Category Archives: Beer Reviews

The Beermonger Review: Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus

One of the joys of my first wine store job, aside from learning about wines and delevoping my palate, was being given control of our small (but mighty) beer ‘department’. It was a small little corner of the store, but I had a nice walk-in cooler stocked by the previous beer guy (a big beer geek) with all kinds of stuff  that I’ve never seen since. Stuff like 750mL Dogfish Head 60 and 90 Minute, Hair of the Dog beers that I haven’t seen in VA for years and a thourough collection of Belgian beers, including most of the Cantillon lineup.

I took to the Cantillon stuff almost immediately. I have an issue with many Lambic beers that comes up with many sparkling wines as well: I love the feel and the flavors but the first sip often starts a white hot fire in my esophagus. Over the years I’ve managed to build up a list of Champagnes and sparklers that don’t do this to me, but the Lambic ‘safe list’ is still dreadfully short. Not that it stops me from drinking them. What made Cantillon stand out to me was how smooth the beers were. For all the sour that they had, they didn’t set off the reaction that I expected. Little did I know at the time, the Cantillon that was in that cooler was going to be the last I’d see for a good 3 years…

Fast-forward to my taking the Beer Guy job at Rick’s. As I discovered the joys of my new access to rare and low-production beers, I kept asking about Cantillon. Where was it? Why could’nt we get any? Well, I didn’t seem to be getting anywhere so I gave up save for the occasional request that went nowhere. Then, one magical week, Cantillon Kriek happened to be in stock. Seemingly out of nowhere. The only person happier than me was my Stone rep at the time, who’s a crazy Cantillon freak (hey Scott!). For the rest of my stay at Rick’s I happily stocked the Kriek, keeping an eye out for the day when I’d be able to get more of the line back in. Sadly, that day never came.

Better late than never, though. Recently I popped into the old shop and what did I see? The wonder that is Cantillon’s Rose de Gambrinus. I swiped one and during a quiet evening at home, cracked it open. The aromas were what you’d expect from a Framboise except more elegant, complex, subtle. This didn’t have the intense sharpness on the nose that a lot of Lambic styles carry.

According to Cantillon’s website, artist Raymond Coumans (who painted the beer’s label) noted that “It has the colour of onion skin” while in the copper buckets used to empty the barrels. In the glass it’s not as deep a hue as that, falling somewhere between the skin of a shallot and that of a raspberry.  It was also Coumans’ idea to call the beer a Rose, to convey the sense of elegance that set’s this beer apart from other Framboise Lambics in the world.

The palate is slightly tart upfront, growing rounder in the mid-palate. The fruit and sugars come through at this point, but this is no sweet Lambic. The finish is long with the fruity and sour aspects of the beer fading in unison. It is the structure of the beer, if nothing else, that earns this the tag of Rose. It is very wine-like. Structure; balance; smoothness on the palate; an elegant, ponderous statement of a finish—it really does out-wine many wines out there. Really; try getting all of that from a glass of Yellowtail. I’ll save you the time (and the unpleasantness): you won’t.

On top of all that, I could’ve sat outside all night drinking bottle after bottle never once stopping to lament the reflux that it was causing—because it wasn’t. I literally could not ask for anything more than this beer was giving me. I know there are some out there for whom Lambic is not their thing. They’ve tried it and they just cannot find their way into it. No worries; we all have preferences and won’t be huge fans of everything. But if you’re one of those people who sees anything with fruit and thinks ‘Zima’, or that Belgian beers are ‘weird’ or that everything in this world made with fruit also comes with a ton of high-fructose corn syrup in it—take a chance. There is literally a whole world of beer out there, and to miss out on something as sublime as Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus due to timidity is a sin.

Next: Bell’s goes to Belgium, takes produce with them to DeProef. The results? Not as outlandish as you might think…


The Beermonger Review: Bell’s Rye Stout

So, I won’t be going into a long tanget today. This was a review I promised on the Twitter and so it shall be delivered.


I can’t explain it but sometimes I don’t like being surprised; when I don’t know something’s coming I feel as if I’ve failed in some way. It’s like if Bruce Wayne is walking down the street and he sees the Riddler running around—he’d be like ‘How’d that guy get out? And why did no one tell me?‘. It doesn’t happen all the time, in fact I found a couple of beers yesterday that I had no idea were coming and had no problem at all (reviews coming soon). But when I walked into one of my local beer haunts a couple (or 3 or 4) weeks back and saw this somber looking face on a Bell’s six-pack, I was secrectly furious. How darethey sneak one by me?

From what I’ve been able to find out about it (not that the Bell’s website is any help—god forbid…) Rye Stout hasn’t been released in something like 3 or 4 years. I’m a big fan of all things with the words ‘Bell’s’ and ‘Stout’ in them, so this was a no-brainer. First impressions are of the sad face and complete lack of description on the label. Evocative, if not helpful. I actually kinda like it.

The beer pours a toffee brown color, with a very fizzy appearance to the carbonation. It looks a lot like a glass of coke or root beer; whatever you prefer. As long as it’s root beer.

My glass had a faint aroma of slightly sweet malts. I’ll admit to not expecting to be blown away. Rye Stout is very smooth and light on the palate. At 6.7% ABV (according to Beer Advocate, anyway) it’s no Imperial for sure. That being said, Bell’s Rye Stout is the most drinkable Stout I’ve had in a long time. The dominant flavor is of a malted milkshake, robust and filling while staying smooth and light. The Rye nature really comes through on the finish, giving a grainy bitterness that balances all that rich malt and keeps the whole experience from being too ‘soft’, if that makes sense.

I’ll admit to not thinking much of Rye Stout before the first sip or two, but I came to be blown away by how not ‘Hammer of the Gods’ it is. This beer harkens back to a time of Stouts that didn’t sit like a stone after half a pint or knock you on your ass if you had the temerity to drink a whole bottle. It’s a Stout made with an interesting ingredient that keeps a sense of tradition. Those who seek the Big Beer once-per-year Event experience may find dissapointment here, but I will recommend this beer wholeheartedly. With two caveats:

1. Bell’s needs to put this out year-round. I would totally put this in regular rotation in my fridge if I could.

2. Put the word out a bit. Maybe mention the beer on your site.

And next time, somebody tell me it’s coming. Yeah, I guess that’s three but that one really only matters to me, right?

Next time: Why Cantillon rocks my socks and if you don’t agree you’re wrong.


Harvest Time

So, it’s Fall already. Hell, it’s not far off from winter. I just wanted to give a quick rundown of some of my favorite seasonal beers from this Autumn:

Sierra Nevada Fall Harvest & Chico Estate Harvest: My first taste of the Estate Harvest, which I had only heard about until this year. The Fall Harvest was pleasant as always, finding a great balance between the intensity of the wet hop and that classic Sierra Nevada smoothness. The Estate was more robust with fruit notes and earthiness, but still managed to restrain itself from being ‘one-note’.

Bell’s Oktoberfest: This has been my favorite Octoberfest beer for the past 3 years now, and no one is stepping up this year to change my mind. Awesome fall beer; maybe not entirely traditional, but it works for me. A bit more malty and structured than you may expect from the style, which makes it perfect for a session. Now, if we’re at an Octoberfest celebration and I’m about to put down brats by the pair and beers by the stein, give me something lighter…

Founder’s Harvest Ale: A strong showing. We just started seeing the Founder’s beers in VA earlier this year, but they are making their presence felt quickly. From the very cool Red’s Rye IPA to Breakfast Stout to this wonderful wet-hop ale, I haven’t been let down yet. Sharp, resiny hop flavors are supported by an appropriate amount of bitterness. Like stumbling into a pine tree in a morning-after stupor: Alerting yet comforting.

Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale: We have a special place for the pumpkin beers here in our home, this one in particular. It’s my wife and I’s favorite and we look forward to seeing those 4-packs every fall like little kids at Christmas. What that says about us I’m not willing to think about right now, but I’ll tell you that no beer combines the spirit of strong American craft brewing with the rich flavors and spices of pumpkin ales in better harmony than the Weyerbacher.

Dogfish Head Punkin’ Ale: My #1-A pumpkin beer. Always a treat, especially when my wife talks about how ‘meh’ it was last year before asking me to bring home 4-packs of it (happens every year, BTW). To clear the air, the recipe is pretty much consistent year-to-year now, so no year should be better than another. Back in 2004 or so, I don’t know for sure. I think it wasn’t until about 2006 or ’07 that the Punkin’ was carved in stone, so to speak. Either way, grab one if you see one—they seemed to have finally brewed enough to make everyone happy but it still won’t last all that long.

Southern Tier Pumking: The Monster. The Prince of Pumpkin flavor, the Sultan of Spices, the Chairman of the Gourd. People, I try a lot off stuff and I’m not bragging when I say something has to really work to make an impression on me. Like I used to say to vendors and brewers alike, “I only have so much room on my shelves—you have to earn your spot”. So for me to immediately recall every nuance of aroma and flavor in a beer on command tells you something about the experience. My not being able to handle a bottle of it myself (even if it’s a bomber) says something too. Their Creme Brulee I can put down alone; give me a snifter or a tulip glass and I’m in. Pumking is too much goodness for one human being. I split the bomber I got with the Mrs., and the smaller portion allowed both of us to enjoy the dead-on pumpkin pie impression Southern Tier pulls off here. It’s not a drinker, it’s an experience. One worth having.

Boulder Brewing Cold Hop: Not necessarily a Fall seasonal, but this is when it gets released so I’m including it. My favorite Boulder beer by far, Cold Hop is a clever blend of American IPA hoppiness with a traditional English-style Pale Ale (recipe courtesy Charlie Papazian). The result is literally the best of both worlds. It’s like Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale and St. Peter’s English Ale made sweet love and had a baby. A delicious, wonderfully drinkable baby.

Ok, that’s the quick rundown of beers off the top of my head. Honestly this was going to be a longform review of the Sierra Nevadas, but this was also supposed to be written about 3 weeks ago, so there.

Next time (and this will be soon, as I am tasting and taking notes tonight): A surprise from Bell’s? Stay tuned, hop fans—same Beermonger time (whenever), same Beermonger channel.

Don’t forget to follow your friendly neighborhood Beermonger on Twitter for my thoughts on what I’m drinking, news as it breaks and pretty random observations usually relating to the NFL, comic books and TV.


The Beermonger Review: Dogfish Head Squall IPA

Yes, I’m a comic book geek.

So it’s been going on 10 years since my first taste of the wonderful brews of Delaware’s Dogfish Head Brewery. So as not to incriminate myself I won’t say how old I was at the time; I’ll just say that my beer geekery was something that started early. As with most hobbies (and addictions, for whatever that might say about us), the pursuit of new and interesting beers led to meeting others with the same proclivities. Somewhere along the way, I discovered Dogfish Head’s 60 Minute IPA. As a young hophead 60 Minute was something of a revelation: So different from the big West Coast beers I’d had, with a truly different take on what it was to make a ‘hoppy’ beer. As I learned more about DFH and tried their stuff, I became hooked. Here was a brewery within my region of the country that could legitimately claim to be among the best in the world.

As I started my first wine store job, it was left to me as the lone beer-knowledgeable staff member to take care of our small but potent beer selection. A guy who had worked there before I arrived was a Beer Geek who had stocked our walk-in cooler with all manner of obscure microbrews. There were back vintages of Anchor Xmas, Cantillon, Hair of the Dog, Brasserie des Rocs and, of course, Dogfish Head. The thing was, these weren’t the Dogfish beers I knew. These were in big 750mL bottles, corked and caged. I had a backstock of 90 and 120 Minute IPA, multiple cases worth.

I took a 90 home to try it. I was on pins and needles; if 60 Minute was so good, what could 90 be like? Well, it was a revelation. Almost immediately it became my favorite beer (alongside Arrogant Bastard). Then I made a crucial error: Chatting up a wine collector who dabbled in beer, I mentioned the 750’s in the cooler. His eyes lit up and I knew I was doomed. He bought every bottle we had right there on the spot and I never saw either again. Undaunted, I took to making the 12 ounce 4-pack 90 Minute my everyday beer. Something was different, however. Asking around, I learned about bottle conditioning and the how’s and why’s of Dogfish’s altering of what I considered the nectar of the gods. I kept up with the 90; it remained atop my list and even now there are moments where all I want is the rich, fresh hoppy palate that I only get from 90. But I couldn’t ignore it—it was different. It had changed. ‘Such is life’ I reasoned.

Fast forward to a couple of years ago: I’d had many conversations with the guys at Dogfish and in almost every one I’d sneak in a request—please bring back the old bottle-conditioned 90 Minute. It became something of a running joke. I was always told it wasn’t happening, and in all fairness they had very good reasons for not doing it. Then one day, in a trade with a buddy of mine, I came into possession of a special bottle of 90 Minute. DFH apparently made a run of the old-style,  bottle-conditioned 90 Minute IPA. Limited to 50 cases (not confirmed), it was made as a ‘Thank you’ gift for some of their favored retailers and distributors. I’ll take this moment to only be slightly bitter that I apparently wasn’t one of those favored retailers…ok, then. I split the bottle over the holidays with my best friend who was in town from L.A. It was fantastic, fresh and with an earthiness that doesn’t always come through in the regular 90. It was a great bottle of beer to be sure, and satisfying as all get-out, but it wasn’t the revelation it had been years ago. That evening was more of a celebration; one of those nights where you have the right drink with the right friend and you don’t just toast your drink but your life and those who make it worthwhile.

Right before my wedding earlier this year I started hearing rumors of a new DFH IPA. Nobody I talked to seemed to know anything about it other than that it was new and apparently was very good. Most said that it was the best IPA they’d ever made. Needless to say I was intrigued. In August, my wife and I went to Rehoboth for a weekend of sun and beers. Hanging at the Dogfish Brewpub, I found the Squall IPA in stock. They were letting folks buy only two bottles at a time since supply was so low so I swiped a pair and planned to come back the next night for two more.  I struck up a conversation with the bartender taking care of us (there’s that ‘making friends through a hobby’ thing again…) and he said he’d let me buy as many as I wanted as long as I didn’t want to buy a case or some such quantity. I asked for six, but there were only two left. Oh well. We went home and after delivering the bottle promised to a friend, I had three bottles of the mysterious, rare Squall IPA to enjoy.

For those who may not have heard the news yet, let me break it down for you a bit: Squall IPA is essentially the original 90 Minute IPA, bottle-conditioning and all, but with the twist of using six different hops. I could use a confirmation on this, but from my understanding 90 Minute is made exclusively with Cascade hops (which explains why when they run 90 through the Randall at Rehoboth, they always pack the Randall with Cascade). I took some time after getting home to crack one open, wanting to catch myself at the right moment. Finally, I could wait no longer…

Poured into my trusty Sam Adams glass at a relatively cold temperature. The aroma was more complex, more aggressive than 90 yet at the same time more floral, almost to the point of being slightly perfumed. The palate was rich, with a stark fruity quality to the hops. My wife, having taken a sip, noticed that as well. She thought it was easier to drink than 90 which surprised me as she is not a hophead.  But it made sense to me–I’ve always found bottle-conditioned beers to have a subtle, underlying ‘smoothness’ to them that I can’t quite explain. The mid-palate and finish saw something come through that brought me back; the earthiness–the woody, dirty notes of pine and resin that buffered and balanced the intense fruit notes that come with such overwhelming use of hops. This wasn’t my old 90 Minute, that’s for sure. This was better. This was more than what I remembered blowing my mind all those years ago. So why wasn’t I freaking out? Shouldn’t I be blown away?

I’m (obviously) having a hard time explaining this. I don’t want to go off on too much of a tangent or make a mountain of a molehill, but having had some time to think about the beer (I killed the last bottle about a week and a half ago) I think I know where my head’s at with Squall, and 90 for that matter.

I’m about to turn 30, and while I’m not exactly ready to go on Medicare (though I’d take it) you can’t help but reflect. With time comes perspective, knowledge, what some might call wisdom. I’ve been wary of nostalgia lately, worried that I might give things too much importance or relevance in my life. It’s easy to do; studies show that as we get further removed from events we remember them differently. The first time you rode a bike, kissed a girl; the times you hurt yourself or others hurt you—likely weren’t that good nor were they that bad. It’s all in how you remember them. 90 Minute was such a revelation in my early 20’s because I’d never had anything to equal it. Squall didn’t blow my mind apart because I have so much to compare it to now. I went in looking for something that you don’t find when you’re looking for it.

Nostalgia can be a comfort, but it can also be a rose-colored lens. I’ve been trying to find the balance. I think I may have been trying too hard. My cynicism is honed and finely tuned. In the past few years I’ve been finding that part of me that used to wonder, that used to embrace every experience as new. The thing is, Squall is an amazing beer. It is refined, built to last and in every way better than the original Dogfish 90 Minute IPA. I was too busy living in the past to really enjoy it the way I should have. I’ve been doing that with a lot of things in life, for that matter. I know that doesn’t mean much to those of you reading this for a beer review, and I apologize for that. But you have to always keep in mind that any tasting experience contains so many variables, our state of mind being one of the biggest, that perspective is essential. We all seem to want what we used to have, but now is always so much better because we made it here to enjoy it.

I never thought I’d end up in the field I’m in. I never thought I’d be turning 30 with a beautiful wife and with most of my sanity intact. Hell, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it to 30. I’ve made many friends in the beer and wine business, a field filled with people always looking to make the great better, and always up for a conversation. I guess what I’m saying is: Know the things that you remember, fondly or not, but know them. My first kiss was wonderful, my parents divorcing was the best thing they could have ever done for me, my father is a worthless dick who I’m better off without, I never should have been in college when I was and 90 Minute IPA is my favorite beer in the world. I consider Squall part of the 90 Minute ‘canon’ so to speak, therefore it’s atop the list. I can’t wait to get my hands on more to enjoy it the way I should have the first time.

That’s the joy of getting older; you learn faster and know that there’s always another chance to get it right. Except for those cases of 90 and 120. I totally should have bought those. I will always regret that.

Take some time and think about what you’d like to do over. Go out and do it.

Next time: Sierra Nevada Harvest & Chico Estate.


Epic Fail?


About a week ago, I woke up and noticed a text message on my phone. It was from a friend and fellow Beer Geek, and it simply said:

“090909 is not good.”

“What is it?” I shot back.

“Oak aged belgian styled porter with tangerine and vanilla. Yuck.”

This was not encouraging. I’m a huge Stone fan and have always enjoyed the Vertical Epic series of beers. For those unfamiliar, starting in 2002 Stone has released one special beer per year made outside of their normal recipes. The first release was 02.02.02, the next 03.03.03. and so on. The series will come to an end with the 12.12.12. beer, with the idea being to hold all of them and have a big party with your friends and open them all for an epic vertical tasting.

Epic is one of the most eagerly anticipated beers of the year. In fact, back when I worked retail, I used to get these calls frequently:


Me: “This is Nick. How can I help you?”

Caller: “Hey, is Vertical Epic in yet?”

Me: “No, sir. It’s March.”

Caller: “Yeah? So?”

Me: “08.08.08. Should be available around then.”

Caller: “Not sooner? I heard sooner…”

Me: “I could see it being maybe a week or so early, but I don’t think they’ll release a beer scheduled for early August in the spring…”

Caller: “Well, here’s my number (gives number). Call me if it shows early. My buddy in (NY/CA/PA/MD/FL) said he’s gonna get some soon, though…”

Me: “Sure.”

end scene

Every year. Anyhoo, since almost no one has any of the 2002, almost no one buys these with the intent of aging them for years. Myself included. I do have a couple 2008’s on hand, and maybe even an ’06 or ’07 (have to check the collection), but I’m never going to have the full collection and if I did I don’t have the proper storage for such an undertaking.

Getting back on track: The Epic beers are always one of my favorite specials of the year, so getting the message I got was a bit worrying. I swung by Rick’s only to find them sold out. Of the seven cases they got. In under 24 hours. That’s how it used to go, so I’ve got no one to blame but myself there. Talking to Jon (Rick’s convivial Beermudgeon), he told me he hadn’t tried it yet either. He very cordially offered to sell me the bottle he hadn’t taken home yet, but I couldn’t do that. Luckily I had a tasting the next night at a shop where they actually had some in stock so I picked up a couple bottles and brought them home to see what was really going on…

Stone Vertical Epic Ale 09.09.09

Poured into Duvel tulip glass

Served cold but not too cold (2-3 hours in open cooler)

Enjoyed outside and alone

Belgian Porter made with dark candi sugar, chocolate malt, tangerine peel, vanilla bean, Belgian yeast and aged on French Oak

The beer had been hanging out in a cheese cooler for a couple hours, so it was cold but not too cold. The first fill of my Duvel glass poured very dark brown, with a surprisingly active head. I think the temperature had some influence, but my first note on this years Epic is that the head is dark and presents in ‘stiff peaks’, for those of us who enjoy the beating of eggs now and then. This got my attention immediately, especially as the head yielded in fairly short order, leaving a thick lace that resembled fractal art.

The back label of Epic ’09 explains that the inspiration was choclates with Orange in them. They wanted to find a way to recreate that in a beverage, hence the Tangerine peel, chocolate malt and vanilla. My first impression from the nose was heavy with the Belgian yeast and chocolate malts. Citrusy notes were subtle and rode the back of the vanilla, which kinda caught me off guard. From what I’d heard, I guess I was expecting Quik mixed with Grand Marnier. This was not that at all.

First sip was very smooth; rich but not too heavy. There wasn’t a great deal happening on the palate. The action seemed to be all happening on the finish, which was some kind of ride: Rich chocolate and vanilla popped up immediately, giving way to the tangerine and a mocha-like flavor. The finish developed quickly, but lingered for some time. This is something I don’t see that often in beers, even special brews like these, so I allowed myself a few minutes of leisurely sipping and exploring the elements of this wonderful, odd idea.

The second fill of the Duvel glass saw this beer really come out of its shell. The citrus notes from the Tangerine finally asserted themselves struck a healthy balance with the sugar, vanilla and oak. I gave up on notes and simply drank the rest of the bottle happily. My thoughts turned to my buddy’s text from the previous morning. This friend of mine is, as I’ve noted, a Beer Geek like you and me. He’s younger than me and still finding his wine palate, but knows how to identify what it is he enjoys and why. I wasn’t wondering why he didn’t like it, though–I was wondering why I did.

I could easily see where someone wouldn’t enjoy this beer. With all of the odd ingredients and the inspiration behind it, this is definitely not a beer for everyone. It’s like a clever deconstruction of a dish at a restaurant, or concept art: It’s clever, self-reverential and serves no practical use. As an impression of an orange-flavored chocolate, it’s outstanding. It gives you enough to identify the source but at heart it’s still a beer. I found myself almost surprised to say this is a great beer, but it is. It does come with a proper warning (the back label goes into great detail about the series and this specific beer), so what’s the problem?Then it hit me. Forgive me for a slight detour….

I’ve spent some time over the past couple months putting the bulk of my CD collection onto iTunes. Doing this I rediscovered a ton of albums that I haven’t really spent much time with over the years. One of these is from a group called Jazz is Dead. Basically, it’s a group of Jazz badasses who get together and jam on Grateful Dead tunes. I’m not much of a Dead fan myself, but I have a huge man-crush on drummer Jeff Sipe, and he’s on this record, so I picked it up.

You could imagine, me not being a Dead fan and all, that I don’t listen to this album all that much–and you’d be right. But there are a couple of cuts that I’ve grown attached to over time. And every now and then, it’s exactly what I want to hear.

Getting back to the point, I caught an earworm while sitting outside enjoying my Vertical Epic. It was the Jazz is Dead take on Weather Report Suite Part 2: Let it Grow. It’s my favorite track on the record; there’s a turnaround into a chours that is just beautifully structured and I can listen to it over and over. I realized that I was outside enjoying beer inspired by Orange chocolates and had a Dead song in my head being played by some of the finest Jazz players out there. These were two brilliant answers to questions no one in their right mind was asking. Folks at the top of their game making High Art of what is usually considered ‘high’ art.

There’s a certain perspective of mirth that you need in this life occasionally. Sometimes we have to enjoy something without taking it too seriously. Sometimes we need to hear that chord change in the chours over and over. Maybe not all the time, but every once in a while. With it’s odd ingredients and style, this is not a beer for everyday. But the Oak, vanilla and chocolate malt find balance with the citrus and alcohol to create something truly new, different, clever and fun.

Like I said, every once in a while…

Local Kicks Column, Weekend Preview….and The Beermonger Mini-Review: Stone Vertical Epic 8.8.08

Hey Hey,

Local Kicks Column here. Kind of past-due now that I’ve had a chance to try this year’s Vertical, but oh well.

Friday Tasting at Rick’s Wine & Gourmet:

-Victory Festbier

-Paulaner Oktoberfest

-Ayinger Oktoberfest

-Just for the hell of it, I’m tasting out Allagash Four. I’m very curious to try it, and it’s my beer department so that’s what we’re going to do.

Saturday Beer Tasting at Rick’s Wine & Gourmet:

-Allagash Fluxus. Tried this tonight. Very cool beer. Ginger is very much the big flavor here, and it drinks so much bigger than the average Belgian White. This is the beer for your friends who give you shit for drinking White Rascal or Southampton Double White. You show ’em.

-Lagunitas We’re Only In It For The Money. Surprise! The boys in Petaluma weren’t going to send this one out (didn’t want to deal with the state’s label approval bullshit—understandable) but apparently changed their foggy little blessed minds. I’ve heard it’s a Belgian-style Tripel.

-Stone Vertical Epic 8.8.08 (More info below)

-Rogue Brewers Ale 2008. Bigass ceramic bottle. Bigass amber hoppy beer. What else do you need to know?

-Weyerbacher XIII. Trying this out tomorrow. Sounds like an absolute monster. A 13.6% ABV Belgian-style (notice a pattern here?) Stout. I’ll be bringing some serious beer food to handle this beast.

So, Vertical Epic…Always a highlight of the Beer Year for me (it’s like Advent, except not). The ’08 version is a Belgian IPA, and boy is it. It really is San Diego by way of Ghent. I’ll give a shout out to thebeersnob who mentioned mango and banana notes in it. Those are there—the yeasts are very specific in flavor and are huge even for the style. The story here is the hoppiness, which is a ballsy lupulin smack that I don’t think the Belgians have quite nailed yet. Even the biggest of the Belgian IPA’s are finesse; nothing too crazy, hoppy but never leaving your mouth slightly numb. This isn’t a Belgian IPA, per se: It’s an IPA-Tripel.

I think the fruity flavors are great in the beer, though it will be interesting to see how it develops over time. I think in about 8-12 months this is going to be a shockingly refreshing Belgian Strong Pale Ale. Almost like some of the De Dolle stuff, but more exaggerated.

Overall, 8.8.08 is kick-ass. Impressive in all kinds of new ways, as the guys at Stone (who don’t spend a lot of focus on Belgian-style ales, thought that seems to be changing) keep upping their game. Good on ya, gargoyle. See you Saturday if you can make it out.


The Beermonger Review: AleSmith Decadence Imperial Porter

AleSmith 2007 Decadence Imperial Porter

AleSmith 2007 Decadence Imperial Porter

I recently had to say goodbye to a friend of mine. My best friend (‘Mother’) moved his narrow ass back to L.A. (again). Before he left, the two of us got together at Our Cute Friend’s place for a night of beer, Guitar Hero, more beer, loud music, more Guitar Hero and a ton of great beer. I took the opportunity to bring a few beers out that otherwise I probably wouldn’t crack open for myself. We drank a 2006 bottle of Dogfish Head Fort (a favorite of My Cute Friend). We drank a bottle of Avery Maharaja (one of the Holy Trinity of Weed-Smelling and Tasting Beers). We drank one of my last bottles of Stone 11th Anniversary (the instant classic; they need to bring this beer into regular production now). We pounded beers like Dale’s Pale Ale and Loose Cannon in between. We even cracked some Miller Lite for the hell of it. Thankfully we avoided the 2002 Dogfish Head Worldwide Stout I’d brought, otherwise someone may have been injured.

While we were at it I figured I’d break out a super-special Scooby Snack: A bottle of AleSmith Decadence 2007 Imperial Porter (with great thanks to Alpha-level Beer Minion Doug, who was kind enough to bring it back from one of his San Diego excursions).

We can’t get the AleSmith beers out here in VA, so don’t even ask. I’ve had their Speedway Stout before and enjoyed it immensely before realizing I was at the bottom of the (12% ABV 750mL) bottle and completely hammered, causing me to rant and rave about how amazing the beer was to my fiance who just shook her head and informed me that she indeed knew that I was drunk. As if I didn’t know.

Anyhoo, I had this bottle of Decadence and thought this would be a good time to crack it. Not only could I try out the beer, but I could get opinions of friends who aren’t in ‘the business’. Mother and My Cute Friend are into beers, so they know a thing or two about a thing or two. The ’07 Decadence is a 10% Imperial Porter, rich and malty, pouring a dark reddish-brown. Smells roasty to me at first with hints of dark fruit (very subtle, that) and the expected notes of chocolate and caramel. Expected doesn’t mean boring, though. I could’ve smelled the beer all night. That would’ve been boring. I moved on and started to drink the beer.

What an experience. Not unlike the Speedway (Imperial) Stout, the Decadence is very drinkable for its alcohol level (10% ABV). Blind, I might have never guessed that it was as strong as it was. The malts were front and center—sweet, cocoa, caramel, more of those dark fruits I’d noticed on the nose (less subtle on the palate, surprisingly) and slightly smoky. My Cute Friend was impressed, which caught me a little off-guard since he’s a die-hard HopHead usually. I guess that’s by choice, though; I’ve seen him enjoy many types of beers but I think he just gravitates to the hoppy stuff. We all came away wishing we could get more of this good stuff.

That always kills me, knowing I can’t get certain beers. That will always bother me. If there was only one great brewery out there that I couldn’t get, even if I had all others, it would still piss me off. I’d be bothering every distributor in the area to sign them up. I guess that’s what keeps me in a job. I’m off on a tangent, aren’t I? Sorry.

In the end, boys and girls, I think it comes down to this: This all happened about 6 weeks ago. This was one more night with ‘the boys’; a send-off to a guy who’s like a brother to me. Good friends hanging out like stupid kids all night—like none of us had a care. Among all of the memories of that night (admittedly there aren’t that many), the AleSmith Decadence stands out.

Forgive me if this isn’t much of a review. If you’re reading this, you’re likely into beer and you have a fairly good idea of how this beer is—it’s a fantastic, outstanding example of a type of beer that we don’t see too much of. It’s powerful, richly flavored but perfectly drinkable. The point I think I’m trying to get to is that every now and then, it’s not about the greatness of the beer. It’s about the moment and the friends you share that beer with.

I give it a 10.