Tag Archives: belgian beer

Aged beers

Words by Greasylightbulb

After a hiatus that was threatening to turn epochal, the Thirsty Boys finally managed to be in the same place at the same time and in the company of a themed beer selection. It’s certainly not that we hadn’t been drinking in the meantime, it’s just that orderly structure had eventually given way to a pleasant casual whimsy. However much like a room of monkeys on typewriters, all we had to do was wait long enough and this day was bound to happen.

Being nothing if not contrary, it was decided to ignore the fresh sensorial delights of the current wet hop season and instead explore the dusty old box that had been unearthed when I recently moved house. I knew there had been some bottles somewhere in the garage, some of which had been put away on purpose, others less so. I hoped some might be nice, but figured that even if not, then it could provoke interesting discussion about the whys and wherefores of ageing beers.

 

 1. The Bruery Saison Rue (8.5% ABV)

bruery saison rue

The box turned out to contain a pleasingly wide variety of beer styles. First up being a 2012 Saison from Orange County’s Belgianesque The Bruery. They no longer make this under the same label, but spinoff brand Bruery Terreux do. It’s made with rye and bottle conditioned with some brettanomyces. Described in the literature as rich and hoppy when fresh, but expected to “…dry out and become more complex with rustic notes of leather and earth” with age.

On the day it was delightfully classy start to proceedings, with the advertised earth and leather propped up against a fruitiness which opened up and became more complex a little while after decanting.

“Subtle and aromatic” The Jesuit

“Held its malt body really well” Gingerbeardyman

“Hints of sherried honey and spice” Greasylightbulb

It was enjoyed by Malice who normally finds saisons hard to like; and also Troughboy even though he considered his tastebuds to be unenlightened despite all the practise they were getting. It was superbly well matched to a round of Tenara ashed goats cheese from Kaikoura which the Lady Piemaker had kindly provided

This very vintage won Best beer of 2012 by Wine Enthusiast magazine. We gave it 7/10 Man Points (see here for no real explanation at all), though we scored all beers at the end of the tasting which leads to something akin to curved grading.

 

2. Chimay Bleue/Grand Reserve (9% ABV)

Chimay-bleue

Iconic strong Belgian ale from 2012. Quite a lot of information and opinions are available in the internet bout the ageing of this and other Trappist beers. Although exact character will vary with vintage, the size of bottle, and the way it is stored. As a crude rule, 3-4 years in bottle appears to be considered a peak time. It’s intricacies on the palate left the Thirsties grasping for likenesses

“Raspberryish” Lady Piemaker

“Fruit preserve on burnt toast” Gingerbeardyman

“It’s Christmas cakey” Lady Piemaker

Conversation then turned tangentially to how hipsters were now drinking the iconic Scottish budget fighting juice Buckfast, the origin of the hipster culture, and merits of artisanal firewood.

(8 Man Points)

 

3. Invercargill Brewery Pitch Black Imperial Stout (9% ABV)

Product_PitchBlackImperial

Batch barrel aged in central Otago Pinot Noir barrels for 3 months, then left to its own devices in Greasy’s garage for 3 years. Invercargill say it “….will only improve with age”. Despite an erratic supply this far North (unlike a few years ago when we could get our hands on an extended range)  Invercargill brewery are still warmly regarded by several of the Thirsties. Would age legitimise that fondness or highlight the erraticism? Well with minimal carbonation it poured an enticing deep walnut tinge and….

“coffee and blackberry” The Jesuit

“ a good dessert evening beer, great with ice cream” Lady Piemaker “…and chocolate”

Though its impossible to know, we felt it would risk getting a bit flabby with more time, so were happy to revel in it’s gorgeousness for now

(9 Man Points)

 

4. 8 Wired the Sultan (10% ABV)

8-wired-sultan

This sultana-containing Quadrupel was the originator of the stash for ageing. It was picked up at Wellington’s Beervana festival in 2011 or 2012; memory failing me slightly. However I do remember the distinct feeling that it was a) amazing, and b) could be even more so. Hence putting it away and trying harder not to drink it than I normally try not to drink things. The bottle blurb states it would continue to develop for 3-4 years.

“..has a tartness to it” The Jesuit

“This is like a beer you drink just by itself, you don’t need food with it” Lady Piemaker

It was agreed that we’d like to have another one, which was a problem since sadly it appears to be discontinued by 8 Wired. This is an inherent risk in ageing beers, in small volume anyway. When you get it right, and find yourself relaxing in the glow of a decadent complex beer at its peak, the feeling risks being tinged with the regret of not buying and keeping more at the time.

(8.5 Man Points)

 

5. Liberty Brewing Renall’s Towards Muriwai (11% ABV)

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You may have notice that the proceedings have gone Belgian – stout – Belgian – stout, turns out it’s not easy to order this selection. I went with anticipated size and body rather than beer type (then stuck the freak at the end…). Other suggestions would be welcomed though!

Anyway: back to Liberty. Described as a “Black Forest Stout” this single batch from 2012 contains a hefty dose of sour morello cherries. It was made for Brewers Guild New Zealand awards, and won a medal. However it really has its roots in a much more personal symbolism. It commemorates Liberty Brewing’s Joe and Chistina Wood’s 12 years of marriage. Apparently they were aiming for 12% ABV, but missed. I hope that fact isn’t symbolic of anything. Muriwai was a special place in their youth and the beautiful label was by an art teacher from the college they met at. It really was a bottle with sophisticated elegance. I remembered thinking it as a good end-of-night beer originally, but our commentary suggests that the effects of time may have shifted its optimum place in one’s daily routine.

“A beer for breakfast” Lady Piemaker “..like coffee”

“Good with porridge and brown sugar” The Jesuit

Compared with the rest of the night’s dancecard it didn’t have as much depth or complexity of flavour. But we did wonder what it would be like with even more age. Since it was my last bottle, the regret firmly took hold.

7/10 Man Points

See more by the label’s artist Sarah McBeath at http://www.bakedbean.co.nz/

Renall's towards Muriwai col

Renall’s Towards Muriwai by Sarah McBeath 

 

6. Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary Jack and Ken’s ale (10.2%)

sierra nevada

This American dark barley wine is the oldest of the bunch. Crafted in 2010 as one of four commemorative and collaborative brews to celebrate Sierra Nevada’s 30th anniversary. This one was a collaboration with Jack McAuliffe of New Albion Brewing who has been described as the first American microbrewer. It is said that… “this robust ale should age gracefully for years”. Today we could prove it.

“That’s an incredibly great beer… just the balance between all the elements” Gingerbeardyman

“I once drank a bottle of this on my own, I was very swirly” The Jesuit

(at the 65 IBUs) “oh no, it’s not bitter, at least I don’t think it is bitter” Lady Piemaker

“Layers of liquid liquorice” Greasylightbulb

“..it has a serial moreishness” the ever quotable Gingerbeardyman

“I don’t see how it could get any better” Greasylightbulb

(9.5 Man Points)

 

7. De Molen Raad & Daad (6.5% ABV)

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Not much could be researched about this oak aged sour from 2013. Brouwerij De Molen themselves had no mention of it on their website. There’s a discussion on Ratebeer.com about how the bottle was made differently to the draught. Google translates the name as possibly meaning council and deed. Mysterious. Very different style to the other beers, as apparent in the atmosphere created by the swirling glasses.

“oh no” Troughboy’s prospect

“…a felonious aroma” The Jesuit

“Genuinely embodies horse saddle sweat” Greasylightbulb

“Sweet and sour acidity” Troughboy

“It has candy to it” Lady Piemaker

Scoring was divisive, but averaged out at 6/10

 

Well what could we conclude from the evening? Apart from wishing I’d saved the Sierra Nevada for last. Exploring the effects of ageing would be much more successfully achieved if we had tried aged beers alongside their more youthful versions. Some American brewers are now branding some of their range as “vertical beers” for this express purpose. Unfortunately some of our brews were batches never again repeated, denying us that opportunity. But we can safely say that this selection was aged and it was delicious. Relying on our memories somewhat, they were generally felt to be more complex and interesting than they had been originally. I’ve decided imperial stouts and barley wines are the ones to put aside for me, so I’m off to find some more to fill that new hole in the garage.

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Aged Beers – The Empties

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WHAT ARE MAN POINTS?

Man Points (MP) are a largely subjective unit of measure used by the Thirstyboys to denote satisfaction with a given beer. Man Points are allocated on the basis of factors such as complexity, balance, or occasionally weirdness. Because the Thirstyboys are not extremophiles, Man Points do not necessarily reflect such object factors as ABV or IBU. In general, a big, boozy ale is more likely to be awarded high Man Points if the booziness is well disguised.

Correct application of the unique Thirsty Methodology™ will ensure that a well made albeit light Golden Ale will garner more Man Points than an ultra-hoppy but fundamentally uninteresting IPA or an Imperial Stout that has nothing more to recommend it than high alcohol content. In general, nasty mass market lagers will accrue low to negative Man Points especially if “brandwank” is involved (with apologies to Phil Cook for appropriating his terminology).

Man Points are scored from roughly zero (worst) to ten (impossibly good). In the interests of precision, half points are allowed. The Thirstyboys indicate their scorn for egregiously bad beers by awarding negative points (see below for examples).

In the interests of scientific enquiry here are a few examples to indicate the approximate calibrations for awarding Man Points.

Westvleteren 12                                     9.5 MP[1]

8 Wired iStout/Renaissance                  8.0 MP

Stonecutter

Tuatara APA                                         7.0 MP

Three Boys Wheat Beer                       6.5 MP

Epic Pale Ale                                        5.5 MP

Monteith’s Original[2]                           3.0 MP

Monteith’s Single Source[3]                 1.0 MP

Stella/Heineken/Steinlager                   0.5MP

Bud Lite                                               -2.0MP

On occasion, the Thirstyboys have felt inspired to use other equally scientific scoring systems as the occasion demands. For example, a tasting of Session Beers employed a scale based on Scout Badges. Emerson’s Bookbinder was awarded a consensus score of 4.5 Scout Badges. Another time, when Bruce organised a tasting of Quebecois beers, it was agreed that cultural sensitivity required us to Fleurs de Lys as the basis for our rating system.

the jesuit 12/9/2011


[1] Because, if only theoretically, it should be possible to improve on what might be the Platonic ideal of a Belgian Quadrupel

[2] Most of Monteith’s regular line score about the same except their Summer Ale (0.5 MP), which is vile, and Radler (0.0 MP) on general principles. The only further nuance is covered by the next footnote.

[3] Brandwank!

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The Trappist Dance Card

Malthouse, Wellington

29 March 2011

“An overwhelming number of beer nerds would never have had
all these seven in their life in a single day…lets go !” Phil

Our first curated tasting was researched by “the Jesuit” a scholar of ancient Greece and Rome, a wearer of fine suits, colourful ties and striped socks. He is also a longstanding Arizona Cardinals fan.

The Jesuit went all out. He chose to feature the beers of Trappist monasteries in Belgium and prepared little beer notes, a map of the breweries, and provided a web link to a cycle tour. The only things missing for we who had gathered were rosary beads,  prayer books and complimentary sandals.

That said, he set himself a tough task to bring the Trappist dance card together albeit with the assistance of Phil who worked hard to locate and acquire some of the hard to get beers. They set a high standard for the rest of us to follow in the coming months. Here is the sacred seven…

La Trappe Bockbier (Netherlands 7%) 6.5MP

“Like liquid bread, musty…”

According to Phil, the monastery responsible for making this beer was kicked out of the fold for getting too commercial for a while. At the time of writing this was the only trappist lager  – a doppleboch. We recorded that it was like liquid bread… and musty…which I guess is good if you are hungry.

Achel 8 Blond (north eastern Belgium, 8%) 6 MP

“fantastic” gingerbeardyman

This is apparently the beer that everyone kind of forgets because the brewery was shut down for a while (during the war). It got back up and running in 1998. The liquid’s appearance was nicely hazy, probably due to the bottle conditioning. It tasted zippy, tangy and really fizzy in character…but not in a bad way.

“Too bad the label looks like clipart…” bruce

 Orval (Southern Belgium, 6.2%) 5.2 MP

The makers are a relatively high producer of this one commercial product and the beer is basically a blond. We found it conspicuously hoppy, perhaps a sign of its freshness. According to Phil the taste can differ radically from bottle to bottle, it can be all over the place. Greasylightbulb, a psychology grad observed that it was “…a beer with many personalities…”

Westmalle Tripel (Northern Belgium 9.5%) 8 MP

“…like it has gunpowder in it!” gingerbeardyman

Tripel is a term originated by the Westmalle brewery and has come to represent a stronger pale beer. It was certainly a high strength beer with a massive flavour but remarkably very light. Promoted with an eyebending label…I like that.

“expands nicely” bruce

“You’d be able to stand up and then not be able to stand up” Jesuit

Westvleteren 12 (Western Belgium 10.2%) off the scale MP

“Very few colossal beer nerds have had this” Phil

“Some people say it’s the best beer in the world” Jesuit

This beer is classified by some sources as a barley wine, one that is aromatic and tasting of dark rum. It was the highlight of the night, a $60 a bottle highlight (we shared). The taste lingered on and on and we are still talking about it months later. This beer is way too cool for a bottle label. The monks want you to see its dark colour and feel the thirst, but they produced a printed bottle cap to make their claim to fame. And good on them too. It was described by one Thirstyboy as “a big, malty, beer and massively strong” bruce

The Jesuit was blown away by this one proclaiming “It’s Plato’s beer!” and “a zyphophiles epiphany”

KaroriFryUp said…

“I feel like I am drinking something the stasi let slip through the border”

Rochefort 10 (South east Belgium 11.3) 8 MP

This beer was first introduced as in 1953 as La Merveilleuse (The Magnificent). The Thirstyboys thought it tasted like strawberry, it was “jammy” and “all port and wine” or “Like fruit on the turn after a holiday”.

Chimay Bleue/Grande  reserve (Southern Belgium 9%) 6.5MP

Fresh, spicyness apparently with instructions on the glass on how to drink it. My note taking failed me here and thirst took over and over and over.

Overall it was a big night, a night with high expectations, hyped up and ultimately worth a few extra bucks. It was a great card of beers that created space for a little bit of history to be shared and made. Good work Jesuit…

as sanele would say “feel proud?”

Many thanks to Phil for making it happen. For his extended and expert commentary on this tasting please visit his blogpost: http://philcook.net/beerdiary/2011/03/29/the-trappist-dance-card/

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