Sierra Nevada Beer Camp 2013 Review #1 – Belgian Black IPA

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IPA, Belgian Black IPA, & Imperial Red Ale
IPA, Belgian Style Black IPA, & Imperial Red Ale

Camp is over folks,  Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp 2013 that is.  But this is, as a matter of fact, nothing to truly be sad about.  No, now is the time to be overjoyed, as the fruits of their toiling are now available to us.

While we have known for a little while what would be part of this year’s sampler, now we can finally taste what this week-long gathering of a lucky few beer fanatics (and lucky they are,  they even got golden tickets) dreamed up.

Lets take a look at the choices for this year.  IPA, Belgian style Black IPA, and Imperial Red Ale (perhaps a shout out to all of our Redditor friends who were clamoring for a Red Wedding ale? )

Choices, choices,  what will I try first.  Normally such a question would cause at least a few moments pondering, but this one was simple.  I have to go with the BBIPA, not even a question in this case.

An interesting choice none the less though, as this turns the Belgian IPA and Black IPA concepts on their head. Pouring out the bottle, it was black with a thin khaki head. Hard to place the nose on this one.  You can definitely pick up on the Belgian yeast, but beyond that I wasn’t getting much of a hint of the IPA in there.

Tasting turned out to be equally interesting.  The yeast and alcohol presence were there like you would expect from a triple or a quad but having the flavor profile more akin to a Black IPA.  Not sweet, but not bitter, very well-balanced.   A Belgian for all of those, (and I have a few friends who fall into this group) who don’t like the flavor profile of an Abby Ale.  A gateway into two different styles, equally accessible from whichever side of the fence you are starting out on.  Mouth feel while not chewy, was much more substantial than say Belgian style stouts.

In fact it took a few hours of thinking about it to even figure out where I stood on this one. It didn’t play out like a hopped up Belgian Pale ale,  or a IPA made with a different yeast strand.   This was different – unique, and extremely original.  I can not wait to see what the other two brews have in store!

Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale – The IPA of fall

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For me growing up, Fall always started – unofficially at least – right after my birthday.  The days were starting to get shorter, summer vacation was coming to an end,  Labor day was only a few days away, and then school would be starting.

Things have changed some since I was in grade school it seems.  Halloween stuff has been on display since after the 4th of July, and I am pretty sure back to school supplies went on the end caps before all schools even let out.

Breweries of course are following suit, and pushing the release dates up on their seasonal selections, not exactly a horrible thing in most cases.

Even with that being said, I still find reviewing a fall staple, a pumpkin ale, this early in August is a little weird,  but it with the way the weather has been the past few days,  it does seem fitting.  Besides, it is fresh, and decidedly not your normal IPA.

Upon pouring, I was instantly greeted by smells of cinnamon, nutmeg, and other scents of fall.  Seriously Yankee Candle should make a seasonal release out of what I was smelling. With is clarity, minimal head and sweet potato like color it really is begging for the candle.  This really does smell just like you are pulling pumpkin and sweet potato pies right out of the oven.

Now, smell is one thing,  but Weyerbacher also managed to pull of the taste – it was liquid pie – all the spices, but none of the marshmallow and brown sugar sweetness assault.  Nor was it pure savory,  perfectly balanced right in the middle, each sip as enjoyable as the last.

Clocking in at 8% ABV it earns the Imperial addition to its name.  Be warned though, you never taste its presence, and you hard to try to not gulp it down.

Over the years I have had a handful of, for the most part, inoffensive and more or less forgettable, Pumpkin Ales,  Imperial Pumpkin is nothing like them.  Maybe Pumpkin Ales needed the “Imperial” kick in the pants just like Pale Ales did to produce some amazing brews?

Something to think about on a cool crisp fall evening as I sip another one.

Help Save Rochefort Beers!

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Rebloging this from ithinkaboutbeer.

Harviestoun Old Engine Oil Black Ale: A Zero prior knowledge Tasting

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I am pretty sure this one cements the overall theme that this blog is going to take.  Sure I have tried random stuff from a known brewery or picked something up based on reviews, but in this case though, I only walked in the store and thought to myself,  “I want to try something English.”

With that to go on, I took a quick look at the England Shelf, and sitting eye level to me was a “black ale” called Old Engine Oil.  “Sounds good to me” I said, and into my basket it went. No date was listed on the bottle, but I am assuming that it has been in the shop for a least a few months if not longer.

To say I had zero expectations, or anything beyond a rough idea of what I was going to be tasting would be an understatement. Truth be told, I  only had a rough idea of what exactly I would be drinking. Stout? Porter? Black Ale? In all honestly, even after the tasting, and subsequent reading up on the Brewery, I still do not know, well not exactly anyway.  But more on that later.

Pouring with the standard bottle pour (45 degrees for 2/3 of the bottle and then tilting to vertical for the remainder) yield absolutely no head or carbonation.  This one poured jet black. Very fitting name for this one.

I was instantly greeted to a nose of chocolate.  Different than say Samuel Smiths Chocolate stout, which was brewed with real coco. It is definitely coming from the malts here like with Brooklyn’s Chocolate Stout.

Sipping the chocolate is still there with a minor coffee hint.  This one is absolutely perfectly balanced, not sweet and not even a hint of bitterness. There was no alcohol presence to speak of.  It gave me the feeling that it was lower in ABV (more like 4%) than the actual 6%. There was a minimal amount of mocha colored lacing left on the glass.

In terms of mouth feel,  while I have heard the phrase thrown around quite a few times, this was the first time I feel like I truly experienced it.  This one was motor oil thick and chewy.  Again, they could not have picked a better name to describe this heavy weight.

Upon finishing the glass, it left me wishing it came in a six pack, because I wanted another one right after.  This one was a true pleasure to drink.  There was nothing about it that I can detract from, perfectly balanced, thick and chewy, but left you feeling like you could have a few more.

The Chocolate only enhanced the experience, but never overwhelmed you. This is no “dessert” beer.  If it were possible, this would be my default fall weather all day beer, and hell, barring the absolute extremes of summer and winter, one of my year round staples

Seeing that this was originally a homebrew recipe from the 1970’s, and the brewery is really only putting out this beer,  they got it right the first time, and are still going strong.

Going back to my original point,  what exactly would you call this magnificent bastard of an Ale?  The bottle I had gave no description other that Black Ale, so my initial thought was this had to be a Stout.  This is where it gets interesting though.  Checking it in on Untappd, they call it an Porter, and then on RateBeer it is under Old Ale, though the bottle they use as the image says Porter.  Technically all of those classifications are correct, this one straddles them all equally.  But to keep things simple I am sticking with Black Ale.  That’s what the bottle said after all.

Fact of the matter is though, regardless of what you want to classify it as, if you see one floating around, grab one or two of them up, you will not be disappointed.

Nothing like a Rainy Sunday for a quick tour of Belgian(ish) Beers

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There is hardly a better time than a nice family get together to pick up a few different bottles to try out.  For my first time hosting a tasting, I went with the old standard selection criteria of: “Well I haven’t had it yet, and it looks interesting.” 

Out of the bottle shop I came with a Saison Dupont, Bruery Mischief, and St. Bernardus Abt 12 (a crime I know to wait so long to try this one).

My initial thought of the Saison was “Wow this really is not as funky as I thought it would be.” Followed closely by, “Oh good it is not light struck”   It was nice and refreshing, but there was not even a hit of barn yard funk or grassiness to it.  The same opinion was shared by my tasting partner.

My personal experience with Saisons it quite limited admittedly.My only other touch point for the style was trying one bottle of this years Colette from Great Divide, where you could smell taste the hay just as easily as if you were rolling around on a barn’s floor.  If Dupont is the gold standard for the style, I can seem myself picking up a few more examples before the weather turns cooler.

Our grilled meat (old fashioned burgers and dogs) was paired up with the Mischief.  We tried to put our fingers on how to categorize it, and found ourselves stuck between a Pale Ale with Belgium Yeast, or a hoppy Light Belgium.  What ever you called it, it was good. That much was for sure.  It had just enough hop bite to take away any overall sweetness present, but not even to over power the drink, falling just to the hoppy side of balance. 

The St. Bernardus came out just in time for dessert.  Jim had had Westy XII when on vacation in Belgium, and we both were fans of Rochefort. Review wise, this is the one I had heard the most about, and while I was going into this tasting with an open mind, I would be lying if I said I did not have high hopes.  

Letting it sit in the tulips for a bit, it had a nice nose to it, sweet, with the alcohol presence nicely hid. Taste wise though, I have to admit that I was not all that impressed. While it tasted like a good, actually very good Brown Ale, worlds better than what I remember of trying Corsendonk Brown Ale, it seemed to lack any of the complexities that made Rochefort so interesting to drink.  Even letting it warm up a good while as we sipped the flavor profile did not really change all that much.

What have I learned from this experiment in hosting a tasting / trying my hand at blogging?  Well the obvious is trying new things is a fun and interesting journey, and if I want to keep blogging, and actually do a good job, I really need to take notes or get my initial thoughts typed up right away.

Every time I think I am out – They pull me back in (Love and hate relationship with IPAs)

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While I can certainly appreciate the flavors and work that goes into them, I honestly have never “loved” IPA’s. Not to say that I hate them out right or anything, but finding one that I absolutely love is a needle in a hay stack.

So why keep trying them? Well mainly because of that reason. Maybe, just maybe, that next one will be another needle in the pile of bitter hop bombs. I’ve been doing ok, with most of my picks falling into the it’s not bad, and I am glad I tried it, but damn am I glad I only got 1 bottle of this. Or, conversely, wow this is not for me, and I am glad i only have to drink one. So for me, for every, 90min IPA, RuinTen, Stone IPA, or Wookey Jack, I get a challenge beer.

With it still being technically summer time, excluding the fact that Oktoberfest, and Pumpkin beers are out on shelves already, I am still giving them a shot. I had planned on holding off getting a 4/6 pack as Sierra Nevada’s BeerFest 12 pack sampler is supposed to hit the shelves this week, but of course I had to take a last minute look at my local shop before a family tasting party yesterday.

Quickly scanning the selection I, of course, found myself back in the same situation:

Brewery I have heard a lot about but never saw in my area before? Check.

Very Fresh? Check.

So while I planned on window shopping only, Out I went with a six pack of Bear Republic’s Racer 5 IPA.

Reading up on the Brewery and their products, it had my interest piqued at the comment of them being English traditional style with a twist.  Maybe that was what I was missing?  Maybe I was trying too many of the “west coast” style IPA’s. They do seem to be the most prevalent “style” that I see in shops, and for the most part I have not tried all that many traditional English brews.
In tasting a bottle, I was impressed overall.  Not quite as bitter as the Hop Head Red i picked up last week,  but still not malty enough for me. On its own it was good, something i could drink and enjoy, or order if i saw it on a menu at a restaurant.  Pairing it up with some left over cheese from Sundays Belgium tasting gathering,  It fantastic, a little extra sharp cheddar cut right through the bitterness.
So here we are:  Have I come to any definite conclusions on the style?  Not really, but as least now I finally think i narrowed it down to what exactly I am looking for in one.