Monday, 5 August 2013

3 Beers You Probably Can't Get Alongside 3 You Probably Can & Should

Occasionally, I get my hands on a rare obscure brew and ponder whether to review.  I mean, 'nothing' (I say facetiously, in a First-World-Problems-kinda-way) pisses me off more than reading about someone's epic Dark Lord or Bourbon County Brand Stout vertical tasting when I can't even get a single bottle, let alone several years' worth of vintages!

But, I rationalized, some might wish to know of the obscure and to appease those wishing for something they can find, I figured I'd place them alongside some others that are more easily procured.  Ironically, many of these beers linked together for me in their consumption and, thus, they also offer a connected story weaving together the obscure with the available.

To begin with the more obscure, my recent indulgence began at Toronto's world-class Bar Volo, where a (reconnected old) friend and I split a bottle of Le Trou du Diable's fantastic barrel-aged La Bretteuse (7.3% ABV).  This one-off brew is an 18-month Shiraz-barrel aged IPA that is perhaps better called an American Wild Ale, since it is secondarily fermented with loads of Brettanomyces (wild yeast) and since IPAs lose their hoppy edge very rapidly.  Indeed, this brew is dominated by Brett but in more of a leathery, barnyard funk sense than a sour/acidic/tart sense.  It presents a murky orange body capped by a foamy white head that lingers and laces down the glass while exuding an evolving aroma beginning with leather before transforming towards more soured vinous notes.  There is a nicely vanilla/oaky woody taste up front that evolves into a linger that balances somewhere between the wine and the barnyard Brett.  This is a fine beer and one to convert wine drinkers, if neither the driest nor the tartest of the style it remains a stellar product exemplary of wild-brewing mastery.  Grade: A  Availability: Sold out in stores, but available in pricey bottles at higher end beer bars.

The very same long-lost friend (and fellow beer geek) who shared the delightful bottle of La Bretteuse then agreed to a trade: I give him a bottle of Trappist Westvleteren 12 (their Quad) in exchange for one of his Westvleteren 8s (8% ABV).  Thus, I finally got to try the famed Westy Dubbel, which impressed immensely with a caveat (at the end).  A creamy, thick, porous off-white head of good retention and thick, clingy, sticky lace wafted a complex aroma of plums, raisins, licorice, brown sugar, and a hint of boozy warmth.  To the tongue, it was similar with dark fruits and some chocolate more discernible here than in the nose, though with a touch of anise and a faint hint of tobacco.  There is a fair warmth and a smooth creaminess to the tongue despite its strong carbonation that smooths it out nicely.  Like the famed Westy 12, however, I think Rochefort offerings (8 and 6)  top this, as I feel the 10 trumps the 12.  This isn't to say this isn't a fine beer - it is indeed worthy of its praise - but rather for two reasons: 1) The Westys are both a bit boozier on the nose and tongue to me; and 2) The Westy's offer more anise notes - which is fine, but for my personal preference isn't as desirable as some of the other notes I love in a good dubbel.  Thus, I respect and I enjoy this beer, but personal taste preferences on this flavour limit my enjoyment here, though they may result in a switched preference for you... still great to even be in the same discussion!  Grade: A Availability: Get your ass to the monastery or be prepared to pay $30+ per bottle at higher end beer bars if you can even find it.

Finally, upon my return to Quebec, Dieu du Ciel announced on Facebook that this past Friday would mark the release of the Sun Never Sets IPA (7.25% ABV), a collaboration with Dogfish Head and Beavertown breweries from Delaware and London, England respectively.  This unique IPA blends Indian ingredients of special palm sugar, black pepper, tamarind, and cumin with the quintessential calypso and citra hops for a unique and pleasurable experience.  It pours a standard amber with a decent white head that emits a solid dry-hop citra nose with grapefruit and orange rind notes alongside an almost smoky-spicy pepper quality that takes over as the hops fades.  The taste begins with a tamarind sweetness before a combination pine and citrus finish that is emboldened by a substantial carbonation.  It is good, and unique, and can hold its own after Morality (possibly my favourite IPA which was on tap at DDC while I awaited the tapping of this unique keg), but probably got a lower review from me for following this other mostly-unavailable treat. Grade: A- Availability: one 20 litre keg killed in minutes at DDC, maybe Dogfish Head still has some if you get to Delaware?*

I was next going to review Morality, but having previously done so here, I decided to revert to my Ontario trip to begin mentioning the more-widely-available gems.  Two connected asides, however, still tie this is in.  First, as I have said I prefer Morality (collaboration between DDC and the Alchemist) to the Alchemist's famed Heady Topper some have noted the difference in styles (IPA and double IPA), while others have either agreed or disagreed so this next promises an alike comparison as I jump from IPA to DIPA.  Second, as this began as a partial baseball blog, it seems a shame that it took until now for me to try (and review) beer from Ontario's new(-ish) Left Field Brewery...

and... I have to say, their 6-4-3 Double IPA (8.4% ABV) is a hit and possibly Ontario's best double IPA so far.  Pouring an orangish-amber, it presents a fruity nose full of ripe, fresh citrus and mango alongside some hints of passion fruit and pineapple.  The taste begins with a substantial malt backbone of some bread, before a superbly dry and nearly astringent but complex and delectable grapefruit and lemon-rind finish, coupled with traces of resin and spruce.  On the fuller-side of medium-bodied with a moderate, yet tingly, carbonation, this is truly worth the quest of the hop-heads!  Grade: A (almost A+) Availability: Only on draught at Ontario locations noted on their website.

After my return home, some company prompted a re-visit to Les Trois Mousquetaires' Grande Cuvée Barleywine Américain (11% ABV), which I had had before (and which I have another cellaring bottle).  This remains a delight to me and all involved!  It pours a lightly cloudy reddish-amber, with a fair creamy white head of some retention and lace.  The nose is, of course, malty but coupled with nice citrus dry-hop notes that entice something like an American Strong Ale, before tastes that are predominantly sweet but at least lightly drying after a rich, almost-port-forward beginning and a dryness that is supplied mostly by the alcoholic warmth with only some semblance of the many American hops present.  It is creamy and full to the tongue, if a tad sticky.  Though a bit sweet, it is a barleywine and the dry-hopped nose adds a pretty enticing character.  If you get one, get two and stand one up in your cellar for a year or two noting the changes - I promise my own notes on that transition in, well, a year or two!  Grade: A (almost A+) Availability: Seasonal in Quebec at decent beer stores/deps.

Finally, Brouwerij Bockor's Cuvee des Jacobins Rouge (5.5% ABV) has been a mainstay of my vacation time as an available (for a short time summer seasonal) and affordable sour, in the Flander's Red Style.  This beer pours a reddish-brown with a slight foamy off-white head that diminishes quickly with strong carbonation.  The nose is moderately fruity, in a cherry sort of manner, with a fairly acidic balsamic aroma alongside hints of woody oak.  Flavour-wise, it is dominated by a strong fruitiness coupled with substantial tartness presenting as cherries and currants alongside some vanilla from the wood, while all through (from beginning to end) one gets a solid amount of acidity and clean sourness, without any semblance of funk.  This is a very solid example of the style and one I would love to try alongside a Rodenbach just to compare, though I think this is more tart, if a touch less complex (from memory).  Grade: A/A+ Availability: Summer seasonal at the LCBO - their stock page says discontinued but many stores retain stock at a mere $3.30 per bottle (which is very cheap for a several-years-oak-aged sour ale).

'Til next time, drink well (and responsibly)!  Cheers!

*Note: While waiting, the excellent barkeep at Dieu du Ciel, named Julie, answered questions, helped my French, ensured we got prompt service, kept the busy taps flowing, and generally served as an example of a wonderful human being.  I told her I'd write that she deserves a raise - which she does - and being a man of my word, I have now done so!

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