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
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


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.


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

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

     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