dsc00976It’s been a while since I’ve posted a decent review. So I thought I’d get things rolling again with a nice seasonal.

Corsendonk Christmas Ale. This is seriously one of the best winter seasonals I’ve enjoyed. And the commemorative glass it came with isn’t bad, either.

I’d actually never heard of Corsendonk, but based on various Beer Advocate reviews they seem to be a pretty respectable Belgian brewery. Their Christmas seasonal is a Belgian Strong Dark Ale, coming in at 8.5% ABV. Poured with a gorgeous fluffy head and rich mahogany coloring, giving way to a fantastic spicy malt aroma. Fantastic yeast-forward quality. Apparently they brew with coriander, and I’d guess star anise, as it came through a bit in the nose.

The first sip was incredible. Like a less plum-like version of a Belgian dubbel. Very smooth, very rich, and very tasty. Nice toasted malts combined with just a bit of light chocolate, toffee, and candi sugar. A little sweet up front, but finishes nice and dry. If you can find this one, I’d highly recommend it.

Rating: A

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It’s been an eventful several days. First, I was up in northern Minnesota over the weekend trying my luck at catching some walleye with my dad, and we were pretty successful. Growing up in Minnesota, most of us are naturally drawn to the north, like a magnetic compass. Many go to recharge, connect with nature, get centered again. It’s why I like spending time there. But when it’s butt ass cold, you’re not so much interested in taking in the autumnal leaf changes, but rather trying your best not to slip into a hypothermic state as you whip across a barren lake at 6:30 a.m. in a boat. Such was the case with me and my dad. The thermometer read 27 degrees when we put in Saturday morning, and it didn’t break 50 until high noon. Not that those temps are that cold for us true, hardy Minnesotans. But when you’re on the water, and there’s a slight wind, and the clouds give a little overcast cover, things can get interesting pretty quickly.

After a solid fishing trip, I spent most of Sunday out in the garage making a nice little IPA. Used 2-row pale, a bit of medium crystal, and plenty of Cascade and Simcoe. Interestingly enough, during the boil a huge spider came crawling up the side of the pot, and I took it as a sign. So this one is going to be The Captain’s Spider IPA. Or maybe ArachnoPalia. Cheesy names aside, everything went pretty smoothly, and I was able to pitch the yeast and get the wort fermenting before the Sunday night football game. And it’s been bubbling away very nicely ever since. The sharp hop smell coming out of the air lock is fantastic. I’m debating on whether I dry hop with some Cascade to give it a little extra aroma, or toss in some Simcoe for a crisper bite. We’ll see how I feel when racking day comes.

Which brings us to this evening. I’ve been anxiously awaiting a nice little package from my friend Joey at South Bay Drugs and Liquor in San Diego. Some really nice beers I’ve been looking forward to trying. The Fedex guy tried delivering it over the weekend, but since I wasn’t here, and it required an adult signature, they had to postpone the drop. But it was waiting for me tonight. I ripped open the box, and found an expertly packed set of some of the coolest beer bottles I’ve ever seen. You might say I have my work cut out for me. Here’s what’s chilling in the beer fridge: 

Allagash Curieux
Russian River Damnation
Russian River Pliny the Elder
Stone 12th Anniversary Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal
Stone Arrogant Bastard
Stone Oaked Arrogant Bastard
Stone Cali-Belgique
Stone IPA
Stone Levitation Ale
Stone Pale Ale
Stone Ruination Double IPA
Stone Vertical Epic Ale 08.08.08

Yeah, so there’s alot of Stone. I’ve just heard great things about the brewery and wanted to try a wide variety of what they have to offer. Look for the reviews in the coming weeks.

Thanks to Dave over at The Drunken Polack, I recently found out about an awesome craft beer place on the West coast called South Bay Drugs and Liquor (and before you call asking for Mauwie Wauwie, they’re just a pharmacy, don’t get any ideas). They have tons of incredible beers that I’m unable to get around the Twin Cities, including Stone Brewing, located in Escondido, CA. And luckily for me, they ship. I placed an order for a handful of great beers, many of which will be reviewed over the coming months. But one beer in particular caught my eye…Stone Vertical Epic Ale 08.08.08, their annual special release. This year’s version is a Belgian Strong Golden Ale, and from reviews I’ve read so far it’s pretty solid. But the taste isn’t what got me thinking…it’s the fact that the brewers post their recipe online for all to use.

I’ve done these types of clone experiments before to varying degrees of success (Fat Tire, Corona (seriously), and Chimay Red), but never with an explicit recipe from the brewer guiding me along the way. So, in the coming weeks, I’m going to attempt to make my version of Stone 08.08.08, then compare it to the real deal. And I’ll be doing it blind, without the luxury of having smelled or tasted the ale. The moment I crack open my first StoneClone homebrewed beer is the same moment I’ll be opening up the Stone 08.08.08. The Pepsi Challenge, with alcohol. Should be fun. Only hurdle might be getting the right ingredients, as they call for Simcoe (tough to find right now). I’ll document the brew day, should be happening over the next couple weeks.

Since when did the suffix “gate” become shorthand for political scandal? I guess that’s pretty self-evident. But you have to admit it’s gotten ridiculous. Now we have Troopergate with the McCain-Palin ticket. Subpoenas are flying, but sounds like nobody involved in the investigation plans to honor the legal commandment to appear. I find this very interesting, and seems to me to be another example of Palin’s abuse of power…first she welcomes the investigation into her decision to fire the Public Safety Commissioner who refused to fire her ex-brother-in-law, an Alaska state trooper. Then she puts up roadblocks for the state-appointed investigative probe that, let me remind you, is made up of 3 Republicans and 2 Democrats. Now, the state Attorney General is insisting that the state employees called to testify are “caught” between their respect to the Legislature and their loyalty to the governor, putting them in an “untenable position.” Didn’t realize subpoenas were negotiable. Clearly, the Republican strategy is to mire the investigation until after the election.  

But enough about stupid politics. We’re here to talk about beer. I’ve started wondering why nearly all of my beer reviews to this point have been B+ or better. Maybe it’s because I have a skewed perception of what’s a good beer…my craft beer spectrum may have too few stops along the way (like Colbert’s assessment of Dubya…great President, or the greatest President?) Or, I guess it could be because I don’t actively go looking for bad beers. Let’s be fair…some sneak up on you. But in general, I don’t expect to get a nasty surprise at the place I buy most of my decent craft beer. Maybe I need to broaden my beer horizons and take a second look at all the macro brewers have to offer (after all, Budweiser American Ale should be hitting the shelves soon). Or maybe I need to have my head examined for even having such a thought.    

Either way, here’s another positive review. This evening I enjoyed a very nice Unibroue Maudite, a Belgian strong dark ale. It poured with a huge billowy head, giving way to a rich, leathery brown coloring. The smell is of bread, Belgian yeast, and spicy cloves. But not overly hoppy. The taste is incredibly smooth, and the ale is perfectly carbonated, delivering a fantastic mouthfeel. Some esters also come through in the taste, possibly raisins or prunes, and maybe even a little Belgian candi sugar. This is a very high quality beer, a nice way to spend time pondering the apparently negotiable nature of congressional subpoenas.

Rating: A-

I don’t fashion myself a big politico, but I just can’t stomach the RNC. I can’t avoid it living in the Twin Cities…it’s on the local news, it’s on the national news, and it’s staring me in the face as I drive home from work as literally busloads of conservative sheep clog up traffic and delay me from getting home to spend time with my fiance and enjoy my latest brew. Sarah Palin-drone…you took the gloves off during your  speech tonight, and you will soon realize that was a very big mistake. Not tough to pander to the RNC choir with standard conservative talking points (i.e. “values”, liberal media, FEARmongering of all varieties). If the Republicans have led our country so effectively the past eight years, why do they avoid bringing Bush or Cheney to the convention? Distance is a virtue. You certainly don’t paint yourself as a victim Ms. Palin, and the Democrats won’t treat you like one. Game on, supporter of the Bridge to Nowhere…or wait, you flip-flopped on that. I’m just wondering if tomorrow McCain will give America one substantial example of how his party plans to ressurect the U.S. economy and improve healthcare, instead of continuing to wage divisive and partisan attacks that run counter to their positioning as “maverick change agents”. Political theater. Country first…real issues second. Oh, and maybe Palin and Giuliani weren’t aware…but Jesus Christ was a community organizer. Pontius Pilate was a governor.

Sigh…anyway. As I watched the Republicans nominate this election cycle’s losing candidates, I sipped on a very nice Abbey-style strong dark ale, Unibroue La Terrible. And strong is the operative word here. It’s a very interesting ale. Pours like a Guinness with an extremely dark ruby coloring, but with a nice Belgian yeast aroma. Definitely the darkest abbey that I’ve seen.

It’s a little reminiscent of Ommegang Three Philosophers, with some hints of cherry and dark fruits, even a bit of tobacco. Its 10.5% ABV gives it a slight alcohol burn on the backend. Pretty boozy. In fact, I think the alcohol content gets a little in the way of this one. La Terrible is billed as somewhat of a digestif, and I’d agree with that. I’ll venture to say, it’s a bit too heavy for me, but I would try it again. 

Rating: B+

I love Belgians. More specifically, their ales. I had the pleasure of drinking a Rochefort 8 this evening, and it was fantastic. Rich cherry notes, plum, a little vanilla, and a nice hint of alcohol that just slightly warmed the back of the throat. All in all, good stuff. Sitting here in the U.S., I wonder how these complex Trappists would taste if I were in a pub in Brussels. Overseas shipping and temperature fluctuations must take its toll. I’d imagine it would be the same experience I had drinking a Guinness in Dublin…best I ever had.  But that likely had more to do with the fact that I was a stones throw from St. James Gate and had consumed approximately ten pints of the dark stuff.

Of the official Trappist ales, I’ve enjoyed about half of them. A Chimay Triple is chilling in my beer fridge, with an Orval begging to be opened later this evening.

I kind of like the idea of getting to know a country or region through its beer…spend a couple months sampling the wares, appreciating the subtle differences and brewing traditions…then push on to a whole ‘nother area. As a somewhat fledgling home brewer, I think it helps strengthen the palette. It also helps me understand the time and effort that goes into making a truly drinkable beer. As I’d tell my fiance, this type of research is the yeast I can do.

Rating: A-