Thursday, February 28, 2008

Boulevard Dry Stout

Today we'll take at look at another local brewery, Boulevard Brewing Company in Kansas City, MO. To me, Boulevard's brewing philosophy seems to be brewing simple, flavorful, low ABV beers that one could enjoy over a long drinking session (I'm referring to their regular lineup here, not the new Smokestack Series). Their strongest year-round beer, Bully Porter, is only 5.4% ABV. The Dry Stout weighs in at a mere 4.9% and 28 IBUs, but does it have enough flavor to stay interesting for multiple servings?

Pours black with a light brown head. Mellow aromas of milk chocolate and creamy coffee, not as intense or complex as other stouts, but still a pleasing aroma. Flavor has more chocolate and roasted coffee flavors. Swallow is smooth with a subtle dry and earthy aftertaste. Not the greatest stout ever made, but I would easily pick it over a Guinness. While not as interesting as their porter, which I almost never see on tap, I could easily drink several pints and be perfectly happy with my choice. I'll go ahead and give it a B-minus.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Vintage Owd Mac Imperial Stout

This past weekend the great Free State Brewing Company officially turned nineteen years old. Earlier this month they held a beer banquet to commemorate their anniversary. This weekend was a little more low-key. Friday through Sunday they served up some of everybody's favorite specials from the last year, like their awesome tuna tartar. And of course, they busted out the beer, and plenty of it. They had several seasonal beers on tap including Bowersock Bock, Fireside Imperial Pilsner, Coeur de Saison (The Wife's favorite), and Old Backus Barleywine. But the real star of the weekend was the 2005 vintage Owd Mac's Imperial Stout.

Owd Mac is a big, burly stout that is aged in oak whiskey barrels from McCormick Distilling Co. in Weston, MO. It's also the inspiration for the first part of my name (owd is an old english way of saying old and Müller is the correct spelling of my family name, in case you were wondering). The very first time I tried this beast was back in '01 or '02, I ordered it to with a burger during a work lunch. Oops, little did I know that I was about to try my first oak aged beer, and probably the strongest beer I'd ever had...during lunch...with coworkers. Luckily I made it through the rest of the day, and headed back for more. Owd Mac was the most unusual and unique beer I had ever had, I was a big fan.
Now that I have a little more seasoning and a more experienced palette, I couldn't wait to taste a four year old sample. The appearance is a thick murky black liquid with no head, none. Big nose is full of dark treacle, vanilla, oak, hints of raisins and bourbon. The longer you sit and sniff it the more flavors you can pick out. The first taste is molasses and caramel accompanied by vanilla and traces of burnt oak. Mellow and complex at the same time. The finish is fairly dry with lingering raisin and licorice flavors, alcohol is barley noted. The mouth feel is like a watered down syrup. There is no carbonation which gives it a very unbeer like feel. Alcohol slowly warms the belly. An acquired taste, but very good. While I admire Free State for serving this on cask, I think it could benefit from a touch of forced carbonation to give it a livelier feel in the mouth and really bring out all the flavors. A few bubbles short of an A-plus.

Look at the geek taking notes at the table

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Unintended Consequences

I 'm sure most of you are aware of the increasing cost of your favorite beer. And some of you are probably aware that this increase is being at least partly blamed on ethanol subsidies. Well now the unintended consequences of government interference in the market is affecting almost all food costs. [Environment News Service]

The world is facing the most severe food price inflation in history as grain and soybean prices climb to all-time highs. Wheat trading on the Chicago Board of Trade on December 17th breached the $10 per bushel level for the first time ever. In mid-January, corn was trading over $5 per bushel, close to its historic high. And on January 11th, soybeans traded at $13.42 per bushel, the highest price ever recorded. All these prices are double those of a year or two ago.

And its not just affecting your budget, in some parts of the world a small increase in the cost of food can equal death.

The World Bank reports that for each 1 percent rise in food prices, caloric intake among the poor drops 0.5 percent. Millions of those living on the lower rungs of the global economic ladder, people who are barely hanging on, will lose their grip and begin to fall off.

So who is responsible for this perversion of basic economics, why it's our fearless leaders in D.C. And their corporate whores buddies. [U.S. News & World Report]

The federal government gives preferential treatment to domestic, corn-based ethanol in the form of a 54-cent-per-gallon tax on imported ethanol, which largely affects Brazilian producers of ethanol from sugar cane. That tax comes on top of a 51-cent exemption from the federal excise tax on gasoline that goes to fuel mixed with ethanol.

These subsidies raise the demand for domestic ethanol. That drives up the price of not only the corn used to produce the ethanol but also of wheat and soybeans, which farmers plant less of because they switch to corn. That, in turn, translates into a scarcer supply—and higher prices.

While corn-as-fuel might have started out as the bright idea of some hippy who wanted to stop greenhouse gases it was large corporate bribes that created the current situation. []

The ethanol explosion began in the 1970's and 1980's, when ADM's chief executive, Dwayne O. Andreas, was a generous campaign contributor and well-known figure in the halls of Congress who helped push the idea of transforming corn into fuel.

For those of you who vote, McCain seems to be the anti-ethanol choice, at least for now. [Bioenergy Business]

While supporting wider use of biofuels, McCain is opposed to subsidies for ethanol production – a stance which may have cost him a victory last month in the state of Iowa, which is a leading US producer of ethanol and its main US feedstock, maize (corn). Rather, he thinks that there should be a broader mix of sources for biofuel production beyond maize, such as sugar cane and switchgrass.

I'm guessing that higher beer and food prices are here to stay for the foreseeable future. The hop shortage will clear up in a couple of years, but the unintended consequences of the government's abuse of power will take decades to overcome.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Old No. 38 Stout Keeps on Rollin'

Now that I'm finally over my head cold and I can smell again, its time for another stout review. Today we'll take a look at North Coast Brewing Co.'s Old No. 38 Stout. Opened in 1988 in Fort Bragg, California, North Coast is one of the early west coast micros. The late, great Michael Jackson once said that it was "possibly the best stout made in America." Pretty big billing for a little 5.5%, 53 IBU Irish Dry Stout.

Pours nearly black with a ruby edge and a frothy tan head. Aroma has hints of coffee, cocoa, and some citric hops. Not an overwhelming nose, but a pleasant one. Dry roasted notes with a touch of figs and chocolate in the middle that leads into a dry finish with touch of a citric tanginess to it. Flavor fades fast with little to no aftertaste. There's enough carbonation to to give a creamy mouth feel thats a little on the light side.

Best stout in America? Probably not, but this is a good sipping stout that would make a nice session beer. Grades out at a solid B-plus. Now, I wonder if I can find this on tap somewhere?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Fermented News

The idea is to bring you interesting beer related news and links at least once a week. Enjoy.

A local look at the hop shortage - Free State is altering their IPA recipe. This is bound to get worse before it gets better. [LJ World]

A somewhat technical artical about a fancy new temperature control system at Bell's Brewery [InTech]

The first casualty in the Carlsberg and Heineken split aquisition of Scottish & Newcastle, Britians last major brewery [Guardian]

Is real ale the second? [Bromley Times]

A-B's monopolistic distributorship polocies come home to roost [Rocky Mountain News]

I wish politicians would make bets like this...[Daily News Tribune]

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

S.P. Dinsmoor's Scotch Ale

Tonight we take a look at S.P. Dinsmoor's Scotch Ale from Free State Brewing Company located here in Lawrence, Kansas. The beer is named after Samuel Perry Dinsmore, who created the somewhat famous and completely weird Garden of Eden in Lucas, Kansas. I wish I had some kind of crazy story to add in here about a drug-fueled road trip to the Garden of Eden, but I've never been, so you'll have to settle for a boring beer review.

The beer pours with the color of brewed tea accompanied by a small newspaper colored head. The aroma is a mix caramel and a distinct smoke aroma from the peat smoked malts. The flavor profile starts with caramel and prune sweetness that quickly fades into a smoky, chalky swallow. The body is smooth and mild.

Overall, a pretty good beer. Not a beer I anticipate or seek out, but the peat smoked malt gives it enough uniqueness to earn a solid B. For extra credit it helped add an extra layer of flavor to my Chipotle Super Bowl Chili.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Hunting Yeti

Saturday, while out shopping in big box land on the south side of town, The Wife and I stopped in at Mass Beverage to pick up some provisions for the weekend. Mass Beverage has the best beer selection in town, it's a shame it's located so far away from the converted garage we're forced to call home (it's nice, but really, really small).

They have a bunch of shelves in the back with a large selection of single bottles for mix-and-match six packs and also plenty of bombers, 750ml bottles, and imports of various size to chose from. There is also a large cooler section with more six packs and bombers. I settle on a six pack of North Coast Brewing Co.'s Old No. 38 Stout for daytime activities and a bomber of Great Divide Brewing Co.'s Yeti Imperial Stout for my Saturday nightcap.

After enjoying a closer-than-it-should-have-been victory by the hometown Jayhawks and a dramatic victory by Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Budweiser Shootout in the evening I was ready to get down to business.

Yeti is a year-round offering from Great Divide that comes bottled in 22 oz. bombers. It's brewed in the Russian Imperial Stout style. Basically a high alcohol, highly hopped version of a regular stout. It was originally brewed by British brewers for export to Russian Czarina, Catherine the Great who had a healthy appetite for stout. Yeti weighs in at 9.5% ABV with a hefty 75 IBUs, not the biggest stout on the block but, this mythical beast will be more than enough to send me off to dreamland.

Hugo says: "Drink more stout or I'll eat you!"

The pour is a thick, black color with a dark, frothy head that looks like chocolate mousse. Initial aromas are of sweet molasses, you should really let this stout warm up to around 50-55°F before pouring - I skipped this step. After warming, the complex malt bill began to reveal aromas of milk chocolate, creamed coffee, and a touch of roasted malts. The hop additions revealed themselves as mostly piney, earthy aromas, but also a hint of fruity citrus aromas.

The first sip brings the roasted malts more to the fore, also some semi-dark chocolate and a touch of caramel sweetness. The mouth feel is rich and full with enough carbonation to give it a velvety smoothness. The swallow finishes dry with lingering bits of slightly burnt pine needles and dark chocolate flavors. Also, a slight warming effect from the alcohol.

Overall, I give it an A grade. A big, bold beer, you'll need to take your time and sip it slowly. I definitely enjoyed it, and I'll buy more, but I'd recommend sharing it with a friend, 22 oz. was a bit much for me.

Bumble likes to eat cookies with his stout.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Obovoid Empirical Stout

I'm on my way home from work and I have orders form The Wife to stop and pick up a bottle of wine, and of course that means I'm also grabbing some beer. So, I pull into Smitty's Wine and Spirits at Antioch and College Blvd., my goto spot on the way home from work (yeah, I work in the Magical Land of Blah, aka Johnson County). I've decided that February, my first month of blogging, is going to be all about stouts. I have a bottle of the huge Bell's Expedition Stout waiting in the beer fridge and I wanted to warm up with something a little tamer. I settle on a bottle of Obovoid Empirical Stout from Boulder Brewing Company in Boulder, Colorado and a bottle of pinot noir. After a light supper consisting of some bland, Target salmon and some tasty cumin coated roasted carrots, it's time to get down to business.

Obovoid is a oak aged oatmeal stout weighing in at 7.5% ABV. This is the 8th release in Boulder Beer's Looking Glass Series of extreme brews. To date, I've been pretty impressed with the Looking Glass Series, Hazed and Infused is a most try. Tonight will be my first dance with Obovoid.

Obovoid pours a dark, thich brown with a frothy mocha colored head. Oak and damp earth mixed with chocolate and just a touch smoke provide a delicate and inviting aroma. The flavor starts off with a brief, malty sweetness that quickly fades into a mix of toasted oak and dark chocolate with some earthy hops dancing around the edges. The swallow leaves a lingering taste of bitter chocolate and a woody dryness. This stout is medium bodied and very smooth, the alcohol is completely hidden and unnoticed.

Overall I give it an A-minus grade. This is a smooth, quick drinking stout. I like how the oak from the barrel aging is mellow and subdued, I'm not sure if the oatmeal contributes to this or not, but it is a good introduction to wood aged beer. Next I'll have to kick it up a notch to a slightly bigger, bolder stout.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Free State Beer Banquet

On February 6th, 2008 my wife and I attended the Free State Brewing Company 19th Anniversary Beer Banquet. This is the fifth banquet that we have had the pleasure of attending. The dinner includes a five course meal (appetizer, salad, intermezzo, entree, and dessert) and eight different beers selected to match the food.

The evening started with an aperitif, Stille Nacht (silent night) from Brouwerij De Dolle Brouwers in Diksmuide, Belgium. This Beligian Strong Dark Ale clocks in at a hefty 12% ABV. Stille Nacht is a tawny colored beer with an off-white head. Initial aromas are of sweet raison bread and spice. Drinking adds additional flavors of caramel and that classic belgian yeast flavor. This rich, full bodied brew finishes with a spicy burn from all the alcohol.

Next on the menu is 1809, a berliner-style weissbier from Brauerei Weihenstephan in Freising, Germany. This pale, straw colored ale has a lemony tart flavor to it that makes it a perfect match for the appetizer. Egg on toast with hollandaise vinaigrette, sheep's cheese and micro-greens. The tartness in the vinaigrette was a perfect compliment to the 1809.

Our next beer is the classic Hoegaarden Original White Ale, the beer that revived the now popular witbier style. This beer and brewmaster Pierre Celis are the main reason you see posers everywhere sucking on bottles of Blue Moon. While I was enjoying the yeasty, citric, and spice notes of the well made Hoegaarden, our server brings out a butter lettuce wedge topped with gorgonzola, carrot-corriander salad and a raisin vinaigrette.

This is the point in the night where we start getting two beers for each course, also the point where my notes start to go downhill, not sure why.

To finish off the salad, we had a glass of Boulevard Brewing Company's Long Strange Tripple. This strawberry blonde brew had a melon-like sweetness that provided an interesting contrast to the gorgonzola and acidity of the vinaigrette, while the corriander provided a match to the subtle spiciness in the tripple.

Next stop on our tour of belgian beer styles is Leffe Blonde, a belgian pale ale that used to be brewed by monks in Belgium but is now, like Hoegaarden Brewery, just another piece of the InBev empire.

While the Leffe had a subtle mix of light honey sweetness and clove spiciness, the intermezzo, a huckleberry cumin sorbet, was much more bold in its mix of sweet and savory. The interplay between the fruit and the cumin was very unusual and quite interesting, like making taco meat with fruit instead of meat.

Leading into our main entree, we finally get one of Free State's own, S.P. Dinsmore's Scotch Ale. The peat smoked malt (the same malt used to make scotch whiskey) used in this ruby brown colored ale adds another level of complexity to the malty sweetness.

Finally, the main course. A big bowl full of seared beef sirloin with brussels sprout kraut, parsnip mash and a spiced malt reduction. This was one delicious dish, the meat was perfect, and the reduction had a slightly orange twang to it that made the whole dish really pop.

The second beer served with the entree was, La Seigneuriale, a strong belgian ale from the crazy Canadians at Unibroue. This copper hued brew greeted us with some citric aromas folowed by some rich raison and yeast flavors that played well with the food.

Finally, I've made it all the way to dessert! We start off with another Free State brew, and one of my wife's favorites, the Cœur de Saison is a saison or farmhouse style belgian ale. The hazy amber colored ale has a floral and lightly citric aroma with a yeasty, fruity flavor and a long, dry, slightly spicy finish.

Dessert is a delicious banana custard on white chocolate brownie with vanilla cream, local honey and strawberry syrup. The dryness of the saison provides a yin to the sweet yang of the dish, a perfect finish to the evening.

Chef Rick Martin and Head Brewer Steve Bradt have put on another awesome evening of beer and food glutony. I'm already anticipating next years event. If you ever get a chance to attend a beer dinner of any kind, I recommend seizing the chance. Cheers!

Special thanks to my wife for taking all the awesome photographs!