Athene Saison- A Taste of Europe by Way of Florida [Bombers Away #4]

St. Somewhere Athene Saison (7.5% ABV bottle)- Saison- St. Somewhere Brewery, FL

Grade: A- BREW OF THE BLOG!

Athene initially pours a bright crystal clear yellow with a nice but unremarkable head; the classic beer look. As you bring the glass to your nose you get a big bouquet of white pepper with an undercurrent that’s almost champagne-like. It’s intriguing to say the least. With the first sip that white pepper makes itself known right away and gradually gives way to the lively zest of coriander and delicate floral notes. Hints of grape and even bubblegum sneak in before everything disappears into the dry finish. There’s a bit of hop to it, but the bitterness of Athene is more herbal and spicy. The mouthfeel is crisp and lively with its sharp carbonation heightening the overall zing of the flavors. The alcohol is generally well hidden which isn’t a bad thing, though you will notice it if you put away a whole 750ml bottle by yourself.

Since this is a bottle conditioned brew there’s a fair amount of yeast sediment at the bottom of the bottle and with saisons it’s down to personal preference if you want to decant it carefully or if you want to agitate things. I went half & half pouring the first glass off clear and careful, but I gave the bottle a big old swirl before pouring the remaining glasses. The addition of the sediment gave Athene a fuller mouthfeel, helped to mute the sharp edges of the peppery/herbal bitterness, and generally imbued it with a nice richness. Next time I get my hands on a bottle I’ll probably go with the agitation straight from the start.

Athene is almost exactly the taste I prefer from a saison: crisp, floral, with a slight bite. Those who swear by the grassy hop tang of European saisons like Du Pont might find such a suggestion to be heresy, but for me while I’m a big fan of Du Pont the flavor can sometimes remind me too much of far less enjoyable Euros like Pilsner Urquell, Grolsch, or Heineken. Athene is delicate, but punchy. Well worth the searching it might take to find it and the extra couple of bucks to buy it.

Pop the cork! -John

Norwegian Take On English Brown Ale [Bombers Away! #3]

Nøgne Ø Brown Ale (4.5% ABV bottle)- English Brown Ale- Nøgne Ø-det kompromissløse bryggeri, NOR
Grade: A- BREW OF THE BLOG!

     Poured from a bomber into Siamsa Pub pint glass. [Truth be told this is more like a mini-bomber given it’s 50cl/16.9 oz size, but who’s counting.]

     Way darker brown than your average brown ale; almost black really. A half inch tan head from initial pour thins to barely a covering. Add to that fairly large bubbles from the carbonation and at first glance you could mistake this for a glass of Coke. There’s a nice earthy aroma with a hint of cocoa to it. It’s so enticing it makes up for the general cola appearance which may dissuade some folk. The overall body is a bit on the thin side and the carbonation is somewhat sharp, but neither of these factors are enough to really diminish the experience. The taste is full of gorgeous malt offering up bittersweet chocolate and some nice roasty, nutty notes. There is only a hint of hop bitterness at the end that cuts the sweet malt from getting to be too much.

     Nøgne Ø has kept things interesting yet simple with their English Brown Ale. There are a lot more flavors going on in here than what you tend to expect from a brown ale, but at the same time they are very controlled and never come over the top. This beer helps to dispel the idea that to be flavorful or complex a beer needs to be a double this, imperial that, or an alcohol bomb. At 4.5% ABV it’s ridiculously tasty and drinkable for the long haul; exactly what a session beer should be. A great little beer that is not trying to be in your face in any respect, but it should be in your fridge and preferably in your belly. Highly recommended as it is my current favorite go-to beer.

     If you are looking for it in Boston I’ve been getting my supply from Federal Wine & Spirits down on State Street, caddy-corner to the T stop. I love this tiny little place. It’s best known for its wine cellar and ridiculous array of scotch, but it also has a small yet fantastic selection of beers. Even though their website doesn’t mention beer they’ve got special/seasonal releases, big bottles, craft sixers, and some harder to get imports. Best of all their prices tend to be just a bit cheaper than most other downtown liquor stores.

Cheers! –John

Looks Great, Tastes… Not So Good [Bombers Away! #2]

The other week when I got shut out of NERAX on the first night, I went home to drown my sorrows in a big old bottle of Taras Boulba that I’d traded my friend Alan for about a month ago. It had a goofy cartoon on the label and was Belgian so I figured how could I go wrong.

Let’s take a look, yes?

Taras Boulba (4.5% ABV bottle)- Belgian Pale Ale- Brasserie De La Senne / De Zenne Brouwerij, BEL
Grade: C+

Poured from a 750ml bottle into a Duvel tulip.

Appearance: Nice 2 inch head of rocky white foam. Sticky lacing all the way down as the glass drains. Cloudy golden yellow. This is a damn good looking beer. Basically, when I think of beer this is what I see I my head. The mouth waters.

Smell: Not a whole lot going on in the aroma department. Mild hops in the background some floral hints, but mostly it’s just kind of grassy.

Taste: There’s astringent hops bite mixed with an sulfurous tinge. Dry finish with sharp metallic bitterness in the end. Makes me think of the unpleasant tang of mainstream Euro imports like Heineken, Pilsner Urquell, or Stella Artois. They are completely different styles, but as soon as I took a sip of Taras Boulba the off skunky flavor made me think of those three.

Mouthfeel: Thin but not watery on the tongue with a decent amount of carbonation. Crisp, dry finish. All in all a slightly above average feel to it.

Drinkability: Not a compelling beer, average at best.

Overall: I don’t see myself seeking this one out again. Taras Boulba isn’t awful, but it’s not what I thought it would be. I was not expecting the sulfur/skunk tang of it. It looks great and feels pretty good, but to me the flavor just wasn’t good at all. I have to wonder if the problem is my lack of familiarity with the style given the high rating of this on Beer Advocate. Maybe I got a light-struck bottle, but I think the reality is that this is just the style. I actually chose to trade for this because it is supposed to be an near top shelf example of a Belgian Pale Ale. I must be missing something, though because for me this was not a reassuring introduction to the style.

Hey Porter! Hey Porter! [Bombers Away! #1]

This a recent release from the Smuttynose “BIG BEER” series so I thought it would be a good place to kick off a series of my own: Bombers Away! This (ir)regularly appearing series will feature beers that are only released in big bottles- aka bombers- which measure 16.9oz, 22oz, 500ml, 750ml, or something in that neighborhood. No easy-going sixers here. Go big or go home, one bottle at a time.

Smuttynose Baltic Porter (8.7% ABV bottle)- Baltic Porter- Smuttynose Brewing Co., NH
Grade: A BREW OF THE BLOG!

Poured into an imperial pint.

Appearance: Pours dark brown, near black, with chestnut tones. Inch-and-a-half tan head that drops to a thin covering. Not much lacing.

Smell: Dark dried fruit, raisins, and coffee. Roasted malt. Molasses.

Mouthfeel: On the thick side, but still smooth. Covers the palate nicely. Balanced and rich body.

Taste: There’s malt and dried fruit (prune & raisin especially) sweetness up front, but it’s tempered with a roast coffee bitterness at the edges and a bit of alcohol spice. It winds up with a pleasantly dry finish that helps keep all the sweetness from getting ahead of anything else.

Drinkability: Potent, but highly enjoyable. Probably the best porter I’ve had.

Overall: The Baltic Porter is a great offering from Smuttynose. Rich and complex, but amazingly drinkable. Dangerously so at 8.7% ABV. The downside is this was a limited release so if you weren’t able to score any of the bottles out there on the market you are out of luck. Unless maybe you can find a friend willing to part with it. If you are lucky enough to stumble across it in a store or if you are even luckier and find it on tap this is an absolute must have.

Cheers! -John