Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Belhaven Twisted Thistle India Pale Ale

More re-visitations of Scottish beers, and this one posed a problem. At some point in time, the Belhaven brewery went with clear glass bottles. This one had a skunky nose when I opened it and the lightstruck flaws severely diminished the taste. If this were my first stab at this one, you would not be reading the final sentence of this review from September, 2005:

Clear, pale copper/ gold color. Huge head, defiantly rocky, puffy, thick 1/2 that lasts long.

Brilliantly alert and lively aroma, spanking fresh piney, fruity aroma, not too bitter. Pineapple, apricot, ...a more West Coast-U.S. style aroma than I'd expect from a Scottish brewery. Cascade and Challenger hops. I like it!

Fresh and zesty in the mouth, a nice blast of hops on the palate. Falls back with ease, bitterness wanes, dries as it leaves, urging you to toss back another gulp. 
Medium bodied, with a vibrant, fruity, bitter/dry finish. 

A very tasty IPA, an ingenious mix of U.S. and U.K. takes on the style. For a brew with a tongue-twister of a name, this is amazing easy to love, for a hophead like me, and will easily leap into my must-buy list.

Traquair Jacobite Ale

We're still re-visiting long-ago discovered ales, and we're still looking at Scotland. Here's one brewed in honor of the Jacobite rebellion of 1745 by Traquair House Brewery, which dates back to 1107. Heavy on the coriander, this one. Notes are from June of 2003:


Appearance: dark, eggplant brown color, ruby red 'round the edges, with a head thick and creamy, tan and voluminous.

Aroma:  exquisite! Alert, lively, swimming in spiciness. To drink it in is divine. Deep and complex, and so rewarding in so many ways. Though containing precious little "subtlety", it's like being smacked upside the head with a spice rack.

Tasty. Bitter hops at first, then dark, turbulent malt, and a very complex flavor: what is going on here? It's like drinking spices.

A certain fruitiness arrives around the middle, but I perceive it's only suggested by the spices. In light of full reasoning, it's all about the spices, in Jacobite.
My very first encounter with Jacobite, but I'll be going back for more. A remarkable ale.

I had to delete a lot of exclamation points, once again. Man, I was addicted to those things!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Weihenstephaner Vitus Weizenbock


Weihenstephaner Vitus Weizenbock, 7.7% alc./vol. Brewed and bottled by Bay. Staats-Brauerei Wehenstephan, Freising, Germany. Since 1040, The World's Oldest Brewery.

This must be a "blonde" version of a weizenbock, for I normally encounter darker ones than this. Is this a more authentic Bavarian approach? Hazy golden hue, lush, blooming white head. This is real Bavarian wheat beer, here.

Aroma: Gorgeous! A lot of the citrus-y notes of a typical wizen are here, with more spices. Lemon and wizen yeast notes first, with spices (coriander, clove) thereafter.

Taste: fresh and delicious on the tongue. Zesty, refreshing, and easily consumable. I have to admit that I'm a bit perplexed, for I'm not getting the darker flavors normally found in a weizenbock. Paler malts at play here, I suppose, but then why call it that? Some of those flavors are creeping up, but the don't dominate, just finding their footing on the tongue, and letting the paler malts push it.

The alcohol is popping up just a bit now, we're feeling a little warm now. This golden weizenbock is giving us the heft weizen flavors, just a shadow of the weizenbock tastes, and the bigger buzz a bock or weizenbock should give. Easier drinking, less complex, yet still delightful. I like it, but might not reach for it over another weizenbock.

Kelpie Seaweed Ale

I'm going way back in time, April 1, 2003, for a review of another Scottish ale that screams curiosity. I wasn't as thrilled with it this time around. So, check out my old review, and turn it down a notch.


As it is April Fool's Day, I present my review of a beer some would assume to be a practical joke, Heather Ale's Kelpie Seaweed Ale, presented in a handsome and generous 16.9 oz dark bottle.

Aroma spills out of the bottle on cracking the cap, but I hold off from studying it until other aspects are examined. Pours a deep, dark brown, almost black, with a lush, creamy, proud cocoa-colored head that doesn't want to quit.

And that smell? Surprisingly sly snd soft, when lifted to the nose, but virtually indescribable, and utterly unique, but I'll give it a whirl...mossy, briney, vegetal, dark, cocoa, and nuts.

On the palate, very soft and pleasantly smooth. Some slight hops appear, but the thick and flavorful malt is fully in power. More flavors show themselves, more cocoa and nuts, more and more it feels like a very good brown ale. The seaweedy aspect bobs up again and again, but is inoffensive, unobtrusive. Oiliness in the texture, but terrifically smooth, with a nice, tasty finish.

This is their recreation of a historic style, from a time when seaweed brine washed over the barley fields, and infiltrated the flavors of Scottish ales. The label calls it "a rich chocolate ale which has an aroma of fresh seabreeze and a distinctive malty texture." That's about right. Anyone looking for an ale that's all about seaweed (and who are you, again, and why aren't you locked up?) will be disappointed.
I had this with an Ethiopian dish called Raafu, consisting of kale, carrots, potatoes, peppers, herbs, and spices. Went tog
ether well.

Mankato Saffron Kilt Pale Ale


Mankato Saffron Kilt. Pale Ale. Brewed and bottled by Mankato Brewing Company, Mankato, MN.

Appearance: Clear amber color, flush white head, long-lasting.

Aroma: soft, malty, semi-sweet, rather indistinct.

Taste: minor hop presence makes a bow at first sip, softly fades, what's left is crisp, toasty malt, with slight caramel and toffee flavors. Medium bodied, and smooth and easy-drinking.

So the style is in tiny print, not in bold, below the name. They call it "pale ale", but it's firmly in a Scottish Ale tradition. Let's read more of the label and see what it says: The pipes and drums of the Brian Boru Irish Pipe Band were the inspiration for Mankato Brewery's Saffron Lilt. The melody of this saffron colored ale starts with the same malt used in the finest Irish whiskeys, which harmonizes to the tune of the hops' spicy and citrus notes. Like the pipes and drums, these flavors combine in a fantastic rhythm, and finish with a great cutoff. Slainte."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

New Belgium Lips of Faith Coconut Curry Hefe Weizen


New Belgium Lips of Faith Coconut Curry Hefe Weizen. 8% ABV.

Highly clouded, bright golden hue, snow-white head starts big, slims down.

Aroma: Coconut hits it first, flush and fruity, with the spices creeping next. (Cinnamon, ginger, coriander, fenugreek, kaffir lime, cayenne pepper). It's a nice blend, all right, soft and fuzzy. Now, on to drink it…

Taste: Again, the coconut is king in the flavor, feeling plump on the palate, with just enough hefe weizen yeast character to keep it complex and intriguing. Banana flavor unfolds, also, with increasingly likable fruity tastes and textures. Hops are minor, spice builds, and alcohol is a low burn. I like this more and more and more.

This is the sort of beer that freaks people out when you call it by name, but damned if isn't delicious.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Vapeur D'antan 1996


Vapeur d'Antan, Brewed in 1996. Ale brewed with spices, 7.5% Alc./Vol. Product of Belgium, brewed & bottled by Brasserie A Vapeur, Pripaix, Belgium.

So, what's the story, here? They saved some barrels for 17 years or so, and bottled them for our contemporary consumption? Well, I know I like this beer before (original notes will follow), but let's taste it as a teen.

Capped and corked, this one. Virtually no head, practically still, with a clouded, dark amber appearance.

Aroma: funky Belgian yeast hits first, followed by a plethora of fruit notes. Stone fruits, apricots and peaches, with a twisted, tart turn. Not sure if it's through any barrel-aging they did on it, or just the yeast doing it's work over the years, but I like it.

Taste: on the tongue, more sourness ensues, large puckeration. Mild hop bitterness, lean-bodied, malt is mellow…the work of the years has been to sour it up and fruit it out. Pronounced spicy notes to complement the tart arises through hops and yeast.

This one drinks down wonderfully, if like a good, twisted, soured-up Belgian ale.

Here are my original notes from October, 2004:


Deep orangish color, no head at all, .

..aroma: citric, lemon and orange, blitzes of spice, very musty, so much like a farmshouse Belgian...really rustic...

Taste: very sour at the front, big puckeration, then it mellows, and becomes rather smooth and mellow...still, with a citric, spicy bite..big mouthfeel, huge presence on the palate...enormous, powerful feel on the tongue, reverberates and resonates....this is a very nice beer, a wonderful thing.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Grozet Gooseberry & Wheat Ale


Grozet Gooseberry & Wheat Ale, Ale brewed with Natural Flavors. Brewed and bottled by Heather Ale, Ltd., Williams Bros Brewing Co., Alloa, FK10 1NT Scotland, UK. Best before End: Jan. 2014….oops. Well, let's try it anyway!

a few months isn't much of a difference. Tastes fine. And exactly when I first wrote about it nearly 11 years ago…here come those notes (from July, 2003):

Appearance: hazy, dull yellow color, short, and soon demised white head.

Aroma: sparkling, sprityzy, slightly fruity, a little sour.

Very easy-going, smooth ride over the lips and down the throat, with a decent helping of good wheaten gritty texture. This ale trips very lightly along, and maintains a delicate fruity taste that just seems to float on the tongue.

Light in body, moderately spiced and very mild in flavor. An interesting experiment/recreation, and a nice little beer. Nothing that will blow you away, no, sir, but a nice, mellow brew, more than adequate as a simple dessert or a mellow nightcap.

Franziskaner Weissbier


Franziskaner Weissbier Naturtrub. Premium Hefe Weissbier. 5.0% ABV. Spaten-Franziskaner-Brau, Munchen, Germany.

So, a word or five before we get to the beer. If you follow this blog at all, you may remember my vow to check off as many local beers as possible. Also, perhaps you've seen the post where I mentioned how procuring growlers in order to further this end can be a more expensive endeavor than I am able to afford. Sometimes. Well, in addition to that, bombers, too, are problematically "spendy", as we say up here. The other day I posted two reviews of local beers, a Borealis and a Pour Decisions, which were both more than $12 for a 22 ounce serving vessel. Today I visited the same store and spied two more local brewery bombers, one from Brau Brothers, another from the newish Duluth brewery that I haven't really tried yet, Blacklist. Both were more than $14. It was too hard to make that jump, especially when I went into the store with a particular aim in mind: to find 3 bottles for under $20.

And my decision-making process  turned ever further when I glanced over in the next aisle and saw that classic European imports were there for less than $4 for a 12 ounce bottle. Beers I haven't visited in a long, long time, and really need to. In this current beer scene, all the focus seems to be on local and American and we forget where these styles come from, and who innovated first.

I actually didn't make that goal of 3 for $20, though I almost did. I was tempted by a Belgian bottle priced at $13 that I couldn't pass up. Three of those 4 beers I've had before, and will revisit the old notes while drinking it anew (and perhaps adding new notes). One of them I've amazingly never tried. But, before I get to those, another great European beer, this one sent to a friend from Germany, who gave it to me. A friend and long-time customer, who is completely unaware that this beer is readily available right here. Well, he didn't know, and who am I to turn down a free beer gift? Especially one I know I enjoy so well…and we're back to Franziskaner Weissbier.

These are notes from what was probably my first tasting, in July of 2003. Looking at them, I probably would have worded it slightly differently, but it contains the essence of what I get from this excellent Bavarian weissbier:

Hazy, straw-yellow color,enormous, pillowy white head: so far, the perfect look for a hefe weizen.

Aroma: fresh, flowery, dry, loaded with lemon.

Light and smooth, with a good, grainy texture.
Marvelous fruity flavor, with the requisite Bavarian banana/clove character really showing itself more in the middle, and rides on out through the end.

Wonderfully refreshing, thirst-quenching, damned-easy quaffability.
Belongs among the top tier of weizens: ah, delicious!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Abita Spring IPA


Abita Spring IPA Seasonal, India Pale Ale, brewed and bottled by Abita Brewing Company, LLC., Abita Springs, Louisiana.

Spring. Man, don't talk to me about spring. It's been a damned tease this year. I thought we were in it for good, and dressed appropriately, and then came an avalanche of god-forsaken winter wonderland. Snow, snow, everywhere. Goddamn it all to hell. (Okay, that's enough taking the Lord's name in vain. From here on out, I'm taking it to the cleaners…)

Let's drink a Spring IPA by Abita, already. 6.2% Alc. by vol.

Clear, bright golden coloring. Slim white head.

Aroma: tropical and citric fruit notes, mild bitterness. Pleasingly hoppy.

Taste: Smooth and approachable. Easy-going entrance on the palate, very mild hop presence. This feels like a pale ale that they want to call an IPA because that's the way the wind blows in the craft beer world these days. It's a pleasant pale ale that lacks any aggressive hop attack that you'd expect from an IPA. But, as you know, if it's called an IPA people will buy it.

this is a tasty enough beer, but it shouldn't be called an IPA if it isn't one.

Hey, let's read some back label gobbledygook: "Spring India Pale Ale is a West Coast-style IPA with an up-front intense hop flavor and aroma. Amarillo and Centennial hops give the brew a rich and resinous flavor of citrus and spice. This bright pale ale has a malt sweetness that will give way to a pleasant bitter." (Pleasant bitter what?)