Friday, October 14, 2011

The 50th Entry: World Wide Stout: Dogfish Head Brewery

For my 50th beer review (it's actually just the 49th but shhhh don't tell anyone) I thought I'd try and opt for something huge and epic. While brainstorming ideas, a friend told me about the 18% abv World Wide Stout from Dogfish Head he'd recently consumed. And that immediately struck a chord inside. 18% and Dogfish Head: massive, epic, huge, delicious, extreme, rare; all of these words and more come to mind when thinking about Dogfish Head. The seed was then planted. I'd have to review the World Wide Stout from Dogfish Head. I'd seen it at one of my favorite local markets: PCC, but the label is rather non-descript and doesn't lead on to what is contained within. The label reads simply: A very dark beer brewed with a ridiculous amount of barley. There is nothing about the process used to produce this beer, nor is there any indication of the strength of the beer. I suppose this is why I never thought to purchase a bottle. Add in the very low price of $12 per 12 oz bottle and that is a great recipe for my not wanting to give it a try. But, after hearing about the amazingness of the brew and the belief that I should go big or go home for my 50th brew review, it was decided: I'd buy and review the World Wide Stout.

After spending a significant amount of time researching this beer, I quickly discovered that it was seemingly an apparition. And not in the sense that no one knew about it, it is widely known in the industry, but information on brewing specifications was hard to come by. For one reason or another it appears it will stay enshrouded under a veil of mystery. The usually informative Dogfish Head website would not reveal much more than the information found on the label. What kinds of malts? Hops? How long did it take to produce? What to pair it with? How long is it aged? Why is it named World Wide Stout? Finding information on this beer is nearly impossible. The only interesting bit I could find was this (courtesy of "World Wide Stout is one of the world’s strongest dark beers. It is brewed using six different yeast strains over seven months and then aged for half a year." Which specific yeast strains, and what kind of aging process remains unknown. I'll continue digging and see what I can find out.

After sampling the World Wide Stout and reading review after review of this brew, I realized this would be either one you loved or one you completely disliked. It would not be for everyone. And after the first few years of release it seems Dogfish Head has settled upon a solid recipe and it's now a consistent beer. At 18% it is mammoth and every bit detectable. But just under the highly alcoholic layer (which left my throat burning after the initial sip) there is an entire world of flavour; one layer after another. For all the reviews I've read that suggest this beer is overly sweet or lacking in complexity (perhaps they sampled a different vintage than I), I can say without a doubt that this beer was every bit as complex as I had anticipated. Even after sipping slowly, there were many flavours I probably missed. But from what my friend and I gathered, these are the tasting notes (hope you enjoy reading them half as much as we enjoyed compiling them).......

Name: World Wide Stout
Category/Style: Imperial Stout
ABV: ≈18%
OG: Unknown
FG: Unknown
Malt Type(s): Unknown
Hop Type(s): Unknown
Yeast Type: Unknown
Special Additives: Unknown
Bottled: 2010
Batch: F2
Bottle Size: 12 oz
Location Purchased: PCC, Issaquah, WA

The Pour: Rather dark, crimson/bourbon hues, little light passing through, red on the edges. Head is off-white slightly cream colored, retention minimal, no lacing.

The Nose: Little boozy, malty sweet, brown sugar, chocolatey, roasty notes. A little dark fruit? Figs?

The Taste: Extremely full-bodied, loads of alcohol, really sweet, heaps of dark fruit, my throat is on fire after the initial sip. A little cherry, a little cola. Quite spicy. Raisins, some dates, a bit of dark chocolate and caramel. A little salty, a little anise. A very slight bitterness way in the back. Carbonation is low. Finishes quite dry. Alcoholic notes are potent. Also a bit of smoke on the much going on this brew! It's ridiculous!

The Verdict: My friend and I really enjoyed this beer. It was a definite sipper. I do realize that reviews posted online can be quite misleading as there have been several releases of this beer. Since information is rather hard to come by I have no idea how many variations exist, but I suspect at least 4, if not more. This particular version was bottled in 2010 and the subsequent: F2 printed on the side of the bottle (I'm assuming) is in reference to the batch number. No worries, I think perhaps they have settled upon a consistent recipe. The simple way to put it: if you like huge massive beers, huge massive dark roasty boozy bourbon-like beers, this is the one for you. There are so many subtle nuances hidden in this beer. Literally layer upon layer of flavour. The bottomline: you must take your time with this. To drink quickly is to waste, and trust me, you won't want to drink quickly. It is incredibly rich and robust and packs a whopper of an alcoholic punch. After splitting a 12 oz bottle with my buddy, the one thing that is apparent is that this is not for everyone. As Dogfish Head is so famous for their "extreme brewing" this brew is no exception. If you're a lover of big beers you should definitely go find a bottle. And if you're not (unless you're extremely curious), I would pass on this one. Either way, I found it extremely complex, delicious and satisfying. The recommendations are there, make of it what you will :]

Thanks for reading!


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Russian River Consecration - Black Currant Sour Ale aged in Cabernet Sauvignon Barrels

So let's kick this one off right. Consecration, what does it mean? More or less, and as stated by Princeton online dictionary, it means: a solemn commitment of your life or your time to some cherished purpose. As is usually the case, the brewers at Russian River Brewing Company have selected another meaningful borderline biblical term for the name of one of their brews (among others: Damnation, Temptation, Supplication, Beatification, Salvation and Sanctification). For one reason or another, this beer, Consecration, has eluded me until tonight. Countless times I had read the bottle: "Ale Aged in Cabernet Sauvignon Barrels with Currants Added". Sounded simple enough. Sounded amazing enough. But every time I passed it by the overly expensive price stuck out like a sore thumb amongst the others: $13.50, I'd often read, and often thought, "That's way too much. I'll get it next time..." but never did. And what pushed me over the edge? What drove me to finally purchase this bottle of beer that had taunted me from many a shelf? It took a slight buzz, a late-night visit to a supermarket, and a sign below the purple-brown labels of the bottles that read: SALE! And that was good enough for me. I finally bought one. And I was satisfied with myself. After all, it was definitely something I'd always wanted to try and another brew I'd only heard good things about.

So let's hear it. What is the story behind Consecration? Well as the bottle suggests, the brewers at Russian River had always wanted to attempt a beer aged entirely in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels. What finally pushed them to do so? One may never know, but we are all glad they found the inspiration. And what kind of beer is Consecration? Coming from several reputable sources (including the brewery itself) it has been classified as an American Wild Ale, a sour ale, Belgian Style Dark Ale, and just plain wild ale. How about we add them all up, take the average and call it a dark Belgian Style sour ale utilizing wild American yeasts and bacteria? I think that pretty much covers the entire realm of what this beer really is. Thinking back to my previous entries I can recall offhand two instances in which I discussed sour ales: one was during my trip to Deschutes Brewery (scroll down in the entry to read about the Solace Rose and the process used to create that brew) and the other instance was during my review of Oude Gueuze (Hanssens Artisanaal). I won't go into a full explanation here, but reading the Russian River website I was astonished (and quite happy) to discover the answer to a question I'd had about sour ales for quite some time.

In both of the aforementioned posts, I discuss blending. Blending is the process in which differently aged beers are blended with one another to create a desirable flavour profile. The question being however, why exactly this was necessary and how on earth did someone decide that it would be a good idea to blend old and young beer together? In the case of Consecration, it would seem, as you will later see, that two very important bacteria responsible for producing delectable sour ale would be: Lactobacillus (Lacto) & Pediococcus (Pedio). These bacteria will grow inside barrels and ferment the beer anaerobically (with little or no oxygen) as it ages. This produces lactic acid, which is one of the sour components in a good sour ale. All is good and well, that is until the brew reaches higher alcohol strength. Consecration is sitting at 10.00% abv, which is pretty hefty. When higher percentages of alcohol are present, the bacteria becomes inhibited and therefore no longer produces the desired sour flavours we love so much. So in order to add a more desireable amount of acidity, the brewers will blend an older and a younger (because it hasn't attained the higher alcohol strength of its big brother) to reintroduce the acidic flavour that makes sour ales so sour. Did I lose anyone? I certainly hope not. To recap and put it all into Layman's terms: younger or "weaker" beers will naturally contain more acidic flavours than that of a "stronger" beer which has lost the acidic edge due to the inhibition of Lacto and Pedio. So brewers blend the two together until the desired flavour profile is achieved. This was done with the Solace Rose as well as the Hanssens Artisinaal: Oude Gueuze.

In addition to the brewers of Russian River aging this beer in 100% French-oak Cabernet Sauvignon barrels they took it to the next level by adding Black Currants to the mix. Undeniably adding yet another layer of complexity and depth to an already overwhelming mix of aroma's and flavours. The next question that I've yet to answer: why Currants? I've seen many beers aged with Black Currants, but why not other dried dark fruits? Suppose that will have to be answered later. Thanks for reading along so far. As I have learned something new, I hope you have too. And now without further adieu, the tasting notes on this incredible brew......................

Name: Consecration
Category/Style: American Wild Ale
ABV: 10.00%
IBU: 17
OG: 1.088
FG: Unknown
Malt Type(s): Unknown
Hop Type(s): Unknown
Yeast Type: Abbey Ale Yeast, Rockpile & Brettanomyces
Bacteria Type: Lactobacillus & Pediococcus
Special Additives: Barrel-aged with black currants
Bottled: 04/07/2011
Batch Number: 006
Bottle Size: 375 mL, corked
Location Purchased: QFC, Factoria, Washington, USA

The Pour: Pale crimson pink, slight ruddy orange brown hue. Head is off-white and cream colored, disippates quickly, no retention, no lacing.

The Nose: Wow. Blew me away. Black cherry, sharp acidity, little vinegar, little tartness, lots of oak and wood, vanilla and red wine, dark fruit, black currants, what an elixir! Somewhat purfume-y and quite sweet. Smells intense and makes my mouth water. A little bubblegum. Going deeper and we get lots of funk and a little barnyard, but it is safe to say this is dominated by dark fruit, most namely sour black cherry as well as acetic sour notes. Smells absolutely divine. Ok going in for a taste...

The Taste: Oh wow. Where to start with this one? Incredibly complex. Layer upon layer of flavor. Oak and wood everywhere in this brew. Lots of vanilla, red wine and black cherry. Perfect amount of tart sourness. As it rolls over my tongue it is satisfyingly sweet. Ends with a moderate amount of bitterness but doesn't linger. Mouthfeel is silky smooth, carbonation is abrupt initially but overall rather light to medium and the finish is quite dry. No worries, the complexity is astounding: oak, wine, cherries, currants, sour, bitter, sweet, and at 10% I am having a difficult time picking out the alcohol. The only indication of its strength comes from the slight warming of the back of the throat. I could probably drink a lot of this. Each sequential sip is a treat in itself. I am totally in love with this beer.

The Verdict: Enough said. This beer floored me. From the initial removal of the cork and the first whif of what was to come I was spellbound. I have known few other brews that come close to matching the complexity of this. Each sip is something new entirely. Dark fruit? Sour cherries? Black currants? Vanilla and oak? Take your pick because it is all here hidden beneath one of the various other layers. It is beautifully crafted and instantly (hands down) one of my all-time favorites. The price is higher, but entirely worth it I feel. If you like sour ales, you have to try this at least once. I picked up a bottle on sale for $12 USD but now I am thinking I'll have to buy a few more, or perhaps opt for the larger 750 mL size. This 375 mL is perfect for a solo evening venture. So good. I'm trying to savour each sip. If you see this in a store, don't hesitate to buy because of the price. If you are looking for a wild flavour ride upon which your palate will be treated to the ultimate experience then this is definitely the ticket. Simply said: Russian River Consecration is one incredible journey.

Thanks for reading!


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Dogfish Head Beer: Punkin Ale

Now that we're into October, I thought it might be a good idea to feature a nice seasonal brew. While walking into QFC today, not expecting to find anything, I happened to spot Dogfish Head's Punkin Ale sitting in a lovely 4-pack on the shelf begging to be purchased. As it stands I've never had the privilege of sampling this beer. I have heard only good things about it so I immediately proceeded to the checkstand with a 4-pack in hand. My favourite Pumpkin Ale thus far is Pumking from Southern Tier so I was curious to see how Punkin would compare. It being Dogfish Head, my assumption was that it would indeed hold its own.

A little background on the unique seasonal style of Pumpkin Ale: as far as my knowledge allows (please correct me If I'm wrong), the first real recognition of such an ale was in 1801 when Pumpkin beer was mentioned as being healthy and in some cases prescribed by physicians of the time. Pumpkin was used as a common additive in beers, sometimes replacing hard to come-by malts entirely. It wasn't until the early 19th century that pumpkin began to fall out of popularity with regards to beer production. The first example of modern day Pumpkin Ales was released in the late 1980's by Buffalo Bill's Brewery. Current Dogfish Head owner Sam Calagione entered the pumpkin beer scene in 1994 by entering and winning a beer competition (at the Punkin Chunkin competition) with a homebrewed batch of Punkin. This was in 1994, before the brewery opened in 1995 and ever since they have brewed and released Punkin each fall. The interesting (and misspelled) name for the beer comes from this nearby 'Punkin Chunkin' contest held yearly for the past 25 years in Delaware in which contestants compete by launching pumpkins as far as possible. Contestants utilize whatever methods they see fit, catapults and other contraptions are fair game. Perhaps you have seen the TV show on Discovery Channel?

My experience with Pumpkin Ales has led me to try offerings from Buffalo Bill's to Elysian Brewing Company, to Rockbottom Brewing Company, Southern Tier, Midnight Sun and now Dogfish Head. So I feel ok saying that I have a decent base of knowledge of such beers. Sometimes the beer is overspiced. Sometimes there is too much actual pumpkin and the mouthfeel and lingering flavours are off, so naturally I was interested in sampling Dog Fish Head's take on the style.

Some breweries release several offerings each year, ranging from brown ales, to stouts and porters to Imperial Pumpkin Ales. In fact, this year (actually next weekend, the 8 - 9th of October) Elysian Brewing Company is throwing a massive Pumpkin Ale festival named: The Great Pumpkin Beer Fest, which will feature at least 50 different pumpkin beers. From Elysian Brewing Company alone we can expect: Mr. Yuck Sour Pumpkin Ale, Night Owl (their flagship seasonal release), Great Pumpkin, Dark o' the Moon Pumpkin Stout, Hansel and Gretel Ginger Pumpkin Pils, Coche de Medianoche, K├╝rbitinus, PK-47 Pumpkin Malt Liquor, Headless Horsey, Ursa Orange and one another TBA. It is quite apparent that demand for pumpkin flavored beers has grown in the last decade. More recently bigger macro-breweries such as Anheuser-Busch and MolsonCoors have been releasing their own fall-seasonal Pumpkin beers in recognition of the craze. As it seems I have veered off-course with my explanation of Pumpkin Ales, allow me to get back on track, tasting notes anyone?

Name: Punkin Ale
Category/Style: Pumpkin Ale
ABV: 7.00%
IBU: 28
OG: Unknown
FG: Unknown
Malt Type(s): Unknown
Hop Type(s): Unknown
Yeast Type: Unknown
Special Additives: Pumpkin, brown sugar, allspice, cinnamon & nutmeg
Bottled: 2011
Bottle Size: 12 oz
Location Purchased: QFC, North Bend, WA

The Pour: Off-white head, moderately vigorous pour leads to disappearance of head, poor retention thus far, lacing? Color of brew is golden copper-orange.

The Nose: Lots of spice. Pumpkin pie, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. Malty sweet on the outside. Digging deeper and we find the pithy squash-like characteristics lent to us from the pumpkin used in the brew. Hints of caramely brown sugar well distributed throughout. Fresh baked gingerbread? A little metallic? My mouth is watering, let's go for a taste...

The Taste: Letting it sit on my tongue for a bit the carbonation is fairly light. A whole mouthful of spice, but not overdone like other pumpkin ales. Initial burst of sweetness fades to a punch of spice and ends with a moderate bitterness. Near the end I'm getting something floral? Hops? Intriguing lingering mix of spicy, sweet and bitter on the finish. I rather like this one. Mouthfeel is not heavy by any means, for a 7% I say drinkability is very high and the body is definitely in the realm of medium.

The Verdict: I would definitely rate this Pumpkin Ale in the upper tier of seasonal Pumpkin Ales. I would be interested in sampling one side-by-side with my other favourite: The Pumking from Southern Tier. In Punkin the spice is noticeable but it's not overdone and complements the other flavors instead of dominating them. For a stronger brew this is very drinkable, although my ability to consume pumpkin flavoured beers is usually limited to just one, I rather enjoyed this. I can easily say it's one of the best I've ever had. This would be a great complement to Thanksgiving dinner, a slice of pumpkin pie or simply as a dessert on its own. If you've yet to try a Pumpkin Ale, let this be the first. If you can find it, buy it, it doesn't last long, and you won't be disappointed :]

Thanks for reading!