Thursday, May 31, 2012

Back from Belgium!

Well our amazing trip to Belgium is finally over. We got back a couple days ago but before that we went back to Brussels for one last day of drinking awesome beer. Well, really it was so we didn't have to get up at 4am to catch our flight the next day, but getting one more day in Brussels was a nice plus.

To finish up, we revisited Moeder Lambic Fontainas since the other time we went we were totally exhausted. After having a Cantillon Faro and another one I forget, we were lucky enough to be able to order a bottle of Cantillon Fou' Foune, something I've had on draft but never in the bottle.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Belgium Day 8: Antwerp & De Kulminator

Yesterday Jo and I took a day trip to the lovely city of Antwerp. While we knew the city would be fun to visit the real reason was to visit the relatively famous beer bar, De Kulminator. After looking at the various buildings in the city, we made our way there when it opened around four. And, holy crap, so many beers. Just choosing my first beer was really difficult.

However I managed and ended up ordering:
  • 2003 Rochefort 10: big caramel flavor, very smooth.
  • De Struise Black Damnation III Black Mes: lots of nice whiskey flavor, almost graham crackers.
  • 2005 De Dolle Stille Nacht Special Reserva: best of the night. Amazing vanilla and oak combination that was just killer.
  • 1987 Bellevue Geuze: yep, 1987. Interesting geuze but really not that exciting. Very still and close to apple juice. When else was I going to get to try something from 1987 though?
The bar itself was very interesting with lots of knick knacks and was almost like drinking in someone's living room. There were tons of other beers I could have tried too but we had to make our way back to the train. Alas, my life is so difficult. What a place though!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Central Waters Bourbon Barrel Barleywine

I'd been drinking mostly IPAs for a few days in order to finish them up before our trip to Belgium and decided I needed a change of pace. So I sort of went to an extreme and opened one of my bottles of Central Waters Bourbon Barrel Barleywine, an 11.5% barleywine aged in bourbon barrels. Which you probably knew from the oh so descriptive name but why not repeat myself.
Wonderful bourbon and vanilla nose with just a hint of fruitiness of the underlying barleywine. Basically sets the tone for what you're about to drink. Thick and powerful first sip. Bourbon first followed by a little alcohol and then vanilla. The base barleywine is basically overpowered by the bourbon and vanilla which is okay in my book. It's not fooling around at all though. If you like bourbon, you'll definitely like this. If you don't it may be too much. I'll say I thought it was pretty delicious and was a perfect choice to change things up.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Belgium Day 5: Cantillon

Yesterday we finally made it over to Cantillon while it was actually open. Holy crap, what an awesome place. The self/-guided tour was really cool and getting to see their old style brewing equipment was awe inspiring. Plus their koelschip was super fancy and impressive. If you're in Brussels, don't miss your chance to visit this piece of beer history!

Now on to Bruges!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Belgium Day 3: Westvleteren & Struise

I promised Jo I wouldn't be quite so long winded today like I was yesterday. We'll see if I can manage it. Yesterday our plan was to visit the abbey of St. Sixtus and then head on a bit further to check out the Struise brewery. To get there we took a train to the town of Poperinge and then rented bikes to do the 3km or so trip to Westvleteren and cafe In de Vrede.

After about twenty minutes of smelling manure and having a billion flies hit me in the face (seriously, so many flies it was crazy), we arrived at the abbey of St. Sixtus. A little history first. The abbey is a real monastery with real monks living there. To support it they sell a small amount of beer under the monicker of Westvleteren in three different styles: blonde, 8, and 12. The most popular one on BeerAdvicate is the 12 and at times it is also the highest rated beer which is funny since the monks don't sell it anywhere but at the abbey. You can buy some for take away but that's it. The other way to try it is to get a seat at the cafe In de Vrede across the street and that's what we did.

The first one I ordered was of course the 12. It's basically a quad but they refer to it as a Bruno since the quad style isn't really recognized in Belgium. Clove in the nose with a little plum sweetness. Very smooth on the first sip. Caramel and plum are the major flavors with a little chocolate in the back end as those flavors come together. Some alcohol was apparent but not at all bad for around 11%. People like to claim it isn't that good fresh but I thought it was an excellent representation of the style. Delicious.

Next I got a glass of the 8 while Jo got a glass of the blonde. The 8 had a lighter nose than the 12 and had a little more chocolate than clove. Body followed with chocolate, caramel and a little hint of sweetness and clove in the finish. I liked the 12 slightly better but this one was definitely less harsh than it. I can totally see why some people prefer this one though.

I also took a few sips of the blonde that Jo ordered. That was a different experience as it had a spicy nose and was a much sharper beer. Lighter body obviously with a spicy pepperiness almost. Glad I tried it but also glad I just ordered a second glass of the 12 instead of a full one of these. Jo's favorite was the 8 as the 12 was too much for her.

The food at In de Vrede was very simple but it's also quite inexpensive. We got two sandwiches which were tasty enough. The star for me though was the ice cream made with the Westvleteren 12. That was really good and if you're there you should order it for sure.

To finish up our trip we biked over to Oostvleteren and Struise. The brewery isn't actually up and running really so Urbain was over at Deca where they do their full brewing. Instead, we got to chat with his daughter Axelle and opened a bottle of their Pannepeut which was tasty.

The train may be kind of long and you kind of end up in the middle of nowhere, but this trip was really worth doing once. If you have the time it was quite fun and the bike ride was super easy and really flat. I'm glad to have tried all three Westvleteren beers and to check out the Struise school. So cool.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Belgium Day 2: Drie Fonteinen

With our first day and some of the jet lag behind us, we planned to take a train ride to the little town of Beersel in order to visit the 3 Fonteinen restaurant. In early April we found out that the tasting room was closing but I was ass ured by some people that the restaurant was still totally worth visiting and boy were they right.

Our trip started with an easy thirty minute train ride. I had read that on weekdays it was pretty easy to get out to Beersel and that turned out to be true. Just one switch in a town called Halle got us right there. When you get off the train the first thing Jo and I noticed is that we weren't in a large town anymore. Off in front of us was just a large empty field and off to the side were a bunch of horses that kept looking at us as if we didn't belong there.

After doing a tour of the very cool Kasteel de Beersel, we made our way up a large hill to the restaurant. It was actually very easy to find as we could just follow the signs for the Centrum Hotel. Never did find the hotel, but the signs led us right to 3 Fonteinen so lucky us. We we still a few minutes early as the restaurant didn't open until noon so we went around back and popped into the store first. And, wow, I had never ever seen so many bottles of 3 Fonteinen in one place. I'm talking about crates and crates of it. Just amazing. The shop itself was a smallish room with fantastic prices for everything. I'm talking about 3 euro geuze, 11 euro for the kriek with the fancy cherries which goes for $40 in the US, things like that. Pretty awesome. But it was time to head into the restaurant for lunch so I'll come back to the shop later..

The restaurant is a couple rooms with about ten tables in each plus an outside area which is probably very nice when the weather is good. After sitting, I flipped through the menu to find their lambic section and after scanning through it my eyes immediately focused on the bottle of Hommage they offered. So glad we decided to come here! And what's even funnier is that the couple that sat next to us was also from the Philly area! Small world! We had a fun time talking beer with them and exchanging stories.

However I didn't want to start out with something that rare so got a glass of the cask lambic. Funky, buttery nose. No hint of the bitterness like in the Cantillon yesterday. Delicious first sip, light tartness followed by some buttery oak flavor and some funk. Vanilla appeared as I drank more too. Just a delicious start.

Next we decided to order the bottle of Hommage, a raspberry Lambic from 2007. Smelled strongly of fermented raspberries. Really interesting nose. Jo didn't think it made you want to drink it but I thought it was inviting. I'm odd though. After the complex first sip, the nose is all but forgotten. The fermented raspberry still exists, but there's a tasty tartness and funkiness that came with it. This bottle may have been expensive but it was totally worth it and just amazing. Apparently there aren't that many bottles left of it either.

My last beer was something called faro which is Lambic mixed with like candi sugar. Very interesting though Jo didn't like it. I thought it was cool to try though.

With lunch done we went back into the shop for a bit and I chatted with Lijde and Thomas, two of the employees for a while about different things which was super fun. I bought a few bottle and then Jo and I came back to Brussels. An awesome trip and some awesome beer. Definitely a place to go if you're ever here.

Friday, May 18, 2012

I'm in Belgium!

I'm sitting here in Brussels at breakfast figuring out exactly what to write. Originally it was going to be about Cantillon but it was a public holiday yesterday so it was closed. Serious let down but we rescheduled that visit for Monday so phew. I mean, you can't visit Brussels without going to Cantillon, can you? (The answer is no by the way.)

To make up for it, we found our way to Place Fontainas and hit up Moeder Lambic there. And what a replacement. The first thing you notice when you walk in is that the bar is ridiculously tall. Like, really tall. Then you realize they have five different Cantillon on draft and you won't mind that you feel like a short child sitting at the tall bar.

I started with a glass of the Lambic Cantillon cask. I believe this is one year of Lambic unlike geuze which is a blend. Mild funky nose because it was on cask. The body was slightly watery at first but then was quite funky, a little tart and surprisingly bitter. I don't know if it was because it was fresh or what but the bitterness was quite apparent. Still for my first beer in Belgium, what a choice. After that I got a glass of Rose de Gambrinus on cask. Raspberry sweetness in the nose and then with the same funky bitterness but this time with a little raspberry to balance it out. So tasty.

And that's it for now. Got to get going so we can catch a train to Beersel to go to Drie Fonteienen. Sorry about the novel without pictures but I got a bit caught up in the moment!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Pete Giovinco Thyme Machine

Another of Pete's homebrews crossed my doorstep and this one was a pale ale brewed with thyme. Originally Pete was going to name this Thyme Bomb but they changed it at some point and decided on Thyme Machine instead. Let me say, thyme bomb may not be the name, but that's certainly still the theme.
Big thyme nose. Shocking description, I know, but man, it smelled like thyme. Crazy. Basically like drinking a glass of thyme. There's a nice mild pale ale underneath but every sip started and ended with thyme. Was it good? Was it bad? I'm honestly not sure. Actually, no, I don't think it was bad. Bizarre as all hell but not bad. It did go decently with my pizza I'll say that. But, heck, if homebrewing isn't about experimenting then I don't know what the point is so kudos to them for trying something even if I don't think I ever want to have another taste of this one again.

Also, don't forget I'm in Belgium now. Look for some quick write ups over the next few days.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Nodding Head Monkey Madness

Okay, before explaining anything, let me just drop this right here.
Have I set the scene? I think I have. And yes, the assistant brewer Fava is inside.

So this past weekend was another Second Saturday event at Nodding Head, this time named Monkey Madness. The theme for this was beers with lemongrass and ginger, following along from their world famous Monkey Knife Fight (or at least it should be world famous, best name ever). Along with two variations of that beer, they brewed a couple others using lemongrass to round out the lineup.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Bell's Kalamazoo Stout

Bell's has quite a few stouts in their lineup but they are all slightly different in more than just name. Which, well, makes sense since it would be dumb to make the same beer and just name it differently. The Kalamazoo stout is an American Stout made with brewer's licorice.
Mild roast in the nose with a hint of the licorice bite. It's not as strong as pure licorice, but it's there. Flavor basically followed with the licorice notes along with an almost smoky flavor. Not much roast really as it is overpowered by the brewer's liquid and smokiness but that's not a bad thing. Made for a unique combo that you don't find in other stouts and was a nice change of pace as a result.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Dark Horse Double Crooked Tree

I've had regular Crooked Tree before, which is a 6% or so regular IPA, and Super Juice, which is a 16% monster, but I haven't had a chance to try Double Crooked Tree yet. So, it was nice to finally pick up a few bottles and be able to try it in the comfort of my own home.
Sweet fruity nose with a decent amount of pine bitterness in it. Whiff of alcohol but not too strong and not unexpected. Shockingly enough, no sweetness at all in the first sip. Instead, it was quite bitter with some hoppy resin flavor. Finished pretty dry with more bitterness. No real hint of the 13% ABV. Kind of an amazing beer especially if you like that resiny hops. I'm amazed they fit all that bitterness into it without much sweetness being apparent especially as Super Juice, it's bigger brother, was pretty sweet when I had it last year. Really well done though I shouldn't be surprised as Dark Horse is quite good at these high ABV beers.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

21st Amendment Back in Black

Been working through my hoppier beers before I head off to Belgium next week so opened one my cans of 21st Amendment Back in Black. The brewery itself is in San Francisco but I'm pretty sure the beer for the cans is brewed in Minnesota or something.
Slightly roasty nose with some piney hoppiness. Body followed with more roast and some slight bitterness. Nice creamy mouthfeel which was quite nice actually. Basically exactly what you'd expect from a not too hoppy Black IPA, sorry I mean American Black Ale, and decent enough for the price.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

14th Annual Manayunk Brewfest

The last Saturday in April has come and gone which means the annual Manayunk Brewfest occurred! For me, this was actually my 9th in a row which I think is a pretty good run. For the past few years, they've also been doing a theme (though it's more or less only followed by the really small breweries) and this year's was Wild Ales. Considering I hadn't ever seen Manayunk brew a wild ale, I was really curious what they were going to offer.

Like every year, the Septa trains out to Manayunk were timed terribly so we arrived about an hour early. However, this year we were actually the first people in line which was pretty surprising. Here's my friends and wife waiting on the front of the line.
People also gave us a wide berth in the front but I think it was because they were smoking and not because they thought we were weird. Or I hope that was the reason.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Pete Giovinco 60 (Min)otaur IPA

My buddy Pete gave me a bottle of his homebrew IPA and I finally opened it last night. They named it 60 (Min)otaur IPA. Get it? Pretty sure they didn't hop it for sixty continuous minutes though.
Nice bright citrusy nose. No hint of bitterness. Really impressive nose for an IPA, forget a homebrew. Decent body. Not thick, but nice. Started with mild flavors of orange juice and some sweetness. No hint of bitterness in the finish. I don't know if it was lightly hopped in the beginning of the boil and then more heavily near the end or what but however they made it, they did a real good job. We'll see if the thyme beer they gave me is as good.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Birthday Beers!

My birthday was the other day and instead of hitting a great bar like last year (we went to Farmer's Cabinet), Jo and I decided to go to an awesome BYOB and bring a couple of my many beers to open. And, man, what a great decision. The dinner at Modo Mio was freaking delicious and the beers went perfectly. The first we opened was The Bruery Oude Tart, a Flanders Red Ale.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Williamsburg AleWerks Cafe Royale

I was interested in trying Cafe Royale for a while and got a chance on draft at Perch Pub, but was never able to try a bottle of it. Basically, I was entirely too lazy to find a bottle when they were easily available in Philly. Lucky for me, someone was kind enough to gift me a bottle of it a little while ago. Thanks!
Poured into my neat Captain Lawrence glass. Not much head appeared. I got a little more on the second pour but still, lightly carbonated. Sweet coffee nose with a hint of tartness. Coffee started things off followed by a lovely creamy base with a little vanilla and some light bourbon. The latter was really light from the bottle compared to draft, but that may have been age more than anything else even if it's only been a few months. Hard to say really. Still, this was really good and Williamsburg AleWerks definitely makes some great stuff. I've heard really good things about their Bitter Valentine, too, but that may not be available anymore as it was a February / Early March beer.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Great Divide 2008 Old Ruffian

About a year and a half ago over Thanksgiving, I found a bottle of Great Divide Old Ruffian on a store shelf with their old style label. Unfortunately, the old label was before they began bottle dating so I had no real idea how old the beer was other than they changed their labels in the beginning of 2008. I figured whatever and bought it anything figuring the barleywine would hold up to age well. I finally opened it about a week and a half ago after having it in my refrigerator for a long while.
Really wonderful and strong nose. Tons of sweet fruit, caramel, and a pleasant aged hops character. Really inviting. Unfortunately, at least at first, the body didn't follow the awesome nose. Caramel still existed with some bitterness and even something reminiscent of chocolate, but everything was slightly muted with some cardboardy oxidation. As I drank more, though, the oxidation lessened (probably as I got used to it) and more of the sweet fruit and aged hops came through making it much better. In the end quite enjoyable even if at first I was a little worried.