Beer City, The Great Beer State

NCM_0210.JPGGreat beer should be shared amongst friends, and great friendships deserve to be enjoyed over great beer.

It's not often that I sit and drink from this glass; then again it's not often I enjoy a great Pilsner -  rich gold, moderately sweet to dry, with a great Saaz hop character. It seems that the Bohemian Pilsner has been a very under represented style in the craft beer world.  This is no doubt a result of the damage done to the style's reputation from large macro breweries that dominated through the decades leading up to the craft beer movement.

This particular Pilsner is from Griffin Claw brewery. I purchased it today on my last trip into Siciliano's Market before I leave the great beer state.  Siciliano's is a store that I will dearly miss. G.B Russo is another. But I won't miss them just because they are great beer stores, or just because their stock is always fresh. I won't miss Russo's, solely because they have the very best prices on ale, or a great European selection. It's more than Siciliano's freshest, and most competitively priced homebrew ingredients. It's much more than that.

It's about people. Most importantly it's about friends. Aristotle had some thoughts about this, as do I. They don't differ much from what I can tell. He said when you are young that you have pleasure friends, young loves, party friends, sometimes folks that you just happen grow up with. But often you find later that they are really aren't much for friends. Probably not the kind you would choose to have as an adult. Then there are utility friends, the local butcher, the mailman, the beer guy at your corner store. Acquaintances I would suppose you call them.   

There are a great number of these folks in town -great purveyors of ale many of them. The owner of the crushed grape seems like a solid guy, and a great businessman.  Bellavinos has a wonderful staff. They are good folks and I appreciate their hard work to provide West Michigan with some great offerings. They are just the tip of the iceberg. David has done amazing things at the Cascade, and Knapps Corner Meijer.  I quite enjoy stopping in to chat with him; he is a distinguished beer, wine, and cigar expert.  I would most certainly call him a friend.

Most importantly Aristotle spoke of virtue friends. Those friends are the friends that I reference when I say - great beer should be shared amongst friends and great friendships deserve to be enjoyed over great beer.  Maybe even a cigar or two. The friends you call at midnight when you have car trouble, or the kind of friends whose house you crash at when your roof leaks.

I stopped in at Russo's to grab some boxes to pack up my cellar. Victor invited me back to share a great offering not available in Michigan prior to my departure. Sometimes you don't realize it but you make pretty good friends your beer guy. I have a lot of great memories from over the years stopping in at Russo's.  I still remember the day I bought my Bourbon County Rare from Victor. I genuinely like Victor; I'd drink beer with him even if he wasn't a guy who sells beer. He is a good person, an artistic and creative fellow with a connoisseur's palate for good food and drink. At home at a small trattoria in Italy or down on the bayou at crawfish boil. I will miss him and the friendly staff at Russo's.

Then there is the greatest store on earth, Siciliano's. I still remember my early days stopping in there. I met Steve and ran into Jacob who now brews at Vivant. At the time he brewed at New Holland and I recognized him from a local beer event I had met him at. Over the years I have got to know Doug, John, Katie, Sarah, and many others.  From time to time I will run into and ex-staff member and have a great chat. Steve and Barb have worked hard to make a great store with a knowledgeable staff. I like Steve. He is a bit of an enigma to me.  Maybe it's the pipe, or the way he sits back in his chair, or that thoughtful look that's always on his face.  One thing is for sure, he is a good guy. He works hard, and genuinely cares about people. I wanted to pick up one last cigar today. Doug suggested that I have Steve pick it out. The cigar was on the house.

I smoked that cigar the way it should be smoked, over beer with a longtime friend on his birthday. Happy birthday Tom! When I make it to sixty I hope can still run 5k's and drink like you can.

Perhaps Aristotle was wrong, maybe he glossed over some of the most important types of friends, beer guys, or maybe not. If my beer guys call at midnight with car trouble in Georgia, they can crash with me.

Rare Bourbon County Brand Stout

Bourbon_County_Stout.jpgWell the time had finally come to crack the whale, my one and only, my bottle #4519 of Bourbon County Rare. Deep and rich even cold, the aroma was large and rich with dark fruits. I have kept this ale cellared at constant temp since purchasing it from Victor at G.B. Russo. It showed. Even at the end there was still a little ethanol presence.

It poured the dark viscous velvet that one expects with any bourbon county variant. Minimal head and lacing. The aroma was simply heavenly, the raisin, plum, vanilla, oak, perfect, just perfect. This taste was everything that the aroma was and more. The velvety richness, it had that rich caramel, mellow vanilla, aged character that even a great stout like Plead the 5th, or World Wide Stout just cannot compete with. Great full bodied. This is something you simply have to experience. This ale could go head to head with Black Tuesday, Utopias, or any big bad ale. Frankly it would be practically immoral and unethical to do a side by side with such an amazing ale. It's best to simply enjoy, as we did, on a very special occasion, by itself and succumb to its subtle nuances. I am confident this is the finest ale I have ever had the pleasure to enjoy. I still remember the day I brought it home. I knew it was special, but I didn't realize how special for some time.

I have noted some folks on beer advocate saying it's past its prime and what not. They have clearly not had a well aged rare. This ale could have clearly aged for another three years. In no way what so ever did it lack in any way. It was perfect. I doubt that I will ever again have the opportunity to enjoy an ale of such caliber as Bourbon County Rare.

Dogfish Head - World Wide Stout

World Wide StoutDogfish Head World Wide Stout is theoretically distributed in West Michigan, their products are after all, on shelves. But for some reason we have not been graced with World Wide Stout in years. I am sure that has something to do with the ridiculous amount of politics in beer distribution. For some time I have been wanting to try some. I was able to sample one, freshly bottled in December.

It pours a very dark chocolate with nice lacing. The aroma was grainy, very similar to Great Lakes Blackout Stout, and was also somewhat muted. I am not a big fan of Blackout Stout so I was starting to think this bottle acquisition might have been a waste. Then I sipped it. My first thought was WOW! I really was not expecting such a sweet, rich, perfectly balanced ale. With some booziness, this is very restrained for such a high abv (~ 18%) ale. When considering how fresh it is I am impressed that there is no alcohol burn, and that it does not dominate in anyway.This ale has the richness that one might expect from a barrel aged stout. It beats out Three Floyds Dark Lord for sure, the same deep malt notes, but not overly sweet and far more balanced.

Overall I am very impressed by this ale, a lot of complexity, and it lives up to the hype. There is some of the graininess in the palate that I am not crazy about, but that is more personal preference than anything else. I am looking forward to cracking the 2010 I have, to see how it ages. (The snowman in the back of the photo had a bit too much to drink. I think that is why he is leaning so hard.)




Terrapin - Cinnamon Roll'd W-n-B Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout

cinnamon_rolled_wake_n_bake.jpgThanks to the world of trading beer, and reddit /r/beertrade I am now enjoying a Cinnamon Roll'd WnB. I am a fan of regular Wake n' Bake, I like to drink it in the morning while baking - the yeast, sugar, enzyme kind, not the trichomes kind. Although I am in favor of the reasonable use of both. I must admit that I don't think their combination is so hot. Anyhow back to the brew. It's very good, well worth the expense of trading. It's five degrees below zero out and I was a bit concerned (may have told my manager that needed to rush home in the middle of the afternoon to rescue my almost freezing ale) that it might freeze. But it made the trip safely, clocking in at 33.3 degrees Fahrenheit, and to back up that number, it was still liquid. Although I have seen at least one post on Beer Advocate - claiming that it is scientifically impossible for that to be the case. Bubblewrap is not to be underestimated. 

So the ale, it's pretty dark, nice head, cinnamon and coffee on the nose, and medium to full bodied. The flavor on the palate is also cinnamon and coffee, with a real nice sweetness to the cinnamon. The finish has a nice spice and sweetness to it as well. There is a slight dryness that is to be expected with a coffee stout, but it's very balanced. Like any coffee beer it's not something I want more than a pint of two of in a sitting, but that is simply what it means to be a coffee ale in my book.

So it met my expectations, which were admittedly, pretty high. This is the kind of brew you want to enjoy fresh to get the full experience. Some ales cellar well. Others should just be enjoyed. I will never regret drinking and sharing two bottles of Founder's CBS fresh. On the other hand I do regret leaving at least two other brews in the cellar way past when they should have been. So my recommendation, if you haven't already got a bottle, ante up with that trade fodder in your cellar, get a Cinnamon Roll'd W-n-B and drink it NOW. You won't regret it. Thanks to Kyle for the great brew!

Final thoughts, this ale has a nice magical malt combo that really pulls off the Cinnamon Roll. Kudos to the brains at Terrapin who came up with this malt bill and hop schedule, I am really impressed, nice job!


Big Bad Baptist

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NCM_0094.JPGSo I had heard some positives about Big Bad Baptist from Epic Brewing Co. It gets a 96 on Beer Advocate. It pours a dark brown, almost black. It has a great coffee aroma. Medium bodied with a mild tannin tang, it has nice malt undertones. This is a very good coffee beer. It is comparable to Founders Breakfast Stout, Terrapin Wake and Bake, or Sixpoint 3 Beans. Light bodied with minimal unfermentable sugars it's not a Big, Bad Imperial Stout. If anything is big or bad, it would just be the omnipresent coffee character. This is a great breakfast beer. Put up against evening sipping ales, this one would fall flat on it's face. But to it's defense I don't think it is stylistically supposed to be a full bodied, high gravity ale. I should also mention this is batch 17. Since Epic uses different coffee for different batches. My overall impression has been this, first sip was very disappointing, I thought 'never gonna get this one again, even though it's good', then as I continued to sip it grew on me. I realized my expectations where not aligned with the style. As I sipped I got the slight dry chalkiness of the cocoa nibs, the underlying complexities and boldness of the coffee. So from the start of this bottle to the end my opinions have done a 150, not a 180. I thought it was decent to start with, but it has progressed from decent to maybe one of the best coffee beers I have ever had.

Whenever I have a coffee beer like this I want to do a side by side. Here is the issue with coffee side by sides. You have to do them all when the ales are super fresh. My Sixpoint 3 Beans is now a year old as is my Wake n' Bake. So neither is any good for a side by side. I am getting some 2013 Wake n' Bake and have fresh Breakfast stout. So I need to get to it when the WnB arrives. The time for my Sixpoint side by side went out the door last winter. If someone wants to send me a fresh 3 Beans that would be awesome. It is no longer distributed in West Michigan (shoot me an e-mail and I will send you some locals in return). I really want to do this. I honestly have no idea where each stands having them all at different times.

Back to the Big Bad Baptist, I just got some mild hops on the palate as it warmed. So yes, this is a good ale if you love breakfast beers. I do, especially when I have the week off work and I can start drinking before lunch.

4 Elf Party - This weekend!

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Founders - Sweet Repute

Sweet_Repute.JPGThis week saw the release of Founders Sweet Repute. Sweet Repute is a maple syrup bourbon barrel aged wheat wine. It is formerly known as Nemesis 2009. Founders discontinued the Nemesis series due to infringement issues with a copyright claimed by DuClaw brewing.

A light brass color, with huge notes of caramel on the nose - this is a very balanced wheat wine. The hops are not dominant, just perfect. I find it to be reminiscent of Boltcutter. The barrel aging adds a very smooth balanced character. Nothing is over the top about this ale. I mean that in a good way, no one flavor dominates over the others. The other great thing about this ale, is that at present, there is plenty to go around. I would recommend picking up a bottle to try, and one to age. Although it doesn't need any aging what so ever. I put this pretty high on my list of backstage releases. Maybe right next to CBS. Fortunately the hype associated with the Goose Island releases has overshadowed Sweet Repute and allowed it to slip in under the radar.



Two Beers - Jive Espresso Stout

jive.jpgI have just spent the last few hours writing a paper for an economics class. It has pretty much drained my soul of any meaningful prose. Somehow I managed to at least turn it into a paper about food. Something semi-culinary beats economics, but it's still miles away from ale. If I had a lick of economic sense I would brew everything and leave the whale chasing and beer hunting to everyone else. If I was really Mr.Fiscal I suppose I would just give up drinking.

Wow just mentioning such a thought seems to bring my fingers to a halt. But I don't really care too much about economics. It interests me only so much as it relates to funding necessary expenditures, like surviving stout season without having to sell off any organs. Oh yes, this was supposed to be a review of Two Beers Jive Espresso Stout. It was good. A dark mahogany, decent head, aroma and flavor simular to Great Lakes - Blackout Stout. It has a nice nuttiness and had the extreme smoothness of a well made oatmeal stout. Personally I prefer a deeper richer stout with more unfermented sugars. But you can't knock a solid stout just because it has a reasonable original gravity. It was pretty balanced, medium to full bodied, no off character. I'd probably buy it again.

Winter Beer Festival 2014

Tickets went on sale at 10:00 AM today. It looks like the website is beyond slow. Unfortunately this is becoming pretty common. Some folks, like Three Floyds, have their stuff together and there is little, if any ticket purchasing delay. It would seem more often than not however, that these websites just can't handle the traffic generated by geeked beer fans.

The good news... there are still tickets left!

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Avery - Mephistopheles (Cellared)

NCM_0255.JPGWinter has finally arrived in Michigan, and while I do love winter, it's hard to survive the transition to the snowy, stiff, frigid, and ever so brisk season without a robust stout or two. Last year I reviewed Avery Mephistopheles. It needed some time to allow the high alcohol content to move into the background. I had buried my last bottle in the deepest depths of my cellar to ensure it got the needed time to age. So much so, I had pretty much forgot all about it. Out of sight, out of mind. I had very high expectations last year and I was a bit let down when I ended up with roasted ethanol in a glass. I had expected something huge, something amazing, something that would blow me away. Well, it arrived.

Until I started cellaring ales I had no concept of how much something can improve in the bottle over nine months to year. Cellared for just under a year, this is exactly what I had expected a year ago. A world class ale, at the top of its class.

Initially a bold smokey charcoal, the flavor transitions to a sweet maltiness on the palate. Strong and rich, the vanilla, oak, bourbon, and dark fruits, all meld into a complex dark chocolate profile that leaves the tongue with a slight alcohol burn.

Initially I had assumed this was barrel aged. But honestly I don't see any evidence of that from what I have read. The hops have faded from being very noticeable a year ago to being sublimely in the background now. 

My initial thoughts are that this may be the greatest stout I have ever had, I felt the urge to go pull a Dark Horse BA Plead the 5th just to make sure. But given that this is a non-barrel aged stout that seems a bit unfair, but that's not why I didn't do it. You see the nuances of an ale this great are so important, that I would have to pull both a 2011 and 2012 BA Plead the 5th. As I recall the 2011 had a more pronounced nose. It's like winning or loosing a race by 1/100th of a second. I am just going to say this, if Mephistopheles is not barrel aged then it clearly holds the title of the best Imperial Stout in the world. Better than Dark Lord. The reason - the yeast. Dark Lord's yeast can't handle the gravity and gives up, leaving an extremely sweet syrupy ale, a killer one, but still too sweet. Mephistopheles has the Belgian yeast to back up the gravity.

In terms of overall greatest ale of all time - I would say that it ties with Dark Horse BA Plead the 5th, Bell's Black Note, and Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout - oh and Monster 29 from Dark Horse. Now I know I am being a bit prejudice putting Imperial Stouts over IPA's like Bell's Hopslam or Russian River Blind Pig. I am a hophead, I love IPA's, but hops just can't compete with dark malts. Mephistopheles has hops up the ying yang, but that is not what makes it. It is the rich caramelized sugars that make it what it is. To have such an amazing ale with no adjuncts or barrel aging is just crazy, either way it holds it's own in the top ales of all time in my book.

This ale, along with Firestone Walker Parabola, and Deschutes Abyss are something I will seek out and trade for in the future. One year ago I published my wishlist. It included a six of ales I wanted to add to my cellar, Mephistopheles was included and rightfully so.
 
   
 

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