Review: 12 Beers from New Belgium, Early 2017 Releases

Today it’s a little bit of “something old, something new” from New Belgium, which released no less than 12 beers on tap for us to experience over the last few months… including a bizarre collaboration with none other than Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream.

Read on for reviews of everything…

New Belgium Pilsener – A “Bohemian style” pilsner, this lovely lager kicks off with mammoth notes of fresh bread — almost pizza crust-like — before finishing with a touch of sea salt (giving it a pretzel-like character) and just the mildest hint of bitterness late in the game. As straightforward (and enjoyable) lager I could imagine. 4.8% abv. A-

New Belgium Whizbang – Described as a hoppy blonde ale, this is an interesting hybrid style of beer that starts things off with a brisk (Mosaic-driven) bitterness before moving on to a maltier, meatier middle. Imagine an IPA stripped of fruit, with a chewy, bready character in its place, and you’ve got this interesting oddity just about figured out. 5.7% abv. B+

New Belgium Citradelic Exotic Lime Ale – This is a different beer than New Belgium’s older Citradelic, which is flavored with tangerines. As the name implies, this beer has lime as the focus — Persian limes, plus coriander and a little black pepper. Neat idea but, unfortunately, the lime here comes off as a bit plastic, slightly chemical in tone with just a hint of that coriander to give it a little spin. That said, it’s as drinkable as a Corona with a couple of lime wedges stuffed into it, for better or for worse. 5.2% abv. B

New Belgium Tartastic Lemon Ginger Sour – Not a “sour” in the sense that beer snobs think of it, but very acidic and lemony and not really all that pleasant, with an intense vinegar aftertaste that feels a little like the experience one gets when he has motions contrary to swallowing. 4.5% abv. C-

New Belgium Dayblazer Easygoing Ale – The name should tip you off that this is a session brew, a very pale ale that drinks closer to a lager than an IPA. Lightly sweet and malty, there’s an edge of slightly citrusy bitterness that takes it into ale territory. Easy to enjoy and light on its feet. That said, 4.8% abv is on par with the “regular” beers in this roundup. B+

New Belgium Accumulation (2017) – The 2017 release of a wheat-barley hybrid (a “white IPA”) we reviewed last year. Again it’s a chewy, hoppy encounter that offers ample and tart fruit notes and lemony notes on the finish. Heavily bready from start to finish, it’s an appropriate ale for the wintertime scene that appears on the label. 6.2% abv. B+

New Belgium Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ale – As gimmicks go, this one’s out there — a blonde ale dosed with chocolate, brown sugar, and vanilla to give it indeed an ice-cream like character. It’s better than you’re thinking, its malty undercoating giving it a bit of malted milk character, and the chocolate/vanilla notes providing sweetness, but not too much. Lots of vanilla on the back end. It’s surely not something for every day, but it’s an approachable novelty for sure. Proceeds help Protect Our Winters. 6% abv. B

Voodoo Ranger is a sort of sub-brand from New Belgium, where “Voodoo Ranger” is larger in type size than the name of the brewery. Here’s three from the company…

New Belgium Voodoo Ranger IPA – A straightforward IPA expression, aromatic and piney up front but with some curious chocolate syrup notes on the back end. Both aromatically heady and burly on the palate, its alcohol level keeps things rolling without overwhelming the palate. 7% abv. A-

New Belgium Voodoo Ranger Imperial IPA – Ample malt backs up this dense, almost gooey IPA, which is heavy on the pine and forest floor elements, with a quite limited citrus profile. Quite bready on the back end. 9% abv. B

New Belgium Voodoo Ranger 8 Hop Ale – An octet of hop varieties gives this pale ale a bit of a scattered character, with intense bitterness fading into a muddy, forest-floor-laden back end. The finish is lightly vegetal, causing this beer to take a back seat to better-realized multi-hop beers. 5.5% abv. B-

And two collaborative offerings from New Belgium’s ongoing Lips of Faith series…

New Belgium in Collaboration with Anne-Francoise Spiced Imperial Dark Ale – Aged on “white oak spirals,” this Belgian collaboration is a deep and dense, dry-hopped beer that is flavored with the essence of the forest, including spruce tips and grains of paradise. Warming and malty, the wood-driven vanilla melds nicely with the sprinkling of baking spices, while a hoppy bitterness eventually finds its way to the finish. So much going on here, plan to spend some time getting to know this brew before figuring it all out. 9.5% abv. B+

New Belgium Clutch Collaboration Wood-Aged Imperial Sour Stout – Brewed in collaboration not with a brewery but with a band, Clutch. This is a blend of 70% stout, and 30% dark sour wood-aged beer. Results are straight-up crazy, the beer kicking off with sour apple and grapefruit peel notes that slowly trickle down into a melange of bitter roots, chocolate, coffee, cacao nibs, and oxidized wine. The mouth-puckering introduction that slowly turns rounded, burly, and bittersweet is nothing if not unique, but rather than developing over time, I feel it wears out its welcome fairly quickly. 8.5% abv. C+ / $13 per 22 oz. bottle

$17 per 12-pack unless noted / newbelgium.com

A Visit to “Traditionally Irreverent” Laughing Monk Brewery

Laughing Monk Flight

Laughing Monk Brewery, in San Francisco, California, celebrates its first anniversary this year on St. Patrick’s Day. Brewers Jeff Moakler and Andrew Casteel are both avid beer aficionados, having traveled in Belgium and starting out through home brewing. Jeff has several medals under his belt and worked as a Head Brewer for BJ’s Brewhouse. Their idea for Laughing Monk is to brew Californian and Belgian beers using local, in season, ingredients. For those versed in Trappist beers, a few of these will be recognizable styles.

Their building is in the Bayview area of San Francisco — an artistic place to visit. Every building is painted in vivid, bold murals. As expected of a new craft brewery, the room is small but offers a friendly atmosphere. They have a collaborative relationship with their next door neighbor, Seven Stills Distillery. A visit to one will get you $5 off at the other, so why not check out both?

During our visit to the tap room, we tasted all of the below. Thoughts follow.

Midnight Coffee Stout – This is supposed to be a medium body stout, but the body is a dark brown, brewed with Artis cold brew coffee. The ivory head darkens closer to surface. With a strong espresso scent, its heavy coffee taste carries through to the finish, with mild barley and chocolate flavors underneath and a slight acidity. 7.1% abv. A

Laughing Monk BreweryBook of Palms – When coconut and pineapple are first mentioned, many people automatically think “sweet.” However this Berliner Weisse is a sour beer. The pineapple in the scent is fresh, but tart upon taste. The coconut becomes pronounced on 2nd sip. This dry beer has a cloudy, bright yellow body and a light head—typical of a Berliner Weisse. 5.3% abv. B+

Evening Vespers – This is a Belgian Duppel with a reddish-brown body crowned by a white frothy head. The nice dried fruit flavors of plum/prune, raisins, and dates are not overpowering. The sweetness is light as well. 7.1% abv. A

Date With the Devil – The deep red body and thin, white head of this Belgian Quad are appealing. Its date flavor brings a natural sweetness that’s more pronounced than that in Evening Vespers but it’s not syrupy or overpowering. It is certainly not as bold as expected. 9.5 abv. B+

3rd Circle Tripel – Belgian Tripels are traditionally brewed with three times the malt as other beers. 3rd Circle has a nice golden yellow body, and a thick, white head, and slight dryness to it. You can taste a bit of tart hoppiness with acidity following. 8.7% abv. B

Mango Gose – Originally brewed in collaboration with the Pink Boots Society, this Gose won a Bronze medal at the California State Fair Beer competition for session beers. Its body has a bright yellow color and an effervescent head. Mango sweet-tartness fills the nose immediately and then follows through on the tongue. Its mild saltiness comes from sea salt. 4.8% abv. B

Karl the Fog – This is a Vermont (American) IPA. Right off, the grapefruit-like scent of the hops tickles the nose. If you like IPAs, then this golden yellow beer with a white frothy head will please you. It is heavy with Mosaic and El Dorado hops. 6.2% abv. A

laughingmonkbrewing.com

Review: Fruli Strawberry Beer

As Valentine’s Day approaches, strawberry beer is an unlikely addition to any well-planned romantic dinner. Fruli, brewed in Melle, Belgum at the 300 year old Huyge brewery, is a lovely witbier with strawberries added.  Fruli lends itself beautifully to what the Valentine’s meal is supposed to be: a prelude to the rest of the evening.

The initial nose is strawberry (thank God) with a hint of clove and orange. The first taste is pure summer strawberry, which lingers very nicely, with no bitterness at all. As the strawberry taste dissipates, orange pops up and remains just for another moment as a slightly spicy finish takes its place without being overbearing or coy. On the finish, my first thought was that this would pair amazingly well with any type or style of chocolate; another plus for Valentine’s Day. Fruli’s flavor profile also lends itself nicely to beer cocktails and could easily be used to make any other morning-after cocktail that has lambic or witbier as a base.

All told, this is a very drinkable, approachable fruit beer that drinks like a session beer. Light and moderate drinkers can enjoy several of these over the course of a Valentine’s Day dinner and still be set for the rest of the evening’s activities.

4% abv.

A / $13 per 4-pack / friuli.be

How about a cocktail recipe using Fruli?

The Morning After for 2
12 oz Fruli
8 oz orange juice
2 oz Godiva liqueur
2 chocolate covered strawberries

Mix Godiva and orange juice together in shaker. Pour into 12 oz tall glass. Split beer between two glasses. Top with Godiva mixture. Garnish with chocolate covered strawberry or chocolate shavings on rim.

Review: Fuller’s Vintage Ale 2013 Limited Edition

England’s Fuller’s has been brewing its annually-released Vintage Ale since 1997, when it was “created to explore how ‘live’ bottle-conditioned beers mature over time and to provide a vertical tasting experience that focuses on the finest malts and hops of each year.”

And evolve it does. With this brew, now cracked open after more than three years in the bottle (when Fuller’s says its Vintage Ale peaks), Fuller’s old ale has developed a patina of austerity, driven by figs, prunes, and notes of oxidized wine. Layers of cinnamon bread, molasses, dark chocolate syrup, and loads of malt extract make their way to the surface in short order. The finish is very lightly bitter, just enough to temper the malty sweetness that comes before.

Fun and rare stuff… but the question is: Can your palate keep up with the onslaught of flavor and the overwhelming depth of the body? It ain’t easy.

8.5% abv.

B+ / $10 (500ml) / fullers.co.uk

Review: Deschutes Brewery Mirror Pond, Pacific Wonderland, Red Chair NWPA (2016), and The Abyss Aged Stout 2016 Edition

Four new and classic brews from Deschutes, including some late 2016 stragglers like the highly anticipated The Abyss.

Deschutes Brewery Mirror Pond Pale Ale – A burly and malty pale ale, lightly sweet with notes of apricot and peaches, with a body that’s heavy with roasted nuts and rolled oats. A classic wintertime pale ale, Mirror Pond finishes on a light caramel note, which pairs well with the nuttiness that comes before. 5% abv. B+ / $8 per six-pack

Deschutes Brewery Pacific Wonderland Lager – Maltier and burlier than Mirror Pond, this is a lager brew with a familiar, fresh bread character up front that eventually finds its way to a lingering, herbally-focused, and lightly vegetal bitterness. Not sure about the wonderland part, but it’s a fine enough choice as the weather gets warmer. 5.5% abv. B / $8 per six-pack

Deschutes Brewery Red Chair NWPA (2016) – Always out in December, this seasonal “Northwest” Pale Ale offers the usual overtones of mushroom and forest floor, atop a malty, nutty core. Overtones of dried berries and some bitter, savory spices add structure, but not a ton of depth. 6.2% abv. A- / $8 per six-pack

Deschutes Brewery The Abyss Aged Stout 2016 Edition – Deschutes’ big-ass stout, brewed with blackstrap molasses, licorice, cherry bark, and vanilla, sees its 2016 release aged as follows: 21% is aged in oak bourbon barrels, 8% aged in new Oregon oak barrels, and 21% aged in oak wine barrels. That’s roughly on par with 2015, although this year’s release is has almost a tenth less alcohol than usual. Maybe that’s why I’m less enchanted with this 11th annual release of the beer? It’s got coffee, dark chocolate, fig jam, and the usual thick, licorice-whip of a finish, but everything seems dialed down a tad, the body a bit less powerful than usual, the finish a bit shorter. Newcomers will probably marvel at all the dense prune and Port wine notes, but longtime fans might wonder if someone took their foot off the gas at an inopportune time. Maybe it’s just me. Shrug. 11.1% abv. B+ / $15 per 22 oz. bottle

deschutesbrewery.com

Review: Crispin Hard Cider – Original, Pacific Pear, and Bourbon Char

New stuff from the cider mavens at Crispin, including a new limited release called Bourbon Char, and two of the company’s primary offerings, which are now available in standard six packs. We looked at all three. Thoughts follow.

Crispin Original Hard Cider – A fresh, apple-loaded classic, semisweet and fruity, but restrained with notes of crisp green apple, some cloves, and hints of savory herbs, including rosemary. The finish showcases a squeeze of lemon. A simple cider on the whole, but one that acquits itself without complaint. 5% abv. B+ / $2 per 12 oz. bottle

Crispin Pacific Pear Hard Cider – Less distinctly fruit focused, and considerably drier than the apple-based original, this cider is more grounded with subtle, earthy notes and a moderate banana character that, once you taste it, it’s all you can taste going forward. 4.5% abv. B- / $2 per 12 oz. bottle

Crispin Bourbon Char Cask-Aged Hard Cider – This is a special edition apple cider aged in ex-bourbon casks and finished with smoked maple syrup. There’s a ton going on here, starting with notes of tart baked apples as expected. From there things quickly spiral into new territory, with notes of heavily charred oak, molasses, and vanilla-infused baked goods. The finish is slightly winey, with some balsamic notes. All told, the flavors here are remarkable and unique, but they don’t quite balance out the way I would have hoped. Apples and bourbon sound like a great combination, but this one doesn’t completely gel. 6.9% abv. B / $9 per 22 oz. bottle

crispincider.com

Recipe: Homemade Beer Cheese

Belgian Abbey Ale Beer Cheese
Many of us had our first taste of beer cheese at the local brew-pub. But it’s easy to make your own at home!

We picked up this beer cheese recipe from HomeBrewChef and cooked up two variations. The beer we used for the first batch was Armstrong Stout from Fogbelt Brewing Company. We added bacon slices cut into small pieces and fried them up with red onions and butter. The cheese for this batch was a sharp cheddar. We also used a pepper grinder on the peppercorns instead of tossing them in whole.

Not everyone will like this version because the stout came through strongly, giving the cheese a smoky element. It also colored the beer cheese to a medium tan shade, which may turn off some folks. The bacon pieces added a nice pop, though. Other than dipping pretzels or smothering French fries, this beer cheese would be good atop a steak with some mushrooms added.

In the second variation, we replaced the onion with fresh garlic. Then we made our own bread from a basic soft pretzel recipe with rosemary added and served it up along with chicken strips. You could also throw dried tomato or chopped jalapeno peppers into the dough if you prefer. The beer used this time was Brother Thelonious Belgian style abbey ale from North Coast Brewing Company.

Although the abbey ale is still a darker beer, the cheese sauce does look and taste lighter. The garlic came through the cheddar cheese without overpowering the sauce. Again, we used cracked pepper from our pepper mill instead using whole peppercorns. We bet this one will be a favorite. Check the end of the recipe for other variation suggestions from the chef.

For both recipes, we added an extra 1/4 cup of cheese but that is a matter of individual taste.

Beer Cheese
4 tablespoons butter, unsalted preferably organic
1/2 cup onion, yellow, large, peeled and chopped
1 bay leaf, preferably freshStout Beer Cheese with Bacon
1 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups beer
1 cup heavy cream
5 whole, black peppercorns
3 whole cloves
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup grated cheese

In a heavy bottom sauce pan over medium heat, add the butter and let it melt. Add the prepped onion, bay leaf, salt and sauté for 4-5 minutes, until the onion is transparent.

Dust the onions with the flour, stirring with a flat edge spatula, so you can scrape any flour from the bottom of the pan, to make a roux. Cook the roux for 3-4 minutes, stirring the whole time, to prevent the flour from burning. Take care not to have the heat too high.

Switching to a whisk, slowly pour in the beer, whisking to combine, getting any fond from the bottom of the pan, making sure all the lumps (if any) from the flour are dissolved. Add the cream. Bring the mixture to a simmer and adjust the heat to keep a gentle simmer. Add the peppercorns, cloves and nutmeg. Whisk the mixture occasionally over the next 30 minutes, as the flour flavor cooks out and the sauce thickens slightly.

Remove the bay leaf, cloves, and peppercorns from the sauce. Take the sauce off the heat. Slowly add the grated cheese while whisking to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed with more salt or cracked pepper.

Recipe Notes and Variants
This sauce can be made with many beer styles. You can pair the beer’s flavor with the type of cheese you use, or pair them both with a specific main course. The versatility is endless. Here are a few ideas:

Classic Cheddar Pale Ale Beer Cheese Sauce: Use a Deschutes Brewery Mirror Pond Pale Ale and grate some Tillamook Medium Cheddar Cheese for this sauce. Try it on nachos, use a cheese fondue or pour over roasted broccoli.

South of the Border Chipotle Smoked Jack Beer Cheese Sauce: Use a Rogue Farms Chipotle Ale and use either a pepper or smoked Monterey Jack cheese. This is awesome over nachos, over enchiladas, as a dip for chips, vegetables (grilled and roasted), over a baked potato, or mixed in with cooked elbow macaroni, roasted peppers, caramelized onions, and topped with barbecue style potato chips.

German Beer Cheese Sauce: To make the perfect dip for your fresh baked pretzel, take a Märzen Oktoberfest beer and add some smoked gouda or räucherkäse cheese. Also perfect to pour some of this over a pretzel coated pork schnitzel served with some spaetzle.

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