Category: Beer

Cellar Maintenance, Random Thoughts

I’ve got a few too many things bouncing around my head to write a singular topic blog post, so I thought I’d break one up into multiple, bite-sized bits.

-Got around to updating my cellar, it definitely changes a LOT, and keeping up with it is tough. I basically kept them divided into “not ageing” and “ageing”, with my website review links on the bottom, and a link to my Ratebeer ratings. Maybe if the “not ageing” category gets too large, might just get rid of it, and concentrate on having more website reviews of those beers.

-I’ve been really intrigued by Google+ as of late, and I hope more people continue to use it, as it seems to be getting more interesting as time passes. I realize at this point Facebook has such a huge leg up on it, but the main potential I see within it are the “Hangouts”. Starting a Hangout beer tasting event might be an interesting idea…there’s a max capacity of 10 people, though, so there are limitations. That being said, a 10-person beer tasting is a pretty good turnout! After it’s all said and done, it’s even possible to automatically upload the hangout to YouTube for others to watch later on if they so choose. The potential is there, I’m going to have to see what kind of interest there is in it. Here’s my personal page, and the website’s page, if you’re interested in checking them out. The service is great if you’re looking for something similar to Facebook, but more straightforward (and less Farmville spam).

-“Craft Beer” has now been officially defined by Merriam-Webster as “a speciality beer produced in limited quantities”. This has been talked about for the last little while amongst beer lovers, and the general consensus seems to be that the definition is way off. For a craft beer to be deemed as “special” is alright, I guess (though I would have chosen a better word…artisan perhaps? Made with love?), but it’s the “limited quantities” that confuses me. To what degree is a craft beer limited? If there is less of a certain beer produced than what a macrobrewery would produce of one of their beers, is that considered limited? Microbreweries can pump out quite a lot of beer, just look at the Boston Beer Company, Stone or Dogfish Head as examples. It seems as though the definition was a little rushed, if you ask me.

-I recently hit up Elizabeth Station again, the place is quickly becoming my absolute favorite place to pick up beer. The only limiting factor is that I’d usually have to pay duty (I didn’t have to this last time…nice bonus!). Or I could just, you know, go down to Bottleworks in Seattle and spend the night. If you’re in Bellingham, please check them out, I think they’re killing it…they always have some interesting beers on tap, themed nights (sour night, anyone?), a cereal bar, and a staggering variety of bottles for the space that they’ve got.

I’ll be back soon enough with a more focused post in the next couple days!

Stone’s “Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale” Review

It’s been a helluva week for me, what with only 1 day off last week and Erin and my own birthday celebrations to get through, I simply haven’t had that much time to write. Here I am now, at the end of my weekend, finally getting something out the door! Now, as I had planned earlier, I wanted to crack open a few good bottles from my cellar in order to share and review them on the site. That didn’t happen, unfortunately, as there was more than enough liquor to go around during our birthday potluck that I just couldn’t get into more, especially if my senses were going to be fairly “off”. That being said, I did get a chance to try a beer I picked up recently in Washington (Elizabeth Station, to be precise…killer beer store!): Stone’s “Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale”. I’ve had a couple of Stone’s beers just recently (such as the “10th Anniversary Ruination IPA”), but I haven’t had the flagship Arrogant Bastard before. I got a little too impatient to try and wait to pick up a bottle so I could compare the two, and cracked the oaked version this evening. Here’s my take on it…

Appearance:

Apparently, I’m not worthy…

I poured straight into my glass, and almost overflowed it with foam. A little too overzealous, I guess, but I let it settle down a bit before putting the rest in. When it was all over, I was left with a wonderfully thick head, measuring about 2 fingers width, the general “standard”. It stuck around for a while, too, which was nice to have while sipping to give a creamier effect. The colour is a sort of dark cherry red, with some sediment floating around here and there. Other than the sediment, a very attractive-looking beer.

Aroma:

Behind the initial woodiness you get right away, you smell the malt a split second later. It smells like the barrel, which is pretty comforting (to me, at least!). If you wait long enough and keep at it, you can pick up some currant behind it all…

Taste:

When you get around to tasting a bunch of barrel-aged beers (my first ever was the Phillips Double Barrel Scotch Ale, but there are tons of examples out there…), you will be able to pick up on the wood flavour right away. This was pretty prominent, though I can’t say I specifically tasted oak, as I don’t know what oak tastes like from memory (something to work on?). The other dominating flavour was caramel, in addition to tons of malt, but really not much more going on beyond that.

Mouthfeel:

I’m not sure if it was the wood, but this beer stung the back of my tongue like no other beer. Super bitter! It starts out right at the tip of your tongue, but doesn’t hit nearly as hard as it does in the back. I wouldn’t say that ruined this beer, because I got used to it, but it was a bit of a shock at first.

I really enjoy getting into barrel-aged beers, they make me yearn for the fall months, and sitting around a campfire. They add a depth and complexity, though I would love to know what the standalone Arrogant Bastard tastes like, so I could understand just how much. Wouldn’t mind finding out if the original also has that incredibly bitter finish, or if it was the wood that made it so.

Unfortunately Stone’s offerings aren’t available up here in Canada, but they have a fairly wide distribution in the US, so no matter where you go across the border, it shouldn’t be too hard to locate. This particular beer is now offered in 4 packs, along with a few other specific beers from their lineup. I’d recommend picking up the oaked version of the Arrogant Bastard only if you’ve had the original, as that’s my only real regret. Nice beer overall, and if I came across it again I would consider ageing it for 6 months or so to see what happens.

#IPADay

It’s here…today marks the 2nd anniversary of IPA Day, originally started by social media/craft beer personalities Ashley Routson (The Beer Wench) and Ryan A. Ross to celebrate the much-loved India Pale Ale style (and its many variants)! The IPA ranks 2nd, after Imperial Stouts, in my list of favourite styles overall, but it’s pretty damn close. Living in the Pacific Northwest gives me the opportunity to sample some of the most amazing IPAs, as many brewers here seem to be obsessed with it (and rightfully so).

Tonight I’m celebrating with a Central City Imperial IPA, a 9.5% alcohol monster from one of my favourite local breweries. Its beautiful golden orange appearance, sweet grapefruit and reasonably malty aroma, and hoppy-as-hell, caramelly, slightly woody taste make this a seriously kick-ass brew. It’s deceptively smooth. It really shouldn’t be that smooth. This bottled version was a limited release just recently (Legacy still has some, last I checked), but it’s usually available at their brewpub in Surrey fresh on tap, which is brilliant. Admittedly, my bottle is aged to the point where the hops have been muted and smoothed out a bit (the result of cellaring any IPA), but it really doesn’t matter, it’s still bloody good.

It’s events like these that really help to push craft beer into the mainstream, utilizing something as simple as a hashtag to at least pique interest, but it’s really about camaraderie between beer lovers, and an excuse to try something you may not have had before (or simply go on a journey to acquire some fabled Pliny the Elder). Happy IPA Day, all!

Beer Judging

Something I’ve realized in the last while: it is possible to have many different passions, and they can be expressed in a multitude of ways. For me, cooking has always been a passion. Video games and board games are passions of mine, though they take a back seat nowadays due to how busy I seem to be. Beer is a relatively new passion of mine, and I always try to learn what I can (usually on the internet, and I’m sure the time I log on is slightly annoying to Erin…). I work in one industry, and have had thoughts about getting into the beer industry. But if I like food and cooking, why should I take the plunge into something different so hastily? The beer industry pays around the same as the cooking industry, so it wouldn’t be about money. Really, as I see it, these 2 passions are interchangeable.

I’ve recently set a guideline for myself regarding my passions: incorporate something into my life that pertains to that passion, without necessarily trying to pursue it as a career. Too many people get into one career because they are passionate about it, only to be chewed up and spat out, or leave in disgust because they don’t like certain aspects of it. I didn’t want to just jump into a job involving beer, rather I wanted to do something alongside my career that could keep the passion going. I settled on becoming a homebrewer and a beer judge. Now, I haven’t had the opportunity to document one of my homebrewing experiences yet, and I have only brewed 3 batches (one of which was a failure), but after the initial equipment cost, it is a relatively cheap endeavour, so I plan on brewing many more and chronicling it here on the website. As far as becoming a beer judge, well, where do I start?

The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) is designed to set guidelines for beer judges, it keeps things official, professional and in check. It all starts with an exam, and luckily their website contains most of what you need to study for it. With their study guide a reasonable amount of reading on its own, it’s the recommended reading that gets a little out of hand…out of print books, back orders of magazines…the list goes on. Luckily, there are a two amazing books that outline a lot of what the BJCP wants you to know:

Tasting Beer, by Randy Mosher

I can’t tell you how invaluable this book is, to just about anybody interested in beer at any level. It’s got some history on beer, a section on various glassware, how to pair beer with food, an outline of how to judge beer, and details on all beer styles (complete with prime examples of the style). Though this book tells you about the brewing process, there is another book that goes about it in more detail…

How to Brew, by John J. Palmer

This book is a bible for any homebrewer, let alone professional one. Divided into sections based on experience, it helps to guide you through the process, troubleshoot problems, and move on to creating your own recipes. Needless to say, it has a ton of the information you’d need to know for the technical brewing questions on the exam.

Now, experience is everything, so the general recommendation seems to be that you should go and volunteer at beer judging events beforehand, and get the opportunity to taste and judge beers on your own or with a study group before you attempt the exam. I’m taking things slowly, I’ll admit, but after I’ve had the opportunity to analyse some beers on my own, I’ll get over my initial hesitation and keep an eye out for some events to volunteer, with the hopes I’ll be able to ask some judges various questions pertaining to the program.

After the “apprenticing”, and taking the exam, you’re put into a tier. “Recognized” is the level in which you basically have no event experience under your belt. You need 5 “experience points” to attain “Certified”, where you’ve judged in a few competitions. Then it moves onto “National”, where you’d need a minimum score on the exam of 80 (you are allowed to re-take the exam) plus 20 experience points, and “Master” which requires an exam score of 90, with 40 experience points. Basically, the higher you score and the more events your able to do, the more you can climb the ladder. I’m in no hurry, but it would be kind of cool to get to the “National” level at some point, and be able to go to events outside of the general area I live in. Only time will tell.

Should I mention the need to just go out and drink beer? No amount of reading will prepare the palate for the real thing, so naturally, I’ll have to continue drinking (responsibly, and for science!) and chronicling…at the very least for the sake of this website!

“Westy 12”

Well, well…looks like one of the world’s most difficult-to-obtain beers is on it’s way to Canada in the form of a nice gift pack complete with proper glassware. The beer in question is St. Sixtus’ “Westvleteren 12”, a trappist beer (made by monks, no less) that is normally only sold in Belgium through a lottery system.

The gift box, in all its glory…

You contact them, they call you when your name is chosen, and you pick it up at the brewery (being sure to take down your license plate number so you don’t sneak in for even more cases!). The monks have recently looked at renovating and revitalizing their monastery, and what better way to raise money than to give everyone an equal opportunity to enjoy a coveted beer.  That doesn’t happen quite often. We are lucky in Vancouver (being a major city with very persistent beer importers) in that we get a wide selection of beers from all over the globe.

Every now and again a beer comes in that’s rarer than the last. “Westy 12” is pretty high up there, and we have had the opportunity to buy it once before, most likely because someone was able to buy some in Belgium and sell it to certain private liquor stores over here. Probably not very kosher according to the government (be it Belgian or BC…), but absolute bliss to those who knew what kind of chance they were getting.

First off, a bit of a low-down on what it means to be a “trappist” beer. You may have heard that “champagne” is not “champagne” if it’s made outside of the Champagne region of France. This is because it is an appellation, or a legally defined geographical area. The same thing goes for Tennessee whiskey, or Kentucky bourbon. There are rules laid forth in which these products should be made. With trappist beer, there is no defined geographical area, rather the abbey in which the beer is brewed at must adhere to strict rules. They are, courtesy of Wikipedia, as follows:

-The beer must be brewed within the walls of a Trappist monastery, either by the monks themselves or under their supervision.
-The brewery must be of secondary importance within the monastery and it should witness to the business practices proper to a monastic way of life.
-The brewery is not intended to be a profit-making venture. The income covers the living expenses of the monks and the maintenance of the buildings and grounds. Whatever remains is donated to charity for social work and to help persons in need.
-Trappist breweries are constantly monitored to assure the irreproachable quality of their beers.

St. Sixtus is just one of 7 abbeys that brew trappist beer in the world, with Rochefort, Orval, Chimay, Achel, Westmalle and La Trappe being the other 6. If a brewery were to produce a beer similar to a trappist beer, but did not have the authentication, it would be considered an “Abbey” beer, similar to the way wineries outside of Champagne need to call their champagne a “sparkling wine”. A good example of such a brewery is St. Bernardus.

A phenomenal oil painting of the trappist beers…from beerpaintings.blogspot.com

Westy 12 is what’s called a “quadrupel”, a strong ale with over 10% ABV. There is no real judgement on what makes a quadrupel, it’s mainly used to identify that it is stronger in alcohol than a “tripel”, which is stronger than a “dubbel” (Fun fact: the “X”s you may have seen on the tops of barrels is the convention in which monks would indicate what beer was in it. XX for dubbel, XXX for tripel). The beers are fairly different, with a quadrupel being quite dark, and the tripel pale. Now, Westy 12 is considered a “holy grail”, with a ton of hype behind it. There are naysayers out there, who compare it to other trappist quadrupels or abbey ales, but is it vastly different? After having a fresh bottle (still have one ageing), I can safely say there is one big difference: the chewiness factor. I can’t say I’ve ever had a beer that has chewiness to it, and it’s completely strange when you experience it, but it adds another level to this super-complex beer. Aromas of yeast, figs and caramel…raisins and dark fruit on the palate, and a fantastic lingering smooth alcohol aftertaste make it quite an experience.

In Canada, the gift boxes have recently started being released (around July 20th) in Alberta and Ontario. More provinces will follow suit, though there is no indication as to when I’ll see it here in BC. The US will see them in September, so it looks like they’re trying to release in short bursts so as to not be overwhelming. The average cost of these packs is $75, and though it might seem pricey now, keep in mind that I shelled out $40 for 2 bottles…no glassware, no fancy box…nothing but the beer. It’s a great opportunity to try something historic. Call around to your local private liquor stores to see if they will be carrying it. I would recommend having a trappist/abbey night where you compare the various dubbels, tripels and quadrupels, or perhaps age some of them and do a comparison with a meal to pair it with. As for myself, I currently have a bottle of Rochefort 10 that I’ve aged for about as long as my 2nd bottle of Westvleteren 12, and I’d like to settle the differences between the two once and for all (though trust me on the chewiness factor…I don’t think Rochefort 10 has that magic). Expect to see a post on that fairly soon! Until then, go check out some of these trappist and abbey beers. Here in Vancouver, the only two that are not readily available are Achel and Westvleteren (well, yet…). Chimay, La Trappe and Westmalle even have big 750ml bottles (share if you’d like, they will floor you if you’re not careful!), and they are all totally reasonable on the wallet. Go forth!

Whistler Brewing Co.’s “Pineapple Express” Wheat Ale Review

There seems to be a growing trend amongst BC craft breweries that I’ve noticed in the last little while: interesting seasonal releases in 750ml bottles. Russell Brewing, Lighthouse Brewing, Vancouver Island Brewery and Whistler Brewing are all recent examples of companies that have taken some crazy idea for a seasonal and ran with it. Russell began their “Ministry of Beer” series with a really awesome wheat wine (??) that surprised a lot of beer geeks. They also brew commercial batches of national homebrew competition winners, an idea that I love and want to see more of. Lighthouse seriously upped their game with the stellar Belgian Black and Belgian White: two very, very good beers. Even Granville Island Brewing, which has been bought out by macrobrewery Molson, gets the opportunity to make some killer seasonals (such as their Imperial IPA and recent Cascadian Dark Ale). Not every brewery gets to do this, and not nearly as often. For some, the production is too time-consuming, or they are simply catching up their regular line-up with no room for anything else. I’d like to imagine breweries like Driftwood and Phillips, who release seasonals quite often, were the inspiration for everyone else in BC, but the need to create something unique, interesting, or just plain awesome has been around for quite some time, I figure…

Whistler Brewing Co. first dipped their toes in the seasonal pool with their bright, easy-drinking Grapefruit Ale one summer, and it stuck so well that they now produce it as part of their 6-pack lineup during the summertime. In the fall, they released their Chestnut Ale, which was considered a great departure of the typical pumpkin ales normally offered during the season (though I don’t mind pumpkin ales at all…keep them coming!). Springtime brought forth their Chai Maple Ale, which I found to be considerably sweet, and my least favorite from their seasonals thus far. This summer, with the need to fill the gap left by the Grapefruit Ale, Whistler has had to come up with something equally as refreshing. Starting off with a fruit-based beer was probably a good idea. But pineapple? The cook in me knows that the acid from pineapple is quite harsh to other things, including itself. But, seeing as they had much success with the grapefruit, they should manage just fine. Or did they?

It pours a nice yellowish orange, with a fairly decent amount of head, even if it doesn’t stick around too long. The smell takes me back, though, it’s like a sweet candied pineapple…I loved that stuff when I was younger! The flavour is more or less the same…that candied pineapple is right there in your face. Maybe even a tinge of orange as well. Not as sweet as the smell would tell you, but still reasonably so. It feels completely crisp, but doesn’t linger around for too long on your palate (to be expected, it’s not too heavy). If you’re looking for complexity in a beer, this doesn’t have it. At 5%, you can split a couple with others no problem, or finish one yourself without getting completely smashed. As it warms up it kind of loses its magic, so I would definitely try to have it as cold as you can. Just like the grapefruit, I’d be happy drinking this through the evening any day this summer (even though the day I reviewed this it was the one cold and rainy day…).

Overall, I’d recommend this beer to both the beer geek and those newer to beer. Although Erin still thinks it just “tastes like beer”, it has enough fruity qualities to ease people in. In fact, fruity wheat beers are a great way to get people into trying out beer (as well as some lambics). I’ll probably have a Ratebeer review up on it soon based on my findings, for those interested, but for the time being I’d say it rates about a 3.5 out of 5. But for those who don’t care for numbers, I would just recommend trying it out if you come across a bottle!

Beer Night

One of my favourite forms of therapy for the last year or so has been the so-called “Beer Night”. Getting together with some friends and enjoying a few different brews (even Erin has been known to enjoy a nice lambic now and again!) is a perfect wind-down to the week. It used to be an almost weekly thing, but has recently been bumped down to an occasional night here and there due to conflicting schedules. The formula is rather simple: buy some craft beers, preferably ones you’ve never had, and share them amongst a group. You can buy beers that you’ve already had, but ideally they’ll be completely new to everyone. I’ve had the opportunity to try some amazing stuff during these evenings, but it’s also about the social aspect. It’s easy to sit down with a drink and chat with someone. It builds camaraderie, and sparks interesting topics of conversation. It allows you to vent about a difficult week, or celebrate a good one.

One of our more interesting nights…

You don’t necessarily have to choose a theme, nor do you have to go from lightest to strongest beer, you can just crack open whatever and have a blast. Recently, I had a night that started out with a Stone Ruination 10th Anniversary IPA, one of the most intense beers of the evening, but because it was the most unique beer available that night, I wanted to be able to taste it before I began to get too sauced.

Feel free to throw some food in the mix, as well, offering cheese or another appetizer, a entire multi-course meal or having everything in float form with ice cream. Personally, once I have a better grasp on pairings, I’d like the opportunity to do a full-on meal with a beer for each course.

These nights aren’t limited to beer, of course, but it’s a decent way to get those who might be unsure of what they like a chance to try something unique. Give it a shot and tell me what you think. Just a quick note: try not to have a night of just barley wines and imperial stouts…