Friday, August 26, 2011

The Best of Matt's Buffalo Beer Haul!

As I mentioned before in the previous posts, at the end of July my wife and I took a trip to western New York, and while we were there we had ourselves some wonderful brews.  At downtown Buffalo's Pearl Street Grill and Brewery, we enjoyed an excellent lunch paired with some pretty tasty brewpub ales, including the very aptly-named Lake Effect Pale Ale and Sabre's Edge DIPA.  Even at Chili's, we managed to snag some local crafts on tap, including Flying Bison Aviator Red and Great Lakes Holy Moses Belgian Wit (the bar manager was so excited that we were drinking the new crafts he brought in that he gave us a free sample of Magic Hat #9).  And of course, since we were gone for long enough to satisfy Johnny Taxman, we were able to bring back a couple of cases of beer for later consumption.  In addition to the fantastic Great Lakes sampler pack and the amusingly-labeled Monty Python's Holy Ale, I also brought back several bombers of American craft ales from breweries I've been meaning for a long time to sample from.  These now are the big guns, the real heavy hitters.  I couldn't wait to work my way through all of these brews, but since beer trips to the States are few and far between, I needed to pace myself.  But, a month later, and I've finally managed to try them all, and I have to say: there wasn't a dud in the bunch.   Here are some of my favorites...

Beer: Hennepin 
Brewery: Brewery Ommegang (Cooperstown, New York)
Type: Farmhouse/Saison
ABV: 7.7%

I've raved about Ommegang's excellent Belgian-inspired brews before; as part of my Florida beer haul, I had the great pleasure to savour a bottle of their Abbey Dubbel.  Since then, I've been eager to get my hands on another bottle of Ommegang's finest, particularly this farmhouse brew, which has since received very high accolades in the brewing world, including from the Beer Hunter himself, the late Michael Jackson.  Hennepin is named in honour of Louis Hennepin, a Belgian Catholic missionary and explorer of the North American interior of the late17th century.  Due to his charting of the Great Lakes region, the name Hennepin is a common geographic name in New York State and Minnesota.

Saisons are a wonderful style of beer that unfortunately are quite difficult to find in Ontario, but are becoming increasingly popular amongst the bigger craft breweries in the United States (one Ontario brewery that has a saison is Black Oak of Etobicoke, but it's rarely seen outside of the brewery).  Originating in France and Belgium, saison ales ("season") are refreshing summer brews, whose complex flavors and lower alcohol content were ideal for labouring farmhouse workers.  The word "Saison" in the past broadly referred to beers brewed in the fall and winter that would be cellared to be served as summer ales; there could be immense flavor and textural varieties among individual brews.  Today, saisons are light, airy, with notes of lemon, pepper and spice, and usually with a bolder alcohol content.  That spirit of summer refreshment has not been lost on modern saisons, however!

Enjoyed on the patio on perhaps the nicest summer day of the year - zero humidity, clear blue sky, and with a freshly mowed lawn to boot.  Perfect saison weather.

Poured into a Leffe goblet.  Pale golden, slight murk to it, and with a billowing head sustained with lively swirls of carbonation. 

Nose is lemon, pepper, grass, spice, a bit of funk, and with a surprisingly sweet malt character to it.  Textbook saison smell, very pleasant and summery.

Citrus, pepper, clove, earth, and oh so dry, Hennepin is a delightful brew on a summer's afternoon. The alcohol and funk comes in mildly towards the finish, and there's a mild medicine-y taste, but other than that it the brew is fresh, flavorful, dry and light - exactly what I was hoping for. Improves nicely with a bit of natural warmth.

Creamy, medium bodied, with assertive, lively carbonation. Very dry however, almost needs an accompanying glass of water. 

A great saison, sweeter than some, and without a strong musky-farmyard flavor, but still lively and bright, and with lovely citrus and peppery notes. A pleasure to drink. (Grade: A)
Beer:  Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Harvest
Brewery: Sierra Nevada (Chico, California)
Type: American IPA
ABV: 6.7%

I've certainly had my fair share of 'hopbomb' American IPAs, so I have to say I've got a pretty good handle on the style.  I know what they taste like, and they taste just fine.  However, though I truly love these hoppy monsters, when faced with the difficult challenge of narrowing down brews at a beer store such as this one, I tend to go for the more unique styles of brews - your barleywines, your saisons, your "imperial hefeweizens" and your Russian Imperial Stouts, in order to broaden my palate and experience new brews.  But I absolutely had  to make an exception for this brew, because the bottle design is completely fantastic.  This beautiful label was fully worth the price of admission - a19th century-style map and clipper ship that all at once conjures up mental images of both the genuine naval exploits of Captain James Cook and Charles Darwin, alongside the fictional tales of Robinson Crusoe, Horatio Hornblower and Jack Aubrey.  This bottle positively screams adventure, and I happily added it to my cart.   Also, as I found out after bringing it home, this brew utilizes hops grown in far away New Zealand, which are shipped (probably not on vessels as majestic as this one) to California early in the year.  Should be an interesting brew.

Poured into a nonic. A lovely dark-amber brew with a billowing creamy head that leaves brilliant patches of lace. Excellent retention. First rate.

The first whiff is of the fresh cones of west coast-style hops (we'll call them "Pacific" hops since they are from NZ), which give a delightful tropical aroma. Sweet malt, caramel, mango, grapefruit, coconut. Very pleasant.

A nice IPA, sweet and malty at first, before the tropical hop flavors sink in. The finish is surprisingly dry and bitter, with the hops losing some of their complexity. Still, a solid brew.

Medium bodied, creamy, slightly more aggressive carbonation than I'd like. 

Hops aren't as potent to the taste as they were for the nose, but this is still an impressive brew, flavorful, good body to it and a great collectible bottle to boot.  A classic example of when a superior bottle design encourages a purchase, even if the brew is of a more common style and composition.  A fine brew indeed; the added hops and alcohol content would make this a fine companion on any sea voyage.  (Grade: B+)

Beer: Great Divide Espresso Oak Aged Yeti
Brewery: Great Divide Brewing (Denver, Colorado)
Type: Imperial Stout
ABV: 9.5%

Great Divide has built an exemplary reputation as one of Colorado's finest craft breweries, and has been an interest of mine for quite some time.  Like many craft breweries in the States, Great Divide has a base recipe - Yeti Imperial Stout - with which they often experiment, whether by aging it in barrels or adding different seasonings, in order to get different variations.  This particular version involves added espresso coffee and oak wood chips to the brew. 

(On the side of the label is a food pairing suggestion, which is just awesome: creme brulee, chocolate cake and "breakfast burrito."  Beer for breakfast?  Damn right!)
Shared with friends at a recent beer tasting, I now regret only buying one bottle, as we shall see...

Poured into a small snifter glass.  Inky black with a lovely light brown foamy head, which meant that my taking of the above photo at night did not really influence how the beer looks on camera - it would have been near-black at any time of day!  Great head retention, with big patches of lacing. Fine looking brew indeed.

The nose on this is just delectable - espresso coffee bean, dark chocolate, oatmeal, bourbon, oak, and a nice graininess. Terrific stuff - even after finishing my share, I kept going back to my unwashed glass for another hit.

Ridiculously smooth, a lovely stout. Coffee, caramel, oak, brandy and smokiness somehow combine to make a very smooth, easy drinking brew. A great woodsy feel to this edition from the oak chips; this truly tastes like something a sasquatch would drink.  Silky with mild carbonation, a real pleasure to sip. 

Just an exemplary stout, rich and flavorful, yet smooth and highly drinkable. Both the beer connoisseurs and the seldom-drinkers of our group fell in love with this brew; indeed, many of the comments while sipping Espresso Oak-Aged Yeti involved the immediate planning of a trip to Colorado just to get more.  Buy it if you find it, you won't be disappointed! (Grade: A)

1 comment:

  1. Since you were right there in Buffalo, I'm surprised you didn't make your way to Premier Gourmet in Kenmore, where they have something like 3 aisles of beer, most of which you can buy by the bottle: