Sunday, September 16, 2012

2 Years On...

Long term readers of this blog (probably only me) will know that in 2010, just before I turned 30, I took a trip to Europe to explore Belgium and Germany (with quick jaunts into Czech Rep. and Netherlands) and the beer culture these countries are well known for.

Apart from my appreciation of Jaimi for his suffering throughout my beer journey, a chance meeting with a local from Brugge for an hour at a beer festival became a point of inspiration for me to keep this blog going (even if only for myself) and help me see a potential future for myself in the beer industry.

Therefore, on the second anniversary of our chance meeting, I again pull out the beer they recommended I try, to give it another go, and maybe see if my ability to taste it is getting any better.

Like I would a Faro, I made sure the Liefmans Cuvee Brut was chilled (finding about 6-8 degrees Celsius to be good to start on) to allow the beer to warm and change over the tongue. With a 'Cheers' to Willy, the cherry and dark fruit sweet aroma filled my nostrils and enticed my palate to enjoy the same up front. Letting the beer warm on my tongue, a similar but reduced spritziness than a Faro filled the midpalate and the fruit sweetness turned towards a slight sourness on the side of the tongue and rising at the back, but finishing quite cleanly to leave just some sour dryness at the back to make you want to go back for more...well, maybe that is just me.
To be honest, that I am even able to pick up on this profile just shows how clean and vibrant this beer is, so can truly appreciate the work Willy's son put into this beer.

Of course, nostalgia is going to play a large part in me enjoying this beer, so instead of subjecting whoever reads this, just going to allow myself to go with that nostalgia and sip away on this beer with my memories.

Hope you all have beer(s), or really, anything in life that allows you to do something similar.



Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Imperial Stout Tasting 2012

So, a bunch of guys get together to drink beer. No, the beer is not there to support the pursuit of yelling at the TV over a footy match, or even the burning of meat on a bbq. This time, the beer is the focal point, and is drunk out of very small glasses. But I guess quantity is not so important when the beers you are tasting are up to 18%. Instead of yelling, the comparing of notes on the beers we are tasting, and discussions on such topics as the difference between nerds and geeks. Instead of non-descript 'meat' thrown on a barbie, some smoked meat and aged cheddar, with chips, potato bake, and cupcakes the closest to gut fillers to help us through. Help we would have needed more if we had gone through all the beers available.

But with most people driving, we only made it half way, which means I already have enough beers to do another imperial stout tasting...

Anyway, onto the beers for this years tasting. Trying to make sure there were beers different to what we had last year, am happy to say there was the chance to taste 2 we had last year thanks to Miro bringing these with him, and was surprised at the difference we found from them.

Still, from the beginning, this was a good opportunity to have a vertical tasting of the Moo Brew Barrel Aged Vintage Imperial Stout that my brother and I have been collecting over the past few years. Not having any of the 2008 that was the first (and nostalgically, the best) we ever tried, bottle number 1025 of the '09, '10 and new '11 vintages were drunk against each other.
As I remembered, the '09 was quite overcarbonated, not letting the texture and flavours of the beers to really get good surface contact on the tongue and giving a bit of a limestone/mineral flavour that I get from overcarbonated beers. Still, Stass picked up on some butterscotch which may be a sign of diacetyl. I could get a little caramel, but was mainly getting a sort of vinegar or balsamic sort of flavour, maybe showing this vintage had reached it's age limit.
The '10 was a much better example of this style with some dark fruit aromas and taste, showing a bit of the pinot noir barrels it had been aged in, but a bit of syrup in malt taste and texture to really let the flavour of the beer coat your tongue at a lower carbonation. There is also quite a bit of driness at the back. Unusually, was getting a little bit of a coconut aroma along with the fairly normal spirit smell that can come from these type of beers.
Even though it is the youngest of the beers, the '11 is the most mellow, and the thing I pick up on first. Being texture based in my personal taste, I really enjoy the creaminess that comes across the midpalate, before the driness of the '10 returns at the back, and really ramps up the heat of the alcohol in aftertaste. With some age, I could see this bitter driness mellowing out to improve the profile overall and work better with the front half of the beer. I look forward to trying this beer again over the next few years to see if my thoughts run true. Still,  think there was agreement from everyone that the '11 was the best of the vintages.

Having done the vertical tasting, it was time to go back to the beginning, presumably the closest to the original Russian Imperial Stout, with Courage's example. With differing appraisals on this beer before tasting it myself I was a little apprehensive. Still, happy to say it has a pleasant profile, with some caramel overtones in aroma, being quite smooth on the tongue, but also prominent in alcohol heat and back with some roastedness. A pretty good example, and impressive if this is close to the original recipe for the first of the style.

The St Ambroise we found had similar malt character to our own homebrew Imperial Stout, Very sweet with a viscous/tar look as it was poured. This one is burning my tongue a bit, even though the beer is only 9.2%. There is also a bitterness at the back which may not help me with this burning sensation.

De Molen's Rasputin is one of the beers we had last year, and was surprised that upon tasting it, could think of the differences between. This year's Rasputin happens to have been aged for 3 years, and have to say it has done it well if that is the only difference. Last year was a 250ml bottle, compared with the 750ml of this year. Maybe from this I definitely pick up on some carbonation differences, with this one being much smoother in texture than I recall from last year. This allows me to pick up a lot more from the beer, include caramel aroma, and with the unusual taste of a combination of medicinal and herbal notes that create a sort of fennel licorice for me. There is a rise in warmth from the midpalate from the alcohol that is very smooth and not spikey at all. There appears to be very little carbonation, but this does not need it, as the flavours and textures work really well and complex enough without heavy carbonation hiding it. While it is written on the bottle that it can be stored for up to 25 years, I am not sure how much better it would get after the 3 years it had been aged for.

Speaking of aged beers, finally, I was able to crack my 2008 Rogue XS Imperial Stout that I have been holding onto for so long, even though the ceramic bottle makes it one of the best looking packages I have ever seen for a beer. At 11% and 88 IBU, it certainly could have used the 4 years it has been in the bottle for. I personally liked the chocolate in aroma and up front flavour, along with some caramel leading the warming alcohol, with the bitterness helping to clean up the palate afterwards. This bitterness would be a bit too strong for me if the beer was younger, but at this age, it just gave me a great typical imperial stout, which was great to contracts against the unusual flavours I was getting from the Rasputin. Having these two together, along with just being able to taste a number of imperial stouts together, just showed that something that can be quite a simple style, can still have nuances and quirks to set them apart and get something different from each example.

With many of us starting to fatigue a bit, we decided to finish on the other beer Miro brought around (he also brought the Rasputin), and one we had last year, a Peche Mortel. The coffee infusion gives it an espresso driness, but with a good malt background to help fill out the palate so it doesn't overpower. The funny thing on this one was that early on, with the flavours so full, I could hardly taste any alcohol, but this changed as it warmed up.

Getting onto the cupcakes, I saw I had some leftover Rogue, and the comparison between the two was great. I have been able to continue enjoying this combo a couple more times since the weekend.

So another great tasting with the boys. Thanks to all that turned up to help be try out all those stouts. Looking forward to the next one, where I might be able to finally taste all the imperial stouts I have. At least they keep aging...



PS: speaking of imperial stouts, Stass and I put our first all grain brew on the day after the tasting, and happy to hear today she is fermenting along nicely.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Stepping Out and Up

A novel thing happened to me on Friday. For the first time I visited a brewery (that wasn't Goat) and it was for work.

The Goat crew got together for the train ride out to Woodend, where we arrived at Holgate brewery just in time to see their bottling system in action, and for us to help out. Was happy to see their Temptress chocolate porter was being bottled this day. Of course there we a few low fills from it so we could sample the product while we did a brewery tour with Paul. Like Goat they are starting to run out of room in their brewery, and are using the space as efficiently as possible, including the bottling area. Was great to see their system going and hope we can take something from it to improve our own bottling process at Goat.

I guess after finishing the bottling before lunch, it became a long afternoon of 'tasting' the vast array of beers they have available at the pub that is connected to the brewery. Seeing it had been November since my last visit to Holgate, there were many to try, including a gruit that I think had a good level of citrus and spice. The few gruits I have tried tend to be too big on the spice, but this one had a good balance. There was also the ESB and Temptress to taste from the handpump (the best way to have these beers), the latter I had with the pork belly I had for lunch (the sauce itself was amazing). Like the last visit there was a very special beer for us to try, but fortunately my taste buds were a little worn by the time it came around. The Dunkelweiss is a good change up for the brewery, with the yeast/wheat character coming across quite well, and the dark malt character working nicely as the days of winter retreat.

Ok, from here it gets a little hazy, and to say the least, it was an interesting train trip back to Melbourne. Still, big thanks to Paul and Nick from Holgate, and the staff from Hart's pub.

Having stepped out of Goat to visit and learn from another brewery, I guess it is appropriate that Stass and I have also stepped up in our own brewing, to learn and hopefully produce better beer.  So now instead of taking over the stovetop at the Stass residence to do our brewing, we can now do it all from our new Braumeister, to get us starting on all grain brewing. It's only taken about 5 years and me actually working in a brewery now to do it, but hopefully it means we are doing it the right way, and it can start making me better technically and open a new world for us in the beers we can brew. Still, it doesn't mean we will be losing our experimental edge, especially with the first all grain brew we do. Attempting a clone of Southern Tier's Creme Brulee Imperial Stout means we will need to do a double mash for the first full mash we ever do. Unfortunately, we are still having trouble just trying to get a bottle of the original to taste off, or in the case of Stass, to actually taste for the first time. So yeah, a big call to start on this type of beer, but then it is us, so to be expected. At least Stass won't know when I stuff it up. Luckily we are also going to start using some brewing software as well to help us along.

So here is to understanding beer better.