Archive for December, 2009

Top 9 Beers of 2009

Well, I waited until this week to write this post as there were a couple of beers I had high hopes for that I needed to try. Expectations were met and they both made the top 9 list. In creating this list I tried to limit it to new or seasonal beers released this year as opposed to something that has been out for a while that I just happened to try in 2009.

9 – Surly Wet
A delicious “wet hopped” IPA. We were lucky enough to be at the brewery for a brewery tour the day they were brewing this. The smell of the 1400 lbs of fresh hops was unreal. As soon as we got home we began pestering our local watering hole to do whatever they had to in order to secure a keg of this. Luckily, they were able to. It was terrific – especially for their first attempt at such a big, fresh-hopped beer. I can’t wait to see what they do next year.

8 – New Glarus Cranbic
This was one of New Glarus Brewing Company’s “Unplugged” series for this year. As you could probably guess the name is a play on words – Cranberry Lambic. This one seemed to be in my wheelhouse as I love cranberries and I love Lambic. The pairing of the two from New Glarus was really quite good. I also love sweet~tarts which is what this reminds me of….there is some sweetness as well as some tartness and the two are blended perfectly. I find that most fruit lambics end up being too sweet for me, but this one is just about right.

7 – Sierra Nevada Torpedo
Like Surly Wet, Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo is also a very hop-forward IPA. Unlike the fresh, wet hops Surly used however, Torpedo uses a device they invented (called a Torpedo) to effectively provide a new take on dry-hopping. Additionally, they used a “new” hop called Citra as part of the dry hop blend which lends to a unique and very citrusy aroma. This is the lone, true, year-round beer on the list.

6 – Founders Backwoods Bastard
This is the bourbon barrel aged cousin of Founders flagship beer, Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale. I must say that this has been one of my favorite beers for a while but I was disappointed with last years batch. It was too much oak, some bourbon and a hint of scotch ale. It also seemed quite thin, but that might be attributed to the tannins from the apparent high levels of oak. I was very happy to find that this year it is more balanced and has a thicker mouthfeel than last year and it’s back to being one of the best beers around.

5 – Surly Smoke
This is a smoked baltic porter and it is delicious. I love Schlenkerla Ur-Bock, and I also really like Alaskan Smoked Porter, but I find almost all other smoked beers to pale in comparison….almost. This one is a beauty. The alcohol is there, but not overwhelming. The smoke is there, but it’s a balanced amount leaning more towards bacon than ashtray. The base baltic porter comes through as a thick, roasty, big porter. This thing is great and hopefully I can get my hands on some bottles when they come out.

4 – Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
Unless something goes terribly wrong, this will be a perennial top 5 on my list. Again this year it’s a beauty. Big, thick, boozy, roasty…pure deliciousness. Despite the price hike and new packaging (this is available only in 22′s for 2009) I will be sure to grab a couple more next time they get marked down.

3 – New Glarus Olde English Porter
I didn’t know what to think when I read that New Glarus was going to make this beer. On one hand, a sour porter? On the other hand….I love porters, and I love sours. As it turns out, this was a terrific beer. You get the slight roast of the porter blended beautifully with the acetic and lactic flavors from the portion New Glarus let sour. I scored several bottles of this and am hoping to score some more before they completely disappear from store shelves so I can enjoy what I have left and keep a couple to cellar.

2 – Surly Darkness
Oh baby….I didn’t get to go to Darkness Day, and really wish I had a bottle of this, but luckily our local spot got a keg of it in November. Man, this thing is delicious. A big, bold imperial stout. Lots of cocoa and coffee flavor and the alcohol is hidden well. Pretty chewy as well, but not overly thick. Too bad it’s gone and I’ll have to wait a year to try it again.

1 – Jolly Pumpkin Lambicus Dexterius
I was able to try this one at the Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beers this fall. It’s a delicious lambic style beer. Orange in color, smells of wood and sour apple, plus general brettanomyces driven aromas. The taste is similar to the aroma and it finishes extremely dry. Really a tremendous representation of a Belgian Lambic, but brewed here in America. From what I have seen this will be a limited bottle release starting in a few weeks, and I am really, really hoping that my local shop can score a bottle or two.

A Winner Has Been Declared

So this past weekend we got to sample the Wit and Saison experiments….and the winner is……..WLP550.
In both experiments, the batch fermented with 550 was preferred over a more traditional yeast.

The Wit experiment consisted of brewing a fairly standard 9 gallon batch of witbier and fermenting half with the WLP550 Belgian yeast strain, and the other half with the WLP400 Belgian White strain. While the 550 version was clearly preferred, I think both of the batches were a touch under-spiced so I plan on re-brewing a batch with the 550 and increasing the adjunct levels somewhere in the range of 10-25% over what was used in this batch.

The Saison experiment consisted of a 10 gallon batch where upon completion of the boil, half was drained from the kettle, chilled, and fermented @ about 80 degrees with the WLP568 Saison Blend yeast. The other half was whirlpooled with a blend of spices including coriander, pepper, cinnamon, and grains of paradise. This second portion was then fermented in the 66-68 degree range with WLP550. The spiced saison seems to have finished a touch drier, and the spicier profile was also clearly preferred.

Since all four of these beers were fairly fresh during this sampling, I plan on holding another tasting sometime after the holidays to see how they are holding up.

Lastly, the battle of flanders-style beers resulted in a clear victory for the red style. Somewhat disappointing because it means another 16 months before the next will batch will be ready to drink – hopefully I can ration what I have to last that long. The brown only took 4 months, so it would have been nice to have a delicious sour with a quick turnaround, but the red had a really nice tartness and the addition of oak added some complexity that was missing from the brown.

catching up

This past weekend I finally found the time to bottle one of the flanders red batches as well as the sour brown. Again I used 750ml champagne bottles as I hate bottling so the fewer the better. Both smelled incredible as the bottling process progressed and I am looking forward to tasting the carbonated version once it’s ready.

I also brewed a couple of 10 (well more like 9) gallon batches this past weekend as well. One was a wit, and the other was a saison. The wit was a 10 gallon, fairly basic wit recipe with sweet and bitter orange peel, and a fair amount of coriander. I split the batch and fermented half with White Labs 400 and the other half with White Labs 550. The saison was a light colored farmhouse ale, half of which fermented with White Labs 568 in a higher temperature range (74-80), and the other half was spiced and fermented with White Labs 550 in the low 70s. The spices included were cinnamon, black pepper, coriander, and grains of paradise and were added in the whirlpool.

I have a lot more planned for this weekend including lambics, flanders reds, and sour mashing…more to follow.