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Archive for the ‘Country: Belgium’ Category

Saison D’Erpe-Mere Zymatore

May 21st, 2012 by Aaron Goldfarb | No Comments | Filed in Brewer: KleinBrouwerij De Glazen Toren, Country: Belgium, Grade: A regular, Style: Saison/Farmhouse Ale

While at the great DBGB last night slip slidin’ the night away with the carpet salesman, I noticed a beer type of the like I’d never seen before:  a gin-barrel-aged brew.  Now, I didn’t even realize gin was made in barrels, but glad of it, because this beer was outstanding, a funky saison with a leafy, crisp botanical finish and just a slight hint of sourness from an additional barreling in pinot noir barrels (!).  Seems this saison is part of something called The Zymatore Project, as press-release-explained below:

The Zymatore Project is our endeavor to create liquids of unheard flavors and aromas that destroy the boundaries of beer, wine, mead, cider & spirits.

Using barrels of the highest quality and pedigree from acknowledged leaders in the wine & distillation crafts we take beers, meads & ciders to new and unexplored levels.

What may seem like unlikely combinations of liquids & barrels are designed to create new flavors & aromas that transcend conventional definitions.

Such quality makes it unique to be served to people playing casino games at classy casino floors. The unique blend of different flavors makes it a one of a kind product.

Now I’ve never had the base saison, heck, I hadn’t even heard of this brewery, but this is one of the more interesting tipples I’ve had this year, and it makes me want to seek out all the other intriguing offerings from “The Project.”  Which I most certainly will.

Of note, nerds on Beer Advocate–and Garrett Oliver no less (not calling you a nerd, good sir!)–have had a most interesting discussion about these beers.

A

Gouden Carolus Easter Beer

April 1st, 2010 by Aaron Goldfarb | 2 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Brouwerij Het Anker, Country: Belgium, Grade: A-, Style: Belgian Strong Dark Ale

10% ABV on tap

Ever had an Easter beer before?  Nope.  Ever even heard of an Easter beer before?  Nope.  Then we’ll call Gouden Carolus Easter the best of this most minor sub-style and what an apropos paragon it is.  (Fittingly, there are no Passover related beers as Jews just get loaded on wines during the holiday–”It’s ceremonial, man!”)  I had this pricey $10 goblet of beer on tap during my first ever sojourn to the East Village’s most unique Burp Castle the other night and went away quite impressed.  A straight up boozy assault, this one is not for the faint of heart.  Absurdly complex with a most unique melange of flavors.  It’s easy to come up with unique and specific flavors for a holiday like Christmas (cinnamon, nutmeg, etc), but what are the specific flavors of Easter?  I have no clue aside from Cadbury-ness, but this beer is loaded with rich dark fruits like raisins, candi sugar, a Brandy-like quality, but an underlying hint of banana esters, Belgian hops, and subtle spices.  Syrupy and viscous, a sipper for sure, but I savored every one of those tiny eye drop sips of this beer.  Honestly, I have no clue how available or unavailable this beer is as I’d never seen it before, but I can’t recommend trying it enough–I’ve yet to have anything but a great beer from Het Anker–and downing a bottle of this by yourself would certainly be a lot more fun on Sunday than looking for eggs and shit.

A-

Fantome Saison

December 22nd, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | No Comments | Filed in Brewer: Brasserie Fantome, Brewer: Southampton Publick House, Country: America, Country: Belgium, Grade: A regular, Style: Saison/Farmhouse Ale

8% ABV from a 750 mL

I never thought I’d be a saison fan, but sure enough, I have become one late in 2009.  Coincidentally well out of saison season as we hit the snowy, bitter winter of New York.  Oh well, I’ve never exactly drank to season any how.  Of course, it’s easy to fall for these French-named, Belgian beers when you’re drinking some of the best of the style, as I did twice in the last week while snowed-in and with nothing to do but get drunk and play Cranium by myself (harder than you think).

I’d been looking for Fantome Saison for well over a year since I’m a shameless follower of the Beer Advocate Top 100, where Fantome has long resided and, luckily, I finally stumbled upon a sole bottle at a beer store in lower Manhattan.  Believe me, I paid a handsome penny too but it was well worth it.  I loved Fantome mainly because it’s not what I–probably erroneously–”expect” from a saison. It’s not thin, it’s not simplistic, it’s not bordering on non-alcohlic.  No, this sucker is like a double saison.  It opened so foamy it seemed like new life was still being created as it just oozed from my bottle.  Incredibly citric with the usual suspects of lemon, orange, and peach giving it a little tartness though this is no simplistic brew.  Very refreshing as per the style, but with some nice heft as well, though still majorly drinkable.  This was a solo drinking effort, and unlike Amelia Earhart I enjoyed every single second of the journey.

A

Southampton Cuvee des Fleurs

7.7% ABV from a 750 mL

While some of Southampton’s “little” bottles and tap-only selections are no great shakes, their big boys, specifically from the “750 Series,” are nothing but huge winners and that is again the case here.  You’d have to be an expert horticulturist to completely understand what you’re drinking as des Fleurs is flavored with a blend of edible flowers including L. augustifolia, A. nobilis, C. officinalis, R. canina and H. lupulus.  OK, whatever.  Excluding hops of course, the only other beers I can ever recall drinking that are made from, you know, flower flowers would be Elysian’s Avatar Jasmine IPA and Dieu du Ciel! Rosee D’hibiscus and neither of them hold a candle to this effort.  Extraordinarily fragrant, truly like stuffing your head in a rose garden while someone sprays perfume over you, the taste is also deliciously herby and sweet, atypically full-bodied and thick for a saison as well.  I just sucked it down like Vitamin Water.  Of course it’s incredibly unique, but this is truly one of the most flavorful saisons I’ve ever had and one of my most pleasant drinking surprises of the year.  (Then again, so was Southampton’s Grand Cru.  Perhaps I’m just not showing these Publick House boys enough due deference yet?  Never again will I folly.)  I shared this beer with my two non-beer connoisseur sisters who absolutely adored it as well, leading me to believe that us fellas can now present this beautiful flower beer to our wives instead of, you know, real flowers.  Of course, I’m not married, so why the fuck would you trust me on that?

Fantome Saison and Southampton Cuvee des Fleurs are truly at the apex of the saison style alongside only, let’s say, Boulevard Saison-Brett and, maybe, Hennepin and they should be sought out accordingly.  (And don’t think I don’t feel like a bit of yokel for having three of my four favorite saisons being from Kansas City, upstate New York, and Long Island.)

A

The Bruery 2 Turtle Doves

December 16th, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | 5 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Brasserie d'Achouffe, Brewer: High Point, Brewer: Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project, Brewer: The Bruery, Country: America, Country: Belgium, Grade: A-, Grade: A-/B+, Grade: B plus, Style: Belgian Strong Dark Ale, Style: Wheat (Hefeweizen)

12% ABV on tap

“You’re not sthupposed to review that.”

I turned to see some weaselly-looking pot-bellied virgin in a Blue Point pullover addressing me.  He had a slight lisp which is always more annoying than a full lisp for some reason*.

“’scuse me?”  Usually when I go to beer bars to geek out I go by myself and at off-hours so no one will see me nor bother me, the same strategy most XXX theater fanatics employ.

“You’re not sthupposed to officially review sthuch a small serving size.”

The pot-bellied weasel aimed his unkempt pointer finger at the flight of four beers I’d just ordered.  Rattle ‘n’ Hum was hosting a winter beer blowout and with dozens of brews I wanted to try and only an hour or two to spare on a Tuesday afternoon, I had no time for full pours.

The pot-bellied weasel had apparently seen me making a few reviewing notes on my iphone and, wanting to show off the sort of annoying pedagogy that would assure a lonely life for him, had pounced on me.

“You’re sthupposed to at least have an eight ounce pour to officially review something.  You’re not sthupposed to review so many beers in one sitting either.”  He started into a stuttering chuckle.  “You’re what, what, what we call a ‘ticker.’  Someone who tries to quickly review as many beers as possible just to say they drank them.”

I smiled knowingly and calmly, sipped one of the four beers in front of me.  I like being berated by asocial nerds with slight lisps.  It’s like getting dressed down by Don Rickles except totally the opposite.  I said nothing.

“I’m just telling you for your own good, man.”

The pot-bellied weasel had finished his rant and looked down, ashamed of his standing in life.

“What are you, on Beer Advocate?” I finally spoke.

“BA?  Yes I am.”

“What’s your user name?  I bet it’s something like stoutslurper69 or something.”

“I’m totallyhopsome.”

“And your avatar?  Which ‘Star Trek: The New Generation’ character did you pick?  Data or Geordi La Forge?”

He didn’t respond as I quickly looked up his profile on my iphone.

“Ah…Number Six.  Sexy.”

I held up one of my tiny glasses of beer.

“Let me tell you something.  It’s just beer.  Repeat after me:  it’s just beer.  Just a liquid.  You see, cool people like me use this liquid to enhance our lives.  We use it to make us feel good, to help us celebrate life, to aid in our understanding of the universe.  I’m already interesting enough as it is but this beer is going to make me even more interesting and in a few hours I’ll use that turbo-boost of charisma to perhaps pick up a woman, take her home, and then Greco-Roman wrestle with her.  So yeah, I suppose my beer reviews could be lacking, but at least I like myself.”

I may not go back to a bar for the rest of the month as over-flowing NYC bars seem to be currently divided between these people that don’t like themselves at all and people that like themselves a little too much.  Rattle ‘n’ Hum last night was a Sharks and Jets battle between these two incredibly annoying populations.  On one side we had a bunch of drunken yahoos who had just come from their official work Christmas parties.  Idiots in cheap suits and tacky skirts, flirting with that fat HR girl, the guido idiot in the mailroom.  Ripping on their a-hole bosses.  Slobbering, slurring, trying to dance.  What happens at the Christmas party stays at the Christmas party and I unfortunately had to witness it.

On the other side we had the self-loathing beer geeks, pedantic in their pseudo-scientific non-enjoyment of beer, embarrassing in the nerdy browbeating way they ordered from the bartenders (”Uh…could I have a tulip glass please!”), pitiable in the “big dick contest” way they bragged about what saught-after beers they’d tried recently, aloof in how they presented their disgusting visages to the world.  You’d think the kind of person that cares so much about the look, smell, and craftsmanship of a silly liquid would care as equally much about the look, smell, and craftsmanship of their own person.  Naw, better to just rip on beers with bad carbonation than to worry about getting the orange wax out of your ears and do a few deep-knee bends.

Flying solo I had just four beers, all in smallish serving vessels the geek was right, but you’d have to be a dunce not to “understand” these beers after only 4 or 5 ounces:

I love the concept of The Bruery’s 12 Days of Christmas vertical and I too one day, when I open my own brewery, hope to have my own holiday themed vertical:  The 10 Plagues of Passover series.  (”Trade you two Death of the First Born quads for a Locusts barley wine?”)  2 Turtle Doves is, no duh, the second in the series set to conclude on Jesus’s bday 2019 when I’ll be 40 years old, still unmarried and without kids, but with 12 dusty bottles of beer to drink.  Yay for having dreams!  2 Turtle Doves is another boozy winner from The Bruery, maybe the most buzz worthy beermakers around at this second in time.  Chocolaty, nutty, caramely and roasted with perhaps some dark fruit flavors, slightly sour, a cordial finish, it gets better with each sip.  Glad I have several bottles of this.  A-

N’ice Chouffe is an odd little bird.  Like a Christmasy Belgian strong pale.  Which is as exotic and weird as it sounds.  Spicy and yeasty, a true Belgian take on a winter warmer.  A-/B+

I’d been searching for Ramstein Winter Wheat for awhile as I’d heard this New Jersey–New Jersey?!–offering was in the Aventinus ballpark.  Ha, not quite.  Aventinus is an utter masterpiece and a paradigm of the weizenbock style.  Ramstein Winter Wheat is dark and boozy hot, especially for a mere 9.5% beer, packed with banana esters and cloves, a little lacking in complexity, flavor, and expected silkiness.  Still enjoyable though.  B+

Pretty Things Babayaga is a rich and roasty 7% stout with a nice thick but not too viscous of mouthfeel.  It apparently has rosemary in it which I love in concept–it’s a favored addition to naan for me–but don’t taste in execution.  A solid effort but not sui generis or extraordinary.  Like the best crafted Guinness Extra Stout you’ve ever had.  B+

*I greatly admire the genius that decided to name the condition for people that can’t speak correctly a word that they could never pronounce correctly.  Listhp.  Maybe that’s the true test.  As soon as you can pronounce lisp correctly, son, then we’ll know you don’t have one no more.

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-

Cantillon Gueze Monk’s Cafe Cuvee

August 19th, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | 8 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Brasserie Cantillon, Country: Belgium, Grade: B plus, Style: Gueze

5% ABV on tap

Tastes Like Beer

(inspired by the Drunken Polack)

I was drinking with a girl sometime earlier this summer who appreciated my appreciation of beer.  She was a beer appreciator appreciator.  But she didn’t really drink the stuff herself.  More of a cocktails and wine kinda gal, she found beer bland.  Fizzy, foamy, bloating, watery, and flavorless.  “Not what I drink,” I told her.

“Show me.”

I started with a bottle of the brilliant Boulevard Smokestack Saison-Brett.

“Tastes like beer,” she said.

But it has funky Brettanomyces in it!  Without question you have never had something with Brett it in before.

“Tastes like beer,” she reiterated.

I switched to a Trappistes Rochefort 8.

“Tastes like beer.”

But it’s a nearly 10% Belgian strong dark ale.  Packed with dark fruits and sweet malts you have surely never encountered before in the Miller Lights you’ve drank your whole life.

“Tastes like beer.”

I amped it up a notch with an Oak Aged Yeti.

“Tastes like beer.”

I’m stupefied.  The men who have bought you drinks your whole life have absolutely never given you a barrel-aged imperial stout as dark as squid ink.

“Tastes like beer.”

This was a derisive statement to her.  “Tastes like beer” was akin to “Tastes like shit.”  Which is funny, because most of the time when I give a man a taste of one of my “fancy” beers–say a barley wine or a nearly-flat 15% stout or even a real hoppy DIPA–I get a completely different reaction:  “Why this isn’t beer!  What is this?!”

So, I suppose, in that regard, I should be impressed that this women recognized these fluids as, in fact, beer, but distressed that she found them all to be just slightly different iterations of the same common garbage that is most commonly defined as “beer” in this country.  Fizzy, foamy, bloating, watery, and flavorless adjunct ingredient canned products.

I’d be curious whether she’d think the Cantillon Gueze Monk’s Cafe Cuvee just “Tastes like beer.”  Surely not.  How could she?  I had this beer on my first ever visit to arguably America’s most famous beer bar, Monk’s Cafe in Philadelphia.  Cantillon makes this special oud gueze specifically for Monk’s owner Tom Peters, and it is also only available at the bar*.  Nothing excites a dope like me more than buying something that is incredibly limited and rare.

“Would you like to try our special Cuvee de Dogshit, Mr. Goldfarb?”

“Gross.  No way.”

“This is the only keg of it in the country.”

“I HAVE TO HAVE A GLASS OF IT!!!  CHARGE ME WHATEVER YOU WANT!”

This special Monk’s Cafe Cuvee tastes nothing like beer.  No.  It takes like acid indigestion.  It is soooooo sour.  Puckeringly sour.  Burns the throat going down, punches your uvula like a speed bag, and hits your innards like a napalm bomb.  It sizzles inside of you like Pop Rocks.  That full pint glass was far too much for one little man like me.  But goddamn was it one of the more interesting beers I’ve ever had.  One of the more unique drinking experiences too.  And though I couldn’t finish a full pint, and never really want to have it again, I am so thankful I got to try it.  It’s truly one of a kind.

B+

*“Tom blended this gueuze at Cantillon in February of 2006. This is a one of a kind oude gueuze. Monk’s owner, Tom Peters and Cantillon owner & brewer, Jean Van Roy, tasted every cask of beer in their vast cellar in Brussels (it was a tough job, but I was up to the task). The 3 year old cask offered up the Cantillon House Character of barnyard Brett. The two year old cask offered a medium mouthfeel and a softer version of the house character but with some earthiness. The one year old cask offered considerable citrus, hop aroma and freshness. This is very softly carbonated. It offers citrus and lots of funky, musty, earthy, barnyard notes and it is certainly acidic. One of the most approachable Cantillons made, but it is not for everyone.

Cantillon St. Lamvinus

August 13th, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | 4 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Brasserie Cantillon, Brewer: Brauerei Weihenstephan, Country: Belgium, Country: Germany, Grade: A plus, Grade: A-, Style: Lambic, Style: Wheat (Hefeweizen)

The Indiscreet Charm of Brooklyn

Cat ears.  Across from me sat a man wearing cat ears.  Like those furry headband numbers chicks wear on Halloween when they want a slutty costume.  Aside from that, he looked fairly normal.  A little bit of a early-1990s “Reality Bites” grunge thing going on with a flannel unbuttoned shirt and some combat boots, but otherwise, fairly normal.  Except for those cat ears.  All the man was lacking was a makeupped on black nose and whiskers.  Cat man called for the check and his wee little “hee hee” Asian girlfriend picked up the tab courtesy of a Hello Kitty credit card.  I was the only one in the entire place rolling my eyes at the ludicrous behavior around me.

I sat in Radegast, a German beer hall in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  I had finally decided to make the scary plunge.  Manhattan may be a great beer town, but Brooklyn is often considered one of America’s beer utopias.  And me, being absolutely awful with direction, scared to go to any place without numbered streets, certain I will get lost if I ever travel below Houston, especially while lit up, had never been drinking in Brooklyn.  For shame.

I needed to pop my Brooklyn beer cherry sometime, and chaperoned by new friend KD, there was no time like the present.  Radegast wasn’t on my list of “must try” Brooklyn places, but KD insisted.  So glad she did.  Radegast is a beer garden that is surprisingly intimate, not a word often associated with beer gardens.  It has both a nice indoor and outdoor area and your standard Americanized beer gardeny things:  hilariously large glasses, picnic table seating, ___wursts of every kind (which I unfortunately forgot to sample), condom machines in the bathroom, and men in cat ears.  It’s also very dark in Radegast, again, mood lighting not something one usually associates with German beer halls, but a Brooklyn quirk that a squinty eyed drunk like me greatly appreciates.

There, I had a glass of Weihenstephaner Vitus, an absolutely lovely weizenbock that can deservedly be mentioned in the same breath as the legendary Aventinus.  Full of rich banana and bubble gum tastes, yeasty and boozy, this one goes down so, so nice.  A-

Foreground: the finished Vitus/Background:  man in cat ears

Foreground: the finished Vitus/Background: man in cat ears

From there, KD and I hoofed it to dba Brooklyn, using a trusty Google map she had printed out since we are apparently the only two people in the world without GPS-enabled iphones, which is something we could each greatly use.  dba Manhattan, in the East Village, was one of my major stomping grounds back in the mid-2000s with their stellar beer, bourbon, and Scotch lists, but I eventually grew sick of the jam-packed poseur crowds, surly bar staff, and hard to read libations chalkboards.

Well, I can proudly say that dba Brooklyn eliminates all the problems I have with their East Village location.  At this new dba location, similar in look and layout, one will have no issue with reading the massive chalkboard beer and spirits listings because the bar is as florescently bright as a Porsche showroom.  And there’s no poseurs to worry about rubbing ironic suede elbow patches with because…there’s no one in the fucking bar.  KD and I were the only drinkers there at 9 PM on a Thursday, and thus, it was downright impossible for the bar staff to be surly.  They were just psyched to see us and to have more than some spare change as their night’s gratuity haul.

We took our drinks to this backyard patio where a few other people were throwing back a few.  Including a man who, unceremoniously removed his t-shirt right in the middle of a date, reached into his man bag for a fresh one to put on, all the time not breaking conversation, nor having his drinking companion go, “W the F?!”

Ill at ease, we cut our dba visit abrupt and walked aways, under the roaring BQE overpass, to perhaps New York’s, maybe even the entire East Coast’s, most famous beer bar, Spuyten Duyvil.  I’d long heard about this beer mecca and I have to say…it met absolutely zero of my expectations.  Which is not a bad thing and which is not to say I didn’t like it.

I was surprised by how conspicuous of facade the bar had, the name barely noticeable.  A creaky swinging front door more akin to the screen door on some cracker’s porch, the interior of the place is shockingly small and fairly indescript.  Decorated like a hipster’s beat-up rec room, packed with thin weirdo grumps in drainpipe jeans, half of whom look like David Cross, the other half of whom look like a Flight of the Concords member.  At a robust 5′11, 175, I was a fucking leviathin amongst these little Brooklyn pixies.

Spuyten Duyvil is known for their remarkable–ahem “remarkable”–beer selection, but I quickly learned that they should be more known for their remarkable ability to list beers, which are all greatly overpriced, even by Manhattan standards.  Indeed, I was at first impressed by the massive amount of rare bottles they claimed, though greatly unimpressed that they only have six taps and one cask offering.  (Seriously?!)  I found myself greatly flummoxed when I tried to order from their bottle list.  I was a little tipsy and feeling jovial, so I tried to buy a rare $46 bottle from Cantillon.  “Sorry, we’re out,” said the hirsute hipster behind the bar.  I tried to buy a $26 bottle of Fantome Saison.  “Out of that too, but that beer sucks.  Have the Fantome Chocolate, it’s much better, dude.”

I smiled and said no thanks, I wasn’t in the mood for that particularly beer, which angered the wee bartender who booked it away from me.  Then, I noticed a Cigar City bomber on the back counter.  Cigar City is a new brewery from out of Tampa that has quickly garnered great acclaim despite their miniscule distribution reach.  I’d been trying for most of the year to score any of their product and this was the first time I’d ever seen it in person.  Excited, I flagged down another bartender.  “Excuse me, what is that Cigar City beer back there?”  Like I had just interrupted him while he was watching an Apes and Androids show, he turned around with a scowl.  “I DON’T KNOW!” he yelled at me and scurried away.  I asked another bartender if I could buy the Cigar City beer and he looked as if I was quizzing him with some Mensa level stuff:  “Look, I don’t know, I’m not sure, I don’t think so, no!” he exhale moaned and stormed away.

I continued staring at the menu, trying to figure out anything to drink.  The first bartender returned, pissed off.  “Look!  Are you EVER going to order something?”

I menacingly looked him straight in the eye, restraining myself from grabbing him by the collar of his vintage snap button cowboy shirt:

“Motherfucker, I just tried to buy a $46 and $26 bottle of beer, both that you were out of.  Gimme a fucking break.”  He smirked but his demeanor quickly changed.

From that point on the scuzzy drinkslinger gave me the respect I so desired.  I finally ordered what I should have in the first place, Cantillon’s most famous offering perhaps, St. Lamvinus…on tap!  Score.  I found it a lot less fruity that I expected.  A subtle red wine grape taste but with an effervescent carbonation.  Mild funk and sourness, a true treat.  I also had Ithaca’s delicious Brute on tap for the first time, and though that still remains a great one in my mind, St. Lamvinus just blew it away.  A true granddaddy of a lambic.  Not to be missed.

I also found a $20 bill on the floor and a pregnant women drinking in Spuyten Duyvil’s back room so I ain’t sweating things much.  Look, I won’t lie, Spuyten Duyvil certainly deserves much acclaim and I will certainly go back there again, but with its paucity of taps, high prices, lack of bottles of which it claims to have, and absolute fuckheads working there, I see absolutely no way we can consider this a better NYC beer bar than, say, Rattle ‘N’ Hum or Blind Tiger, both which have superior tap lists, perfectly respectable bottle lists, clientele that doesn’t smell like clove cigarettes, and bartenders that treat you like human beings.  I’ll probably only return to Spuyten Duyvil in the future when they have a particularly rare and limited offering.

Well lit up at this point and it now 2 AM, KD and I decided to press on to one more stop, nearby Barcade.  Again, my expectations were completely different, but, this time, this was a very good thing.  I was absolutely shocked at the size of the bar.  A huge warehouse type industrial space with every single wall tightly packed with vintage arcade games, several dozen in fact, surrounding a bar in the middle.  A solid tap list, I grabbed a delicious Avery Hog Heaven and a stack of quarters and KD and I went to work.  I must say, shit like “Tetris,” “Ms. Pac-Man,” and “Q-Bert” are exceedingly hard when you are wasted yet still guzzling high ABV barley wines.

My last memories are Q-Bert falling off the side of his staired pyramid, KD and I trying to find a gypsie cab back to her place…

I shall return to Brooklyn again.

A+

Westvleteren 8

August 2nd, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | 3 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Brouwerij Westvleteren, Country: Belgium, Grade: A plus, Grade: B plus, Style: Belgian Pale Ale, Style: Dubbel

8% ABV bottled

Last Friday would prove to be one of the greatest extended drinking days of my life, and when all was said and done, I had polished off eight top 100 beers, five of them in the top 25, and three in the top 10.*  The centerpiece of the day being a much-anticipated blind tasting between the two best quadruples in the world:  Belgian trappist beers Westvleteren 12 and Rochefort 10.  Now these beers are often said to be nearly identical.  Rochefort 10 considered a worthy and accessible proxy for the rarer Westvleteren 12.  In fact, many people think the 11th rated Rochefort 10 to be every bit as good as the “best beer in the world” Westvleteren 12, save for the fact that it can pretty much be bought in every Whole Foods in America while the Westy is only able for purchase on a few days a year and straight from the source, the Abbey of Saint Sixtus.  I’d had one bottle of each beer previously, given each an enthusiastic A+, and though these tastings had been separated by several months, in my mind I believed that Rochefort 10 was the better beer.  In my notes I had thought it boozier and with a more pleasant candi taste that the muted Westvleteren 12.

Well…let the blind tasting speak for itself:  Westvleteren 12 absolutely humbled Rochefort 10.  The Rochefort–how can I put this?–smelled vomitous.  I thought I had a dirty glass at first, but no, it was certainly the beer.  And The Captain agreed with me.  Did we have a bad bottle?  No, I just suspect the Westy was so damn good it had rendered the Rochefort 10 worse in our mind.  Admittedly, though, the Rochefort’s taste was fine, even good.  Boozy, a little uneven, a dry maltiness and minimal candi taste.  The superior Westy though was sweet and incredibly smooth, liquid silk, with tastes of dark fruit, Belgian candi, and toffee.  And, this time, the semi-mocking quote marks came off and it was truly THE BEST BEER IN THE WORLD.  On this day at least.  I had never had a better single beer.  Which is what makes great beer interesting.  A different batch, a little more aging, a little less aging, and even the same beer can be eons different.  Perhaps the next time these two venerable quads face each other the results will differ, but on this one day in July, 2009, Manhattan, New York City, Westvleteren 12 was the ungodly victor.

Later, I got my first crack at little brother Westvleteren 8, a dubbel.  I can now proudly say I have had 21 of the top 25 BA-ranked beers in the world, only lacking four hard-to-obtain tap-only offerings.**  And, just like Westy 12, Westy 8 would quickly replace Westmalle as the best dubbel I’ve now ever had.  A creamy yeast and malt combination with some raisins, plums, and just a touch a smooth booziness.  Thinner mouthfeel and a tad more carbonation than Westy 12, which is to be expected.  Perfectly constructed.  Simply sublime.

A+

Westvleteren Blonde

5.8% ABV bottled

Finally, I got to complete the trappist troika with Westy Blonde, the low-ABV “table beer” for the Saint Sixtus’s monks.  This beer is obviously not meant to knock your socks off, and it doesn’t, especially since I don’t believe monks wear socks, but it is still quite solid.  Tart, fizzy, almost a little sour like a subtle Brett beer.  Just nice craftsmanship.  This is a very good session beer and a nice little bottle of “liquid bread.”  Don’t trade the farm to acquire some, but an interesting beer curio for sure, and I am happy to have had it.

B+

*R-L:  Three Floyds Dark Lord, Rochefort 10, Lost Abbey Angel’s Share bourbon and brandy barrel-aged, Westy Blond, Westy 8, and Westy 12.

My day would also include, among others:  Stone Imperial Russian Stout (on tap!), Goose Island Night Stalker (on tap!), AleSmith YuleSmith, and Brooklyn Locals 1 and 2.  Wow!

**For the record:  Pliny the Younger, Dark Lord Vanilla Bean, Dark Lord Oaked, and Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout.  I wonder if I’ll ever locate these bad boys or attend the rare events where they are tapped.

Pannepøt - Old Fisherman’s Ale & Black Albert

July 22nd, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | 1 Comment | Filed in Brewer: De Struise, Country: Belgium, Grade: A plus, Grade: A-, Style: Quadrupel, Style: Stout

Never have I religiously continued to watch a show I so detest as I have continued to watch the deplorable “Entourage.”  For whatever reason, every Sunday night at 10:30 I’m back in front of the TV cringing through twentysomething hard-to-endure minutes of lame plots, boring cardboard characters, excruciatingly mundane and unoriginal ideas, and trite dialogue.

I don’t even think Doug Ellin and his cast and writing staff are still trying.  Take last Sunday’s episode which was supposed to end with a moment of great pathos, when, in the final scene, dunderheaded charismaless “A-list” movie star Vincent Chase returns to his house alone, confused, and saddened that he has to spend the wee hours of the night with just his brain to keep him company.  (”Entourage” viewers lament this fact on a weekly basis.)

Who hasn’t been crushed by an overwhelming sense of loneliness and despair?  Everyone has.  And we viewers might feel for Vinnie if not just an hour earlier in his night, in the episode’s penultimate scene, he got to fuck a 10-out-of-10-hot one-night-stand in his brand new Escalade.  Oh, not to mention, Vinnie has just attended the premiere of his new soon-to-be-both-critically-and-commercially-successful movie, Martin Scorsese’s “The Great Gatsby” retelling, in which he stars.  (Though it’s hard to imagine what role the effete and dull Vincent could possibly be fit to play.  My bet’s on Daisy Buchanan.)  And, have we mentioned that the house he’s alone in is a massive double-digit bedroomed mansion in the Hollywood Hills?!  Oh, whoa is me, Vinnie Chase!

And that demonstrates the exact problem with “Entourage.”  Its storytelling lacks any sort of tension, any sort of drama, any sort of human problems, which are the basis for truly good comedy.  Each week new-but-similar plot pivot points are brought up and within minutes they are solved and Vinnie and the boys go back to living a life of mind-numbing leisure.  Which would be perfectly fine if it was actually enjoyable to watch.  Which it’s not.

It’s always been hard to buy Vincent Chase as a huge movie star and the “best young actor of his generation” because, well, the actor that plays him, Adrien Grenier, is neither handsome enough, talented enough, or interesting enough to be anything more than a pay cable semi-star which ipso facto means he is not a “Vincent Chase.”  Most of the other acting, though, is admittedly passable.  Jerry Ferrara as Turtle is one-note but enjoyable enough, perhaps the only lovable character still on the show.  Kevin Dillon as Johnny Drama used to be a highlight of each episode with a good self-deprecatingly inward zinger or two toward his own lackluster career but now he’s become just a pathetic old manchild more concerned with making fun of who good buddy “E” is or is not fucking.  (In one of the lamest running plot gags in “Entourage” history, and that’s saying something, Drama has become obsessed with razzing E for maybe still having feelings for former flame Sloan as played by Emmanuelle Chriqui.  I don’t know about you, but I usually goof on my friends that are fucking one of the hottest women since the invention of breasts and vaginas.)  Speaking of E, Kevin Connelly seems to have developed some disease which is causing him to shrink at a rather alarming rate.  Always lilliputian, this season Connelly has become downright pocket-size, looking like some crows-feet-eyed ventriloquist dummy who gets to hang out with a movie star and fuck women that could tomahawk dunk on his wee head.  (Hmmm…that gives me an idea for a new pilot.)  I do actually like Connelly and think he is a skilled enough actor but Ellin does him no favors with the dialogue he places into his tiny mouth.  You can almost see Connelly cringing as he delivers feeble line after feeble line.  I feel bad for him.  Even Jeremy Piven as agent Ari Gold has become downright boring, though he’s such a good actor and such a better character than everyone else that by comparison he seems to be operating on an incredibly elevated comedic stratosphere.

Lame plots, boring cardboard characters, excruciatingly mundane and unoriginal ideas, and trite dialogue.  You might say, “Entourage” isn’t supposed to be good, it’s junk food for the brain.  Fair enough, but it’s not even good junk food.  It’s not Sour Patch Kids but Brand X Sour Gooeys.  I could stomach the show in its first few seasons when it was actually presenting a world anyone of us would want to be a part of:  lots of fast rides, hard parties, and bare breasts.  But these ennui-riddled characters don’t do any of these things any more and it’s actually alarming how few bare breasts now appear on the show per week.  You get as much out of the “On next week’s ‘Entourage’” thirty-second teaser as you do watching a full episode.

If you want some actually enjoyable comedy junk food for the brain to replace “Entourage,” might I suggest Showtime’s “Californication,” now through two seasons.  While no masterpiece and perhaps not even a great or even very good show, it is an incredibly enjoyable show and an eminently digestible one.  The story of a famous New York novelist turned Hollywood fuckup, “Californication” revels in presenting onscreen similiar Los Angeleno pleasures as “Entourage,” laziness, driving fast cars around all day with no purpose, drinking, drug use, partying, and promiscuous sex, but it is all shown in such a more interesting and realistic way.  Like “Entourage” the show isn’t much about “anything” but it has sharp dialogue, funny and original situations, three-dimensional characters, the effortless charm and comedic chops of David Duchovny who is truly a great actor, and a Warren Zevon-infused soundtrack.  If you start this show on DVD or OnDemand you will burn through it quickly.  You won’t be talking about it or obsessed with it by any means by the time it’s over, and aside from Duchovny’s work you will have probably forgotten it within weeks if not months, but while watching it you will be highly entertained.

Going back to the late great Warren Zevon, his best song is fittingly “The French Inhaler,” a scathing critique of Hollywood dreams gone awry.  An all-time favorite track of mine, listening to the lyrics I can’t help but think the crummy “Entourage” would do good to take its cues from the brilliant song to realize how truly worthless it is.  How soon it will be just another piece of shit in television history if it doesn’t have a little course correction.  Were he not dead Zevon could have easily been talking about “Entourage” when he wrote this great piece of poetry.

How’re you going to make your way in the world, woman
When you weren’t cut out for working
When your fingers are slender and frail
How’re you going to get around
In this sleazy bedroom town
If you don’t put yourself up for sale

Where will you go with your scarves and your miracles
Who’s gonna know who you are
Drugs and wine and flattering light
You must try it again till you get it right
Maybe you’ll end up with someone different every night

All these people with no home to go home to
They’d all like to spend the night with you
Maybe I would, too

But tell me
How’re you going to make your way in the world, woman
When you weren’t cut out for working
And you just can’t concentrate
And you always show up late

You said you were an actress
Yes, I believe you are
I thought you’d be a star
So I drank up all the money,
Yes, I drank up all the money,
With these phonies in this Hollywood bar,
These friends of mine in this Hollywood bar

Loneliness and frustration
We both came down with an acute case
And when the lights came up at two
I caught a glimpse of you
And your face looked like something
Death brought with him in his suitcase

Your pretty face
It looked so wasted
Another pretty face
Devastated
The French Inhaler
He stamped and mailed her
“So long, Norman”
She said, “So long, Norman”

I think I’m done with “Entourage.”  As the failed actress said to her pimp in “The French Inhaler”:

“So long, Norman.”

Pannepot (2006)

10% ABV bottled

I had the great fortune to try my first ever De Struise beers over the weekend, not coincidentally their two most famed creations, both mainstays on Beer Advocate’s Top 100 list.  First up, the supposed #43 beer in the world, Pannepot.  There is so much going on with this beer, it is truly as complex as they come.  Like a mix between a quad and a stout, maybe even a strong ale, it’s really hard to even accurately categorize it.  A potent aroma you can smell across the room, packed with tastes of coffee, bourbon, and vanilla along with subtle hints of candi, molasses, cookies, caramel, sugar, and spice and everything nice.  I’m not sure if this beer is oaked or not, but it sure tastes like it.  I can’t believe how much flavor is packed into this thing.  It reminded me of a glorious Rochefort 10 with a whole buncha spices mixed in.  A true highlight of my beer-drinking year!  Seek out at all costs.

A+

Black Albert

13% ABV bottled

Next up I had De Struise’s stout Black Albert which teeters at the bottom of the BA Top 100.  I found Black Albert a little too burnt, bitter, and dull for my liking.  A muted coffee flavor, the smell was more enjoyable than the taste.  Somewhat thin and quite drinkable for the highfalutin ABV, I just didn’t love it, yet I still had to admit it was good and well-crafted.  It just made me wish I was still drinking Pannepot.

A-

Westvleteren 12

July 7th, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | 9 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Brouwerij Westvleteren, Country: Belgium, Grade: A plus, Style: Quadrupel

10.2% ABV bottled

Guys like me don’t have “best moments of our lives.”  At least not the kind of ones stereotyped by Hallmark commercials and romantic comedies.

We’re fuckups hedonistically drifting through life, bypassing and neglecting all the so-called status quo achievements that are supposed to make up an existence.

We don’t get engaged, or god forbid, married because we can’t keep a nice girl on the hook that long.  Naw, we’d rather hubristically keep rolling the dice, trying to get better and better and more and more women, which ultimately just leads to us squandering everything and being drunk and lonely.

We won’t ever buy a nice first house in the suburbs because we’re still renting an urban shoebox at age 30.  How could we possibly afford anything better?  Anything we’d actually own?  We don’t save money.  Good lord no.  We futz it away.  Spend it on stuff that is only tangible from the time it takes to enter our mouth, filter through our system, and come out the other end.  Good food and drink.  And smokes, maybe narcotics.  Wine, women, and song.  And stupid bets.  Always stupid bets.

Raises schmaises.  You got to be kidding me.  How ’bout just having health care for once in your life?  Isn’t it ironic that the people that live the most risky, transgressive, daredevilish lives are also the ones least likely to have health care?  The guy that puts on Haggar wrinkle-free dress slacks and a golf shirt every day to go to his beancounter job, who never over-indulges in anything, never does anything not by the book, yeah, of course he has health care, and a great plan too, but what’s the worst thing that’s gonna happen to him?  Stub his toe at night?  Get a cold from his sneezy secretary?

And let’s not talk about offspring.  Isn’t it funny how for a married, or at least in love, man, impregnating someone (er, his partner), is the absolute greatest moment of his life, never to be topped.  While for a financially unstable single man, that would be far and away the worst moment of his life?

Great moments in life deserve a great beer.  (Did I just make up a new slogan for Coors?!)  And the greatest beer of all is most often considered to be the immortal Westvleteren 12.  (I’ll allow you to do the Google research yourself.) And it is the phenomenally reviewed, very rarest of finds Westvleteren 12, a beer you may only be lucky enough to have a single bottle of in your entire life, that most people tend to save to augment one of the aforementioned great moments of their life.

Kid pops out of your wife’s twat?  Hey, let’s pop the Westy 12.  Just signed the mortage on your first house?  Why open the Westy 12 friendo.  I’m getting a promotion (in name only)?!  Nice.  It’s Westy time!

But I don’t get those great moments.  Perhaps I never will.  How sad.  So what does that leave me with?  What are gonna be the great moments of my life?  When do I get to drink my Westy 12?

Discovering masturbation was an awesome and seminal (rim shot!) moment of my life but I wasn’t exactly into craft beer back around Bar Mitzvah age.  Making a little love to a hot chick is always swell, but most girls want you to talk to them post-coitally, not go, “Uh…could you excuse me while I pay a visit to my beer cellar?  I want to drink a glorious beer to celebrate just having intercourse with the…let’s say 9 out of 10 that you are.”  My favorite sports team wins a title?  I celebrate another birthday having not been killed by gang violence?  A new season of “Mad Men” premieres?  Another STD free year?!  YES!  It’s Westy time!

Eh, I don’t know.  The devil may care, but I ultimately just picked an unassuming Wednesday afternoon and decided to split my sole eleven ounces of Westvleteren 12 with a good beer friend*.  The anticipation was palpable and the beer of course delivered, but first I lost about a solid ounce upon opening as this one was a gusher (something I’m told is typical).  Every dark fruit in the book, raisins, plums, banana esters, caramel, gingerbread, a touch of yeast, and some smooth dry booziness.  Very drinkable, goes down with ease and pleasure.  A true privilege to drink.

There’s not much else to say about it that hasn’t been said before.  Is it the best beer of all-time?  That’s the question that everyone who has never had it always wants to know.  And, the answer is…maybe.  You tell me you think it’s the greatest beer of all-time and I won’t debate that.  It’s one of the best I’ve ever had in fact.  But, surprisingly, in the trappist quad category, I think I like Rochefort 10 a tad better due to its slightly more flavorful sweetness.  Whatever the case, Westvleteren 12 is magnificent, and you need not worry about saving it for a “great” life moment.  Then again, don’t be so cavalier to just chug one straight from the bottle (with a koozie!) while mowing your lawn.  Although that would actually make you pretty awesome in my book.

A+

*Yarmulke-tip to The Captain for hooking me up with this bottle.