White Birch Rusalka

White Birch Rusalka

Beer No. 70 – White Birch Rusalka

Imagine an Oompa Loompa that dipped his finger in just-grey ash then stirred your Milk Stout. This is what you get, and it’s exquisite.

My chief complaint with Left Hand Milk Stout (Beeradvocate 89, ratebeer 96) is that it “drinks more like a 2% milk stout than it should.” No problem here. Undeniable creaminess, latte-like consistency and a polished product that’s best captured by that moment right before your tongue runs along the roof of your mouth in bitter dissatisfaction. Except it doesn’t, and the fact that it teases you with it is maddening in the best possible way.

The real winner here is my taste buds. It’s impossible to overlook the way three different grains – barley, wheat and oats – are blended to achieve a smooth malty balance that at least one review says is “very” sweet, which I agree with if by “very” he means “just right.”

Complaints: Few. I don’t think it needs them at all, but I was promised “plumb” and “raisin” and get neither. Maybe they’re victims of my chill chest, filled with Belgians where those flavors come to the fore more directly. I could coax a little raisin from the nose but it’s still not there on the palate.

Overall an excellent offering that I’ll be trying to get my hands on again.

Beeradvocate Rating: N/A (five ratings)

ratebeer Rating: N/A (six ratings)

Hayward Abbey Rating: 92


Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye IPA

Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye IPABeer No. 69 – Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye IPA

Is this really a problem?

The New York Times is reporting that large-format, 750 ml and beyond brews will face, and maybe already are facing, an uphill battle with craft consumers. Among the complaints are:

  • Cost/value 
  • Sessionability
  • Brewers are putting all the good stuff in this format
  • This isn’t beer

Some of these points are more interesting than others. Like beer isn’t beer if it’s bottled and priced like wine and scotch and fancypants.

I’ll admit that price isn’t, at the moment, a barrier for me. And except for nights like tonight, with a late start forcing my hand to the 12-ounce section of the beer rack, neither is sessionability. That’s why it’s hard to take the complaints of these beer sommeliers – whose job it is to sell large-format craft beers – too seriously when they say large-format craft beers “can be problematic to sell.” To Mitt Romney, sure. But you work at a hip restaurant in New York City. You mean to tell us you can’t sell two or three beers? Because fundamentally that’s all large-format is.

Anyway, it seems the biggest challenge here is philosophical. Too many craft consumers have their identities wrapped up with their beer, defined positively as “it’s local” or negatively by what it’s not (“anything but Bud Light”). Fine, that’s not the best definition but we now have some parameters. We also have some assumptions, including “This is beer.” By comparison, what’s obviously not is wine, and bourbon. So when craft brewers start experimenting with barrel aging, craft consumers bristle. People don’t like to have their assumptions challenged.

Make no mistake, this isn’t about price or the lament of hipster sommeliers. We are entering the next phase of brew development and should support these efforts, not undermine them. Beer has been evolving for thousands of years. Dogfish Head Midas Touch (Beeradvocate 84, ratebeer 93) is an homage to three drink ingredients – barley, grapes and honey – discovered in the burial site of King Midas. You have to believe the ancient Greeks and today’s beer geeks didn’t use the same methods or stylistic flourishes.

Beer is evolving. It will continue to evolve. And I guess I can’t and won’t get too worked up over someone who wants to charge $14 for 750 ml of a Farmhouse Ale aged in red wine barrels. That sounds like something someone put a lot of time and effort into, and more importantly it sounds highly quaffable.

Beer Notes: It seems the whole-cone hops get lost in the caramel ryeness of it. But it is crisp – rather so – for a rye beer so maybe that is the whole-cone hops coming through. Pleasant finish, decent effort.

Beeradvocate Rating: 88

ratebeer Rating: 98

Hayward Abbey Rating: 84

Brasserie d’Achouffe La Chouffe

Brasserie d'Achouffe La ChouffeBeer No. 68 – Brasserie d’Achouffe La Chouffe

Time to take a break from Andy’s beers and focus on a family favorite. Belgians of all styles are highly regarded in our household, especially Dubbels and Strong Pale Ales. Translation: Momma Bear likes em on the lighter side of strong, the lighter side of dark. So La Chouffe is always on the menu.

One of the surprising things I learned when checking the Hayward Abbey stats is that 31 percent of the readership is non-US, and that nearly 25 percent of that comes from Belgium. Belgian beer fans read this site at nearly three times the rate of Brits, 16 times more often than Germans, 30 times more often than the Japanese and infinitely more often than the subjects of Kim Jong Un.

They know that La Chouffe is a world-class brew with a milky drinkability that’s not readily apparent from its straw-like hue. Even at 8% it doesn’t bite. Drop of tequila seasoned with sea salt and pepper, nectar to balance, the poster child for liquid bread – really really good bread that’s actually beer with a crisp fruity balance.

Those who know me well know that I regret not getting the triple major when I had the chance, electing instead to coast for a year and a half with the minimum credits possible. Those who know me really really well know that I also regret my choice of majors, Economics and English, and that if I had the chance to do it over I’d go for Math (possibly Physics), Econ and Philosophy. A glutton-for-punishment courseload that has to be easier to regret about than it would have been to see through. But there it is.

The point is, the numbers – and what they mean – are sort of unrequited loves, and it will be interesting to see if Hayward Abbey’s international visitor distribution changes over time, and if so if there is anyone who can out-beer Belgium.

Beeradvocate Rating: 94

ratebeer Rating: 98

Hayward Abbey Rating: 98

Five-Ounce Pours

Budweiser WaterIf someone said Budweiser literally waters down its beers, you would expect Budweiser’s defense to mention that it doesn’t literally water down its beers, no? Also, nerd props to Brewbound, who tapped the scandal “Watergate.” [CBS]

2.8% brew has Scottish worrywarts “worried it will cause alcoholism.” [the drinks business]

Florida health care company offers employees an on-the-job pint on Fridays. You see, Scotland, not everyone has to be so uptight. [USA Today]

Cleveland Indians plan to attract fans with “cheap” $4 beers. This news is too late for the dated but still-good Cleveland Tourism Video. And Part 2. [CNBC]

The Brewers Association ups the number of beer styles from 140 to 142. Added to the list are Adambier and Grätzer, “historic pre-Reinheitsgebot styles that are making a slow revival among U.S. and international brewers.” Proof that God did not give us beer? Adambier would have been first. [Brewbound]

White Birch Hooksett Ale

White Birch Hooksett AleBeer No. 67 – White Birch Hooksett Ale

Sometimes life just gives you lemonade. And it’s hard to accept when you spend too much time in your own head, selfishly believe others are evil or stupid and simply have few friends to show for it. But there’s no other way to put it, except maybe as, “Sometimes life just gives you friends – and beer.”

Smuttynose Gravitation, a Belgian Style Quad. White Birch Rusalka, a Milk Stout. Moat Mountain Oktoberfest, Shipyard Blue Fin Stout and Allagash Interlude, a Farmhouse Ale aged in red wine barrels. These and seven more, including this Belgian IPA with a pineapple nose.

At 54.5 degrees it’s perfect. Muddy grass, kumquats, with a very light and nice peppercorn finish.

But this isn’t as much about a malty and well-bodied brew as it is about a budding friendship and a generous act that’s opened my mind, and heart.

A few weeks back at our national sales meeting we invited a handful of vendors to discuss their views on the marketplace for used equipment. These presentations are about what you imagine, ranging from yawn to “please tell me more about rising prices where supply is low.” And then something curious happened. I checked my cynicism at the door and quietly laughed when a linebacker-sized bald dude from Portsmouth, New Hampshire started his presentation with questions.

I can’t be more clear about this: Laughing in this moment means something in me circumnavigated every defense mechanism I’ve worked hard to cultivate over the last 33 years. I was supposed to think this guy is a try-hard, maybe even an asshole. I was supposed to think he likes network comedies and Miller Lite. But no. He seemed decent even if I couldn’t put my finger on it. So I sort of sat there for the rest of the day wondering what had gone so horribly wrong.

Now apparently Portsmouth, New Hampshire is right next to Boston and has a killer craft scene. Smuttynose, White Birch, Allagash and more. I know this because Andy knows this. And I know that he knows this, not because I’m telling this story Fight Club style, but because I tried something new this day and struck up a conversation with a near-complete stranger at the bar, even opening with the mildly pathetic but straightforward “I liked the way you started your presentation today.”

So we get to talking and – surprise – he’s a beer geek with a shared “disdain” for fruit beers. Slumming it at the post-meeting restaurant bar, where the selection varied from Light Lager to Euro Pale Lager, this was a revelation. If we couldn’t drink good beer, we were damn well going to talk about good beer.

Allagash Tripel (Beeradvocate 93, ratebeer 99) was his chief recommendation, and I knew then that we were on to something. A few months back during our babymoon I had my first Allagash at Gramercy Tavern in NYC. The Curieux (Beeradvocate 95, ratebeer 99) was divine. A proper Tripel, sweet and malty and even orange peel, it was disappointing to find out they didn’t distribute to lowly Cincinnati.

At least not directly.

For whatever reason – maybe the openness of an evening fueled not by sticky nine percenters but by a charitable mindset – Andy offered to personally send the Tripel, the Curieux, the “other ones I want you to try.” Keep in mind this is exactly the kind of thing you expect someone to say who has no intention of following though. Because that’s the way people are: lazy, poor communicators, desperate for immediate approval. In other words, like me on a regular day.

But that day. That day was different. And I swear on anything and everything that I nearly slipped on my own tears when a few days later not one, not two, but twelve big bottles of Tripels, Imperial Stouts and other personal favorites arrived at my front door, packed carefully in several boxes and layers of popcorn to protect the sweet, sweet goodness that Andy, the linebacker-sized near-complete stranger, wants me to try.

It’s not easy to put in context, mostly because I’m the type of person who itemizes each old t-shirt in the Goodwill bag to maximize my tax deduction. A sort of me-first charity. Understanding what it is to take a real interest in someone else, that’s still pretty new to me. It would be ironic, and wrong, to say beer is the lubricant that brought twelve fine brews to my house. No, it was something else. And even though I don’t have it all figured out – and might not ever – I’m pretty sure there’s much to be said for making, and keeping, new friends. Andy, can you send me your address?

Beeradvocate Rating: 87

ratebeer Rating: 69

Hayward Abbey Rating: 89

Shipyard Prelude Special Ale

Shipyard Prelude Special AleBeer No. 66 – Shipyard Prelude Special Ale

There’s no way it’s just 6.7% ABV. I won’t believe it.

Here’s a simple rule, for Winter Warmers, Doubles, Imperials and other Strong Ales: Beer shouldn’t sear your nostrils or your mouth. What’s really at fault here are my expectations and the thought that here’s supposed to be a warming booziness. Instead for some reason it’s cold. Real cold that shoots straight from the glass up the nose and doesn’t improve with the first or second sip.

Toffee, pomegranate juice and rubbing alcohol mix awkwardly in a fine mahogany glaze.

It’s Chimay Première without the distribution or the flavor.

Beeradvocate Rating: 85

ratebeer Rating: 73

Hayward Abbey Rating: 72

Moat Mountain Oktoberfest Lager

Moat Mountain Oktoberfest LagerBeer No. 65 – Moat Mountain Oktoberfest Lager

It smells like breakfast, just not like any you’ve ever had. Wheaties in shallow pool of subdued grape juice, finished Tyler Florence style with a drizzle of hazelnut oil.

Yes, it is unusual to be drinking this style so early in the year. So yes, it is a holdover from the Fall. And yes, there is a good reason. A reason so good it deserves more time than I have at the moment, so no, I won’t be explaining it just yet.

But let’s do talk about the beer. I opine regularly (some would say too regularly and others would say “opine, more like whine you fucking baby”) about balance, and my perceived perception that some beer or another doesn’t have it. That’s not an issue here. It’s delicate, just sweet, lightly spiced and almost chewy. What’s most prominent is the breadiness, generic on its own but for the Disaronno like touch.

I like all these things as much as the next man. The dilemma of course is that I want to sip, yet feel compelled to gulp. And that’s not really how I want to enjoy my beer. A bit more heft – weight balance rather than flavor balance – would make this something really special.

Beeradvocate Rating: 86*

ratebeer Rating: Not yet available

Hayward Abbey Rating: 88

*Based on 25 ratings.