Tag Archives: Barrel aged beer

Birthday Beer!

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I always like to save a special beer to commemorate this oh so special day.

No, I am not talking about Easter, though it does have its merits as a candy-fuelled holiday, I am talking about my birthday!

To mark this momentous occasion I celebrated with Cascade Brewing’s Apricot an oh so very sour brew for this oh so sour beer-lovin’ gal.

Apricot ale is a Northwest Style Sour Ale aged in oak barrels with apricots. Apricot pours a bright gold colour, slightly opaque, with lots of bubbles and very little white head. Sweet dried fruit on the nose and just the slightest hint of funkiness. Now I love sour, the tarter the better, but hang on to your beer glasses fellow geeks because this beer is Sour (with a capital S nonetheless). Lots of apricot flavour, a bit of citrus, some earthy character, medium body and a dry finish. The sour finish lingers and lingers. This beer just never let’s up. It was so tart it made the back of my cheek pucker as I drank it but as sour lovers know this is not necessarily a bad thing.

Overall a great beer. At this point I feel like such a groupie that I am not sure Cascade Brewing is capable of making a bad beer. Happy Birthday to me indeed…

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Out of the Cellar: Full Sail Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout

One of my all-time favourite beers made an early exit from the cellar last night to round-out the hubby’s last few beers while he is still glutening (probably not a real word but it should be).

 

Full Sail Imperial Stout

 

Full Sail Imperial Stout pours deep black brown with lots of mocha coloured head that quickly fades away to a ring around your glass. Deep and rich caramel malts on the nose belay the rich and sweet stout in your glass. First few sips are sweet, malt-forward and slightly oaky. This imperial stout that somehow manages to bring big character to the table without putting you out of commission after a bottle. In other words, it carries it’s 9.6% ABV quite well. This beer is full bodied and warming. The finish is roasted grain, caramel and just a touch of booziness.

I prefer my stouts on the sweet and rich side as opposed to the bitter and dry side so this one is just right. I have had several vintages of this beer it is has always managed to be a hit, which is no small feat. If you have not had the pleasure pick one up you won’t be disappointed.

 


Out of the Cellar: Black Ops Edition

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The oldest resident in my cellar has gotten itself drunk.

In 2009 when I was still just a fledgling beer geek, the hubby and I picked up a rather expensive bottle of Brooklyn Black Ops an 11.6% stout aged in bourbon barrels. This was our first real foray into serious beer purchasing and our first hesitant steps towards the creation of a beer cellar. Or in other words, resisting temptation to drink it right away we stashed the bottle in the farther (and coldest) corner of our office.

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Black Ops pours blackest brown with some mocha head on the initial pour, which dies down to a nice ring around the glass and a slight skim. Big and boozy nose on the initial pour it quickly calms down to a caramel malt nose. First few sips are surprisingly smooth, no harshness from the alcohol, sweet and rich with just a hint of chocolate. Usually I find these big barrel aged beers to be very complex but Black Ops is deceptively simple and eminently drinkable. As you drink the warming sensation begins and there is medium body to this beer, not the viscous brew I was expecting, and this simplicity is really what contributes to its’ drinkability. The finish is kind of quiet with a lingering sweetness.

Overall, a very impressive beer and one that demonstrates the benefits of cellaring.


New Brew Friday

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Happy Valentine’s Day! It is a day for lovers, beer lovers that is, so when you and your sweetie are indulging in some decadent dessert don’t forget to pair it with a worthy craft beer.

Accompanying our hazelnut torte with chocolate mousse the hubby and I cracked open our Joseph James 5th Anniversary Barrel Aged Smoked Wee Heavy, a 14% warmer that makes a lovely after dinner tipple.

This wee heavy pours a very darkest brown black with just a ring of head and nice legs. Big smoky sweet nose with lots of malt. First few sips are viscous and slightly harsh but as you drink the bourbon and vanilla flavours bring things back into balance. Nice oaky character reminding you this one spent lots of time in the barrel. Very warming on the finish, rich and sweet. Overall, There is a lot to like here and I think this beer would be a fantastic cellar candidate.

Also, I have say I really love their label (hope they don’t get sued by Joseph and his Amazing lawyer) with the beer name turned into a fox tail and the black/silver colour scheme. The silver wax seal was a nice touch and I would definitely gift this beer.


Ontario Craft Beer, As Advertised – Beer 8

Cameron’s Obsidian Rum Barrel Imperial Porter 9.2%

I was very impressed with the other beer I tried from Cameron’s Brewing so I was understandably excited to try their take on one of my favourite beer styles the barrel aged imperial porter, not to mention this was the last beer of my trip so I hoped to toast my send-off to Ontario in style!

Obsidian pours a deep black worthy of its’ namesake with lots of dense cream coloured head and nice lacing. Big molasses, chocolate malt nose with a sweet caramel overtones. Full bodied but not into stout territory with enough alcohol presence to consider this a winter warmer. Flavours include chocolate, dried fruits, tobacco (smoky notes), rich heavy malts and a nice earthy character reminding the drinker this one spent some time in the barrel. At the same time there is a bit of hop to this one making the finish seem like a dry bitter chocolate with some lingering alcoholiness. Overall a great porter and one I hope will find its’ way out to British Columbia.

Obsidian


My Beer of the Year (so far)

The best beer.

Well as we all know best is a pretty subjective word and when it comes to beer, really what does it even mean? The best example of the style, the best for drink-ability, the best beer you can keep in regular rotation or the best extra-special extra-rare beer you try once in a lifetime? Does the best beer shift over time or is it the beer that can weather the latest craft beer fad?

In my time on this planet (while I was over drinking age of course) I have had the pleasure of trying many truly remarkable beers including Westvleteren 12, Pliny the Elder from Russian River, Red Poppy from The Lost Abbey, Bourbon Barrel-aged Fred from Hair of the Dog, The Abyss from Deschutes, Rochefort 10, Tactical Nuclear Penguin from BrewDog and many others that at the time I felt were viable contenders for the mantle o f ‘best beer’ for various reasons.

Needless to say after that many great beers a geek can become just a little picky and by extension a little hard to impress. Often I tend to fall back on the breweries I trust to not break my heart if I try something new.

So when I heard my friends would be passing through Portland OR on holidays I asked if they would pick me up a couple of bottles from just one of those steadfast breweries Cascade Brewing Barrel House.

Taking a quick peek at their availability I requested The Vine (a perennial favourite) and Manhattan (a beer I knew literally nothing about but figured what the hey).

When my non beer geek friends went into Cascade they were told Manhattan just happens to be the best beer in the house (finely honed my beer intuition is) and this assessment got me a little excited. I mean if the people at the brewery think this is the best then its’ got to be impressive.

Manhattan Love

Manhattan Love

So how was it?

Wow, just wow.

Okay I guess I can provide a bit more information but I worry my words will not do this beer justice so here is the official description. Manhattan NW 2011 project is “A blend of spiced Blond Quads, aged in Heaven Hill Bourbon barrels on 150 pounds of sour pie cherries for five months before additionally aging on apricot noyaux for three months”.

…and here are my words. Manhattan pours a bright cherry brown colour with very good clarity and lots of light airy head that clings to the glass in rows of lacing. A liqoury and sweet nose with just a hint of cherry. Very smooth mouthfeel, no harshness from the strong alcohol, and a very still beer with no effervescence. Lots of flavours going on here dried fruit, rich caramel, bourbon, herbal notes and a bit of an underlying funkiness, It drinks like a cocktail, a Manhattan in fact. The sourness in this one is subtle just cutting through the beer’s richness and sweetness with a slightly tart finish. A warming beer that deserves to be sipped especially since the 11.5% ABV packs a very big wallop.

Overall I was beyond impressed, Manhattan is quite simply the best beer I have had this year.


Baby, why are you so Sour?

Somewhat contrary to my fellow beer geeks, when I first started exploring craft beer one of the more challenging styles quickly emerged as my favourite and that style is soured beer. I  know this category of beer is not everyone’s ‘cup of tea’ and in fact many people are initially turned off by the often over-powering tartness of  a gueze or an oud bruin but if you think you are not a fan of wild ales you really do not know what you are missing.

 

Sour Beer from Cascade Barrel House

Sour Beer from Cascade Barrel House

 

Sour beer is technically not a style in and of itself, rather it is a process of using bacterial infection to impart tartness while fermenting and/or beer, as such under this broad category there is a range of flavours and, well, sourness from sweet and fruity lambics, to the deep and rich sour brown ales, to the accessible Flanders red ales, to the straight lambics, which offer no apologies for their tart kick.

Historically, lambic beers (a style of beer brewed with aged hops and a high proportion of unmalted wheat) were spontaneously fermented. That is to say you basically do the opposite of everything you learned in homebrew school and intentionally infect your wort with some of the many microscopic critter floating around in the air. The different resultant bacterial infections all work to ferment the beer while it ages in wooden barrels (the wooden barrel being a natural haven for microbes). Ensuring consistency is near impossible for the sour beer brewer so the resultant batches are blended to achieve the desired tartness levels.

According to Mosher in Tasting Beer, when Lindemans expanded their brewery they took a portion of their old wall and bolted it in their new building in order to preserve their signature mix of beneficial bugs.

 

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In modern times, the souring of beer is less by chance i.e. opening a window and hoping for the best but really not by much.

Bacterial agents like lactobacillus, brettanomyces and pediococcus are systematically introduced to the fermentation process; however, the outcome remains somewhat unpredictable and the time commitment to brew a sour beer is significant compared pretty much any other beer style think years versus months. Blending remains the most viable means to ensure the sourness of your beer is at a level that is drinkable.

 

Beet Sour Beer from Epic Ales

Beet Sour Beer from Epic Ales

 

Once the sole domain of dedicated Belgian brewers devoted to the art of brewing sour beers, wild ales are carving out an impressive niche in Europe and North America. Russian River, Cascade Brewing, Jolly Pumpkin and Epic Ales are all making a name for themselves in pursuit of excellent sourness.

A little more north Oud Bruin from Yaletown Brewing Company and Driftwood’s Bird of Prey Flanders Red are showing Canadian brewers are also getting on the sour bandwagon.

 

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Is sour beer the next big thing in the craft beer world? Well, not to self-promote (too much) I have to say I saw this one coming for quite sometime now. I even wrote a post called ‘Love is a Sour Delight’ back in February of 2011 espousing the wonder that is sour beer. If you require further confirmation, you just need walk into any decent beer store and observe the number of barrel-aged, wild and wine-blended beers now on the market.

As we move into warmer weather I urge my fellow beer geeks to crack open a bottle of sour beer on a warm summer night and tell me this isn’t one of the best affirmations they have ever had that craft beer will one day rule the world.

 


Coming Full Circle Back to the Barrel

Like the wheel, the invention of the barrel had lasting and momentous consequences for the advancement of humankind and for their desire to consume spirituous beverages.

For much of its life beer was fermented in wooden barrels until that pesky thing called human nature kicked in and we became woefully skeptical of all things germ related. You see wood is porous, it breathes and expands, it sucks liquids in and creates pockets for air and yes bacteria and while this was good enough for us to consume for hundreds of years (and remains good enough for wine and spirits) by the time the 1950’s rolled around it was no longer cool for beer.

So it was during this period that brewers’ transitioned to the use of cold and impersonal stainless steel, which while good for sanitation and frankly for the production of mass-market lager did little to retain that unique and funky character that can only be imparted through time spent in the barrel.

 

The Benefits of Wood

According to Mosher in Tasting Beer wood contains chemicals that dissolve in the beer over time producing woody, oaky, vanilla and other flavours in the beer. He goes on to speak about how porosity affords the creation of oxidized flavours and the growth of microorganisms, which lambic and sour beers depend on to create the bacterially driven tartness that defines these beer styles. With all this potential it makes you wonder why craft brewers stayed away from the wood for as long as they did.

 

So how to craft brewers come back to the barrel?

Well as usual it was intrepid home brewers who re-ignited the barrel-aging trend. It turns out that while beer may have turned away from the wood distillers and wine makers continued on using wooden barrels often only once to preserve the integrity of whatever they happened to be creating. This meant there was a surplus of oak barrels infused with wondrous notes of bourbon, of whiskey, of wine etc. just waiting to be filled with something …something beery. Mosher recounts how a group of Chicago-area brewers pooled resources to purchase spent bourbon barrels and many gallons of imperial stout; add A to B and presto you have a bourbon barrel aged stout.

After this experiment proved a rousing success the flood gates opened so to speak and all of sudden everyone was trying their hand at putting beer back into the barrel. There are many, many wondrous pairings from blonde ale in gin barrels to whiskey infused strong ale to fruit beers fermented in pinot noir to sour ales conditioned in chardonnay and my personal favourite anything dark and/or strong aged in bourbon barrels.

 

 

A Stellar Example of Why Wood is Good

Hair of the Dog Bourbon Fred from the Wood (Bottle Conditioned 2012) ABV 12%

Fred from the Wood pours a deep caramel colour with lots of cloud and sediment (try to leave the sediment in place by pouring this one slowly). There is tons of thick creamy head that remains firmly in place on top of the beer. The nose is an amazingly rich blend of bourbon, malt and toffee. This beer is big bodied with a creamy cloying mouthfeel. It is like Christmas in a glass, warming and heavy with candied fruit notes, vanilla, toffee and liquor. Fred likes to warm up to let all these complex flavours come into balance, it is also most definitely a sipping beer. Sweet liqoury finish with just a little touch of warmth reminding you just how strong this one is. If you have never had this beer go and try it immediately!


Becoming a Lost Abbey Convert

Though I am pretty new to this brewery I have quickly become a devoted convert to The Lost Abbey. Since their beers are not available in Canada (sadly) I had been eye-balling them on visits south of the border; literally because of their fantastic label art work and also because of their hefty price tag. I’ll admit It took me awhile to want to shell out $17 dollars for a small bottle of beer but oh boy am I glad I made that leap of faith.

 

 

As their name suggest, Lost Abbey brewers focus on monastic and Belgian brewing traditions “for the enjoyment of Sinners and Saints alike”. They have a standard line-up of six beers -Avant Garde, Devotion, Inferno, Judgement Day, Lost and Found and Red Barn; five seasonal beers – Carnevale, Gift of the Magi, Seprent’s Stout, The Ten Commandments and Witch’s Wit; and finally, my favourites, five non-denominational barrel aged ales – Cuvee de Tomme, Deliverance, Duck Duck Gooze, Red Poppy Ale and The Angel’s Share.

 

 

What I love about this Brewery…

Everything. No seriously, I think they have a fantastic core of beers bolstered by some of the best barrel aged beers I have ever had. I am a huge fan of Belgian beers and it can be challenging style to emulate, after all you are following breweries that have been at the game for hundreds of years. I like the incorporation of an over-arching theme running through the brewery name, back story, homage, art work and labels and beer names. This easily identifiable signature makes it simple to walk into a beer store and pick out the Lost Abbey selections. They also have an informative and fun website with tons of affirmations, a brewcam and all kinds of brewery information. For instance:

 

 

Our Ten Commandments

1.The most imaginative beers are our crusade

2.We believe we are all in this together

3.We strive for honesty and integrity in our lives like you

4.Fresh beer is great, aged beer is better

5.Now that you have found us help us spread the message

6.There is good and evil in the world – our beers are good

7.Passion isn’t something you can buy at the corner store

8.We believe an inspired life is worth living

9.Life is about choices, The Lost Abbey is a great choice

10.We are not perfect, but no one is

I definitely have not had the pleasure of trying their entire line-up (I’m working on it) but I have tasted several Lost Abbey beers including Judgement Day, Devotion Ale, Red Barn Ale, The Ten Commandments, Deliverance and The Angel’s Share. Out of the beers I have tried I have to highly recommend The Angel’s Share and The Ten Commandments though you really could not go wrong trying anything from this brewer.

 


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