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

Review: Blank Slate Rich Simple Syrups

This quartet of mixers comes from Blank Slate Kitchen, which whips up nothing but “rich simple syrup” in its Brooklyn kitchen. The four products on offer range in color from golden brown to molasses black, each crafted from palm sugar and (save for the base model) all flavored in some simple but powerful way.

Each comes in an 8 oz. jar and is ready for cocktailing. (Check the back label for recipe ideas!)

Blank Slate Palm Sugar Rich Simple Syrup – A lively syrup, dark brown and quite malty, like a homebrew malt syrup, tempered with nuts and notes of coconut. Versatile, but the syrup pairs especially well with rum. A- / $12

Blank Slate Vanilla Rich Simple Syrup – As expected, the palm sugar syrup finds a companion in strong vanilla overtones — and they’re authentic, as this is made with whole vanilla beans. Lush and powerful, this pairs even better with rum, pulling the two spirits together to reveal a rum cake character. A / $15

Blank Slate Black Pepper Rich Simple Syrup – More nuanced than the vanilla — here the pepper is understated and, on its own (or rather, with plain water), the spice doesn’t really pop at first, lending the syrup more of a vague earthiness and just a hint of heat. (For best results: stir, don’t shake, this one, to free the pepper from clumping at the bottom of the bottle.) Pairing this one is tough; rum and whiskey didn’t impress me, but with vodka you could really catch the peppery essence more clearly. B+ / $13

Blank Slate Bird’s Eye Chili Rich Simple Syrup – Lighter in color (and density of flavor), infused with bird’s eye chili pepper flavors. This syrup offers the softest sweetness of the bunch, and the chili is present and pungent, without being overpowering. Works well with vodka, but better — surprisingly — with gin. B+ / $12

blankslatekitchen.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

Book Review: Distilled Knowledge: The Science Behind Drinking’s Greatest Myths, Legends, And Unanswered Questions

From the scientist that studies rats with hangovers to the bar patron who wonders why anyone would want a raw egg in their drink, there have always been those who question the how’s and why’s of what we imbibe. Over the years, large amounts of research has been compiled to explain why fermented and distilled beverages entice the senses, and to explore the physical and psychological experiences that occur when we consume them. Brian D. Hoefling’s own research into these quandaries provided him the opportunity to pen his new book Distilled Knowledge: The Science Behind Drinking’s Greatest Myths, Legends, and Unanswered Questions.

Within the book Hoefling provides an intermediate study of the sciences involved in the production, preparation, and consumption of alcohol, and includes explanations for many rumors and theories along the way. Everything from fermentation to hangovers is fully explained in an easily accessible fashion that allows any novice to quickly understand the material. Plenty of detailed scientific data is included, which should satisfy the experts as well. There are also many interesting and amusing graphs, illustrations, and research studies to support the text, furnishing the reader with a fuller understanding of the more complex details around booze.

Explanations of several major myths surrounding alcohol show up within each section, and are either debunked or upheld by Hoefling’s explanations and scientific research. These include many common tales and theories that most of us have heard at one time of another, but he also includes some lesser-known rumors, such as how grapefruit may affect the potency of alcohol, to keep things interesting. Likewise, there is plenty of humor injected into his scrutinization of this folklore, which helps to keep a light-hearted attitude throughout the book.

Overall the book is successful in supplying an organized guide to the science behind alcohol. It has similar content to other books written on the subject such as Proof, but its merit lies in the easily understandable nature of the presented materials, updated content, and simplification of detailed information. The book dutifully explores the reactions we experience before and after we consume alcohol and is a solid jumping off point for anyone who wants to further their own understanding of the field.

B+ / $15 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Louis Jadot 2015 Chablis and 2014 Pinot Noir Bourgogne

And now: Two budget bottlings from Burgundy giant Maison Louis Jadot.

2015 Louis Jadot Chablis – This is an incredibly fresh Chablis, brisk with green apples and pears, with just a hint of brown butter and a slight touch of toasty oak. Bright acidity gives the wine legs, though some meaty sausage notes on the back end are a distraction. B+ / $20

2014 Louis Jadot Pinot Noir Bourgogne – Jadot breaks from tradition and puts the varietal front and center on this budget Burgundy, which offers quite tart notes of Bing cherries and some rhubarb. The finish is on the sweeter side — strawberry, mainly — with touches of cherry Kool-Aid. C+ / $18

louisjadot.com

Review: William Wolf Frisky and Coffee Whiskeys

Remember William Wolf? The pecan-flavored American bourbon made in… the Netherlands? Well Mr. Wolf has been busy expanding into other flavored whiskeys, with a total of four (plus an unflavored rye) now on the market.

Today we look at two of the newer products, “Frisky,” which is a vanilla/caramel-heavy whiskey, and “Coffee,” which is flavored with, er, coffee. Note that unlike the Pecan whiskey, these are not billed as having bourbon as their base but rather are made with just American whiskey. (I also can’t determine if there is any Holland connection any more; the labels merely say these were produced and bottled in William Wolf’s home state of South Carolina.)

Let’s take a quick peek at each of them.

Both are 70 proof.

William Wolf Frisky Whiskey – This vanilla- and caramel-flavored whiskey is as sticky as they come, a super-sweet concoction that combines a soda shop full of syrups to create a whiskey that is filled with vanilla, butterscotch, some coconut, and ripe banana. This actually is more appealing than it sounds, particularly as a dessert-class tipple, as the coconut notes (intended or otherwise) work well with the maple syrup sweetness of the underlying spirit. B- / $25

William Wolf Coffee Whiskey – It’s a good thing it says “whiskey” on the label, because otherwise you’d have no idea there was any whiskey in this heavily-flavored concoction, a mahogany-brown spirit that smells of well-sweetened coffee, and little else. Perhaps the lightest hint of vanilla gives this spirit any semblance of whiskey; feel free to use it as a considerably higher proof version of your favorite coffee liqueur in your next White Russian. B+ / $25

thinklikeawolf.com

Review: Avua Cachaca Tapinhoa

Brazil’s Avua is back with another single-estate cachaca, this one a very rare edition called Tapinhoa. Tapinhoa is a dense hardwood found in Brazil, and Tapinhoa is aged for up to two years in a large cask made from this wood. (The Tapinhoã large vertical barrel was initially used by the distiller’s father on the family farm decades ago and after a lengthy recommissioning process and up to two years of aging, Avuá Cachaça restored it in 2013.)

Cachaca fanatics may want to compare the spirit to Avua Amburana, which is aged in barrels made from a different Brazilian wood.

As a reminder, “Avuá Cachaça is organically produced with only renewable energy, with water piped from a natural source to grind the sugarcane, and a boiler for the still that is fired by the residuals of the sugarcane pulp, known as bagasse. The cane, composed of three specifically chosen varietals, is hand-cut, ground with a waterwheel, and fermented for less than 24 hours using airborne wild yeasts, before being distilled in a copper-crafted alembic still.”

Let’s get on to tasting.

The color is the palest of yellow, a clear sign about how hard the Tapinhoa wood is and how little of the spirit is able to penetrate the wood even after two years. The nose has the light petrol character that’s typical of cachaca, but it’s filtered through fresh notes of lemon, mint, and some salty brine. On the tongue, similar notes dominate, with the sharp citrus and herbs quickly segueing to gentle vanilla, coconut, and some curious impression of wood — though not the typical oak — notes. The finish is lightly vegetal with some notes of green beans and steamed broccoli. Late in the game, petrol notes bubble back up — essentially impossible to avoid in any cachaca.

All told it’s a unique entry into the curious world of aged cachaca with a neat story behind it, though its flavor profile is not so unusual as to blow one’s mind.

80 proof. 600 bottles released.

B+ / $73 / avuacachaca.com.br

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