Tag Archives: Strong Beer

Out of the Cellar: Conflux Series No. 1 Collage

Happy Family Day to my fellow British Columbians!

This time round I opened my May 2012 bottle of Conflux Series No. 1 (Collage), a collaboration between two Portland OR brewery mainstays, Deschutes and Hair of The Dog.  Described as a weaving of “The Dissident and The Stoic and Fred and Adam into an artistic collage of cask-aging alchemy” this 11.6% strong ale was a perfect candidate for cellaring.

Conflux No. 1

Conflux pours a slightly hazy copper colour with some off-white head that quickly dissipates to a thin skim and sticky lacing. There is good carbonation to this beer. Pretty liqoury on the nose with rich dense malt and dried red fruit. First few sips are viscous with lots of oaky character, sweet caramel and tart cherry flavour. As other reviewers have mentioned this beer, at this age, has a port like character. A really warming beer and the ABV has probably gone well beyond the 11.6% it started out with. There is a lot of complexity in this beer as it merges different styles, which works in its’ favour. As this beer opens up you get a slight funkiness and a bit of sour anchored in a medium bodied strong ale. The finish is slightly harsh with a burnt sweet taste.

Overall, I really like this collaboration. I think these beer work well together creating something to challenge complacent palates.

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Out of the Cellar: Dogfish Head Fort 2009

New Years Eve seemed like the perfect night to delve into the ol’ cellar for that oh so big beer you cannot figure out when exactly to drink.

In my cellar that beer is one of my oldest residents a 2009 bottling of Fort from Dogfish Head Brewery, a strong ale brewed with raspberries.

Fort

Fort pours a crystal clear rose gold colour with minimal white head that almost immediately turns to a thin lacing. All rotten raspberry on the nose, think overripe berries left in the sun not a bad smell just sweet with a touch of funk, and just a whiff of alcohol eluding to things to come. First sip is over the top liquor (in retrospect this one probably needs a bigger glass to breathe) with the vapours hitting you in the back of the throat before you swallow. After the initial shock this beer gives way to big fruit flavour, a slightly viscous mouthfeel and a warming finish. Fort is most definitely a sipper more in common with cordial than either beer or wine.

I have also had this beer sans aging and it still packed quite the punch even then. Do I regret aging my Fort? No, I think it adds character to this beer toning down the berry and bringing forward (and up) the alcohol content. Would I drink this on a regular basis? Hell no. Fort is special occasion only for me.


Get Out of my Cellar and into my Glass

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Anyone who has taken a look at my ‘What’s in the Fridge’ page will know that I have been aging beer pretty much since I began drinking craft beer. You also may have noticed that in previous posts I have commented on my reluctance to crack open bottles from this collection since the aged beers seem too special to drink on just any old occasion and really, if I have waited this long perhaps I should wait just a little bit longer (they might taste just a little bit better).

 

But lately I feel like the time has come to start enjoying some of my well-cared for stash and as such I am going to start a series of posts where I review aged beers and discuss the changes that have taken place, especially for those beers that I have tried when they were just young ‘uns.

 

Cellared Beers

 

Just a quick recap for those who have not read my post Maturing Beer, unlike mass market beer many styles of craft beer are brewed with the intention that they will be stored for some time before consumption. Strong beer with high ABV’s, Imperial Stouts, Barley Wines, Belgian Quads, Barrel-aged Porters, and basically any other robust style of beer can benefit from some time in the cellar. Breweries like Deschutes are even taking the initiative by posting best-after dates on their bottles. Basically the stronger your beer the longer you can age it. Also, if you are a really big beer nerd you can cellar different years of the same beer and hold a vertical tasting and actually taste the changes that are occurring.

 

Currently in my cellar (which is really my cupboard) I have:

Brooklyn Monster Ale 2007

Brooklyn Brewery Brooklyn Black Ops

Driftwood Old Cellar Dweller

Driftwood Old Barrel Dweller

Driftwood Singularity 2011, 2012

Dogfish Head Forte

Deschutes Black Butte

Deschutes Collage Conflux

Deschutes The Abyss 2009, 2012

Deschutes Dissident

Hair of the Dog Doggie Claws

Rogue Old Crustacean Barley Wine

VIB Hermannator Ice Bock

VIB Hermannator Ice Bock 25th Anniversary


‘Kick you down the stairs’ Beer

Awhile back I was perusing the selection at O’Hares liquor store when the manager recommended DeuS Brut des Flandres as a beer that would ‘kick me down the stairs’. Intrigued and slightly confused by the sales pitch I promptly bought a bottle. What I learned later is that DeuS is a nice example of a strong Belgian Ale; the ‘kick you down the stairs’ adjective comes from the relatively high ABV of 11.5%.  Using this as a launching point I thought I would devote this post to an exploration of strong beers.

Strength in the brewing world refers to both alcohol (the main product of fermentation) and gravity (the amount of solids in the unfermented wort). More malt brings more alcohol and more malt requires more hops in what can become a delicate dance between strength and drinkability. Gravity is used as a rough measure of the amount of alcohol that may end up in the finished beer; however, not every wort of the same gravity will end up as a beer with the same alcohol content. A whole other host of variables comes into play before we get our final ABV including the brewing process, yeast strain, sugar used, fermentation temperature etc. Brewers use the concept of apparent attenuation -finishing gravity divided by starting gravity subtracted from one hundred- to arrive at an approximate, if not entirely accurate, idea of beer strength. Real attenuation can only be assessed through the labour intensive process of distilling the alcohol out of a small sample but this is not commonly done. The higher the apparent attenuation the more of the beer’s extract has been turned into alcohol and voila we have a strong beer.

As a quick historical aside, the quest to make strong beer is not solely a modern endeavor in fact there are several Old English terms for strong beer including Stingo, Huffcap, Nipitatum, Clamber-skull, Dragon’s milk, Mad-dog, Lift-leg, Angel’s food and Stride-wide.

Back to modern brewing; beer styles such as barley wines, stouts, quadruples and double IPA’s all enter into this strong beer realm and a few brave brewers have ventured beyond into the ‘ultra-strong experimental’ kingdom. When it comes to taste these beers really have much more in common with fine liquors like scotch or cognac and they should be sampled as such; small pours in proper glassware, served as aperitifs and shared amongst friends. Some notable examples include:

Brewer Beer Name Beer Style/Description ABV
BrewDog Tokyo Intergalactic fantastic oak aged stout 18.2%
BrewDog Tactical Nuclear Penguin Beer for the dedicated 32%
BrewDog Sink the Bismark IPA for the dedicated 41%
BrewDog End of History Belgian blond infused with nettles and juniper berries 55%
The Bruery Black Tuesday Imperial Stout 19.5%
Dogfish Head Fort Belgian ale brewed with a ridiculous amount of raspberries 15-18%
Dogfish Head World Wide Stout A very dark beer brewed with a ridiculous amount of barley 15-20%
Fouders Brewing Devil Dancer Triple IPA 12%
Kleinbrauerei Schorschbrau Schorschbock 40 Whisky like brew 40%
Mikkeller Big V Barley Wine 15%
The Refrigerated Ship Start the Future Drink it like a cocktail 60%
Samuel Adams Utopias Barrel aged beers 24-27%

 

As one might suspect the quest for the title of world’s strongest beer has become a somewhat farcical game of one-up-man-ship; please see the following video by BrewDog for your consideration.

*Thanks to Mosher, Randy 2009 Tasting Beer An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink.


Maturing Beer

No, this not a post about going all ‘Pygmalion’ on drunken frat boys to give beer a more sophisticated reputation but rather a blog on cellaring beer. Recently, I was having a conversation with friends on just how long to store some of my speciality beers. While it has become somewhat common knowledge that high alcohol and/or casked beers can be matured much like wine less seems to be known about the best time to uncap these bottles. If left too long can you ruin a perfectly good beer? Is there a peak time to ensure optional taste? Following our conversation my friend called my attention to Coates Law of Maturity. The law states that a wine will maintain its optimal drinking qualities for a period of time equal to the time it took to reach its optimal state.  For instance, if a wine matures to its peak in five years, it will stay at its peak for five years before its quality begins to degrade. So I decided to do a little research into optimal aging times for beers.

First things first, what can go wrong with a beer if you store it too long? According to Randy Mosher author of Tasting Beer, beer is never a fixed thing it is constantly evolving and sadly for the majority of beers this change is not good. The mortal enemy of beer is heat. Flavour is the first thing to leave the bottle; oxidation means the hop aroma dissipates, malt dulls, bitterness declines and fruits fade and all this happens in five to six months (beware there is no standardization on marking best before dates). For the vast majority of commercial beers this is the equivalent of a taste death sentence. Luckily there is a caveat here since some beers are meant to be aged and the stronger the beer the longer they can reside on your shelf. General things to look for in a potential candidate for aging include high ABV (7% and up), bottle-conditioned beers, lambics and sours, barley wines and any beer with a best after date. An interesting historical aside, Mosher mentions an eighteenth century English custom of brewing an extra-strong ‘double’ beer to celebrate the birth of a son, and then to drink it when he reached the age of majority at eighteen. The diagram that follows is a reproduction of the aging table given in Mosher’s book:

Beer Type Alcohol Percentage Maximum Aging Time
Belgian Dubbel 6.5-7.5 1-3 years
Belgian Tripel 7.5-9.5 1-4 years
English or US Strong Ale 7-9 1-5 years
Belgian Dark 8.5-11 2-12 years
Imperial Pale/Brown/Red 7.5-10 1-7 years
Barley Wine, Imperial Stout 8.5-12 3-20 years
Ultra-strong Ales 16.26 5-100 years

So what’s in it for me? Those same processes that wreak havoc on your average lager can bring about a whole new level of complexity to your cellared ales. As it ages the beer will become less sweet and more vinous (taking on the characteristics of wine). As mentioned earlier, fragile hop and floral notes dissipate allowing malt to come to the forefront. Oxidation then adds a leathery, nutty or sherry-like layer of flavour.  The yeast component of bottle-conditioned or live beers undergoes a process called autolysis as it breaks down, which imparts a meaty or umami element (too much can be not so good, think soy sauce). Mosher answers the why age question nicely, “The brewers who make great beer for us put their hearts and souls into it. Let’s honour that artistry by doing all we can to bring it to the table in a way that allows it to really shine”.

*Thanks to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coates_Law_of_Maturity and Mosher, Randy 2009 Tasting Beer An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink.


Dogfish Head Fort

The Dogfish Head Brewery website describes this as Belgian ale “brewed with a ridiculous amount of pureed raspberries (over a ton of them)” but perhaps what needs to be proclaimed a little more front and centre is the impressive 18% ABV.  I was holidaying stateside when I came across this beer in the local grocer and picked one up since Dogfish Head is always one of my go to breweries from whom I can try pretty much anything and not be disappointed.  After a quick review of the label for the alcohol content my partner and I decided how strong could it really be?  Of course we can split it before bed?!?…well consider yourself forewarned this is not the kind of beer you want to consume to top off your three mojito day.  Don’t get me wrong this ale was fantastic, a distinct liquor taste, lovely dark red colour, with just the right amount of sweet/tart to balance it out.  Ideally I would have split this bottle four ways; it would lend itself well to being swirled in a beautiful whisky glass and sipped not swilled.  I think that Dogfish’s recommendation to cellar a few bottles is a great idea as fort would only get better with age.  Another standout beer from a standout brewery and I am hoping to see this beer on our side of the border soon – it already has a bilingual label going on.

Out of a possible five I would give this beer a 4.5

 


Firefly ‘La Table Commune’ Introduction to Craft Beer

Forces out of my control, namely surgery, sightseeing and Stieg Larsson, have conspired against me and my blog resulting in an inexcusable absentia from any sort of posting regularity.  Nonetheless now I am back and focused with a rather daunting amount of material to work through.  The first review I want to do is more of a synopsis of a relatively recent beer tasting night at Firefly Fine Wines and Ales.  During this intro to craft beer session a smallish group of people learned about the beer basics from malts, to hops, to brewing processes and beer familial relations.  This informative chat was followed by a sampling of eight different ales: Industrial Lager (the mystery mass produced beer), R&B Red Devil Pale Ale, Wells Bombardier Ale, Moylans IPA, Samuel Smith Nut Brown Ale, Dupont Saison, Cantillion Kriek, and last but definitely not least Brew Dog ‘TNP’.  For the sake of brevity I will offer a few comments on each of the offerings.  The industrial lager was your average ball park beer, you know the beer you get when there is only one option on the menu or when you are underage and some nice relative offers to go to the beer store for you, a somewhat watered down but drinkable bevie that you learn later bears little to no semblance to what the rest of the world considers beer.  Though in all honesty it was fun to guess which ‘big box brand’ we were sipping –turns out my partner knows his crappy beers!  Moving along, Red Devil was easy drinking crisp pale ale; I found it light on the hops compared to other IPA’s but this worked well for me.  The Wells ale was more complex with many different flavours emerging from blended hops, to spices and caramel overtones.  The cheat sheet described the next offering, Moylans, as provocative but I though it tasted a bit like lilac soap.  This IPA was hoppy, a little too hoppy for me, but the other non-biased IPA lovers seemed to really enjoy it.  I really liked the Samuel Smith and I did not think I would.  The ale was a rich reddish brown hue and had a really nice nutty flavour with an apple aftertaste.  The Saison is highly carbonated ale with definite floral tones and heavy sediment.  Saison beer is a somewhat unique style and once you have tried one you will become a fan or not.  I personally like Saisons but I enjoy unfiltered, lambic, gueze, unpasteurized etc. so this style suits my palate.  Next up the Cantillion, now if you put Kriek on the label I am in so I may not be that objective here.  The Kriek is a beautiful red ale that is tart and challenging -the notes mentioned barnyard aroma but I ignored that.  These types of beers cellar well and the longer the age the better the cherry flavour gets as it ferments in the bottle.  The coup de grace of the evening was the tactical nuclear penguin a 32%, yes that is correct 32%, beer banned from its native Scotland due to concerns about the high alcohol content.  We split one small bottle between twelve people and I could not have finished anymore than that, wow, this beer is one tough cookie it tastes and looks more like a scotch than a beer.  It would be fantastic with a rich dessert since it has a slight butterscotch nose and is very rich.  The TNP from Brew Dog rounded out our evening.  The best thing about TNP was the story behind the creation of this beer and its successors Sink the Bismark and End of History which comes to you in a dead squirrel -yep a squirrel.  Please check out their fantastic website for the story.  Overall great night, lots of great beer and great company I think I will be back to participate in the sour beer tasting event.


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