Beer Madness 2010

The Madness begins anew, and alas, I am not a judge again this year. This year’s competition goes global, featuring 32 beers from 22 countries. Previous competitions were more localized to beers that were at least readily available in the DC area. So, let’s take a look at the contenders.
The Lager bracket features a diverse lineup of international stalwarts (Stella Artois and Heineken), Asian up and comers (Tsingtao and Singha) and last year’s lager winner The Raven. The favorite would have to be Pilsner Urquell, one of the purest examples of lager brewing out there.
The Dark bracket at long last includes Guinness, but is extremely competitive. Kostrizer Schwarzbier, Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout and Brooklyn Brown are strong contenders.
The Pale Ale side has some intriguing first round matchups. Newcomer Nogne O takes on stalwart Fuller’s ESB and Chimay Red goes up against Smithwick’s Irish Ale. Any one of them could win the region, but my favorite is still Troegs Hopback.
Finally we have the Freestyle bracket, with everything from fruit to funk. This is always the most interesting bracket to me, and it’s unfortunate that two beers like Ephemere and St. Louis Framboise have to go up against each other in the first round. I think Ephemere takes the region, but watch out for wild card Hitachino Nest White Ale.
Final Four prediction: Pilsner Urquell, Brooklyn Brown Ale, Troegs Hopback, and Ephemere. Winner: Troegs Hopback.

North Coast Pranqster

Golden orange color, head is mostly just light carbonation, doesn’t stick around much.
Light aroma, not picking up much. A bit of spicy pepper almost, with some banana too.
It’s got a bit of bite to it, but definitely cloves and some fruitiness to lighten things up too. The sweetness is what lingers on the palate, which is a good thing. Good Belgian flavor overall.
Overall rating: 4.05

Bell’s Sparkling Ale

Pale gold color. Average head with a little lacing on the glass.
Yeasty, sweet aroma. Definitely throws me into a Belgian state of mind.
Very fruity, very sweet taste. There is a little bit of peppery bite, but the orange sweetness tends to dominate. Smooth going down too.
Wish I could be more descriptive, but getting over a minor cold is killing me. Even so, my senses were awoken by this beer. Very good.
Overall rating: 4.3

Terrapin Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout

My wife’s observation: “So what’s the latest motor oil you’re drinking?” That describes the look pretty well. Black as night, the head was about a finger, hung around for a while, but didn’t leave any lacing for me.
Aroma really pops with the coffee. Good coffee too, not something that’s been burning on the hot plate of your mechanic’s all day.
Pretty straight forward flavor too. More coffee, a bit of burnt malt. Searching for something else, but not coming up with anything. Only the slightest bit of alcoholic warmth at the back of my throat, which is a good thing.
Unfortunately, the burnt flavor is what lingers to me, with that little alcohol burn too. I personally couldn’t drink more than one of these at a time, that coffee is really almost overwhelming. I’d go with the Founders Breakfast Stout myself.
Overall rating: 4.05

De Proefbrouwerij Van Twee

Collaboration beer with Bell’s Brewery’s John Mallett. Uses Michigan cherries, Belgian candi sugar, Brettanomyces yeast, and New Zealand hops.
The recipe for the tourtière we had for dinner tonight suggested pairing it with Unibroue Maudite, but I figured this was a close enough substitute.
Poured into a tulip glass: dark brown with a nice almost stout-like head. Actually froths back up a little when disturbed, good lacing.
Roasted malt aroma, bordering into chocolaty. Hint of fruit wafts up as well.
Well balanced flavor. More strong roasted malt, into coffee this time. Definite strong cherry flavor once you let it warm on your tongue for a little while.
There was a funkiness to this beer somewhere along the line, but also a fine sweetness too. Really interesting beer that I might have to pick up again soon.
Overall rating: 4.3

Jolly Pumpkin Baudelaire Eyo

Actually poured two glasses of this: once into a regular pint glass, then into a tulip glass. Ruby color shows through. Big saison frothy head (very big in the tulip glass) which dissipates quickly (more slowly in the tulip, again).
Light funkiness in the aroma, a little bit of something sour in there as well, hard for me to get much of anything, even with the tulip glass funneling it up.
Nice sour bite right off the bat, rolling around the top of my mouth. The usual Jolly Pumpkin funk is there as well, but it has to fight the tartness to get through. I honestly expected more earthiness for a Jolly Pumpkin saison, but I do like the balance achieved here. (Some might say there’s a conflict, as I mentioned earlier, but I’m gonna go with balance.)
Pretty dry finish, that pucker hangs around a little bit too.
Overall rating: 3.85

Bell’s Hopslam Ale

Light orange color, just okay head and lacing.
Here comes the good part: one sniff and your senses start to light up. Bright and citrusy are the words that come to mind. I mean, even my sorry excuse for a nose can pick up the grapefruit and pineapple aromas.
The flavor is much more pine resin laden. Not a bad thing, just very different from what you pick up in the smell. Definitely lots of bitterness.
Like many other people, I wonder how this could possibly be a 10% ABV beer. It’s big on the hops, but nothing like an imperial stout where you get a lot of vinous qualities from the alcohol. Very smooth and goes down easy. Dangerously drinkable.
Overall rating: 4.3

Jolly Pumpkin Ale Absurd (Baudelaire Series: Rye Tripple)

Picked this up over the holidays when I sadly missed out on their lambic limited release. My label specifically calls this a “Rye Tripple.”
Poured into a tulip glass, and overflow into a pint glass. The bottle started spewing like champagne immediately, and even after pouring into the glass, foam continued rising out of the bottle so I had to pour it into another glass. So, in the glass was a hazy orange beer with half a glass of stiff white frothy head. It eventually settles down to a good head that stays with the beer, leaving some of that stiff stuff on the glass.
Funky aroma that you come to expect from the Pumpkin, but also a rather sweet aroma there as well. Kind of a sour aroma wafting up too.
More of a tart flavor than I might have expected. Some of the rye comes through too. Definitely peppery, in fact, that ends up being the dominant lingering flavor on my palate. Interestingly enough, turning the glass to drink in some of the lacing, you get a little bit of an extra funky flavor. There is a tiny bit of sweetness floating around there too.
Not sure that I’d drink a whole lot of this, but it is definitely an interesting experiment for the Jolly Pumpkin guys. Keep up the good work.
Overall rating: 3.85

2009 Favorites

It’s time to close out the aughts with one last year-end wrapup. Let’s take a look back at the year that was, shall we?
I slacked off a little bit this year and only got through 32 books. But quality, not quantity, was the word this year. I really only felt like two or three books were real clunkers (*cough*Dan Brown*cough*), and there were a lot of 4 and 5 star ratings. Some of my 4-star ratings are ending up on other people’s top books this year! The clear non-fiction favorite was The Lost City of Z. Fiction is not so easy. The Gone-Away World was one of the most original I read. At Swim-Two-Birds was my favorite “classic.” If pushed to pick an overall favorite though, I’d have to go with City of Refuge, but be sure to check out all my reviews from the past year, lots of good ones I haven’t mentioned here.
Only 19 beers this year, definitely slacking on that front. By far the favorites came from the newcomer to the DC area, Founders Brewing, with their Breakfast Stout, and Red’s Rye.
Of course, one of the big reasons I slacked on beer reviews was the fact that I became custodian of my neighbor’s kegerator, definitely a big highlight this year. Evan started preschool this year, big for him. If you asked Ellie, her highlight would probably be the fact that we had a lease membership at the pool this year, so she got to have her birthday party there. We also went to see Bruce Springsteen in concert, awesome. The Spartans made it to the NCAA basketball championship game, but lost to UNC.
Last but not least, the highlight of the entire year was finally going to Ireland. Did I seriously never get around to writing about that? Jeez, what a slacker.

Magic Hat Howl

Dark beer with red highlights and a thin head that fades quickly.
Lots of roasted malt aroma.
Plenty of chocolate malt in the flavor which pretty much takes over. There is some hop bite trying to break through, but it gets smacked down by the chocolate roasted malt.
A tad thin on the mouthfeel, but that keeps it on the lighter (drinking, not color) side of things.
Overall rating: 3.6