Saturday, 28 May 2016

Bellwoods' Jelly King and I Have an Announcement to Make: We're in Love

Sometimes lately beer bores me. I mean, not exactly, but my consumption has changed.  You see, when I first started this blog, I didn't really know a good brewery from a bad, a good American Wild from a Berliner, and I was just trying things. And there were often seeming masterpieces which shone alongside massive failures. But they'd no longer shine.

See, now I basically only drink good beer. What I mean by noting this is not some snobby claim of superiority (just experience), but rather that when most things one tastes are of a comparable standard, the differences between them actually get subtler. I often think, "This is good," and it seems I am much less frequently saying "WOW!"

But Jelly King... WOW! Thanks for exciting me again! This is easily - EASILY - the best new beer of 2016 I have had and with Motley Cru and Double Barrel Peche Mortel, that is a bold claim!

Take two

Let me start this again, in the other way I'd pondered. I really enjoy Bellwoods beers: their regular offerings are all solid and exemplary of their styles, while their barrel-aged and experimental products are world-class.

But, as much as they are all great, if Bellwoods announced they were discontinuing all production of their regular products except Jelly King (and Lost River), I wouldn't mind. I mean I know they would. I am not proposing that they do this! I am just saying... imagine, Oct 1 through Mar 31: all you can handle Lost River, April 1 through Sept 30, drowning in Jelly! My personal nirvana.

And I hear this very well priced (at $6.50 per 500ml) beer is set to be a semi-regular product. That makes me happy, well... giddy or ecstatic even!

For those who don't know Jelly King is a dry-hopped sour, massively dry-hopped with Citra for bold fruit aromatics, with a lower ABV (at 5.6%) than the earlier untitled "Dry-Hopped Sour" experiments. It is sold out at the moment, but remains on draught on site I believe.

At the pub, they told me some find it too sour and others not sour enough. I have heard some lament that it's too thin. Others simply assume sour and hops can't/shouldn't mix. What can I say... haters. They're entitled to hate and all, and I'm entitled to drink their shares.

Appearance: It pours a fairly clear yellowish to light amber with a much longer lasting, substantial, small-bubbled white foamy head than is typical for the style.

Smell: This smells so overwhelmingly fruity that it reminds me of (what I imagine it would be like to be) stuffing your face into a mixed pile of powdered tangerine and lemon-lime gatorade pre-mix. In fact, it smells almost like Gator-GUM from the 1980s. They say aroma is strongly linked to memory in the brain, and this reminds me of this delightful, long discontinued gum (that smelled great and tasted equally good, until losing it's flavour rapidly). That might not sound great to you, but it is, OH IT IS! I have heard it said, several times, that Four Winds' Nectarous is the fruitiest sour beer that isn't fruited. Nope. This is twice as fruity as Nectarous (which is also awesome, btw!) I could smell this and nothing else, eternally. It's luxurious. It is dominated, for me, by a tangerine and lemon-lime gatorade quality, but there are also some fuzzy peaches lurking in there somewhere. This beer smells like fruity candy! AMAZING!

Taste: Heavenly. It begins with a tangy tangerine quality, before drying and souring up to a quenching peach dominance. It is quite dry, and fairly sour, but for those who find this too sour: don't drink sour beer. For those who find this not sour enough: sure, it won't strip the enamel from your teeth and require either 36 Tums or a trip to the ER if you drink seven of them, but dammit... YOU CAN DRINK SEVEN OF THEM! This is totally crushable, entirely juicy, perfect for the hot summer day!

Mouthfeel: Sure, it's a touch thin, but that's one of its nice perks. It also may seem that way thanks to the spritzy effervescence that dries the palate and spreads the fruity notes. And it isn't that thin. Again, with an overused cliche: it's crushable. Ideally, perfectly, as if from some beertopia: crushable.

Overall: I don't think you'd like this beer. The eight I had have disappeared far too quickly. So if you're carrying... I'm buying. Let's talk. I'll save you from this "thin" beer that's "too sour" or "not sour enough."


Monday, 16 May 2016

Traders, Tickers, and Shit-Flickers

I tick - somewhat. That is, I seek out new things to imbibe and review. When I first got into beer, ticking was life: the requirement to drink was only newness. Now, knowing more about what to expect, I am as likely to drink a beer I have had before, though ticks still come but usually only from known breweries, known styles, and trusted sources of hype.

I also trade beer. Rarely by mail (just a handful of times in a few years), but fairly regularly in person in Montreal and Toronto. Like most, these things tend to go down $4$, which is beer trader slang for "dollar-for-dollar," or of equal purchase price exchange (with an occasional bump for rarity).

But I've got this pet peeve, usually but not always with rare beer ticker-traders.

Part of this comes from a few discussions over the past few months.

In one, an American* visiting here told me of bringing back Bellwoods bottles to share with Southern/Mid-Western American beer geeks. Despite assuring me that they loved them, he informed me that nobody would trade for them though because their bottle counts are too high. "Bellwoods," he insisted, "actually hurts themselves by having high bottle counts." This sounds illogical, until one realizes that what he means is, 'Bellwoods hinders my capacity to trade them for equal quality and/or price beer.' I mean, it's clearly illogical to think this brewery suffers by selling out of a higher quantity of pretty high quality product.

But, I'd maintain, it's equally illogical to lament a beer this guy admits to appreciating for its availability such that he - and distant friends - and many others get bottles of high quality beer to enjoy. I know, he means rather that it won't trade as highly as a rarer, say, 400 bottle count release and he'd appreciate the returns from such a bottle.

Yet, if Bellwoods (for instance) had smaller bottle counts increasing their trade value, he (and so many others) would be less likely to get them, AND would then require trading other equally rare bottles (that he'd be equally less likely to procure), all the while necessitating the purchase of extras of such rare bottles (perhaps with 'mules'**), thereby further consolidating the numbers of people who get either bottle to begin with!

It strikes me that such logic is counter-intuitive to everyone's capacity to acquire and drink special beers - which is the goal, is it not? Moreover, scarcity makes the beer taste NO BETTER, but simply drives up the praise to numerous implications. One of these is to somehow diminish the appreciation of great beer that is accessible to us such that even those who love a Bellwoods product find its value not in its consumption but its after-market marketability.

As I write this, Bellwoods still has half of their entire bottle release of this year's Motley Cru, which has previously sold out in hours with a massive lineup and smaller limits per person. Sure, this year it will be tougher to trade any of my extra Motley, but that's a better 'problem' to have than the one where I procure none of a sold out beer I really want to drink! Props to Bellwoods for doing this right!  Breweries that ensure regular accessibility of excellent products (with another requisite nod to Dieu du Ciel! and Le Castor) deserve our praise, not our scorn.

In another conversation, a person I met on the daily Vermont tourist beer circuit lamented the expansion of The Alchemist, saying, "It sucks because it will dilute their trade value."

I get it. I trade too and trading does level things out in that people without access to Vermont, for instance, can get their paws on cans of Heady and SoS for more local products. But if, as this guy does, you love Heady Topper, would you not also appreciate the need not to stand in line once a week at prescribed times for an allocation of it? Would it not be better for the beer afficionado to be able to drink it than to calculate their virtual bond growth?

I imagine these folks giving their favourite regular beer a lower rating for wider availability and saving a 5 out of 5 for an exaggeratedly low 2 bottle count beer of irrelevant quality, considering it the best they've ever had and wishing they could have another, but needing to trade their second bottle at an exorbitant markup.

I am not against trading beer. I am not against rarity factoring into trade values, though I am against gouging.

Bellwoods and Alchemist should be praised for these decisions, not begrudged for allowing their beer to meet wider palates. When we start making after market beer a bigger commodity than the pleasures of its consumption, I feel like we start to lose out on that which makes beer great: the beer itself.

If you disagree, get into whiskey or wine futures, but stop fucking it up for the rest of us.

*Note: I mention his citizenship here only to note that he travels to Toronto from afar and brings Bellwoods bottles back quite a distance, not that this idea belongs to people in any given country.

**"Mule" is beer geek slang for someone who joins the buyer in line, not wanting any bottles for themselves, allowing their friend to purchase double allocation when sales are set at a maximum number of bottles per person.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Brasserie Dunham: Anniversary Bottle Release Sneak Preview!

As has become an annual tradition, Quebec's highly esteemed Brasserie Dunham promises an exciting bottle release and party at their gorgeous brewery on May 21st, in celebration of their 5th Anniversary.  In just five short years, this brewery has stepped up Quebec saison, blending, and barrel-aging standards by pumping out countless delights.

With special thanks to their founder, S√©bastien Gagnon, their brewmaster, √Čloi Deit, and their sommelier, Simon Gaudreault, I was fortunate enough to be invited to a pre-tasting event hosted at Vices et Versa yesterday.  I thank them all not only for the opportunity to taste these at such a well-orchestrated event, but for essentially saying things twice so as to accommodate my franco-challenged limitations (though I did catch some of it as my ear gradually improves!)

Not only were media guests well fed and plied with ample tastings of their forthcoming treats, we were further treated to illuminating discussions of the beers, their process and aims, and further ideas of what to expect as Dunham keeps pushing things forward.

In this vein, Simon Gaudreault reminded us of Dunham's commitment to keeping beer events fun, such that their pre-order ticket and payment system seeks to eliminate lineups "so that people don't have to stand around in a parking lot for hours."  Even with all of Dunham's brewing success, this commitment is an idea that truly must catch on in the beer world!  Not only does it ensure the enjoyment of the day for attendees, but it further allows a model distribution where the number of purchasers can be maximized avoiding catastrophes where those who line up earliest get the highest returns.

In other exciting news, Dunham plans (in the near future) to have downloadable pdf spec-sheets of all of their beers, which will list things like grains, hops, yeasts, and processes as well as technical specs like gravity readings and more.  For a beer geek and home brewer, this is also welcome news.

Anyway, you all care more about the beer and what you should order (through your pre-order link here).  The lineup for us consisted of Saison Fleurs Sauvage, Ping Pong Wizard, Assemblage #1, Assemblage #1 Cru Paysan, Leo's Vin Rouge Brett, Tropicale IPA, Berliner Mango Weisse, Deze Monnik is Dronken (Chianti BA), and Stout Imperiale Russe Classique (Tokaji BA).

While chatting and listening, full notes were difficult to take, but there is one final thing worth noting before I provide a brief assessment of most: they stressed to us not to simply call everything 'good' but to critique and provide feedback where relevant, so I will do so as I see fit!

This delightful grisette (brewed in collaboration with Kevin Dwyer and Will Meyers (of Cambridge Brewing) pours a hazy dark yellow to very light amber with a slight head (at least in taster glass pours), though a top layer of thin-bubbled carbonation lasts throughout its consumption.  It wafts some lemon rind, fermenting grape-skins, and mild pear qualities and can best be characterized as offering a fruit-dominant bouquet complemented by mild tannic, musty, and lightly tart aromatics.

In the mouth, it reminds me of a mildly tart unsweetened apple quality complemented by low peppery phenols.  Though fairly light-bodied to make for easy drinking, it was a tad fuller than expected for the ABV, though I found it a bit under-carbonated for the style which may have given the illusion of greater substance.  Don't get me wrong it isn't flat, and the carbonation has been confirmed for me as being by design, but I personally feel it could be strengthened by a more bubbly effervescence that spreads the notes across the palate and dries it alongside the body-lightening illusion that would provide.

Still, I am nitpicking here: this is a solid beer and one I look forward to drinking on my patio on a hot summer day!  Grade: B+

I am strictly reviewing the Cru Paysan variant of this, assuming that most of you have tasted the original.  This extremely small-batch variant is aged in Red Wine AND Sauternes barrels, and is one of the highlights of the day for me.  They allowed us to side-by-side this with the original, and some of my notes come from that comparison.

This sexy beast pours out a very slightly darker colour than the original, with a very mildly hazy amber body, capped by a decent white head not unlike its twin.  Aromas are perhaps a bit less oaky, though are much stronger overall.  There is a deep vinous quality complemented by must, apricots, and a faint hint of tangerines.  This nose is big, bold, and AMAZING.

Tastes begin with a touch of honey-covered fruit up front, perhaps of the aforementioned apricot, before a switch to a more musty Brett/wine combo quality (that I suspect you'll know from other wine-barrel, bretted beers), and finishes with a dank and very dry swallow and linger.  This is medium bodied and carbed, and seems to work well with the vinous nature and funky components.  Though I slightly prefer the nose to the taste, this is a fine beer and one I wish the limits allowed multiple purchases of!  However, it is always better one per person and many taste it, than 4pp and hoarded by the few.  Grade: A- to A

The red-wine BA and bretted variant of this Dunham staple brought out the most varied feelings amongst those at my table, though was universally the least appreciated by all present.  I have, at times, had red wine beers that overwhelmed me amidst other tastings beforehand, which managed to shine when later imbibed on their own.  This could be one of those beers that, for some reason, seemed not to fly in the order in which it was presented.

The body presents a moderate amber, while a fair white head tops the base.  I found the nose must dominant, with a hint of booziness not present in the base beer - like that winey alcohol heat.  I rather liked the nose, but the other four at my table all hated the nose.

The taste was equally divisive, as I found it to be characterized by a stale cardboard quality reminiscent of both aged hops and stale tea, though that was complemented by a decent grape must component.  Personally, I loved the nose and was not too impressed by the taste, while the other four at my table found it tasty, but unpleasant to smell.

As noted in our small sample, this beer seems driven by excess - unless it was in bottle variance - but in its boldness brought out the boldest of opinions.  Having already placed my Dunham order, mind you, I have another coming and will report back if this stands up better when not following Cru Paysan (which very few Quebec beers are well suited to follow!) Tentative Grade: C+ to B-

As is typical in a Berliner, this pours a cloudy golden with a scant head, though it may be perhaps cloudier still for the pureed mango that makes its way into this beer.  My nose detects the fruit, but it is overpowered by that acidic lemony berliner quality coupled with a trace of floral esters.  The taste, again, brings a lemony lactic sourness complemented by moderately high mango flavours.  It is quite sour, though cleanly so, with a decently drying finish.  It has the light body and sharp effervescence that bring the style to life in your mouth.  This will be one tasty hot summer day treat, indeed! Grade: A-

This year's Deze Monnik differs in its barrel-aging (this time in Chianti barrels) and as only 1/4 of the figs were added during fermentation, with the additional 3/4 added (for the first time) in the barrels themselves.

It makes for a different beer, but I think a better one!

A decent thin-bubbled white head rests atop a medium brown base.  From this head wafts a moderate amount of sweetened figs, as if the fruits were topped by substantial amount of brown sugar, perhaps even lightly charred brown sugar or burnt caramel.  There is just a scant trace of the Chianti.

In the mouth, it starts sweetly, as with the previous incarnation, with a middle characterized by the fruit (though a touch less present than before), and ends with a drier finish than in the past, with a touch of the wine and oak at this point making for what I would call a more complex, rounded, and balanced product.  When quads are done right, the feel offers a creaminess despite (in apparent contradiction) sharp carbonation.  This nails that!  It is heavily effervescent, but not sharply so as the creamy texture rounds it out in ways that blend rhythmically with the flavours. Grade: A- to A

As with the Sauternes barrels used for Cru Paysan, this variant of their classic Stout Imperiale Russe comes aged from a barrel containing a noble-rot infected wine.  Tokaji, a Hungarian dessert wine, however seems much sweeter than Sauternes - from descriptions, as I am no sommelier.  I am, however, a big fan of Sauternes-aged beers, so the options here excite me!

As expected, this pours a deep, dark brown with a scant white head (again, at least in these tasting pours).  The bouquet is brilliant!  I am blasted by something resembling a booze filled chocolate, where the booze is out of my price-range and the cacao is like 85%.  There is a fruity vinous quality, but it is mild and complements rather than overwhelming the stellar scents, and there is, underneath of course, a roasty quality but again, it takes a backseat to the booze-filled chocolate.

It starts in the mouth with sweeter chocolate notes, before a mildly astringent roastiness, and completes with a dry finish of greater complexity than in the base beer.  Don't get me wrong: I love the base beer.  Here, however, rather than a hopped-dryness, there is one complemented by oak and a style of wine I have never tasted but can now slightly imagine.

Perhaps moreso than in other variants of this stout, there is some heat in the linger, but the body remains nicely chewy and full-bodied, with fairly low carbonation discernible.  Grade: A- to A

Saison Fleurs Sauvage and Tropicale IPA have both hit stores recently and are not listed on the pre-order sheet, so I will avoid an in-depth review here, except to add that both are solid.  I am most impressed by the mild funk qualities of Saison Fleurs Sauvage being achieved without Brettanomyces, while Tropicale IPA has more (both quantity and types) of fruit than batch one and is a far better product!  Both are worth your pursuit and hard-earned dollars.

In closing, I'll simply add that there are many more excellent sounding beers than these at this release, so I encourage you to get your order in!  And if, for some sick reason, you don't want your allotted Cru Paysan (or RIS 6-pack), well... you know where to find me!