Sunday, December 28, 2008

Unibroue: Don de Dieu

Unibroue's next featured "strong" in the taster pack is Don de Dieu. It's a triple wheat, and very tart and fruity, with a hint of peach or fig. Despite its strong flavor, the aftertaste is quite clean.

We here at 801 on Tap love Belgians, and all thing Belgian-styled. While Unibroue has excellent variety and flavors, we've found many of them tend to blend together. Don't get me wrong, they're all fantastic beers, but they become hard to distinguish after a while: they're all unfiltered and strong flavored. Don de Dieu is flavorful and has a wonderful aroma. But it still feels like the rest of Unibroue's selection: strong and pleasing to the palate. But it remains undistinguishable.

I'm a big fan of Fin du Monde or Blanche de Chambly. But unfortunately Unibroue's other beers just haven't done it for me. As we delve deeper into the taster pack, we respect their efforts but don't stand apart from the rest.

Unibroue: Trois Pistole

The night of sampling continues...

Unibroue is generally regarded as a premier brewery. They focus exclusively on belgian style beers, which leads me sometimes to wonder if they are really all that great, or whether they are simply riding the wave of hype that has made Belgian beers so popular as of late. Maudite was only OK. I think Trois Pistole is a bit better, though overall it's nothing that'll blow your mind...

Unibroue classifies this one as a strong dark ale. As is typical with Belgian-style ales, the hops here are very muted. However, where hops are lacking, there are plenty of other flavors to come through. The main flavor here is a fruity sweet malt--blackberries or blueberries. The dark color would lead you to expect something particularly bold, but the flavor is actually pretty mild. Combined with a light mouthfeel and a lot of carbonation, this ends up making Trois Pistole a pretty mild beer.

If I were an expert connoisseur of Belgian beers, I could probably say more about this one. But, frankly, it's just too subtle for the vast majority of beer drinkers. So while this is a beer I definitely wouldn't turn down, it also isn't anything I'm going to get terribly excited about.

Unibroue: Maudite

Unibroue's taster pack features a variety of brews straight from Montreal. Commonly found in bodegas across the East Coast. Unibroue's red amber ale, Maudite, is described as spicy and hoppy, but we all found it to be fairly mild. It's smooth, easy to drink and strong, but we're were not quite in agreement with its hyperbolic label. Fin du Monde is a wonderful beer, but Maudite just doesn't have the grit or kick that the rest of Unibroue's selection features. Feel free to pass this one and drink the rest of their beers.

Reaper Ale: Mortality Stout

Rojas and I were looking for a new brew to try and to blog, and we found our attention drawn to a bomber with a picture of a skull and a raven, labeled a "Mortality Stout." We were quite surprised to find that such an ominous-looking bottle came from such an unassuming brewery in Davis, CA.

Images of Death notwithstanding, Reaper Ale is a fairly tame brew. It's a very malty stout, and the main malt flavors are a bit suggestive of either coca-cola or maybe caramel of some sort. The hops are noticeable from the start, but definitely are not the main flavors of this beer. The flavor also has a pronounced smokiness to it, which tempers the sweetness a little bit.

The beer is medium-bodied, which means that it doesn't have that coat-the-tongue sensation that accompanies a lot of stouts. It finishes rather clean, which means that the sweetness manages to come through rather strongly without being overpowering. It's certainly a drinkable and respectable stout, though I don't think it'll crack my top 10.

*CORRECTION: This beer appears under the label of "Reaper Ale," while the company that actually does the brewing is Sudwerk. This contract arrangement explains why this beer does not appear in the style of Sudwerk's own brews. It is, however, currently brewed in Davis.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Mendocino Brewing Co: Winter Seasonal Imperial IPA

I have to say, I love the new trend of breweries making IPAs as their winter releases. While dark and malty winter warmers are a nice change of pace for the cold months, as a hop head, I always enjoy a great IPA. No matter the season.

Mendocino Brewing Company is a solid brewery that makes a great red ale. Hofer, the other main contributor to this blog, hooked me on this brewery's flagship Red Tail Ale many years ago. As a result I always give their seasonal releases a shot.
In the winter months MBC brews a strong IPA. As an imperial ale this brew tops out at 7.5% alcohol by volume. Thus this beer functions just like any other winter warmer in the fact it heats up any cold December night. As for the taste: there is a quick hop hit to the pallate with a touch of a boozy aftertaste. In addition, there is also an orange citrus flavor floating around which compliments a light sweet malt flavor to top everything off.
Overall it's not as hoppy as expected. Especially because 'Imperial IPA' is printed in ginormous letters on the front of the bottle. But a good beer and a welcomed imperial IPA to add the rotation in the winter. Cheers.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Full Sail Brewing Co: Wassail

I just finished up some holiday shopping and now it's time for another beer break. Full Sail's Wassail is a great way to ease any pain caused by December shopping anxiety. This brew is also an apt beverage to drink this time of year as the brewery has incorporated some clever Christmas puns on the label and bottle cap (I'll let you enjoy for yourself if you decide to pick up the beer). The term Wassail itself is a form of 'Christmas punch' and I see no reason why this winter warmer cannot be included into that genre.

Wassail is a deep reddish brown color and its got a strong flavor to match the dark hue. The brew is so malty and it feels like drinking layers and layers of different types of malts stacked one on top of the other. It's pretty tasty and an unique take on the winter warmer style of beer. There is a touch of hop bitterness at the end, but do not be mistaken this is a malty brew. The malt flavors range from chocolate to syrup to coffee and they are everywhere. It's a pretty hearty beer, but that is to be expected anytime you pick up a 7% winter warmer. The flavors linger on the tongue for quite a while after each sip and in a way the beer itself is sorta reminding you of the taste and begging you to take another sip. Maybe I'll grab another Wassail, and extend my break before wrapping gifts. Cheers.

New Belgium Brewing: Trippel Belgian Style Ale

My local co-op allows customers to pull individual beers out of six packs and pay for that single bottle at roughly 1/6th the price of the whole carrier. It's a convenient policy for beer drinkers that want to sample a beer before investing in six identical bottles of the same brew.
As you may know from my other posts, I have have an affinity for American style beers. Despite this gravitation, I do appreciate a good brew made or modeled after a traditional European style. As a result, in my most recent visit to the store, I included a single New Belgium's Tippel into my cart.

This Belgian tripple has three ladies, three arches, and triple fermentation all encapsulated in one beer. After cracking open the bottle and pouring firmly into the glass, the Tripple exhibits an incredibly powerful aroma and wafts out fruit flavors of apple and banana. It will definitely remind you of a Belgian Ale. The taste is not nearly as potent as the smell and mainly has the flavor of Belgium yeast. There is very little hop or malt sensations and the beer possesses more of a creamy-fruity-yeasty combination than anything else. If the let the beer sit on your pallate your tongue will begin to sting as this tripple weighs in at 7.8% by volume. Despite this massive punch from the booze, the beer flavors hides the alcohol beautifully.
Overall this tripple is an accurate recreation of the Belgian style. So feel free to sample and enjoy one yourself in the future. Or if you really enjoy Belgian Ales, don't hesitate to grab the whole six pack. Because now I kinda wish I had another to drink. Cheers.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Yards Brewing Co.: Brawler

And exactly one week behind schedule, here is your fifth beer from a new brewery.

Yards is about as local as I can get. They are the first brewery I've reviewed that are actually located within the city limits of Philadelphia. As such, their brews are easy to find locally, but I'm not sure that they have much of a reputation outside the region.

I grabbed their Brawler, a "pugilist style ale" purely out of curiosity. As the label reveals, the name and invented genre of this beer signify that you can "go a few rounds" with it--i.e., it has a low-ish ABV (4.2%). But as anyone with a little international drinking experience knows, beers under 5% are not all that uncommon outside the United States.

In fact, Brawler is very closely akin to a true English bitter. It's very dry and mild. The malts and the hops are very well balanced. The principal difference from a true bitter is that it is more carbonated than anything you'd find on the other side of the pond. However, the increased carbonation appears to work well. While this brew isn't particularly exciting or unique, it is very well put together and enjoyable to drink. And that's what counts for high marks, in my book at least.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Alaskan Brewing Co: Amber Alt Style Beer

This may be the first beer I ever drank. While I don't have a specific memory of my first experience with beer (tragic I know), Alaskan Amber Alt Style Beer was always in my house growing up. Now the label and bottle cap have changed from a yellowy-orange to a bright red, but it's still the same beer that I remember from the refrigerator in my family's garage.

While the word 'amber' is prominently displayed on the bottom of the label, make sure to read the fine print as this is not an American style amber ale. Rather it's an altbier of German origin.

This alt style beer reminds me more of a subtle bock than anything else. The brew has basically no hop bitterness or bite at all. The hops are basically undetectable. The aftertaste has the German bock flavor with a faint sweet malty taste right at the very end. Add in a thin body and it's a very drinkable beer with not a ton kick. It's easy to enjoy a couple in a row but don't expect anything to overwhelm your taste buds.

While it's fun to think of a younger version of myself sneaking a few Alaskan Ambers from the family fridge, today I rarely commemorate the experience with the actual altbier. Generally I prefer Alaskan Brewing Company's other brews. Cheers.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Brewery Ommegang: Three Philosophers Belgian Style Blend

First off: apology, I missed my promise to review five new breweries in five weeks. We're now in week six, and this is only brewery number four. But better late than never.

I've been a bit hostile towards Belgian style beers recently. I had the impression that a lot of the hype surrounding these brews was just that: hype. I still generally think that a lot of the attention that Belgian brews have been receiving is over-the-top, but I can say that I have found one that is deserving of praise (and a spot in your fridge). And I swear it has nothing to do with the name.

Three philosophers is a quadrupel. Traditionally, tripel is the strongest of the Belgian beers, so a quadrupel must think it is something truly mind-blowing. While 9.8% ABV is quite strong, it's not any more alcoholic than your standard high ABV beers. But I will give Ommegang this: they manage to mask the alcohol taste entirely. Yup. entirely.

But that's not really the beer's chief merit. Where it really wins is on taste. The taste here is complex, balanced, satisfying and yet somehow very drinkable. There is a dark maltiness that is faintly earthy, accented by hints of cherries (there are actually cherries in this beer). This beer strikes me as having faintly more in the way of hops than most Belgian ales, which along with the carbonation level gives the beer a fresh and crisp finish.

Cherry beers tend to get a bad rap. Usually, that bad rap is deserved. But here, Ommegang has managed to use the cherry hints in a way that is actually constructive to the beer's taste. Belgians have a very earthy flavor to them, and the cherry flavors do a lot to keep that flavor from lingering on the tongue. The result is that you don't gradually get sick of this beer as you work your way through it (a problem I've noticed with several Belgians). But, apparently aware that it is very easy to overdo the whole cherry thing, the brewers only used the flavor sparingly.

In sum, this is a beer that gives you an idea why Belgian-style brews have attracted so much attention. I recommend it without hesitation.