Tasted!: Stone Lukcy Basartd

They’re arrogant, these bastards at the Stone Brewing Company. So much so that they intentionally wrote the label text for this 13th anniversary beer all mixed up, like “Oepn yuor mnid. Usa a craobwr if you msut.” Testing the theory that the mind will automatically unjumble the letters into something readable, or just being difficult. You be the judge – because I can’t be bothered reading further.

I can be bother to sample the beer, though, so let’s be at it. 8.5% alcohol, it would seem, and a slightly hazy russet colour. The nose is richly hoppy – surprise, surprise! – but with rich plum notes supporting the nutty, resinous hop aromas.

The beer hits the tongue with a fruit salad of flavours featuring canned cherries and apricots and a bit of orange marmalade. That is very shortly buried under an avalanche of seriously spicy hops – peppery, citrusy, pine resinous, rosemary-ish, and otherwise unapologetically bitter. The hop assault continues through the very bitter finish, leaving the tongue coated with oils that would need a mouth-sized ShamWow to remove.

In keeping with the Stone oeuvre, this is a monstrous beer with a massive hop content, intended for neither the faint of heart nor the lovers of malty balance in their beers. Unrepentant hopheads, however, will rejoice.

Rolling (and Drinking) on the Rivers

As you may know if you follow World of Beer’s Facebook page, I’m on board a river cruise ship on the Rhine and Mosel rivers right now, leading a crew of 14 enthusiastic beer tourists from brewery to brewery and pub to pub. (And if you want to experience something similar early next year, albeit on land rather than water, check out my upcoming Belgian Beeer Tour here.)

Thus far, we have sampled a quintet of brews from the 25 year old Brouwerij ‘t Ij in Amsterdam; had an on-board tasting of Dutch bok beers, highlighted for me by the nutty, appley De Molen Borefts; experienced a pub crawl in Köln – to Früh, Malzmühle and Gaffel – punctuated by a look around the famous and brooding Köln cathedral; been hosted most hospitably by the good people at the Bitburger brewery; and visited a centuries-old monastery now transformed into an event center, restaurant, museum and brewery, Kloster Machern.

Of course, it’s not been all work, work, work and drink, drink, drink. There has still been ample time for some of the spectacular scenery along the way.

Photo: Maggie Beaumont

Coming up: Heidelberg, Baden-Baden and Strasbourg!

Is the Economy Really to Blame, MillerCoors?

One of the web info services I subscribe to is just-drinks.com, a British-based site that covers drinks industry news primarily from a trade perspective. It’s a terrific operation and one occasionally gifted with razor-sharp insight. Like when editor Olly Wehring made the following observation this morning:

The continuing slide in beer sales in the US will not stop until more people are back in work – that has been the message since the turn of the year from industry leaders Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors.

“Until the economy shows some money in the pocket of our key beer drinkers, we’ve got a challenge,” said MillerCoors CEO Leo Kiely in the group’s full-year results conference call (http://www.just-drinks.com/article.aspx?id=99789) last month.

And yet, small-time craft brewers continue to report figures that are apparently untouched by the general market malaise. According to figures announced last week, sales of craft beer in the country rose by 7% in volume and 10% in value in 2009 (http://www.just-drinks.com/article.aspx?id=100081). That compares pretty favourably to 2% volume sales falls for A-B InBev and MillerCoors over the same period.

Granted, craft beers are working off a much smaller base and only constitute 4% of US beer market volume. But, looking at the disparity between the sales figures for 2009, is it really only the economy that is holding back the heavyweights?

(Note: You need be a registered member to follow the first link and a full member for the second.)

Indeed, it is worth asking why sales in one segment are falling while in another, albeit small segment, things are positively booming. Could it be, oh, I don’t know, maybe…taste!?!?

You Think That’s a Winter Storm? Now THIS Is a Winter Storm…

As I type these words, the snow is flying outside my downtown Toronto office window, incredibly the first legitimate storm of the winter for us. But I’m reminded of another Winter Storm, capitalization intended, a warmer, rainier and altogether more delicious one.

(Storm not exactly as illustrated)

It took place in Escondido, about a half-hour drive north of San Diego, at the Stone Brewing Company’s World Bistro & Gardens, and much like what is occurring presently in Toronto, takes place but once a year. It is, or rather was, the Stone Winter Storm, during which all 37 taps and casks at the World Bistro are turned over to present and former Stone beers, like 2005 Double Bastard Ale and Oaked Arrogant Bastard and the 7th, 8th, 9th, 12th and 13th Anniversary Ales. And if all that weren’t enough, they also roll out a bottle list of particular note, which this included beers as old as the 2004 editions of both Old Guardian Barley Wine and Double Bastard.

Did I have fun? Hell yes I did!

I could offer copious tasting notes on what I tried that day, like the herbaceously perfumey, cardamom-accented 07.07.07 Vertical Epic Ale or the 2008 Old Guardian, aged in red wine barrels for a fuller, rounder and fruitier character, but that would seem to be gloating, wouldn’t it? (Oh, I just did what I said I wouldn’t? Sorry about that.) Better to offer the following advice for next year:

Watch the website and plan for the 2011 Winter Storm. You won’t be sorry.

Holiday Beer Rule No. 12

12. Give the Gift of Beer: Trust me, the beer aficionado in your life has plenty of openers and probably more than sufficient beer glasses. And while Mr. McFarland’s new book would no doubt be a greatly appreciated gift, or The beerbistro Cookbook, for that matter, no doubt more pleasing would be a carefully crafted selection of beers, preferably those of a seasonal bent.

And if you find yourself daunted by the prospect of picking beer for someone who might know more about it than you, for an extra $10 (plus shipping) you can get a signed copy of Don Russell’s excellent Christmas Beer, use it as a reference and then add it to your gift.

Could gift-giving be any easier!?

There may be more rules to follow. Stay tuned.

We Interrupt Our Holiday Beer Rules for a Little Art

Honestly, I am beginning to hate the term “Belgian IPA,” which has about as much meaning to me as “American-Belgo Dark Ale.” But I know good art and I know what I like, and I like this label. A lot.

Click to view full size

Flying Dog’s 20th anniversary beer, with label by the great Ralph Steadman — I’m a Hunter S. Thompson fan from way back — will be released in January. If I’m able to get my hands on a bottle, I’ll tell you more about this whole “Belgian IPA” thing.

And no, Alan, I don’t thing this post qualifies as cranky, since on the whole it’s fairly positive.

Superbreweries?

Okay, since I’m guessing that the readers of this blog likely aren’t generally of the type most interested in the goings on of the big breweries, I promise this will be my last mention of brewery consolidation for a while. Unless something really big happens. Like what a pair of Credit Suisse investment analysts suggested last week in a conference call.

Thanks to Beer Business Daily, we know at least some of what analysts Carlos Laboy and Tony Bucalo told investors during their call about the future of Mexico’s FEMSA, one of the Big Two in the Mexican beer market, and while most of it was relatively unsurprising, if illuminating, one possibility raised towards the end of the BBD story certainly raised my eyebrows.

Picture this scenario, mooted by Bucalo: SABMiller buys FEMSA, thus forming an international number two brewery that is as far beyond the rest as Anheuser-Busch InBev is now. That creates a second Superbrewery and leaves FEMSA loser Heineken way, way behind. So what does the Dutch brewer do? One possibility, as suggested by Bucalo, is that Heineken negotiates a merger with none other than the world’s leading drinks company, Diageo! Thus making a trio of breweries so large that no other could conceivably touch them for a long, long time to come.

Bud and Stella vs. Miller and Castle vs. Heineken and Guinness. The mind reels.

Observations From the GABF

As noted earlier today, generalized out of necessity…

1)      Sour beer and barrel-aged beer, or beers that are a combination of the two, are undeniable attention-getters and certainly a trend, with the seven sour and barrel categories accounting for 307 of the total 3362 beers entered in the judging. That’s over 9% of the total entries coming from a realm of brewing most people would classify as well out on the fringe.

2)      And on that topic, remember the name Cascade Brewing the next time you find yourself in Oregon. Even with my mollusc-tainted palate, all five of the barrel-aged beers they poured at the fest were highly impressive.

3)      And while we’re on the subject of names to remember – the Chuckanut Brewery of Bellingham, Washington. It won the Small Brewpub of the Year honour for brewing a stellar range of Germanic lagers. And in the don’t-even-come-to-my-party-if-you-don’t-brew-an-IPA Pacific Northwest, no less!

4)      Before my palate went on me, I also enjoyed very much the wares of Austin’s North by Northwest Restaurant and Brewery, in particular their Berliner Weisse.

5)      This was the first year for the new “Session Beer” category, about which I have ranted before, as readers of The Celebrator will recall. Testament to its absurdity was provided by the medal winners, all of which are very good beers, but which constitute three very distinct styles. (So I don’t get into listing winning names over and over, check out the whole 78 categories’ worth over here.)

6)      It was great to see so many new breweries not only on the floor, but also in the medals. In fact, the above-mentioned Chuckanut is itself only a little over a year old.

7)      Cheers to Devil’s Backbone Brewing of Roseland, Virginia, for one of the fest’s great, if somewhat dated, beer names: Natural Born Keller.

8)      The Lost Abbey won gold in the Belgian-Style Lambic or Sour Ale category for its Duck Duck Gooze, a deserved accolade that is lamentable only because it will likely expand the misconception that gueuze is pronounced “gooze.” (It’s “geh-ze.”)

9)      Aside from the sour and barrel movement noted above, the most remarkable trend in American craft brewing these days would seem to be the lack of any trends. The Festival floor was populated with a wider and more diverse range of beer styles and types than I have ever before seen, and that is something that bodes very, very well for the industry’s future.

Posting on Tenterhooks

I had plans to post several times over the weekend — which was a great one in terms of beer, cocktails and, yes, gin — but my computer had other ideas. Seems the poor thing has been tired of late, so decided to randomly put itself to sleep, often at the most inconvenient times. It even went to sleep once right in the middle of shutting down!

On the advice of my computer guy, I’ve changed some settings and have thus far had close to an hour of uninterrupted computing, but I’m saving everything to a jump drive and typing on tenterhooks nonetheless. Fingers crossed I’ll get to some of those weekend posts later on today and tomorrow. And if any of my editors are out there reading this, you now know why I’m running late on deadlines.

GBBD (Great British Beer Dinner)

After days of dining pretty much exclusively in pubs – and eating quite well, I might add – Jay Brooks and I decided to treat ourselves to a dinner at Fergus “Nose to Tail Eating” Henderson’s St. John Restaurant, located mere steps from our Smithfield area digs. It was a wide decision.

After teasing my already engaged appetite with a glass of Champagne, I dined on roasted marrow bones with parsley salad and wonderful grey sea salt, followed by Middlewhite pork loin with lentils, potatoes and greens. To accompany, I had a pint of the Meantime London Stout and a glass of Domain Boudau Cotes du Roussillon. We finished the night with a plate of delicious but poorly identified cheeses and a split bottle of Meantime London Porter.

All in all, it was a delicious beer-wine-swine experience, hampered only by rather dreadful service, which quite frankly seemed to start with my audacious ordering of beer to go with my marrow bones, rather than a nice, big, profitable bottle of wine.

It was truly refreshing to visit a quality restaurant that also offered a fine selection of ales, but why the double standard for those who choose to partake of them?

(More on the other GBB, the Great British Beer Festival, later.)