Friday, August 6, 2010

The Best of Matt's Florida Beer Haul!

As promised, here are some of my favorites from my Florida beer haul! I decided to whittle things down to the very best (and one notable dud) just to keep things interesting - after all, my total new brews added to my tally was 27 - and that would be one hell of a big post. Huge, even. And while almost everything I tried was good, only a few could be described as remarkably good. For example, I think I ended up trying 6 different IPAs (the US is nuts for IPAs right now), and though each brew was tasty and enjoyable, there wasn't a great deal of difference between them, at least not enough to warrant a massive review and write up for each.

With this in mind, I give you: the Great Florida Beer Haul Round-Up!

Beer: Terrapin Hopsecutioner
Brewery: Terrapin Beer Co. (Athens, GA)
Type: IPA
ABV: 7.3%

I selected this one among the many IPAs because, quite simply, the label is AWESOME. I mean look at it: it's Donatello brandishing a torturous instrument, executing beer hops with a guillotine. How cool is that? Even the lettering is Ninja Turtle Green, which will ideally be the colour of my next house. I also went with this IPA because it's fairly local to Florida, hailing from northern Georgia. It wasn't the best IPA on the trip - that distinction went with Jai Alai's White Oak Barrel - but this was the best I could easily find in shops.

Poured amber-copper, slightly opaque, leaving a thin head. Good lacing and retention.

The nose is typical American IPA - woodsy, with leafy, resin-flavored hops competing with citrussy notes, namely grapefruit and lemon. Binding the whole thing together is a sweet, bready malt character.

Goes down well. The hops aren't too potent, but provide a nice, balanced flavor. Earth meets citrus. With the hop content not so pronounced, the malty, caramel sweetness is given a chance to shine. For big hop-heads, this brew might seem a bit tame, but I found it to be quite flavorful and easy to drink. Cracking through a 6-pack of this would be a pleasure, not a challenge.

Hopsecutioner is by no means a unique IPA, but it's a good'un, and worth picking up if you come across it. I mean, how amazing would it be to show up at a party with a 6-pack of Ninja Turtle beer? (Grade: B+)

Beer: Ommegang Abbey Ale
Brewery: Brewery Ommegang (Cooperstown, NY)
Type: Belgian Dubbel
ABV: 8.5%

A fantastic number from a brewery based in Cooperstown, NY, the Mecca of baseball fans everywhere. Ommegang specializes in replicating the traditional Belgian style of brewing - abbey ales, dubbels, tripels, Belgian pale and dark ales - and does it incredibly well. A New York version of Quebec's Unibroue, if you will. The kind of brewery I would return to again and again, based on this one brew alone. Of course, thanks to the LCBO and Ontario's oppressive liquor import rules, it's easier to find Ommegang in Florida than it is in New York's Canadian neighbour.


Poured into a wine glass from a tall, 750mL corked bottle. Just like a Chimay. A tawny red brew, slightly opaque, ruby when held to the light. Thick, spritzy head that displays some fine lacing and retention. Looks like your classic dubbel.

Nose is comprised of bread, dark fruit (cherry, plums, black currant, pear) malt, brown sugar, and yeast notes.

A delicious, stand-up dubbel, among the world's very best. Boasts an incredible flavour, wonderful to sip. Similar tasting notes as in the nose and they work together brilliantly. Because it was such a big bottle and I had such a small wine glass, I decided to leave the bottle on the counter and compare how Abbey Ale tasted at different temperatures. Sure enough, this was textbook example of a brew whose flavor opens up tremendously with a bit of warmth - the taste just got better with every sip. First rate stuff.

Tart, aggressive carbonation, which helps the flavor notes really pop. Medium-bodied.

Certainly, one of the finest dubbels produced on this side of the Atlantic. I'll definitely be back for more of this, which might necessitate a trip to New York State. Well done Ommegang! (Grade A+)

Beer: Stone Imperial Russian Stout
Brewery: Stone Brewing (Escondito, CA)
Type: Russian Imperial Stout
ABV: 10.5%

One of the few bottles to make it home, I was able to sample this one in a proper glass. I would have drank it there, but at 750mL, it would have been a struggle to get through in one evening, especially after a hot day standing in line at Walt Disney World. Best to savor this one at home.

Stone is a giant among American craft brews; their massive slate of popular offerings are available in many areas of the United States and sometimes creep into BC. Aside from producing some quality brews, they feature some great beer names too; my personal favorite: "Arrogant Bastard Ale".

After letting the brew warm up a bit, I poured it into my favorite glass, a Duvel goblet. As an aside, I truly love the Soviet Cossack Gargoyle imagery. An inky black hue, hard to detect any other colour but black here. Leaves an inch-high mocha head, leaving some flecks of lacing. Survives well as a ring, with a few islands drifting about.

Nose is roasted dark coffee, cream, very dark chocolate (75% cocoa at least!), dark fruit. Rich and inviting.

Tastes like a terrific stout, wonderful to sip over the course of an evening. Brought to a proper temperature, this RIS achieves a wonderful balance of chocolate, toasted malt and caramel, finishing with a slightly bitter taste accentuated with warming alcohol. First rate. Almost syrupy, the mouthfeel of this viscous brew is greatly aided by its light, but ever present carbonation. Oily and velvety, with a slight warming alcohol burn that affects the back of the tongue. A terrific RIS, one of the best I've had the pleasure to enjoy. Surprisingly drinkable - the ABV is high, yes, but such a meaty stout is worthy of slow savouring.

Beer: J.W. Lees Harvest Ale, Port Cask (2008 Vintage)
Brewery: J.W. Lees (Manchester, UK)
Type: English barleywine
ABV: 11.5%

My lone pick-up in Knightly Spirits' barrel reserve section. You know you've got a fine liquor store when you have a "vintage" area for beer...

Poured into an ale glass. A brew such as this truly deserved better glassware, but when you're in a hotel, you work with what you have. Better this than a Shrek 4 mug though...

An amber, slightly opaque brew, with a dusting of sediment on the bottom. A thin white head, leaves a ring after a few moments. When settled, it looks a great deal like sherry, which is awesome, because I loves me a good sherry.

Nose is very potent and delicious: caramel, grapes, sugar, port, a touch of oak.

Like a proper barleywine, J.W. Lees tastes and feels just like a glass of sherry. The big caramel and fruit flavor is offset but a smoky, oak backing, which prevents the sweetness from running away with things. Alcohol is difficult to detect, balanced nicely within the flavors of the brew. Very tasty, and with only a slight alcoholic bite to the finish makes for an enjoyable sipper. Great stuff, one of the better barleywines I've come across. Would love to check out the older vintages.

And at last, we come to the dud...

Beer: Cantillon Kriek 100% Lambic
Brewery: Cantillon (Brussels)
Type: Lambic-Fruit (Kriek)
ABV: 5%

Some tastes are acquired, taking years of practice and sampling to finally "get it." Michelle, for example, is a huge fan of super-dark chocolate, (90% cocoa or higher), a taste she developed by slowly working her way up the cocoa scale from the very low milk chocolates to the extremely bitter pure cocoa bars. I can't stomach the stuff, but I can see how a gradual progression of tasting would lead me to appreciate it better.

But other times with food and drink, things are a great deal simpler: either you love it, or you hate it. Black licorice is a good example of this - I don't know anyone who "kind of" likes black licorice. You're either with us or against us, dammit! Authentic krieks are one of those styles.

As mentioned in an earlier post (St. Louis Gueze), lambics are brewed by yeast cultures that exist naturally in the brewer's local environment. As is more commonly done, fruit (usually cherry, raspberry or peach) is added to the brew to make the product more palatable and marketable - adding sugar or aging can also be done to smooth things out for the consumer. Sometimes, the product will taste a great deal like a fruit cooler, sweet and smooth with a big fresh fruit flavor. Other times, the brewer will opt for the traditional taste, which is a great deal more sour, acidic, musky and, believe it or not, "horse-blanket"-y. Cantillon's Kriek counts itself among the latter. Boasting an 'A' ranking at BeerAdvocate, this beer has developed quite a following, and I was excited to try my first authentic lambic.

Frankly, I thought it tasted disgusting.

Poured into a goblet. A lovely, sparkling light cherry-red brew. No real head presence, but this is common for the style.

Nose isn't too bad; actually, it was quite inviting. Sour cherries, sugar, citrus and cream with the strongest flavors I could detect.

Then came the tasting... Suffice to say, this was, without a doubt, the sourest drink I have ever tasted. It tasted like the love-child of Sourpatch Kids and vinegar, with the love-making having taken place in a hayloft. I thought I was prepared for such an astringent brew, but I was certainly mistaken. A real palate cleanser. Sour, sour cherries with vinegar and oakey, musky flavors. An absolute chore to get through. It's really amazing: some reviewers rave about the "delicious flavor of sour ripe cherries" and go on and on about how wonderfully tart it is. I think it tasted like vinegar beer. This was just too much...

Medium-bodied, with a light carbonation to deliver the oppressive sourness right to your door. The acidic quality provides a real burn that I'm not enjoying. Probably going to get heartburn from drinking this. (I did.)

As high a quality of lambic beer that this is (this was exactly how it was supposed to taste - it's not like I even got an old bottle), I have to say I really didn't understand it. Not an enjoyable experience whatsoever. This was just oppressively sour and was a chore to get through. Instead of sour, fresh cherries, I just got...well, sour. Well-made, but definitely not my thing. I might try it again in the future to see if a different batch works for me, but as for now, I'll have to count myself among those who just don't dig authentic lambics.

Other beer roundup highlights included:

St. Bernardus Abt 12 - one of the finest abbey ales I've had the pleasure to drink.
Orval - the tartest, driest of the Trappist ales, but still quite enjoyable. Like a dry cider.
Magic Hat #9 - From Burlington VT, the Ben and Jerry's of breweries. Goofy labeling, but a decent fruit beer.
Dogfish Head World Wide Stout - the new record-holder for the highest ABV% brew I've tried - a staggering 18%! Good thing I wasn't driving anywhere that day...

An exciting beer roundup to say the least - the trip really enhanced my understanding of American and Belgian brewing. I can't wait for my next visit to the States, hopefully to the northeast or West Coast for another grand beer haul!

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