. Those are just the ones I can tolerate without wondering if I’d be better off drinking the other IPA, isopropyl alcohol. (Note: that’s rubbing alcohol, and no I would not be.)

So after downing my flight I needed a chaser and I needed something tasty. So yes, I stooped to buying a fruity beer. But I figured I couldn’t go wrong with you, Samuel Smith’s Organic Cherry Ale, the fruity sibling of one of my favorite beers of all time.

Your cherry-ness is overpowering in the aroma and taste. I was expecting something a little bit subtle. There is nothing subtle here. Fortunately cherries taste great so that was okay with me, except that it made it difficult to fully appreciate the beer underneath. And the cherry flavor lacked the sourness that you’d find in a cherry lambic beer, so it seemed a little incomplete.

I think you work well as a fruity beer, with emphasis on the “fruity” rather than the “beer”. No regrets here.

★★★

Samuel Smith’s Organic Cherry Ale. Samuel Smith’s Brewery, Tadcaster, United Kingdom. (5.1% ABV)

Filed under samuel smiths cherry fruit england 3stars beer organic

DEAR MONK’S CAFE FLEMISH SOUR ALE,It’s time for me to confess my newest obsession to the world: a splendid concoction called sour beer.
When I first heard about this “sour beer” I wondered if clever marketers had figured out a way to sell spoiled beer under a new name, but sour beers are actually brewed under a very different process from the start.
The brewers withhold yeast from the wort and instead ferment it by exposing it to wild microflora in the air, a somewhat unpredictable process that results in a brew with a distinctly sour bite.
You, Monk’s Cafe Flemish Sour Ale, are brewed in Belgium as a blend of young and old beer under the name Bios Vlaamse Bourgogne. In the United States you’re distributed as a private-label named for Philadelphia’s Monk’s Cafe, a restaurant and beer house that looks like it might be the best place to browse Belgian brews this side of the Atlantic.
Your prolific soap-like foam and a deep mahogany color are the first two noticeable attributes upon pouring. A very delicate sourness characterizes the taste, which also slightly contains a sweet cherry-like flavor. You are well-carbonated yet thin and smooth in the mouth with no bitterness.
Sour beer won’t be pleasing to every palate out there, but for those who are up for exploring, you are a delicious and fairly economical choice to start with.
★★★★ 
Monk’s Cafe Flemish Sour Ale (a.k.a. Bios Vlaamse Bourgogne). Brouwerij Van Steenberge, Ertveldge, Belgium. (5.5% ABV)
DEAR MONK’S CAFE FLEMISH SOUR ALE,

It’s time for me to confess my newest obsession to the world: a splendid concoction called sour beer.

When I first heard about this “sour beer” I wondered if clever marketers had figured out a way to sell spoiled beer under a new name, but sour beers are actually brewed under a very different process from the start.

The brewers withhold yeast from the wort and instead ferment it by exposing it to wild microflora in the air, a somewhat unpredictable process that results in a brew with a distinctly sour bite.

You, Monk’s Cafe Flemish Sour Ale, are brewed in Belgium as a blend of young and old beer under the name Bios Vlaamse Bourgogne. In the United States you’re distributed as a private-label named for Philadelphia’s Monk’s Cafe, a restaurant and beer house that looks like it might be the best place to browse Belgian brews this side of the Atlantic.

Your prolific soap-like foam and a deep mahogany color are the first two noticeable attributes upon pouring. A very delicate sourness characterizes the taste, which also slightly contains a sweet cherry-like flavor. You are well-carbonated yet thin and smooth in the mouth with no bitterness.

Sour beer won’t be pleasing to every palate out there, but for those who are up for exploring, you are a delicious and fairly economical choice to start with.

★★★★ 

Monk’s Cafe Flemish Sour Ale (a.k.a. Bios Vlaamse Bourgogne). Brouwerij Van Steenberge, Ertveldge, Belgium. (5.5% ABV)

Filed under monks cafe flemish belgium 4stars sour beer beer

DEAR EINSTÖK ICELANDIC TOASTED PORTER,Iceland has won no medals so far at the Summer Olympics in London. Shocking, I know. I checked to see if they had any hope of winning any of the remaining events; apparently Iceland is currently steamrolling the competition in men’s handball and is well on its way to a medal there. Let’s see if Iceland can also medal in beer-making.
Einstök Icelandic Toasted Porter, you come from the Einstök brewery located on Iceland’s northern coast, just 60 miles south of the Arctic Circle. Founded in 2010, Einstök began this year distributing its icy brews here in California. And I for one have a hard time passing up any porters, let alone Icelandic ones with vikings on the front, so home with me you went.
You pour extremely dark with not much foam and a delicate coffee aroma. With a heavy thickness and carbonation, your chocolate porter flavor kicks in right at the end with only some slight bitterness. The flavor, while delicious, also seems to come just short the complexity of the best porters so I can’t give you a perfect score. But you’ve done a great job representing your country and I hope that like a mighty band of Vikings, your bottles soon start to invade shelves and taps all over America.
★★★★
Einstök Icelandic Toasted Porter, Einstök Ölgerđ, Akureyri, Iceland. (6.0% ABV)
DEAR EINSTÖK ICELANDIC TOASTED PORTER,

Iceland has won no medals so far at the Summer Olympics in London. Shocking, I know. I checked to see if they had any hope of winning any of the remaining events; apparently Iceland is currently steamrolling the competition in men’s handball and is well on its way to a medal there. Let’s see if Iceland can also medal in beer-making.

Einstök Icelandic Toasted Porter, you come from the Einstök brewery located on Iceland’s northern coast, just 60 miles south of the Arctic Circle. Founded in 2010, Einstök began this year distributing its icy brews here in California. And I for one have a hard time passing up any porters, let alone Icelandic ones with vikings on the front, so home with me you went.

You pour extremely dark with not much foam and a delicate coffee aroma. With a heavy thickness and carbonation, your chocolate porter flavor kicks in right at the end with only some slight bitterness. The flavor, while delicious, also seems to come just short the complexity of the best porters so I can’t give you a perfect score. But you’ve done a great job representing your country and I hope that like a mighty band of Vikings, your bottles soon start to invade shelves and taps all over America.

★★★★

Einstök Icelandic Toasted Porter, Einstök Ölgerđ, Akureyri, Iceland. (6.0% ABV)

Filed under 4stars einstok iceland porter beer

DEAR HERCULE STOUT,I’ve been having some bad beer luck lately. One flavorless, bitter drink after another was almost making me reconsider my whole beer expedition. I needed a morale boost so I turned to you, Hercule Stout, a Belgian stout produced in the small town of Ellezelles and named after Hercule Poirot, a mustachioed Agatha Christie character from that town who is depicted on the bottle.
You pour almost black with a nice foamy head and from the first sniff to the final gulp, your sweet taste and chocolate-like flavor combine with the perfect level of carbonation to conceal the rather potent 9.0% alcohol by volume being carried along the way. What more could one want?
A sticker on your bottle proudly proclaims the only ingredients as water, barley malt, hops, and yeast. This is all a beer needs to be delicious. Thanks for making it happen, Hercule Stout.
★★★★★
Hercule Stout. Brasserie Ellezelloise, Ellezelles, Belgium. (9.0% ABV)
DEAR HERCULE STOUT,

I’ve been having some bad beer luck lately. One flavorless, bitter drink after another was almost making me reconsider my whole beer expedition. I needed a morale boost so I turned to you, Hercule Stout, a Belgian stout produced in the small town of Ellezelles and named after Hercule Poirot, a mustachioed Agatha Christie character from that town who is depicted on the bottle.

You pour almost black with a nice foamy head and from the first sniff to the final gulp, your sweet taste and chocolate-like flavor combine with the perfect level of carbonation to conceal the rather potent 9.0% alcohol by volume being carried along the way. What more could one want?

A sticker on your bottle proudly proclaims the only ingredients as water, barley malt, hops, and yeast. This is all a beer needs to be delicious. Thanks for making it happen, Hercule Stout.

★★★★★

Hercule Stout. Brasserie Ellezelloise, Ellezelles, Belgium. (9.0% ABV)

Filed under 5stars belgium ellezelloise hercule stout stout beer

DEAR POPULIST,Look at that great selection of bottled brews at the Bootleg Bar, a little warehouse-turned-concert joint in Los Angeles. I could have enjoyed one of my favorites, Delirium Tremens, or I could have tried whatever that espresso stout is, or perhaps I could have sampled that one on the right that has livestock on the front. But instead I chose you off the draft, Populist, an IPA by LA-based microbrewery Eagle Rock Brewery, because you satisfied my two immediate concerns; you were the cheapest and you had a respectable 7.0% alcohol by volume. I also had never heard of beer being brewed in LA and apparently there’s a reason for that; according to their web site Eagle Rock is the first LA-based brewery in over 60 years.
This was a mistake. You were so bitter it was like chewing on grapefruit pith. You had a really skunky flavor that frankly was so off-putting that I quit halfway through the cup. Please note that this is almost unheard of for me; my stubbornness and frugality will usually make me finish anything I’ve paid actual cash money for. But this time I decided to just abandon all hope and do what I should have done all along, which is go for the Tremens.
★
Populist. Eagle Rock Brewery, Los Angeles, California. (7.0% ABV)
DEAR POPULIST,

Look at that great selection of bottled brews at the Bootleg Bar, a little warehouse-turned-concert joint in Los Angeles. I could have enjoyed one of my favorites, Delirium Tremens, or I could have tried whatever that espresso stout is, or perhaps I could have sampled that one on the right that has livestock on the front. But instead I chose you off the draft, Populist, an IPA by LA-based microbrewery Eagle Rock Brewery, because you satisfied my two immediate concerns; you were the cheapest and you had a respectable 7.0% alcohol by volume. I also had never heard of beer being brewed in LA and apparently there’s a reason for that; according to their web site Eagle Rock is the first LA-based brewery in over 60 years.

This was a mistake. You were so bitter it was like chewing on grapefruit pith. You had a really skunky flavor that frankly was so off-putting that I quit halfway through the cup. Please note that this is almost unheard of for me; my stubbornness and frugality will usually make me finish anything I’ve paid actual cash money for. But this time I decided to just abandon all hope and do what I should have done all along, which is go for the Tremens.

Populist. Eagle Rock Brewery, Los Angeles, California. (7.0% ABV)

Filed under populist eaglerockbrewery california ipa 1star beer

DEAR FARMER FLANNEL MAPLE BROWN,I live by a few simple principles. One of them is that beers should have as few ingredients as possible and that beers with extraneous flavorings never taste better for it. The other is that maple syrup is a gift from the gods and should be consumed at every possible opportunity. So it was after a bit of heated internal debate that I finally submitted to my lust for maple and ordered you, Farmer Flannel Maple Brown, at the Anacapa Brewing Co. restaurant and brewery right here on Main Street in Ventura, California. 
I would have been a lot smarter to obey my own advice about flavored beers. You pour a nice maple-like shade of brown but other than that the only real hint of maple is a slight and detached maple aftertaste to what is otherwise a weak tasting, watery beer with little aroma and little carbonation out of the draft. 
Next time I’ll just get a good stout and a shot of maple syrup on the side.
★★
Farmer Flannel Maple Brown. Anacapa Brewing Company, Ventura, California. (6.4% ABV)
DEAR FARMER FLANNEL MAPLE BROWN,

I live by a few simple principles. One of them is that beers should have as few ingredients as possible and that beers with extraneous flavorings never taste better for it. The other is that maple syrup is a gift from the gods and should be consumed at every possible opportunity. So it was after a bit of heated internal debate that I finally submitted to my lust for maple and ordered you, Farmer Flannel Maple Brown, at the Anacapa Brewing Co. restaurant and brewery right here on Main Street in Ventura, California. 

I would have been a lot smarter to obey my own advice about flavored beers. You pour a nice maple-like shade of brown but other than that the only real hint of maple is a slight and detached maple aftertaste to what is otherwise a weak tasting, watery beer with little aroma and little carbonation out of the draft. 

Next time I’ll just get a good stout and a shot of maple syrup on the side.

★★

Farmer Flannel Maple Brown. Anacapa Brewing Company, Ventura, California. (6.4% ABV)

Filed under farmer flannel maple brown anacapa brewing company beer california 2stars

DEAR O’HARA’S IRISH STOUT,I’m more of a beer guy than a spirit guy, obviously, but somehow I ended up spending a night this weekend at Seven Grand, the whiskey capital of downtown Los Angeles. I started by getting a double whiskey on the rocks and then spent the next half hour trying to look like I knew what I was doing and not like I was sipping on drain cleaner. I have a feeling it didn’t work.
By the time my tumbler was finally empty I had to get something more in my comfort zone, and for me seeing the word “stout” on a tap handle under a brand I haven’t tried is like spotting a great looking woman who’s eying you up from across the bar. Unfortunately, sometimes in a dark bar people you thought to be attractive reveal themselves to be less so once you get up close. Likewise, sometimes beers you thought were going to be delicious based on the promising tagline “Irish Stout” turn out to be less so once you actually get the chance to drink them.
While most stouts have a chocolate or coffee flavor, O’Hara’s Irish Stout, yours seemed meaty instead. Thick and dark, you finish with a bitter chalkiness that could have used more of that traditional stout flavor to cover it up. And at a mere 4.3% alcohol by volume, well, maybe it’s a good thing I had that double whiskey beforehand.
★★
O’Hara’s Irish Stout. Carlow Brewing Company, Carlow, Ireland. (4.3% ABV)
DEAR O’HARA’S IRISH STOUT,

I’m more of a beer guy than a spirit guy, obviously, but somehow I ended up spending a night this weekend at Seven Grand, the whiskey capital of downtown Los Angeles. I started by getting a double whiskey on the rocks and then spent the next half hour trying to look like I knew what I was doing and not like I was sipping on drain cleaner. I have a feeling it didn’t work.

By the time my tumbler was finally empty I had to get something more in my comfort zone, and for me seeing the word “stout” on a tap handle under a brand I haven’t tried is like spotting a great looking woman who’s eying you up from across the bar. Unfortunately, sometimes in a dark bar people you thought to be attractive reveal themselves to be less so once you get up close. Likewise, sometimes beers you thought were going to be delicious based on the promising tagline “Irish Stout” turn out to be less so once you actually get the chance to drink them.

While most stouts have a chocolate or coffee flavor, O’Hara’s Irish Stout, yours seemed meaty instead. Thick and dark, you finish with a bitter chalkiness that could have used more of that traditional stout flavor to cover it up. And at a mere 4.3% alcohol by volume, well, maybe it’s a good thing I had that double whiskey beforehand.

★★

O’Hara’s Irish Stout. Carlow Brewing Company, Carlow, Ireland. (4.3% ABV)

Filed under o'hara's stout ireland beer 2stars

DEAR OUROBOROS OLD BAR BROWN ALE,This Independence Day before heading out for fireworks I decided the best way to embrace America was to skip the Euro stuff and drink a beer brewed close to home. For me they don’t get much closer to home than you, Ouroboros Old Bar Brown Ale, brewed by owner-brewer Nicholas Velasquez right here in Ventura, California where I live. I picked you up in the very decorative glass shown above while at Ventura’s new craft beer paradise, Barrelhouse 101.
As your name would imply you pour a very dark brown with a nutty taste, overall fairly par for the course for a brown ale. The thickness, high carbonation, and flavor all mask the 6.5% alcohol by volume; unfortunately they do not mask the bitter finish that gets more and more prominent with every sip. My regular readers, if I have any, will have noted by now that I’m not a fan of bitterness and that’s what is going to keep you, Ouroboros Old Bar Brown Ale, from getting my full praises. But three cheers for being a good locally brewed beer; I’ll look forward to soon trying your siblings Punk Bock and Purple Iris IPA.
★★★ 
Ouroboros Old Bar Brown Ale. Ouroboros Ales, Ventura, California. (6.5% ABV)
DEAR OUROBOROS OLD BAR BROWN ALE,

This Independence Day before heading out for fireworks I decided the best way to embrace America was to skip the Euro stuff and drink a beer brewed close to home. For me they don’t get much closer to home than you, Ouroboros Old Bar Brown Ale, brewed by owner-brewer Nicholas Velasquez right here in Ventura, California where I live. I picked you up in the very decorative glass shown above while at Ventura’s new craft beer paradise, Barrelhouse 101.

As your name would imply you pour a very dark brown with a nutty taste, overall fairly par for the course for a brown ale. The thickness, high carbonation, and flavor all mask the 6.5% alcohol by volume; unfortunately they do not mask the bitter finish that gets more and more prominent with every sip. My regular readers, if I have any, will have noted by now that I’m not a fan of bitterness and that’s what is going to keep you, Ouroboros Old Bar Brown Ale, from getting my full praises. But three cheers for being a good locally brewed beer; I’ll look forward to soon trying your siblings Punk Bock and Purple Iris IPA.

★★★ 

Ouroboros Old Bar Brown Ale. Ouroboros Ales, Ventura, California. (6.5% ABV)

Filed under ouroboros brown ale california 3stars beer