Friday, September 20, 2013

Summer Saison Part III (The Whiff Edition)

I enjoyed The Bruery's Preservation Series Saison Tonnellerie on the absurd IPA Day early in August.  Unfortunately, I am left with only a memory and a poor picture of the label to write this post.  I thought I took tasting notes, but my handy Evernote electronic beer diary has no reference to this beer.  What a whiff; a beer blogger bungle.  Despite the lack of notes and the time since consumption, I needed to get this post up because Tonnellerie is an excellent beer.   It is now my favorite The Bruery saison.  I remember it as a meaty beer, darker and maltier than most saisons, and not overly spiced.  It was rich without going into strange flavor tangents.  It was both complex and drinkable, yet best of all it was delicious. 

When it comes to The Bruery's beers I feel like a devoted dog with a mercurial owner, I come running with my tail wagging, never knowing when I open a The Bruery beer whether I'm going to get beat (insert name of any recent The Bruery Christmas beer) or a treat (Mischief, Humlus Lager).  Saison Tonnellerie is a marvelous treat that deserves wider release.

I have not seen this beer on shelves since early August, but it looks like The Burery is still selling it on-line.  

Sunday, September 15, 2013

London (Harrods) Failing

Now and then I'll post random thoughts from my trip to Europe earlier this summer.  

There is no more iconic store in London than the high-end Harrods, one of the poshest department stores on the planet.  Of course, a store this fancy has to have its own beer (and a full line-up of private label wines, and I'll attest, the thirteen pound white Burgundy is excellent).  Here is a picture of the beer brewed specially for Harrods, which even has its own fancy flip-top:

I found it unfortunate and disappointing that a quintessential symbol of Britain would not select an English brewer to brew its house beer.  Instead, Harrods looked to Continental Europe, and its 1849 Premium Lager is brewed by Hofmark Brauerei, a German brewer.  Harrods, obviously, has to leave the United Kingdom for its house Burgundies and Rieslings, but for beer Harrods needs to stay home.  Britain has a strong brewing heritage and a growing craft beer presence, so Harrods would have no shortage willing potential local brewers, although the home grown beer would probably be an ale, not a lager.  Come to think of it, a cask ale engine would be perfect next to the meat pie display case in Harrods' magnificent Food Hall.

As a beer, 1849 was very good.  I found it a crisp, complex lager with a sharp bite to it, and one of the better lagers I can remember.

I Know The Feeling

I read this post on the Ramblings of a Beer Runner blog and could relate:
It's a struggle to define how it tastes, but often great beers are the ones that aren't neatly broken down into flavor components. 
The blogger, Derrick Peterman, was describing a sour brown ale from Sante Adairius Rustic Ales in Capitola, California.  I've come across this situation more often than I'd like to admit when I have a good beer.  It's easy to find flaws in bad beer - too thin, too bitter, too malty, nasty aftertaste - but in a good beer, where all ingredients meld together in unison, I find it hard to spotlight individual flavor components, or what one factor makes it standout.  I'm sometimes left with not much to say other than, "dang, this beer's real good," which isn't too insightful.  But maybe, with a great beer, I don't need to say too much more.

(Hat Tip to Beer Samizdat and his twitter feed.)

Friday, September 13, 2013

Modern Times Beer

Modern Times Beer is now open, joining the crowded San Diego craft brewing community.  It was founded by Jacob McKean, who formerly worked as Stone Brewing's communications specialist and blogger (hey, what the heck does a blogger know about beer?), and it had a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign last spring, raising over $65,000.  The pedigree and capital are all good and well, but don't mean anything if the beers stink. I've tried two Modern Times' beers, the Lomaland Saison and the Neverwhere 100% Brett IPA, and they definitely don't stink.

Lomaland, which I think is brewed with the same strain of yeast as Saison Dupont, is a solid, drinkable saison, and a great everyday beer.  Saison is a wide-open style, and Modern Times chose a conventional approach, which makes sense, in my opinion, for a core, year-round beer from a start-up brewery.  Outside of The Lost Abbey's Red Barn, I am not sure of local breweries distributing a saison on a regular basis, and Red Barn is not that widely available.  I don't know why more brewers haven't jumped on saisons, I'd much rather drink a saison than some wheat beer or pale ale.  Lomaland has enough flavor and complexity for the beer geek, yet is approachable enough for the casual beer drinker, which may allow Modern Times to build a niche for itself with this beer.

Modern Times steps into San Diego's competitive IPA jungle with the bold Neverwhere IPA, which is brewed with 100% Brettanomyces yeast.   It is a dank, earthy IPA, with a refreshing jolt of bitter citrus juice.  Modern Times lists Neverwhere IPA as a special release, so you can't get a growler fill.  Neverwhere needs to move into the year-round line-up, because I want it as a take-away option.

I plan to try more Modern Times' beers in the near future and hope they are as good as Lomaland and Neverwhere.   And yes, I will try to keep an open mind on its Blazing World amber ale.  (If it'd been classified as a red ale, I'd have already tried it.) 

The airy tasting room is unique and stylistically campy (compliment).  It is dominated by a huge mosaic mural of Michael Jackson and his pet chimp Bubbles, made with what looks like are two-inch square Post-Its.  One of the other walls is covered with pages from old books and pictures that look like they were acquired at thrift stores, and another with pages from old comic books.  The bar sits on stacks of books.  The tumble weed chandeliers that sway in the open space are as fascinating to me as the Michael Jackson mural, and the strings of lights gives the space an outdoor patio feel.

The tasting room is open every day from noon to 9:00.  Modern Times is located in an industrial area near San Diego's Sports Arena, which is now named for a casino, or maybe an Indian tribe.  I have been to Modern Times twice and it wasn't too crowded either time, the first late on a Friday night about a half-hour before closing time, and the second on a Monday evening, which may be the perfect time to visit a brewery tasting room.  The staff was friendly and knowledgeable, but we'll need to check on their attitude some Saturday afternoon when the beer tour buses show up.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Saison Summer (Part II)

This was the summer of the saison.  I was underwhelmed by two, impressed by two, and floored by one.  I've already reviewed one whiff, Prairie Artisan Ales's Prairie Ale (this was Part I).  The second saison that came up short was Fantôme's  alliterative Brise BonBons! - the most fun to say beer name ever.  Fantôme's beers, which are mostly some derivation of saison, are beers on the edge.  They challenge you, fight you, and force you to convert your initial taste shock to admiration by the end of the bottle.  I relished a battle with Brise Bon-Bons!, but peace reigned.

Sure, Brise BonBons! was yeast-forward with a sophisticated, spicy character (spices that I couldn't detect, so at least this part of Fantôme stayed true), and it had a satisfying, bitter finish; more bitter than I expected from a Belgian saison.  But ultimately it was a pleasant, borderline boring beer.  I know I would have thought more of Brise BonBons! if it was from another brewer, but Fantôme has a reputation to uphold, dang it.  From a beer named Ball Breaker, I wanted a precarious, dangerous beer, not a drinkable, approachable saison that flirts with mainstream for crying out loud.  

I'll write about the other three saisons in future posts.


I am enjoying A.J. Liebling's 1963 paean to French food and eating well, "Between Meals."  The book, which explores Liebling's "feeding" education in 1920's Paris, is full of masterful passages like this one describing a wine called Tavel, a type of rosé from Southern France's Rhone region:

The taste is warm but dry, like an enthusiasm held under restraint, and there is a tantalizing suspicion of bitterness when the wine hits the top of the palate.  With the second glass, the enthusiasm gains; with the third, it is over-powering.  The effect is generous and calorific, stimulative of celebration and the social instincts.  "An apparently light treacherous rosé," Root (a food writer) calls it, with a nuance of resentment that hints at misadventure.

Brilliant.  I've never heard of Tavel, but now want to try this bitter, treacherous wine that points to misadventure. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Prairie Ales Saison

I originally wrote this post in June but forgot to post it.  Other than a few minor edits, the post is my original thoughts on Prairie Artisan Ales' saison.

Prairie Artisan Ales has been getting favorable press.   Its buzz went from a murmur to a roar so fast
that Prairie Artisan Ales' beers are now hard to find.   I found a lone bottle of its Prairie Ale Saison a week or so ago and grabbed it, chilled it, and opened it the following evening.  Maybe it was a case of over expectations, but I was underwhelmed by this beer.  It was good, yes, but not great.  Prairie Ale Saison poured a cloudy, summer gold, and had a big, resilient white foam.  I immediately smelled the beer's yeast, and thought I caught a whiff of some funk, too. The aroma didn't translate to the saison's taste; it was not too yeasty, nor was it funky.  Despite the big yeast aroma, I found the yeast profile secondary when tasting the beer.

Prairie Ale was initially, surprisingly sweet.  Its sweetness jumps out at you.  It was not dry like so many other saisons, which probably accented its candied first impression.  The sweetness gave way a boozy and bitter finish, and the finish was long.

I didn't mind Prairie Ale Saison's sweetness or its lack of dryness.  What held me back from appreciating this beer was its forward alcohol and sharp, astringent bitterness.  I want to try more Prairie Ales, and its saison warrants further beer exploration. 

Where Are The Posts?

A blur of a summer is over, at least as measured by the school calender.  A busy summer didn't mean a shortage of beer.  I had some good beers (and a few mediocre ones) that I'll discuss in upcoming posts.  I spent two weeks early in the summer in England and France, mainly London and Paris, but didn't have a real memorable beer.  I've read that London's craft beer scene is booming, but I didn't really find it (or have the time to search it out), and the best I can say about beer in Paris is that I discovered the lovely Chablis.  That's a bit unfair and condescending, I did drink beer in France, every restaurant seemed to have Stella or 1664 - a macro, pilsner type beer - which won't fire up the beer geeks but that sure hit the spot on a hot day.  Glad to get back to the blog, and here is a picture of a glass of Duval, enjoyed from my St. Germain hotel balcony.