Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Mikkeller Cascade Single Hop IPA

Sorry for just one post last week.  I've been super busy recently, so I'm going to be scaling back my posts to just one a week.  That way I won't risk falling behind and you'll always be assured of at least one entry per week.  I just read an article on how beer increases bone strength.  In that spirit, I'll try a glass of Mikkeller's Cascade Single Hop IPA.  I actually tried this beer in Amsterdam while on one of my many picnics.  While the beer was like a taste of fresh air, while breathing in fresh air, it doesn't quite hold up to my memory of it.  

That being said, it's still Mikkeller, and he still has remarkable talent and taste.  Cascade is slowly becoming the classic American hop, and while perhaps not as potent as its simcoe and summit cousins, it's a smoother and darker taste that is perfect for bringing about good balance in a beer; and that is exactly what this beer does, balance.  

It has a sweet nose with a deep golden colors, a big head with a medium amount of lacing from the foam.  A sweeter front end with a hint of raisin and citrus is bolstered by a classic back end hop bitterness.  While the kick is nice, I wish there was a little more hop presence throughout the body, which when put altogether is a little thin.  Still a very nice very drinkable creation.  6.9 alc%

Cascade Single Hop IPA: ***

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Brasserie d'Orval, Orval

I'm trying this beer as a small thank you to the Beer Wench for taking the time to interview me in her Beer Blogger interview series.  She mentioned this as one of her favorites, so I thought I would give it a try. I'm also trying this because Mikkeller made his It's Alive in tribute to it, thought it would be nice to compare.

As I reiterate most often, I didn't grow up a Belgian guy, and it doesn't get much more Belgian than Trappist Ales.  So I write this with the utmost respect for those whose palates specialize in our Flemmish cousins and with the due consideration that I might not know what I'm talking about.

It pours golden with a ton of head and great lacing.  Smells like orange, corriander, and fresh spices and malts exude from the glass.  There's a lot going on in the taste here.  It's a complex evolution from front to back with a bit of hop presence on both ends.  There's a sort of rugged quality to the taste as it runs through your mouth, like a burned leather – but in a good way, if that's even possible to imagine.  That leather is lain on top of a subtle malt fruitiness that does not get too bright and blends well with the rougher exterior.  Finally, spiced flavors like white pepper and cloves come through the body before a final hop curtain is lightly draped upon the show that is my mouth.

Not the flavors that I've come to love, but a complex mixture of tastes along with a great body and immense drinkability.  In comparison to It's Alive, I'd say I prefer the earthy and hoppy qualities of Mikkeller's version a bit better, but the blend, body and balance on the Orval is unreal.  Probably wouldn't be the first thing I'd order, but would I drink it again? Absolutely.

Orval: ****

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Barleywine Braised Short Ribs

It was another rainy day in Southern California.  It's a little known fact that we Angelinos are allergic to rain, and while my Pacific Northwest roots probably would have kept me dry, I thought, "why not stay inside and continue my ongoing quest to cook with beer?"  Today was a new challenge: Barleywine Braised Short Ribs.

I found a recipe that called for using a Barleywine Mustard marinade.  I had a few Barleywines in my fridge, but decided to go with this John Barleycorn from Mad River.

The reason I chose this beer is a lot simpler than you might imagine.  The other two Barleywines I had were Nogne O's, which I wasn't wasting, and North Coast's Old Stock, which at 11% seemed to heavy to cook with.

There's something very important I forgot to tell you.  Don't cross the streams.  It would be bad.

Here's a little before and after for your viewing pleasure.

So after we soaked the ribs in the marinade, we put them in the fridge overnight, and went out to pursue other happy adventures involving beers for drinking, not for cooking.

The next morning, they were breaded with flour, quickly fried, and then placed in the slow cooker for about 8 hours.  

A parsnip, potatoes, and carrots were prepared for the sauce.

Here are the short ribs after cooking, the sauce from it was used to cook the vegetables.

And then we brought it all back together before plating.

And here it is.

Served over rice, with a side of sauteed swiss chard and beet greens, and topped off with crusty bread and goat cheese. There's a sprig of parsley there too.  
And of course this is what it tends to look like afterwards.  Here's the recipe that I found off ratebeer:

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Alesmith Horny Devil

Belgian through and through, Alesmith's Horny Devil is a Belgian Strong Ale steeped in the massive tradition of Belgian brewing.  First, let me tip my hat to Alesmith for the dedication they have obviously put into this beer: Belgian malts and Belgian candi sugar and a yeast strain from a Trappist monastery in Belgium, this beer is more of a tribute to Belgian brewing than an incarnation.

Now to the taste.  As most of you know, I'm not much of a Belgian drinker, although I have utmost respect for the tradition they have founded and fostered over the centuries.  That being said, perhaps this ale is somewhat wasted on my palate, but as I try to expand my knowledge and love of beers, it's hard to resist fancy bottles with red foil tops that are named... Horny Devil, of all things.

Alesmith has given me quite a name to work with in this post and although I'm tempted to write a love song of sorts to this ale, the taste just isn't the same seductress as Stone 13th, that caused every bit of me to swoon in admiration.  No, this is much more of an, aptly named, Horny Devil.

Check out the vapors coming out of the bottle when I opened it!

It pours like an old man pulling up in a new sports car, with a light straw color, topped with a heavy head and very little lacing; the almost golden color makes you wish it had just a bit more backbone to sit under that awkwardly placed toupe.  The aromas ring with sweet Belgian malts and yeast, perhaps for some just the right combination of colognes and perfume, but to my nose comes across a bit too strong.

Carbonation opens the door for you, which gradually seeps into the Belgian malt with a heavy dose corriander: an attibute that Alesmith proudly boasts on the bottle.  The taste finishes with a sweet residue of lingering Belgian sugars and yeast.  Overall, not a bad beer and with a surpising kick at 11%.  The corriander is an interesting addition, and seems well matched to the flavors, leaving a small peppery taste in the mouth to make complex what would otherwise be unadulterated sweetness.

Alesmith has done a great job making a very smooth drinking beer, and true to the name, certainly does seem to sneak up on you.  I certainly wouldn't turn Mr. Devil down on a hot sunny day, but as it's pouring down here in SoCal, I could use a bit more punch.  A little extra carbonation up front and richness in the back end would help round out some of the extremes of this beer.  I can't help but wish that with such an auspicious name, that Alesmith had gone for a barleywine or belgian/IPA hybrid, something a bit more creative than celebratory.  The most accurately named quality is the subtlety of the alcohol content, which sneaks up on you for such a light body; leaving me with a final thought of... this is one creepy, Horny Devil.

Horny Devil: ***1/2

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Mikkeller It's Alive

Sorry about having two Mikkeller posts in one week.  I haven't had a chance to upload pictures of the other beers I've reviewed yet.

Take It's Alive! from your fridge and instantly feel as though there's cause for celebration.  This beautifully packaged Belgian Wild Ale, looks like something from deep in the wine cellars, complete with silver foil and cork.  

Mikkeller says on his website that this beer is an answer and tribute to the trappist beer Orval, which personally I'm not famillar with, but since writing this have bought and tried, review coming in the next week or two.  The head piles up as you pour a deep golden color into your glass.  Not much lacing or web is left as you dip your head and take in the sweet flowery aroma of this new brew.  

Upon the first sip, you're greeted with apples, and... lavender?  Yes, there's a peculiar, yet enjoyable, but perhaps slightly overused wildflower taste of lavender that dominates the palate.  Mixed in with the pale and cara malts, the lavender provides a trail of wildflowers that would overwhelm if it were not for the hallerteur and styrian golding hops that catch the trail by the tail and bring it back to its earthy origins.  Very drinkable, would certainly be a great way to describe this beer, however, paired with food would be best.  

Here, I enjoyed it with chicken cooked in the mole/chili sauce from my wild boar chili.  A bit too flowery and syrupy at times, the Brettanomyces culture ensures extra conditioning in the bottle – hence the name.  What is most apparent to me from this brew is how much of a craftsman Mikkeller is.  I realize I have said this before, however, this beer has helped me to grasp what it is exactly about his beers that is so good.  He crafts the taste with immaculate precision so that it has a very controlled flavor when you drink it.  The way the hops interact with the malts and yeast is arranged with surgical meticulousness.  While you may not always like the end result, it's quite obvious that you're tasting the flavors in the exact order and amount that Mikkeller intended; in this case, an airy mix of apples and wildflowers that would float into the sky were it not for the earthy hop backend that grounds it. 8% alc.

It's Alive: ***1/2

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Mikkeller Warrior Single Hop IPA

Fresh hop aroma with just a hint of raisin like malts comes through in a big inhale. As Mikkeller starts his American invasion, this beer is just one of several sitting in my fridge that I can't wait to try. He has named this beer simply for what it is, a Warrior hopped American style IPA. For those of you who are not familiar, Warrior, refers to the type of Hops he used, not the integrity of the ale. However, there is little need to question the integrity of this beer, as it delivers on everything the nose and front end promises. Warrior hops are somewhat similar to nugget and columbus hops having very high alpha rates of around 15 to 17%. Tasting warrior is quite a bit more neutral flavored than hops like Simcoe and Summit, which have equivalent alpha rates. Simcoe and Summit tend to stand out quite a bit more, while Warrior will be smoother, more pleasing to the non-acquainted hop lover.

The nose and front end have a remarkable citrus and pine flavor, a result no doubt of fresh warrior hopping. The citrus is so bright on the front end that it actually tickles your tongue like I remember from drinking berry flavored Crystal Geyser's as a kid. However, instead of artificial preservatives, this carbonation is thinly bolstered with hints of fresh hops.

The back end mixes a malty raisin, honey sweetness with alpha bitterness that hits the back of your tongue; it's a beautifully crafted balance between the two that I've come to expect from SeƱor Mikkeller. But that being said, as you delve deeper into the beer, the malty side does seem to take over, which for us west coast purists, is verbotten. Otherwise, nicely done.

Warrior Single Hop IPA: ***1/2

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Beer Wench Interview

Here's a short interview I did with the Beer Wench about Brews Clues.  She's a fellow beer blogger and beer lover and is doing a beer blogger interview series, I'm one of the lucky interviewees.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Shah Mat

For the few who live locally (in SoCal) and show interest in trying my homemade beers, you'll probably notice that it's been a while since I last revealed a new creation. In part, that's because my latest brew is by far my most ambitious and creative endeavor as of yet. But it would only be fair to say that with every great endeavor comes a unique set of problems, and this beer was certainly ripe with them.

After trying Stone's Self-Righteous and Deschuttes' Black Hole Sun, I thought it would be fun to try my own hand at a Black IPA. For those who are unfamiliar and don't wish to read some of my former posts, a Black IPA is a beer brewed with the potency and in the style of a regular IPA, but has a dark or black appearance like a stout. It's just one of the many new inventive styles that are being created by craft beer makers on the bleeding edge. I searched for a bit on the internet and was surprised at the relative few black IPAs that have been attempted. As such, there were only a handful of recipes, none of which I liked. So I decided to take the basic structure of my recipe for Gamma Ray's Bitter Burst (an IPA I made in the spring and was quite happy with) and replace the grain bill with higher luvibond grains.

The recipe:

9 lbs of pale ale malt extract

Grain bill:
8 oz Crystal 40L
4 oz British Chocolate
4 oz Carafa III

White Labs WLP001 California Ale yeast
Rounding out this creation were some relatively fresh hops I got from the Alpha Beta hop farm, which is an organic hop farm in Ashland, where I'm from. I visited the farm back in the fall, and wrote a short post about it here. Steve was nice enough to give me about 3 oz of Cascade and 2 oz of Nugget. Since I had whole hops to work with I decided to try the additions in multiple stages throughout the boil. I've heard of Dogfish Head doing similar types of additions with their 60, 90, and 120 minute IPAs and thought I'd give it a try.
My hop schedule:
80 min 1 oz Nugget
60 min 1/2 oz Nugget
45 min 1 oz Cascade
25 min 1 oz Nugget
10 min 1/2 oz Cascade
0 min 1/2 oz Cascade
Finally, I added about a 1/2 oz of Nugget to dry hop after about a month of fermentation. Since these hops weren't completely dry, you could call it a wet hop, but since they were no longer fresh, I think it's more accurate to say dry hop.
I dry hopped for a month before bottling, and then let the bottles sit for an additional month for a little extra aging. I finally tried this beer in mid-December and was pretty disappointed at the skunky taste that could be best described as drinking a wet moldy sponge that dominated the beer. Now I've made bad batches of beer before and to be honest it took me four tries before I was able to eliminate the skunkiness that often dominates novice home brews. But this taste was very strong and entirely different than the trouble I'd had early on. If I had used a Belgian yeast I could have attributed the taste to the effects of a wild strain, but I had used the California Ale Yeast, which I've had a lot of luck with in the past.

I noticed with my first dry hop, The Resistance, that it really took about a month or more in the bottle to even out the taste and it continued to round out over the following months. With that in mind, I decided to play the waiting game with my Black IPA, hoping that the wet sponge, processed avocado taste would eventually work itself out of the beer.  Here's a picture of me tasting it.  For those curious about the mustache, you'll have to wait until the reveal of my next beer to find out what that's about.

So while we wait, here's a little background on the name I chose. Shah Mat comes from 6th century Persia meaning "the king is helpless/ambushed." It is the origin of our much more well-known phrase, "checkmate." A big motivation behind, and ingredient in, this beer was the fresh hops I received from Alpha Beta. While their name undoubtedly refers to alpha and beta acids found in the hop flower, I wanted to credit them indirectly for making the beer possible. Alpha beta can also refer to alpha beta pruning, which is a search algorithm commonly used in machine playing of two player games, notably, tic tac toe and chess. Since my preferred color of play in chess is black, it only seemed natural to name this black ipa after the hops and algorithm that made it a winner.

One problem though, so far it wasn't a winner. After two more weeks in the bottle there was some improvement in the taste, but not enough to my liking. I waited an additional two weeks, and saw continued improvement, but still lingering hints of a taste I didn't like. I was just about to cross this brew off as a failure, when I happened to stumble across the Brewdog Bashah at the Daily Pint. Brewdog Bashah is a double black belgian IPA made by Brewdog and Stone. I can't say I was a huge fan of the brew, however, it did have the same funk that I had been finding in my beer. Not a huge consolation because it still tastes how it tastes, however, interesting to know that it may have been a grain hop combination that brought it about rather than a mistake on my part.

You may also notice that this is my first attempt at labels.  I based my rough design off some beautiful Dutch beers I saw while in Amsterdam and in that vein named my "brewery," Brouwerij De Isser.  In case you can't read the text in this picture, the labels say: "Shah Mat comes from the Persian phrase meaning 'The King is Ambushed,' and is thought to be the origin of the word checkmate.  This handcrafted ale is brewed and dry hopped with organically grown Cascade and Nugget hops from Alpha Beta Hop Farm in Ashland, Oregon."

And that's the story of the Shah Mat. Love to get peoples' thoughts on the beer and the possible reasons for the taste.