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Archive for October, 2009

Girardin Gueuze 1882 Black Label (unfiltered)

October 29th, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | 4 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Brouwerij Girardin, Brewer: Hanssens Artisanaal bvba, Country: Belgium, Grade: A plus, Grade: A-, Style: Gueze, Style: Lambic

5% ABV corked-and-caged yo

In Stanley Kubrick’s seminal “2001: A Space Odyssey,”, arguably the greatest picture of all time, the progression of a being is shown to evolve from that of a lower form of ape to an upper tool-using form to a bland earthling to one capable of traversing the galaxy to, finally, one able to break through the gates and become…the starchild.  The highest being possible.  The odyssey of the beer connoisseur would seemingly reach the starchild level–that place that other mere mortals simply don’t understand, much less are they able to attain themselves–when he or she becomes addicted to funky sours beers.  Those American wild ales, Flanders Reds, Lambics, and the granddaddy of them all, Guezes.  Others might not understand why we like them, in fact they may even be repulsed when we let them try a sip of our glass, and, shit, we might not quite understand why we all of the sudden dig these mouth-puckerin’ tartbombs either, but alas, one day we all do.

It’s especially easy to dig these beers when you get to try world-class examples.  Such as a few weeks ago when I tippled the currently 59th ranked beer on this planet, the unfiltered version of Girardin’s gueuze courtesy of Greg at Rustico in Alexandria, Virginia.  I popped the cork to the moon, Alice, unleashing a smoking aroma of citric and funky tartness.  The taste is milder though with a crisp and tingly lemon zing.  This isn’t one of those sour beers that is so sharp you retract and wince with every eye-dropper-sized sip you take.  Nor is it one that feels like acid ingestion in the reverse.  Eminently drinkable with its low ABV, this is one of those rare beers that makes a low-ABV eschewer like myself realize that you need not be a double-digit ABV asskicker to pack in a lot of flavor.  In fact, these boys from Belgium use a mere four ingredients–one of them being H20–to produce this delight.  I haven’t had a lot of gueuzes in my life, but there surely cannot be many, if any, that are better than Girardin 1882 Black Label.  Highly recommended both to those folks scared to enter the wild world of wilds, and to those more “expert” sour enthusiasts.

A+

Hanssens Experimental Cassis

6.5% ABV

We shift the sour focus from gueuze to the seemingly more common lambic style, which are actually just gueze’s unblended.  I suppose you could call them the single-malts to the gueuze’s blended Scotch.  Glenlivet to Johnnie Walker.  I had never heard of this brewery or this beer before–your Vice Blogger is sadly not quite all-knowing–but Greg pretty much just shoved this into my hand, telling me of its rarity and crazy deliciousness while ringing the register up on my bill.  (Note to beer sellers:  if you tell me a beer is highly rare and just put it into my hand, acting like I would be a damn fool to turn it away, you can pretty much just remove my wallet from my pocket and take out as much of my money as you would like.)  Luckily, the far-more-knowledgeable-than-me Greg was right.  Not only does this beer have a meager twelve total reviews on BA–shoot, it doesn’t even have a picture of the bottle with its profile–but it was incredibly good.  Brewed with black currants (that’s what a “cassis” is you monolinguals) and “matured” in oak barrels, this was nice and dirty, tart and acidic yet balanced out with a nice touch of fruity sweetness.  Smells of intense dark fruits, just a touch of fizz, and quite complex, this one goes down nice and easy.  A slight slight debit for its thin mouthfeel though.  Yet well worth seeking out.  No clue what Hanssens is actually “experimenting” on, but please, keep on doing it.

A-

RJ Rockers Bell Ringer and Blue Mountain Full Nelson

October 28th, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | No Comments | Filed in Brewer: Blue Mountain, Brewer: RJ Rockers, Country: America, Grade: B plus, Grade: B regular, Style: ESB, Style: Pale Ale

8.5% ABV bottled

It’s a workout being a beer geek!  Constantly researching the latest hot releases, scouring the city (if not the country (if not the world)) for bottles, walking aimlessly around town trying to find a bar with “acceptable” offerings for you palate.  You know, sometimes it just feels good to relax and drink with no expectations.  When I was at my friend DW’s house in Virgina recently, admiring his massive beer fridge, I saw two six-packs for two beers I’d never heard of from two Southern breweries I’d likewise never heard of.  The War of Northern Aggression seems to still have a lingering affect on the quality of microbrew coming out of the dirty dirty, but I’m always willing to try something new.  I asked DW if I could snag a bottle of each before I headed back to New York and he gleefully agreed, clearly wanting to get these brews off his hands.  I love to try new stuff and it’s great to test your reviewing skills on beers with absolutely no buzz–neither positive nor negative–that could taint your objectivity, but I still threw these two into my fridge expecting to use them as nothing more than 3-AM-last call-don’t-want-to-waste-the-good-shit-in-my-apartment beers.  I was, quite frankly, pretty wrong.  I actually ended up drinking Bell Ringer to kick off some early college football watching on Saturday.  It was a pleasant pleasant surprise.  I haven’t had many ESBs (Extra Strong Bitters) in my life and after this one I intend to try many more.  An ESB is kinda best described as a DIPA without the bitterness, oddly enough.  Bell Ringer was indeed hoppy hoppy hoppy sans bitterness, boozy but drinkable, well balanced and flavor-packed.  I wish I’d swiped more bottles from my buddy.  Don’t be scared to try this one if you live in the miniscule swath of land where it is distributed.  I believe this is the first beer I’ve ever had from South Carolina and in that regard, it’s the best I’ve ever had from the Palmetto State*.  (Whatever a palmetto is.)

B+

5.6% ABV bottled

Bell Ringer was a very pleasant surprise and Afton, Virginia’s pale ale offering was pretty darn enjoyable too.  Bursting with a nice Cascade hoppiness yet still fairly balanced.  A pronounced bitterness, yet quite drinkable.  Easily as quality a pale ale as some of the more “famous” breweries’ flagship offerings.  I would never be upset to do a little session self-shitcanning with Full Nelson if I lived in Virginia.  I need to quit being so reluctant to try all these “unacclaimed” beers out there in the world, because, as I just found out, many are quite nice.**

B

*Though I’d love to get my hand on some COAST stuff.  Any one?  Any one?

**Yankees in SIX!  Book it.

Bell’s The Oracle

October 22nd, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | 3 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Bell's, Brewer: Founders, Country: America, Grade: A-/B+, Style: IPA, Style: Pale Ale

?% ABV bottled

The 3XL Underwear Date

I never am late but I was running late for this latest first date, if I can evoke the white rabbit a bit.  This was back in the early-2000s when preparation for a big weekend date involved polishing off a six-pack of Yuengling while watching the tail end of the afternoon’s college football games, opening my eyes and regaining some energy by drinking a can of Sparks while I showered, and finishing it off with a nice cocktail as I got dressed.  Not exactly a recipe for running on a tight schedule nor for impressing these women I was supposedly wooing.  Then again, they were often more drunk than me.

On this particularly night, out of the shower, I quickly prepared myself a gin and tonic to enjoy as I garbed myself.  I reached for one of the fresh unopened packs of boxer briefs I had just purchased.  Ripped the pack open, grabbed a pair, and quickly pulled them up and…they fell back down to my feet. They were fucking huge.  I glanced at the label.  3XL.  Shit.  I grabbed another pack.  3XL.  And the third and final pack.  3XL.  Fuck!

Earlier in the day I had been downtown near price-choppin’ clusterfuck par excellence Century 21 when I had fortuitously recalled that all my underwear were dirty and I had a date that very night.  I could, of course, just have hurried home and done laundry, but eh.  I rushed into the mess of a department store, plowed over some slovenly Slavic tourists like Adrian Peterson hitting the hole, and grabbed a stack of $5 three-packs of Hanes unmentionables.  (Undergarments are the most egregiously priced of all clothing and thus, as a miserly Jew, I always make sure to buy them at Century 21 where they sell for like 75% discount.)

Alas, in my haste, I had stupidly forgotten to check the size of the boxer-briefs, partially assuming I suppose that one size fits most, but, what with Century 21 being a tourist mecca, of course the default sizes were for the typically girthy Nebraskan or South Dakotan rather than being an M or L like most New York stores would stock.  I should have known better.  But there was no time to damn my luck at the moment, I had to come up with a plan for my date.

Going commando was out of the question.  It was a sweltering 98 degrees out and going sans-knickers in the city of the Knickerbockers would be a surefire recipe for having a most swamp-like crotch before I’d even arrived at the bar.  There was my old standby of teeny tiny soccer shorts as a proxy for undies, but that had gotten me into major trouble the last time I’d done such a thing and I didn’t want that evening’s date shrouded with such an anti-talisman.  Perhaps a “cleaner” pair of dirty underwear?  No, that was too disgusting even for me.  Alas, I had no choice but to wear the 3XLs.

I don’t exactly wear drainpipe jeans now and I certainly didn’t back then, but I’ve always favored a slim fit as I hate the jostling from non-sleek clothing.  Suffice to say, it was near impossible to pull my denims up over this brand-new blousey girdle.  It entailed a lot of constant tucking and shimmying and smoothing before I was finally able to get my jeans up.  And even then, the waistband of the offensive boxer-briefs was exploding from my dungarees, like a mushroom cloud, forcing me to fold them over my belt line and into wearing a thick, longish shirt so as to hide the craziness.  If I ever forgot and accidentally did a big yawning stretch, revealing my littleclothes, my date would surely think me Mormon.

I go to some upscale-for-a-dopey-24-year-old bar and I meet up with Stacy or was it Laura or possibly Alisha? but I’m unable to focus.  Unable to be my funny, charming, roguish self since I’m so concerned about my 3XL underwear, so uncomfortable with the saggy cloth surrounding my loins.  I’m can barely think of anything else, I can barely pay attention to my date, I’m writing my own prophesy as I almost don’t want my date to be a success for if it is a success of course we will go back to her place and start getting all inflagrante delicto and next thing I know she’ll be laughing at me and mocking me for my apparent sick fetish of wearing gigantic Pampers.

So I decide to drink heavily, which kinda eliminates my anxiety but which also makes me need to keep pissing which is another conundrum all to itself for once in the restroom I fear that if I pull too much of my pants and 3XLers too far down, then I’ll never able to get everything back in place again.  Meaning, I had to employ the most dreaded of all devices, the underwear piss hole.  I’m still have post-traumatic stress over that.

Amazingly, after countless cocktails I’m loosening up and Stacy or was it Laura or possibly Alisha? is becoming charmed by my slightly fidgety neurotic besotted behavior, and maybe she’s a little drunk too, or wanting to use me as a slumpbuster, so she invites me back to her pad.  And, despite my fears from before, I accept.

I had drunk so heavily at dinner that I thought I’d be unable to get my lumber out of the bat rack but, amazingly, once Stacy or was it Laura or possibly Alisha? started kissing me, all the biological things that are supposed to happen started happening.

I’m usually aggressive in bed but here, in this situation, I was being quite slow and tender, caressing and fondling Stacy or was it Laura or possibly Alisha? with her clothes completely on because, despite my stoned state, I know once I take her clothes off, she will take my clothes off and see my most unfortunate parachute of granny’s panties.  This incredibly slow progression toward love-making thus makes me appear to be a man interested in an incredible amount of foreplay, which makes Stacy or was it Laura or possibly Alisha? like me all the more as most men her age–including me when I was wearing boxer-briefs that fit–were probably a little too wham bam, thank you madame.

Eventually, Stacy or was it Laura or possibly Alisha? reached a fever pitch of foreplay ecstasy and there was only one final frontier left to explore.  She excused herself to the bathroom to do whatever it is girls do when they excuse themselves to the bathroom right before coitus.

(My top three guesses:

1.  Last second depilatory work
2.  Vigorous gargling
3.  Quick Google search of my credentials)

This was finally my chance and I sprung to action!  I quickly pulled down my jeans and whipped of my dreaded 3XL panties which had somehow become stretched out to 4XL or perhaps even 5XL underoos in the last five hours as these babies were expanding faster than the universe.  I took the Hanes and tossed them under Stacy or was it Laura or possibly Alisha?’s bed and then quickly pulled back on my jeans.

Stacy or was it Laura or possibly Alisha? returned from the bathroom seconds later, placing some condoms on her nightstand.  She then attacked me, taking my fate in her own hands.  Although now I was at ease.  She pulled back down my Lucky’s and a pleased look came across her face.

“Commando…?  Mmmmm…sexy!”

Sexy is right.  I was finally free from my prison of skivvies and eager to celebrate my midsection’s liberation.  I pulled a perfect Cael Sanderson reverse and threw her to the mat, positioning myself on top of her.  She may have seemed a bit confused by my sudden personality change, but she was greatly enjoying it.

So was I.  I had done it!  I had triumphed over these Herculean jockeys determined to defeat me!

I reached for the nightstand and a prophylactic.  Expertly opened the package and put its contents on my manhood.

But something felt off.  Way off.

I looked down to see the condom hanging on my dick like a latex poncho.  Sagging and droopy, unweildy and unusable.  What the hell?

I grab the discarded packet off the floor.

Durex XXL.

Stacy or was it Laura or possibly Alisha? noticed the look of fret on my face, the tears now welling up in my eyes.

“Oh sorry,” she said, “I stole those from my roomie.  You should see her boyfriend.”

The Oracle

This limited, Michigan-only release from the legendary local brewers, was procurred for me by my good buddy the Drunken Polack.  With a meteoric rise onto the BA Top 100 putting it alongside Bell’s two other IPAs, Two-Hearted and the legendary Hopslam, I was certain The Oracle would be epic.  But all I can report is…eh.  I was great underwhelmed I’m sorry to say.  And you know that has to be the truth because I am nothing if not a grade inflater!  I found Oracle to have the nose of a malty barleywine, yet, oddly enough, one of the more dry and bitter tastes of any DIPA around.  But not in a good way.  I would hail Smuttynose’s “Finest Kind” to be the uber-bitter IPA The Oracle should aspire to be, but it’s simply just not quite as good.  A bit of a lacking-in-flavor grapefruit mess.  Oh well…at least you folks that will struggle to locate this beer don’t have to be too bummed out about that fact.  If you’re like me, I almost get excited when someone reviews a highly-rare, highly-sought-after beer that I shall never taste and then semi-slams it.

A-/B+

BONUS REVIEW!!!!!

Founder Harvest Ale

6.5% ABV bottled

While we’re on the subject of hoppy beers, I got to make mention of by far the most enjoyable one I’ve had in the last weeks.  Oddly enough, BA lists this as a pale ale, but you know I hate to quibble about stylistic persnicketyness.  I’d generally liked all of Founders hoppy IPA-type beers I’d had in the past, but this was the first one that absolutely floored me.  One of the most fragrant beers I’ve ever had, with quite possibly even a more fresh piney smell than Pliny the Elder.  The taste is not quite as good as the otherwordly smell, but this is still some amazing shit.  Citrus, pine, and so much juicy hoppiness.  Wet-hopped beers are all the rage at the moment, even someone woke up the NYT to write an article about the phenomenon, and I finished off the sole four-pack I had of Harvest with a quickness.  Unfortunately, I can’t get Founders in NYC, but if I could, I would be absolutely plowing through bottles of this like some frat boy participating in a power hour until this fall season’s limited run was completely drank up.  It’s that good.  Not to be missed.

A

Bourbon Blowout

October 20th, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | No Comments | Filed in Bourbon

Man can not live on beer alone, but if you throw in some bourbon, he could probably live on that combined.  This post exists for no other reason than to show off the fact that I have tried pretty much all of the greatest bourbons in the world recently–all of which score in the A range–and so that I could offer some brief capsule reviews.  You should be so lucky to ever even sit in the same room as someone trying any of these.

Michter’s US-1 Single Barrel Straight Rye

This 41.7% ABV rye has a great smell and is incredibly smooth, no harshness at all.  Quite a buttery mouthfeel, the charred barrel flavors are pronounced too.  Quite nice.

A-

Michter’s Single Barrel Bourbon (10 Yr Old)

This single barrel offering is quite drinkable at merely 92.8 proof and is packed with a smooth taste of oak, cherries, and sweet malts.  Complex and quite good.  Would be a nice place for a bourbon virgin to start sippin’.

A

Black Maple Hill

A solid 95 proof sipper, this small batch offering is woody and sweet, with pronounced tastes of green apple.

A-

Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 15 and 20 Year

I blind tasted these two against each other and ultimately preferred the younger, hotter 107 proof 15 Year over the smoother 90.4 proof 20 Year.  But, don’t get me wrong, both are world class.  In fact, according to the World’s Spirits Championships–whatever the hell those are–these are THE two best bourbons in the world.  Both these bourbons use wheat, as opposed to rye, which make them sweeter than your typical bourbons, adding nicely to the oaked vanilla flavors in these incredibly complex sippers.

A+ and A+

A.H. Hirsch Reserve

This 16 Year old comes in at a relatively easy 91.6 proof, making it deliciously drinkable even for your friends that need to add ice and a frosty mug to every libation.  This exceedingly rare, and soon-to-be-non-existent, whiskey from the now-shut-down Michter’s Distillery in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania, is packed with a pleasant assault of vanilla with underlying hints of maple and oak.  Probably the second-best bourbon I’ve ever had.

A+

William Larue Weller

One of five from the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, this uncut and unfiltered bourbon came in a little hot for my palate at 121.9 proof, but it’s still very good.  An incredibly smokey bourbon, I found little of my prefered vanilla sweetness.  It’s more just an assault of old man pipe, pepper, and perhaps some dried fruit.

A-

George T. Stagg

This uncut and unfiltered bourbon is so scorching–coming in at 140.6 proof–that it is not allowed on airplanes due to flammability issues.  Oh, but despite being “no-fly,” George T. Stagg is no terrorist.  In fact, Stagg is the best bourbon I’ve ever had.  It burns your nose hairs as you sniff it, it makes you feel like Al Swearengen as you sip it, but my God is it shockingly complex and flavorful.  Another from the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, this 15 Year old is packed with syrupy caramel and butterscotch and an oaky, tobacco smoked finish.  I cannot recommend it more.  Well worth whatever you have to pay to get even an ounce of it.

A+

Widmer Cherry Oak Doppelbock (Brothers’ Reserve Series)

October 16th, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | 3 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Widmer, Country: America, Grade: A-, Style: Bock

9% ABV bottled and boxed!

Day Drinking

Upwardly mobile big city yuppies often like to try and make each other think they’re still very much immersed in the more transgressive and fun parts of society.  That they still “got it.”  That they’re actually having as much fun as the rest of us.  They’ll even make up and throw out certain buzz words, catch phrases if you will, to reinforce these faulty thoughts.  “Day drinking” is probably the biggest of these such words.  As in, “What are your plans for today?”  “Oh, just doing some day drinking.”  Like we’re supposed to be really impressed they have chosen to spend their Saturday or Sunday like most normal cool people do–BY DRINKING.  There’s even a Facebook fan page set up for this lamest of self-back-patting hobbies.

Let me fill you guys in on something, there’s nothing outrageously cool or profligatic about drinking a Bud Light on a Saturday at 14:00 hours.  Nothing ornery about slurping down a Bloody Mary with brunch while rocking your massive SUV of a stroller parked next to the booth.  What?  You think you’re being “bad”?  You think that drinking while the sun is out and bad Big Ten football is still on the air is naughty?  You think you’re only “allowed” to start tippling once the dinner hour begins?  Grow up.

“Day drinking” is St. Patty’s Day or New Year’s Eve in micro.  A time us cool people set aside for the amateurs to drink so we can quickly clear them off the streets in time for us to actually start guzzling.  It’s like how New Yorkers give the tourists Times Square and 59th Street, us real drinkers give you phonies Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 to throw down in public.  We’ll be at home getting loaded by ourselves.

You want to be a real badass?  Don’t day drink on a Saturday or a Sunday, or the occasional Monday or Friday holiday off.  Go day drinking on a fucking Tuesday.  Or a Wednesday.  That’s when the real badasses are day drinking.  Take off work on any normal and insignificant Thursday and go get shitcanned by yourself.  Oh you will see characters my friend.  You will see the dregs of society.  Men, always men, that somehow skirt the paradox between having absolutely nothing going on in their lives, yet still enough money to fund their “disease.”  And what a grand disease it is!  The sun pouring into the quiet bar, “Oprah” or maybe “Family Feud” on the wall TVs for there are no sports on air at this hour, maybe–maybe–some cricket or rugby or hurling from some weird country, but that’s about it.  Bartenders reading the NY Post, the occassional suit going all “Mad Men” for a liquid lunch, some vacationing foreigners.  There is no talking, there is no mingling, there is certainly no flirting, this kind of day drinking is all about you and your hooch.  It is no group celebration but fuck is it fun.

But I don’t want to be an alcoholic you say!  Only “alcoholics” day drink on those days!

My point exactly!  So you admit you simply wanted to be a faux-alcoholic for a little undeserved street cred.  Just like you wanted to be when you went to that faux-dive bar last week.  Let me let you in on a little secret:  there’s no such thing as a chain dive bar.  And those buffalo wings ain’t that wild either.

Alcoholism, drunkenness, is an all-or-nothing proposition, friend-o, you’re either fully in or fully out.

Though maybe you’re like me.  Ya’ want to be a boozehound without all the unpleasant whispering from the Joneses of society.  Then do the day drinking all by yourself.  It’ll be our little secret.  Stay inside your tiny little abode and just start shredding through your beer cellar.  How zen!  How stoic!  Much better than tai chi.  Open that boxed Widmers you just got.  Wait a sec?  Widmer makes a BOXED fancy beer?  But I thought they were like a “macro-micro”?  So did I brother, so did I.  But you know I can’t turn down a boxed beer.  And goddamn am I so glad I got to try it.  It was really quite good.  Your classic chewy dopple maltiness, rich chocolate, etc, but with a beautiful underlying hint of dark cherries and a vanilla oak finish.  This is actually a one of a kind beer, and I greatly enjoyed it.

I’m not gonna quite induct it into the dopplebock pantheon alongside, say, Celebrator, Salvator, Thomas Hooker’s, them boys is legends, but it’s pretty freaking good.  I hope to try it again and all of the sudden I’m looking at Widmer with a new eye, like a girl that just got implants, hoping to try some more from them.  What else ya’ guys got?

A-

The Blind Leading the Blind

October 15th, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | 2 Comments | Filed in Brewer: AleSmith, Brewer: Deschutes, Brewer: Pennichuck, Country: America, Grade: A regular, Grade: A-, Grade: B-, Style: Porter, Style: Stout

Note: 2/3rds of this post comes courtesy of a trade with Jay at Hedonist Beer Jive.

When I get together with my friends DW and Batch, we like nothing more than to set up a blind taste test amongst some hard-hittin’ beers.  There’s no more accurate way to judge, and enjoy, a great beer than with no preconceived notions.  No inner monologue dancing around your head saying stuff like, “I think I kinda hate this beer, but it’s #13 on the Beer Advocate Top 100 so maybe I actually do like it…?????”

For this blind, I’m sure some beer geeks are going to get all up in arms that we pitted an American double stout vs. an American porter vs. a Russian imperial stout.  Blasphemy they’ll say!  He disrespected beer!  They might even start a nerdy discussion about it on the sad BA Forums.  But I’ll argue that it was an apropos matchup.  These styles are virtually the same and in this case, all three beers had near identical ABVs and, more importantly, strongly relied on coffee for their flavor profiles.*

The contenders were the currently #13 beer in the world AleSmith’s Speedway Stout, the #73 beer in the world Deschutes Black Butte XXI, and, just to throw a would-be tomato can into the mix, Pozharnik from Pennichuck Brewing from out in New Hampshire.

We were anxious to throw these down, but we faced one crucial problem:  how to set up a blind tasting when we were the only three people around.  Usually there’s a wife or a girlfriend, a macro-drinking friend, a teetotaling toddler, you can enlist to set up the glasses for tastings but in this case all those kinds of people were shunning us.  Three people born in the 1970s, well-educated, and we couldn’t possibly figure out how to set up a blind to drink ourselves.  Perhaps we were a little toasted too.  And I was most anxious to get on with this tasting as I was getting a firm case of drinking blue balls.

Finally, DW decided he could pull out nine total glasses, label three of them with a 1 on the bottom, three with a 2, and three with a 3, pour the same beer in the same numbered glass, then have Batch mix the glasses up, then have me distribute.  It worked.  May drinking beer never be so hard again.

On with the tasting notes:

Beer #1:  I found this one strongly smelling of soy sauce while all three of us detected a spicy chili pepper scent on the nose, recalling Dogfish Head Theobroma a bit I thought, oddly enough.  I found this one thin in the mouth, and bordering on unpleasant.  I didn’t even want to finish my blind taster glass.

Beer #2:  This was sweeter than #1 and quite flavorful.  I found it, likewise, to be a little thin on the mouth, but it was a very solid effort I enjoyed.

Beer #3:  By far the best of the three, all three of us blind tasters thought it easily won the troika matchup.  Rich in coffee taste and with a silky mouthfeel, toasty, roasty, and chocolaty, I greedily slurped this one up.

And the reveal:

Beer #1:  Black Butte XXI

Beer #2:  Pozharnik

Beer #3:  Speedway Stout**

We were all floored how resoundingly the beautifully wax-dipped Black Butte XXI got its ass kicked.  After the reveal, we still struggled to enjoy it and nearly considered passing the remaining 3/4th of the bottle to a bum outside.  (Respect that BA!)  XXI would be the only of the three bottles we didn’t enjoyably finish.  But, to be fair, it explicitly says on the Black Butte XXI bottle that the beer is best after 10/17/2010, but with such a lofty numerical standing and such rave reviews pretty much to a man at this very second in time, I would have hoped for better.  Nevertheless, I would really like to try another bottle of it exactly 369 days from now and I’ll give it a marginal benefit of the doubt til then.

The little-discussed Pozharnik was also quite a surprise, in the more pleasant surprise direction, and held up quite well in matching the wax-dipped XXI with a plastic plungered bottle.  The victorious Speedway Stout opted for the silver foil-wrapped top, completing the trifecta in what may not have been our greatest blind tasting ever, but was surely our greatest fancily-capped bottle tasting ever.

Black Butte XXI:  B-

Pozharnik:  A-

Speedway Stout:  A

*Commercial descriptions:

Speedway Stout: “A HUGE Imperial Stout that weighs in at an impressive 12% ABV! As if that’s not enough, we added pounds of coffee for a little extra kick.”

Black Butte XXI: “Building on the existing chocolate notes already present in Black Butte Porter, brewers added Theo’s Chocolate cocoa nibs from Seattle,  1000 pounds of Bellatazza’s locally roasted Ethopian and Sumatran coffee, and then aged a portion of it in Stranahan’s Colorado whiskey barrels.”

Pozharnik: “The 2007 Pozharnik is an intensely flavored Russian Imperial Stout infused with espresso that compliments its rich chocolate & roasted malt character.  Pozharnik is guaranteed to warm a winter chill with its 10% ABV and dark fruit (raisin & plum) & vanilla undertones.  Notes of whiskey aromatics are brought on by the aging process in a “single barrel” whiskey cask.”

**Interestingly enough, the only of the three to NOT be barrel-aged.  Though, I’d love to try the barrel-aged version of this one if any one wants to hook a brotha up.

The Bruery Autumn Maple

October 13th, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | 3 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Clipper City, Brewer: The Bruery, Country: America, Grade: A regular, Grade: A-, Style: Belgian Strong Dark Ale, Style: Pumpkin Ale

10% ABV bottled

Oktoberfest

I have just recovered from a big four-day drinking weekend down in Washington, D.C., highlighted by my first ever visit to Rustico’s Oktoberfest.  Luckily, it was a little drizzly out which kept the kind of drinking element away who only hears about events in this world courtesy of “morning zoo” DJs while listening to Top 40 radio.  The overt beer geek element was fairly low too for that matter, now that I think about it, though I did see one dweeb in a Kate the Great shirt proudly trying to get his picture taken with a “St. Pauli Girl” whose boobs were veinier than Iggy Pop’s arms.  It was mostly an Alexandria/Arlington lot of MILFy women in giant fuck-me boots with even gianter rocks on their hands and pushing the most giantest strollers you done ever seen.  As much as I wanted to hate on these women for pushing SUV-sized strollers of crying babies through a beer festival, I was actually kind of jealous that these runner-up trophy wives got their own portable cupholders for them to place their beers in while showing off their engagement rings to other yentas or while holding hands with their latently homosexual husbands.  But I digress.

I think I have now well exceeded my amount of fall seasonal beers for 2009 and like the smart kid in elementary school, I may need to skip a grade all the way to winter drinking.  I tell ya’, if I never see a malty marzen or a pumpkiny pumpkin beer again this year, it might be too soon.  Some of my fall seasonal highlights of the Oktoberfest, all which I’d score an A- minimum:

Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale
Avery The Kaiser Imperial Oktoberfest
Bear Republic Late Harvest Oktoberfest
Clipper City Heavy Seas - Prosit! Oktoberfest (cask)

(Surprisingly, my lowlight of the weekend, besides passing out wasted at 8:30 PM on Saturday night, was Flying Dog’s Dogtoberfest, recently awarded the gold medal in the marzen category at the Great American Beer Festival.  I found it to be a stunningly awful malt mess and since I had no drain nearby to pour it down, I had to resort to dumping onto the parking lot near the Port-o-Potty release plug.  Fitting.)

But my two highlights for the weekend would be Clipper City’s Heavy Seas - The Great Pumpkin and The Bruery’s Autumn Maple.  I had The Great Pumpkin on cask and I have to say, flat out, it is the best pumpkin beer I have ever had by an order of magnitude.  Well outperforming such legendary luminaries as Southern Tier’s Pumking and Dogfish Head’s Punkin, my previously-thought-to-be two best in the category.  The Great Pumpkin tastes like if you just dunked your head in a giant pumpkin pie.  It’s probably the most pumpkin-tasting pumpkin I’ve ever had as it doesn’t suffer from the over-spicing a lot of pumpkin ales do.  And it’s so silky and creamy, oozing down your throat as smooth as a nitro Guinness.  Whereas even the best pumpkin ales one grows sick of after a pint or two, this was the one beer I kept revisiting at the festival, going back to the cask booth time after time after time.  I really wish I had a cask of this in my house right now, it was that good.  Perhaps it was the fact that it was my first ever pumpkin beer on cask–I got to compare The Great Pumpkin side-by-side on tap and it simply lacked the same oomph the cask version had–but this one deserves legendary status.  A very impressive effort for Baltimore’s Clipper City.

A

Now, full disclosure, Autumn Maple was actually the only beer I have discussed today that wasn’t available at the Oktoberfest but I did happen to try it the very same day.  A damn shame it wasn’t at the festival, because this might be the finest “Oktober” beer around.  Like most The Bruery beers this is a most unique creation.  Instead of opting to make a pumpkin beer for fall like everyone else, the boys from Orange County opted for a sweet potato beer.*  Huh?!!!  Mmmmm, actually.  Yams and maple syrup, tons of classic pumpkiny spices, this beer absolute worked for me and along with The Great Pumpkin has to be maybe the best seasonal beer out currently.  I know most The Bruery beers are a little pricey compared to other American options, but don’t be scared off in this case.  I’m shocked that it merely gets a B on Beer Advocate because this is very much a solid…

A-

*Perhaps for a lack of a category at the moment, BA lists Autumn Maple as a Belgian Strong Dark.  Whatever.

Fire Island Lighthouse Ale

October 8th, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | 2 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Fire Island, Country: America, Grade: B-/C+, Style: Amber Ale

ABV unknown, bottled (seriously, why do breweries not list ABV sometimes?!  I detest that almost as much as I detest them not listing a bottling date, but I digress…)

As mentioned recently, I love New York local beers–not because I’m environmentally conscious or like to support the little guy–but rather because I’m a shameless homer.  So, not surprisingly, this past weekend while sorting through the morass of beers at the store, my eyes were immediately drawn to one I’d never seen before.  A handsome label and some nice packaging patter too.   And straight from the gay vacation mecca of the Empire State no less!  I was sold and obviously had to grab a bottle.

Oddly enough, this very same weekend, just a few hours later, at a birthday party, I ran into the very man who had crafted the beer’s label patter.  Aces!  This beer came out over the summer–and currently stands as Fire Island’s only offering–so I’m not sure why it seems to have only hit Manhattan just as football, playoff baseball, and fat tourists in ski jackets season has picked up.  It’s a decent offering, smells like a non-adjunct lager, a bit stinky on the nose, tastes of toastiness and caramel.  A tad thin and watery, but fairly flavorful for how easy drinking it is.

I never quite understand why new breweries enter the scene with such unambitious beer.

“Hey, want to join the thousands and thousands of breweries on the scene and open our own brewery?”

“Absolutely, but don’t most fail?”

“Yep, that’s why we need to dazzle everyone with our initial offering.”

“A boring and exactly to-style underhopped amber ale?”

“Bingo!”

Nevertheless, I’ll look forward to future Fire Island offerings–my newfound copy writer friend tells me an IPA is coming next from them–and I’ll keep supporting the local boys until they’ve turned me off at least a half-dozen times.

B-/C+

Stone 09.09.09 Vertical Epic

October 6th, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | 2 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Stone, Country: America, Grade: A-, Style: Belgian Strong Dark Ale

Cure for the Common Cold

The say you should treat the common cold with lots of fluids, tons of medicine, and plenty of rest.  Yeah, that shit never works.  But a thing that does work is binge-drinking.  Think about it, does not heavy imbibing of beer handle the “lots” of fluids, “tons” of medicine, and, eventually, force you to have “plenty” of rest?  Swimmingly it does, I might add.

Firstly, drinking oodles and oodles of ounces of ounces of the cocktail made with two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen is so boring and unflavorful.  Not like beer.  Secondly, swallowing big ol’ horse pills of ear, nose, throat, and head pain relievers is no easy task.  Unlike throwing some beer down your gullet.  And no one likes to force themselves to rest, so why not drink yourself into a sleepy oblivion?

I mean, why do you think ER patients in intense pain are sometimes forced into a coma?  So that they won’t have to experience all the terrible things happening to them as the recover from trauma.  Why have a “lost weekend” when you’re well?  A lost weekend when you’re in tip-top shape will involve missing all sorts of fun.  Hanging with friends, partying, playing with girls, and general revelry.  When you sober up and hear what you missed while you were blacked out you’re always inevitably pissed.  But, a “lost weekend” or week, in some cases, while you’re sick?  Why that’s genius!  Start drinking heavily and next thing you know you will have missed several days of a groggy head, pulsating sinus pressure, hacking up a lung and ejecting all sorts of green stuff from your nose, as well as being forced to watch daytime TV (although “Family Feud” continues to be hypnotizingly addictive).

As someone who is currently sick from the common cold, I can tell you that nothing can and will heal this pain save time.  So, I’ll just have to ignore it.  I will have to become a sort of drunken time traveler.  Start drinking heavily right now, and next thing I know, I’ll have woken up flawlessly well on Friday morning, totally having avoided the expected misery of this week.  Like a bear hibernating through the coldly harsh months.

The only drawback to drinking while sick is that your sense of smell and taste are too FUBAR to fully enjoy the great craft beer you’re drinking.  Alas, everything does have its debits.  Then again, some beers are so aromatic and so flavorful that even a man without a face could enjoy them.  The new Stone Vertical Epic comes to mind.

I’ve kinda been down on Stone lately.  Stone was the first craft brewery I loved and I’ve long considered it THE best craft brewery in America, but lately I’ve been fairly disenchanted with them.  I was beginning to wonder if Stone could just no longer compete with some upstart breweries or whether the ubiquity of Stone products and the amount of each of them I’ve enjoyed over the years had finally made me familiarly contemptuous of them.  Glad to say that with their recent super-hopped 13th Anniversary Ale, and now especially 09.09.09, Stone is still firing on all cylinders.

09.09.09 is quite a subtly unique little beer.  Like a dubbel mixed with a banana rich weisenbock in a way.  Flavors of mixed orange and chocolate with hints of vanilla bean as well as some oakiness too.  A very nicely crafted beer and certainly not to be missed.  All hail Stone, they are certainly still the kings.  And if they had a stupid little 200 bottle special release party for some new wild ale or tequila-barreled porter, they’d go back to getting the attention they rightfully deserve.  Shit, I just hope I can get a bottle of that tequila-barreled porter!

A-