Gone but not forgotten

Posted by Jim on Mar 30th, 2010
Mar 30

Have you ever heard of Pennichuck Brewery?  If you have, you know how special their beers are today.  If not, don’t go looking for them at your local bottle shop: this little New Hampshire brewery closed it’s doors last year and the few remaining bottles in the wild are quickly snapped up by beer nerds like yours truly.  I was fortunate enough to come across a 650ml bottle of The Big O Ocktoberfest Lager at Smiley’s in Dover when I stopped in there on Kate the Great day.  The label describes the Big O as such:

An award winning Marzen style Oktoberfest that presents a dark color and pours with a lacey tan head.  Aromas of Vienna and Caramel malt which balances well with its slightly sweet & fruity palate.  Oktoberfest takes place during the 16 days before the first Sunday in October in an area named the “Theresienwiese,” and is called “die Wiesen” or “the Meadow,” in Bavarian dialect for short.  SERVING SUGGESTIONS: Pairs well with German food, of course.  Serve in a pint glass, mug, stein or seidel at 45-50°F.  Cellar at 45-50°F but not recommended for extended cellaring.

That last sentence is one that stood out to me.  I knew that Pennichuck was defunct when I bought the beer, but I was hoping this bottle was from the past fall and only a few months old when I bought it.  Since Kate Day I’ve had the bottle in my cellar, and every time I venture down to select a beverage, I return to that extended cellaring warning.  Not able to take it any longer, I cracked the bottle open tonight, and I am glad I did.

Pennichuck The Big O Ocktoberfest Lager

A / 4.3
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | drink: 4.5

Poured from a cellar temp bottle into my old Binga’s Winga’s hand-thrown ceramic mug (a relic form the Portland Street location’s mug club days).  Because this is a ceramic mug, I can’t look in to see the beer, but while pouring, it appeared to be pretty rusty amber color.  I poured a couple ounces into a juice glass to confirm this, and I can now see that there is more of a brownish color to the Big O.  I can also see numerous streams of tiny bubbles rising.  Back to the mug, there is a good tan foam head.  The beer leaves good lacing.  It has a sweet, complex malty aroma; it certainly reminds me of autumn.  I can pick out brown sugar, banana bread, and caramel.  There is a real hearty sweetness to the smell.  The taste starts out bready, but it’s a darker bread, like Irish soda or honey whole wheat.  It’s sweet, slightly nutty and has some caramel to it.  There is a hint of estuary alcohol as I swallow, but it doesn’t really linger.  I can also taste raisins in the finish; this flavor, along with some brown sugar sweetness remain after swallowing.  It has a heavy body, it feels slightly thick and creamy.  It leaves a good coating behind.  The easily visible carbonation doesn’t play much of a role in the mouthfeel.  This is a very drinkable oktoberfest.  I can see it working very well on a rainy fall evening (it’s certainly working well on this raining spring night).  It’s a little strong, but I don’t see that being a problem.  This is a beer that calls out to be drank by the mug full, ABV be damned.  It’s too bad that this beer is no longer being produced.  I’m glad I was able to find this forgotten bottle.

A smiling bottle is a sure sign of a good beer

Posted by Jim on Mar 25th, 2010
Mar 25

Maine Beer Company Zoe

A+ / 4.85
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | drink: 4.5

Poured from a cellar temperature bottle into a Maine Beer Company logo glass. The beer has a very dark amber color; it looks nearly brown in this dimly lit room. The head is large, tan colored, and made up of various sizes of bubbles. There is some patchy lacing. The aroma is very impressive. One whiff and I exclaimed aloud “wow!” It smells of very fresh hops. There is almost a toasted quality to the hops that I haven’t come across before. The bottle I have is super-fresh (bought today, delivered to the store earlier in the week, most likely bottled late last week), which must improve the aroma a lot. The flavor is just as impressive as the aroma; actually, I find it to be even more complex. It started out with a toasted flavor. It makes me imagine burnt embers leftover after a campfire. The hops kick in quickly. They are big, bitter and floral. The bitterness lends itself to the toasted aroma and initial flavor, perfectly complimenting the aroma. The is just a bit of sweetness in the mix. It lingers on, along with the bitterness, but last longer, which gives the sensation that the beer gets sweeter after you swallow it. After a few sips, the sides of my mouth felt a slight tug. The bitterness provides the slightest amount of puckering. The beer has a lighter body than I expected. There is plenty of carbonation in each swallow. As I mentioned above, the sweetness lingers on; this is through the coating. The beer goes down so easily. I can feel its strength slightly; after a few rounds this may become a problem. I don’t believe that the hops/bitter tastes will ever get overpowering. I could drink this beer all night. I feel so lucky that this beer is brewed and sold so close by.  Maine Beer Company have outdone themselves; this is a great balance of hops and all the malt qualities of a well-made amber.

Belgian Beer Fest, so far

Posted by Jim on Mar 8th, 2010
Mar 8

For 48 hours this weekend, I was able to drink some incredible beers as part of the Lion’s Pride first annual Belgian Beer Festival, as well as a couple of American Reds during a glorious Sunday afternoon session.  Reading page after page of my tasting notes may not appeal to everyone, but I can’t recount the events of the weekend without expressing how I felt about each beverage I sampled, so I ask you to stick with me.  I entered the Lion’s Pride feeling like a kid in a candy store.  I knew that everything available was going to be great, and had even seen the master list of all the beers to be oared over the week-long event, but still did not know what selections were to be made available on opening night.  I was also curious as to how the BBF’s glass club would operate (and if its benefits would encompass the entire festival or just the night I joined).  Before I could even ask, my friend Robin told me to just get the glass as it was exactly what someone like myself would want.  I trusted her and asked for my glass.  It is a beautiful goblet/snifter that could probably hold 12-14oz of fluid, but is designed for a 10oz pour, leaving room to swirl and smell you drink of choice.  One side of the glass has text mimicking the sign out front, stating The Lion’s Pride Brunswick, Maine.  The reverse has a carefully place Lion (also visible on the sign in front of the pub), whose extended tongue precisely marks the height of a 10oz pour.  The bottom of the goblet, where it meets the short stem, is flatter than other glasses, making the vessel sit comfortably in my hand.  It’s an excellent glass that will see use long after the festival is over.  Later on, I learned that this glass cost me $10, but provides a discount on every draft beer I order throughout the week, assuming I bring my glass back.  There are two levels of pricing; each pour will be either $7 or $10, and which price is clearly marked by each beer on the tap list.  My membership paid for itself the first night.

After getting my glass, the big question was what to order first.  Do I go for a BFM, a Cantillion, a triple or something else?  Something else is only way to describe what I ordered, an Italian/American collaboration Imperial Pilsner.  It was far cry from the styles associated with Belgian brewers, but it was very tasty.

Birra Del Borgo/Dogfish Head My Antonia
A / 4.3
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | drink: 4

It has a very pretty tarnished gold color. It is very clear, as a good pilsner should be. It had a large foam head that was pure white; it left behind lots of lacing as I drank it. Surprisingly, I couldn’t see any carbonation rising within the glass. It had a musty yeast aroma with some sour citrus mixed in as well. My impressions of the flavor were creamy, malty, and a bit fruity. There was a touch of crystal sugar I could taste, a nod to the imperial nature of this beer, but it was subtle. It had a medium body and a medium level of coating. It felt good, but was not remarkable. I found it to be very drinkable. I thought it would go well with a pork dish. I could see myself enjoying a few glasses of this over a great meal.

After this beer, I was ready for a real Belgian ale.  I decided to go with a beer I had never tried, from one of my favorite Belgian Brewers.

De Glazen Toren Cuvee Angelique
A- / 4.1
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | drink: 4

This dubbel has a light brown/dark orange hue with a think skim of off-white bubbles. There is a bit of a coat that clings to the walls of the glass as I swirl the beer around. There is a bit of Belgian yeast in the aroma, but mostly I smell sweet and sour apples. I like it a lot. The flavor is crisp and slightly sour. I can taste green apples. I think I could also taste some caramel malts. It also had a slight nuttiness. The body was of medium intensity and there was a good amount of sharp carbonation that played on my tongue. It left a slight coat, but nothing too big. I found it to be pretty drinkable. There was a tartness to the aftertaste that may be a limiting factor as one approaches the end of a bottle. This would be an excellent beer to split with a friend, especially if you were both fans of the style.  It’s not my favorite dubbel or De Glazen Toren beer, but I am glad I ordered it.

I wanted to try another rare beer at this point, so I went with an entry in Brooklyn’s Brewmasters Series that I had not tried before.  I had been impressed with other beers in this series, so I had high hopes for this next pour.

Brooklyn Flemish Gold
B+ / 3.95
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | drink: 3.5

The Lion’s Pride had been sitting on this keg since the beer was first released, so it does have a few months of age on it. The beer has a glowing dirty yellow color. It reminds me of a slice of lemon meringue pie. The thick white foamy head helps complete the analogy. Patchy lace is left behind. The aroma is full of yeast. It’s crisp and dusty. It reminds of the beach, if that makes any sense; it doesn’t smell like the sea, but something in the nose makes me think of sitting in the sun, oceanside. The beer is slightly sweet up front. This turns to a biscuity taste that last throughout the swallow. There is a hint of sweet citrus thrown in for good measure. It has a light body and a bit of carbonation. Between the tiny bubbles and chill of the serving temperature, the beer has a great crispness. It’s a pretty drinkable beer, but I don’t think I’d order more than one.

I didn’t really know what I was ordering when I chose this beer.  I saw the word Flemish in the name and assumed that it would be tart or sour.  The beer was actually a farmhouse style ale, and it conformed to that style commendably, but it was not quite what I wanted.  Any disappointment I felt was quickly washed though.  Word began to circulate amongst the BA’s in attendance that although it wasn’t on the menu, you could inquire about a certain blend of Black Albert and Kate the Great.  In exchange for twelve American dollars, your friendly bartender would disappear into the back room and return with a small pour of a beautiful black liquid served in a wine glass.  This was my first “Oh Wow!” moment of the weekend.

A / 4.45
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | drink: 5

This elusive beer is what is left over from a special mix made for last summer’s Belgian Beer Fest at Ebenezer’s.  It is made up of 2009 Portsmouth Kate the Great Imperial Stout and De Struise Black Albert, two stouts that rate very high in my book.  A small pour was all that was allowed, as there were only a few gallons available (if that).  It is unknown if this blend will ever be made again.  It appears black as night, with a thin tan head.  There is lots of coating and lace left behind as I swirl the beer around.  The complex nose was full of alcohol, coffee toffee and dark chocolate aromas.  My initial impressions of the taste had me picking out flavors of sweet malts, alcohol, chocolate, coffee and raspberries.  I could distinctly pick out the Kate and the Albert, which was quite surprising.  It had an amazing flavor.  I classify the body as being medium, but the heftiness of Kate shines through, making it feel fuller.  It leaves a stickiness on my lips, also reminiscent of the Kate that I tried earlier in the week.  There was hardly any carbonation, but it didn’t feel flat; It worked.  For a strong stout, this is so drinkable.  The only factor holding me back from enjoy glass after glass of this sublime beverage is the incredible rarity of it.  I hope other get to try it, for this beer is great.

I was so honored to be able to try this beer.  I never thought I’d get the opportunity to try something this rare and wonderful.  The Lion’s Pride never disappoints.  After this great strong, malty stout, I was nearing the end of my night.  I still needed to drive home, but I had one last round in me.  To offset all those malts, I wanted to leave with a bitter hop bomb.

‘t Smisje IPA+
A- / 4.2
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | drink: 4

Reviewed from my notes. Served on tap as part of the Lion’s Pride Belgian Beer Festival. The beer has an opaque peach color with a thin soapy white head. The Belgians know what a good strong IPA should look like, that’s for sure. The nose was full of floral hops and orange citrus, proving they also know what big IPAs should smell like. The taste begins with some floral hops up front, followed by some sweetness and a strong bitterness that goes strong until I swallow, and lingers on after that. The flavor also has a bit of peppery spice to it that adds a nice, strong Belgian touch to this style. It has a medium body and an average amount of carbonation. The sharp hop flavors feel good. I find the beer to be quite drinkable. Someone who isn’t into hoppy beers would probably not make it through one glass, but really, why would someone not into hops order this beer? If this one sounds good to you, seek it out.

So ended my first night at the BBF.  Saturday found me right back at the bar though.  I was there to celebrate my friend Robin’s birthday.  She and I were the first customers to arrive that morning, about 15 minutes after the bar unlocked its doors.  The lights were off and there was no one behind the bar.  Anna, the only staff member around, quickly came out from out back and took our orders.  Within minutes, more members of our party and separate group of beer lovers had entered the bar.  Within 30 minutes, the place bar area was nearing capacity.  I got the impression that this was far from normal for a Saturday morning at the Lion’s Pride.  Our bartender Leigh later told me that Jen, the owner, called her frantically to tell her the place was full of BA’s and that she needed to get in as soon as possible.  I love that BA’s have that kind of reputation.  We’re not mean or rowdy, we just want good beer; and when there is stuff as good as the Lion’s Pride was pouring, we will fill your bar before noon.

Cantillion Vigeronne
A / 4.3
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | drink: 4.5

Since I didn’t have any sour beers on Friday, I wanted to begin with one of the greats.  Cantillon has never disappointed me in the past.  The beer has a cloudy, opaque peach appearance, like a glass of juice or nectar. There was no head, per se, but I could see some individual bubbles on top that kind of looked like specs floating in the beer.. It coats the sides of the glass slightly. It has an aroma that is both musty and sour. I can smell some peach as well. The taste has some sourness, but not too much. It is a bit cider-like. It tastes aged, kind of like an old oxidized beer, but not quite. There were some ripe fruit flavors as well. It has a light body. There was a good tingling sensation from the sourness. I also felt a slight puckering after I swallowed. It was very drinkable. I could easily go through an entire bottle.

Wild enjoying my Cantillon, I was already thinking about what to order next.  I noticed on the master list that the La Rulles Tripel was brewed with Orval yeast.  Orval is a pretty unique beer, so I was curious if this triple had some of the same slightly funky qualities.  My next round had been decided upon.

La Rullés Triple
A / 4.3
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | drink: 4

Reviewed from my notes. The beer is colored golden orange and appears opaque. There is a thin skim of large soap bubbles atop the beer. There are lots of tiny bubbles that cling to the sides as I swirl the beer about the glass. It has a funky citrus aroma. There are some great smells from the Orval yeast, but also has great qualities you find in triples. I like it a lot. The taste also has a crisp funk flavor. I can also taste a bit of fruit. For some reason it tastes woodsy. It conjures up images of pine twigs, although I wouldn’t say it tastes like pine. Maybe be it just reminds me of being in a forest. It has a medium body with a touch of creaminess. It finishes crisp. It has an average amount of carbonation for the style. This beer doesn’t feel like it wants to be drank quickly; but it isn’t really a sipper either. I believe it just asks to be enjoyed.

Having enjoyed that triple, I wanted to try another, this time from a brewery whose other products I rather enjoy.

Kasteel Triple
A- / 4.05
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | drink: 3.5

The beer has a translucent golden yellow appearance. There is a thin ring of white soap bubbles on top of the beer. After swirling the beer around the glass, it deposits a good foamy film. As the amount of beer in my glass got lower, I noticed that looking straight down through the beer, it was clear; it was only transparent when viewed through the sides of the glass. It has a lemon citrus aroma, with a bit of musty yeast. The taste has some flavors of Belgian yeast, crisp lemon citrus, and both crystal and candy sugars. There is some hops present in the aftertaste. It has a medium body and plenty of carbonation that makes it feel a bit peppery. There is a little bit of mouthcoating, but not as much as the ABV lead me to expect. It’s a crisp beer, but the sweetness and strength would make me limit myself to one pour.

As I was finishing this glass of beer, I got an unexpected surprise.  Ryan reached into the cooler and pulled out a small cask.  He grabbed a mallet and spout and went off to tap an extremely rare cask of ‘t Smisje BBBourgondier.  It is one of only two or three casks produced.  The bottles of this beverage are hard enough to come by, but the casks are virtually nonexistent.  I was really looking forward to trying this beverage and quickly finished my triple so I could order a glass of it.

‘t Smisje BBBourgondier (cask’d)
A / 4.45
look: 5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | drink: 4.5

Reviewed from my notes of a rare cask pour at the Lion’s Pride’s Belgian Beer Festival. This cask was just tapped moments before I was served a glass; it had been stored in a cooler, so it was at a lower temperature than most cask beers are poured. It has a beautiful creamy copper/brown color. There are two fingers worth of white foam. The head settled slowly to an even skim of white. Perfect lace was left behind. This is exactly how a cask beer should look. It has a subtle aroma; a little cidery, spicy and sweet. It’s a good balance of the strong smells you get from a quad and the faint smells from casked beer. The flavor has sweet malts up front, with some crystal sugar and a slight cider taste. There is alcohol and pepper in the finish. It’s very unique and tasty. It has a lighter medium body; surprising for a quad, but right in line with a lot of the cask beers I’ve tried. There isn’t much carbonation, but more than other casks, perhaps keeping the cask chilled helped with this. The beer leaves a great sweet coating on my tongue. There are plenty of alcohol vapors as well. It is slightly stickier than I like; I would rate it a 4.25 if I could. This is supremely drinkable, considering the strength, alcohol and spice. It’s such a unique beer, I can’t really say if it exceeds or conforms to the expectations of any style. It’s just great.

I couldn’t top that final beverage, so this is where I ended my second day of the festival.  Sunday brought the signature event, the Belgian Beer Dinner.  I’m not a food critic, so I can’t rightly critique what I ate.  All I know is that it was amazing.  The courses are described here, as are the beers paired with each course.  I was unable to review the new beers I tried during the meal, as there was a lot going on, but I made sure to jot down some notes on the final beverage of the night, which constituted the first Russian River brew to cross my lips.

Russian River Consecration
A+ / 4.55
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | drink: 4

It is a clear beer with a dark plum color. There isn’t much head, just a thin off-white ring of foam where the beer touches the glass. The nose is just amazing, with notes of port, sherry and a bit of wild, sour yeast. I can taste sour grapes, both white and red; each has a distinct flavor profile. There is a warm alcohol ester aftertaste. It tastes incredible. There is a medium body with a ton of carbonation. The alcohol vapors feel great. The carbonation and sour flavors leave a little tingle on my tongue after I swallow. As a single glass pour, the beer is very drinkable. If I ever found myself in possession of a full bottle, I’d want to split it with a friend.

That certainly is a lot of great beer I’ve been able to try over the past three days.  The rest of the week should be no different.  On Tuesday, the Lion’s Pride welcomes Rob Tod, Jason Perkins and the other folks at Allagash for a night full of rare beers and something entirely new.  It’s a can’t miss event, along the lines of the Gargamel and Vagabond releases.  Thursday, owner Chris Lively returns from Belgium with what I can only assume will be an amazing collection of nearly impossible to obtain beer.  Luckily, he’s very generous with his rare finds.