Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Update: Milano and Munich, back-to-back?

I've been itching for a pint of good beer. One thing I have realized since being here in Italy for a month: you need a car. There is certainly good, high quality and original beers to be found in Italy, but if you come here looking to make a good brewery tour (at least in Umbria) you should definitely rent a car. I've been trying for a few weeks now to find beer from a microbrewery in Citta della Pieve (a city 40 km south of here) with no success. I apologize for my lack of updates, I just simply don't have anything to update with. I've been drinking beer, but mostly German Weissbier (readily available here in local supermarkets) and Pale Lagers. A bit of news to update you with: I will be going to Milano in northern Italy for 3 days or so. This city is supposed to be the major driving force behind the resurgence of the Italian beer industry. I will make it a point to find out all there is to know. I am planning on attempting to tour one brewery, visit a few great pubs, and pick up a few bottles of Italian beer at one of the bottleshops. So I can tell you: look out in the next few weeks as I should be updating you with a few Italian beers.

Now, from Italy I'll be heading into the deep south of Germany into Bavaria. I'll be visiting the great beer city of Munich for a week and you can be sure to expect lots of good things from there. I'll be looking to answer several questions: are there many non-traditional styles being brewed in Germany? And how do Germans view the American beer scene? These are two questions that I am really interested in seeking out the answers to. I know Germany can brew amazing traditional style beers, but what about the current scene? In a land steeped with tradition and overshadowed by brands that have been around for hundreds of years, how much of the market is non-traditional? During my visit to Munich I will like to drink from a 2-liter stein, tour a brewery, and perhaps tour a hop farm. I do not know if this last idea will be possible but I am hoping so. I think it will be very interesting to hear about the process of growing hops. I'd love to learn more about the one thing that I can't get enough of in my beer :]

And so with that, I will sign off for now, but rest assured, the lack of updates, and silence of the beer blog will not be lasting for much longer. I am visiting two (very different) but two very well-known cities synonymous with good beer. I will soon be able to scratch the itch for good beer by drinking delicious pint after delicious pint. Until the next post, stay sharp, and drink some good beers for me :] Ciao!

Thanks for reading,

Friday, May 13, 2011

9 Year Old Organic Italian Beer, Anyone?

I wonder, have I succeeded in enticing anybody with the title of the post or with the photo of the barely legible obviously worn label? It is in fact true; rescued from the confines of a friends dark, damp, and very dusty cellar, I was given the small gift of a 750 mL bottle of a very old Organic Italian Saison (for information on what a Saison is, refer here). The brewer is Le Baladin and the beer is Wayan. I am Holding back from a bit of background information on the brewer since I have another bottle from the same brewer I will review later. And so moving along, one might ask: just how old is this beer? And was it any good?

Well, to answer the question of age, I'm not really sure. My friend was unsure also. But from the back label (which is much more legible), its consume by date was April 2002, If that's any indication. My friend said most likely he bought it sometime in 2000 or 2001. Some Saisons age well under ideal conditions but given the state of the label and the condition of the box it was in, I would surmise that the conditions for this bottle were less than ideal. However, I thought it interesting to stumble upon such a find, and have the opportunity to sample a beer that had been aging for an entire decade. Would it still taste good? Would there still be carbonation? Will I wake up tomorrow if I consume beer 9 years passed its prime? These were just a few of the questions bouncing around inside my head. Perhaps we should do a bit of sampling and find out. And given the fact that I am writing this post some time after drinking the beer, it's safe to say you can in fact drink beer 9 years passed its consume by date. Now! Onto the tasting notes!

Name: Wayan
Category/Style: Organic Saison/Farmhouse Ale
ABV: 5.80%
IBU: Unknown
OG: Unknown
FG: Unknown
Malt Type(s): Barley, Wheat, Spelt, Oats & Rye
Hop Type(s): Unknown
Yeast Type: Saccharomycetes
Special Additives: Coriander & Other spices
Bottled: Unknown
Consume by: April 2002
Bottle Size: 750 mL
Location Purchased: Unknown (retrieved from a friends cellar)

The Pour: As I open the bottle and pour the first bit, I can see chunks of dead yeast floating about. I don't think the brewers created this beer with the intention of long-term cellaring. In any case, it pours a cloudy golden-yellow. The faintest hint of a head is straight white. We'll see if it sticks around or if there is any retention at all as we consume the rest of the bottle.

The Nose: The nose is quite malty, sweet, smells slightly of Belgian yeasts and coriander; other spices are noticeable. A lot of bready yeast, candy sugar, orange, something a bit metallic, but a definite malt backbone with lots of spices. Somewhat fruity, a bit of stale apple juice with a bit of dust and barnyard. I wonder what this will taste like considering it's 9 years and 1 month passed it's consume by date :]

The Taste: Initially it is noticeably flat. Medium bodied. Malty and dry. Rather sweet with a bit of spice in there. Really dry finish. I think it really does have a lot going on in there, but the flatness of the extremely old beer is a major turn off. As I pour the next bit, I get a bit more carbonation. The head barely sticks around on the edge of the glass. Flavors are all jumbled it seems. I get a bit of orange marmelade, perhaps a bit of cinnamon. I imagine this beer would be much better if it was fresh.

The Verdict: Well on this one I can't say I gave it a fair shot. But considering I retrieved it from my friends cellar and that it had been sitting there for so long, I thought it would be interesting to review an extremely old bottle of beer. This bottle of beer was 9 years past it's prime so it's entirely possible it was bottled over a decade ago. Not sure if the brewers have changed the recipe for this brew since then, but I think it has a lot of things working for it. The spice notes are nice, I don't detect too much hop presence, but the nose is spot on for a Saison/Farmhouse Ale. The website said that this was the brewers interpretation of a Saison so this may be exactly what it is, however it does have many characteristics of those kinds of ales. There is no telling how much the age has morphed the flavor of this one (if I get the chance while I am here in Italy I'll buy a fresh bottle and do a comparison). I kind of feel I owe it to the brewer. As I drink this, I wonder If I'll wake up in the morning. Or if I'll pass out in bed tonight and never wake up. I can say with ease, considering how flat and dull this beer is that it has lost most of its original character. With that I will sign off, enjoy your evening. Ciao!

Thanks for reading!


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Birrificio L'Olmaia - BK

Hello hello, welcome to the month of May and my first new post. We are ushering in a new era in the beer blog here for I am treading in unexplored territory; I have crossed into the great country of Italy. I've been here for just about 10 days now, but what kind of repercussions will this have for the beer blog now that my supply of worldwide high quality beer (from de Bierkoning in Amsterdam) cannot be purchased any longer? Does this mean I'll be reviewing Chianti and local Umbrian red wines? No! Not at all. I'm not worried, and neither should you. In all honesty the two words: Italy & beer have never been synonymous, but wait a minute now. Put them together for just a moment. Stretch your mind a bit and allow me to paint a picture for you; one that combines the two into one lovely work of art (something else Italy is known for). Let me explain....

The beer up for review tonight is not only my first taste of higher quality Italian produced beer, it is my first sampling of an Italian produced English Style Stout. So check this out: here I am earlier tonight, reading a facebook post from my favorite pub in Amsterdam (The BeerTemple) writing about how they just got a delicious new hopped out version of the Beer Geek Breakfast Stout from Mikkeler. I'm totally wishing I could be there to have a pint. Anyhow, I have a bottle of Italian beer in my possesion that I picked up at a wine shop last week. I was thinking I knew exactly what to expect when I read on the side of the bottle: Doppio Malto (Double Malt). It would be some kind of overly sweet and malty concoction they'd try and pass off as some kind of Belgian Dubbel or something along those lines. In fact, just before cracking the bottle open, I proceeded to Beeradvocate to have a look and see what kind of style I was dealing with here (I really trust those guys). To my great surprise and excitement, Beeradvocate had it labeled as an English Stout. This piqued my curiosity a great deal.

The doppio malto on the label beneath the name: BK, was a bit misleading for me. But I was in fact intrigued. It was supposedly an English Style Stout. "Ok, so we'll see about that..." I thought. I cracked it open and took the first whiff. Wow. That was my first reaction, seriously. Incredible. Could this really be Italian-made? An Italian-made English Style Stout? There will be many skeptics out there I'm sure. But let me tell you, I did have a bit of a heads up before I arrived to Italy. I did my research. Would I travel to a foreign country without first researching the state of their beer industry? I think not. We've all seen the Italian beer in the supermarkets and Italian restaurants back in the states...yeahhh, you know...the watery, fizzy, pale, skunky Peroni or Birra Moretti. And we've all heard about the high quality wines coming out of Italy for ages, but good beer? A good high quality beer from Italy? Yeah right, I know some of you are thinking right now. Some of you are probably snickering even or maybe you had no knowledge at all that beer was produced and enjoyed in Italy. Whatever the reason, I am here to set the record straight.

Aside from the fact that Italy is the 2nd largest importer (and I mean consumer) of foreign beer in Europe, Italian beer is on the rise. And not just any beer, but good beer from Italy is on the rise. This I knew before coming here, but my research led me to believe the microbrew movement was centralized in Milan (a city hundreds of kilometers to the north of where I would be staying). There would be bottle shops, brewpubs, and microbreweries galore in Milan, but what about me? What about Umbria, and central Italy where I would be staying? That was the question I set out to answer. There is good beer to be found in Milan, but elsewhere in Italy? I have now just answered that question. As I work my way through this 750 mL bottle of Italian produced English Style Stout, I smile to myself and pour another 4 ounces into my tasting glass. Before I tell you my final thoughts (this is to come later in The Verdict portion of my tasting notes) let us go and read those tasting notes and see what I found when I sampled my first ever higher quality Italian brew. Would it live up to the hype I've been hearing about? Or would it fall flat on its face? Let's have a look...oh and also, the brewer is L'Olmaia (but let's save the brewery description for a later post)...

Brewer: Birrificio L'Olmaia
Name: BK
Category/Style: English Stout
ABV: 6.00%
IBU: Unknown
OG: Unknown
FG: Unknown
Malt Type(s): Unknown
Hop Type(s): Unknown
Yeast Type: Unknown
Special Additives: None
Bottled: Unknown
Bottle Size: 750 mL (capped)
Location Purchased: Enoteca Lo Sfizio, Citta di Castello, Umbria, Italy

The Pour: Dark brown, slight crimson hue, head is nice and creamy and cream colored; minimal retention, but nice lacing.

The Nose: The nose, wow, it really threw me for a loop. Was not expecting it at all. I get a bit of piney and grassy hops, loads of milk chocolate and roasted malt. Sweet and chocolatey. Dark roasted coffee there as well. Is that smoke coming through? My god this smells amazing. An Italian brewed English Style Stout? It smells spot on and then some! Let's see if they can hold onto it with the taste. Onward!

The Taste: Ok so initial taste...low to medium carb, slightly watery slightly creamy mouthfeel. Loads of smoke. Actually quite bitter. Quite crisp despite, and nice dry finish. It's actually kind of refreshing in a way. The coffee and dark roasted notes shine through and the long, smokey, dry finish is delicious. I've a feeling most of the bitterness is a result of the dark roasted malt but it really is awesome. Cocoa powder, toasted grains and hops...the bitterness lingers for a long time.....

The Verdict: Wow, well for my first real Italian beer I am quite satisfied. This is really great stuff. And not only is it a good example of the style, but I would say it puts a nice twist on it with the coffee, smoke, chocolate and definite hop presence. This is a really good beer. Given the chance I will likely buy another bottle (or two). So there you have it, my first exposure to the up and coming beer scene in Italy. It holds up. It's true. Italy is coming into its' own for beer. Cheers! Now let me pour myself another glass :]

Thanks for reading!