December 2008 / January 2009

Strong Ales

Big Beers are everywhere: Imperial Stouts, Double IPAs, Belgian Tripels, and Monster Barley Wines. With a focus on hops and alcohol, extreme beers are having a controversial influence on the craft beer industry. What exactly is the motivation behind this movement away from the balance of malt and hops and a marriage of flavors? Is it a generational thing with younger folks expressing their unique style to differentiate themselves? The insatiable quest for “the bigger and stronger the better (beer)” leaves me pondering about how much testosterone is in our fresh water sources. Frankly, like most women, the Beer Diva is guarded with the really big and strong. However, in the interest of beer exploration and appreciation, the Beer Diva threw caution to the wind and led the Beer Beacon tasters in the Strong Ales sampling journey.

The tasting was held at the Pizza Plant on Transit in East Amherst, where a regular crew of craft beer enthusiasts frequently gathers on Sunday evenings.

The Tasters:
Some new, some experienced, included two newcomers - 'lene and Mean, steadfast Vinny, joined by prior participants, Evil and Gerg and the Beer Diva.

The Method:
Tasters are served each beer without knowing what the beer is. They are told what style the brewery is emulating, when there is a beer style.

Our heartfelt thanks go out to all the breweries that sent samples
to the Beer Beacon for this marvelous tasting. When you're in Buffalo,
check out the Pizza Plant for a spectacular revolving selection of craft
beers and be sure to sample a Pod while you're there. My sincere thanks
to the Beer Beacon Tasters - a wonderful time it was.
Next issue: Chocolate and Coffee Beers.

The Beers:

Winter Odd Notion 2008 ~ Magic Hat Brewing Company
5 Bartlett Bay Road, So. Burlington, VT 05403

“A Braggot? I've been called one many times; can't say I ever tasted one,” said Gerg. Vinny thought the aroma was slightly sweet and flowery with an earthy edge. 'lene tasted fruity apricots and honey. Evil suggested this might be a great breakfast beer and especially good for a sore throat. Mean found the malt flavor and the honey well balanced, but said it was not a remarkable beer overall. The silky, herbal honey flavor and light pale color reminded Gerg of some recently enjoyed local meads. The name of this beer might not attract the nouveau beeristas, but the perfume and flavor sure will, suggested the Beer Diva.

“This smells like fog” 'lene commented. The medium brown colored ale has a faint nose that was slightly nutty with woody notes, remarked Gerg. Vinny found the cherry caramel aroma pleasant, but thought the mouth feel was too thin. We all agreed there was an interesting tart and almost sweet aftertaste. You could drink a lot of this, said Gerg. We need big, Reuben sandwiches, suggested the Beer Diva.

He'Brew Jewbelation Twelve ~ Shmaltz Brewing Company
912 Cole Strett, San Francisco, CA 94117

“Now, there's a punch in the face!” exclaimed Evil. A deep dark color with a licorice-berry nose and a caramel, raisin taste said 'lene. This beer reminded Vinny of licorice sticks in a wooden bowl with vodka. Gerg was wooed by the complexity - unapologetically big and so well balanced with layers of malt, anise and currants. Evil said it was a cornucopia of flavors. An in your face, Hava Nagila all over my tongue, party in your pants beer, summed up the Beer Diva.

Otter's Dubbel World Tour ~ Otter Creek Brewing Inc.
793 Exchange Street, Middlebury, VT 05753

The chocolate spicy custard pie aroma is unique and surprising for a beer remarked 'lene. Vinny noted the malty, roasty coconut body with a velvety feel and the distinctive sour after taste. Mean found the flavor spicy, burnt malt with a bit of sour fruitiness. Gerg found the flavor unexpectedly odd, but interesting, like some of his best friends. Give it some time to settle down, suggested Evil and this beer might mature quite nicely.

Sam Adams Chocolate Infused Bock ~ Boston Beer Company
One Design Center, Suite 850, Boston, MA 02210

Vinny noted the roasted malt, light fruit, big chocolate syrup flavor - a malternative heaven - he added. Mean thought the aroma was slightly vanilla with a chocolate chip, malty taste. Gerg and Evil were of the Holy F'ing Hershey's in a bottle! Yahoo for Big Kids faction, whereas, both 'lene and the Beer Diva will be scooping up these pretty bottles with the silver medallions for their chocoholic beerfriends this
holiday season.

Doppelbock 21st Anniversary ~ Full Sail Brewing Company
405 Portway, Hood River, OR 97031

Gerg noted some hops in the nose and taste that was complimented by a rich malty, fruity body. Vinny commented on the rich delicious flavor and malty, apricot body. Evil liked the malty, slightly licorice taste and said he thought it was similar to a Scotch Ale. 'lene was impressed by the complex flavors of malt, caramel and fruit. Like a multi-layered dessert in a glass, suggested the Beer Diva.

Theobroma ~ Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Inc.
6 Village Center Boulevard, Milton, DE 19968

“An Elixir of Uncertainty” remarked Evil. 'lene thought the aroma was slightly fruity and the taste creamy, chocolate, vanilla spice with a fruity sour finish. Mean found the aroma clean and pleasant, “essence of shower water” he added. Vinny thought the muscatel grape flavor was both spicy and rich. Gerg tasted honey again and spicy fruit slices. The Beacon consensus was that this beer was complex like an elegant Riesling, and would be well liked by women and a great match with chicken Caesar salad.

Barleywine ~ Sprecher Brewing Company
701 W. Glendale Avenue, Glendale, WI 53209

'lene thought the nose was woodsy - is there such a thing as a pine fruit? Vinny liked the almond alcohol nose with a maple and cherry hops body. Gerg found it subtle, soft and sweet - a good beginner barleywine or even a weekend day starter. Mean said the aroma reminded him of an old cedar closet. Evil suggested this would be a great beer to take to the slopes - sweet and warm.

Barleywine, Old Wooly 2007 ~ Big Time Brewing Company
4133 University Way NE, Seattle, WA 98105

The Crown Jewel of the Evening, remarked 'lene. Gerg appreciated the hops - wahoo! Mean even liked it. Vinny commented on the big nutty sweet nose, with hops that invaded his tongue and mouth and the spicy hot finish - “it completes me,” he added. Everything you ever wanted and more, sweet, smart, strong and full of flavor - a classic. The Beer Diva found it monstrously big, but remembers a very happy ending.

--- by The Beer Diva, Beer Beacon columnist

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