New Year In October: Hitachino Nest New Year Celebration Ale 2004

Hitachino Nest New Year Celebration Ale 2004 (Bottle 9% ABV)- Belgian Strong Dark Ale- Kiuchi Brewery, JAP
Grade:B+
I’ll be honest I’m a sucker for label art and this bright orange sunburst with a crazed beer and fan wielding Japanese dude jumping at me pretty demanded I buy it. I’ve had a few other Hitachino beers and have never been letdown so how could I say no to their red and white Woodsy Owl-looking minimalist doppelganger. Plus the with the “2004” tag why not try something vintage that I don’t have to age for 4 years myself.
The label says it’s brewed with coriander, orange peel, nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla so right off the bat I know to expect something with a spicy character and the Celebration ’04 has that without being in your face. It pours a rich nut brown with a respectably frothy tan head to start that settles into a nice covering that remains constant. Not much lacing to speak of. I didn’t notice the sediment on the bottom of the bottle and made the mistake of not carefully decanting into the glass so it was looking pretty murky. It smells of autumnal fruit and a sweet breadiness as well as the cinnamon and nutmeg spice. There’s some alcohol in the nose, but it’s well masked by the spice. The taste is of a winter warmer type ale; nutmeg and cinnamon at the fore with malt supporting it. The first few sips are a bit hot with booze which seems to lessen for a while until the last quarter when it has warmed to room temp. There’s a touch of apple-like tartness which combined with the spiciness begins to taste more than a little like a mulled cider. It finishes with some slight bitterness around the edges. The body is good with an added zing from peppy carbonation.
Generally, New Year Celebration Ale 2004 is a tasty brew, but seems to be missing something in the middle that would put it over the top. Maybe when it was fresh the vanilla and orange peel would have popped and filled the gap, but at this point I couldn’t find a hint of them. Generally, winter warmer type ales are not my favorite, but given the balance and softness of the flavors in the Celebration ’04 I really enjoyed it. If you are a fan of less aggressive warmers and can find this it’s certainly worth a try. I’ve got two spare bottles sitting in my cellar, but I’m not sure if putting much more time on this would help or if this vintage is already on the downhill slide. To be honest I enjoyed the first bottle enough they might not last through this winter for me. They’ll be tempting to curl up with during one of the many cold New England winter evenings that lay ahead.
(Purchased 10/29: Federal Wine & Spirits $3.25, 330ml)

Drie Fonteinen Doesjel: Intensely Sour

For those unfamiliar, gueuze is a blend of young and old spontaneously fermented lambic beer which is then bottle fermented. Gueuze tends to be given to a sour or tart flavor profile, and seems a bit more like a wine than a beer.  Lambics and gueuzes are admittedly styles that are an acquired taste. And I am still very much in the acquiring stages so my evaluations of such beers may be skewed given my lack of familiarity.

Drie Fonteinen Doesjel (bottle 6% ABV)- Gueuze- Brouwerij Drie Fonteinen, BEL
Grade: C

Woof.

Drie Fonteinen pours a slightly murky amber-tinged gold with very little carbonation. There’s a full, but not overpowering barnyard funk in the nose, which is interesting and not unpleasant: twang of wet hay with some light hints of fruit and something vaguely musky. A coppery metallic edge comes to the scent that is not so nice and hinting at vinegar. A warning of what lies ahead perhaps?

The taste runs along similar lines. At first there’s a quick fruitiness at the tip of the tongue; a hint of green apple. It disappears briefly into a nice tang and all too quickly slides to acidity that is similar to cider vinegar. At points I want to say there’s a smokiness to the flavor, but then often times it seems more acrid, burning rubber than smokey. In a very short time Drie Fonteinen goes from something different and interesting to something I never want to drink again.

On the up side the mouthfeel is good. It’s not thin and not thick covering the tongue quite well. It’s just a shame that the taste it’s conveying the tongue with is less than good. It was a struggle to finish the small bottle, so I have no choice but to view the drinkability as very low. It wasn’t a drain pour so I can’t rate it that low, but still after the first quarter it was a chore to drink.

I’ll be honest I haven’t had tons of experience with lambics and gueuzes, but I’ve had enough that I know that this is some rough stuff even for a gueuze. When the guy at the store referred to Drie Fonteinen as “intense” I didn’t expect that to mean sour to the point of being almost undrinkable. Maybe I just don’t have the palate for it. If you a sour fiend then maybe this would be right up your alley.

Cheers!
-John

(Purchased 10/17: Federal Wine & Spirits $6.99, 37.5cl bottle)

10/19 Beer Brunch at UpStairs On The Square

Back last Sunday (10/19) at UpStairs on the Square over in Harvard Square BeerAdvocate sponsored a 4 course brunch of “southern-style soul food w/ a twist” where each course was paired up with a beer specially chosen for the dish. Amazingly, this was the first official beer/food pairing I’d ever attended. Man, was it a good start.

1st Course: Cheesy grits and bacon paired with Avery 14’er ESB
I’ve never had grits before and if this is what I’ve been missing I’ll be moving down south tomorrow. Sadly, I’m guessing traditional grits are not dosed with shredded cheese and smoked bacon so looks like another Boston winter for me. Avery’s ESB was a great pairing with it’s easy going hop bitterness to cut the richness of the grits. It had a decent malt backbone with kept the hops from over powering everything.

2nd Course: Shrimp étouffée egg dish with a side of collard greens and corn bread paired with Neumarketer Lammsbrau Pilsner

This was a curious little dish. Sort of a creole take on eggs Benedict. A poached egg and collard greens were set atop of a big square of cornbread with all of it doused in a spicy, shrimp-laden sauce. As tasty as the dish was the Lammsbrau Pilsner that accompanied it wowed me more which was surprising given that pilsners aren’t usually the type of beer that bowls me over. This organic German pilsner was flavorful in an almost floral way with a crisp finish and a bright feel. Apparently it’s not all to easy to get a hold of around Boston, but I’ll be in search of it.

3rd Course: Chicken and waffles with a side of mac’n’cheese paired with Southampton Pumpkin Ale

Finally, the much talked about chicken and waffles, which according to some discussion around the room this version was a bit different in that it was served with gravy. Apparently, it’s more common with syrup. I can understand why you would use syrup, but really I think that would have been too much especially with the Southampton Pumpkin Ale. Given that the beer is on the malty and sweet side I think syrup would have made the whole thing a bit cloying. But the savory gravy and the chicken balanced out the sweetness in the waffle and the beer. All the ingredients were playing nicely in this dish. The mac’n’cheese was simple and tasty, but was almost an after thought for me. I think the little custard dish it came in would have been better served filled with a side of gravy because even though the chicken was moist and juicy the waffle was on the dry side, tasty though it was.

4th Course: Bourbon pecan pie with vanilla ice cream paired with Southern Tier Crème Brûlée Imperial Milk Stout

In all honesty I could have cared less about the pecan pie only because it’s never been a favorite of mine. All I really wanted was Southern Tier’s Crème Brûlée. The pie was rich and buttery; plenty tasty with a dollop of vanilla ice cream that tasted like it might have had a bit of spice in it. They had nothing on the Southern Tier. And to answer your question: Yes, it does taste like crème brûlée. It was like having a second desert. The conversation around the table wondered how exactly the beer came about. Was it a case of someone at the brewery having the idea of specifically brewing a crème brûlée beer or was it simply an experiment to create an imperial milk stout and the end result just happened to taste like crème brûlée? We leaned towards the happy accident theory. Regardless, this is an amazing beer for those who can handle the sweetness. If you do pick up a bottle be sure to have a friend or two to share with as it only comes in 22oz. bombers and there’s no way one person should or could consume an entire bottle on their own.

All in all it was an amazing meal. Great food, great beers, and lots of great conversation. I would highly recommend attending any future beer events there if you have the chance. It looks like the next one is going to be a beer dinner November 19th themed: From Russia with Love. Take a guess on the food and beer to be served? If you go be sure to speak the entire time à la Sean Connery in Red October.

“One ping only.”

Sean & Alec

Za vas!
-John

A Real Cherry Of A Beer

Echte Kriekenbier (6.8% ABV bottle)- Flanders Red- AleBrouwerij Verhaeghe, BEL
Grade: B

I managed to snag a bottle of this as one of the perks of volunteering at BeerAdvocate‘s Return of The Belgian Beer Fest that happened a few weeks ago. (I know, I know I’m behind on giving and update on it. Fingers crossed this weekend I’ll get y’all just a snippet of what I managed to sample.)

Pours out dark ruby red, not unlike cranberry juice with a light pink head that foams up quickly and disappears just as quickly –think champagne with a slightly richer head– though a thin layer of foam does remain throughout.

You can smell the cherries as soon as you pour. There’s a bit of a sour tang underneath. Not unsurprisingly Echte Kriekenbier tastes a lot like it smells. At first there’s a tartness that’s pushed aside by a blast of sweet fruit juiciness followed up by a bolt of sour dryness. The carbonation is lively which helps to give it a bright mouthfeel. This is a nice tasting little beer, but not what you could call complex.

If you are looking for a gateway beer into the world of sour beers –Flanders Reds and the like– this is a good place to start. It gives you an easy going tartness that’s not too sharp or acidic and rewards you with lots of sweet cherry. For the accustomed sour fiend this might be enjoyable if a bit on the pedestrian side. Overall though, it’s pretty darn drinkable if you have even the slightest penchant for something in a sour.

Prosit!