Monthly Archives: December 2012

New Years

I’m now on the train heading into Boston to participate in First Night. I’ve never done much for New Year’s Eve.

But now I’m going into the heart of all things and I’m terrified.

Wish me luck.

-D-

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Brewing an Education: Porters and Stouts (Part III)

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Continuing on along our education of stouts and porters, we have come across our first porter. Now, from everything I have read, porters are a bit of a mystery. Once, a long time ago, porters were an extremely popular form of beer of which stouts a type. But, along the way, porters fell by the wayside and, eventually, people stopped making them entirely. The last porter brewed was by Guinness and they stopped in the mid-seventies. Then, after a good twenty years, people decided to bring back porters based on half-forgotten recipes and old myths of what porters were supposed to be.

As a result, there’s not a lot of consensus of what a porter should taste like, because, in truth, no one knows what one should taste like. Different breweries try their hand at porters and they all come up with different answers to the question: what is a porter?

Today, I tried Zywiec‘s Porter and if all porter’s taste like this, I would drink them more often. It has a very hearty, fruity aroma out of the bottle and the taste followed suit. It tasted like dark cherries, sweet and heady and full of flavor. It had a very smooth and full mouthfeel without being thick and syrupy.

For a type of beer with close ties to stouts, I was surprised to find how refreshing it was. It was clear and strong and wasn’t overwhelming in either texture or taste.

It was very decadent, sweet without a lot of bitterness. I would serve it with a dessert, but a less rich dessert like a white cake or  some vanilla ice cream  It was a great beer, maybe not one that you would all the time or one after the other, but definitely a beer that you would have every once in a while as a way to remind yourself of how different beers can be from one another and how good those differences can be.

I would give this one three chocolate covered cherries and two scoops of vanilla ice cream.

This rating system might prove to be prophetic considering an entry I have planned down the line.

-D-

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Brewing an Education: Stouts and Porters (Part 2)

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I’ve been reading a book called Tasting Beer by Randy Mosher and I’ve been using it as a guide to beer tasting (obviously). While I already knew some of the basics (checking the clarity, the color, the aroma) I was/am still very much a novice. The best part about this particular book is that it goes into great detail about absolutely everything to do with beer; from how taste buds work to the history of particular brewing styles to the chemical compounds that produce the specific flavors. You get what you want from the book. If you’re not interested in a chemical breakdown of the smell of beer, you can always move ahead to the history of the stout, instead.

Speaking of stouts (and leaving this very forced segue behind), the Founders “Breakfast Stout” is next up.  After the last two, fairly disappointing stouts, the “Breakfast Stout” is pretty amazing. It has a well rounded and smooth mouthfeel, which is, apparently, common of oatmeal stouts. It’s a hearty beer and one that’s best suited for cold winter nights when the snow is falling and you’re warm and snug inside and full on heavy beer.

There is a strong coffee flavor, especially at the start, strong, black coffee. If diners served beer, this would be on the menu.

It’s a little sweet, but ends with a bitter flourish that’s very reminiscent of an IPA. All-in-all, it’s a very satisfying experience. I can see this being paired well with roasts and potatoes and steamy rolls with melted butter.

I give this one two baked hams and a crackling fire.

God, I’m hungry.

-D-

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Brewing an Education: Stouts and Porters (Guinness and Sam Adams)

Part of my goals for next year is to try and become more educated, to develop a better palate and learn to discern flavors and textures and sensations with more adept discernment. I am, of course, talking about drinking more beer. But I want to do it smartly. Last year, I drank a lot of pumpkin beers and IPAs and random brews from random breweries with no attempt to learn about the histories behind the styles or even about how each style should taste. 

After all, a Belgian shouldn’t taste like an IPA, nor a stout like a lager, but should a porter taste like a stout? I’m not even sure what half the words I used in the last sentence even mean, much less what they should taste like or the subtle variations between those tastes.

So, I’ve decided to spend the year moving slowly, carefully, through the many different styles of beers. No more bouncing willy-nilly through bizarrely branded concoctions designed to cash in on the latest seasonal craze. No, I will pick something and stick to it. I will learn what I like and don’t like. I will learn about the history and the behind-the-scenes stories for the brews. I will learn the vocabulary and might actually learn something along the way instead of just getting plastered and rambling about goblins and pumpkin ales for three paragraphs.

For January (and I’m starting early here), we’re going over stouts and porters.

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I decided to pick to varieties of stout that are, in all probability, not going to be knock-outs. I wanted simple staples, beers that exhibited the basic qualities of the genre without going overboard or in new directions. I went with the Samuel Adams “Cream Stout”, one of their seasonal beers and the Guinness “Draught”.

Now, a stout is going to be a few things. It’s going to be dark, with a head that’s either a dark brown or tan color. Guinness, of course, cheats by using those nifty little nitrogen doodads in their cans to give the foam that characteristic light, creamy color. Out of the bottle, the foam is lighter, but nowhere near that gorgeous contrasting color one sees on the tap or out the can.

A stout is also heavily flavored by toasted malts or barley, rather than hops, like an IPA. Many people describe stouts of having a very strong coffee or chocolate flavor which is why stouts are often flavored with coffee or chocolate. If you’ve had a coffee beer (like the Sam Adams Black and Brew), you’ve most likely had a stout flavored with coffee grounds.

I have to say, that while I wasn’t impressed with either stout, I did enjoy the flavor of the Sam Adams a lot more. The Guinness Draught is a weaker, less flavorful affair. The finishing notes are more reminiscent of black tea than, say, coffee, though the coffee notes are still there. But it just feels insubstantial. It has a more, and I hate to say this about a Guinness, watery mouthfeel.

For me, I order a Guinness when I’m both hungry and I want a beer. It fills you up on both accounts, but, in this case, the Guinness Draught fails on both accounts. It has a slightly sour tang to it, and I’m more reminded of the flavors of unsweetened, iced tea than anything. I’m left craving more body, more flavor, more everything.

The Sam Adams Cream Stout, while not their best beer, is better than the Draught. It is more complex and more mellow. It still still has the bitter, toasted flavors of a stout, but it is mild. While I do not taste the sweetness that was supposed to be a marker of traditional cream stouts, it is a milder stout than I’ve had in the past.

I would recommend it over the Draught. It tastes more strongly of those dark, heavy coffee notes that a good stout is supposed to have and lacks that metallic, sour tang of the Guinness Draught.

Using these two beers as a baseline (a very low baseline in the case of the Draught), I’ll move deeper into the world of craft beers and, hopefully, better styles of stouts, including the Imperial Russian Stouts and Oatmeal Stouts. And there’ll be history along the way!

-D-

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Beer Review: Harpoon’s Leviathan Imperial IPA

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There are two big breweries based in Boston proper; Samuel Adams and Harpoon. The Sam Adam brewery is only for small batches and experimental brews, while the Harpoon brewery is in full production.

I’ve taken tours of both facilities and while I was initially a bigger fan of the Sam Adams tour, I’ve started to lean more toward Harpoon. Their tasting portion is much more extensive; you have fifteen minutes to try any of the 7 or so beers they have on tap, as opposed to the three beers that Sam Adams gives you.

This is how I first came across the Leviathan Imperial IPA, in room surrounded by Harpoon merchandise and the Harpoon staff after imbibing six or seven tiny glasses of beer. I loved it.

But I decided to subject it to a more objective judgement. I bought a four-pack of them and poured them into my Harpoon-brand tulip glass. It smells intensely like an IPA; that hoppy, sweet smell that you either love or hate. The first sip and your taste buds are taking a brutal bitter beating. The Leviathan Imperial IPA is one of the more complex and well-rounded IPAs I’ve ever had. A lot of IPAs can leave you gagging on that signature bitterness long after you’ve finished the beer.

This one cuts it short, most likely through wizard magic, and the aftertaste is surprisingly minimal considering the hearty strength of the initial flavor. Out of the many IPA’s I’ve had over the last few years, this is one of the best, even though I still can’t claim to be an expert. It has a color that would put an amber ale to shame. Its flavor is complex and layered without being overpowering. And it packs a punch with the alcohol.

In short, if you can get it, you should.

I give it Two Bakers Chocolates and One Cup of My Coffee.

-D-

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Hitting the Wall

Running, for me, is awful. Whenever I do it, I’m tired and sweaty and angry and taking it all out on my tiny girlfriend, which doesn’t really make me look like the best of people.

But…the last time I ran, I hit a moment.

It was toward the end of the run and I was badly flagging and all I wanted to do was stop and throw up under a bush and then sleep it all off under that same bush.

And then…there was a this moment where it was easy. I had hit a point where I could not only keep running, but I could go faster and farther than I ever had before. I had summoned up some deep reserve of strength that allowed me to tap into some mystical force. I felt like a goddamn superhero. I started to run past Emily, instead of trying to keep up with her. I burst ahead and it wasn’t hard. It felt natural.

In that single moment, I had tapped into something that I had never even been aware of. I was able to run, with minimal effort. It wasn’t exercise: It was fun. I joyfully threw myself into the run. I didn’t care about how much my legs hurt or how hard I was breathing. All I knew was that I was running and it was easy and I didn’t want to stop.

It was the most coordinated I had ever felt. Everything lined up just right.

I felt invulnerable.

And then it slowly drained away and I was mortal again and we slowed to a walk.

And then, later, I fell down some stairs.

But…for one, brief, moment, I was completely in tune with myself. I was able to reach my potential. And, for one brief moment, I was able to understand why people run on a regular basis.

-D-

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