Friday, 27 January 2012

The Latest Batch of New Brew Reviews: Fürstenberg Pilsner, Raftman, La Chouffe, and Winter Beard

I've had four new (new to me, anyway) beers recently: Fürstenberg Premium Pilsener, Unibroue's Raftman, Brasserie d'Achouffe's La Chouffe, and Muskoka Winter Beard Double Chocolate Cranberry Stout.  Here come some brief thoughts on each.

I am not a huge lager fan, generally, but I do sometimes love a good, dry, pilsener, though not often on a January evening, so maybe I would provide a different review come summer, but Fürstenberg Premium Pilsener (4.8% ABV) pours a very light straw colour with a thick, porous, rocky head with fair retention and slight lacing.  Aromas are of grain and grass and not great, though are certainly style-appropriate, though it admittedly tastes a bit better than the aromas and is sufficiently drying, but a touch watery and 'light-lagerish' on the tongue.  Better than American lagers, but not the best pilsener ever.  In general, I think the Czechs tend to make these better!  Grade: C+

Unibroue's Raftman (5.5% ABV) is quite unique in that it is brewed with whiskey malt and is somewhat in a style of its own.  Style-wise, it is described by the brewer as "Peat-smoked whisky malt ale," though beeradvocate considers it a Belgian Pale Ale, and I'd consider that assessment fair considering its style elements.  Upon pouring, I immediately notice the noisy, bubbling, fizzy head that diminishes as quickly as it comes.  Though this head is inviting, there is no real retention or lacing to speak of.  The body is a deep, hazy copper in colour with a thinly particulate, bottle-conditioned cloudiness - that lends credence to the Belgian style categorization.  Aromawise, this Belgian influence continues as it is remarkably yeasty, mostly of bread, but with hints of spices, sweet malty fruits, and just a faint semblance of smoked peat.  It tastes sweet up front, but not cloying, with a smoky sort of drying that apparently comes from the whiskey malt.  It is fairly full-bodied with thin, but substantive carbonation that makes for a tingly mouthfeel.  It is very pleasantly drying, almost like a perrier (though tasting much different obviously) in its finish and is quite well balanced and thirst quenching, but it isn't as remarkable as I expected, even if there is nothing wrong with it at all!  I suppose, for me, I'd find the uniqueness of the whiskey malt characteristics to go better with a Scotch Ale rather than a Belgian influenced one.  Part of what makes Unibroue (somewhat) unique is their tendency to mix things up, and though this does so - and does so well - it simply didn't feel like 'what it could have been' or perhaps was in my anticipation.  Worth drinking, but for me, not by the case!  Grade: B

La Chouffe is a highly respected Belgian Strong Pale Ale, yet the green glass bottle set me off initially (since it is less effective than brown, if better than clear, at preventing light infiltration).  Coming in at 8% ABV and from a 750ml bottle, this packs a punch and I'm glad I had company to share it with!  It pours a nice frothy white head with good retention and solid lacing.  The body is an almost luminescent amber with quite visible, highly particulate cloudiness.  Aromas are of bananas, cloves, and nutmeg, with yeasty primacy, while the taste is somewhat similar if a touch less malty than expected.  Though good, the aroma tops the flavor, which is a bit muted, though appropriately dry (and perhaps slightly drier than some other examples of its style).  As mentioned, it lacks any strong malt presence, though the yeasty spiciness is readily apparent to eye, nose, and tongue.  Feel-wise, it is very light bodied and a bit crisp - perhaps a touch outside of style norms   A decent example of the style, but not one to write home about if you ask me.  I much prefer Delerium Tremens, and slightly so Duvel, though I think this is better than Affligem Blond, so it's somewhere around average for a very well-respected style - which is to say, it's pleasurable and, for me, its balancing dryness was its finest quality if not its characteristic primacy.  Grade: B

Finally, I come to Muskoka's Winter Beard, a Chocolate and Cranberry-infused Stout (or borderline Imperial Stout at 8% ABV).  I had heard very good things about this beer and love the brewery, so I really wanted to love it (especially with my public imperial stout addiction) and though I did like it, it didn't quite meet the hype for me.  To grant some fairness to this excellent Ontario brewery, I owe it another tasting when I haven't had a St. Ambroise Russian Imperial Stout earlier in the same night, since everything ranks lower after tasting heaven (and since my rating coherence diminishes after an evening of strong beers!).  Anyway, the Winter Beard pours a very dark brown with a thin mocha head with moderate retention and negligible lace.  On the nose, I get coffee and bittersweet cranberries alongside dark fruit, raisins, and figs.  Flavourwise, it is very sweet up front with the infused chocolate being rather obvious, though the hops provides a fairly drying finish - but not enough to call it balanced.  That is, it is sweet and, as a kind of dessert beer so it should be, but it doesn't seem sweet enough to be so unbalanced to me as it is sweet in the (so-infused) bittersweet chocolate kind of way.  That is, I think I'd have enjoyed it more if it was either more balanced (in standard stout terms) or if it had embraced this imbalance with excess sweetness (for dessert) or excessive bitterness as an imperial stout would, but it seemed insufficiently imbalanced if that makes sense?  On the tongue it is fairly full-bodied and sticky, yet simultaneously prickly.  I found it to ultimately be good, but not great, as an imperial stout, and also good, but not great, as a dessert stout.  Certainly something I'd try again, and probably once every Christmas... who knows, it might have been over-hyped for me.  Grade: B-


  1. Great reviews here...and some great beers.

    Our Winter Beard will change slightly every year based on all of the variables - the cranberries, percentage of dark chocolate (last year was 50%), the hops and the aging.

    The beer ages quite nicely, so I would encourage you to cellar a bottle to try next Christmas.

    Cheers and thanks for the support.


  2. I will certainly cellar one and try next year's version as well (and as mentioned give them a solo try before reporting back), but in general, keep up the excellent brewing! Your dark ale is one of my regularly consumed beers!