My lovely wife thoughtfully bought me a bottle of The Bruery’s Saison Rue for Valentine’s Day, along with a Beer Club membership to Grateful Red. Grateful Red is a beer and wine store on Wilson Blvd, in Arlington, VA. It is small, but they do get some harder to find beers here. I recommend it as worthy of at least a visit. The Saison Rue I cannot say enough about. I literally loved this beer. It is a Saison made with rye and with Brettanomyces yeast. Before I tried it, I expected to get a pop from both. A spicy jolt from the rye and a sour jolt from the Brett. However, this beer was so well balanced, I got neither. Instead, it is a very smooth saison with subtle spicy overtones from the rye and a hint of pineapple and fruity esters from the yeast. The head pours thick and foamy and lasts a while. It pours a nice hazy, dark golden color. The aromas of banana, citrus, honey, a little grassy hops and just a hint of the rye shine through. A five out of five proper pints if there ever was one.
Run to Norm’s Beer and Wine in Vienna, VA, or wherever else you might be able to find this one. This is a show stopper. Evil Twin is a brewery in Denmark making American style craft beers with a creative twist. This one in particular is a Saison/Farmhouse style ale with some Brettanomyces (“Brett”) yeast added. Brett is a wild yeast that is, until recently, considered the enemy of brewing and wine making. It is commonly used to make Belgian Lambic beers. However, a recent trend in brewing has been to experiment with using it on other styles and to do so by purposely adding it in, rather than just open fermenting the beer. The results can be great, but sometimes it can just make the beer too sour. Thus, the use of a blend of yeasts including Brett has begun at some breweries. The results in this case are awesome. As it happened I had this one with a pork chop and a spaghetti squash mixture with pears and pecans in an apple cider vinaigrette. What a happy accident. The beer naturally has a combination of apple and banana aromas and the slight sour flavor of green apple with some lemon. As you can see in the photo, the head is enormous and the beer retains it well. This gives the beer a light body and feel that is very refreshing. It is still a little cold outside for this one right now, it would be a perfect Spring or Summer beer. It doesn’t stay around long wherever you find it though, so if you can find it, grab it. Five out of five proper pints.
Met up with some friends from Afghanistan a couple of nights ago and went to my favorite local beer bar, Galaxy Hut. I did a little research before going to see what they would have and noticed on the menu, Boulevard’s Rye on Rye. This is an interesting combination of a Rye Pale Ale aged in Rye Whiskey Barrels. Four kinds of hops are added as well. Interestingly, brown sugar is added as well. This is a big beer and you can tell right away. The ABV is 12%. You can smell the whiskey as soon as you pick up the glass. Like some big beers, this one tends toward being a little sweet, but not annoyingly so. You can really taste the whiskey distinctly. You can also taste the brown sugar. The spicey flavor of the rye comes through as well, along with a little hoppy bite. This is a complex beer. If you see it, I highly recommend grabbing it. Five out of five proper pints.
During a marathon card game on my recent trip to Denver, which followed the brewery tour of Fort Collins, I had the opportunity to try Upslope Christmas Ale. Given the number of different beers I had already tried by the time I got to Upslope, needless to say, my palate was wrecked. Conditions for a true tasting were less than ideal. However, Upslope still managed to shine. It poured light brown in color with a small white head that dissipated quickly. There were definitely aromas of Christmas spices, especially cinnamon and clove. Since this is made with Belgian yeast, the characteristic yeasty aromas also hit your nose. It tastes a lot like a Belgian dubbel with some added spice. It also has a little bit of a fuller body like a dubbel and clocked in at 9.3% ABV like a dubbel. It was very nicely balanced and drinkable. I don’t know if you can find Upslope outside of Colorado, but if you see this one, I would jump on it. Four out of five proper pints.
Odell was the highlight of my brewery tour of Fort Collins. I also went to the Fort Collins Brewery, Equinox, New Belgium and Funkwerks, but Odell was the nicest of all. Also while I enjoyed the pure deliciousness of Funkwerks saisons the best, Odell has more variety and all are good. While I was here, I tried the Red, which is a red or amber ale, the Legal Pad Session Ale and the Lugene Chocolate Milk Stout. The Red was nicely hoppy, with a fragrant flowery nose. It was a bright amber color with a good sized white head. It was well carbonated as well. It would be a great accompaniment to pizza or maybe pasta and marinara sauce. The Legal Pad Session Ale was a blond ale with a relatively low ABV of 5%. The idea is that you can drink more of them in a “session.” It poured a light golden color with a medium sized white head. It had a slightly hoppy aroma and flavor, though less pronounced than the Red. It also had a little more of a watery mouthfeel. It would make a fine lawnmower beer to have while grilling in the backyard or mowing the lawn. The Lugene was dark, pretty near black with a small off white head. There was a roasty and chocolately aroma that was pronounced in the flavor as well. It had medium carbonation and a nice creamy mouthfeel. There might be other stouts I would go for first, but this one is up there. I give Odell five of five proper pints, Lugene also five of five, Red four of five and Legal Pad three of five.
While I was out West, I stopped in Colorado and went on a brief tour of some of the breweries there. Fort Collins is an awesome craft beer town. I visited four breweries while I was there, but there are several more (of course, including Anheuser Busch). Several really good ones are within walking distance of each other – New Belgium, Odell, Funkwerks and Fort Collins Brewery. I would have to say Funkwerks was my favorite in terms of the pure deliciousness of beer. They make all saisons with different variations. As you can see in the photo, I had the flight of their basic choices. The photo below shows the choices. The King and the basic Saison were definitely my favorites. They both shared the fruity and yeasty, light flavor that I enjoy in saisons. The others did as well, but the variations masked those flavors a little too much for my liking. The Single Hop Polaris was interesting. Polaris hops have a very high alpha acid content, which is where their bitterness comes from, but I didn’t like it as much in a saison. The Montagne and Bastogne were good as well. In partucular, I think the addition of Brettanomyces yeast can be interesting in a saison, but I preferred the more traditional saisons here. Overall, I give Funkwerks five our of five proper pints.
While in San Diego I stopped at the Blind Lady Ale House in Normal Heights. This was an awesome craft beer bar and craft pizza restaurant. They had a great selection and a great beer geek vibe. Societe is another new-ish brewery in San Diego that has been doing great things. Their Widow is a dark strong Belgian ale. It comes in at 9% ABV, but you would never know it. It pours black with a large white head. It has a nice fruity, estery flavor and drinks really well. It paired fabulously with the butternut squash and bacon pizza I had. I rate it four out of five proper pints.
While on my West Coast beer tour, I decided to stop in to AleSmith Brewery, which is located near several others, including Societe, Green Flash and Ballast Point, near the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station. AleSmith has a number of great beers made with creative combinations of ingredients. Their regular stout is called Speedway Stout, which is a monster at 12% ABV. There is a basic version, but also a number of other versions made with all sorts of different flavors, including Sour Cherries, Peanut Butter and Cocoa Nibs, Pistachio, Spearmint and different coffees. This one is made with Vietnamese Coffee. For a 12% ABV beer, this was remarkably drinkable. The alcohol was perfectly masked by the flavors. The beer was opaque with a small off-white head. The flavor was roasted malt, coffee, vanilla with a little chocolate. It also had a creamy mouthfeel to it. This may now be my favorite stout. I would rate 5 out of 5 proper pints.
Another one I tried at Stone World Bistro and Gardens. I read about this one recently in Garrett Oliver’s book “The Brewmaster’s Table.” A good read by the way. Since it was on the menu, I decided to try it. It is a classic English Barleywine. It is big on alcohol at 11.5%, so be careful! It did come in a small glass. The other thing about it is, unlike some beers with that level of alcohol, it really didn’t taste like it. It was sweet though. Almost syrupy. It pours the color of honey and has little head. It tastes a little bit of honey, raisins and brown sugar. Not my favorite, but if you were in the mood, I would say go for it. Although it is recognized as a classic, it’s not my style. I would rate it 2 out of 5 proper pints, for my taste.
This was the first beer I tried at the Stone World Bistro. I think I tried it once before and enjoyed it. It is an interesting concept, mixing a California IPA with Belgian yeast. I would say it was a very solid entry by Stone, but not necessarily my favorite. The beer was gold-ish with a little amber. The head was medium sized, off white and lingered for a while. The hop aroma was not as pronounced as with other California IPAs, probably due to the Belgian yeast. There were pronounced fruity ester aromas, a little banana and maybe some pineapple. It was nicely balanced, which could be a disappointment to hardcore hopheads. It was not overpoweringly big on alcohol at 6.9% ABV. I would give it 3 out of 5 proper pints.