Craft Beer Advent Calendar – Day 17

Beer 17

Today’s beer comes to us from Yorkshire, England.  The Wold Top Brewery is located on 600 acres of farmland in Yorkshire.  Owned by the family for generations, the traditional farm was not bringing in enough revenue.  The decision was made to diversify – after 8 years of planning and discussing, in 2003 they brewed their first beer.  Since then they have grown to include numerous traditional recipes and brew many beers that are distributed around the UK.

Being on a farm, brewery owners Tom and Gill use ingredients that they grow right on site.  Leaving space between their crops to allow for biodiversity, they make every attempt to brew using sustainable methods and local self-grown ingredients!  The beer we will be trying from them today is a seasonal that is typically brewed as a cask ale (a beer brewed and served from an oak cask) that they have bottled for limited distribution.  The beer is called the Marmalade Porter!

Porters, like stouts, are dark and heavy beers that have been malted heavily.  They are rich and often flavored with chocolate, coffee, or caramel malts to give them some balance to that richness. This one uses both barley and corn malts. It was rare to see corn malts in a beer until recently when the numbers of those with gluten intolerances soared.  Now we find corn and even sorghum malts used in beers to make them “gluten free.”  This one is not 100% gluten free – while it does meet the requirements for those who simply have an intolerance, it would not be good for those with celiac.  On to the beer!

Rating: 75/100

Appearance: Rich dark brown with no apparent head.
Smell: Chocolate, coffee, caramel and sweetness are apparent in the smell.  Hints of orange at the end.
Taste: Rich and heavy with a strong malt flavor and good sweetness.  Has an odd metallic taste to it and a strange after taste that I attribute to the use of corn malts.  Flavors are good and it is not overly sweet.  Not a high quality porter but a unique one in the use of corn malts and the flavor profile.
Mouth feel: Rich and full bodied with mild carbonation.
Overall: A standard porter. Nothing spectacular about it but it also does not have anything really dragging it down other than the metallic taste and the odd aftertaste.  The choice of malts was a good one, other than perhaps the use of corn malts in this case.  The flavor profile is nice and provides for a good balance.  Corn malts in a porter where malts are super important is a risky choice.  I don’t think it worked here.
Do I like it: I didn’t not like it, I’ll say.  It is definitely not my favorite beer and one that I likely wouldn’t want to have again.  It is a beer that I’d be fine drinking if there was nothing else but not one I would seek out to drink again.  Overall it’s an average porter and an average beer.

Craft Beer Advent Calendar – Day 16

Beer 16

My wife thinks that as this beer calendar progresses I am becoming more difficult when it comes to my reviews.  I was thinking about it, and I honestly might be.  Not because I am treating the beers differently, I believe, but because I am trying so many fantastic beers it is difficult not to compare them to one another.

There are 3 more beers until I am off for my travelling. Today’s beer comes to us from the beer-soaked land of Belgium. Oud Beersel brewery brings to us their Belgian Ale “Bersalis Kadet.”

The brewery started in 1882 and is located about 10 km from the Brussels city centre in the southwest of the capital. It is one of the last remaining authentic lambic breweries and is known of its lambic beer brewed in the tradition brewing method.

Lambic matures up to 3 years in wooden barrels before being blended to make Oude Geuze, which is the young form, or first fermentation of the lambic beer.  Sour cherries undergo fermentation in this immature lambic beer and after a second fermentation Oude Kreik is created, which is the matured version of this beer. This spontaneous fermentation and unique brewing process is possible because of the presence of special micr-oorganisms in the region.  It is only possible in this region due to the existence of what they call “wild yeast” native to the Zienne valley where Brussels is located.

Luckily for me, because we’ve already tried a beer like this (Krampus), this particular beer brewed by Ould Beersel is a Belgian Ale that is brewed in the standard method. It is a Belgian beer brewed in the style of a lager.  Lagers are a type of beer that is fermented and conditioned at low temperatures.  The most common one consumed is a pale lager but other types include pilsners, and Märzen style lagers.  Let’s give this one a try!

Rating: 73/100

Appearance:  Clear golden brown/amber hue with significant head that retains very well.
Smell: Yeasty on the nose with caramel malts and grassy/lemony notes from the hops.
Taste: Cool and crisp with a dry finish.  Slight fruitiness with a good sweet from the malt and a dry bitter finish from the hops.  Good summer beer very reminiscent of a pilsner in flavor with its lightness and dry crispness.
Mouth feel: Light body with crisp carbonation.
Overall: Crisp, cool and refreshing this beer certainly brings a lot to the table.  The sweetness is not overpowering but nor is it really there.  There is some lacking in the flavor department as things tend to drift off as you get to the finish.  While dry and bitter from the hops, it’s not really anything noticeable.  This beer is good, but it lacks overall for other beers of the category..
Do I like it: I did enjoy the beer.  It was refreshing.  The flavors, while not overly noticeable, were still appealing and provided a nice good beer to go with a meal.  It’s like they say, you don’t want a beverage to overpower your meal.  This one would certainly be a good food beer as it allows the flavor of the food to come through.

Craft Beer Advent Calendar – Day 15

Beer 15

My wife and I were going over in our heads the countries and continents we have already seen so far this month.  We were figuring out which continents we have yet to visit of the 6 featured.  So far we are only missing Africa and Asia.   I guessed that we would be seeing a beer from South Africa shortly and lo and behold, today’s beer is from Africa!  South Africa to boot.

Porcupine Quill Microbrewery is located in the Valley of 1000 Hills, Bothas Hill, Kwazulu Natal, South Africa.  Bothas is 600km southeast of Johannesburg and is on the eastern edge of South Africa right on the ocean. They produce beer under 3 labels: Porcupine Quills, Dam Wolf and African Moon. They produce a total of 8 beers under the labels in a variety of styles.

The brewery is located in the same building as a deli in the Bothas region and they serve locally made food as well as their local brew.  The brewery itself is a 6 barrel brewery system imported from the UK.  Another rather small brewery, they are only producing 980 litres of beer at any given time.  The system can only use whole flower hops as opposed to manufactured hop pellets, which are used in many other brewing processes.  This gives a fresher hop flavour to beer and combined with their chemical free production method makes for a very “wholesome” beer.

One important thing to note is that this brewery does what is called “natural bottle conditioning” for the beer. Conditioning has to do with how the beer becomes carbonated. While many larger breweries will artificially carbonate beer by forcing CO2 gas into the entire batch of beer, bottle conditioning is more traditional for small batch beer.  It is, actually, how home brew is carbonated.

At the end of the fermentation process some residual yeast is still in the beer.  Extra sugar, typically dextrose as it dissolves best, is added just before bottling.  This allows the beer to carbonate while in the bottle.  This results in a yeastier smell and flavour to the beer as well as mild sediment.  It is however also a more natural way of carbonating the beer.

The beer we are trying from them today is the Porcupine Quills Karoo Red. It’s an American amber ale that has been highly hopped with Williamette whole flower hops to give it a pronounced bitterness.  Coming in at 49 International Bitterness Units (IBU), it’s right up there with any IPA.  Similar in style to the Hopped Red Ale we had from Australia, I’m curious whether the makers of the Calendar consider this to be a different style simply because it is called a Red Ale rather than an India Red Ale.  Either way, I am excited to give it a try!

Rating: 77/100

Appearance:  Cloudy amber with no noticeable head.
Smell: Caramel, yeast and floral notes from the hops.
Taste: Sweet malty caramel that flows smoothly into bitterness that is enjoyable for those who like it.  Certainly well-hopped.  Balance is right for a hoppy beer with the sweetness making way for the bitterness on the finish and allowing it to shine as the star.  The hops in this beer are one that carry a citrus flavour that blends well with the other flavours, caramel, malt, and slight yeastiness from the natural bottle conditioning.
Mouth feel: Medium bodied beer that is well carbonated and has a coarse mouth feel.
Overall: Excellent hoppy red ale that shows of the flavour of the Williamette hop while still balancing well with the sweet malts.  The yeastiness from the bottle conditioning detracts somewhat from the overall flavour of the beer and brings the overall flavour of the beer down a bit.  While it is a decent red ale, there is certainly room for improvement.
Do I like it: Yes, I did like this beer.  I am a big fan of hops and I love having the opportunity to try ones which are being showcased.  Having a single hop in a beer and allowing it to shine is an excellent way to give someone the opportunity to really taste a particular hop.  Most IPAs and hopped beers use multiple hops to create broad flavour profiles.  I really enjoyed getting to try the Williamette hop and I’d be happy to see it show up in other beers.

Craft Beer Advent Calendar – Day 14

Beer 14

We are now on the 14th day of the beer advent calendar.  I wanted to take a minute to remind you that I will be travelling and so I will not be reviewing the last 5 beer until I return from my trip.  I will be having the opportunity to try some unique beers and will be taking notes on them so that I can blog about those as well.

For today’s beer we have flown back across the ocean and have arrived in Austria.  The brewery Loncium, located in the village of Kötschach-Mauthen, Gailtal, Carinthia, near the Italian border has produced the beer that we will be trying today.

The brewery itself was founded in 2007 and has been expanding since then.  They are far away from being any sort of corporation and take to heart the nature of craft beer by producing small batches of what they like to call “artisanal beer.”

They don’t provide many details of themselves on their website but they do talk a lot about craft beer and the importance of it.  They even go into its history and paint a wonderful picture of small batch brewing.  The beer that we have the pleasure of trying today is the Imperial Schwarze Gams or an Imperial Dark Bock.

Bocks are a style of beer that are dark in colour, malted, and lightly hopped.  They were first brewed in the 14th century by German brewers.  Originally brewed in Einbeck, the style was named for that town.  When it spread to Bavarian region the inhabitants mispronounced the name as “ein Bock” (a billy goat) and thus was born the beer we now call bock.  As a visual pun to this mistake, most bocks have a goat on the label.

In Austria, where this beer is from, Bocks are typically only brewed at Christmas and Easter time which makes its inclusion in the advent calendar no coincidence.  I’m excited to give it a try, so let’s get to it.

Rating: 80/100

Appearance:  Pours a clear dark brown with a short loose tan head that diminishes rapidly leaving a thin skim.
Smell: Mild smoke, floral notes, chocolate, vanilla, and liquorish notes on the nose.
Taste: Sweet taste that combines well with mild smoke and bitterness to provide a complex flavor profile that includes the vanilla and chocolate notes as well.
Overall: Body is a little light for a bock but the sweetness and balance make up for that.  The beer is an excellent addition and is great for these cold winter months. Good example of a bock from Austria.
Do I like it: I’ve really grown to appreciate bocks.  There malty flavor profiles and complexity bring a lot to the table and are very flavourful.  This one does not disappoint and I did rather like. I would be happy buying this one.

Craft Beer Advent Calendar – Day 13

Beer 13

So begins the second half of the CraftBeer advent calendar.  The first half of it was rather good.  As a recap on the countries we have visited so far we have: Norway, Finland, England, United States, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Mexico, Iceland, Brazil, and the United States.  So, thus far we have visited 11 unique countries on 4 different continents!

Today’s beer takes us back to the United Kingdom, this time to Perth in Scotland!  Perth is located to the north of Edinburgh, 42.8 miles away and within the city we will find the brewery who has made us our beer today – the Inveralmond Brewery.

Founded in 1997, this brewery has certainly made a name for itself in Scotland.  The head brewer, Ken, officially joined the brewery in 1999.  A year later he smuggled some yeast to Scotland from the Czech Republic giving the brewery the claim of having the only “official” Czech Pilsner in Scotland.  In 2002, they won Champion Beer of Scotland, no easy task, and continued to grow from that point on.

In 2009 they had grown too big for their original space and laid the ground work to build their brand new brewery.  They moved into the new brewery in 2011 and have continued to expand their production from brewing 8000 pints at a time to now brewing over 32000 pints at any given time. When their local team, St. Johnstone, made it to the Scottish cup for the first time in 130 years, they brewed a special blue beer to show their support.  They are truly a Scottish brewery through and through.

The beer we have the pleasure of tasting from them today is their Blackfriar Scotch Ale.  It’s named for one of the three ancient orders of monks who are central to the history of Perth.  The monastery of the Blackfriar was built in 1231 and was the location of the assassination of King James I by traitors.

Scotch Ales are strong ales which are traditionally known as a “wee heavy” in Scotland. Scotch ales are typically very malty and balanced with hops to land somewhere in the middle ground between sweet and bitter.  This particular beer has been brewed with not only barley malts but also wheat which will give it a heavier, creamier feel.  Balancing with four different kinds of hops this brew promises to have a number of flavor notes and I’m excited to see what it tastes like.

Rating: 78/100

Appearance:  Copper brown beer, clear, 1” of head that retains well.
Smell: Chocolate notes as well as the floral notes of hops.  Smells a bit of caramel as well at the very end.
Taste: Malts come through at the beginning with a creaminess that comes from the wheat malt.  Balances really well with the hops providing a mild bitterness to combat the sweetness of the malts.  Flavours of chocolate come through from the chocolate malt used in the beer.
Overall: Creaminess is really pleasant and goes well with the richness of the malts and the balance of the hops.  This beer has flavours that work well together with the specific body of it and I really found that I was enjoying the beer while drinking it.   The use of wheat and barley malts was really smart and added a lot of character to the beer.
Do I like it: I’m not a huge fan of this style of beer. While I wouldn’t necessarily seek this one out at the liquor store, I did enjoy it and would be happy to drink it given another opportunity.  I feel the hops came through really well to balance the sweetness.  Overall, a beer I really enjoyed.

Craft Beer Advent Calendar – Day 12

Beer 12

We are official at the halfway point in the beer advent calendar.  It’s been quite an interesting experience thus far.  Lots of opportunity to try unique beers, and only halfway done!  That means 12 more beer to go!  Fantastic!

Today’s beer comes to us from Big Sky Brewing Company in Missoula, Montana.  This is the second American beer we’ve come across in the calendar.  Big sky was started by Neal Leathers, Bjorn Nabozney, and Brad Robinson.  It all began with Brad and Neal, home brewers since the 80s, when they first came together they began producing a series on their local cable access station called “Beer talk”.  It was a show about Brad and Neal tasting various beers and commenting on what they liked and did not like.  This brought attention to the duo and showed their passion for beer.  Sadly neither of them were business savvy.  That’s where Bjorn came in.

Neal started brewing test batches while Bjorn and Brad raised the capital.  After about a year and a half, Big Sky Brewing was officially ready to open its doors.  They brewed their first batch of beer, Whistle Pig Red Ale, in mid-June of 1995.   They started out as a draft only brewery but today they are one of the 50 largest breweries in the U.S. selling a total of over 46,500 barrels (2.5 million 6 packs) of beer a year.  They sell in over 24 states so it’s a beer you might be likely to run across.

The beer we are trying today is not one of their standard brews.  It’s a seasonal beer (not to be confused with the style) that they bring out only around this time of year.  It is the Biére de Nöel Holiday Extra Strong Ale.  This is a limited edition beer from the company brewed in the style of a Belgian Dark Ale.  It sits at about 10.13% alcohol/volume.

Belgian Darks offer a really wide range of characters.  The colours can be in a variety of hues from amber to light brown to deep garnet.  Flavours range between dry and spiced to sweet and malty.  Most usually have low bitterness but this one comes in at a pretty good 35 IBU (international bittering units).  The average IBU of IPAs (the hoppier style of beers) come in at the 40+ range.  I’m pretty excited to give this one a try, so let’s get to the beer!

Rating: 66/100

Appearance:  Amber brown with 1” of head that retains very well.  Cloudy with some signs of possible sediment.
Smell: Very sweet smell.  Malts come through strong giving a caramel aroma with slight berry notes and the distinct smell of alcohol.
Taste: Sickly sweet with a strong alcohol after taste.  This is clear a strong ale as the taste is somewhat overwhelming.  Malts are clearly noticeable and add to the sweetness of the beer.  Flavours are limited by the overtone of the alcohol leaving a bitter aftertaste that isn’t wholly pleasant.
Overall: When brewing, alcohol is created by the yeast digesting the sugar in order to create alcohol as a by-product (among other things).  Many strong ales have this trouble of being overly sweet with a strong alcohol after tone that overshadow any of the malts or hops used in the brewing process.  Good ones can balance this out creating a flavourful enjoyable brew.  Sadly, this one was not able to do so and the alcohol and sickly sweetness of the sugar and malts overwhelmed any other flavours.
Do I like it: There are many good examples of strong ales that are balanced and provide a full flavour beer that is still strong in alcohol. Sadly, this beer was not very balanced and was not really that enjoyable. I found myself cringing at the sweetness combined with the alcohol after tone.  This is not a beer I would buy.

Craft Beer Advent Calendar – Day 11

Beer 11

The question was asked of me this morning if I am getting beer’d out.  I think I likely would be if all of the beer were the same. Luckily with 24 different styles from 17 countries, I think I’m going to be excited ’til the very end… and then sad.

Today’s beer comes to us from Brazil.  This is our first South American beer of the calendar.  The beer comes to from the Wäls brewery located in Belo Horizante, the capital of the Minas Gerais state in Brazil.

Founded in 1999 the brewery wanted to bring beer to the demanding consumer.  They chose the tourist region of Belo Horizante as the location for their dream and started brewing beers based off the Belgian, Czech and English styles.  Dare, invent and believe is the spirit by with the brewery creates its beers.

The brewery itself produces a number of different styles of beers and employs some different methods such as oak barrel maturation and brewing in the champenoise style (sparkling wine/champagne method).  They have enough storage for 2500 bottles to mature at any given time.

They like to produce unique beers from the standard Pilsner, to Hoppy Vanilla Cookie, and the one we are trying today which is their Tropical Christmas Saison, a flavoured strong beer sitting at 7% alcohol/volume.

Saison (French for season) is a broadly defined pale ale that is generally around the 7% mark for alcohol, highly carbonated, fruity and spiced.  This particular one has had raisins, figs, orange peel and coriander added to it during the brewing process to create the “Tropical Christmas.”  This style of beer originated from beers brewed during cooler less active months in Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Belgium, and it is thus a Belgian style beer similar in many ways to the Krampus that I tried a little while back.  Let’s give this one a try!

Rating: 81/100

Appearance:  Clear, golden, and light bodied with minimal head that retains well.
Smell: Figs are noticeable right on the nose with the coriander and citrus from the orange close behind.
Taste: Very light and crisp on the front with citrus and the flavour of the figs and the coriander coming through at the end to create a dryness that results in a refreshingly dry beer.  The coriander leaves your mouth dry and works well with the sweetness to create a fairly well balanced beer.  It would make a fantastic summer beer which makes sense as Christmas is during the Brazilian Summer, go figure.
Mouth feel: High carbonation, light bodied, crisp.
Overall: Refreshing, light, citrusy with not too much spice or fruit flavouring to overwhelm the taste buds.  This is an excellent saison in that it really fits what it is trying to accomplish.  The flavours are truly Christmassy and given that it is summer time south of the equator, the refreshing crispness of the beer works well.
Do I like it: Considering that I was expecting the Krampus, which I did not like, I was pleasantly surprised with this beer.  It was delicious.  While it is not my favorite style of beer I found myself enjoying the flavours and the crispness of this particular saison.  I dare say, I would drink it again!

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