Tag Archives: belgian

Book review: Wild Brews by Jeff Sparrow

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When it comes to brewing wild/sour/funky beer, it turns out there aren’t many resources out there. Unlike homebrewing in general, where you’ll find more “how to brew” books than you could possibly know what to do this, the relatively esoteric niche of brewing both traditional Belgian sours and their newly Americanized brethren are sadly represented both in print and online. Online, you’ll find some great blogs like The Mad Fermentationist, Bear Flavored Ales, and brewing sub-forums like Homebrew Talk’s Lambic & Wild Brewing section. When it comes to print, though, Jeff Sparrow’s Wild Brews is pretty much the only game in town.

This might seem odd considering the glut of general homebrew books out there, but in many ways it makes sense. Brewing sour beers is a very, very small niche when you consider how small of a niche hobby homebrewing itself is to begin with. Also, this book has largely been canonical in the world of sour/wild beer brewing. Finally, it’s just not a part of brewing that is particularly well-understood. The use of Brettanomyces and souring bacteria, in my opinion and experience, is much more of an art than a science. You may be able to brew a house IPA over and over and over that you’ve been able to nail down, but on a homebrew level it’s going to be very difficult to brew the same lambic twice. There are just too many vaguely understood moving parts.

Wild Brew is less than 300 pages, but those 200-some odd pages are densely packed with a ton of information. I was concerned that it would be overly “science-y”, but my fears were unjustified. Even at its most scientifically in-depth sections, the average brewer should have no problem comprehending most of it.

The book starts with an overview and history of the classic Belgian sour styles (Lambics, Flanders reds, Flanders browns/Oud bruins), then proceeds to a whirlwind tour of the breweries in Belgium which brew and sell sours. Many of them you’ve probably heard of (Cantillon, Drie Fonteinen, Rodenbach), but there were a handful that were new to me. There is an illustration section which shows photos of many of these breweries.

It then proceeds on to the science of how sour beers end up like they do, describing the yeast/bacteria involved, the life cycle of fermentation, and the effects of different fermentation vessels that pro brewers use. It then wraps up by explaining how you can make this magic at home and provides a number of recipes that you can use to brew these classic styles.

Verdict? Wild Brews really is canonical for a reason. The information contained in it is damn near exhaustive when it comes to brewing classic Belgian sours. It’s an invaluable asset to any homebrewers who want to start down the path of brewing sours or even for the sour beer lover who wants a better understanding of how the beer he or she is drinking was made. The only qualm I have with the book is that I wish that Mr. Sparrow would issue an updated version of the book. I realize it focuses primarily on the classic Belgian styles of sour beers, but a lot has changed (in particular, in the United States) since 2005 when it comes to craft beer and the rise of sour/wild beers. New strains of Brettanomyces and Brett/bacteria blends have been released by White Labs and Wyeast since then, as well. Overall, though, that’s just me nit-picking and it shouldn’t deter anyone from purchasing this book. Available for less than $15, this is easily the most enlightening homebrew-related book I’ve read since I opened John Palmer’s How to Brew and started down this fun path.

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Beer Review: Duchesse de Bourgogne

In the bountiful world of beer it can be hard, neigh impossible, to be aware of all the varieties of beers! Duchesse de Bourgogne (think Doo-shay de bore-gone-a) is one such beer that escaped my notice for far too long. Luckily the fantastic Richard Dubé VP of Brewing Operations at Cincinnati’s own Christian Moerlein brought this beer to my attention earlier this year by proclaiming his love for it. I had it first at Wildflower Cafe in Mason and realized I must get a bottle for a review and spread the love!

Here’s the description courtesy of Brouwerij Verhaeghe’s web page:

“Duchesse de Bourgogne” is an ale of mixed fermentation. It is a sweet-fruity ale with a pleasant fresh aftertaste. This ale is brewed with roasted malts and with hops with a low bitterness. After the main fermentation and the lagering , the “Duchesse de Bourgogne” matures further for many months in oak casks. The tannins in the oak give the “Duchesse de Bourgogne” its fruity character. “Duchesse de Bourgogne” has a full, sweet and fresh taste : it is a ruby red jewel of 6.2 % alc. vol., that best is served in a chalice-shaped glass between 8 and 12°C [46 to 53°F]. A perfect beer .

  • Type of beer : West-Flemish red brown ale
  • Color : ruby red
  • Fermentation : mixed fermentation

Beer: Duchesse de Bourgogne
Brewery: Brouwerij Verhaeghe
Style: Flanders Red Ale
ABV: 6.2%

An aromatic combo of acetic vinegar sourness, dark fruits, and malt fills your nose as soon as you bring the glass close with a nice oakyness following after.

The color is an extremely dark red, much darker then anticipated. Though if you hold it up to a strong LED light you can see it’s more of cherry red. The head on here is a nice thick and creamy off-white that stayed around until the very end of the glass.

Flavor has a delightful tang of tartness along a touch of oak and some dark cherries. All of that action is on the more acetic/vinegar side of things but it’s balanced out by a nice malt body and some apple sweetness but the sweetness doesn’t linger which is cool.

Medium body and smooth carbonation with a long dry finish though there is some astringent prickliness left hanging around.

This is a delightful and complex beer that I love to have every so often. I wouldn’t advise drinking this every day, but if you haven’t had one yet you should really try it. It should be easily available at all better bottle shops around town and Richard Dubé keeps it on-tap at the Moerlein Lager House.

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Beer Review: Brooklyn Sorachi Ace

Brooklyn Brewery’s Sorachi Ace is a rather unique and special beer. Many brews are made with a combination of hop varieties this beer is very different as it uses 1 single hop from which it takes it’s name, the sorachi ace. While many hops are hundreds of years old and were found growing wild, not so for the sorachi ace. It was custom engineered by Sapporo in Japan in the late 70s from a combination of brewer’s gold and saaz hops, both classic varieties. Sorachi ace also shows off one final unique characteristic by having a flavor of lemon and dill, different then the citrus/grapefruit/grass action of many hops.

So Brooklyn Brewery took this unique hop and used it in the somewhat special style of saison. Saisons are a complex style with a wide range of possible profiles, however, most are dry, moderate strength beers that are refreshing on hot summer days. They’re the second runner up for summer beers next to wheat beers like Bell’s Oberon and Sam Adam’s Summer Ale. Per the Brooklyn Brewery website Sorachi Ace is “a cracklingly dry, hoppy unfiltered golden farmhouse ale, but made entirely with now-rare Sorachi Ace hops grown by a single farm in Washington.”

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Beer Review: Rivertown Lambic (2012 + 2011)

Lambics are some what of an interesting style, mostly because of the funk taste but also the nature of the open air fermentation. Back in Belgium, back in the the old days, brewers would leave their vats of beer open and whatever floated by would settle into the beer. The region in Belgium famous for lambics was lucky enough to have some very special yeast floating through the air that gave it this distinctive funk. Of course they didn’t know about yeast and all that back then. Today those special stains of yeast are added in instead of letting them float on by, at least I hope they are. The other qualification for a lambic is a 30% wheat grain bill. Then they are often aged in barrels before bottling once in the bottle they receive a secondary fermentation to keep them going for years to come!

In fact the owners of Rivertown, Jason Roeper and Randy Schiltz, were home brewing lambic style beers for many years before starting RTB. One of Jason’s home brewed Lambic style beers won the Sam Adams Long Shot competition in 2009 (Boston Beer Company now owns that specific recipe) but the current one is very close. Once the brewery got up and running they made it a priority to keep the lambics rolling and have been releasing a yearly batch ever since. On top of that they’ve expanded their sours to include an old sour cherry porter, Ojos negros (a wild ale), and a gueuze (a blending of 2 vintages of lambic).

Beer: Lambic (2012)
Style: Lambic
ABV: 6.3%
Calories: ~189

Nice hazy amber brown color that revels a hint of gold when held up to light, actually quite a pretty brew. I didn’t get any head even off of a more aggressive pour. There were initially quite a few bubbles but they popped away quickly.

The wild, barn yard-esk, smell pairs well with this lipizzaner stallion thing that happens to be on PBS tonight. There are quite a few other small things I’m picking up like some kind of wood, I think it’s oak that they age it in, and of course some sourness.

The first sip of any sour always reminds me of Vincent Price’s line from Thriller “the funk of 40,000 years” which is, in my opinion, an almost perfect way to describe many sours. Though in this case it’s just the funk of 1 year, because that’s how long it was aged. Plenty of tart sourness that throws your tongue for a loop and makes your head shutter a bit. There is more of that oak wood flavor as well as some bread action and lemon zest.

The body is on the light side of medium and there is light carbonation.

One quick note on the label, if you notice it says 2012 on there, but wait… this just came out and it’s 2013, what’s the deal?? Well this beer was brewed in 2012, stashed in oak barrels to age, then bottled and distributed in 2013. I don’t love sours but I do really enjoy shaking up my palate with one of these every once in a while and I can fully appreciate the styles. Sadly many can’t and I hope that changes, it certainly seems to be changing across the craft beer scene. Sours are becoming more popular and produced more often across the country. The sweet thing about having Rivertown make so many nice sours is that they’re easy to get for us, this is currently available at the brewery and is, or will be soon, at stores around town. Another great thing with Rivertown in town is that sours age fantastically, so without further delay I present today’s review of last year’s lambic!

Beer: Lambic (2011)
Style, ABV, and Calories are the same

Pours a curious combo of orange brown and a bit of yellow, kind of like dark honey. Again very hazy but this time around it started with a nice white head but that quickly faded into a ring of tiny bubbles around the edge of the glass.

Picking up more citrus along with that barnyard, funk, and bread. Like eating a fresh biscuit while riding a horse in an orange grove.

Far less of that tart sour kick it to the palate like before. The year in the bottle has really mellowed this out. Still plenty of funky sour flavor along with some lemon citrus, and malt biscuit action.

Plenty of carbonation tickles my tongue while the medium body slides across it.

This is a much more preferable brew to me. Plenty of that funk but none of that initial shock as it hits your lip. Aging is really very beneficial to this beer and I strongly encourage folks to pick up at least 2 bottles, 1 for now and 1 for the cellar. Also may want to pick up 1 to trade. Now you may be saying “dang, I didn’t think ahead last year and didn’t buy 1 to agree. Woe is me!” luckily for you Belmont Party Supply in the Dayton planned ahead for just such an event last year and still have plenty of the 2011 left, hence the ugly vintage 2011 sticker on the bottle shown.

And if you want to go back even farther here is Josh’s review of Rivertown’s 2010 Lambic. I’d like to try one of those today to see what 3 years has done to it!

Many thanks to Randy Schiltz for helping me out with some facts, oh and for brewing this beer!

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Beer Review: Rockmill Tripel

Rockmill is a semi-local brewery from Lancaster, Ohio. Lancaster is about 2 hours from here and slightly south-east of Columbus. They make the somewhat lofty claim that their local water ” is nearly identical in mineral content to that of Wallonia, Belgium, where Belgian ale originated.” They also use all organic ingredients in their beers. I’ve seen the Triple, Dubbel, and Witbier at various locations around town for a while now but have resisted trying them due to the $15 price. I drink a lot of beer and that gets expensive fast so when I’ve always opted for the $10 bomber/750 over the $15 one. I’m not sure why I changed my mind and finally picked this up but I’m glad I did!

Sorry for the poor quality

Brewery: Rockmill Brewery
Beer: Tripel
Style: Belgian Tripl
ABV: 9%
Calories: ~270 per glass

Super dense and cloudy orange brown with skim of white head.

Oh man, ultra pungent flowery aroma jumps out as soon as you pop the cork. Lots of spices, banana, cloves, loads of yeast, bit of bread.

Nice classic tripel flavors showing off some floral hops, much more banana taste, some other fruits like lemon and citrus stuff. Really nice and complex flavor.

Medium body with a pretty smooth feeling and a fair bit of carbonation.

No real sense of the 9% which is nice that you can enjoy this without it being in your face. Super awesomely complex aroma and taste are both very enjoyable. I strongly regret waiting so long to have this. $15 is kinda steep and is why I held off so long but honestly for a very small brewery making beers like this it’s not an unfair price. One thing to note was how hard it was to get the cork out. I’m not sure what that means but I had to get out the wine opener and fight with it a bit. Also kinda accidentally poured the yeast in and didn’t keep it separated too well.

This review was just on their tripel but coincidentally and unbeknownst to me  fellow Cinci beer blogger Queen City Beer Nerd has just posted a review of the dubbel. I picked this bottle up at Jungle Jim’s Eastgate and you can check the Rockmill website for other locations around town as there are a few too many to list here.

I enjoyed this so much that I’m going to find some time this summer to get out to the brewery and try their other beers. I will, of course, let everyone know what I discover out in the rural Ohio countryside!

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Beer Review: Victory Silverback

After my recent post on Victory’s Storm King imperial stout the comments on reddit brought to my attention a delicious idea I’d never heard before. Turns out that at the Victory brewery you can order a beer called a Silverback, now you won’t find this on any store shelves, it’s a mixture of half Victory Golden Monkey and half Victory Storm King. The white head from the Monkey on top of the black body from the Storm King give this brew it’s Silverback name. I’ve had a black and tan before, Guinness stout & Bass pale ale, and quite enjoyed them. However I have no idea what to expect from a stout and a Belgian tripel except for one thing; both of these beers are over 9%,so I will be drunk!

I poured the Golden Monkey first and ended up using a bit more then half of that before I got to the Storm King. I’d read that this didn’t separate this well like Black & Tans so I tried a trick and poured the Storm King on a spoon over the Monkey, as you’ll see it didn’t layer well either.

Very interesting appearance for sure. Kind of a dark brown or purple color beverage with a milky white head with streams of brown from the Storm King.

Woah, pungent aroma with plenty of roasty malt action as well as some flowery hops. Oh and a strong dose of alcohol.

Taste is curious as well definitely picking more of the stout here then the tripel. Strong malt body and taste with citrus and pineapple hops not found in any other stout I’ve encountered. Hints of chocolate, caramel, orange peel, and lots of “zest”.

Holy carbonation Batman! I’ve had fresh soda flatter than this, man those are some tingly bubbles, all riding atop a smooth medium body.

This has to be one of the most interesting beers I’ve tried. Not nearly my favorite by any means but most interesting for sure, no style has ever come close to this menagerie of taste and flavors. They’re good and all but not great, and that carbonation is a little over powering. This is certainly worth a try just bring a friend to split it with. Remember what’s interesting isn’t always the same as what’s good.

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Guest Post: Jake Metzler from Midwest Supplies on the entire Chimay Lineup

[Ed.: Today we have a great guest post from Jake Metzler, a writer for Midwest Supplies. Jake spends his free time writing songs, brewing beer, and drinking his creations. He’s still perfecting the practice of doing all three at once. He also has a growing collection of brewing supplies. Thanks for getting in touch with us and providing us with this piece!]

Chimay Beer Review and the Search for the Rare, Golden Chimay Dorée

Whether you’re a Trappist monk at the Abbaye Notre-Dame de Scourment in Belgium’s Hainaut province or a beer-lover, chances are you’re familiar with Chimay. For the sake of readers that aren’t members of a Belgian beer-brewing monastic order or haven’t encountered Chimay secularly- it’s a top-shelf brand of ales much sought by connoisseurs. There are three varieties publicly offered by the Chimay Brewery: Rouge (Red), Blanche (White) and Bleue (Blue).

Should this inspire you to seek out some Chimay, it’s probably my duty to moderate the hypothetical sticker-shock. While not Châteaux Lafite-expensive, you can expect to pay between $5.50 and $8… per 12 oz. bottle. Chimay also comes in 750 ml bottles that will set you back between $11 and $15. However, there’s another variety of Chimay that would set you back considerably more than $15 to acquire (unless you’re one of the previously-mentioned Chimay Trappists)…

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Beer Review: Mt. Carmel Ardennes

Friday night was the official launch of Mt. Carmel’s newest beer in their Snapshot series. Previous entries have been the fantastic Third Shift Imperial Coffee Stout (my review of it) and Obsidian, an imperial black rye IPA I have yet to try. Many folks had an opportunity to try this at Listermann’s Starkbier fest last weekend but I had prior obligations so I was psyched when I heard this was coming to Dutch’s. A perfect blend of my love of Belgians, my love of locals, and my love of Dutch’s! Patrick Clark, Mt. Carmel’s brand manager, was on hand for the event and provided some background info on this brew:

We’re trying to go for a Belgian quad that’s not heavy on the palate but that’s got the flavor of a quad. What I love about this beer is that you pick up on the yeast notes right up front. So you get the notes of the clove, the notes of the banana characteristics that are true to form [of classic Belgian styles]. Then it goes into a very pronounced malt body that you can pick up on. There’s a sense of that sweetness that’s also balanced by the acidity that’s there that kind of goes into the finishes of a sweet orange peal and a little bit of spice. As it warms more of a rounded nature comes forward creating for a very complex kind of beer. We’re very excited for it because it’s the first local quad that’s been done.

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Beer Review: Clown Shoe’s Tramp Stamp

Ahh the Tramp Stamp, that famous female upper-ass tattoo of the late 90’s and early 00’s, the female counterpart to men’s tribal tattoo. Both were a hot fad until people realized they had these tattoos forever and these tattoos made them look a bit like a douche. Luckily this beer won’t make you look like a douche, unfortunately it doesn’t last forever. While in Atlanta for Christmas my dad took my brother and I to The Beer Growler. While they had over 50 some beers this one immediately stood out to me. First for the brewery name then the beer name. I knew I’d heard good things about Clown Shoe’s beer but couldn’t remember where I heard it or what beer I’d heard about. As soon as I took a taste of the sample they gave me I knew this was going in my growler. I ended up buying a bottle of it and filling my growler with it again before leaving town. That growler is getting drunk tonight for New Years Eve, but before all that gets going read my thoughts after the jump.

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Beer Review: Westvleteren 12

The day has finally arrived. 12/12/12. I’ve talked about the hype behind this beer before but I’ll very quickly say that this has been rated as the best beer in the world and has been one of the hardest to get. Starting today, and likely only today as it will sell out, the monks have changed their rules so instead of only buying it at the abbey you can buy it across America.

Westy 12 brick

I was lucky enough to win a lottery drawing to be able to pay $85 for the 6-pack + 2 glasses. Some are going to the basement for aging, some are being saved for a tasting with friends, but 1… 1 is going down tonight!

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