Sunday, December 30, 2012

Milk Stout Nitro (Left Hand Brewing Company)

I love stouts. Irish-style dry stouts or sweet milk stouts -- it's all good with me. In my experience, milk stouts are a little less common to find on the shelves, so I make a point to try them when I can. Lancaster Brewing Company's version is quite good, and is one of the few that seems to be readily available my area.

When I read last year that Left Hand Brewing Company was coming out with a milk stout, I added it to my wish list. I enjoyed the brewery's flagship beer, Sawtooth Ale, a few times last summer, and besides, I was curious what nitrogenated beer in a bottle would taste like.

As instructed by the bottle's label, I gave the beer a hard vertical pour, which resulted in a pleasant cascading wall of bubbles in the glass. The foam is a slightly brownish cream color and is so dense you're hard pressed to make out individual bubbles. Hangs around for the whole glass, too. The beer itself is effectively black, giving up a tinge of mahogany around the edges when held to light.

The aroma is sweet and roasty with nary a hint of hops.

Nitrogen gives this full-bodied stout a luscious, silky mouthfeel, almost without fizz. (By the way, there is no "widget" in the Milk Stout Nitro bottle, as found in cans of Guinness, Boddingtons and others. The nitro appears to be dissolved in the beer.)

True to its style, the beer has a deep roasty malt flavor with a faint smokiness. Just as it seems the flavor is about to descend into char territory, creamy sweetness swoops in and gathers the malt in its soft, pillowy arms and deposits it gently on the back of your tongue, where hops lend subtle counterbalance. As the beer warms, more floral and herbal hop notes come to the foreground. (The varieties used are Magnum and US Goldings, I was informed by Lora Berger of Left Hand, who was too polite to point out that this information is freely available on brewery's website.) Roasted barley is the main note remaining in the aftertaste.

Overall, a very nice milk stout, and a fine beer to inaugurate one of the shapely new Dogfish Head pint glasses my kids gave me for Christmas.

Incidentally, check out this crazy cookie recipe which uses this beer as an ingredient and is recommended to pair with it: Chocolate Chip Cookies with Bacon, Beer and Cayenne

From the bottle's label:

Brewed on the banks of the mighty St. Vrain
Super smooth with soft roastiness and mocha flavors

Featured beer:
Milk Stout Nitro

Honorable mentions:
Lancaster Milk Stout

Sawtooth Ale

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Brew day!

A few months ago I was approached by Spark editor Rob Kalesse, who proposed a challenge: he and I -- two guys with a lot of experience behind the bottle, but none behind the kettle -- would each brew a beer, then have our beers judged by a panel of experts. The whole process would be unflinchingly documented in print and social media.

Some have been surprised to hear that I, a well-known lover of beer, have not taken up homebrewing before now. The fact is that I already have more hobbies than I can pay enough attention to, and I don't want to get into something as time- and equipment-intensive as brewing without being able to do it properly. On top of that, I'm more of a dishwasher than a cook. The mere thought of combining raw ingredients and adding heat fills me with anticipation of failure.

Yet Rob's proposition struck me as an irresistible challenge. Reporting about beer over the last year, I have discovered that homebrewing is booming in popularity right along with the craft beer movement. Almost everyone I've talked to is brewing and loving it. So, in the interest of science, and to feel that my finger is truly on the pulse of local beer culture, I decided that I should take the plunge myself. Well, for those reasons, and for the delectable possibility of mopping the floor with Rob's face.

Through a volley of emails, Rob and I refined our ideas. We would both start with the same recipe (a brown ale), then each team up with a local brewmaster who would advise us. After heavy deliberation, we finally agreed upon a name for the contest: "Kettle to the Medal."

On a Thursday in early November, we met for lunch at Wilmington's Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant to get things kicked off with our brewmaster advisers. Brian Finn, head brewer at the very brewpub where we were gathered, would be teaming up with Rob. In October, his black IPA took a bronze medal at the Great American Beer Festival.

My partner would be Ric Hoffman, the head brewer at Stewart's Brewing Company in Bear. He, too, was a recent GABF medalist, winning a silver for his oyster stout.

Over the next few days, Ric and I began to exchange emails, and right up front I let him know my position: I want to learn as much as I can through this experience, and it will be great if our News Journal and Spark readers get some entertainment from it, but the bottom line is, I want my beer to taste better than Rob's, and I to want win that medal. Ric seemed to be OK with that. He sent a stream of suggestions about equipment, ingredients, and... hygiene?

You know that thing about being more of a dishwasher than a cook? Happily, it turns out that dishwashing chops are practically as important to beer making as cooking skills are. Among the first words of advice Ric sent me: "Literally every surface you encounter and every cubic inch of air is inundated with organisms that wish nothing more than to ruin the beautiful wort you brew."

Oh, no you don't, you filthy, conniving organisms! You will not ruin my beautiful wort! I resolved to carefully maintain sterilization throughout the brewing, fermenting, and bottling processes. My reasoning was that if my opponent is anything like the stereotypical guy (which is to say, inclined toward slovenliness), I might gain a slight advantage over him through meticulous hygiene.

Rob picked up our ingredient kits from How Do You Brew, the brewing supply store at The Shoppes at Louviers in Newark. The recipe was for an English brown ale, a classic style that's not too complex, so pretty forgiving to brew. Ric and I gave some thought to gamesmanship: how were Rob and Brian likely to alter the recipe, and what could we do that would be as good or better without adding too much complexity? My idea was to add calcium sulfate to the water, a time-honored method to mimic the waters of Burton-upon-Trent, home of many great English ales. Ric's suggestion was to "Americanize" the beer a bit by increasing the amount of finishing hops.

Recipe in hand, ingredients acquired and equipment borrowed, I swept the fallen leaves from my back patio and set up the propane turkey cooker. I flicked a lighter and heard a concussive rip as flame took hold under the five gallon stainless steel kettle, into which I had poured about two and a half gallons of water. Nearby sat a plastic fermenting bucket filled with disinfectant solution, and inside that soaked a chiller made of coiled copper, a big industrial-strength cooking spoon long enough to reach the bottom of the kettle, and a few other odds and ends that needed to be germ free.

This gray, slightly windy morning felt well-suited to standing beside a roiling cauldron, engaged in a craft of ancient origins. I cut open the plastic bags containing dried malt extract and deeply inhaled the fresh, cereal-like aroma before stirring it a little at a time into the kettle. I wanted to absorb the full sensory experience of each ingredient so I would understand its contribution to the final product. Three pounds of liquid malt extract also went into the pot -- along with the blade of the cheap kitchen spatula I was using to coax the viscous, honey-like extract out of its can. (I recovered the blade intact and made a note use better quality instruments next time.)

Next into the kettle went the intensely pungent Willamette hop pellets. To a lover of hoppy American IPAs, this smell is nearly as mouthwatering as garlic sautéing in olive oil. I stirred in one ounce of pellets with the malt at the start of the boil to provide a balancing bitterness. Another ounce went in after 45 minutes to lend more complex hop flavors. I added one more ounce just before the end of the boil to give the aroma of the finished beer a bit of musty herbal character.

After sixty minutes of boiling and stirring, I killed the flame under the kettle and poured its contents (with a great deal of sloshing) into the fermenting bucket. I immersed the chiller into the steaming wort, connected a garden hose to its feed tube and unfurled its drain tube onto the lawn. I monitored the temperature of the wort with a candy thermometer while cold water coursed through the copper coil. It started near 200F, but after about ten minutes had dropped all the way down to 70F degrees -- the optimum temperature for introducing yeast.

Two days earlier I had made some yeast "starter" by boiling a cup of powdered malt extract in about a quart of water, then cooling it and adding the yeast packet from the kit. "This allows the yeast to start reproducing and increasing in vigor before adding it to the main batch," Ric wrote.

With yeast added to the wort, my brew day was essentially done. I moved the fermenter to my basement laundry room, where it would hold a fairly stable temperature within a few degrees of 70F. I sealed the fermenter's lid and added an airlock, which enables byproduct gasses to escape from the bucket without letting in air saturated with filthy, conniving microorganisms.

At this point the beer's fate is completely in the hands of the yeast, which will quietly digest sugar and excrete alcohol. After a few days with no real role to play in the beer's development, I found myself sitting on the basement floor with a stopwatch in my hand, timing the minutes between bubbles in the fermenter's airlock like a nervous father-to-be timing his wife's labor contractions. Total cessation of bubbles will signal that the beer is ready to be bottled. I'm still not there yet.

This is how I dipped a cautious toe into the waters of homebrewing. (Not literally, of course -- that would be highly unsanitary.) If it starts to look like the first step on the slippery slope towards brewing obsession, I'm sure my wife will do her best to break my fall.

Beer Club (December 14, 2012)

It was the first mix day in a while when all seven members contributed. We got another great batch of beers.

• Bell's Pale Ale (Bell's Brewery)
• Bell's Porter (Bell's Brewery)
• Exit 16 (Flying Fish Brewing Company)
• Köstritzer Schwartzbier (Köstritzer Schwarzbierbrauerei)
• Milk Stout Nitro (Left Hand Brewing Company)
• Mission IPA (Mission Brewery)
• Oak Barrel Stout (Old Dominion Brewing Company)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Boulder Bend Dunkelweizen (Fish Brewing Company)

Here is a representation of a traditional style from Fish Brewing Company of Olympia, Washington. They dub their Leavenworth Biers line as "the Northwest's original German-style craft biers." This will be the first beer I have tasted from this brewery. (Props to Mr. Wade Malcolm for contributing it to the Beer Club.)

I don't have a proper wheat beer glass to try this in, so my trusty Spark pint tumbler will have to do. The beer pours the deepest brown in color, only letting though a bit of light around the edges. It produces one finger or so of light brown head.

The aroma is of roasted malt, mainly. Very little hop presence is detectable, but sweetness is suggested.

The beer has a fairly straightforward roast malt flavor. The carbonation hits right up front, after which the roastiness opens a bit to hints of hazelnut, with just a touch of black pepper on the back end. The strongest impression after my first sip was the beer's creamy, mouth-coating texture. Clearly a wheat thing.

Only toward the bottom of the glass did I start noticing the pure yeast flavor I would expect in a weizen -- probably because more of the yeast had sunk to the bottom. At 4.7% ABV, this beer would be highly sessionable, if you're so inclined. There is no intense sweetness or bitterness to wear your taste buds out.

Overall, not a knockout, but not at all objectionable.

From the bottle's label:

Alpine-style dark wheat ale

Featured beer:
Boulder Bend Dunkelweizen

Monday, December 10, 2012

Bass IPA (Anheuser-Busch InBev)

Well, here it is, the new face of Bass. As described previously, the grand old Bass brewery was taken over by A-B InBev in the year 2000, and its products are now being produced at the Anheuser-Busch plant at Baldwinsville, New York. The label would clearly like us to believe that this beer is made in the traditional English style, despite its remove from the distinctive calcium-rich Burton waters and the even more distinctive Burton Union system in which it was traditionally fermented.

So what might a person expect a "traditional" Bass IPA to taste like, if they were to permit themselves to be persuaded by the marketing? I can do no better than to reproduce this quote from Martyn Cornell's excellent Zythophile blog:

North American IPAs – excellent though many of them are – use hop types completely unknown to 18th and 19th century British brewers, and major on floral, citrussy flavours and aromas in their IPAs, which are designed to be drunk comparatively young. Early British IPAs were designed to be drunk aged anything up to nine months or more, and while they were certainly bitter, they would have lost most of any hop aroma that they originally had. In addition it is becoming increasingly clear that early British IPAs would have showed at least some Brettanomyces character, from their long ageing in cask. Apart from both containing lots of hops, and being similar colours (except for the black ones) modern North American IPAs and early British IPAs could not be much more different.

Okay, so what is this one really like? In my pint glass, it shows a medium amber color -- strangely thin, though. Doesn't seem dense enough. The pour produces half an inch of clumpy, off-white foam.

There is a rather subdued, delicate, flowery, cotton candy aroma. Quite nice actually, and I will give points for foiling the expectation set up by the aroma of American IPAs.

At first sip, the beer does have some of that trademark Bass malt flavor, sweet and dense, but it drops of very quickly into a finishing bitterness that has very little nuance -- no citrus, no sap, no flowers, grass or herbs. In this sense, too, it does stand out from an American-style IPA. The body is of medium weight -- not as flimsy as the thinnish appearance might lead you to expect. Just a bit of grain flavor lingers after the bitterness lets up.

There is actually a fair amount of flavor here, but not much complexity. When tasting it blind, my wife said "tastes like a fairly well-made American beer." That's about right. It does stand apart from the predominant contemporary West Coast IPA style, but whether it is because of an authentic English character, I'm not so sure. There is certainly no Brettanomyces character (because there is no cask aging), nor any sulphurous “Burton snatch.”

Overall I would rate aroma this beer's best quality. That aspect of it really is rather nice.

From the bottle's label:

[front] Brewed in the tradition of William Bass Brewers Limited, Burton-on-Trent, England. This fine India pale ale has been brewed in the great British tradition using traditional English Fuggle hops.
[back] ICONOGRAPHY. From the makers of the original pale ale comes Bass India Pale Ale. Make with all malt and a blend of imported and domestic hops, including the traditional English Fuggle. Bass IPA is then dry-hopped in aging tanks for a remarkable aroma. Perfect for anytime you want to enjoy an intensely satisfying beer.

Featured beer:
Bass IPA

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Caveat Emptor (or: Invasion of the Body Snatchers)

I evangelize a lot about craft beer. After all, it has more or less rescued the American drinking public from the homogeneity of dull, mass-produced light lagers. But of course the craft movement did not invent flavor in beer; it merely restored what the mass producers had stripped out. And prior to the 1990s, imported beer was always there to remind us, by contrast, of the wan quality of our domestics.

Back then, whenever I had the chance I drank beers from England and Germany -- motherlands of the brewing traditions that immigrated to the United States and thrived prior to Prohibition. It seemed to me that these countries still treated beer as a flavorful, traditional beverage, not a commodity to be produced at as high a volume and as low a cost as could be worked out by a planning committee.

But it's a good thing the craft beer movement did take hold here in the U.S., because the inexorable expansion of a few multinational beverage corporations seems to be overtaking every great and venerable European label we once knew. Among the dozens of formerly independent brands that have been gobbled up by the world's largest beer concern, Anheuser-Busch InBev: Bass, Becks, Boddingtons, Franziskaner, Hoegaarden, Leffe, Löwenbräu, St.Pauli Girl, Spaten, and Stella Artois.

A few of those really sting for me. Sure, the original brewing arrangements remain intact in some of these cases, but the bottom line is that A-B InBev controls the brands and can do with them as it pleases. And they have already made some changes that clearly do not benefit the beer as much as they do the parent corporation.

Take for example the Bass Brewery, founded in 1777 by William Bass in Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire, and one of the most important players in England's storied history of brewing. The brewery was purchased by Molson Coors in 2000, and the Bass brand was later sold to the mega-conglomerate A-B InBev. Beers bearing the Bass imprint are now brewed for the American market at the Anheuser-Busch plant in Baldwinsville, NY. (The facility has an annual production capacity of 7.6 million barrels.)

The Bass label now says "Brewed in the tradition of William Bass Brewers Limited." Not sure exactly what that is intended to mean, but it can't possibly be true beyond a very superficial point, since the Burton Union fermentation system originally used by Bass survives to this day at only one brewery in the world, and it is not in Baldwinsville, New York.

This is the essence of what can happen when a juggernaut corporation buys up historic breweries for their "brand cachet." After the acquisition, decisions are based on the balance sheet, not the quality of the beer, but consumers are expected to hold the products in the same fond regard.

Selling out to a global beverage corporation may, unfortunately, hold an allure for some American craft breweries, too. Many have rapidly grown to the limits of their production capacity, and they'd love to have more fermenting tanks or wider distribution than they can afford on their own.

In a move that generated lots of conversation in the craft beer community, Chicago-based independent Goose Island sold itself to A-B InBev in 2011, and its flagship beer, 312 Urban Wheat, is now brewed in -- you guessed it -- Baldwinsville, NY.  A-B InBev also holds non-controlling stakes in, among other breweries, Georgia's Terrapin Beer Company and Delaware's tiny Coastal Brewing Company, which produces the Fordham and Old Dominion brands.

The multinationals are also using their distribution leverage to steal precious shelf space from legitimate craft breweries. Under the guise of independent and ostensibly "crafty" companies, MillerCoors makes Blue Moon and A-B InBev markets the Shock Top and the less-known Blue Dawg brands. These are but a few examples from what is likely to become a pernicious trend.

It's all bad for the beer drinker, in my opinion. But in the big picture, the most insidious practice of all is to cash in on brand loyalty built through decades (sometimes centuries) of conscientious craftsmanship by selling the hollowed-out husks of formerly great beers. What is lost can never be replaced.


Recommended reading:

The Plot to Destroy America's Beer
Big Beer dresses up in craft brewers' clothing

Recommended viewing:

Beer Wars

Beer Club (November 30, 2012)

Even though only five of us chipped in this week, we still came up with three breweries that are new to the list. Good stuff!

• Bass India Pale Ale (Anheuser-Busch InBev)
• Sculpin India Pale Ale (Ballast Point Brewing Company)
• Sierra Nevada Porter (Sierra Nevada Brewing Company)
• Boulder Bend Dunkelweizen (Fish Brewing Company)
• Loch Down Scotch Ale (Arcadia Brewing Company)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Samuel Adams Utopias - 10th Anniversary Release (The Boston Beer Company)

What lies at the outer edges of the vast universe of beer, do you suppose? Let's assume we've all done our time at the low end of the spectrum and, without defaming specific brands, leave it at that. But what beer represents the limits of extravagance?

I could certainly make an argument for Samuel Adams Utopias, an annual release from The Boston Beer Company. This year's 10th anniversary incarnation packs 29% alcohol by volume, and carries a suggested retail price of $160 a bottle. Is this madness? Not really, when viewed in context.

Even within the craft beer industry, which is pretty innovative to begin with, there is the vanguard of "extreme brewing" -- brewers experimenting with unusual ingredients (chili peppers, peanuts, exotic fruits and berries, even seafood), novel yeast strains, and unconventional techniques to produce beers that probe the frontiers of flavor.

And within this specialty a handful of breweries, including BBC, have explored the upper limits of alcohol in beer production, using either pure fermentation (as in the case of Utopias) or a freeze distillation method which removes water from the beer and leaves concentrated alcohol behind.

While many of these extreme alcohol beers have been condemned as mere publicity stunts because of their harshness, Utopias has got this problem licked. Through a combination of painstaking barrel aging (in casks previously holding port, bourbon and rum) and blending, they have created a -- well, I'll call it an "elixir," since "beer" doesn't quite describe it -- an elixir that smooths out the intense alcohol kick and incorporates it into an incredibly rich palette of flavors.

I poured the Utopias from its opulent-looking black ceramic flask into a small snifter. It appears deep amber brown with a slight plum tinge. It has a slightly viscous consistency and absolutely no carbonation. When swirled in the glass, it leaves oily legs, much like a wine or distilled spirit.

The aroma is not at all like beer, but much more like port or sherry. There are amazing notes of wood, Fig Newton, and Concord grape, with a solid undertone of alcohol.

The flavor is, again, less like beer and more like fortified wine. This elixir is clearly designed to be sipped and savored, not gulped by the mouthful. My first impression is of dense fig, honey, Medjool dates, and leather. Then the astringent wood rises but does not completely dry out the flavor, which finishes with the dark fruit essences receding into gentle oak, reminiscent of bourbon. Sipped in this way, there is some warmth, but no offensive ravage of alcohol.

In a video on their website, BBC founder Jim Koch says: "As a brewer, I believe Sam Adams' Utopias stands alongside the very best ports, the very best cognacs and brandies and sherries. To me, this is a beautiful example of the maker's art, just as those beverages are."

I agree that Utopias is a unique beverage that demonstrates superlative craftsmanship. Not sure I could work up the nerve to shell out $160 for a bottle of it, but it's nice to know what beer tastes like at the heavenly edge.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Beer Club (November 16, 2012)

Another great and varied assortment, introducing three breweries -- Boulevard of Kansas City, MO, Evil Genius (contract brewed through Cooperstown Brewing Company of Milford, NY), and Starr Hill of Charlottesville, VA -- that have not appeared in the lineup before.

• Fireside Chat (21st Amendment Brewery)
• Dark Starr Stout (Starr Hill Brewery)
• Evil Eye PA (Evil Genius Beer Company)
• Claymore Scotch Ale (Great Divide Brewing Company)
• Single-Wide IPA (Boulevard Brewing)
• Poor Richard's Tavern Spruce (Yards Brewing Company)

Friday, November 2, 2012

Beer Club (November 2, 2012)

Only five beers this week, but a great batch -- mostly dark beauties.

• Baba Black Lager (Uinta Brewing Company)
• Bristlecone Brown Ale (Uinta Brewing Company)
• Heart of Darkness Stout (Magic Hat Brewing Company)
• Old Rasputin RIS (North Coast Brewing Company)
• Red Fish (Flying Fish Brewing Company)

One bonus did come to me via Deputy Features Editor Patty Talorico: an elaborately packaged sample of the 10th anniversary release of Samuel Adams Utopias. A review of that will be forthcoming in a future "Quench" column in The News Journal.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Gonzo Imperial Porter (Flying Dog Brewery)

Flying Dog, the brewery that does its best to channel the spirit of legendary journalist and pyrotechnician Hunter S. Thompson, expressly honors him with Gonzo Imperial Porter, which received a gold medal in the Imperial Stout category at the 2009 Great American Beer Festival.

Interesting. The label says "imperial porter," but it gets judged as an "imperial stout?" So, are the terms "porter" and "stout" synonymous? I didn't think so, but I know there is one place I might find an authoritative answer, and that is among the always fascinating pages of Martyn Cornell's historically rigorous Zythophile blog.

Sure enough, a keyword search returned this post, in which Mr. Cornell states quite plainly (and, as always, with a mountain of research to back him up) that there is basically no stylistic difference between beers labelled with these terms. A little additional scrounging reveals his scholarly dismantling of the almost universally taught notion that the original porter was another name for (or a reformulation of) a quaff called "three-threads," and, what's more, that "three-threads" was probably not made by combining three different styles of beer. This is a lot to think about.

But, to paraphrase Grandpa Fred: "You don't research it, son, you drink it!" So, let me get on with the tasting.

I poured this dark elixir into a snifter and a fine-bubbled cocoa brown head arose. The aroma is sweet and slightly smoky, pulling the nose down, down, down into suggestions of mouthwatering black licorice.

The flavor is mightily complex! It first hits with sweetness, then rolls over the sides of the tongue with a dense, roasty malt middle. Dark chocolate and espresso are present, as is a touch of vanilla, and even black cherries. The mouthfeel is smooth, and one feels the heft of all these dense, intense flavors. Later taste gives way to both floral (lilac?) and herbal hop notes. The fade out does reveal a substantial alcohol presence (9.2%), but it tries to disguise itself in the lingering malt sweetness of the aftertaste.

I was fortunate enough to have the barrel-aged version of Gonzo on tap at the grand opening of Two Stones Pub's north Wilmington location in September, and it was stunningly good. In addition to the fine qualities described above, it exhibited sticky raisin and prune flavors and a port-like quality elicited by its time in contact with the wood. Like love in a glass, it was.

My respect for Flying Dog just continues to grow. They've put together a bold line-up of styles, and the ones I've tried (Raging Bitch, Snake Dog, and Old Scratch) have ranged from good to excellent. Gonzo, I think, is the best of them all.

From the bottle's label:

"It never got weird enough for me." -- Hunter S. Thompson

Featured beer:
Gonzo Imperial Porter

Honorable mentions:
Raging Bitch Belgian-style IPA
Snake Dog India Pale Ale
Old Scratch Amber Lager

[My good camera is broken, so pardon the absence of pictures of this beer in the bottle and in the glass. I hope to have this problem remedied soon.]

Friday, October 19, 2012

Beer Club (October 19, 2012)

My Beer Club homies brought strong game this week, introducing two breweries previously unrepresented, and repeating no styles within the mix-pack. Good job, kids!

• ACME California IPA (North Coast Brewing Company)
• Barking Squirrel Lager (Hop City Brewing Company)
• Harvest (Long Trail Brewing Company)
• Hazelnut Brown Nectar (Rogue Brewery)
• Mocha Porter (Rogue Brewery)
• Resin (Sixpoint Brewery)

Jacques Au Lantern (Evolution Craft Brewing Company)

I was prepared to skewer ex-Delaware (now Salisbury, Md. based) Evolution Craft Brewing Company's Jacques Au Lantern in the context of a dour critique of pumpkin beers in general. Turns out, I can't quite do that. Details in a minute, but first the background.

Every fall, the beer market is flooded with pumpkin beers from scores of breweries. Now, I am as susceptible to the sensory charms of autumn as the next guy -- a bracing nip in the morning air, the first wisp of chimney smoke, the crunch of fallen leaves. And, like it or not, pumpkin beers have become a ubiquitous part of the season. But most of them I've tried, I have a hard time finishing a single bottle, let alone a six-pack. I find breweries tend to push the spice gimmick with a heavy hand, packing every bottle with more cinnamon, clove, and allspice (and often more sweetness) than the beer inside it can support.

I blogged last fall about Dogfish Head's Punkin Ale being a notable exception to this tendency. "The thing that Dogfish Head seems to have nailed better than the other pumpkin beer purveyors is simple: restraint," I wrote. "The flavor of the additives combines with the flavor of the beer, but never takes the foreground. The result is the sense of drinking a well-brewed ale with a seasonal angle, not drinking a fizzy vehicle for liquified pumpkin pie."

Jacques Au Lantern also succeeds as a pumpkin beer that will not offend a beer lover's palate, but for slightly different reasons.

Initially, my hopes remained modest, as I poured the orange-amber liquid into my glass and was met with a fairly perfunctory, pale, fizzy head that quickly dissipated to a thin film. The aroma did not sway me either, striking me at first as slightly cider-y, then yielding to a powdery, Pez-like note of clove.

The flavor was more impressive. In that all-important first sip, I was relieved to find a level of spiciness within the scope of reason. As I sipped more and began to think about the foundation of the brew, the cleverness of its formulation began to reveal itself. Its texture first made me guess this must be a wheat beer, but as I pondered the contribution of yeast, I realized it really exhibited the characteristic spiciness of a Belgian-style ale. (It was in the same moment that the deeper meaning of punny name "Jacques Au Lantern" hit me like a ton of bricks. A dubbel entendre?)

What Evolution has done here is to create an ale at the natural intersection between Belgian yeast flavors and pumpkin pie spice flavors, and it actually works. I commend them for taking this gastronomical approach to their fall seasonal, rather than just chucking the spice rack into a kettle of amber ale as so many breweries appear to do.

It's nice to find another pumpkin beer that I would consider drinking more than one of, but I still find myself much more excited about the arrival of pumpkin-free fall seasonals like Tröegs Brewing Company's rich, roasty Dead Reckoning Porter and New Belgium Brewing Company's brilliantly balanced Red Hoptober.

Featured beer:
Jacques Au Lantern

Honorable mentions:
Punkin Ale
Dead Reckoning Porter
Red Hoptober

Monday, October 8, 2012

Beer club (October 5, 2012)

• Hi.P.A. (Magic Hat Brewing Company)
• HopFish IPA (Flying Fish Brewing Company)
• Hoptical Illusion (Blue Point Brewing Company)
• Humboldt Brown Hemp Ale (Nectar Ales/Firestone Walker)
• Otter Creek Oktoberfest (Otter Creek Brewing)
• Responders Ale (16 Mile Brewing Company)
• Undercover Investigation Shut-down Ale (Lagunitas Brewing Company)

Monday, June 4, 2012

Beer Club (week 29)

• Hopalicious (Ale Asylum)
• Outburst Imperial IPA (Pyramid Brewing Company)
• Restoration Pale Ale (Abita Brewing Company)
• Saranac Blueberry Blonde Ale (Matt Brewing Company)
• Shaddock IPA (Rotator Series) (Widmer Brothers Brewing Co.)
• The Duck-Rabbit Porter (The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Beer Club (week 27)

Another interesting and varied lineup of beers this week:

• Dixie Blackened Voodoo Lager (Dixie Brewing Company)
• Double Bag (Long Trail Brewing Company)
• Hop Ottin' IPA (Anderson Valley Brewing Company)
• Hop Sun (Southern Tier Brewing Company)
• Scarlet Lady Ale (Stoudts Brewing Company)
• Union Jack IPA (Firestone Walker Brewing Company)

Also, I have missed my weekly publication deadline for two weeks in a row now. I hate to make the excuse, but I am in the middle a big, complicated project at work and have very little time for my family and friends, let alone tasting and writing. I plan to come back strong with more beer reviews soon, but for the moment Barley Qualified is the victim of my day job...

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Beer Club (week 26 and anniverary retrospective)

Great mix of styles this week:

• Anniversay Barley Wine Ale (Uinta Brewing Company)
• Eliot Ness Amber Lager (Great Lakes Brewing Company)
• Inlet India Pale Ale (16 Mile Brewery)
• Oatmeal Milk Stout (River Horse Brewing Company)
• Old Court Ale (16 Mile Brewery)
• Summer Farmhouse Ale (Flying Fish Brewing Company)

Also, April 15th was the first anniversary of our little club. To commemorate that occasion, I reproduce below the most complete list available of the beers that we have exchanged in the last year. (Because of furloughs and vacations, I missed a couple of weeks last summer.) The list contains 123 beers from 70 different breweries in 23 states and four countries. I haven't closely tracked the styles, but scanning this list it is easy to see that there have been dozens. It has been a very educational experience.

I'll go on record with my five favorite beers I've discovered through the club, in chronological order:

• Racer 5 IPA (Bear Republic Brewing Company)
• Burning River Pale Ale (Great Lakes Brewing Company)
• Hoptober (New Belgium Brewing Company)
• Imperial Red IPA (Lagunitas Brewing Company)
• Two Hearted Ale (Bell's Brewery, Inc.)
• Double Stout (Green Flash Brewing Company)

And here is the full list:

1554 Enlightened Black Ale (New Belgium Brewing Company)
1860 IPA (Stoudts Brewing Company)
2011 Anchor Christmas Ale (Anchor Brewing Company)
471 IPA (Breckinridge Brewing)
A Little Sumpin' Sumpin' Ale (Lagunitas Brewing Company)
Anchor Porter (Anchor Brewing Company)
Anchor Steam (Anchor Brewing Company)
Anniversay Barley Wine Ale (Uinta Brewing Company)
Aprihop (Dogfish Head Craft Brewery)
Belgo (New Belgium Brewing)
Bell Ringer (RJ Rockers)
Bell's Special Double Cream Stout (Bell's Brewery, Inc.)
Big Bison Ale (Crown Valley Brewing & Distilling Company)
Big Swell IPA (Maui Brewing Company) Black Hawk Stout (Mendocino Brewing Company)
Bitter American (21st Amendment Brewery)
Black Jack Porter (Left Hand Brewing Company)
Black Lightning (DuClaw Brewing Company)
Blue Fin Stout (Shipyard Brewing Company)
Brew Free or Die IPA (21st Amendment Brewery)
Brooklyn Summer Ale (Brooklyn Brewery)
Brrr (Widmer Brothers Brewing Company)
Burning River Pale Ale (Great Lakes Brewing Company)
Carolina Blonde (Carolina Beer Company)
Celebrator Doppelbock (Brauerei Aying)
Chang (Thai Beverage)
Copper Ale (Otter Creek Brewing)
Dale's Pale Ale (Oskar Blues Grill & Brewery)
Demo (Magic Hat Brewing Company)
Dig IPA (New Belgium Brewing Company)
Dominion Millennium Ale (Old Dominion Brewing Company)
Double Stout (Green Flash Brewing Company)
Duchesse De Bourgongne (Brouwerij Verhaeghe)
Dundee Summer Wheat (Dundee/Genesee Brewing Company)
Eliot Ness (Great Lakes Brewing Company)
Exile ESB (Evolution Craft Brewing Company)
Exit 4 American Trippel (Flying Fish Brewing Company)
Franziskaner Weissebier (Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu)
Golden Monkey (Victory Brewing Company)
Harpoon Celtic Ale (Harpoon Brewery)
Headwater Pale Ale (Victory Brewing Company)
Heavy Seas Black Cannon (Clipper City Brewing Company)
Heavy Seas Märzen (Clipper City Brewing Company)
Hell or High Watermelon Wheat Beer (21st Amendment Brewery)
Hex Ourtoberfest (Magic Hat Brewing Company)
Hobgoblin Dark English Ale (Wychwood Brewery)
Hop Hazard (River Horse Brewing Company)
Hop Head Red Ale (Green Flash Brewing Company)
Hop Notch (Uinta Brewing Company)
Hop Rod Rye (Bear Republic Brewery)
HopDevil Ale (Victory Brewing Company)
Hoptical Illusion (Blue Point Brewing Company)
Hoptober (New Belgium Brewing Company)
Hoss Rye Lager (Great Divide Brewing)
Howl (Magic Hat Brewing Company)
Humming Ale (Anchor Brewing Company)
Imperial Red IPA (Lagunitas Brewing Company)
India Brown Ale (Dogfish Head Craft Brewery)
Inlet India Pale Ale (16 Mile Brewery)
IPA (Southern Tier Brewing Company)
Jagged Edge IPA (Black Diamond Brewing Company)
JavaHead Stout (Tröegs Brewing Company)
Kellerweis Hefeweizen (Sierra Nevada Brewing Company)
Latitude 48 IPA (Boston Beer Company)
Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy (Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company)
Levitation Ale (Stone Brewing Company)
Long Hammer IPA (Redhook Ale Brewery)
Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale (Clipper City Brewing Company)
Lot No3 India Pale Ale (Evolution Craft Brewing Company)
Lucky U IPA (Breckenridge Brewery)
Mad Elf Ale (Tröegs Brewing Company)
Mendocino Seasonal Bock Beer (Mendocino Brewing Company)
Mojo IPA (Boulder Beer Company)
Newcastle Founders' Ale (Caledonian Brewery)
Nugget Nectar (Tröegs Brewing Company)
Oatmeal Milk Stout (River Horse Brewing Company)
Old #38 Stout (North Coast Brewing Company)
Old Chub Scotch Ale (Oskar Blues Grill & Brewery)
Old Court Ale (16 Mile Brewery)
Old Leghumper Robust Porter (Thirsty Dog Brewing Company)
Old Man (Southern Tier Brewing Company)
Optimator Doppelbock (Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu)
Palm (Brouwerij Palm NV)
Pandora's Bock (Breckenridge Brewery)
Paulaner Oktoberfest Märzen (Paulaner Brauerei)
Pecan Harvest (Abita Brewing Company)
Phin & Matt's Extraordinary Ale (Southern Tier Brewing Company)
Pipeline Porter (Kona Brewing Company)
Pumpkinhead Ale (Shipyard Brewing Company)
Punkin Ale (Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales)
Racer 5 IPA (Bear Republic Brewing Company)
Raging Bitch (Flying Dog Brewery)
Railbender Ale (Erie Brewing Company)
Raison D'Être (Dogfish Head Craft Brewery)
Red Rocket Ale (Bear Republic Brewery)
Red's Rye P.A. (Founders Brewing Company)
Robust Porter (Smuttynose Brewing Company)
Ruthless Rye IPA (Sierra Nevada Brewing Company)
Santa's Private Reserve (Rogue Ales)
Saranac Black Forest (Matt Brewing Company)
Saranac Caramel Porter (Matt Brewing Company)
Saranac Imperial IPA (Matt Brewing Company)
Satsuma Harvest Wit (Abita Brewing Company)
Schlafly Coffee Stout (The Saint Louis Brewery)
Shiner Oktoberfest (Spoetzl Brewery)
Shock Top Belgian White (Anheuser-Busch, Inc.)
Snake Dog IPA (Flying Dog Brewery)
Snow Day (New Belgium Brewing Company)
Spring Fling Copper Ale (Blue Point Brewing Company)
Steelhead Extra Pale Ale (Mad River Brewing Company)
Steelhead Extra Stout (Mad River Brewing Company)
Stone IPA (Stone Brewing Company)
Stoudt's Gold Lager (Stoudt's Brewing Company)
Stoudt's Oktober Fest (Stoudt's Brewing Company)
Summer Farmhouse Ale (Flying Fish Brewing Company)
Terrapin Rye Pale Ale (Terrapin Beer Company)
The Raven Special Lager (Baltimore-Washington Beer Works)
Thomas Jefferson's Tavern Ale (Yards Brewing Company)
Titan IPA (Great Divide Brewing Company)
Torpedo Extra IPA (Sierra Nevada Brewing Company)
Tripel Horse (River Horse Brewing Company)
Turbodog (Abita Brewing Company)
Two Hearted Ale (Bell's Brewery, Inc.)
Yakima Glory (Victory Brewing Company)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Two Hearted Ale (Bell's Brewery, Inc.)

Great anticipation surrounds my tasting of Bell's Two Hearted Ale. This IPA has been praised to me in the highest terms by several beer lovers whose opinions I trust, and it maintains an average rating of 95 after 2,661 community reviews on

A monochromatic painting of a salmon adorns the label. (I guess that's what people fish for up there in the Upper Peninsula where the bottle recommends traveling?) I pop the cap and pour. The beer is on the lighter side of amber with a slight hop haze and half an inch of fluffy foam.

The aroma is slightly citrusy, but delicate -- not the sharp, resiny citrus nose so prevalent in American IPAs. There is also a delightful powdery, cotton candy freshness.

The Bell's website speaks of "massive [hop] additions in the kettle and again in the fermenter," so imagine my surprise when the first impression in my mouth is... malt and not hops. Yes, the hops are there, of course, in the requisite abundance, but they are balanced in perfect measure with a sweet, slightly toasty grain backbone.

"Balance" is the word that keeps coming back to me as I sip this medium-bodied ale. Never do I note the clean malt flavor without immediately observing the floral Centennial hop charm, and vice versa. There is some peach fruitiness in ride out, but the hops-and-malt interplay carries through to the farthest reaches of the aftertaste. At a scarcely-noticeable 7% ABV, this one's drinkability is downright dangerous.

I haven't done any research on the origin of its name, but it is easy for me to imagine hops and malt flavors as the "two hearts" beating in unison within this brew. I now proudly join the chorus of fans proclaiming its greatness.

From the bottle's label:

An India Pale Ale style well suited for adventurous trips to the Upper Penninsula. American malts and enormous hop additions give this beer a crisp finish and an incredibly floral hop aroma.

Featured beer:
Two Hearted Ale

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Beer Club (week 25)

We came up with an amazingly diverse set of styles this week. Love it!

• Belgo (New Belgium Brewing)
• Bell's Special Double Cream Stout (Bell's Brewery, Inc.)
• Long Hammer IPA (Redhook Ale Brewery)
• Pandora's Bock (Breckenridge Brewery)
• Steelhead Extra Pale Ale (Mad River Brewing Company)
• Turbodog (Abita Brewing Company)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Delaware Oyster Stout (16 Mile Brewing Company)

Through some combination of rest, vitamin C, and regimented nasal irrigation, I managed to snap back from my cold within a week. It was no fun being unable to taste beer!

I decided to return to Ulysses and give 16 Mile's Delaware Oyster Stout more of a fair trail. (I reviewed it in a cursory fashion last week) I was pleased to confirm the impression that my dimmed had senses hinted at: it really is a delicious stout.

Although I could not definitively assess the beer's appearance in the lighting of the bar, it is black enough to get the point across. There was negligible head when it was served to me the 10 oz. tulip glass. The aroma when cold was quite subdued, giving up only an earthy scent reminiscent of tamari.

To the taste, the beer is presents an initial mineral note that settles down into the smoldering undertones of the cherrywood smoked malt. My assumption is that this mineral quality comes from the dissolved oyster shells, and possibly somewhat from the meat. There is a play of dark chocolate and espresso hints there as well. Despite fairly sharp carbonation, the stout still pulls off a creamy and satisfying mouthfeel. The finish is long-lingering and smoky.

If you drink this looking for a briny or fishy quality, you will find none. Whether the chocolaty complexity of the main body owes solely to the malt or whether it gains from the oysters is beyond me to determine, but it was fun to ponder.

Delaware Oyster stout is a fine, contemplative brew. I'll admit that it is the first beer from 16 Mile that I have been excited about. This is encouraging, because it can't be easy to nail this unique style, and I believe they've done it. I doubt they will bottle this recipe, but I would love to see them come out with it in bars seasonally.

Featured beer:
Delaware Oyster Stout

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A token effort...

A sudden head cold/sinus infection has compromised the trustworthiness of my tasting faculties and threatened to disrupt my weekly publishing schedule. Instead of a full-blown review, I will merely note that I popped in to Ulysses American Gastropub for a sample of 16 Mile Brewing Company's Delaware Oyster Stout. (I was at the Rite-Aid getting saline refills for my Neti Pot, and it was right next door, so...)

This beer was created by the Georgetown brewery in cooperation with Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, and a portion of the proceeds from its sale will go to that group and help them advance their Delaware Bay Oyster Restoration Project. It was a delicious stout, as far as I could tell, rich with chocolate and smoky, dark malt flavors, and featuring a creamy mouthfeel likely enhanced by the 100 Delaware Bay oysters that went into the brew kettle. This is a limited edition small batch, so I thought that tasting it with an impaired nose would be better than missing it altogether.

And just to round things out, here is a reproduction of Ulysses' current draft beer menu.

Featured beer:
Delaware Oyster Stout

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Beer Club (week 24)

Another nice lineup. Kid Wade contributed a bonus seventh bottle: "Brandywine Baltic Porter" homebrewed by himself and MB's husband, Danny.

• Aprihop (Dogfish Head Craft Brewery)
• Heavy Seas Black Cannon (Clipper City Brewing Company)
• Hoptical Illusion (Blue Point Brewing Company)
• Kellerweis Hefeweizen (Sierra Nevada Brewing Company)
• Thomas Jefferson's Tavern Ale (Yards Brewing Company)
• Two Hearted Ale (Bell's Brewery, Inc.)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Whole Foods Market's "Brew & Brau"

First there was sliced bread. Then came the iPhone. Now, another great idea whose time has come: a pub inside a grocery store.

It gets better. The grocery store is Whole Foods Market, a chain with more than 300 locations in the U.S. that is widely praised for its conscientious buying practices and wholesome products.

Better still, Brew & Brau, the in-store pub which opened March 14 at the Glen Eagle Square shopping center in Glen Mills, qualifies as a “tavern” under Pennsylvania’s archaic Liquor Code, which permits it to sell up to 192 ounces of beer for takeout – that’s anything from a 12-ounce bottle up to two 12-packs. (You’re forced to buy a minimum of one case if you shop at a Pennsylvania beer wholesaler.)

And this spot is a mere 1.6 miles over the Delaware state line.

Hang a hard left as soon as you walk into the Whole Foods and you will see the natural wood and plate glass enclosure of the Brew & Brau, a space large enough to comfortably house a bar with nine stools, high tables with seats for another 20 or so, and a walk-in cold room for bottled beer.

Out front, piled high on either side of the entrance, are stacks of six-packs – an intentionally brazen proclamation of beer for sale.

One wall of large windows in the pub looks out onto the bakery area of the store, beyond which lie a salad bar, wells of bulk olives, hot food islands and deli counters. A person could do all right on either side of those windows.

Consistent with the Whole Foods philosophy, the beer you’ll find on the eight taps inside the pub is fresh and local. Christine Meredith, the company’s wine and beer buyer for the Mid-Atlantic region, came up from Rockville, Md., to get the pub running.

“The Philly area has so much culture and pride around beer,” she said when asked about the decision to feature an all-local draft lineup. “And it fits with our mission in everything we do: We’re about recycling and reducing shipping distances, and we’re about freshness and supporting the local community.”

Dan Koltonuk, a Whole Foods cheese counter veteran and self-described “beer nerd” who will oversee the beer program at Brew & Brau, said “the taps will allow us to bring in breweries that don’t bottle, so they might not get as much exposure.”

The beers flowing on opening day underscored those ideas: a small-batch German altbier that Philadelphia’s Yards Brewing Company custom brewed for Whole Foods; a rye IPA from Dock Street Brewery in Philadelphia; the acclaimed HopDevil Ale from Victory Brewing Company in Downingtown; Krook’s Mill Pale Ale from Manayunk Brewery in Philadelphia; an IPA made with mango and ginger by Boxcar Brewing Company in West Chester; Insana Stout made with chocolate and soy bacon (!) by Prism Brewing Company in North Wales; Lucky S.O.B. Irish Red Ale from Flying Dog Brewery in Frederick, Md.; and the highly sought-after Nugget Nectar Imperial Amber by Tröegs Brewing Company in Hershey.

Discarding the geographic outliers of Flying Dog and Tröegs, the remaining six breweries are all situated within 40 miles of the Brew & Brau.

The bottled beer selection does make some concession to shoppers looking for familiar mass-produced brands, with about a quarter of the shelf space devoted to names like Corona, Heineken, Samuel Adams, and Blue Moon. But the rest of the cooler is stocked with, inch for inch, one of the most diverse assortments of craft beers and imports you’ll find in the area. Offerings from revered breweries like Bell’s and Founders that do not distribute in Delaware are likely to draw many beer-loving First Staters across the Pa. line, sales tax be damned.

Most of the stock is available as singles for building what Brew & Brau calls ‘Mix-A-Six.’ “We want to make it easy for people to try new stuff and see what they might like to buy more of,” Koltonuk said.

Beyond beer, the Brew & Brau offers six local wines by the glass and a variety of organic coffees, some locally roasted. The venue is prepared to accommodate coffee-seekers in the morning, a lunch crowd geared toward something more nutritious than fast food, and an after-work clientele ready to settle in for a pint or glass of wine and shed the day’s stress – perhaps before or after picking up a gallon of organic milk and a bunch of organic Peruvian bananas.

On opening day, a stream of the curious and the thirsty kept most of the stools occupied throughout the afternoon, but the crowd surged dramatically a few minutes after 5 p.m. Jason Kohser, a co-owner of Boxcar Brewing who was on hand for the festivities, happily joined Meredith and the regular Brew & Brau staff behind the bar, taking orders and slinging pints like a pro as the traffic picked up. Kohser’s IPA was selling nearly as briskly as the more established brands.

Kathy Koons, a customer from Chester Heights, sampled with approval a Boxcar IPA at one of the tables away from the bar. She said she was “just casing the joint” that day, but she liked the size of the store, and the prepared foods might be something to try.

Koons usually shops at the Whole Foods Market in Devon, but is excited about the new location since gas prices are becoming a factor. She said the Brew & Brau seems like “a good place to come after work, meet your friends and have a beer.” These last three words she emphasized with particular relish.

His post-work visit was the second trip to Whole Foods that day for Kevin Branin. He had also popped in at lunchtime to grab a salad. Branin, who lives in West Chester, works just down the road from Whole Foods at Arora Engineers, so he had been patiently eyeing the site as construction progressed. He was back after 5, still wearing his charcoal gray suit, casually enjoying a pint of Nugget Nectar. “I’ve got to pick up some tomatoes,” he said, smiling.

A group of Wilmingtonians nestled at the bar, sipping Paradocx chardonnay from Chester County. Among them was Kim Merkl, who thinks the Brew & Brau is a great idea. “What could be better than stopping by for a glass of wine before shopping?” she said. “You’ll be more relaxed and make better decisions!”

A little after 6 p.m., the crowd swelled again. For having been open less than one day, the atmosphere in the bustling room had a surprisingly relaxed feel, like it was already populated with regulars. At 6:45, the Nugget Nectar tapped out, and Koltonuk swiftly rotated in another sixtel.

“This is a limited-availability seasonal. This may be all we get,” he mused. Nevertheless, to sell out of it so quickly did not seem like a bad problem.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Palate Wrecker (Green Flash Brewing Company)

I had hardly finished reading the February 27th press release about the impending arrival of Palate Wrecker when I wrote to Green Flash Brewing Company requesting a sample for review. From my experiences with Hop Head Red™ Red IPA and Double Stout Black Ale, I knew the San Diego brewery to adeptly craft bold, flavorful beers, and the write-up made their latest one sound too intriguing to miss -- "the most complicated West Coast–inspired IPA we have ever brewed," they called it.

I was amused when the 750ml bottle arrived in a reused Keurig box, incognito, like illicit booty from a mail order catalog. Quite fitting, actually.

The name makes the (tongue-in-cheek?) implication that this beer's hop content will render your palate unfit for tasting anything afterward. Fair enough. If it's as good as what I know Green Flash is capable of, after 750ml of it I won't be needing anything else.

Poured into my pint tumbler, the beer is clear amber with loads of sturdy, off-white foam. The aroma is incredibly intense, with a pungency blasting straight through grapefruit into the territory of high grade cannabis, stopping just short of skunk musk. Ripe peach is also amply present.

The taste is pretty intense, too, as expected. Bitter citrus zest is my first impression, followed by pine resin, creosote, guava, and alcohol. Very pungent, powerful flavors up front. The beer becomes considerably more accessible as it warms, and only then do I appreciate the delicious caramel malt body that does the formidable work of supporting all of that hop action.

For all the enormity of flavor, the beer still manages to feel medium weighted in the mouth. The long-lasting aftertaste is an event unto itself, casually evolving through butterscotch, jasmine, and finally black tea.

To be honest, my palate seems no worse for wear. Nonetheless, this is officially the hoppiest beer I've ever tasted, beyond Nugget Nectar and even 120 Minute IPA. Make no mistake that Palate Wrecker is way over the line for the casual drinker and should never be offered to anyone uninitiated in the resinous mysteries of Humulus lupulus. But for those already of the faith, you will find no elixir more thoroughly devoted to celebrating hop flavor than this one.

From the bottle's label:

Palate Wrecker was originally brewed for the Hamilton's Tavern 2nd Anniversary celebration. It's the most complicated West Coast-inspired IPA we have ever brewed -- mashing and sparging with hopped wort, in addition to our hop layering regimen for IPA. By popular demand, it is now released for the world to enjoy. -- Chuck Silva, Brewmaster

Featured beer:
Palate Wrecker

Honorable mentions:
Nugget Nectar
120 Minute IPA

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Duchesse De Bourgogne (Brouwerij Verhaeghe)

This is the Flanders red ale that Comrade Snoop Dogg bought for the Beer Club, not realizing until it was rung up that the price was $7 a bottle. We all had a good laugh at that one. From the cost, I figured the beer must be something special, so I have been waiting for an occasion to drink it when I knew I could give it proper attention. Decided to pop it open tonight.

The diminutive brown bottle is truly elegant in appearance, with its gently tapering shoulders and its label featuring a classical Flemish painting of the beer's eponym, Mary of Burgundy. (I haven't found out for sure, but the painting may be by Hugo van der Goes).

I see a lot of sediment in the pour, but the beer ends up surprisingly clear in the glass. It is a warm ruby color with ecru foam that is fluffy at first, then dies down to a film with a bit of clumpiness. The nose carries cider vinegar, a bit of banana, and a mineral quality like baking soda or seltzer water. Clearly something different going on here.

The flavor begins tart but not puckering. After the fizz, the taste is strongly fruity -- grape-like, but less like concord grape and more like slightly flat grape soda. The tartness comes back and really hugs the tongue, making the medium weight of the mouthfeel seem fuller. Further on in the taste, I find some sourness and a slight copper penny metallic tang. It ends somewhat musty, acidic, and dry but with subtle residual notes of grain, dried plums, and stale keg beer. I am surprised at how many subtle things are going on in the aftertaste, given the intense impressions happening in the main flavor.

I realize that almost every description I have used about this ale sounds negative (if not revolting), but the overall effect is actually intriguing -- I'm sure many consider it sublime. There is not much within my realm of experience to compare it to. It most resembles the few lambics I've tried, but also is surprisingly similar to Dogfish Head's Tweason'ale, though much funkier. Clearly the name of Science compels me toward more exploration in this part of the beer spectrum, but I have the feeling the exploration will be slow and expensive...

From the bottle's label:

Belgian top-fermented reddish-brown ale, a blend of 8 and 18 month old beers following the careful maturation in oak casks. Serve in range of 47 - 53° F

Featured beer:
Duchesse De Bourgogne

Honorable mentions:

Monday, March 12, 2012

Nugget Nectar (Tröegs Brewing Company)

I've just had a bottle of Nugget Nectar from only of my favorite breweries, Tröegs. The "nugget" in the name comes from one of the three varieties of hops used in the beer -- Nugget, Warrior, and Tomahawk -- so I thought this was a good opportunity for a long overdue digression about hops.

Hops serve two purposes in beer-making. Added to the brew kettle at or near the beginning of the boil, they add bitterness to balance out the sweetness of the grain sugars. Added later in the boil (or even in the fermentation tank, a technique called "dry hopping"), they add pleasant aromatic qualities that come across in the nose and in the finish.

Chemically, the resin of hop flowers contains one type of compound (alpha acids) that is good for bittering, and one type (beta acids) that is good for aroma. Different hop varieties contain these acids in different proportions.

Hops are known to have been used in brewing for close to a thousand years, both for flavor and for their preservative properties -- bacteria don't care for a substance called lupulin in the hop oils, it turns out. In a classic example, British brewers of the 19th century found that pale ales made with extra hops were better at surviving the long, inhospitable sea voyage to India. It is unlikely they foresaw the influence this reformulation would have on the future of beer in a certain ex-colony called the United States.

I would love to read a scholarly investigation of why the India Pale Ale style has captured the fancy of the contemporary American beer enthusiast. Perhaps it is a case of supply creating demand, and the preference is rooted in the success of hop farming in the states of Washington and Oregon. Perhaps it is a biologically-driven craving: hops have long been used in folk medicine as an antispasmodic and a sedative. Are we subconsciously self-medicating by drinking IPAs?

Whatever the reason, it is indisputable that, out of the profusion of styles the craft brewing movement has brought to the market in the last 20 years, IPA has emerged as the most popular. In fact, research by SymphonyIRI Group reveals that not only does IPA outsell all other styles in the craft beer segment, but the number of different IPAs for sale in the U.S. grew 43% between 2010 and 2011, from 177 to 253.

So, Americans have a taste for the hops. As a result, the botanical science behind hop cultivation is thriving, and new strains of the plant are being developed to produce cones with unprecedented levels of alpha acids -- we're talking three to four times the amount in traditional German and English hop varieties.

Which brings us to the hops used in Nugget Nectar. Nugget is the old-timer of the bunch, being introduced in 1983. It is the second most widely grown hop in Oregon, behind Willamette (which was more or less custom engineered for Anheuser-Busch), and it contains 10 - 14% alpha acids by weight, in comparison with 3 - 5.5% in the "noble" old world hops. Warrior and Tomahawk are relative newcomers branded as "super alpha" varieties, and a whopping 14.5 to 18% of their weight comes from alpha acids.

What does it all add up to? Well, for one thing, Nugget Nectar is one hell of a bitter beer! But let's back up a bit and do this the usual way...

The beer pours a deep amber hue, with half an inch of clumpy off-white foam. The fresh, sweet aroma is evokes grapefruit, predominantly.

Take a swig, and you're hit with a bitter blast -- you can tell it's bitter in your mouth before you even swallow. This bitterness takes a long time to settle over the tongue. Next comes a fruit punch fruitiness edged with black pepper. The carbonation is more fuzzy than fizzy, and the beer is of medium weight.

I know there is a malt platform under there, but nothing that tastes clearly like grain can muscle its way to the foreground past the imposing hops statement, just some caramel sweetness. The beer has, of course, other hop flavors beyond "bitter," those being mainly citrusy and slightly piney. Surprisingly, Nugget Nectar is designated as an "imperial amber," not even an IPA. Sure tastes more like a hopped-up IPA than a bigged-up version of Tröegs' delightful HopBack Amber, one of my very favorite beers.

In lieu of the obvious caveat that this is a drink for hop-heads only, I'll observe that on, after 1,998 user-submitted reviews, Nugget Nectar has an average rating of 97 out of a possible 100. And, in a sense, Tröegs has the British Empire to thank for that success.

From the bottle's label:

Hopheads Nirvana. Experience a heady Trifecta of Nugget, Warrior, and Tomahawk hops. 93ish I.B.U.'s

Featured beer:
Nugget Nectar

Honorable mentions:
HopBack Amber Ale

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Beer Club (week 23)

This week the Beer Club bids farewell to Snoop Dogg and thanks him for his generous contributions to the cause. We also warmly welcome the small but dynamic KT Peril to the group, and look forward to exploring the world of beer with her.

• Dominion Millennium Ale (Old Dominion Brewing Company)
• Harpoon Celtic Ale (Harpoon Brewery)
• IPA (Southern Tier Brewing Company)
• Mendocino Seasonal Bock Beer (Mendocino Brewing Company)
• Phin & Matt's Extraordinary Ale (Southern Tier Brewing Company)
• Raging Bitch Belgian-Style IPA (Flying Dog Brewery)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Schlafly Coffee Stout (The Saint Louis Brewery)

When I spoke to Two Stones Pub owner Mike Stiglitz back in January, I asked him what breweries he thought were underrated or that folks should keep an eye on. One of those he mentioned was The Saint Louis Brewery, which makes beer under the Schlafly brand, so I picked up a bottle of Schlafly Coffee Stout, their winter seasonal release.

If you're like me, you have to overcome considerable apprehension before touching to your lips anything with the name "Schlafly" on it -- and, yes, brewery founder is related to Phyllis, although there is no reason at present to believe his company is associated with reactionary political ideology. For now I'll pretend this stout I'm about to taste is just another beer from another brewery.

Pouring raises half an inch of tan foam that quickly settles to a thin film. The beer is black in my pint glass, with a deep mahogany tint when held to strong light. The aroma carries dark chocolate and undertones of espresso.

To the taste, there are coffee and roasty malt flavors in equal parts. Hops support is unobtrusive. The mouthfeel is not as creamy as other coffee stouts I've had, especially ones with oatmeal in them. Don't know whether this is because the percentage of oats in this beer's grain bill is low, but for whatever reason, the body fairly thin, which seems to bring out the hard edge of the coffee -- not that this is necessarily a bad thing.

There is some complexity in the flavor, but even though the malt is pretty well represented, instead of a captivating weave of rich espresso, kiln-fired grain, and exotic chocolate threads, the focus keeps resolving pretty squarely back to the coffee. It occurred to me is that this tastes almost like a Saranac release, which is not usually another way of saying "it is extremely complex." Still, they may have intentionally crafted it with strong emphasis on the coffee note, and it is not a bad tasting beer in the end.

Overall, I would describe this as a distinctive if not amazing coffee stout, and a respectable addition to the field. I'll need to sample another Schlafly beer before I can make a judgment on the overall genius of this brewery. For my money, Tröegs does the style better with their JavaHead Stout.

From the bottle's label:

This Fair Trade espresso is brewed using the cold toddy method for an exceptionally delicious, fresh flavor.

Schafly Coffee Stout This Oatmeal Stout with natural flavor added uses locally roasted Kaldi's Coffee.

Featured beer:
Schafly Coffee Stout

Honorable mentions:
JavaHead Stout

Coming up...

A heavy workload at my day job has me behind on my publishing schedule, but coming up in the next few days I have a review of Tröegs Nugget Nectar, Schlafly Coffee Stout, and preview of a new triple IPA from Green Flash called Palate Wrecker. Very excited about that one!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Leap of Faith

February 29th comes rarely, and Iron Hill Restaurant and Brewery intends to celebrate it this time around with the release of a beer created specially for the occasion. But you don't have to wait anything like four years for a special event at one of Iron Hill's nine regional locations.

"We're kind of event crazy around here," said Brian Finn, head brewer at Iron Hill in Wilmington, and a 16-year veteran of the local restaurant industry. In addition to two regular events a month aimed at the restaurant's Mug Club members, Finn said, there is a steady stream of beer dinners, release parties, and special pairings like the February event that matched Iron Hill brews with chocolates custom designed by chocolatier Ryan Flynn of Cantwell’s Tavern in Odessa.

Keeping customers engaged through a lively social calendar is crucial for the Wilmington restaurant. "We're here at the waterfront," said Finn. "Let's face it: people aren't just going to drop in because they happened to be passing by. We have to be a destination."

The strategy seems to be working, judging from the success of the brewpub's recent gatherings. The aforementioned chocolate pairing sold out 50 seats, and last Friday's event dubbed "The Dark Side" (a celebration of stouts, porters, and various other light-defying pours from Iron Hill and six guest breweries) filled the venue's upper floor with beer fans jockeying for their chance to be photographed with Darth Vader.

However, bringing in a crowd is not strictly about commerce for Finn. The best part of his job, he says, is exposing people to new styles and changing their perception of beer. "I love it when people say 'I'm a beer geek because of you'," he told me with a laugh. He gets the same fulfillment from conducting the training sessions that are mandatory for Iron Hill's waitstaff. The training touches on the brewing process, how to taste beer, and the do's and don'ts of tableside manner.

For tonight's Leap Day release, Finn would like to expose you to a newly conconcted Belgian strong ale he calls Leap of Faith. The beer is fermented with a Chimay yeast, one of the two Belgian strains the brewery uses in its diverse line of dubbels, trippels, and quads. I tasted Leap of Faith recently in the upstairs dining room of the brewpub, which overlooks a scenic meander of the Christina river.

This beer is a mellow apricot color and is densely cloudy with unfiltered yeast goodness. It has aromas of pineapple, pear, and Juicy Fruit gum. The body is full and mouthfeel is absolutely sumptuous -- maybe my favorite part of the experience. Pineapple and pear impressions carry over into the flavor as well, along with some yeast character and a beautifully integrated alcohol warmth. Despite its 10% alcohol by volume, this ale has a mellowness and drinkability that are pretty remarkable. I was actually recalling the flavor of Leap of Faith for several days afterward and craving another sip.

Beyond tonight's release party, take note of a few other Iron Hill events on the horizon. On Wednesday, July 18, during Wilmington Beer Week, the waterfront brewpub is slated to host an event pairing its food with the beers of other Delaware breweries, then later in the year it will be releasing a beer brewed in collaboration with Georgetown's 16 Mile Brewing Company (probably a maple porter).

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Newcastle Founders' Ale (Caledonian Brewery)

"Newcastle," in the mind of most beer buffs, is but half of a phrase completed by "Brown." That classic ale has been brewed since 1927, despite the fact that the brand has changed ownership and the brewery location has moved multiple times over the years. The current parent company is the Heineken International conglomerate, and under its watch the Newcastle line has been expanded with a new seasonal ale every year since 2010. The spring release for 2012 is this Newcastle Founders' Ale.

It's hard not to be cynical about the folksy backstory on the label (see italics below) and assume this and the other seasonals are carefully calculated by the corporate marketing squad, but who knows. Let's let the beer speak for itself.

It pours a clear deep amber with one inch of fluffy head that is just slightly off white. Good lacing as the level drops. The aroma is of musty linen, earth, and faint lemon if you really work for it. Those subdued European hops at work.

The body is medium light and pretty crisp. The flavor is dry and malty, with low complexity. Finishes dry with almost no flavor traces except some bitterness.

This is a classic English-style bitter, alright. Not flashy, but admittedly pretty authentic tasting. Pick it up this spring if you're a fan of the style -- or just grab the "one and only" brown ale, which tastes the same as it ever did.

From the bottle's label:

We bring you Newcastle Founders' Ale, a unique Limited Edition brew with the drinkability you expect from Newcastle. Our Newcastle founders came together to produce beers with real star quality. This ale is a tribute to the heritage and authenticity of those top brewers of Victorian Newcastle. Founders' is a pale ale with a dry, hoppy flavour and aroma. It is sweet rather than bitter, with a short dry finish. What better way to toast the season of renewal!

Featured beer:
Newcastle Founders' Ale

Honorable mentions:
Newcastle Brown Ale

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Double Stout (Green Flash Brewing Company)

I'm excited to be sitting down with this bottle of Green Flash Double Stout, which I've been looking forward all week to drinking.

The stream is deep mahogany while pouring, but the beer is utterly black in the pint glass. As the pour settles, there is some cascading effect, even without the help of nitrogen. The mocha brown head resembles the foam on a root beer float, and leaves lacing galore as the glass drains. A highly attractive beer.

And I find it every bit as pleasing to the nose as to the eye. The aroma is a symphony of roasty, smoky, and sweet notes: herbal hops, sorghum syrup, cured sausage casing, cold fireplace. An olfactory taxonomist's dream.

So much positive build-up to the tasting! On first sip I get very sweet, rich chocolate malt tightly wedded to perfectly calibrated bitterness. The mouthfeel is heavy but not ponderous or sticky, and the signature smoothness of oatmeal is obviously present while the 8.8% ABV is scarcely detectable. The flavor is big and bold, but rounded and nuanced in very pleasing ways. After the chocolaty body, there are coffee and slightly bitter hops on the finish.

This is a big beer done right: does not hit with the jarring alcohol ping of some imperial stouts, and does not collapse the tongue with bitterness or astringency like many highly roasted brews. Double thumbs up to this double stout from Green Flash, whose Hop Head Red Ale was another of my favorite discoveries of the past year.

From the bottle's label:


Featured beer:
Double Stout

Honorable mentions:
Hop Head Red Ale

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Ruthless Rye IPA (Sierra Nevada Brewing Company)

I know, another review of a rye beer, right? But the fact is, rye is a really fascinating ingredient to brew with. It adds subtle complexity when included as a low percentage of the grain bill, and increasingly adds a distinctive dry, spicy quality as its percentage goes up. It is a robust grain of ancient date, but it seems to be getting due appreciation only in recent years as the drinking public has grown more receptive to truly flavorful beers.

I am delighted to see rye taken up by Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, the country's second largest craft brewery (behind Boston Beer Company), and one of the great pillars of the movement. They have been making extremely high quality beer since 1979, but Terence Sullivan of Sierra Nevada confirms, "This is our first major release of a rye focused beer."

On to the tasting. The beer is a clear, deep amber/copper color, and pouring brings up two inches of very stable, clumpy off-white foam. The aroma is of earth and sappy hops, with just a telltale whiff of rye.

The frothy mouthfeel settles into an intense, concentrated bitter spiciness in the middle of the tongue. Flavors of black pepper, guava, and grapefruit ride the sweetness of a base that tastes predominantly like caramel malt. Very refreshing. The finish leaves long rye footprint once the bitterness falls off.

Overall, a terrific brew that delivers everything you came for in a rye IPA, with trademark Sierra Nevada classiness. Very drinkable, and at 6.6% ABV offers reasonable session potential.

From the bottle's label:

Ruthless Rye IPA is brewed with this rustic grain for refined flavors -- combining the peppery spice of rye and the bright citrusy flavors of whole cone hops to create a complex ale for the tumultuous transition to Spring.

Featured beer:
Ruthless Rye IPA

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Black Lightning (DuClaw Brewing Company)

I thank the Beer Club for hipping me to yet another brewery I probably should have investigated before now. DuClaw Brewing Company started in Bel Air, Maryland in 1996 and now has four brewpubs in the eastern part of the state. Their distribution is still limited to Maryland (minus the Eastern Shore), parts of D.C. and Northern Virginia, but I find that at least one of their beers, Black Lightning, is definitely ready for prime time.

It has quite a lovely appearance in my glass: opaque black with tiny-bubbled, tan foam that leaves behind some lacing. The aroma carries minty and herbal hops with roasted grain undertones.

There is a lot going on in the taste. In the main body I get sweet, smoky molasses, prune and espresso -- a lot of stout-like characteristics, actually, but with more hop flavor in the balance. There is some detectable alcohol as well. The body is medium to heavy, and mouthfeel is quite substantial. The finish is roasty and mildly bitter.

I find this beer wonderfully complex. It doesn't seem like just another contestant in the black IPA trend, but more like a style that deserves its place in the spectrum with schwarzbier, porter, and stout. Thumbs up from me, and recommended to lovers of dark things.

By the way, Morgan Schell from the marketing department at DuClaw tells me that the brewery has expansion plans that could bring their product to Delaware, Pennsylvania, and beyond in the next year or so. When I hear more I'll post an update.

From the bottle's label:

This medium-bodied American Black Ale is a stormy balance of thunderous roasted malt flavor and the aroma, bitterness, and electrifying finish of American hops. Pop it off, and get ready to... ride the lightning!

Featured beer:
Black Lightning

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Noble Rot (Dogfish Head Craft Brewery)

You might notice these days that the flavor and character of beer is being discussed in the carefully nuanced terms once reserved for wine.

Dig a little deeper and you will find an enthusiastic community of collectors who seek out "ageable" beers and squirrel them away in the cellar as one would a bottle of Burgundy and Bordeaux. And it is now common for restaurants and brewpubs to offer beer pairing dinners, where a glass of stout or a goblet of Belgian ale will be placed alongside entrees and given legitimate gastronomic consideration.

At the same time that beer is finding a market with gourmet sensibilities, wine is reaching its broadest audience ever in the U.S. and is being consumed in record volume. Research by the Wine Market Council attributes these facts to the "wine boom" of the '70s and early '80s when baby boomers embraced wine, and to a similar adoption of the beverage in recent years by the generation known as the Millennials. Many are drinking wine on occasions and in settings that have been the traditional province of beer.

So, as the distinction between the beer and wine worlds blurs, Milton's Dogfish Head Craft Brewery has chosen an appropriate moment to release Noble Rot, which they describe as a "saison-esque" ale in which grapes contribute 49.5 percent of the fermentable sugar and the rest comes from traditional brewing grains. Noble Rot will be hitting shelves and taps over the next few weeks.

Although Dogfish previously experimented with grapes as a beer additive in their limited edition release Red & White, Noble Rot takes the grape-to-grain ratio to such an extreme that the resulting product can truly be called a beer/wine hybrid. "This is the absolute closest to equal meshing of the wine world and the beer world that's ever been done commercially," says Dogfish Head Founder and President Sam Calagione in the press release that accompanied our tasting sample.

While pinot noir juices were used in Red & White, the grapes in this latest concoction are specially cultivated viognier and pinot gris grown by Alexandria Nicole Cellars of Prosser, Washington. The viognier grapes have been infected with a benevolent fungus called botrytis (which French vintners called pourriture noble, or "noble rot"), which concentrates the sweetness of the grapes by reducing their water content. The pinot gris grapes have also undergone flavor intensification, in their case by a manual culling process.

To fairly evaluate this unique brew, I wanted to include the tasting impressions of an expert from the wine side of the house in addition to my own. I called around and eventually found someone even better suited to the task: Joe Hiester, who oversees the surprisingly extensive beer program at Wilmington's Domaine Hudson, a wine bar and restaurant with a wine list 425 bottles deep. Hiester, a 31-year-old Wilmington native, has been at the restaurant for about four years, prior to which he worked for Eclipse Bistro and Iron Hill Brewery.

Hiester and I arranged four wine glasses in front of us on the bar of the elegant yet cozy Domaine Hudson.

Into the first glass, as a reference for the saison style that Dogfish loosely targeted, we poured Hennepin Farmhouse Saison from Brewery Ommegang of Cooperstown, New York. This beer has a complex aroma that combines notes of lilac and honeysuckle with suggestions of yeast, pale malts, and banana bread. The taste is equally complex, first lemony and tart, then clove and cardamom notes over a fruity foundation, all lifted by effusive carbonation. Light grain and grass flavors are present in the dry finish.

Next, to get an idea of the grape flavors at play, we poured a glass of Domaine Saint-Amant Côtes du Rhône La Borry, made predominantly from viognier. In the bouquet of this wine I detected apple, overripe melon, and alcohol. In the mouth I noted low acidity, and flavors of weighty minerals and green apple.

To taste the particular effect of botrytis, we poured a glass of Domaine du Petit Paris Monbazillac, a dessert wine made in southwest France from handpicked botrytis grapes. The mouthfeel of this wine was dramatically heavier and oilier than the non-botrytis wine. It was sweet and densely flavorful, almost lush, with a slight citrus quality. In comparison with the Côtes du Rhône, I could not have asked for a clearer demonstration of the "noble rot" effect.

So now, fully grounded in every quality we might encounter, we turned to Dogfish Head's Noble Rot, which shined a bright straw color in the fourth wine glass. A reserved quantity of white foam is produced by the pour. The aroma is full and intriguing, and has unmistakable hints of Belgian character -- subdued spiciness, mustiness, and bread -- as well as unmistakable clues to the presence of sweet, tart grape.

There is a distinct contour to the beer's flavor: it starts with a blast of yeasty effects and fleeting, wine-like high notes, then drops into a solid white grape middle, and resolves in a long, meandering finish as the other threads drop off to a clean, light malt flavor. A hybrid, indeed, but as Hiester observed with approval, "At the end it tastes like I'm drinking a beer, and I love that."

It's fascinating to sort out on the palate all the ingredients and consider their role in this beer's maturing process. The grape component of Noble Rot does not share the slickness or sweetness on display in the Monbazillac. I imagine the Belgian ale yeast used to ferment this beer was ravenous for the sugars it found in the botrytized viognier must, and left behind only enough to hint at the grape's original flavor. The choice of pilsner malt and wheat as the grains was wise, as they are light enough not to conflict with the wine flavors, but have enough body to ride them out.

After a few cycles through the various libations we were comparing, Hiester noted, "I have all these things to drink in front of me: a nice French viognier, a saison beer that I've loved for a long time, and this Noble Rot. And I keep reaching for the Noble Rot."

As for its food pairing potential, we tried the beer with a few items from the Domaine Hudson menu. It proved a clean, refreshing accompaniment to the seared sea scallop with broccoli risotto, meshing with the savory flavors of the seared surface and providing contrast with the subtle, succulent inner meat. It worked even better against the chilled seafood salad, buoying the steamed Little Neck clams and Prince Edward Island mussels, while teasing out and boosting the fresh vegetable flavors of the finely diced red bell pepper, celery, Spanish green olives, and arugula.

Hiester, who helps his restaurant patrons pair beers with their meals, emphatically remarked: "I want food with this." Dogfish Head Craft Brewery can count that as a success.