Thursday, April 28, 2011

Brasserie de Rochefort (Abbaye de Notre-Dame de Saint-Rémy) - Trappistes Rochefort 10

Let's learn a little about Trappist beer, shall we? First of all, to be considered a Trappist beer, the beer itself must be brewed in a monastery by Trappist monks. According to Wikipedia, there are 171 Trappist monasteries throughout the world (including a few right here in California) but only seven are authorized to label their beer "Trappist Beer." These breweries are Chimay, Westvleteren, Orval, Westmalle, Achel, Koningshoeven (the only one in The Netherlands) and Rochefort. With the exception of Achel (1998) and Orval (1931), all of these breweries were opened before 1900. As a whole, they have a reputation for producing beer that is meticulously crafted and some of the best beer in the world. In fact, Westvleteren's "Westvleteren 12" is rated the best beer in the world by both and So the Trappist monks really know their stuff when it comes to producing good beer.

One Trappist beer that caught my eye a while back was Rochefort 10. Brewed by the monks in the Abbaye de Notre-Dame de Saint Rémy in the tiny town of Rochefort in the south of Belgium, a decent amount of the beer the monks produce makes it over to the states. The abbey produces three different beers: Rochefort 6, Rochefort 8 and Rochefort 10. The numbers refer to the strength of the beer so Rochefort 6 is the least alcoholic of their offerings and Rochefort 10 has the highest alcohol content. While I definitely plan on trying the other two, Rochefort 10 was at the top of my list and I was able to pick one up from a local Whole Foods.

Rochefort 10 pours a syrupy-looking dark brown color a smallish tan head that disappears pretty quickly. The end result is a liquid in your glass that looks the color and consistency of a dark maple syrup. This caught me off guard a bit because one of the qualities I've come to expect from Trappist beers is a fantastic looking head. This one smelled different, too, with strong notes of tootsie roll and brown sugar along with raisin and a hint of banana. At first, the smell was pretty weak, but as the beer warmed, the smell opened up like crazy.

Any skepticism I had about this beer disappeared as soon as I took a sip. This was definitely a Trappist beer. There's a lot of sweetness upfront that seems to split itself into different categories of sweet. I got a lot of malt sweetness along with brown sugar and raisin and just a hint of coffee bitterness in the background. At first taste, the beer doesn't seem to show signs of it's high ABV (11.3%!) but on the finish, a lingering warmness creeps up in your mouth and leaves an almost peaty, drying finish on your tongue. What separates this beer for me are all the nuances within the taste that show me that the beer was well-crafted. Those monks know what they're doing.

Final Grade: A

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 20

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Top 100...And Beyond!

As you may have noticed, there's been a shift in the focus of my reviews. Over the past few weeks, I've made it a point to check off as many beers on beeradvocate's Top 100 list as is humanly possible. Rather than fight my tendency to want to taste the best beer possible, I'm embracing it and changing the title of my blog. Is that much really going to change? Not really. Let me explain.

As I've already said, my ultimate goal is to review all of the Top 100 beers in the world. As of today, here are the ones I've reviewed:

#2 Russian River Pliny the Younger
#3 Russian River Pliny the Elder
#8 Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout
#11 Deschutes The Abyss
#16 Russian River Supplication
#17 Bell's Hopslam Ale
#18 Trappistes Rochefort 10
#23 Ballast Point Sculpin India Pale Ale
#30 St. Bernardus Abt 12
#39 Russian River Consecration
#54 Tröegs Nugget Nectar
#58 Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout
#62 Ayinger Celebrator Dopplebock
#68 Alpine Exponential Hoppiness
#77 Alpine Bad Boy
#81 Alpine Pure Hoppiness
#89 Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter
#90 Russian River Blind Pig IPA
#91 Alpine Nelson
#96 Bootlegger's Knuckle Sandwich

So that's 20 out of far. Keep in mind that the list is in a constant state of flux so this number could go up or down depending on how favorable the reviews of certain beers are. For example, one of the beers that I've reviewed, Bell's Two Hearted, was at #98 on the list a few days ago but has since dropped off. Depending on how reviews of it are in the next few weeks (or months), it could return.

While my ultimate goal is to try the last 80 beers on the list, my mission remains to continue to taste and review new beers, no matter what their "rank." The beers that didn't make the cut will still have a place in this blog and fall under the "Beyond" category in the title (kind of like what Bed Bath & Beyond did with their title, except here you'll actually have an idea of what the "Beyond" is).

So please enjoy my quest and feel free to let me know if you happen upon a beer you think I should review.


Bootlegger's Brewery - Knuckle Sandwich

I hadn't even heard of Bootlegger's Brewery until a few weeks ago when I saw their Knuckle Sandwich Double IPA on beeradvocate's Top 100 list. As it turns out, the brewery is just over an hour away from me and turns out some decent beer. As I started looking more and more for some of the brewery's offerings, I came upon a few of their beers but not the one I really wanted to try- Knuckle Sandwich. Eventually, I assumed that it was a special release and one that I wasn't likely to find anytime soon, so I gave up trying. Then, I happened to be in Beverages 4 Less in Santee when the owner got a case of new beer in that he said he thought I might like. He opened up the case and pulled out a bottle of...Knuckle Sandwich!

Knuckle Sandwich (great name, by the way) pours a dark ruby color with a small sand-colored head that holds up pretty well. I picked up smells of candied citrus, banana, citrus hops and a slight bit of funk.

I was expecting this one to be really hoppy and the citrus hops got the taste off to a good start. They hit the palette hard and peppery with some flavors of grapefruit pith and lemon rind. There's a slight hit of malt in the middle before a finish that's full of hop resins. Overall, this was a pretty solid Double IPA. I don't know if I would put it in the Top 100, but it's a good beer that I'm glad to have finally found.

Final Grade: A-

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Founders Brewing Company - Founders KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout)

Ever since I started to get into beer, I've wanted to try Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout. Sitting at #8 on the Top 100 list on beeradvocate, KBS is a beer that isn't easy to find, especially if you live in California. I was finally able to get this beer through a trade with a guy from Cincinnati and opened it with some friends on Friday.

Kentucky Breakfast Stout pours an impossibly black color with a thin, tan head that goes away as soon as it forms. The result is an intimidating liquid in your glass that looks like motor oil. The beer is cave aged in bourbon barrels for over a year, but I didn't get much of the bourbon barrel aging off the nose. Instead, I picked up a massive amount of freshly ground dark roasted coffee along with some dark chocolate and fudge. What stood out the most for me was the coffee. The intensity of the smell was astounding. So far, this beer was living up to its hype.

I took one sip and instantly knew that this beer was deserving of all of its praise. Again, huge dark roasted coffee flavors jumped out, but they were tempered by some equally prominent notes of dark chocolate and a touch of vanilla. The blend of coffee and dark chocolate is incredibly well done. This beer is an absolute must have for any beer lover and it's tough knowing that I probably won't see it again for a while. Still, I'm so glad to have gotten to try this one. Until next time, KBS.

Final Grade: A+

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Russian River Brewing Company - Supplication

The big thing in beer right now is sour beers (also known as Wild Ales). While these aren't exactly a new idea (the Belgians have been doing these forever), more and more breweries have started to do their takes on the style. In the U.S., perhaps no other brewery does it better (or more often) than Russian River. Russian River's "tion" beer series is one of the more interesting lineups out there. Most of the beers (Temptation, Sanctification, Beatification, etc.) are sours while a few are done in traditional Belgian styles (Salvation, Mortification, etc.). As of now, Russian River has 16 "tion" beers in their lineup, some harder to find than others. The one that is rated the highest in the series is one called Supplication. Supplication is a really interesting beer that starts as a brown ale and is then aged for over a year in used pinot noir barrels. During the aging process, three strains of yeast (including the infamous Brettanomyces strain) are added along with sour cherries. The resulting beer is then bottle conditioned (meaning that it will continue to ferment in the bottle) and shipped out. At #17 on beeradvocate's Top 100 list, it's a beer that's in high demand. The most recent batch of Supplication just hit stores a few weeks ago and I was lucky enough to land a bottle.

Supplication pours a slightly hazy ruby orange color with a beautiful, tan cap of foam that sticks around for the duration of the beer. The smell is big and tart with obvious hints of the brett. I picked up a lot of sour cherries and wood along with some hints of bubblegum and a bit of marzipan. The smell of some sour beers is all brett, but this one does a nice job of keeping it in the background.

The taste is incredible with a big punch of sourness that seems to be a combination of sour cherries and apple cider vinegar. There's a hint of nuttiness and spiciness that creeps in the taste at the finish and leaves you wanting more. A lot more. This is the standard for me as far as sour beers go and will be very tough to top.

Final Grade: A+

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Privatbrauerei Franz Inselkammer KG / Brauerei Aying - Ayinger Celebrator Dopplebock

It's become a goal of mine to try all of the Top 100 beers of the world as rated by While some of these are near impossible to find, I've made it a point to get my hands on what I can. So far, I've reviewed 17 of the top 100 and I have another 3 or 4 in my possession. One beer that I was surprised to see on the list was a beer I had seen in the beer fridge almost every time I had gone into a local beer store- Ayinger Celebrator Dopplebock. Trader Joes carried Ayinger's Oktoberfest beer a few months back and I was really impressed by it, but I didn't think that it was by a brewery capable of producing a Top 100 beer. But sure enough, Ayinger's Celebrator Dopplebock is sitting pretty at #62 on the list, ahead of such great beers as Bell's Two Hearted, Alesmith IPA and Alpine's Nelson. Not bad company to be in. So I made a trip out to the liquor store and picked up a bottle.

Celebrator Dopplebock pours a very dark brown color that almost looks like a dark maple syrup. The beer has a pretty sizeable mocha-colored head that rises up nicely in the glass and shows good retention. On a side note, I have to say that it was a great touch by Ayinger to put a goat ornament (the goat is the official animal of bockfests) on the bottle. Well played, Ayinger.

Usually, I'm not a huge fan of bocks, but this one smells like it has potential. I got notes of freshly baked rye bread, raisin, roasted malt and a bit of nuttiness.

Taste-wise, this one lives up to its high ranking. It's rich and bready upfront with a nice malt sweetness that doesn't overpower the palette. Molasses and hints of smoke, slight hop resins and a faint spiciness are also present. Overall, this was a pleasant surprise and without a doubt the best bock I've ever had.

Final Grade: A

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Bell's Brewery, Inc. - Bell's Hopslam Ale

Recently, I completed my first beer trade. Though it may have taken a little longer than expected, I was thrilled with the end result. The trade ended up netting me six great beers that I can't get here in San Diego (including two that are rated in the top 20 in the world on Beer Advocate and one bottle from a batch of only 900) and a can of Cincinnati's famous Skyline Chili. Overall, a pretty good trade. One of the beers that I was most excited to try was Hopslam, a huge Double IPA from Bell's Brewery in Michigan.

Hopslam pours a slightly hazy honey color with a smallish, white head and nice lacing down the glass. On a side note, the bottle art is pretty great. The picture on the label is of a guy being flattened under a huge hop cone. Nice touch, Bell's.

The smell of this one is hoppy, but also really sweet. There's a lot of honey here as well as citrus hops, honeydew and a slight bit of earthiness.

For me, the best part of this beer was how nicely it was balanced. The hops aren't as huge as I was expecting, but they were there enough to be enjoyed. There was a lot of malt and honey sweetness towards the middle of this but I was glad to find that the sweetness wasn't overwhelming and the hops returned on the finish. This was a great beer and one I'm really lucky to have gotten to try.

Final Grade: A

Monday, April 11, 2011

Alesmith Brewing Company - Wee Heavy

How about a new style? "Wee Heavy" is another name for a Scotch Ale and is characterized by being malty, roasty, sweet and high in alcohol. What's not to love? For my first dive into this category of beer, I was lucky enough to try a 2 year old Wee Heavy from Alesmith, which happens to be rated the third best representation of the Wee Heavy style on Beer Advocate. Needless to say, I was pretty excited going into this one.

First of all, a big thanks to Beau for sharing this one. He'd been aging it for 2 years in his wine refrigerator and it aged perfectly.

The beer pours a dark mahogany color with an absolute beast of a head. It rose up as soon as the beer touched the glass and took a long time to settle. It ended up staying at about two fingers above the beer itself and gave the beer a really appealing look.

The smells coming off this beer are mind-blowing. I don't know if I'd ever smelled a beer that smelled this intense. There were huge aromas of freshly baked raisin bread and fruitcake, cinnamon, nutmeg and fig. Even as the beer warmed, the aroma was huge.

I didn't think anything about this beer could impress me more than the smell, but the taste definitely came close. The raisin flavor is huge and dense; like taking a handful of ripe raisins and shoving them into your mouth. There's also a bit of a rum flavor that's pretty delicate along with some spiciness that keeps the raisins from completely running the show. Some brown sugar sweetness also adds a nice touch to this beer. Even though this beer is 10%, the alcohol is well hidden and the only real trace I got of it was in a sort of warming, peaty taste that I found on the back of my tongue long after I had taken a sip. Overall, this beer is an absolute must-try. I don't know if it can top Speedway Stout, but this is without a doubt one of Alesmith's best.

Final Grade: A

The Lost Abbey - Cuvee de Tomme

There aren't a whole lot of beers out there quite like Lost Abbey's Cuvee de Tomme. It's the spawn of the head brewer of Lost Abbey (and formerly of Port Brewing) Tomme Arthur. The base of the beer is Lost Abbey's Quadruple, which is then aged for a year in bourbon barrels with a massive amount of cherries. I had heard mixed things about this beer. Some reviews swore it was the best thing ever to come out of Lost Abbey while others said that it lacked carbonation and was completely undrinkable. Either way, I knew that it was something I had to get my hands on. I was able to find one a few months back and I opened it last week alongside my friend, Beau, who happens to be a wine connoisseur. Because this beer has been said to have a lot of wine-like characteristics, I felt he would be a good judge of how well the brewery pulled this one off.

The bottle comes corked and caged like a lot of Lost Abbey's offerings. The differences between this beer and every other beer I've had with a cork became apparent once the cork came off. When you pop the cork off a bottle of champagne, the pressure inside the bottle caused by the high levels of carbonation make the cork rocket off with a huge "Pop!" Most beers that are corked don't have the level of carbonation of champagne, but when you take the cork off, they release a low pitched popping sound that let you know that there's some carbonation in the bottle. This is good because it tells you that the yeast in the bottle has been doing it's job eating the sugars and creating CO2. When you pop a bottle of Cuvee de Tomme, it sounds like you're popping the cork off of a liquid that's about as carbonated as maple syrup. There's no "pop" and no release of gas from the bottle, the cork just kind of slides off. Luckily, I had read some reviews of this beer and knew that this was to be expected. What I wasn't expecting was the beer itself.

Cuvee de Tomme pours a murky, muddy brown color that looks like sludge. Never in my life have I seen a beer that looked this ugly. Some beers are unfiltered and that gives them a hazy look. The addition of bacteria such as brettanomyces can also cloud a beer and make it look hazy. But this one was out of control. The color in the middle was much darker than the rest of the beer and there was absolutely no head whatsoever. Beau and I exchanged "What the hell?" looks before we gave the beer a smell. And from there, things got a bit better.

The beer smells way more interesting than it looks. The cherries jump out right away and bring a bit of a sour note with them. Paired with the cherries are some strong red and black currant notes. There's a bit of blackberry jam in the background as well as some vanilla. The beer is aged in bourbon barrels, but neither of us could detect a trace of bourbon.

The cherries make up the majority of the taste as well, and there's a good amount of tartness throughout the taste. Though this beer is labeled an "American Wild Ale" (ie. sour), that punch of sourness is lacking and a more wine-like tartness and dryness comes into play. The tannins (which Beau says come from the fruit skins themselves) are more present here than I've ever tasted in a beer before and give the beer a nice, dry quality. We both agreed that the lack of carbonation didn't detract from the beer at all. Some beers really are better without carbonation and this happens to be one of them. The one thing against this beer has to be the price. At $40 for a bomber, this puppy is way overpriced. I was able to pick up a 375 ml for much cheaper, and I'm glad that I didn't pay any more than I did for this. It's a good beer, but not anywhere near a top-tier beer and that's what it's being priced as.

Final Grade: B