It’s been far too long since my last potable post, hasn’t it? Let’s take an intermission from the usual heady fare, and consider some heady brews instead. I’ve been to two beer tastings recently. The first was a festival of holiday beers, mostly American, a few months ago; the second was an import tasting, just this past weekend. I’m not going to transcribe all of my “tasting notes” (and yes, I do know how snobby that sounds :), but just hit some of the highlights. Following these selective notes and recommendations, I’ll give you the full list of everything I tried.
The Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock is an exceptional beer, literally the smoothest beer I’ve ever tasted. It has a definite chocolate syrupiness, but it’s not at all overpowering. A wonderful sipping beer. It’s expensive (around $16 per 25oz. bottle), but well worth it.
Gulden Draak Ale is something of a Belgian version of the Sam Adams Chocolate Bock (or vice versa, to be more accurate). It too is delicious, expensive, and sold in a 25oz. bottle. It’s been around quite a bit longer, too. In 1998 the American Tasting Institute selected it as the world’s best-tasting beer, so just think about that if you find yourself with a chance to try it. At 10.5% alcohol by volume, it is also one of the world’s most potent.
The Stone Brewing Stone Smoked Porter was a new experience for me. This is from the same guys who brought us Arrogant Bastard Ale, which you may have come across. The secret ingredient (outlandish though it sounds) is Scottish peat moss, and the porter does indeed have a smoked taste. I imagine it would be fantastic with salmon.
Saint Arnold’s Christmas Ale is very nice, without excessive spiciness. I mention it mainly because it’s brewed here in Texas, but according to German purity laws. Saint Arnold’s has several other nice beers as well. Their limited edition IPA, Elissa (named after the 19th century barque moored in Galveston), is exceptionally good.
It may surprise you, but Wells Banana Bread Beer is not the only (nor even the first) banana bread beer I’ve tried. I had one about a year ago in Vermont. This one comes from England, and it’s both unexpected and delicious. It’s really more like a dessert than a beer (cf. the Sam Adams Chocolate Bock and Gulden Draak). It doesn’t taste precisely like banana bread, but the smell is absolutely dead-on.
Shiner Holiday Cheer may be my favorite flavored beer of all time. The Apricot Ale from Pyramid and the Sam Adams Cherry Wheat are two others I love, but this one, from the little brewery in Shiner, TX, edges them out. If you can find it, you have to try it. It’s made with peaches and pecans.
Chimay is one of only six genuine Trappist beers, and the Chimay Grand Reserve Blue is a very good, and very potent (at 9%), example. It carries a beautiful balance of flowery yeast, bitter hops, and rich malt (the latter, the least). It feels heavy in the mouth, but it’s surprisingly light.
Blanche de Chambly is a French-Canadian beer brewed in the Belgian style. A white beer (like the Belgian Hoegaarden, which I also recommend), it has light, delicious citrus overtones. Wonderfully complex. All three of the Unibroue beers I tried were complex, delicious, and each different from the others. The Blanche de Chambly was my favorite of the group.
Orval is another of the six genuine Trappist beers (the others, in addition to Chimay, are Rochefort, Westmalle, Westvleteren, and Achel). The Orval was hoppier than El-ahrairah, and remarkably bitter, with a tall creamy head. The fellow doing the pouring could have used a lesson or two, though, as he poured most of the flavor into foam.
The San Miguel Lager is notable for one reason only: with it, I added a new country to my “beer travels” — the Philippines. The beer itself, though, was bland and boring. They intended to have the San Miguel Dark, which I probably would have liked better, but I got stuck with a rather too conventional lager instead.
And now, here’s the full list. And remember, lest you think me a total tippler, this was two events, not one — okay, even so, I may be a total tippler. :)
How many of these have any of you tried?
Holiday Brews (21)
Abita Christmas Ale (New Orleans)
Blue Moon Full Moon Winter Ale (Canada)
Boulevard Nutcracker Ale (Kansas City)
Deschutes Jubleale (Bend, OR)
Leinenkugel Fireside Nut Brown Ale (Chippewa Falls, WI)
New Belgium 2° Below (Fort Collins, CO)
Oscar Blues Dales Pale Ale (Lyons, CO)
Pyramid Snow Plow Ale (Seattle)
Rahr Winter Warmer Ale (Fort Worth, TX)
Saint Arnold’s Christmas Ale (Houston)
Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock (Boston)
Samuel Adams Cranberry Lambic (Boston)
Samuel Adams Old Fizzwig (Boston)
Shiner Holiday Cheer (Shiner, TX)
Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale (Chico, CA)
Stone Brewing Stone Smoked Porter (San Diego)
Summit Winter Ale (St. Paul, MN)
Wells Banana Bread (England)
Widmer Brr (Portland, OR)
Woodchuck Limited Cider (Springfield, VT)
Wychwood Bah Humbug Ale (England)
Ayinger Bräu-Weisse (Germany)
Blanche de Chambly (Canada)
Chimay Grand Reserve Blue (Belgium)
Chimay Red (Belgium)
Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse Spaten (Germany)
Gulden Draak Ale (Belgium)
Hofbrau Hefeweizen (Germany)
La Fin du Monde (Canada)
Peroni Nastro Azzurro (Italy)
Petrus Gouden Tripel Ale (Belgium)
Pilsner Urquell (Czech Republic)
Piraat Ale (Belgium)
San Miguel Lager (Philippines)
Smithwicks Irish Ale (Ireland)
Spaten Oktoberfest (Germany)