Monday, 10 June 2013

Mondial Review 2: From the American Craft Behemoth

On the best of my new-found European taste sensations, see the first Mondial review here.  And now...

South of our border lies the American craft behemoth - the country of the alleged 2000 craft breweries. But it is more than sheer number, rather it is the trend-setting top of the (new) world of beer that sets them apart.

Something Mondial de la Bière always shows, however, is how Quebec (as Canada is fairly under-represented more broadly), Brazil, and Italy especially are growing fast in their pursuit of this giant.  Moreover, and though I love Mondial, this year found a fair overlap of American breweries and beers from last year - a few so good I went back to them - but I still found many a new surprise to intrigue my taste-buds.

As with my previous Mondial review post, I will again be focusing only on the best of those that were new to me at the festival, while also simply noting that there were many other good beers that didn't quite make the cut.  This time around there is a larger list of tasted beers and stand-outs such that I will also break them down by style (very broadly speaking).

1) Sours, Saisons, and Such:

Tops for me here was Michigan brewery New Holland's Incorrigible (4.9% ABV Berliner Weisse) which offered a great tart nose of wheat and soured fruit, wafting out from a clingy lingering head atop a merely faintly cloudy amber body.  The taste was of sour apples and was quite lactic, if not at all funky, and the carbonation was bold, tingly, prickly, and basically just right for the taste allowing a tempered but fine linger.  Grade: A

Also remarkably delicious, I must note, was Oregon-based Gigantic's The City Never Sleeps (7.6% ABV Black Imperial Saison) which was an oddity in that it didn't seem to truly fit to style offering chocolate and toasted nutty notes on the nose alongside some trace spice and a fairly dry finish alongside a lighter-than-anticipated body with prickly-crisp carbonation.  It only at times and only mildly resembled its style descriptor, but it pushed the bounds in good ways also at times resembling a porter, a schwarz, and an American Black (without American hops).  I am not so stuck on styles as to lament this.  I'd gladly drink this beer just about anytime!  Grade: A-/A

2) APAs, IPAs, Black IPAs:

My clear winner was Doom (7.4% American Pale Ale) from Elysian Brewing out of Seattle, WA.  This APA, with added treacle - in a well-tempered quantity - poured an orange-tinged copper with a nice frothy white head of clingy lace.  It smelled of citrus, citrus, and more citrus enticingly and, though I sometimes feel APAs and IPAs with a great nose tease for a taste that never meets the hype, Doom does!  Though there is a hint of honey and treacle sweetness up front, it quickly gets out-fruited by dry pineapple and mango alongside some remaining citrus with a bitter-sweet linger.  Medium-bodied, perfectly crisp, and simply a delight to drink for any who like a West-Coast American IPA. Grade: A/A+

Maui Big Swell IPA (6.8% ABV India Pale Ale) keeps pace just behind with a similar citrus nose - if a bit fainter - and a similar tropical fruit/pineapple flavour.  The malt backbone seems a bit overly present and more reminiscent of a DIPA than a standard IPA, but I like that as I love my DIPAs, and the fruitiness comes through plain as day nonetheless.  The body, however, is a bit on the light side.  Grade: A-/A

Next came Smuttynose's Noonan Black IPA (5.7% ABV American Black Ale) from the Live Free or Die Drink Craft or Die state of New Hampshire, which wafts a nice hoppy-pine nose tempered by some faint roasty chocolate malts emanating from its ample off-white head of noteworthy retention and lace.  The body itself is a deep dark brown while it tastes of pine and lingering resin alongside a hint of grapefruit, while allowing a dry linger coupled with a medium body and some tingly carbonation.  Grade: A-/A

Port Townsend's Hop Diggidy IPA (another Washington state brew) and Smuttynose's Shoal's Pale Ale also deserve some praise and would get a lengthier write-up were they not paired against such strong contenders!  Both grade around an A- to me.

Gigantic's Black Friday (8.1% ABV American Black Ale) gets similarly good numbers, but as I had it late in the day, while deep in conversation with a brewer, I will say little more than I'd personally love to give it another try and recommend that you do too!

3) Stouts & Porters

There was a clear winner in this category for me: once again from Michigan's New Holland comes the Dragon's Milk (a 10% ABV Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout).  With a oak and vanilla-forward bourbon-nose smoothed out by roasty chocolatey malt, this beer tastes similarly complex with a depth of sweetness from vanilla and milk chocolate notes that are dried out by the bourbon-warmth that follows. A slight bit boozy and a slight bit sweet, but excellent for what it is!  Grade: A

The first oatmeal stout I ever had was the quintessential one brewed by Samuel Smith's and, for my good fortune at this, I have been chasing the dragon ever since.  Though I have found some to be drinkable, only Rogue's Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout (6.1% ABV )even came close to the Sam Smith's legend.  This brew exudes a great nose of nutty/roasty chocolate and biscuits from a gorgeous mocha head, while it tastes lightly toasty and earthy with a nicely dried finish.  It has a nice full body and thick chewiness that is topped only by the best in my books.  Grade: A-/A (closer to A)

Gigantic hits the list again with The Time Traveller (a 5.8% American Porter) which presents a solid nose of lightly roasted coffee and baking chocolate chip cookies.  The taste is sweet - in a malty rich porter sense, not a milk stout way - with dark Belgian chocolate and lightly toasted notes dominating the mouth which feels a touch light which might be my only complaint of substance here.  Still a greatly enjoyable beer.  Grade: A-

4) Barleywines

I truly enjoyed two solid American barleywines at the fest, and though it was hard to distinguish a clear winner and though both were very good, neither rocked my world as a few beers here did.

Tops by a hair here is Stone's Old Guardian (an 11% ABV American Barleywine).  Despite some malty, peat-like sweetness and a trace of earthy hops, the nose is overly boozy.  Visually it displays a gorgeous reddish-orange cloudy body, while tastewise I noticed a plum dominance alongside hints of smoke and a fair earthy dryness.  A solid linger and a full body complement this sold brew.  Now I must try a barrel-aged version.  Grade: A-

Finally, I come to the almost evenly-matched French Oak-Aged Old Man Barleywine (a 10.5% ABV American Barleywine) from Port Townsend.  It pours an amber-red body with nice sticky lace, while expressing a nose dominated by oak and its signature caramel and vanilla which, while nice, aren't so fitting for the style, but it is nonetheless enticing!  The taste is likewise dominated by oak sweetness, but it likewise balances out with a substantial pine-dominated hoppy finish.  Despite a solidly full body, the mouth is a bit tingly for the style and I found myself wishing it were naturally carbonated, but it is still quite enjoyable!  Grade: A-

With some extra shout-outs for Dogfish Head's Midas Touch, Elysian's Savant IPA, and Ommegang's Abbey Ale that didn't quite make the review cut, that's all for now.  Review post three soon!

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