Category Archives: Dogfish Head

The Beermonger Review: Saison du BUFF (Updated w/all 3 versions)

Yeah, I know…where the hell have I been?

Well, it’s been a little bit hectic in ‘Mongerland lately. I recently changed jobs somewhat unexpectedly in June, followed by (1 week later in fact) moving to a new place. So to say I’ve been busy is a way of putting it. Adjusting to the new job has been good and I’m enjoying it a lot but it does take some time, hence the extended absence. Apologies.

I’ve got a bit of a backlog of beers that I’ve had over the past couple of months and some things I’m excited to write about. I’ll be trying to get to these over the next few weeks. For now, I’m kicking back watching the Redskins first preseason game and trying out Dogfish Head’s version of the ‘Mother of all Collaboration’ special beer Saison du BUFF.

A bit of background: Saison du BUFF started with an alliance of three of the baddest beer-brewing mofos in America back in 2003, as Stone Brewing Co boss Greg Koch, Dogfish Head madman Sam Calagione and Victory badass Bill Covaleski formed the Brewers United for Freedom of Flavor (BUFF) alliance. The point was not just to increase promotion of honest, outstanding craft beer to us dirty, unwashed masses yearning to drink free of multimillion dollar bullshit and fizzy yellow beer, but to ensure fair treatment and respect for small craft brewers from distributors and proper placement for those beers in retailers, bars and restaurants everywhere.

Earlier this year, the boys met up at Stone’s North County San Diego brewery to create a special beer as a thanks to all of us unworthy Bastards. The concept is simple: One beer to be brewed at all three breweries, using the same recipe and ingredients. The end product is a Saison clocking in at 6% ABV, brewed with parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.

I tried a bottle of the Stone version a few weeks back (during my hiatus) and am currently drinking the Dogfish version. I’m going to crack my second bottle of the Stone (forgot it was in there!) to get a fresh impression and compare.

What’s that you say? How can there be a comparison? It’s the same beer, with the same recipe and ingredients! Well, you have a point. But it’s not quite that simple. Let’s get to it:

Saison du BUFF Comparo, Part 1, or: Identical Cousins, Two of a Kind!

Stone Saison du BUFF

We’re gonna call this v.1. Poured with a quick to rise, quick to fall foamy head. The aroma is sharp, with herbal notes and a hint of citrus character that you’d normally see in a Hefeweizen. First impression on the palate is bright herbs and some hoppy acidity. The combination of herbs used almost makes v.1 seem like a Pale Ale with some dry-hopped character. Drinkable but complex; Saison du BUFF takes you for a bit of a ride leading to a finish with lingering ‘hop’ flavor and a subtle building heat, almost like a good red table wine (Chianti, a proper Merlot, Cotes du Rhone). I could see some great seafood pasta dished playing well with this, or a nice shaved turkey on rye or kickass veggie sandwich. Wish I had more.

Dogfish Saison du BUFF

The first impression came from merely opening the bottle. The cap gave way with a decidedly loud POP. As I poured the last of the bottle, it seemed to develop a foaming head that just wanted to run right out of the top of the glass. I described it on Twitter as being ‘active’; it had playful, hyperactive bubbles and a nose that seemed hoppier, hotter and all-around less subtle than the Stone.

The palate is where I really started noticing some differences. To me, the Dogfish version (from here on referred to as v.2) presented itself as more of a traditional Saison with its round feel and slightly grainier, yeastier character. It’s very drinkable, like v.1, but I think more so because of how the herbs seem to be more integrated.

On my palate the difference seems to be almost like using fresh versus dried herbs. The dry stuff is sharp, intense and uncompromising in pureness of its character. Fresh herbs are muted, earthy and easier on the nose and tongue. Try eating a basil leaf sometime, then try eating a pinch of dried basil. You’ll see what I mean.

The point being (I hope) that v.1 is much more the ‘dried herb’ take on Saison du Buff, where v.2 has the lusher, more subtle ‘fresh herb’ notes. Which of course is odd, since they’re the same beer made with the same ingredients. The only difference is where they’re made. It’s fascinating to me that they show like this, but if I paint with some broad strokes it makes some sense: You’d expect a West Coast beer to have a sharper palate and some lingering heat. The herbs in v.1 give a simulation of a lingering lupulin ‘burn’, which is very cool. By the same token, it makes total sense to see something from the East Coast being earthier and rounder.

Where the collaboration comes through for me, then, is in the aromas. The v.2 nose is so intense and hot which you might expect from, say, an intensely hoppy beer from Stone. V.1 more subtle but still complex; something that screamed Dogfish Head to me.

If I had to pick one, I’d go for v.2. I think the Saison character and earthiness play beautifully here. But honestly they’re both amazing beers, more than worth your time and attention. Track them down if you can.

Before anyone points it out: Yes, I know I haven’t mentioned Victory. I’m waiting for their version to come out. When it does, I’ll sit down and we’ll see how v.3 compares to 1 and 2. I can’t wait to pick all three of these apart and see what I find.

Until next time!

Beermonger

Update! Victory Saison du BUFF:


So now that I’ve had the Victory version of the beer (let’s call it V.3), let’s wrap this up and call it a full set.

If I had to sum it up as succinctly as possible, I’d say V.3 is ‘just right’. It’s not as dramatic as the Stone or Dogfish beers but it strikes a great balance that makes it the most drinkable of the bunch. Remarkably the last bottle I had, having been in the fridge for a few days, presented itself as being very Pils-like while still very cold. All that herbal element at a very cold temperature makes for a very focused but subtle hop-like note. As it warmed up a bit the basil-ness of the beer came out like it did on the first two. V.3 is the one of the three I’d give to an uninitiated craft beer drinker if they were curious about the beer; it’s so balanced and easy going that I can see almost anyone enjoying it.

So did I have a favorite? I don’t think I do. I really did dig all three. Each had something that made it stand out, yet they all shared a unique recipe that combined the absurd with the comforting with the sublime. I say if you can get a hold of any Saison du BUFF, get on it.

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The Beer Geek’s Manifesto

I need to preface this a bit…

…I’m a dork.

No, it’s ok. You can say it too, if you’ve met me—it’s not as if my dorkiness is something that’s buried deep. I hold Union cards in the orders of the Beer Geeks, the Comic Book Geeks, the TV Geeks, Movie Geeks, Video Game Geeks, Guitar Player Geeks and definitely the Car Geeks.

So I’ve spent a fair amount of time the past couple of weekends playing Gran Turismo 5 Prologue. Yes, I am one of those guys: The faithful long-suffering GT game fans who will give the crew at Polyphony a few more months after waiting five goddamn years for a new game if it means the new SLS AMG will sound a little more life-like or that kickass ’05 Subie WRX rally car hits its apexes just a little more like the real deal. As if I’d know the difference.

I think my love for Gran Turismo has its roots in my childhood when I didn’t seem to want anything for my adult life but to operate something that went obscenely fast. I had cardboard tubes filled with posters and glossy defense contractor pinups of all the latest and greatest military aircraft. NASA stuff? Man, I got a copy of Alan Shepard’s book handed to me autographed! How hot is that? Then there was the car porn: The framed pic of a C4 Corvette that hung on my wall for years; the model kits of Bill Elliott’s Coors-sponsored Ford and the 80’s Ferrari Testarossa; the little red diecast 250 GTO that sat atop my bookshelf into my 20’s; the bigass ’67 Camaro poster that looked so much like the one my folks used to drive.  As a child of the 80’s I’d watch the Space Shuttle launch and dream of being an astronaut. Growing up near DC and Andrews Air Force Base I’d go to the air show with my dad and spend the next weeks daydreaming of piloting A-10’s, A-4’s, F-15’s, 16’s—and the SR71 Blackbird. Don’t ever get me started on the Blackbird: That thing is the sex even now. Back then, to the 5-6-7-year-old Beermonger that plane was a crack rock rolled in pure sugar dipped in chocolate wrapped in bacon and then deep fried.

But it always came back to cars for me. That ’67 Camaro I mentioned before was the first ‘family car’ I can remember. As a 4 year old boy, not a lot could beat hauling ass out in the country with no soundtrack but the roar of the old Chevy’s dual exhausts, or running errands with my folks around town in the baddest machine I’d ever touched in my young life. I’m an only child and I invested a lot of emotion in that car without ever realizing it: I didn’t feel right after my dad plastered a deer with it and the Camaro had to go into the shop for a while. I remember my dad calling the house my folks used to drop me at (there was a neighbor of my Grandmother’s who watched kids for everyone in the ‘hood) and telling me he had a surprise for me. My thoughts went to toys, sweets—maybe even a trip to that ice cream place with the tabletop Frogger machine! Instead, he pulled up in the fresh-out-of-the-shop Camaro. I couldn’t have hugged that car more if it was my brother; it legitimately made me happier to see that car than any of those other things would have.

That car was the Good Days. Soon enough my folks would split up and I’d end up living with my Mom who was driving the by-now breaking and in need of an engine Camaro. Rather than replace the engine, she traded it in for a silver Subaru wagon with gray interior. Things changed; it’s hard to say for the better or worse but everything worked out in the end. Letting go of that car, though, ended that carefree part of my childhood. The lesson was “Things fall apart. There’s no fixing what you love”.

You get older and you live and learn but damn if some things just never let you go. I still want that car. Not the Camaro, mind you; I mean that car that lets you let loose every once in a while and feel something. That car that makes you feel the ‘simple’ act of driving for the wonder and marvel that it really is. I’ve come to realize that I’ve measured my whole existence by how close I could be to driving a car I truly loved. As of now I can barely afford to keep my beat up Ford Ranger breathing, so when I have a spare hour or so I fire up the PS3 and play GT5 Prologue, because it’s as close to driving any of those cars as I’ll ever get in this life. It’s the only place I’ll punish a Z4 the way I’d want to in real life.

In Prologue you extremely accurate virtual recreations of real cars through various racing challenges earning credits that you get to spend on cars for your ‘garage’. The game is smartly designed so that you start small, hone your driving skills so that by the time you can afford to drive some of the big boys you might have half a thimble’s worth of an idea of what you’re doing. I’m at the point now where my garage is starting to look like a Sheik’s.

It all started with the Nissan GT-R. I’m a bit obsessed with the GT-R, and jumped to buy one the first chance I got. Tackling races with it, I enjoyed it thoroughly except I couldn’t seem to get the lap times I’d expected from it. Frustrated, I decided I needed to up the firepower and bought a Ferrari F430. The Italian Supercar would bring me to the promised land of the speed gods, right? Well, it took some getting used to and is an amazing car no doubt, but now I was out of control. I saved up damn near half a million credits for a Ferrari F40. The F40 was Ferrari’s early 90’s attempt at building a ‘street legal Formula 1 car’.

The F40 didn’t win me any races. The way the car handled, shifted and turned was unlike anything I’d driven so far. I gave the F40 lap after lap and gradually something started happening: I still wasn’t winning, but the way I drove the car became more natural, my racing instincts sharpened and I realized that this car was simply making me better. I hopped back in the F430 for the hell of it and drove the race of my life. Something was still lacking, though; so next time I fire up the game I hopped back in…the GT-R. I’d come full circle and found the right vehicle to take my imaginary joyrides in.

In a room full of Car Geeks I’d have one guy agreeing with me completely, one guy telling me what a fool I was not to stick with the F40, one guy scoffing at all of us with tales of just how much of our asses a Lamborghini Reventon would kick and one guy would prefer an SLR, but see where I was coming from.

Sound familiar? In my years of working retail, writing and generally being a Beer Geek I’ve had hundreds of conversations just like the one in that last paragraph. I’ve had customers I needed to keep away from other customers because of how inflexible their opinions were. I’ve had people coming to me for advice and suggestions scoff at my list of favorite beers, usually because most of them are readily available. I’ve had people make faces at labels, or styles, or places a beer was from. I’m not trying to write a “Beer Geeks are zealots who keep craft beer from expanding” sermon. I’m saying I understand and if you don’t, you need to.

I guess what I’m trying to come around to saying here is that there are styles of beer we don’t prefer, and some beers we just don’t like—which is fine; we all have different tastes and they’re all going to react differently. What I think we all need to do is keep more of an open mind to re-trying beers we previous may not have enjoyed. I couldn’t get into Belgian beers for a long time; every now and then I’d get a draft of Delirium Tremens at Dr. Dremo’s and know that it was good, but think it just wasn’t for me. One night, though, it just clicked. I got it. Same with Flemish Sours and Rauchbier.

I think the moral of the story is: Just like it was with my video game GTR, you gotta crawl before you walk, and walk before you run. If super-hoppy IPA’s turn you off, well, maybe you’re just not there yet. Don’t discount Stouts because someone handed you a Stone IRS once when all you knew of beer was Yeungling or Sam Adams. You never know when somethings going to be your thing.

So onto the real reason I’m writing this:

At the core of Geekdom is an intense interest and joy we find in that which we are a geek for. Notice I say the “core” and not the heart. The heart of a Geek of any type is a damaged thing that we constantly try to patch back together with one more beer we’ve tried, one more track driven, one more bird watched, one higher level in WOW (or in my wife and I’s case, Final Fantasy). Because it’s so personal to us, we lose perspective (that many of us never had to begin with) and alienate those just finding out about our interests. Deep down, we don’t want more members of the club. So we go online or meet up and talk shit about noobs, or kids with flames and rear spoilers on otherwise stock Honda Civics, or Bud drinkers. Too many of us do this, and far too many think it’s ok. But I understand.

It comes down to the mix of ‘sin’ and genuine love that makes us all human. As not to hurt or offend I’ll use myself as the example:

I want a GT-R. Not in the game—I want to step outside tomorrow morning and see a Godzilla in Gun Metallic in the parking lot. I want it with a craven greedy lust that shames me to think about. I want to look at people driving Ford Rangers and feel sorry for them because they’re not having the experience that I am in my GT-R. I also know that most of the reason I feel that way is that I equate a marvel of an automobile like this to regaining something I lost when I was 5 years old. Something I know isn’t coming back because things fall apart and there’s no fixing the things you love. But I’m grown up just enough now not to be bitter that I’ll never own a GT-R, or to lord my opinion over someone who happens to prefer an M6, or even an R8 (which I love almost as much as the GTR).

For all of you out there who love beer the way I do and those just discovering the vast wonderful world of breweries and styles, follow some rules. Dare I say it? Yeah, what the hell:

The Beer Geek’s  Manifesto

1. It’s Not Boy Scouts

Rare beers arent merit badges and just because you’ve had them doesnt make you a better or even a more knowledgeable beer drinker. Don’t get in someone’s face about Westy 12 being the greatest thing on the planet unless you can rationally explain to them why. I’m glad you’ve had a chance to try it. I haven’t. I’m sure I will at some point and look forward to it. But when you run your trap about it being so amazing simply because it’s rare and you want to lord it over everyone that you’ve tried it, we know that’s why you’re doing it. And we all think you’re a dick who doesn’t know jack shit about beer because of it.

2. The More, the Merrier.

Don’t roll your eyes at people who don’t know what IPA stands for yet. All you’re doing is taking money out of the pockets of your favorite breweries, the farmers/suppliers/distributors they work with and the stores and bars you get your super-rare limited-production brews from. No one likes a snob, especially beer drinkers—so cut that shit out.

3. There Is No Such Thing As A Bad Style of Beer.

People have been giving me shit for years because I have the temerity to be a huge fan of Abita’s Strawberry Lager. Most of these people giving me aforementioned shit have never tried this beer, and likely never will because “fruit beers suck” or they “stick to real beer”. Let me tell you asshats something: It’s not a 5,000 IBU Bourbon Barrel aged brett monster with wild yeasts floating around the bottle like sea monkeys, but it’s not a goddamn smoothie either. It’s a well made, exceptionally drinkable and refreshing beer that doesn’t make me feel like I have a brick in my gut when I’ve had 6 or 7 while BBQing. It’s a pleasant thing to have around for the month or so it’s available every year.

What I’m trying to say is that if you don’t like, let’s say, Saisons; there are two and only two reasons why. You either A) Haven’t had the right Saison yet, or B) You’ve decided you’re not going to ever like Saison beers and they can all kick rocks. If the answer is B, you need to find another hobby because being into beer is all about trying new things and keeping an open mind. Oh, and you’re an asshole who just wants to be right all the time. BTW, before anyone says “MacroLager”, we all have one we roll with. Don’t act like you don’t. Mine is Tecate.

4. A Rising Tide Lift All Ships

Don’t get in someone’s business because they don’t like your favorite brewery. Don’t refuse to try something because it doesn’t have a specific label on it. The more we support craft beer the more we’ll see of it. When I go bowling, I get pitchers of Sam Adams. Why? Well, there’s two (or five) more pitchers of Bud or Miller that their not selling. If enough of us did that everywhere, we’d have more options. The Northern VA area is a prime example. We’re seeing four or five new craft beer featuring restaurants and bars opening up this year, if not more. Don’t get pissy ’cause your friends brought you to a bar with Miller Lite, Bud, Bud Light, Heineken and Guinness on tap. Drink the damn Guinness and ask a barback if they’ve ever thought to try something new. Maybe suggest a beer or two. We’re all in the boat together.

5. Never Forget…

Abita Strawberry Lager rules and anyone who says otherwise doesn’t know a thing about limited production beer and needs to go back to their Party Ball of Coors Light with Cletus and the boys.

Just kidding: I actually wanted to see if I could encapsulate all of the things we do wrong into one sentence. I think that one works.

Actually, #5 is this: Every pint, bottle or can is not only a chance to spread the word about craft beer and all the good things that come along with it, but a chance to make a friend. What all of us geeks really need in our lives is friendship. It’s the only thing that really helps us salve whatever it was that made us how we are. We all need more friends, and more opportunities to be friendly. Take advantage.

I think we can all figure it out from here. Don’t be a snob, don’t assume others are snobs, keep opinions and tastes in perspective and have a good time. Don’t assume to know where someone’s coming from anymore than you’d have them assume about you. Let’s all have a glass or 10 and rejoice in the growing community of the Beer Geeks.

‘Til All Are One

Cheers,

Beermonger

PS: This is also being published on the 2nd Anniversary of this here Blog. I just want to say thanks to everyone out there who’s taken a moment to swing by and check it out, comment or follow me on Twitter. I am humbled everyday that anyone on the planet might give a damn what I think. So thank you.

The Beermonger Review: Van Twee, Life & Limb

‘Collaboration’ is the word. It’s a word that honestly bothers the hell out of me, mostly from overuse. Ever since the 90’s, people have been popping up on each others records and calling it collaboration when really it’s just a joint promotional play between two media entities. If Mary J. sings the hook on your record, that’s not a collaboration. She’s just singing the hook on your record. Sting and Dire Straits didn’t ‘collaborate’ on Money for Nothing. He just sang a background part as a favor for a friend.  Let me drive this home before I go on a real rant….

NOT a collaboration: Close, but no. You just had dudes lay down new tracks in the background for a song that was already a hit. Congrats, you made Diet Cherry Vanilla Coke:

Technically collaboration: All bands are collaborations, but these guys (Josh Homme, Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones) are well known outside of this project (by the way get this album now!!!):

THE collaboration, also one of the best rock songs ever written:

So, collaboration demands a certain level of recognition and prestige of the parties involved. It’s a rare thing in these days where everyone is an expert in every field (just ask me or any of the thousands of beer and wine bloggers out there). There aren’t many opportunities for true collaboration in an era where most industries and arts are devoid of masters. Except, it seems, for the wonderful world of craft beer. It’s become de rigueur for brewery folks to come together, hang out, talk shop and then release a special beer they thought up together.

Not that this is anything I’m complaining about. Some of the most interesting beers of the past few years have come from this phenomenon. The Brooklyn and Schneider breweries practically rewrote the book on Hefeweizen with their dual efforts. Bel Proximus was the culmination of years of study for the Brett Pack and a signpost of American craft brewing’s coming of age through it’s understanding of Belgian brewing techniques. It’s this Belgian/American link that we’ll be exploring first today.

I hadn’t heard of Dirk Naudts until about a year and a half ago, when the beers of his De Proef (Dirk’s nickname, ‘The Prof) brewery arrived in Northern Virginia. It turns out that Dirk is something of a legend over in Belgium; one of the most renowned brewmasters in the whole country. I’m still trying to find out how many recipes from how many breweries are Dirk’s. If you’re enough into beer to be reading this blog, you’ve probably had something Dirk came up with, even if you don’t know it. Well, Dirk eventually came to open De Proef as his own brewery, a small super-precise computer-monitored place that turns out the magic potions that this sorcerer comes up with. My first experience with De Proef was with their excellent Reinaert Flemish Wild Ale, which is just about the most intensely Bretty thing I’ve ever seen. It had great balance and flavor, though, and I knew I’d found a new brewery to be a fan of.

Not all of Dirk’s beers are his alone, however. Not long after first carrying his beers, we received the first in a series of collaborations he was doing. This first one was made with Tomme Arthur of Lost Abbey/Port Brewing. It was a beer with a Brett level approaching the Reinaert but hopped like an American DIPA. The result was tropical, rich, smooth goodness that found a surprisingly large following. When I finally made it out to Cali earlier this year and visited San Francisco’s world-class Toranado, the first draft I had was the Port/De Proef Ale.

Now we have the release of Van Twee (‘from two’), made with John Mallett of Michigan’s legendary Bell’s brewery. I had heard whispers about this one for about a year, but had no idea it was coming in. I happened to notice it on the shelf where I bought it (no I’m not telling—I want to try to get another bottle or two) and immediately grabbed it. The back label describes it ‘broadly’ as a mix of the Porter and Dubbel styles, using Belgian candi sugar and the dark, sour cherries that Michigan is known for as well as some of that cherry juice. The sugar used for bottle conditioning came from Michigan sugar beets and it was finished with a Brett addition and the Nelson Sauvin hop from New Zealand (!). Even the ingredients are in the spirit of collaboration.

Van Twee pours a dark brown hue; in certain light you can detect a hint of red but I really had to look to find it. It looks like a Belgian Stout more than a Dubbel, but the viscosity is consistent with Porter and Dubbel. The nose was doubly tart with the cherry and Brett. Anyone familiar with Bell’s Cherry Stout knows what I’m talking about when I say that I knew there was a malty beer under the cherry aroma, but it’s almost too much work to get past the intensity of the fruit. I feel like it worked a little better in the context of the Belgian beer; perhaps there’s a familiarity we have with sour Lambic beers that makes it a little easier to handle such a sharp cherry smell. Either way, I couldn’t glean much of the beer’s character from the nose, so I dove in.

The palate is full-bodied and very smooth. It’s a great balance of rich malty flavors and the tartness of the cherries. The sugars and Brett are used more for texture, for evenness of flavor, with neither having a heavy influence on the flavor. What they do, though, is add elements that seem to come from nowhere: The sugar on the front palate makes you think immediately of a Belgian Dubbel or Stout, and the Brett combines with the cherry on the finish in a way that made me think for an instant of Rodenbach’s Grand Cru. I love Rodenbach Grand Cru. All in all, an interesting one-0f-a-kind brew that you should seek out. Highly recommended.

The collaboration everyone was talking about in ’09, though, was Life & Limb, the long-awaited beer from Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head. Beer Geeks everywhere got all tingly when this was announced, and the speed with which the bottles flew off shelves here in NoVA spoke volumes about how big the craft beer scene has become here. I managed to snag one for myself (only one, unfortunately) for a review.

Life & Limb is a strong dark Ale (10% ABV) made with Chico estate-grown barley and maple syrup from Dogfish boss-guy Sam Calagione’s family’s farm in Massachusetts. The brew is bottle-conditioned and naturally carbonated with Alaskan birch syrup (!). I cracked my bottle and dove in…

The first thing I noticed was the color. Life & Limb pours a deep nutty brown, with a fine but firm head. It looks more like a potion or elixir than a beer, like I should take one of its 24 oz bottles with me into a Legend of Zelda-like dungeon. I got a lot of the maple and birch syrup on the nose, with a hint of that classic unmistakable Sierra Nevada yeast strain (more on this in a second). I lingered on the nose for a bit, because I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I was intrigued for sure, but I didn’t quite get it yet.

After the first sip, I got it. Not nearly as heavy as it looked, not very hoppy at all (even though it clocks in around 50 IBU). Sweet maple syrup and birch notes are kept in check by the richness of the grains. The feel, thanks to the birch syrup, is almost soda-like. I’m a HUGE root beer/birch beer fan, and this was a revelation for me. In a master stroke, the house yeast strains of BOTH breweries was used, avoiding a common knock I’ve heard many people throw at Sierra Nevada beers: That their yeast strain is so neutral and easily accessible as to be a bit dull. I agree that the SN yeast is distinctive and very approachable. Personally, I think that’s where its brilliance lies: In the early days of SN, wouldn’t you want to develop a strain that appealed to as many people as possible? It’s the common thread that lets you know no matter what the style, you’re drinking a Sierra Nevada beer. However, for Life & Limb, the SN strain alone would’ve simply been overwhelmed and even if it wasn’t, it would’ve been a shame not to take advantage of the mad science going on in Delaware. The combination makes this unique Ale drinkable to the Beer Geek and novice alike, and adds an edge to the palate that keeps the whole experience from being cloying and too rich. Variety of notes and flavors as well as its uniquely ‘big tent’ feel for such a robust beer lead to food pairings that are almost endless. This beer could be an ambassador for craft beer if it stays in production.

In the end, I found Life & Limb to be maybe the best collaboration I’ve come across yet. It’s a true melding of styles and philosophies yet is more than elements of the different breweries. This is an independent beer with a life of its own. Something new and alive and undeniable. In fact Life & Limb has its own website, as well it should. I don’t know what the situation is as far as bottles are concerned, but I’ve been seeing bars and restaurants in DC having events and putting Life & Limb on tap, so good luck with that.

And good luck to everyone reading for a happy, healthy, beery 2010! Thanks for taking the time to stop by.


Next time: If it’s not Scottish, it’s crap!

Beermonger



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.


Beermonger

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.

Beermonger

Theobroma Update

I’m out of Theobroma and it doesn’t look good as far as seeing any more.

Just got off the phone with my Dogfish guy. Here’s the deal:

The brewery expansion that happened earlier this year revealed issues with their foundation which needed to be resolved. This set the guys behind with stuff like 60 and 90 and d’Etre. They switched from running ‘special’ beers like Theobroma in the 300bbl tanks to using all the 300 tanks for 60 and 90 et al. This sent Theobroma and others into 100bbl tanks, which resulted in a much smaller amount than was originally planned for.

Just under 30 cases were allocated for the NoVA area, of which I got two. As I said, those two cases are sold out. I’m sending people to DC where there wasn’t any more available, but had fewer stores buying it, so they may have more in stock.

I wish I had more. Good luck and happy hunting. If you see any out there and are so inclined, post a comment and let the rest of the class know where to get some.

Review still to come…

Beermonger

Beer Geek Alert

Just received two cases (make that one and a half, actually) of Dogfish Head Theobroma. If anyone wants in call Rick’s and I’ll set some aside for you. This stuff won’t make it to the weekend, so don’t wait.

Because of the limited amount available, I’m limiting everyone to a maximum of two bottles. Review coming later tonight or tomorrow.

Also, Bell’s Hell Hath No Fury Ale is in. This is based on a Dark Belgian Ale and has some interesting coffee notes and kinda reminded me of Aventinus when I tried it yesterday, except without some of the banana clove feel.

Beermonger