Nighty Night

This is a review of Buckeye Brewing’s homage to Belgian strong winter ale, called Nighty Night. This Ohio tribute is a very dark brown coloured pour with a malty nose, where the Belgian yeast strain is quite apparent.
I gather you could call this a big time sipping ale, because everything including the kitchen sink is thrown into this 11.5% concoction, where French Munich, Aromatic, Amber, Pilsen and Chocolate malts, are used along with candy sugar, Styrian Goldings and Tettnanger hops, combined with a French Saison yeast.
Huge in every respect, this big boozy production is full of flavour complexity, although it quickly gets to be a bit too much, which suggests that opening a 22 ounce bottle of this, might be best shared with 3 other people.
Like Weyerbacher’s Tiny, this recipe plays off the Belgian yeast strain. Some folks go crazy over this, but personally, I could take it or leave it. But for those who like curling up on a long winter night and sipping a bomb load of flavours, please have at it.

I guess I am just growing weary of American takes on Belgian ales because so many of the authentic versions from the actual country are readily available. Imitation it has been said, is the sincerest form of flattery.  The fascination with Belgian style ales continues unabated.

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Old And New Brews That Are True

One of the benefits of being a beer seeker for 30 years is you get to experience trends in brewing that have been in decline, suddenly appear brand new. Take the style known as Roggenbier, a medieval ale, as the German Beer Institute points out, made with rye malt. Abandoned for centuries, this ale style is undergoing a revival in the United States, and now receiving national attention, through the introduction of the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company’s latest seasonal, Ruthless Rye IPA.

The use of rye malt in brewing has quite a history. In Finland, Sahti is produced using rye combined with juniper berries. In Eastern Europe, Kvass was created as a very low alcohol drink that existed before the invention of modern soft drinks. Rye malt has been around for a very long time, although mostly unnoticed.

With Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye IPA, you have a dark copper-coloured pour with a spicy nose. With a first drink, the rye becomes quite apparent. Sierra Nevada’s famous hops personality is given a twist here. The peppery notes from the rye abound in this recipe, while the extensive use of whole hop cones, combine with the malts to deliver a complex tasting experience. This has a bit of a bite in the long dry finish, which may be somewhat of a shock to a younger hop focused audience. Thankfully there is also full malt support for the hops abundance. Very well achieved flavour complexity that is astounding in its uncompromising quality.

The old and new combine in interesting combinations. Nowadays, there is all the talk about the craft can beer revolution. But I think back to 20 years ago when friends I knew could not believe I was enjoying beer out of a can. And when they tried what I was drinking, they were quite surprised to find they enjoyed it too. That was Genesee Bock Beer from Rochester, New York. They could not believe such a tasty beer came out of a can. I offered up the thought that the Ball corporation made very good aluminum cans, but that wasn’t the answer. The recipe dated back to 1951, but that was just modern production history, for actually Genesee Bock dates back to 1878.
What a joy it is to have this year’s batch of what is quintessentially an American classic. A flavourful can of beer, long before that notion was even considered cool.

From The Foothills Of The Alps

There was a time when it seemed the most enjoyable beers were part of the winter holidays. Well that certainly can be disputed now by the middle of January, when new spring beers begin to arrive.
Of great interest is the debut of Samuel Adams Alpine Spring, a historically thirst quenching unfiltered lager, using Tettnang-Tettnanger hops, cultivated in the foothills of the Alps. A golden hazy pour, with a meringue like head of foam, presenting a subtle hint of sweetness, combined with the citrus character of this German Noble variety. Time to drink? Oh yes indeed…along the pathway of pleasure. This recipe serves as gentle reminder that all the copious flavor notes mean nothing, if the beer doesn’t actually taste good.

The same can be said of the yearly return of Great Lakes Conway’s Irish Ale. The wonderful juicy profile of this malt showcase is something I will cherish forever. I look forward to it every year, sometime before Saint Patrick’s Day.

Recent Revelations

As 2012 begins to unfold, the first thing (or should that be the thirst thing?) to notice is the ever expanding examples of what is called India Pale Ale in the United States, or IPA. IPA has become a symbol of market magic, at least in the so-called craft beer world, where hop famous brewers such as Sierra Nevada, have abandoned their spring seasonal Glissade golden bock, for yet another hop-centric manifestation called Ruthless Rye IPA, which should be on the shelves around here shortly.
The same can be said of Samuel Adams new year round offering: Whitewater IPA. It seems that hops obsession has become a market segment that can not be ignored. All aboard the IPA train as it were.
The term IPA is given a very interesting interpretation by Widmer Brothers Brewing of Portland, Oregon. Their Nelson Imperial IPA is a remarkable, and very drinkable achievement. Using Nelson Sauvin hops from New Zealand’s South Island, combined with Cascade and Willamette, along with generous malt support from 2-row Pale, Caramel and Carapils, produces an outstanding example of a big shouldered Imperial IPA that I would have to regard as unique. The surprisingly light texture (some might call it fluffy) obscures the 8.6% strength, with an exceptionally tasty smoothness that is balanced perfection.
A completely different approach to IPA , from the same Widmer Brothers, is their remarkable Falconer’s IPA, a loving tribute to brewmaster Glen Falconer, who died in 2002. This is an estery recipe of great dimension. A tropical fruit quality is present in the malty depth that is outstanding. Living proof of Mr. Falconer’s statement that “Brewing is both an art form and a science.”
Yet another Widmer take is their Pitch Black IPA. This combines IPA with a black bier sensibility. Subtly nuanced, this dark delicious pour reveals its hop considerations in the long pleasant finish. What is there not to love?

I am aware that a whole generation of beer drinkers now assume that hop emphasis beers are the normal. Funny how things work out, because I remember the first India Pale Ale I sampled, and this was before Samuel Adams even existed, and that was Ballantine India Pale Ale. This was a unique American beer, in that it was aged in oak barrels, long before the term oak crafted had been co-opted by the craft brew revolution. The first time I tasted it, it reminded me slightly of  Vernor’s Ginger Ale, a soft drink I had as a kid. Which was actually more accurate than I realized at the time, since the Vernor’s of my childhood was also stored in oak. What is even more remarkable that Ballantine India Pale Ale was a full production beer where storage in oak was a simply a prerequisite of the recipe.
Traditional India Pale Ales of the British variety were no way as aggressively hopped as the new world varieties. Anderson Valley’s Hop Ottin’ IPA. An original hop head American IPA that melds the citrus pine resin of Northwestern hops in a new world approach that for many now has become the standard.
Back in the days when Hop Ottin’ IPA first appeared it was considered extremely bold. But this was way before things like Bell’s Hopslam tickled the hop heads’ imagination. Today aggressive and overly aggressive hopped beers have become a craft beer standard.

On other matters, I recently sampled a bottle of Red Hook Pilsner. The one time Seattle based brewer, now brewed across the country, from Oregon to New Hampshire. A rather  tasty Czech-style lager, that was a popular seasonal, that has become a year long slammer which has two interesting aspects. First, the bottle itself, genetically modified version of an old snub nose traditional, with a nonic-like collar between the short neck and body. Which makes me wonder what was the reasoning behind this? But even stranger is this statement found on the label: MAY NOT LOOK IT, BUT HAS A DARK SIDE.
What does this mean? I have no idea.

Lastly, I would like to comment on Goose Island Matilda, one of their Belgian style takes which I found to be a complete waste of time. Emphasizing its cellaring quality “develops in the bottle for up to 5 years” this ale takes the characteristics of Belgium yeast and develops them in a quite unsuccessful way. This is nearly incomprehensible to me, but even more so are those who actually believe that this is what Belgium beer tastes like, in this case, a farmhouse ale, which to some folks means the funkier the better. But this does not apply to The Beer Doctor. I have another bottle of six month old Maltida, which I will give to someone who might appreciate it. To put it diplomatically: I drank one and I certainly don’t want to drink another.

Along The Divide

The new year has brought an investigation into the tasty recipes created by the Great Divide Brewing Company of Colorado. A fan of their annual winter Hibernation Ale, I decided to look into other products in their portfolio, including their delicious take on a “wee heavy”, the Claymore Scotch Ale, which manages to produce a substantial malt presentation.

Oddly it is one of their more expensive  ales I found a bit disappointing, their Espresso Oak Aged Yeti, Imperial Stout, at $10 a 22 ounce bottle, infused with oak chips and coffee, designed to impart flavor complexity. Instead I found an overpriced, rather pretentious presentation that can not quite decide whether it wants to be stout or coffee. Suffice to say I can not recommend this beer. There are much better Imperial Stouts to be had, although I am sure there are people who go YETI crazy over this. I am just not one of those, especially when classics such as North Coast Brewing’s Old Rasputian is once again available. Coffee Stouts have never been something I write home about. Adding coffee to an Imperial Stout is a bit of overkill, even if it meets the demand for the breakfast stout, which has become a craft recipe obsession in some circles.

California beers have grabbed my attention lately. EEL River Brewing Company’s certified organic IPA, is the Scotia, California brewer’s take on British tradition. Although that is a bit of a stretch considering the lively floral fresh presentation of hops, originating from the U.S. west coast, where lupulin effects become a cascade. Even those ales not aggressively hopped, such as North Coast’s Red Seal Ale, have this geographical distinction. Over the top India Pale Ales has been the rage for quite sometime, which has prompted many to abandon other styles in pursuit of this expanding market. But this becomes one dimensional after awhile, where malts are present to support the hops, rather than the other way around. Over-the-top hops is what some folks consider to be the mark of great beer. I thank the universe that this is not my only criteria.