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The Hop Brief: Russian River Brewing Co.’s Pliny the Elder

September 17, 2010 1 comment

Mmmm, river of Pliny

Enjoyed on 9/15/2010

Brewery: Russian River Brewing Co.

Location: Santa Rosa, CA

Beer: Pliny the Elder

Web: www.russianriverbrewing.com

Presentation: 16.9 oz. – Brown Glass Bottle – Capped

Vintage: 2010

Style: American Style Imperial India Pale Ale

Barrel: N/A

ABV: 8.0%

IBU: 100

Hops: N/A

Malt: N/A

Commercial Description:

Pliny the Elder was a Roman naturalist, scholar, historian, traveler, officer, and writer. Although not considered his most important work, Pliny and his contemporaries created the botanical name for hops, “lupus Salictarius”, meaning wolf among scrubs.” Hops at that time grew wild among willows, much like a wolf in the forest. Later the current botanical name, Humulus Lupulus, was adopted. Pliny died in 79 AD while observing the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. He was immortalized by his nephew, Pliny the Younger, who continued his uncle’s legacy by documenting much of what he observed during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Pliny the Elder, the beer, is brewed with 40% more malt and over twice the amount of hops as compared to our already hoppy IPA.

Beer Advocate: A+ (4.55)

Rate Beer: 100 (4.24)

Timperial’s Notes:

beeradvocate.com recently posted their 2010 “Top Beers on Planet Earth”.  At the time of that list’s release Beer Blotter felt obliged to lend their opinion on the extremely interesting phenomena surrounding it, but alas, time did not allow.  Seeing that the beer to be reviewed here is the controversial number 1 on said list, we will take this opportunity to toss out a few thoughts.

First, the background.  I believe that this list comes out every year and is essentially beeradvocate.com‘s version on ratebeer.com‘s The Best Beers in the World (overall), or possibly The Top Widely Distributed Beers.  These lists are always created exclusively with the use of the reviews of the website’s users.  That being said, no matter what you may think of the results, they are the will of the people.

I personally prefer ratebeer’s Best in the World list over BA’s Top Beers list because I feel it gives credit to beers that, yes, may be very rare, but most likely taste the best, or are the most complex.  BA’s list seems to have been compiled only with beers that have been reviewed by roughly 1,000 users, or have roughly 1,000 total reviews.  This, however, makes the list much more accessible to the masses.  A decent majority of the beers on the list have a sizable distribution.

For us Seattleites, the only breweries represented in the list that don’t distribute to our state are Founder’s, Bell’s, Three Floyds, Troegs, Great Lakes, Brooklyn, and Smuttynose.   That’s really not that bad.  7 out of 44 breweries.  Of course, none of those 44 breweries are from WA, but we kinda already knew that would happen.  Tell me what WA beer deserves to be on the list, but before you answer, ask yourself what that beer’s distribution looks like.  When you weigh quality with the number of mouths that get to taste it, you will begin to realize why our state is never represented.

I had planned on doing some serious analysis of the list, but it seems that Jay Brooks over at Brookston Beer Bulletin did most of the heavy lifting for me.  Check out the stats here.

Now, to number 1 on the list.  Pliny.  This is insane!  Don’t get me wrong, Pliny is an amazing double IPA.  I’d drink it everyday for the rest of my life if I had to and I’d be quite happy.  Vinnie Cilurzo is truly a hero of mine, but…there should never, ever be an IPA in the number one spot on a list like this.  IPAs lack depth and complexity.  The number 1 spot should be reserved for a beer that has so many layers and nuances that you struggle to describe it.  Even my beloved imperial stout, though unarguably complex, doesn’t have the depth of some of the greatest Belgian ales.  This is why I will never argue with the ratebeer perennial champion Westy 12.  Now that is a worthy beer for number 1 on planet Earth.  But, Westy 12 is very rare and therefore has no place on this list.  Rochefort 10 on the other hand, found in the number 3 position on the list, should be on top in my opinion.  Anyone who has ever had this beer knows a little something about speechless.

But, I deeply digress.  This article is about hops and Pliny has plenty of it.  Wherever Pliny should end up on this list, or any other list for that matter, is up for debate; but what surely is not up for debate is if it should be on the list, or any other list for that matter.  There is absolutely no doubt that this is one of the world’s best hoppy beers and I’m ecstatic to be drinking it tonight.

The filling of my pint glass is no easy task.  A huge, rocky head arises of a just off-white, nearly yellow hue.  It takes a while to fizzle down into beer, so you can imagine the pains it took to hold patiently.  In fact, I failed.  Refusing to wait, I slurped up a big, prickly mouthful of foam that seemed a microcosm of the taste experience soon to come.  Immediately evaporating like a pinch of cotton candy between my lips, waves of citrus and pine span past me in fractions of a second before a stern slap of bitterness stung my senses.

Before even one liquid sip made it to my mouth, I felt as though I had climbed just slightly too far up a pine tree, became fearfully stuck, then became the target of a potato gun loaded with citrus.  I’m taking it square in the jaw with propelled fruit and hanging on to the sharp, sappy branches of my captor with all that I have.  It sounds like a nightmare, and to the bitter bewildered, it just may be, but to The Hop Brief, it’s an extreme sport.  We do it for the love of the thrill.

The head eventually settles to a white wisp and ring.  Surprisingly, the lacing is a bit subdued.  After such a thick head on the pour and the sweetness expected from such a big brew, I presumed there would be much more stickage.  The color is also a bit unexpected, a pale, cloudy amber.  Pale enough that I would have projected a lighter brew before me.  The most striking attribute of all, gathered with the eye, is the level of cloudiness.  Actually, I hesitate to even use the word cloudy, though it seems an appropriate adjective for beers with suspended yeast.  Here we have some serious floaters!  My mind tells me that it’s hop shrapnel, and I like the thought of that.  Maybe I can chew some hop as I drink some hop.

The nose is very pleasant to this IPA lover.  There is a slight sting in the nostrils from the multi-tiered potency.  Many facets of potent lupulin resins (pine and citrus, as mentioned earlier), backed with a potent booze factor.  The biscuity malts that break through add a complexity and balance that is an invaluable sidekick.  I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a dash of wheat in the grain bill.  That may also be a factor in the color and cloudiness.  Fruitcake… and no, I’m not talking about you… in the nose.  There is a slight but noticeable sweetness in the scent that brings me relief.

The mouthfeel is spot on for the style.  Fairly low but present carbonation, smooth and slick with sweetness… I’m not rushing to swallow.

The flavor is pretty fantastic.  No shit, right?  The taste experience begins with an onslaught of bitterness, which I generally am opposed to, but after the bitter sensing portions of the tongue relax (or are desensitized, I’m not sure which), it’s all so right.  An exhale through the nose stirs up all of the crucial hop flavors that were prefaced in the nose.  BIG earthy pine (trapped in a tree), grapefruit, pumello, bitter orange (potato gun shooting citrus); it’s all there and wiping about the mouth like a swirl-and-spin of hop-flavored paint, coating every corner of the mouth with aromatic arts.

The malts are like the cool, smooth looking guy that just strolls through the bonkers house party with no worry in the world.  He puts it all into perspective, making all the hopped-up party animals look like riotous ne’er-do-wells who will never grow up to do anything with their lives.  In this particular case, we all know that those hopped-up animals turn out to forever change American brewing, but don’t tell that to the malty fellow, he is still cool as ice.  You may have picked up on my IPA desires by now, but if not, I NEED BALANCE!  Get a little heavy on the malt bill, leave behind some unfermentable sugars, arrest fermentation, do whatever you have to do to massage my sweet tooth.  This brew gives it a little stroke, and I’m near bliss.

For me, the aftertaste is the peak of excellence as far as PTE is concerned.  All the flavors coalesce into a sweet song in the key of sturm und drang.  Extremes in emotion mingle.  Stabbing, pungent bitterness leads into soothing, relaxing sacchariferousness.  There is very little dryness at all and, though I so badly want another sip, I really don’t need it.  The flavors just keep going and going.  All is right in the world.

With PTE, the sweetness is desperately close to perfect for me, but falls just short.  I can actually feel the tension within me.  I want so badly for it to be perfect, but no.  Lest we not forget though, it’s a rare occasion when I even discuss the possibility of perfection in a beer, of any style, and that is why Pliny the Elder is a legend in both history and beer.

Color/Head/Retention [maximum of 1.00 point possible]: 0.79

Odor [maximum of 2.00 points possible]: 1.86

Carbonation/Mouthfeel [maximum of 1.00 point possible]: 0.99

Hop Flavor [maximum of 3.00 points possible]: 2.94

Malt Flavor/Balance [maximum of 2.00 points possible]: 1.88

Finish/Aftertaste [maximum of 1.00 point possible]: 0.99

Total [maximum of 10.00 points possible]: 9.45

Notes of a Beer Nerd: Saint Somewhere Brewing Co.’s Saison Athene

August 16, 2010 1 comment

Saint Somewhere Brewing Co.'s Saison Athene

***This was originally published on 1/1/2010. But with it being summer, and with St. Somewhere finally distributing to Seattle – its time to whet your appetite for a damn tasty saison.***

Enjoyed on 12/23/2009

Brewery: Saint Somewhere Brewing Co.

Location: Tarpon Springs, FL

Beer: Saison Athene

Web: http://www.saintsomewherebrewing.com/

Presentation: 750 ML – Brown Glass Bottle, corked and caged

Vintage: 2009

Style: Belgian Saison/Farmhouse Ale

Barrel: N/A

ABV: 7.5%

IBU: N/A

Hops: N/A

Malt: N/A

Vessel: Tulip

Recommended Serving Temp: 50 degrees

Notes from the bottle: Saison Athene is brewed in the spirit of the great farmhouse ales of the Wellonia, a region of Belgium near the French border.  Saison translates to “season” and was traditionally brewed in the winter, to be enjoyed in the summer.  Saison Athene is brewed in Florida, the land of the endless summer, and can be enjoyed year-round.  Spicy, rustic, refreshingly hoppy, a little wild and funky with a dry finish, Athene is hand crafted with attention to the Art of Brewing using only the finest ingredients. Unfiltered and bottle conditioned, Athene can be cellared like a fine wine.  The flavor and aroma will continue to develop and change for several years, but why wait?  Take one to enjoy now and another to save for a special occasion.

Food Pairings: Thai, sausage, hot summer picnic food

Cheese Pairings: Camembert, asiago, gorgonzola

Beer Advocate: B+

Rate Beer: 90 (3.56)

Timperialstout’s Notes:

Saint Somewhere Brewing Co. is the latest addition to the long list of breweries that have added Washington State to their distributorship this year.  I hadn’t ever heard of this one before I saw it at 99 Bottles in Federal Way and co-owner Tiffany expressed her excitement about its arrival.  She had apparently been asking her distributor to carry it for some time, and alas, it arrived.  I’d like to thoroughly thank her for her efforts.  This is an amazing saison.

Saint Somewhere is a small batch craft brewery that produces bottle-conditioned, un-filtered Belgian-style ales.  They only brew with Belgian malts and whole leaf, noble hops.  Along with the use of their own Belgian yeast strain, they use their own dark candi sugar and inject a dose of Brettanomyces yeast at bottling.

As of now it appears as though they only bottle 3 different brews: Saison Athene (Belgian Saison/Farmhouse Ale, found here), Lectio Divina (Belgian Strong Pale Ale, review coming soon), and their newest, Pays du Soleil (Belgian Dubbel, not available in WA, that I know of).  The brewery website says they only distribute to FL, NY, PA, and MA.

Saison is the French word for “season” and is a beer style, sometimes called a Farmhouse Ale, that was developed in the French speaking region of Belgium.  Traditionally, they were brewed in the winter months for the farm workers to enjoy in late summer, read: harvest season.  It’s clearly winter in North America, and us here at Beer Blotter have been doing our best to bring the winter/Christmas beers to the forefront, but sometimes…It’s really fun to get into a beer from/for the opposite season and fantasize about the exciting elements that define the season furthest from us.  Before moving on I’d like to briefly return to the idea of brewing a special beer for the farm workers.  Now I realize that the advent of water treatment has rendered this concept defunct, but man do I wish my boss would feed me this brew (or any beer at all for that matter) on the busiest days of the year.  I’d work like a damn dog!

She pours a cloudy gold that’s just so inviting and bright.  Strong carbonation for sure.  A beast of a voluminous, rocky head rises on the pour and leaves thick blobs on the glass.  It’s slow to subside and never really completely dissipates.  Bubbles rise from the bottom of the glass for quite a bit, fooling the eye into seeing chunky, bottle-conditioning yeast.  Though this is indeed bottle-conditioned and a layer of white sludge can easily be seen on the bottom of the bottle, there doesn’t seem to be any loose yeast settling in my glass.  Never-the-less, the fluid has poor clarity…chalked full of flavor.

According to the ratebeer.com page, this one was brewed with chamomile, fresh rosemary and black pepper.  How on Earth does the website not say that?!  The pepper was evident before I read that, and now that chamomile flowers are on the mind I can pick them up, but rosemary, not catching it.  I am getting a lot of clove, cinnamon, green apple, earthy hay, and a little funk from the Brett.  Actually, that cinnamon aroma is quite relevant, and perplexing.  Slightly medicinal.  Really, really inviting scent.

The flavors, for the most part, match the scent, which is epic (not sure if I mentioned that).  The carbonation makes the flavors pop and the funky Brett adds to the complexity without being overbearing. The aftertaste is dry, but fills me with ideas of what I’m tasting and urges me to take another swig.  Hops present a lot of citrus, mostly lemon, a drizzle of pineapple juice, but all-in-all, an acidity that dances with the funk and makes me giddy for more.  I would venture to say this is the best saison I have ever had, and I had absolutely no idea what to expect when I bought it.  Needless to say, I will be buying more of this one, not only to enjoy it again in all its glory, but to support the brewery’s decision to ship to WA (or the distributor’s decision to acquire it).
I now must plead to you.  Try this beer, soon.  And if you like it, keep buying it so that we show FL that WA knows and loves great craft brewing, and hopefully we will then be able to get any and every beer that Saint Somewhere ever makes, and our lives will be better for it.

If you like Saison Athene, you should try…

Dupont ‘s Avec les Bons Voeux; Southhampton’s Saison; and Ommegang’s Hennepin

Disclaimer: This beer was purchased on my own with my own hard earned money at a local bottle shop.

Notes of a Beer Nerd: The Bruery Rugbrod

December 30, 2009 Leave a comment

The Bruery Rugbrod: One Damn God Rye Beer!

Enjoyed on: 12/13/2009

Brewery: The Bruery

Location: Placentia, CA

Beer: Rugbrod

Web: http://www.thebruery.com/

Presentation: 750 ML – Brown Glass Bottle

Vintage: 2009

Style: Julebryg / Dark Rye Ale

Barrel: N/A

ABV: 8%

IBU: 30

Hops: N/A

Malt: 3 types of Rye

Vessel: Tulip

Recommended Serving Temp: 50 degrees

Notes from the bottle: A deep auburn colored robust Danish-style ale with spicy rye, and caramelly, bready malts.  Rugbrod Rye Ale is suitable for aging up to 2 years when cellared properly, around 55 F (13 C) in a dark place.  Best served at 50 F (10 C).  Pour carefully, leaving the yeast sediment behind in the bottle.  Best served in a tulip or wine glass.  For proper pronunciation, chef recommended food pairings and recipes, please visit our website.

Food Pairings: Pork, lamb

Cheese Pairings: Monterey, Pepper Jack

Beer Advocate: B+

Rate Beer: 89 (3.58)

Timperialstout’s Notes:

What the hell is Rugbrod?  Good question, I didn’t know either.  As is turns out, Rugbrod means “rye bread” in Danish.  What the hell is a Julebryg?  Good question, I didn’t know either.  As it turns out, Julebryg is a Scandinavian term for a winter warmer.  Tis’ the season.  Now that we have crossed the language barrier, let’s see what this unique brew offers.

This one is unfiltered and bottle conditioned.  A subtle, inquisitive pour brings a glass full of head.  It takes several minutes and a lot of patience to get a tulip full of beer.  A dark  auburn fluid eventually settles out from the luscious tan head.  The scent is so warm and cozy I wish I was enjoying this by a fire in a remote European village.  Understandably Danish, it’s Belgium that comes to mind when i put my nose to it.  So bready!  Croissants and ryes and pumpernickel.  A faint fruitiness lends the Belgium thoughts.

Despite the big head there is not a lot of carbonation feel to the liquid.  The mouthfeel is pleasantly smooth and some alcohol comes through as it warms.

The flavors are more of yeast with mild fruitcake notes.  A drying aftertaste is present, like I just swallowed a mouthful of absorbent, porous bread.  Bread, bread, bread… so much bread here.  Rye beers are not extremely common, yes, but I have no doubt had my share, and none have tasted quite so much like the bread.

I’ve always had a great appreciation for bread, in its many forms.  Some subtle, even bland, other deep and flavorful.  It seems like such a simple food, something that has always fed man.  Sustenance for the most poor, a simple pleasure for the most rich.  The process of baking bread and its ingredients make it a similar product to beer in many ways, and it is surely a great accompaniment as well.  Throw some cheese in the mix and I think I’d have all I ever need for a happy life.

Some chocolaty, caramelly flavors come through well after the swallow reminiscent of Werther’s Original Caramels.  The Bruery really made something special here.  Unique, intriguing, historic, delicious.  My hat’s off to the Family Rue.

If you like Rugbrod, good luck finding something similar.  If you like rye you should try, or buy:

Bear Republic Brewery’s  Hop Rod Rye; Two Brothers Brewing’s Cane & Ebel; Left Hand Brewing Co.’s  Terra-Rye’ZD

Disclaimer: This beer was purchased on my own with my own hard earned money at a local bottle shop .

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