Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Mondial Beer Review #2: Pale and Brown Ales

In this second review of beers I tasted at Mondial, I will cover Pale Ales, IPAs, Old Ales, Vintage Ales, Scotch Ales, Barley Wines, Amber/Red Ales, and Brown Ales.  For the sake of categorization, I will be lumping together: 1) Bitters, Pale Ales, IPAs and Rye IPAs; 2) Imperial/Double IPAs and Black IPAs; 3) Old Ales, Scotch Ales and Barley Wines; and 4) Brown Ales and Amber/Red Ales.  I am lumping some (slightly) diverse categories together just for organizing my 55 or so ratings from the fest and do realize I am not fully comparing apples to apples.  Now, without further ado:

Bitters, Pale Ales, India Pale Ales, and Rye IPAs

Personal Best of the Fest: Lagunitas IPA (6.2%).  This well respected brewery here offers a very well balanced American IPA that pours a dark golden colour.  The head was lacking, but was poorly poured, so I won't comment on its usual head.  Aromawise, this beers presents a toasty grapefruit primacy with some faint floral piney notes.  Tasting notes are similar, but the up front grapefruit is somewhat sweet with a more orange citrus-ness, before a finely drying estery finish.  It seemed only lightly carbonated (had the bottle sat a while?) with a medium body and was quite pleasant to drink.  Not my favourite American IPA, but a very good one!  Grade: A-

Microbrasserie Charlevoix's just launched La Vache Folle RyePA (6%) was a very close second in this category.  As I tasted this beer at the media launch, the poured glasses had been sitting for a short while and the aroma was faint and had mostly dissipated, so my assessment here may be slightly off, but it seemed to be more dominated by malty fruitiness with a VERY faint hint of smokiness that was primarily sweet.  Though it didn't smell bad, I would have presumed greater hops and will have to try this again after a fresh pour to be certain.  Despite sitting for a short while, though, the rocky white head was excellently retained with a thick, foamy lacing that looked simply gorgeous.  Flavorwise, the hops characteristic is predominantly piney and it is well (im)balanced, by which I mean it is fairly dominated by the imbalance of the style, yet without going over the top.  Only very faint traces of bready, smoky, peaty rye are present, but enough to add to the enjoyment of this fine brew.  With a medium body and a light-medium carbonation, there is ample 'crispness' to this beer and it is quite enjoyable indeed!  Grade: A-  (A promotional release photo follows with more reviews after the shot)

Central City Red Racer ESB (5.6%) is a bit of an oddity in this category that otherwise includes IPAs, but this isn't a traditional English ESB and is a bit more of an American styled Pale Ale, or at best a hybrid as it offers scents of mild-to-moderate grapefruit with a dominant bitterness present beyond what an English ESB would exude.  It is light amber in colour with a nice head and retention, though no lacing to speak of.  It is only malty sweet up front for a brief moment, before a nicely drying finish of toasty citrus and rind.  With a medium body and medium carbonation, this is a decent and enjoyable, if not exemplary offering, but a unique one and gets some marks for that, even if pushing the style boundary.  Grade: B/B+

For the last in this category, I had Swiss brewer, Birrificio Ticinese's Bad Attitude Hobo IPA (6% ABV) (which came highly recommended by "Beer Hunter" Phillippe who has rated 7600 beers at http://www.bov.ch/) yet failed to overly impress.  It had a great piney nose and a fine deep amber colour, with an excellent faintly off-white head that had great retention but poor lacing.  The bitter nose led to to think this would be hop-head heaven, but though dry it was almost equally bready sweet (almost like french toast) and a bit of almost yeasty spice with equal parts grapefruit.  It was more balanced than it smelled like it would be, but didn't really work for me perhaps due to bordering on the style characteristics of many divergent styles.  Some might call it complex, but besides the nose it just didn't work for me.  It was crisp and tingly, yet probably excessively carbonated perhaps muting the hoppiness of the style for me.  Grade: C+/B-

Double/Imperial IPAs and Black IPAs

Personal Best of the Fest: Dogfish Head Burton Baton (10% ABV) is actually made by blending an English Old Ale and a Double IPA and then aging the blend in oak barrels.  The nose is dominated by oaky vanilla notes, while traces of pine are muted by this sweetness if still present.  It is clear and golden amber in colour with only slight head and retention, but nice glass-trailing lacing.  Though the flavour is quite dry as it finishes with a quite bitter citrus, the excessive dryness doesn't linger as it is tempered from beginning through end by the vanilla-citrus combined sweetness of the oak.  No it is not sweet, but it is complex, nuanced, and pleasant beyond what a 'normal' imperial IPA might offer.  The carbonation is fairly substantial making it crisp and tingly to the tongue, though with a lighter body than is characteristic for the style.  Grade: A-/A

In a close second is Dieu du Ciel's Chaman (9% ABV) which is cloudy amber in colour with just a slight creamy white head, though with good retention.  On the nose, the flavour is predominantly citrus hops with a touch of bread, though the taste is nicely nuanced characterized by both grapefruit bitterness and a peaty/earthy dryness that, despite also drying, adds a pleasant complexity.  Fairly full bodied with moderate carbonation, yet fairly smooth on the tongue.  Grade: A-

In a close third is Founders Double Trouble (9.4% ABV) which presents aromas of fruity esters, predominantly citrus, but also floral and with hints of rind.  It pours a golden colour that seems a bit light for the style, but offers a nice frothy white head with good retention and lacing.  Floral and citrus hops dominate the tongue and leave a substantive bitterness yet one without any lengthy lingering.  Medium bodied with only low carbonation makes this beer feel smooth - which to me detracts slightly from a bitter IPA which I, personally, find benefits from some crispy, tingly carbonation, but I am well aware this is an opinion open to much debate!  Still, a fine beer!  Grade: B+

Yet again, there isn't a huge distance between third and fourth in this category, but next is Le Saint Bock's Black Jesus (9.3% ABV) which pours a dark, dark brown with a fine mocha head, good retention, lace, and surface spotting.  Oddly, this beer smells like mocha, chocolate, and sweetened coffee much like a milk stout and without any style characteristics - but it smells nice!  Conversely, as there is nothing on the nose suggesting black IPA, there is nothing on the tongue resembling this sweetness, as the flavour is bitterly piney with hints of pepper and rind.  With a medium body and fair carbonation, this beer otherwise feels style appropriate.  I actually love the sweet stout aroma even if it is inappropriate, but though good, the taste isn't quite enough for me, but it is still enjoyable enough.  Grade: B/B+

Next, I come to Black Moon from Vermont's Rock Art Brewery (10% ABV), which pours jet black with a good frothy white head and solid retention, though negligible lacing.  It smells of pine up front with a trace of floral esters.  It is quite piney/earthy bitter and borders on astringency in flavour - which is certainly style appropriate - but it is a bit much for me and lingers a bit too long, though hop-heads are sure to love it!  It is full bodied with slightly low carbonation levels and doesn't tingle the tongue as it dries its way down!  Good, very stylistically quintessential, yet perhaps a bit too bold in that regard at the same time!  Grade: B

Finally, for this category, I come to the Black Rye IPA offering from Brazil's Cervejaria Bodebrown (7% ABV) which pours a gorgeous jet black, with a lightly cream-coloured thick, rocky head with good retention and lacing.  Aromas are slightly smoky and peaty, as well as offering faintly fruity hints, but are not very dominant and are faint at best and not exactly conforming to the style.  Flavourwise, it is more approrpiate as it is but faintly sweet up front in a citrusy way that dries out quickly with grapefruit, pine, and spice notes that linger excessively.  It is light-to-medium bodied and equally carbonated.  Aside from the aroma, it well fits the style descriptors, but pushes to the point of astringency.  Grade: C+/B-

Old Ales, Scotch Ales, and Barley Wines

Yes, there is fair disparity in this category, though strength, malt, body, and (rough) geographic origin offer some useful categorization and, since I only had one of each, perhaps we can lump these together into an arbitrary category!

Personal Best of the Fest: St. Ambroise Vintage Age Millésimée 2010 (10% ABV).  This aged ale (called both a Barley Wine and an Old Ale depending on the source) certainly ages well though I have never had a fresh one!  It shows unfiltered cloudiness with a dark red colour, while the head is fair, off-white, frothy and offers decent retention and trailing lace.  It smells quite boozy, yet also offers nice aromas of plums, brown sugar, and molasses.  To the tongue, the booziness remains present but is tempered by sweet caramel maltiness that makes it nicely drinkable, with only a slight-to-moderate drying finish (tempered by age perhaps?).  It is warming and fairly full bodied, but with a creamy, low carbonation that makes this fit the Barley Wine tradition and 'wine' inspiration quite well.  Grade: A

Next best for me would be the oddity of the grouping: Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale (8.5% ABV) from Founders Brewing.  This strong Scotch Ale pours a dark brown with quite nice head and retention, though with no lacing to speak of.  Faintly smoky earthy aromas meet the nose while the flavour is similar yet the peaty illusion is sweet in its toasty/woods maltiness.  With medium carbonation and a light-to-medium body, this beer is also fairly warming but not boozy.  Nice, but despite its commanded level of respect, I actual found it to be sweeter than desired and good, but perhaps not as good as many find it, though you should try it for yourself!  I'd like to try it again alongside the Dieu du Ciel Scotch Ale that I so thoroughly adored on draft.  Grade: B+/A-

Finally, I come to the Vermonster (10% ABV), a Barley Wine from Rock Art Brewery that meets the nose with piney/floral hops.  It pours a nice brown with excellent off-white frothy head and noteworthy retention.  There is some malty fruit up front, with very faint notes of raisins, plums, and caramel, but it is wiped out promptly by a very drying floral estery finish with a lingering aftertaste.  As typical of the style, it is fairly full bodied with negligible carbonation, such that it would likely show well on cask.  It was decent, but there wasn't enough barley for me... as the hops shut it down and I would have liked a few more malty aromas and or tastes.  Though I understand that hop heads love it - as one would expect.  Grade: B+

Browns, Reds and Ambers

Personal Best of the Fest: The winner for me is a rare hybrid oddity that almost shouldn't qualify: Beau's 2011/2012 incarnation of Winterbrewed (5% ABV) which is infused with brewed coffee and changes slightly year to year.  This Winter's batch had Guatemalan coffee rather than last year's Nicaraguan and was as delicious as I recall!  Pouring a dark amber-to-light brown with nice rocky mocha head full of lacing with remarkable retention.  Just gorgeous and then you smell it: freshly brewed gourmet coffee (and, with fair-trade Bridgehead organic coffee, it truly is quality!).  The nose has faint hints of earthy hops and caramel malts, but trying to smell anything other than the coffee seemingly brewing beneath your nose is difficult!  The flavour is toasty and nutty, but primarily offers a thick and lingering coffee goodness that is met with just enough hops to dry out the finish that maintains that lingering coffee for quite some time (though not long enough!)  Medium bodied, with slight carbonation, this is fairly oily (as per the coffee) but just a delight to drink!  Grade: A+

It may be somewhat unfair to let my coffee love name the Personal Best of the Fest for one whose "Amber" qualities are nearly indiscernible, so I offer the Backup Best of the Fest here as Wilco Tango Foxtrot (7.8% ABV) a so-called "Imperial Brown Ale" from Lagunitas.  This beer is golden brown in colour and a bit lighter than anticipated with a nice off-white head and decent retention and lace.  Oranges and drier citrusy hops aromas meet the nose while the taste is simply complex and remarkably balanced.  At times, I felt like it began with malty toasted grains before a piney drying finish that didn't last, yet on other sips felt the inverse, being met by floral citrus hops before the malty sweetness and drying end (without any lingering bitterness).  The complex balance is very, very good.  It is very creamy, nearly chewy, and medium to full bodied with medium carbonation.  Not boozy at all.  Very drinkable.  Grade: A-/A

Beau's Strong Patrick Irish Red Ale (6.7% ABV) comes in next, though I would love to try this again and offer more.  I adore good Irish Reds, but they must be consumed before Barley Wines and such and, for various reasons, this didn't happen and its subtleness was lost a bit on me at the time.  It was easy drinking for it's ABV, had nice caramel and toasty notes on the nose and tongue and finished with the lingering sweetness one expects from an Irish Red.  Saying more than that will require a second tasting, but I did enjoy it and I am sure I would again!  Grade: B+/A-

Next, is Maracaibo Especial (a 7.5% ABV American Brown) from Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales.  It pours a deep amber with a decent, creamy, whiter-than-expected head of moderate retention and pacing.  There was also a remaining brown yeast sediment visible in the glass.  It has two-part aroma beginning with sweet-and-sour dark malty fruits and finishing with a slight citrus hoppiness.  Tastes like slightly smoky camp toast with a rindy/citrus finish.  It is good, but not exactly like expected in aroma or taste for the style.  It had a nicely drying finish, but more in an American Pale Ale manner than that of a Brown.  Good, but not legendary to me.  Grade: B/B+

Finally, I come to BarbaRoja Barrel-Aged Red Ale (9% ABV) which pours a gorgeous deep amber with an excellent frothy beige head with thick bubbles that remain and leave a fair trace.  It has but a faint aroma merely of sweet citrus and lightly toasted malts.  Tastes are of spicy fruit with a piney finish and they somehow seem to clash rather than complement each other.  Medium-bodied and moderately carbonated, though a bit oily and fairly warming.  Good, enjoyable, but not something I'd go back to often.  Grade: B

Well, that's it for now.  Remaining posts about Mondial: Stouts/Porters, Lagers and Wheat Beers, Sours and Unique Oddities, and finally a wrap up post with some concluding remarks - stay tuned as I keep re-living this phenomenal event!

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