June 27, 2011

Pere Jacques

When I heard that Goose Island had sold the majority stake of their own company to Anheuser-Busch, I immediately went out and bought a bottle or two of everything I could find from their 'Vintage' series (I didn't find Pepe Nero, but will grab one next time I see it). Back in May, I reviewed Sofie, a Belgian style golden ale with a touch of funk. Now I'm on to Pere Jacques, an Abbey ale that I've had before but never reviewed.

Pere Jacques

Pere Jacques pours a murky, reddish brown. The head is thin and dissipates quickly, although a ring of carbonation clings to the edge and leaves nice lacing all the way down. Aromas are of bread and yeast, caramel, cherry, plum and other dark fruits, as well as a hint of port. I even caught a small bit of Cola when I sniffed hard as the head was still kicking about. Flavors are very typical of the Abbey style; raisin bread, figs, rich malts, some spice, cinnamon, and then banana as it warms. It's only slightly boozy, the 8% ABV easily detectable but not overpowering, and you definitely get the port in there as well. Medium bodied and a bit syrupy. Finish is lightly bitter, but like the alcohol, not unpleasant. I had this along with a roasted chicken sandwich with chipotle aioli on multi-grain focaccia, and the Pere Jacques was a perfect compliment to the spice from the aioli... cut right through it. Yet another delicious beer from Goose Island that hopefully won't be ruined by A-B.

June 16, 2011

Flying Dog Tap Takeover



Yesterday, Robin and I hit Frisco Grill & Taphouse in Columbia, MD for a very exciting Flying Dog event featuring 22 of their beers on tap!

I started with the Coffee Stout, which is brewed with Black Dog Coffee. I reviewed it back in January and was very pleased to find it on the nitro tap at Frisco. The nitro gives it an even smoother, creamier mouth feel than it already has from a bottle. There was also more vanilla plus sweeter coffee and milk chocolate notes.

Robin began with a glass of the rare and elusive In de Wildeman Farmhouse IPA. This is an unfiltered American IPA with Citra hops and fermented with saison yeast. In de Wildeman is a tap room in Amsterdam that asked Flying Dog to brew an exclusive beer for their 25th anniversary. Its first appearance in the USA was on April 12 at Churchkey in DC. It is not being bottled for commercial sale in the U.S., although 15 bottles did exist at one point, in 750mL form. It lives up to its classification as a "farmhouse IPA". Aromas of lemon, honey, orange, apple, and pear, with flavors to match along with a light barnyard funk. Absolutely delicious beer!



From here on, Robin and I shared everything.

Imperial IPA Single Hop Centennial
I get excited when I hear the phrase "single hop". I know it's kind of trendy right now, but in my opinion that's not a bad thing. From drinking single hopped beers, I've learned how to better identify aromas and flavors and have an easier time picking the hop varieties present in beers using more than one. Centennial gives you floral aromas and a distinct, earthy bitterness. Flying Dog's Single Hop Centennial reminded me a lot of Founders' Centennial IPA.

Imperial IPA Single Hop Simcoe
I'm a big fan of Simcoe hops, so it's no surprise I liked this better than the Single Hop Centennial. The Simcoe is more sweet and grassy rather than earthy like the Centennial. Orange, some grapefruit, melon, lemon. A little more variety of flavors going on than other single hopped beers I've had. Hides the 10% ABV very well.

Barrel Aged Gonzo Imperial Porter
Aromas of cocoa powder, mocha coffee, slight hazelnut, and oak. Flavors follow, along with bourbon, black licorice, and a little cinnamon. Definite alcohol bite, but with thick body that coats and warms the throat like really good hot chocolate. Funny... it's almost summer now and I'm still craving darker, often heavier beers.

Woody Creek White
Wit beers are definitely not one of my go-to styles, but I wanted something lighter to go with my 'pale ale corn dogs' and fries. This is a decent example of the style, with typical coriander, orange peel, lemon, etc. Nice, fluffy head that lasts. Dry finish. Refreshing.

Our final beer was Double Dog on nitro. The aromas seemed subtle for a pale ale (or Double Pale Ale as they say), but this was probably due to the thick nitro fueled head keeping things from leaping into the air around the glass. The flavors are definitely not subdued though. Strong malt backbone, rich caramel, molasses, honey, grapefruit, orange, and nutty. It made me crave pecan pie! I'm assuming the 'Double Pale Ale' title refers to the 11.5% alcohol content, the same way 'Imperial' does for stronger IPA's, porters, etc. I loved the variety of flavors and addition of nitrogen that resulted in one great tasting beer with aspects of a pale ale, brown ale, cream ale, stout, and IPA all in one!

In addition to the 7 we tried, there were 15 other Flying Dog beers available:
Backyard Ale
Centennial Single Hop, cask
Dog Schwarz
Doggie Style Pale Ale
Garde Dog
Gonzo, nitro
Gonzo
Horn Dog Barleywine
In-Heat Wheat
Lucky SOB Irish Red
Old Scratch Amber
Raging Bitch
Road Dog Porter
Snake Dog IPA
Tire Bite Golden Ale

On an additional note, Flying Dog recently announced plans to pull distribution from 13 states. This includes states like Alaska, which brings in a very low volume and shipping logistics are difficult, and Washington and Oregon, strong craft beer states that are already heavily saturated with and supportive of their own local, northwest breweries. CEO Jim Caruso stated, "..our primary focus would be [Maryland and] the contiguous states around it," and went on to say, "We can't afford to be short on beer in our own backyard." So expect to see a lot more events and promotions from Flying Dog, along with (hopefully) more rare and limited releases. Cheers!

June 9, 2011

Founders Breakfast Stout

I'm not making this complicated. Founders Breakfast Stout is insanely delicious. It is what it says on the bottle. Double. Chocolate. Coffee. Oatmeal. Stout. A couple more things that aren't on the bottle. Creamy. Luscious. The chocolate and coffee flavors are rich but not too much so. I should be allowed to drink one every morning before work. Actually, I could do that anyway and no one could stop me, the only problem is supply. Founders doesn't distribute in Maryland, but it's not a year round offering anyway. I have only one real complaint, and it's with myself, and it's for only buying one bottle. September can't come fast enough. And by the way, that is breakfast in the background - roast beef, fried egg, and cheese on an English muffin.

Breakfast Stout

June 8, 2011

Marrón Acidifié

I was super excited when I heard that The Bruery and Cigar City, two of my favorite breweries, were teaming up to create a collaborative beer. Marrón Acidifié, an Imperial Oud Bruin, was conceived at GABF 2009 and brewed shortly thereafter. The effort was very meaningful to both companies, each of them a small, fledgling breweries at the time (still relatively small actually), but brought together from opposite sides of the country through their passion for brewing delicious beer.

Marrón Acidifié

For the past year or more, Marrón Acidifié has been undergoing a long and gentle aging process in oak barrels with California dates and black sapote fruit used for secondary fermentation. In case you're unfamiliar with the style, Oud Bruin originates from the Flemish region of Belgium. The name, literally meaning "old brown", is a reference to the long aging process. The extended aging process allows the yeast and bacteria to develop into sour flavors that are one of the defining characteristics of the style.

I was thrilled to find several bottles of the stuff on the new arrivals shelf during my last visit to Dawson's. As with all of The Bruery's releases, it comes packaged in 750 ml bottles with their exquisite labeling (I've actually been saving the bottles of each of their beers I've had... trophies of a sort).

Marrón Acidifié pours deep, murky brown. There was a tiny bit of carbonation as I poured, but it fizzled away quickly with no lasting head. Nice aroma of mixed fruits, sour cherries, cranberries. Noticeably sour, with a hint of vinegar, but balanced by the roasted malt, oak, and something else... a thick doughy sweetness that reminded me of cherry pie. Maybe that's why I like sours so much - they tend to remind me of my favorite kind of pie! It took a moment for me to pick it out, and thinking back I'm pretty sure it was when I sniffed straight from the bottle and not the glass, but I got a heavy dose of that thick, bittersweet smell of old leather. Not all sours blow up my taste buds or make me pucker at first, but this one did a little bit, and that's not a bad thing. Once I got through the first sip, my palate started to pick up all the subtle flavors. The cherry is definitely there in force, but is complimented by additional sourness that seemed to be grape and apple-like. I liked it that! Hints of plum and fig are in there too. The mouth feel was rather thick and viscous and I would have liked some prickly carbonation to cut through. Also, my second pour seemed to lose some of the balance and punch the first one had. That's okay though. At 8.5% ABV, it would have been unwise to finish it on my own. Other than that, a very tasty sour indeed! The label says you can cellar it for up to 5 years. Bottles are about 23 bucks, but despite the price I may pick up another to age.

June 2, 2011

Savor

I first heard about Savor in 2009, which at the time was in its second year. Although there are lots of bars and restaurants that pair craft beer with food, I had never seen an event built specifically around the idea. I missed it in 2010 but scored tickets this year for Robin (from Good For the Palate) and myself for the first day of SAVOR: An American Craft Beer & Food Experience.

This year marked the first time the event was held over two days instead of one, with 2000 [ticketed] attendees each night. It was held at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC and featured 72 breweries and 144 different beers, each with a small food pairing. There were also tables featuring artisanal cheeses and chocolates, as well as a raw oyster bar. Tickets (which were $110) included all the beer samples and food pairings you could handle, along with a commemorative tasting glass, event program, and exit gift (more on that later). Savor also features private 'salons'; small group discussions or private tastings which require separate tickets ($30 each if I remember correctly). Dress code was business casual.

Check out more details at these links:
Attending breweries
Beer & food pairings
Private salons



Now for my thoughts, which I'm going to separate into The Good, The Not So Good, You Decide, and The Verdict. Be aware, the You Decide part is still not exempt from my personal opinions.

The Good

Lots of breweries: With 72 different brewers on hand, this is one of the most widely represented beer events in the region. A lot of them don't distribute in Maryland, Virginia, or maybe even DC itself, so this is a great chance for local beer geeks to try things they might normally have to travel pretty far to get. I was particularly excited to try Boulevard, Firestone Walker, Odell, and Short's, as well as get another taste of some I've had before but can't get at home, like Bell's, Founders, Cigar City, and Coronado.

Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale & The Sixth Glass (Belgian strong ale) from Boulevard Brewing Co.


Lots of beer: I think one or two brewers had something on draft, but almost everything was poured from bottles, so there was no worrying about kegs getting kicked.

Cheese, chocolates, and raw bar: It was nice that these were separate from the food pairings, and I guess it made more sense for them to be, as they didn't need to be cooked.

National Building Museum: Pretty cool place to hold the event. Well ventilated and easy to get around, which was great. Why? Because I'm positive there were way more than 2000 people there on Friday. This didn't seem to be a huge problem since the room was big and there was room to move around, but having been to Brewvival twice, I know what 2000 people looks like, and there were definitely more at Savor.

Exit gift: A bottle of SAVOR Flowers, a collaborative brew from Jim Koch of Boston Beer Company and Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head. Very cool. It was brewed with rosewater in place of regular water, features a new hop variety known as #369, and was aged in Sam Adams' Barrel One (which was originally used for Sam Adams Triple Bock in 1993). They served it at Savor, so I did get to taste it, but I'm going to save my thoughts for a review later on.

SAVOR Flowers


Another plus side to Savor: In the week leading up to the event, several DC beer bars featured Savor beers on tap or held meet-and-greets with the owners and brewers. Robin was invited to a BBQ at a local distributor that featured Brooklyn Brewery and several others, while I had lunch at RFD and sipped 3 Stars + Evolution collaboration The Syndicate Saison and Heavy Seas Plank 1 on cask. Later, in the hours before Savor began, Robin and I met up at our hotel and then headed to ChurchKey to meet the guys from Odell and try some of their beers, plus try some things from Short's Brewing. RFD and Brasserie Beck both held after-parties for Savor ticket holders, and Iron Horse Tap Room held a tap takeover showcasing many Savor breweries. I'm sure as the years go on, more Savor-related events will pop up, probably turning into a full fledged beer week.

The Not So Good - THE FOOD

This was a big disappointment for Robin and I, because one of the two main ingredients of the event was, after all, the food! In many cases, if a dish was supposed to be crunchy, it was soft; if it was supposed to be soft it was soggy; if it was supposed to be moist it was dry; if it was supposed to be warm or hot it was cool. Not everything was that way though. There were some exceptions... The 'devils on horseback'; smoked bacon wrapped dates stuffed with goat cheese. The mini lobster rolls. The crispy tuna rolls weren't crispy but the flavors were there. The biscuit and belly. The double chocolate bread pudding was damn tasty. The 'shrimp in a blanket' were good, and mine was even crispy (must've gotten a lucky batch straight from the kitchen). Though I understand the logistical issues with serving a massive amount of food in a relatively short period of time, I think all of the dishes could still have been prepared significantly better.

There were only 42 different dishes for 144 different beers. I knew this ahead of time, but still figured it'd be worth it because it'd be interesting to see how the same dish paired with different beers. The problem is, with the food not being prepared particularly well, it didn't always match with all of the beers it was paired with. A few things worked, but some things were completely overpowered by the beer or just didn't mix at all. Had the food been prepared better, the matches may have been more evident.

I think the event could feature way less breweries and more local restaurants, that way they could concentrate on having better pairings and preparations. Instead of creating dishes that go generically with an IPA or an imperial stout, why not have a brewer pair with a specific restaurant to create more exclusive and harmonious pairings? It would probably eliminate all or most of the issues with one generic kitchen heating and serving pre-prepared food. Overall, I just expected a lot more from the food at an event specifically geared towards food pairings with craft beer.

I was also disappointed by security giving people crap about bringing in DSLR's. I had to use my iPhone for what few pictures I took.

You Decide

Tasting glass: Stemmed, wine-like. Plenty of beers are served in goblets, tulip glasses, snifters, etc, and those are all stemmed. I heard a few people say they would have preferred a snifter if Savor was going for 'elegant'. Not going to argue with them. Whatever, the Savor glass was perfectly fine for tastings.

Attire and atmosphere: Savor "strives for an elegant event". Dress is usually cocktail or business casual according to their website (the ticket just said business casual). Savor is undoubtedly a nice event and not a typical beer festival, and I found that there were a lot less beer geeks in attendance. There seemed to be a lot of folks who came because it was something hip to do, an "in" thing. There was not as much of the usual beer nerd chatter among the attendees. I talked to a few people that knew generally what craft beer is but that was about it. It seemed like a large portion of the attendees were there because they were intrigued by the idea that beer can be paired with food, but they maybe don't drink craft beer otherwise, at all or only occasionally. In fact, for some, Savor may be the only time they have beer with their food. Being in DC, there are a lot of lawyers, lobbyists, businesspeople, politicians, etc. I think the attire could be more a result of the location rather than the food or beer. In an article I read earlier today, one attendee, despite greatly enjoying the event said, "Whatever happened to drinking beer in t-shirts and shorts?" I agree with him. While I wasn't crazy about the dress code, it wasn't enough to stop me from drinking some great beer.

Robin and I laughed at the number of people, just in the few moments we stood there, that kept calling these "cherry bock" and "Vietnamese lager". It's Cherny ("chair-knee") Bock and Viennese Lager.


The Verdict

For $60-70 I would go again for all the beers including the bottle of SAVOR Flowers we got when we left. For $40-50, I'd do it just for the beers. Unfortunately, the food experience was overall so disappointing that I wouldn't say it was worth the $110, and I personally won't go to the event again. Atmosphere-wise, Savor just isn't the average craft beer drinker's beer festival. For me (and I think most beer geeks in general), the money would be better spent at beer bars and gastropubs such as Brasserie Beck and Birch & Barley in DC, or Alewife and The Brewer's Art in Baltimore, where you can get great craft beer as well as incredible food. On the plus side, Savor did make way for some really cool events at the local beer geek hangouts in DC, and I will definitely take advantage of that again next year. If you're unable to score tickets to future Savor events or it simply doesn't interest you at all, I would still highly recommend coming to town for the extra happenings. Cheers!