Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Cellared Beers in the Cellar

It often surprises people when they learn that beer can be cellared and aged, the same way you do fine wine. As usual, I blame the megabreweries for portraying beer as being nothing more than cold yellow and fizzy.
True, you wouldn't want to cellar or age anything cold, yellow or fizzy. But there are beers out there that will improve with age, some even developing for decades.
As I've recently learned, for a beer to be cellared for a decent amount of time it will need three charactaristics.

1. A big body
As beers age the body thins out, so you need a beer that has plenty of fat to trim away. High alcohol is a good indicator of a cellarable beer.

2. Malt driven
While some beers have high alcohol and big body, not all are suitable to age. In addition to these things the beer must be malt accented, rather than hop accented. This is because hop flavours rapidly dissapear and change, while malt flavours will develop favourably.

3. It's Alive!
A beer might follow the above two rules, but without our friend saccharomyces cerevisiae (yeast) it will simply oxidise.
Yeast helps develop the flavours in the beer. It will consume residual sugars, making the beer less sweet (strong beers have high amounts of residual sugars). It will also consume any oxygen making its way into the bottle over the years, limiting the amount of oxidation.
Another thing yeast provides is 'Autolysis'. Essentially this is when the yeast cell dies, and it releases chemicals which cause a marmitey flavour.

Recently my boss at Hashigo Zake held a vintage beer tasting for his birthday.
Dominic has been cellaring fine ales for longer than I've known about beer, holding on to beers from breweries no longer in existance.
This was a rare opportunity to see how beers that follow the above rules - and some that dont - last the test of time.
I took brief notes about each beer.

First up was an offering from our neighbours across the Tasman.

Coopers Vintage Ale

Two vintages were provided.
2006: Caramel sweet nose, vanilla. Spicey, still some body, dry finish. 11/20
2002: Tame nose, not much there besides some sweet malt. Very thin bodied, spice. 8/20

Next, a retired beer from Emersons of Dunedin

Emersons Whiskey Porter

2002 vintage: Nice nose with smokey whiskey notes. Subtle whiskey notes in the flavour, hint of coffee. Still a good body to this one. 13/20

Now a beer from Limburg, a brewery that went out of business just as I was discovering good beer!

Limburg Weizenbock 

1999 vintage: Aroma of christmas cake, quite strong caramel. A good fruityness but the banana esters have gone, more raisiny chirstmas cake. Dry finish. Nice and complex, good body. 12/20

Traquair House Ale

1998 vintage: Sweet aroma, raisins, bit of brown sugar. Good body, whiskey notes. A bit of autolysis, which works. 13/20

This next one is American and isn't really aged yet, but it would cellar nicely.

Lost Abbey Judgement Day

2009 vinatage: Good to compare a fresh one to the rest, this quadrupel had alcohol and bananas on the nose. A big alcohol body with banana and raisins, very warm in the mouth. Almost a weizenbock. 14/20

Kieran Hasslett-Moore of homebrew/regional wines fame provided a bottle of his Imperial Stout next.

O Street Brewery Merchant of the Devil

2008 vintage: Pours like tar. Massive roast malt, dark fruit and smoke in the aroma and flavour. Awesome. 17/20

Another imperial stout was next, but a commercial release from America.

Victory Storm King Imperial Stout

2009 vintage: Pours black, red edges. Citrus hop aroma, mingling with huge roast malt. Big roasty toasty flavour. Warm, big dark fruits and bitterness with a roasty sweet finish. 15/20

Next was a Belgian from Canadia.

Unibroue Maudite

Vintage ?: Tropical fruit nose, candy sweet. A funny musty flavour, kind of chemically. Finish is abrupt and sweet. 7/20

Following this one is a beer that violates rule 2, in that it is a hop accented beer.

Brusge Tripel

2001 vintage: Sweet nose, clovey. Sugary flavour, bit of herb on a thin body. An interesting experiment highlighting the need for malt accented beer. 7/20

Another tripel followed, but of  famous origin.

Chimay Cinq Cents

2002 vintage: The aroma seems to have gone away, flavour is clovey with a nice Belgian yeast character, dry alcohol. 10/20

Two very exciting beers followed, from Chimay, the

Chimay Grande Reserve

Vintage 2002: Nice aroma, musty raisins. Musty raisin flavour too, otherwise a bit clean. 10/20
Vintage 2000: Musty nose, earthy raisins. Flavour is sweet and deep. The raisins are there, almost port like. A full body, complex and well aged. 16/20

A second offering from Traquair had a tough act to follow.

Traquair Old Jacobite

1998 vintage: Nice coriander, cinnamon nose. Musty, fruity flavours of spiced raisins. Nicely Aged 14/20

We were getting into Barley Wines next, so Kieran got out his homebrewed one, a young 2009 vintage.

Alfred's Audit Ale
2009 vintage: Very hoppy, marmalade like. Full of orange peel hops but very sweet and harsh still. Will age well though. 8/20

Following the fresh Barleywine, was a 5 year old offering from the defunct Limburg brewery. Exciting!!

Limburg Oude Reserve

2004 vintage: Big orange peel aroma with a slight mustyness. A bit of burnt brown sugar. The hops hit initially, with big oranges, brown sugar malt follows. Complex, well balanced, wonderful. 18/20

The big gun, Thomas Hardy's Ale followed the NZ Barley Wine. I love TH's and have many in my personal cellar going back to 1988, but that's for a different blog....

Thomas Hardy's Ale 

Vintage 2008: The final vintage from O'Hanlons had a faint nose, sweet flavour and big dry alcohol. Needs time. 9/20
Vintage 2006: Big raisiny nose, marmite, brown sugar. This is what I love about TH. The flavour has a fair amount of autolysis which works in its favour, warm,  still a bit harsh. 12/20
Vintage 1999: The final vintage brewed by Eldridge Pope, I was pissing myself with excitement. However, I was let down. A big musty nose was promising, but the nose was all sugar and alcohol. The flavour was sweet and sticky like golden syrup, and dominates everything. It turns out Eldridge Pope contracted the last few brews of TH out, where the recipe was murdered with pilsener malt and lager yeast - and it shows here.

For a big finale we went to the bar's sample of the world's strongest beer:

Samuel Adam's Utopias

Vintage ?: Burns the nose with alcohol, port like fruit, maple syrup, chocolate. The flavour is massive, sweet and hot. Raisiny fruit and oak come through. Syrupy, with a nice chocolate thing going on. 16/20

That marked the end of the beers, but following the super strong Utopias Dominic kindly allowed us all a sample of Hashigo Zake's 'Bier Likor' from Eisenbahn in Brazil.
Bier Likor isn't beer, as it has been distilled, but it is quite novel.

At 30% this is a hard hitter, but it actually tastes like vanilla essence. Interesting, but nothing more than a novelty, or for use in cocktails.

It was an epic night, ending early in the morning. And for my first foray into the world of aging beer, it was an educational and eye opening experience.
Cheers Dominic!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Retraining the Palate

It's been a while, but now you may again have the pleasure of reading what comes out of my head. My duties for Salient have finished for the year, so now all the overflow of beer opinions will go here.
Working at a place as amazing as Hashigo Zake has its numerous benefits for a beer geek like myself, but perhaps the one bad thing is that I'm being drowned in a pool of super hoppy american pale ales. Well, its not that bad... but I fear my palate is getting too used to 80IBU+. I need to rekindle my love for the big sweeties: Belgians.
NZ beer importers Beerforce has recently imported my second favourite Tripel in the world: Tripel Karmeliet. This beast is amongst the best Tripels in the world, revered by beer critics world over (I assume). It is the second highest rated Tripel in the world according to THE beer website: Ratebeer.com.
I picked this bottle up at Regional Wines & Spirits.

Shit! My camera took an awesome photo for once!

This is an equal opportunities beer. Like many Belgian "abbey" beers it has a link to crazy religious people who lock themselves up and brew amazing beer. But instead of male Benedictine Monks this one is apparently the work of female Karmeliet Nuns. It's not actually brewed by the nuns these days. It is now brewed by Brouwerij Bosteels, the guys who make Pauwel Kwak. However they manage to achieve the quality of monk beer, so I'll assume the nuns would be cool with them doing it.

Just the aroma of this outstanding beer sends shivers up my spine. Seriously, I got shivers. I also slapped the desk and moaned a bit(beergasm).
I get a huge complex aroma of coriander, cloves and orange peel. It's like putting your nose in a spice rack. The flavour is like chewing on the same spice rack, but with a candy sweetness typical of high gravity Belgians. The 8.4%ABV is incredibly well hidden, with a nice clovey finish rounding everything off.
The thing that keeps this from being my #1 Tripel is that it doesn't hammer the flavours home. My #1 Tripel: Westmalle Tripel achieves this with higher alcohol and just more general awesomeness.
SPEAKING OF WHICH. I've got the inside word from Kieran at Regionals that Beerforce have more Westmalle Tripel on the water coming to us right now! I smell a taste-off.

I picked up another interesting Belgian recently from Rumbles Wine Merchant: Grimbergen Dubbel. This is an abbey beer, meaning it is brewed with the permission and supervision of Benedictine monks, not by the monks themselves. In this case the brewery is Alken-Maes and the monks are from Abdij van Grimbergen.

Two good photos in one night! I must be doing something differently.

This one pours the traditional deep dark reddish brown of a dubbel. A very authentic aroma of banana, raisin and spice with an underlying sweetness. The beer is quite dry in the mouth, the 6.5% alcohol makes itself known. Classic dubbel flavours though, sweet and dark flavours mingle making a fruitcakey mouthful.

I'd say this has been quite the shock for my hop caked tongue tonight. Good thing as I'll need my palate in prime condition for all the crazy homebrew I'm going to be making from next month! More to come about that soon...

Op uw gezondheid!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Wheat Wows.

Sometimes I wonder what the state of craft beer would be in NZ without the influence of Emerson's Brewery.
Their innovation and willingness to put a great variety of styles on the market have stimulated competition and imagination of brewers nationwide.
Recently Emerson's Brewery made the decision to make their Wheat beer a seasonal affair. Starting with the Weissbier in summer, moving to Dunkelweiss in autumn/winter and then Weizenbock in late winter. Who feels like a light Weissbier on a cold winters night anyway? Even Green Man Brewery have followed suit with similar timing of their wheat beers.

Speaking of which. Recently I've been hearing that Emerson's wheat beers haven't always been something to rave about. I've heard from some older beer aficionados that before a certain brewer joined the Emersons team the Wheat section was quite mediocre.
Chris O'Leary was the founding brewer of the excellent Limburg Brewery. Before they went out of business, I managed to taste a few of their beers - including the Witbier - which were all impressive.
With Limburg's demise, Chris made his way to Emersons, and miraculously following Chris's employment Emerson's Wheat beers took a huge step up in quality.

Since then they've introduced two new wheat beers to the Emerson's family: Dunkelweiss and (as of Monday) Weizenbock.

Tonight I have a bottle of each.

Emerson's Dunkelweiss (6.3%) was released for the first time in 2008, when I fell in love with dark wheat beers. This years release is just as impressive.
It boasts a big fluffy wheat beer head, and a cloudy brown colour. I took this bottle out of the fridge about an hour or so before opening - so it warmed to around 10 degrees.
Yeah, I had to pour a wheat beer into a nonic. I really need an Emerson's Weizen.

Aromas are strong here. Mainly banana and bubblegum, some chocolate poking through with a spicy hint of alcohol.
The flavour is full of banana, with a chocolaty roast malt background. This is a completely different beer at 10-12°C than what it is colder. The flavours all intensify and balance perfectly. The body is malty and full and the finish is lengthy.
Seriously, drink this warmer.

Now the new kid on the block, Weizenbock. Although it's not really new. It was brewed in 2007 and 2008 as Brewers Reserves, 7% ABV in 2007 and 8% in 2008. Pity this years isn't 9% then eh?

It was pointed out to me at Regionals that the bottle uses the same colours as another famous Weizenbock: Schneider Aventinus. Conspiracy!

But this beer is a bit different. Emerson's Weizenbock (8%) seems to have been toned down a bit in the bottle compared to the tap last year.
No prizes for what branded glass this is.

This crazy horse (I've decided it's a horse?) pours cloudy red/brown colour with a bubbly tan head which dissipates. Not as sexy looking as Dunkelweiss was.
Aromas here are a bit more enticing. This stallion's got big banana aromas again, but tempered with a raisin fruitcake and alcohol aroma.
The flavour is fast out of the gate with big banana, but slows down quickly when hit by a dry alcohol bitterness. But coming out of it, a fruitcake fruitiness whips it briskly to finish just behind the Dunkelweiss.
Again, I drank this one quite warm which accentuated the fruity flavours.

I'd recommend these two wheat beers to anyone who has tried the usual white German/Belgian offering and found it not to their liking.

Now I'm going to go find my head, it floated away somewhere after the Weizenbock.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Don't Worry, I am Alive.

What a busy month it's been. With my Salient column duties and various beery events I've not had the time or consciousness to get anything up here in a while.

Things in my life have been getting very beery recently. Ever since I decided to take a break from my degree this semester, I've been focusing my energies on becoming more involved with promoting good beer.

So first up I got a part time job running in-store tastings for Green Man Brewery in Wellington. I did my first one on Thursday and it was a blast! If you see a fellow in a Green Man t-shirt and a suit jacket around Wellington - that'd be me.

But the most exciting thing for me is getting a new full-time job at a soon-to-open Wellington beer bar: Hashigo Zake.
Having a general managers license and a deep knowledge of beer finally paid off. I knew if I drank enough someone would pay me to do it.

But seriously. Hashigo Zake looks to be the Bar Edward of central Wellington. It will be a free house, and Dominic (boss man and SOBA member) has imported a pallet of beer from Norway, England, America and Japan. These will be exclusive to Hashigo Zake. The plan is also to have a good amount of taps, which could all be changing as stock becomes avaliable. In other words, all guest taps.

And finally, I'll be working at Beervana this year as a duty manager. Which means I'll be at every session! I'll be getting paid to serve good beer, and hopefully make some new friends in the brewing world.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A Mild Showdown

Recently, I heard of an interesting beer from Invercargill Breweries: 'Not on your Nally' (2.7%). This beer came about when a contract brew of Yeastie Boys Kid Chocolate went awry and brewer Steve Nally was tasked with saving it.
He most certainly did save it, and now it is available exclusively at the brewery on FYO taps. I'm not in Invercargill, so I ordered some riggers via e-mail and threw in some extras for various other SOBA members, to fill up the box. Today 12.5 litres of quality Invercargill beer arrived on my doorstep (mosty Smokin' Bishop).
Coincedentally I also have a bottle of Yeastie Boys Kid Chocolate(3.6%), what luck! Time to taste them side by side.

While still being very similar, these are definately different beers. The colour of NOYN is slightly darker, probably due to the slight haze as this was not filtered like KC.

On the left, the unfiltered NOYN. On the right, the filtered KC.

Flavours are similar in both beers. They are subtle, but the sum of its parts is greater than the whole. Initially nutty, fading to a fruity middle, then the malt comes back with coffee in the finish. The main difference is in the body of the beers. NOYN seems a little watery, while KC has a more robust backbone, and more mouthfilling flavours - probably due to the higher alcohol. Also, KC is distinctly more bitter.

Overall, Kid Chocolate wins. Why do people drink watery horsepiss low alcohol beer when things like these exist??

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Geoff, Brian and Roger Show

Last night I attended the 'Marlborough Brewers Shootout'. A head to head tasting of three Marlborough breweries: Renaissance, Pink Elephant and 666 brewing.
Geoff Griggs presented the evening and two brewers were present, Brian Thiel from Renaissance and the elusive Roger Pink from Pink Elephant.

Roger pink is a hard to find man. His home/brewery is hidden in the wop wops of Marlborough, so as to avoid visiting beer nerds such as myself. If that isn't enough there are multiple 'NO ENTRY' signs along his driveway.
This is very fitting with his brewing philosophy, as Roger is a man who just wants to make good beer. He doesn't care about beer nerdery like brewing to a style, or how many IBU's are in his beers - just that they taste good. And they do!
The Pink Elephant beers of the night were 'Golden Tusk Special'(7.1%), 'Mammoth'(7%) and the unreleased 'Trumpet'(10%).

Oddly, the Golden Tusk and Mammoth were tasting very similar. Both very malty beers, full of toffee. They differ in that the Golden Tusk finishes on a sweet caramel note, while Mammoth has far more fruity ester flavours.
Trumpet was the weirdest beer of the night. I stuck my nose in the glass and said "what the hell is that?!" with a big grin.
The beer pours a reddish golden with a very thin white head.
The aroma is something very unique, I got a strong over ripe banana on the nose with some mango, spice and a whisky/rum like spirit. I wasn't sure about the banana note, but it smelled very complex.
The flavour was very herbaceous, and mildly bitter. A spicy, dusty flavour dominated. The alcohol is detectable in the finish, along with some spice and a strong astringency. However, there is little lingering flavour in this bizarre brew. Trumpet will be available in early July, in 330mL bottles.

Graeme Mahy of 666 brewing couldn't be present on the night, but two prototype brews of upcoming beers made the trip. In a first for Regional Wines & Spirits beer tastings, Graeme made special batches of 'Diablo'(5.4%) and 'Avaritia'(7.5%) on his 20L homebrew kit specifically for the shootout.

I was very excited to see these two beers on the menu, as only one keg of 666 beer has managed to find its way up to Wellington since the brewery's launch.
Diablo was touted as a 'New Zealand Brown Ale'. This sounded very unappetising to many of us, as NZBA usually indicates a brown fizzy lager ala Waikato Draught. Luckily, it transpired that this is a New Zealand take on an American Brown Ale - sigh of relief.
The beer pours a nice cherry red/brown colour with a thin tan head. Nose was of toffee malt with an odd hint of berry fruit. Toffee features in the flavour as well, with a light roast malt character. There was a prominent stone fruit flavour, and medium bitterness which cleansed the palate. I can see this being a very tasty session beer.
Avaritia was the first of two IIPA's on the night, and what a great drop. It poured a hazy amber with a thin head.
A huge amount of citrus jumped out at me, with an almost as strong toffee note. The flavour is huge, with the grassy citrus hops and sweet toffee malt fighting each other throughout the entire taste. It's a draw till the finish where toffee just beats hops, leaving a sweet flavour in the mouth.
This reminded me strongly of the american IIPA's I've had, but with an NZ grassyness to distinguish it. The only gripe I had with this beer is that I'd prefer it to finish on a bit citrus hop note, increasing the palatability.

Brian Thiel showed off Renaissance's entire year round range, including Discovery APA, Perfection EPA, Elemental Porter and Stonecutter Scotch ale. I'm sure you know these beers well if you're reading this, so I won't go into too much detail.

One thing to note is that Discovery APA is tasting far, far better than I remember. The cascade hop aroma and flavour really flourish now, making it far more akin to Epic PA. Brian explained that recently they begun filtering their beers, which removes the sediment which was dampening the aromatics in the beer. The next batch (batch 84?) is even hoppier according to Brian - so look out for this.
Making it's debut, and the second IIPA of the night was 'Marlborough Pale Ale' (8.5%). It pours a murky amber with almost no head. MPA yielded a second WTF moment, when huge grassy hops crawled up my nose. I wasn't a fan at first, as it was so grassy and earthy that it reminded me of Steinlager x10. Once it warmed some orange peel and caramel emerged while the hops turned peppery and earthy.

This is what Renaissance MPA looks like. Sexy.

In the mouth it was intensely bitter, the hops were so strong that they were peppery and are the main feature in the flavour. Hops turn lemony as the pepper fades, and at 60IBU (estimated) it was big, bitter and dry finishing.
MPA is completely different to an american IIPA, probably due to the use of a single NZ variety of hop (I forget which, he said it was the most expensive on the market), giving it the grassy NZ terroir. It really appealed to the hophead within me. I think Luke Nicholas would quite enjoy this one.
I feel an Armageddon, MPA and Avaritia side by side tasting coming.

That was it for the night, but happily we were informed that MPA was avaliable on the FYO taps so I picked 1.25L of it. Nom.

Apologies for the lengthy post, there was almost too many new beers in one night... Almost.

PS. Talking to Brian Thiel after the tasting, he revealed that the previous day they brewed a Chocolate Oatmeal Stout using imported Belgian Cocoa nibs. He described it as liquid chocolate. Look for this around Beervana time.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

JP 2009

Once each year, since 2007, Emersons Brewery have been releasing a Belgian style brew under the moniker 'JP'.
Like many Emersons beers, this name has some history. JP stands for 'Jean Pierre-Dufour', who was an Otago university professor who had a passion for the diversity of Belgian beer styles. Coming from Belgium, Jean Pierre did much to advance the New Zealand craft beer industry, but sadly passed away in 2007.

The late Jean Pierre-Dufour

Jean gave the Emersons brewery much advice and feedback about their beers, and to honour this great man, the JP annual release was born.

This years release is in the Belgian Dubbel style, but is given the Emersons signature by adding star anise spice to the brew.

JP 2009: A spiced Belgian Dubbel

The beer pours almost black, with ruby edges. The brown head is quite frothy, and dissipates quickly.
Fruity aromas are foremost, dark fruits/berries. The anise spice is also quite strong, Richard must love brewing with those spices. It smells similar to Taieri George, but fruitier.
However, the flavour is completely different to the George. Initially a mouth filling astringency overcomes, possibly the alcohol showing. Warming flavours of aniseed and dark berries, then followed by a faint roast malt. The finish is quite long, and astringent.
I’m not sure I like the big alcohol flavour in this one, it takes away from the drinkability quite a lot.

The yeast used in this years vintage is the same used in the 2007 brew (which I was lucky enough to try). This Chimay yeast relinquished some amazing flavours after about a year. So perhaps ageing this years vintage will yield a more drinkable beer. Good things take time...