Sunday, November 30, 2008


Barleywine is BIG beer. It is wine made from barley and other grains, as the name suggests. The alcohol is 8% by volume or higher. To achieve such a high level of alcohol, the brewer uses massive amounts of malt. American brewers tend to combine this with massive amounts of hops. Englsh version tend to be fruity and sweet. The American versions tend to be flavor explosions combining a big malt taste with loads of bitter hops.

Barleywine ages well due to its high alcohol content. With age the flavors mellow and evolve and the hops tone down.

Some of my favorites are J. W. Lee's Harvest Ale, Great Divide Old Ruffian, and Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale. Harvest ale is English. The version aged in calvados casks is a beer in my current top 10 list. It is a sticky sweet sipper packed w/ flavor. Old Ruffian and SNBFBW are super malty hopbombs. SNBFBW may be the most flavor per dollar in any beer.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Ommegang Chocolate Indulgence

Ommegang Chocolate Indulgence is interesting but misses the mark. The taste is English Stout w/ some cocoa in the mix. Ommegang bills the beer as Belgian Stout and BeerAdvocate classifies it as Belgian Strong Dark Ale. It seems to fall between the cracks. It is too watery and thin to be a great stout. I would prefer Bell's Expedition Stout or, if I wanted chocolate in the boil, Rogue Chocolate Stout. Both are better and cheaper. It lacks the complexity to be a great Belgian Dark Ale. At 7% alcohol by volume, I am not sure that it is "strong". Ommegang makes some really good beer that are good values. Chocolate Indulgence is not one of them.

Ommegang Gift Pack

I purchased an Ommegang Gift Pack today from Costco. It contains one bottle each of Hennipen, Three Philosophers, and Chocolate Indulgence. It also contains a glass. Ommegang beers are typically good values and the gift pack is really good - three quality Belgian style ales plus a glass for $18.

Hennepin is Saison, very good, and a great value for a Belgian style ale. It is one of my go-to beers.

Three Philosophers is Quadruple w/ some cherry lambic added.

Chocolate Indugence bills itself as Belgian Stout. BeerAdvocate classifies it as Belgian Strong Dark Ale.

My beer stash now totals 160 bottles.


Tripel derives its name from the use of three times the malt that is used in a "single". More carbohydrate means more alcohol: Tripels are notoriously alcoholic. Tripels are bright yellow to gold in color.

A good Tripel is delicious. The typical flavors are candy sugar, light fruit (apples, melon, and pears), citrus, funk, alcohol, spices, and hops.

Two of my favorites are Chimay Tripel and St. Bernardus Tripel. Neither is currently listed in my top 10 beer list but both are close. A recent Chimay on draft was fantastic.

Imperial Stout

Imperial Stout derives its name from Stout produced in England for consumption in the Russian Court. In order to withstand the journey, the brewers made the Stout bigger: more malt, more hops, and more alcohol. Royalty in Moscow liked the flavor and brewers continued to refine the style. American brewers have taken the flavors to even greater extremes and balance big malty brews with loads of hops. They are dark and thick. The term Imperial is now sometimes used to refer a "bigger" version of a more traditional style.

Stout can be wonderful beer. Imperial Stout can be even more wonderful. The typical flavors include chocolate, smoke, and coffee. The American versions often carry huge amounts of hops. The result can be a malty profile or a profile that is balanced, a big malty flavor followed by a strong bitter hop presence.

My two current favorites are Great Divide Yeti Imperial Stout and Bell's Expedition Stout. Both are on my current top 10 list.


Saison is an old style. It derives its name from French name for seasonal workers. It was ale brewed to serve to the workers during the summer and fall season. It is also called Farmhouse Ale. It is light, spritzy, and often has citrusy flavors. The brewer will often add some spices to the mix. Finally, it can have a bit of "funk", a slightly sour flavor that is described variously as horseblanket, barnyard, or wet hay. I describe the flavor as proof that beer is fermented.

Two favorites are Southhampton Saison Deluxe and Dupont Avec Les Bons Voeux. Ommegang Hennepin is quite tasty and a good value.


Dubbel has twice the malt of a "single". Dubbels are dark malty beers and pair well w/ food.

Strong Ale

Strong Ale is a catch-all category for beer that is high in alcohol and does not fit well into other categories.

Friday, November 28, 2008


My inventory increased over Thanksgiving. Both parents visited beer stores to purchase something that they thought I might like. They succeeded. I brought home a 6-pack of Troegs Mad Elf Ale, 750 ml of Ommegang Abbey Ale, and a bomber of Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale.

I described Mad Elf Ale in an earlier entry. Visit the Label for Troegs. This six will head to the cellar. I already have 5 bottles in hand and it should age well.

Ommegang Abbey Ale is an excellent example of a Dubbel. Visit the Label for Dubbel for more information.

Stone Arrogant Bastard is Strong Ale. I describe it as Barleywine on steroids. It has a deep, dark husky flavor. Reviewers on BeerAdvocate rated it as one of the top 100 beers on the planet on 29 December 2005. This bottle is heading to the cellar to see what happens to it in 2 years. Visit the Label for Strong Ale for more information on it.


I enjoyed three beers on Thanksgiving day: St. George Golden Ale, Southampton Saison Deluxe, and Bell's Expedition Stout. The Saison and Stout are two of my favorite beers. The Golden Ale was new. My Dad and Mom both bought beer for the meal in hopes of finding something that was new and that I would enjoy.

The Golden Ale is flavorful Blonde Ale. The body is thick and the taste is pleasant,malty, biscuity. A faint background of hops gives balance. This could be a wonderful beer to use to introduce people to craft beer. It is different but not too different from a macro lager.

The Southampton Saison was a delight but not the fantastic experience I remembered or anticipated. Maybe I rushed too quickly from the Golden Ale. The Saison is a world-class beer. It pours with a massive head. The taste is a complex medley of spices, citrus, and light hops. I think that I need to examine another bottle soon to learn more about the cause of my slight disappointment.

The Stout WAS fantastic. Sweet malt and milk and bittersweet chocolate predominate. Traces of alcohol peeked out: the alcohol clocks in at 11.5% by volume. The beer accompanied perfectly chocolate pecan pie, chocolate chess pie, and a chocolate roll that MW made. (I was eating a Thanksgiving meal.) It was also a delightful sipper after dinner.

Expedition Stout is an outstanding example of Imperial Stout. One description of Expedition Stout is that it is a black as used motor oil and twice as thick. The alcohol clocks in at 11.5% by volume. I think it is a hop monster but the hop bitterness was buried by the sweet malt in this tasting.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Legacy Euphoria

Legacy Euphoria is an interesting and flavorful beer. It bills itself as a Tripel. BeerAdvocate classifies it as Belgian Strong Pale Ale. It has a sharp tart flavor - think crab apple - up front w/ some sweetness, hops, and alcohol rounding out the flavor. A metallic aftertaste detracts slightly from the experience.

The beer was a gift from a fellow beer geek. I will be happy to buy the next bottle.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Smuttynose "Finest Kind" IPA

Smuttynose "Finest Kind" IPA is my favorite IPA. Hops is the featured ingredient, with just enough malt backbone to hold everything together. The hops have a wonderful blend of citrus, pine, and bite - just less than too much.

This review follows tastings of a 6-pack purchased in October and numerous others previously. The last of a 6-pack tasted great with a spicy Southwestern soup that MW prepared.

Reviewers at BeerAdvocate rated the beer as one of the top 100 beers on the planet on 29 December 2005.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Belga Cafe

I tasted
three beers during and after a wonderful dinner at the Belga Cafe in Washington, D. C.: Chimay Tripel, Rodenbach Classic, and Unibroue Maudite. I was attending a conference and found a "Belgian restaurant" with Belgian beer on tap.

The glass of Chimay Tripel was great. Funk, lightness, fruitiness (apples and pears), and a sour bitter hop finish combined to produce a flavorful and refreshing beer. According to style, Chimay Tripel clocks in @ 8% by volume. I am thinking of adding it to my list of top beers.

Chimay is one of 6 Trappist breweries in the world. This means that the beer is brewed by monks as a means to sustain their monastery. The Cistercian Trappist monks of Chimay have produced world-class beer and cheese since 1862.

Chimay Tripel is sometimes called white (blanche) label or Cing Cents. The label on the beer is white. The labels of the other two beers produced by the monks are red (rouge) or blue (bleue). The label on the 750 ml bottle contains the words "Cing Cents".

Rodenbach Classic was a tasty refreshing treat. It is Flanders Red Ale. The flavors are a mix of apple, cherry, sweet, sour, and vinegar. It is extremely refreshing and cleanses the palate wonderfully. The flavors seems "brighter" and more vibrant and the vinegar flavor seemed more pronounced than I remembered from bottles I had tasted. The waitress said that I would either like the beer or hate it. I liked it a lot.

Unibroue Maudite served as the nightcap back @ the hotel. It was a wonderful assortment of wheat, funk, yeast, malt, apple, clove, and "bite". I was in food heaven after I added a few slices of stinky cheese and sections of apple. I classify the beer as Belgian Amber Ale. BeerAdvocate calls it Belgian Strong Dark Ale.

Dinner Party

I tasted 3 beers @ a dinner party last Friday: Michelob Pale Ale, Wild Goose Oatmeal Stout, and Sierra Nevada BigFoot Barleywine Style Ale. The Loves came to celebrate Emily's birthday with us.

Michelob Pale Ale was better than I remembered. A passable and pleasant Pale Ale.

Wild Goose Oatmeal Stout was a tasty treat. The smoke and chocolate flavors accompanied well flank steak and formed a fantastic combination w/ cinnamon gelati ice cream.

Sierra Nevada BigFoot Barleywine Style Ale formed the nightcap. The bottle I drank was just under 3 years old. This bottle had lost some of its earlier aggression and the body seemed weaker than I remembered. It is still a tasty flavorful treat. Piney bitter hops drive the taste and they are balanced by a strong malt backbone.

SNBFBW a great example of an American Barleywine. A fresh one is a flavor explosion caused by a collision of a massive malt backbone and two tons of bitter northwest hops. Reviewers on BeerAdvocate rated SNBFBW as one of the top 100 beers on the planet on 29 December 2005. It goes great with sticky sweet desserts like carrot cake with creamy icing.

SNBFBW occupies a significant portion of my cellar. It is released early each year. I have bottles from 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008. With age the hops become more mellow and the malt emerges and evolves. Reviewers report that port and chocolate flavors emerge over time. I hope to test for the presences of these flavors thoroughly myself in the coming years.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Michelob Porter

The Michelob Porter I drank last night was pleasant and tasty. It is not world class, but a fine accompaniment to scrambled eggs and ham. An odd off taste did emerge as the beer warmed. An earlier post described Michelob Porter as thin.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Top 100 Beers

As of 17 November 2008, I have tasted 59 of the top 100 beers in the planet, with 2 more aging in the "celler", based upon the reviews and formula in place on BeerAdvocate on 29 December 2005. As of 02 December 2007 I had tasted 55 of the top 100 beers.

The number decreases when using the reviews and formula in place on BeerAdvocate more recently. Using the ratings in place on 10 March 2007, I have tasted 46 of the top beers on the planet and have 1 more in the cellar. Using the ratings in place today, I have tasted 36 of the top beers and have 1 more in the cellar.

Anchor Our Special Ale 2008

Anchor Our Special Ale 2008 is a fine Winter Warmer. The color is dark mahogany. The smell is malty with a tiche of chocolate in the background. The taste follows the smell with some spiciness dancing further in the background. It is a pleasant sipper and would accompany well robust meats or dessert.

With a second taste I might classify the beer as Brown Ale. The beer leads with a pleasant malty sweetness with undertones of milk chocolate and smoke is ends with a spicy flavor. Hops bitterness is mild.

Anchor Our Special Ale is also called Anchor Christmas Ale. It is sold from November through mid January. The recipe changes from year to year. I think that the changes are minor.

Anchor is one of the first commercial craft brewers. Fritz Maytag acquired the brewery in 1965 and was a pioneer.

Anchor is best known for its California Steam Beer, a lager that is brewed like an ale. Steam Beer uses a special lager yeast that ferments quickly and at temperatures that are higher than typical lager yeasts. Anchor has a trademark on "Steam Beer". Other beers of this style are called "California Common".

These notes are based on tastings from a 6 pack in November 2008.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Troegs Mad Elf Ale

I recommend Troegs Mad Elf Ale as an adventure. It is an interesting Christmas brew, brewed with West Coast Cherries and Pennsylvania Honey. The cherry flavor predominates and is unusual and done well. It is dry and grows on me as I drink the beer. Spices seem to lurking in the background. I can't tell yet if I really like the beer or just like it. It might go well w/ food.

The style is ambiguous. BeerAdvocate classifies it as Belgian Strong Dark Ale. I think it might be better placed as Strong Ale, Belgian Amber, or Winter Warmer. The alcohol clocks in at 11%. The more I drink it the more Winter Warmer fits.

Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout

The Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout I had on tap tonight at Joe's Inn is a really nice beer. BBCS is a big Imperial Stout. Reviewers on BeerAdvocate rated it as one of the top 100 beers on the planet on 29 December 2005. As the name suggests, it has chocolate flavors. I have tasted several vintages of BBCS with mixed reactions. The most recent release seemed too hot. On tap, the beer was flavorful and balanced. I don't know if the difference is draft v. bottle or 2008-09 v. 2007-08; but, I think that the tap makes the difference. Chocolate is the predominate flavor but coffee and smoke rear their heads, too. Joe's Inn is a neighborhood restaurant in Richmond, VA. It sells BBCS as a seasonal item for $3.50 a pint. At this price the beer is a great deal. It was fantastic w/ a hamburger.

Oliver Garrett, the brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery, is a big advocate of pairing food and beer. His book, The Brewmaster's Table, is a classic. For a sample of his thoughts, click

New Inventory

Today I purchased 2 bombers of Stone Double Bastard Ale and one 6-pack each of Anchor Our Special Ale 2008 and Troegs Mad Elf. I am stocked for the holidays.

The bottle of Double Bastard that I had last year was quite tasty - a cross between a triple IPA and a hoppy English Barleywine. Loads of sweet malt and bitter hops that created a pleasant and surprisingly easy drinking beer. It is Strong Ale, a category distinquished by high levels of alcohol and charateristics that do not fit another established category. The alcohol clocks in at 10% by volume.

Stone is known as a world class brewery. Posters at BeerAdvocate rate four of its beers in the top 100 beers on the planet. Double Bastard is currently ranked 56. The brewery is home to a restaurant and the head brewer is an advocate of pairing food and beer.

My attraction to Double Bastard Ale is slightly unusual. I think that the flavors in Arrogant Bastard, its parent, are overpowering and unpleasant. Oak Aged Arrogant Bastard Ale is nice but I have not been moved to purchase a second bottle.

A bomber is 22 oz. or 650 ml.

I have never tasted Mad Elf. It is Belgian Strong Dark Ale brewed with cherries, honey, and chocolate malt. The alcohol clocks in at 11% by volume. I plan to drink some and age some. If I like the first couple of bottles, I may buy more for aging.

Our Special Ale is also a new beer to me. It is Winter Warmer. Anchor releases it every year in November and the recipe varies from year to year. It contains spices. I hope that it tastes like Christmas.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Unibroue Maudite

Unibroue Maudite is an excellent example of Belgian Amber Ale. The predominate flavors are apples, a tiche of pear, yeast, and a dry spicy finish. The finish picks up a clove flavor as the beer warms. It is good for sipping and goes great with food. The fruitiness makes the beer an excellent complement to fruit and cheese and it is robust enough to pair with grilled meat.

BeerAdvocate classifies Maudite as Belgian Strong Dark Ale. It is not as dark or heavy as many Dark Ale. Strong means that the beer has a high alcohol content. Maudite clocks in at 8% by volume.

Maudite means the damned one. Many Belgian beers, especially Strong Pale Ale, have names that relate to the Devil.

Unibroue is located in Chambly, Quebec. The brewery is known for its lineup of fine Belgian style ales.

These notes are based on a tasting on 14 November 2008 and a few others earlier.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Weihenstephan 13th Century Grut Bier

Weihenstephan 13th Century Grut Bier is different, interesting, light, and refreshing. Ginger, lemon, and rose petals is the best description. It would pair well with light foods and mild Asian foods flavored w/ ginger.a great beer. I recommend it as an adventure and as an occasional treat.

Gruit is a style of beer that predates hops. Spices and herbs are used to add flavor to the malt. The label on the Grut Bier lists Bay, Ginger, Rosmary, Caraway, Anise,and Gentian.

The brewer is ambiguous. The label claims that Dr. Fritz Breim is the brewer and lists the location as Munich. BeerAdvocate states that the brewer is Weihenstepan in Freising.

Weihenstephan proclaims to be the oldest brewery in the world. It is a world-class brewer. Its Hefeweizen is fantastic. The Grut Bier continues its tradition of producing exemplary products.

My comments are based on a tasting a .5 L bottle on 8 November 2008. I had not tasted gruit previously. My mother liked her taste, too.

Craft beer (?) from Macro Brewers

The recent "craft" brews from Anheuser-Busch have some pleasing characteristics but all have flaws and lack the flavor that makes a beer great. I am enjoying a Michelob sampler: Pale Ale, Irish Red Ale, Porter, Marzen, and Amber Bock. The Marzen and Amber Bock were the best but a little thin. The Pale Ale had an odd astringency in some bottles that made me consider pouring a bottle or two down the drain. The hops tasted cheap. One of my tasting notes asks, "How can anyone make a Pale Ale taste bad?" The tastes in the Irish Red did not complement each other. The Porter was thin. I do not plan to shop for these beers and will purchase them only in bars or restaurants with limited selections.

These might be good gateway beers - something to offer someone who always drinks a lager from a macro brewery. They illustrate that beer can be more than pale yellow and fizzy and that beer can have a wide variety of flavors and colors.

Favorite Beers

People often ask me to name my favorite beer. One correct answer is “the one in my hand.” Another correct answer is that the best beer depends upon the setting and menu. With these qualifications, I list below 10 beers (with tasting notes) that I highly recommend.Warning: I like beers with BIG flavors and enjoy the tartness, acidity, and funkiness associated with spontaneous fermentation and Brettanomyces.

My top 10 list.

Bell's Expedition Stout. Imperial Stout. Yummy - THICK, dark malt, dark fruit, charcoal, burnt chocolate, and a little alcohol burn. The perfect stout? Black as old motor oil and twice as thick. Reviewers at BeerAdvocate rated it as one of the top 100 beers on the planet on 29 December 2005 and 10 March 2007.

Cantillon Gueuze. Gueuze. Tart and funky.

Cantillon Vigneronne. Fruit Lambic. A slightly tamer (?) version of Girardin Gueuze.

Girardin Gueuze 1882 Black Label. Gueuze. Lemon, vinegar, and apple cider. Each sip causes salivation. Sour and tart but doesn't take away your breath. Sort of a fizzy lemon cider. Reviewers at BeerAdvocate rated it as one of the top 100 beers on the planet on 10 March 2007 and 25 November 2008.

Great Divide Yeti Imperial Stout.
l Stout. Chocolate filled the air upon pour. Chocolate taste, followed by more chocolate. As the beer warmed the taste when from sweet to bittersweet chocolate and a bitter piney hop finish emerged. Went gr8 w/ fudge brownie and French vanilla ice cream. Reviewers at BeerAdvocate rated it as one of the top 100 beers on the planet on 29 December 2005, 10 March 2007, and 25 November 2008.

J.W. Lees Harvest Ale aged in calvados barrels. English Barley Wine. Sticky sweet, peach and prunes, burnt caramel, w/ alcohol burn at end. Reviewers at BeerAdvocate rated Harvest Ale (no calvados) as one of the top 100 beers on the planet on 29 December 2005, 10 March 2007, and 25 November 2008.

Russian River Sanctification. American Wild Ale. Very nice. Lemony, sour, funky Belgian Pale Ale. I could not get the taste out of my mind. Wow. A sour pale ale? Different and refreshing and gueze-like.

Smuttynose “Finest Kind” IPA. American India Pale Ale. Do you like hops? My favorite IPA. Nice mix of floral, bitter, and piney hops. Long bitter finish. Lots of hops but not harsh. Reviewers at BeerAdvocate rated it as one of the top 100 beers on the planet on 29 December 2005.

Southampton Saison Deluxe. Saison. Tingly effervescence, tangy spiciness, citrus flavor, balanced dryness with a touch of sour. Massive head. Lovely straw-orange color. Taste is light and dry, with citrus, lemon rind, apple, complex spiciness, and a touch of funk. Eminently quaffable, quenching, and cleansing. Reviewers at BeerAdvocate rated it as one of the top 100 beers on the planet on 10 March 2007.

Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier. Hefeweizen. Light yet flavorful. The PERFECT summer beer? Refreshing and flavorful. Terrific with lemon-pepper fish. Cloves and banana from the oldest brewery in the world. A light and tasty complement to a summertime dinner al fresco. Reviewers at BeerAdvocate rated it as one of the top 100 beers on the planet on 29 December 2005, 10 March 2007, and 25 November 2008.

Great Beer Quotes

  • "Sometimes when I reflect on all the beer I drink I feel ashamed. Then I look into the glass and think about the workers in the brewery and all of their hopes and dreams. If I didn't drink this beer, they might be out of work and their dreams would be shattered. I think, ‘It is better to drink this beer and let their dreams come true than be selfish and worry about my liver.’" - Babe Ruth
  • “Beer is living proof that God truly loves us and wants us to be happy.” – Benjamin Franklin
  • “He was a wise man who invented beer.” – Plato
  • Ummm, beer!” – Homer Simpson
  • “A fine beer may be judged with only one sip, but it's better to be thoroughly sure.” - Czech proverb
  • "Whoever drinks beer, he is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long, does not sin; whoever does not sin, enters Heaven! Thus, let us drink beer!" - Martin Luther
  • Beer, if drank in moderation, softens the temper, cheers the spirit, and promotes health." - Thomas Jefferson
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