Beer: Mikkeller “Six Pack” Direct From Denmark

crookedmoonI’m smitten with the beers of Mikkeller, a so-called “gypsy” brewer based in Denmark. Though my enjoyment rate is somewhere around 75% when it comes to the actual flavor of the beers, it’s hard not to flip completely for a brewer doing so many wild and different things with so many ingredients. Naturally, not all of the beers, which are brewed at various sites (hence the unofficial “gypsy” designation), make it to the USA. So I was overjoyed when a family friend arrived from Denmark, and equally stoked to receive six Mikkeller beers, only one of which I’ve ever seen around home.

Crooked Moon Tattoo (Double IPA) – I love it when the world’s best brewers take a big swing at something simple, and this DIPA fits the description. What better way to get to know a brewer than through this style? Gargantuan amounts of hops will greet you, and even if your palate has grown more tolerant of hop flavors, you won’t miss the in-your-face tropical fruit and pine notes.

spontanaleJonge Spontanale Four Month (Lambic) – One of the most fascinating things about Mikkeller is the lineage of the beers. It doesn’t get more interesting to hardcore beer geeks than to read about, for example, this lambic: “First released draft as 2 months old at Copenhagen Beer Celebration 2012. Later released carbonated at 4 months old.” The story adds flavor, even to a beverage as funky as this one. Sour grapes in particular, along with yeasty funk and a broader vibe of sour fruit dominate.

Spontankriek (Cherry Lambic) – Lambic is not my favorite style, and I doubt I’d return to any variety that I tried. But I’ll always remember this one and how it provided the feeling of biting directly into a wild, dark, ripe, firm cherry. It has a bit of the same funky presence as the Jonge, so it is hard not to draw comparisons between them. The slightest hint – and I mean very slight – of sweetness peeks though the tartness and carbonation, distinguishing the flavor. The color is incredible.

mexasMexas Ranger Tequila Edition (Chile Beer) – Adventurous drinkers may not blink at the mention of beer brewed with chiles anymore, but Mexas Ranger is bound to become a memorable name nonetheless. This is my favorite chile beer out of the six or so I’ve sampled. I wasn’t a fan of the Texas Ranger (a chipotle porter), so I was skeptical. But the tequila aging rounds out the spices so nicely, the slight twinge of heat becomes a welcome sensation instead of a hindrance. Chocolate and herbiness in the back make this a complex and unforgettable beer.

Piscator (Sour/Wild Ale) – Brewed as a tribute to Danish fishermen and meant to be paired with fish, this beautifully carbonated, remarkably amber beer introduces itself with a massive head and an aroma of banana and spice. An undeniable flourish of alcohol pokes through Belgian elements like brett, sour funk, caramelized sugar, and dark fruit.

nelsonNelson-Sauvignon (Biere de Champagne) – Another Mikkeller brew with a dazzling appearance, this impossibly amber beer is fermented with ale yeast and the ever-popular brett yeast, then aged in white wine barrels for three months. Nelson hops add flavor, and drinking this 750 ml bottle was an experience. At first, it’s like champagne – bubbly and fruity, followed by dry. Then, a hint of yeasty funk creeps through, and as the beer warms the hops begin to assert themselves. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience.

The gospel of Mikkeller seems to be spreading, with global expansion in the works for Mikkel and his brother. Get your hands on a few of these outrageous creations and you’ll be converted as well.

The One In My Hand: Olde Hickory B’s Nuts

The label on bottles of B’s Nuts might lead you to believe that there’s something not quite right about Brian Pesci, who won Olde Hickory’s 3rd Annual Pro-Am brewing standoff with this beer. It’s true, for all I know. But there’s nothing wrong with his work, that’s for sure. In homage to his outstanding English Brown Ale brewed with many, many pecans, the brewery decided to make it themselves as a limited release. I scored mine at Carrboro Beverage Company. Slightly translucent and boldly brown, like deep south river water, B’s Nuts hits your nose with a sweet, sugary nuttiness. The creaminess of the mouthfeel carries the flavor of molasses, caramel, brown sugar, and the faintest bitterness. There’s a woody essence to the smell and taste as well. This is highly drinkable, if a bit sticky, and you shouldn’t hesitate to grab any bottles that linger on the shelves around the Triangle area.

The One in My Hand: Captain Lawrence Imperial IPA

Rather than kid myself into thinking I can really schedule a weekly beer review, I’m going to start this frequently occasional beer post about whatever I’ve got in my hand at the time I’m able to write a review.

This time, I’ve just poured a Captain Lawrence Brewing Company Captain’s Reserve Imperial India Pale Ale.  And, now I’m finished!  Seriously, despite the long name, it’s a pretty simple brew.  I acquired this bottle during a recent trip to NYC.  It pours a bit more pale and clear than some DIPA’s, with a sunny orange-yellow hue.  The head is robust and capable of seriously sweet lacing at first.  A slight must in the aroma is offset by a clear zip of fruit and hops.  The mouthfeel is pretty standard for an Imperial IPA, but the taste is not.  It’s somewhat astringent and bitter, not at all reminiscent of the tropical fruit on the nose.  Alcohol is very prevalent in the aroma and flavor.  This beer is not the sense-shaker that most DIPA’s are.  It’s not a surprise to me that there were cases and cases of this at the Bowery Whole Foods, given the availability of many more remarkable versions of the style.  This one is pretty average.

Goose Island Sofie Showdown

Goose Island Beer Company’s Sofie is, in my experience, one of the most loved niche beers in the midwest.  I’ve seen it flow freely at Chicago weddings, fly off the shelves at Twin Cities stores, and even make a dedicated beer drinker out of a hardcore wine snob.  Sofie, like many Goose Island beers, sports a proposition on the label that encourages the owner to allow the beer to develop in the bottle for up to 5 years.  I’m rarely able to let things hang around for that long, so it was a stroke of luck to find a couple of different vintages of Sofie during a recent Chicago trip.  The earlier edition, bottled on December 12, 2009, came from the often gem-filled shelves of Sal’s Beverage World in Rolling Meadows, and the recently bottled (August 3, 2011) 2011 iteration was found at the venerable West Lakeview Liquors in the Northcenter neighborhood.

I started with the 2011 version, hoping to get a better base upon which to discover the variations in the older beer.  Poured into a tulip glass, the beer is gloriously carbonated, with a vibrant white head and clear countenance that presents shades of gold and apple green.  In reading the beer’s malt profile, one can clearly taste the influence of both Pilsner and Wheat, right in line with the crisp flavor and fruity tartness that bring champagne to mind.  There’s a dry fruitiness imparted by the wine barrel aging as well.  I’ve always found the fresh version of Sofie to be a complex but widely accepted brew – crisp and powerful yet lush and perfectly balanced, as ready for a toast as any champagne.

The late 2009 edition poured a much cloudier, pale gold with deeper hues than the fresh version, though the head was practically identical.  The smell seemed markedly fruitier and the taste and mouthfeel were more akin to a traditional Belgian Ale than the dry, champagne-like experience of the 2011 vintage.  The dominant flavor is deeply fruity and less tart, and the overall experience is smoother and much more robust.  The carbonation is tamed ever so slightly and the finish is much longer, making for a truly exquisite sip.  I was amazed at the difference just two years made in the entire profile of Sofie.  Count me among the converted when it comes to bottle-conditioned ales and the possibilities offered by a little patience on part of brewer and drinker.

Pumpkin Beer Throwdown!

Every year around the middle of August, beer forums light up with seasonal beer discussion and pumpkin beers are always at the forefront of the conversation.  Whether you love or hate pumpkin beers, or debate whether some examples of the style should be called “pumpkin” beers at all, there’s no denying the popularity and appeal of these unique beverages.  I decided to gather a bunch of pumpkin beers and other seasonal fall brews that we get in North Carolina and bounce them off each other to revel in the spicy, malty goodness that is so bountiful this time of year.

The pumpkin beer debate often comes down to the rather contentious point of ingredients.  Most “pumpkin” beers do contain pumpkin in some form, but they don’t taste as much like pumpkin as they do cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, allspice, sugar, and other ingredients that people typically associate with the most familiar pumpkin dish around, pumpkin pie.  Therefore, many examples come across as herb or spiced beers rather than true vegetable beers.

A couple of the finest fall beers around hail from North Carolina, and on the spiced side nothing beats Big Boss Harvest Time and Carolina Beer Company’s Cottonwood Pumpkin Spiced Ale.  The Cottonwood offering (bottled in Pennsylvania) has a boozy quality and ginger bite that makes it especially bold, along with a lingering caramel quality.  It’s not overly spiced or sweet, and the pumpkin balances everything to make for an interesting, fruity flavor that belies the beer’s seasonal status.  Harvest Time is a cloudier, sweeter ale that piles loads of nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice and caramel on top of a malty backbone rich with pumpkin.  It’s more sophisticated, revealing notes of vanilla, clove, and even chocolate.  It comes much closer to the taste of pumpkin pie and is more drinkable than the somewhat bitter Cottonwood.

Maine’s Shipyard Brewing doesn’t send many beers down south, but this time of year beer lovers start seeing the 12 oz. Pumpkinhead Ale and the more desirable bombers of Smashed Pumpkin on shelves.  Pumpkinhead has a much-deserved reputation as one of the weakest pumpkin beers around.  With a taste, mouthfeel, and smell more akin to a cider or wine, along with a spice note that is entirely out of place, Pumpkinhead is the bottom rung of the style.  Smashed Pumpkin, on the other hand, masks 9 percent alcohol with a barrage of malt and more pumpkin presence than spice, though there is a subtle tinge of nutmeg and a pleasantly lingering sweetness.  It’s a fine beer that isn’t too rife with spices and would double nicely as a winter warmer.  Another northeastern brewery, Smuttynose, also offers toned-down spices and plenty of bitter pumpkin in their Pumpkin Ale.  This tricky style of alcoholic treat is executed better by Weyerbacher, whose Imperial Pumpkin Ale brings more alcohol and spice into the mix, which helps balance the strong pumpkin presence.

Speaking of winter and cider, one of the more interesting offerings this year is Woodchuck Cider’s Private Reserves Pumpkin.  The company’s always sweet and satisfying cider is finished with a sour pumpkin flourish that stands in firm contrast to the sweet apple flavor.  It’s a fun diversion but in the end nothing will replace their original cider.  Another sweet, simple example of the style is Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale, one of the country’s oldest beers.  The brew resides on the watery side, though, and isn’t one I’d recommend.  New Holland Brewing Company’s Ichabod sports one of the coolest names in the business, but is a fairly standard pumpkin ale.  They all have their features, though, and Ichabod’s trademark is a serious ginger kick that is masked by a huge malt profile and sweet smells.  Otter Creek/Wolaver’s Pumpkin Ale sports a more balanced combination of similar ingredients, though the clove is definitely forward and slight citrus notes can be tasted.  Dogfish Head, without a doubt one of the most likely to succeed when it comes to stuff like this, doesn’t disappoint with their Punkin Ale.  This brown ale rings rich and sweet through your taste buds thanks to the inclusion of brown sugar and a well-blended selection of spices.  Terrapin Beer Company sets their Pumpkinfest apart from the crowd by blending styles.  The beer is a combination of a Marzen and a Pumpkin Ale, and the malty Marzen presence makes for a bready, savory spice delivery system.

If you’ve tried a lot of these beers and you’re ready for something completely different, there are two standout pumpkin beers to seek.  Southern Tier’s Pumking is one of the more notorious and sought-after beers of the style, and with good reason.  There’s simply no other beer like it.  Forgoing the usual blend of pumpkin pie spices, Southern Tier went in a different direction and brought the crust into play.  The aroma of Pumking is almost entirely of graham cracker crust, which makes for a revelatory moment upon first sniff.  The taste is similar, but subtle notes of vanilla and a strong backbone of pumpkin come through as well.  Similarly, Heavy Seas Greater Pumpkin brings an unexpected variable into the mix – it’s aged in bourbon barrels.  The bourbon aging masks the aroma a bit, but that’s a small trade off for the delightful way that the bourbon enhances this beer.  The spices, which come across first in the flavor and are right in line with a typical pumpkin ale, are cut by an aggressive bourbon flourish in the middle.  The warming, tingling effect of the bourbon, paired with the festive spices, makes for a singular fall beverage experience.

Next year, I’ll break down a whole new cache of pumpkin beers.  But as for this group, here is how I would rate them against each other.

1.  Big Boss Harvest Time
2.  Dogfish Head Punkin’ Ale
3.  Southern Tier Pumking
4.  Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale
5.  Terrapin Pumpkinfest
6.  Heavy Seas The Greater Pumpkin
7.  Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin
8.  Wolaver’s Pumpkin Ale
9.  New Holland Ichabod
10.  Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale
11.  Cottonwood Pumpkin Spiced Ale
12.  Woodchuck Ciders Private Reserves Pumpkin
13.  Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale
14.  Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale

Raleigh’s Bottle Revolution Ready to Begin

Raleigh, NC’s newest beer store is aiming to revolutionize the way the capital city thinks about beer.  Bottle Revolution (opening September 23rd, 2011 at 4025 Lake Boone Trail) hosted a special preview party one week ahead of the grand opening, giving curious beer lovers a taste of what they can expect from the shop.  The space’s unique logo and striking orange paint scheme made an immediate impression, as did the welcoming vibe and energetic surroundings of the shop.  Surrounded by restaurants and located just minutes from Rex Hospital, the RBC Center,and Carter-Finley Stadium, the shop endeavors to become more than just another place to buy beer.  Owner Ted Gross has taken a people-pleasing approach to interacting with people and promoting the business from the moment his store became public knowledge.   He’s offering coolers of beer to go, a “Year of Beer” membership, customer preference tracking, and a nice spot to have a cold one on-site.  The preview party, which raised hundreds of dollars for the Wake County SPCA, featured breweries like Brooklyn, Southern Tier, Sweetwater, Big Boss, LoneRider, and Blue Point.  The true star of the night, however, was Haw River Farmhouse Ales’ dry-hopped Rusted Plow Saison, a delectable brew full of yeasty, fruity flavors.  Judging from the attendance at this event and the enthusiasm of the people and brewery reps, Bottle Revolution is going to be the place to be for beer in Raleigh.  Check out our photos of the event below, and look for more news from the grand opening this Friday!

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Beer of the Week: Asheville Brewing Ninja Porter

Raw Data:  Asheville Brewing Company Ninja Porter.  Brewed in Asheville, NC, USA.  750 ml bottle purchased at Hops and Vines, Asheville, NC.

Pours the deepest brown, almost black, with maple syrup hued highlights at the edges.  The slightest carbonation keeps a thin light brown head around the glass.  The smell is amazingly roasty and malty, with a vague nutty character.  The mouthfeel is just thick enough for a porter, but not sticky.  The overwhelming first flavor is chocolate, followed by a swift bitterness, coffee, and caramel.  There’s a multifaceted sweetness like a mix of caramel, vanilla and chocolate.  I’m a fan of all of ABC’s beers, and this one seems to get a bad rap by a lot of folks.  Perhaps it is because ABC do so well at their lighter beers.  While it certainly isn’t the Shiva of porters, if you’re into bold porters with pronounced coffee or chocolate flavors Ninja Porter is a nice middle ground between straightforward porters and more experimental offerings.

Beer of the Week: LoneRider Sweet Josie Brown

Raw Data: LoneRider Brewing Sweet Josie Brown Ale.  Brewed in Raleigh, NC.  12 oz bottle purchased at Lowe’s Foods, Mebane, NC.

This local favorite fills the glass with mostly clear deep brown hues and a thin khaki head that dissipates rapidly.  The smell is of coffee, caramel, and brown sugar, all in subtle amounts.  The mouthfeel is fairly watery and carbonated, but not to the detriment of the beer.  It’s got a roasty note in there with the coffee flavor that is awesome and balanced with a chocolaty, nutty sweetness and the faintest swift bite.  I’m playing the homer role here…I just love this one.

Beer of the Week: La Caracole Nostradamus

Raw Data:  La Caracole Nostradamus Belgian Strong Ale.  9.5% ABV.  Brewed in Falmignoul, Belgium.  750 ml corked and caged bottle purchased at Hops and Vines in Asheville, NC.

Pours a cloudy, hazy brown cherry color with ruby tones in the light.  The cafe-latte colored head is monstrous and mesmerizing, and it lingers for the whole experience, buoyed by a relentless stream of bubbles.  The smell is classic Belgian, yeasty and and inviting, and so is the taste.  Dark fruit, sugar, alcohol and caramel.  There’s an undeniable long bitter finish that is not unpleasant.  The fruit and alcohol get bolder as the beer warms.  Not much else needs to be said about this beer.  It is a fantastic Belgian on the darker side, made for savoring and sipping though the taste begs that it be consumed faster.

Beer of the Week: French Broad Zepptemberfest

Raw Data:  French Broad Brewing Zepptemberfest.  Brewed in Asheville, NC, USA.  750 ml bottle purchased at TJ’s Campus Beverage, Carrboro, NC.

Pours a translucent amber with orange highlights.  The head hangs around and is thin and fizzy, with somewhat active carbonation keeping a ring of head around the edge of the glass.  For such a malty beer, there isn’t a lot of that rich, bready smell you’d expect, and the aroma isn’t very pronounced.  A hint of brown sugar and caramel.  The taste is slightly sweeter than a typical Marzen, with some of the same elements found in the nose.  The malty character really comes through as the beer warms a bit, but there is a consistent hop presence.  While not especially remarkable, this is a good, balanced Marzen that will help bridge the gap between your beer seasons.