Wednesday, April 22, 2009

April's Beer Tasting: Belgian Beers

We announced around Christmas-time that we had joined Wine Gourmet's Beer of the Month club, with promises of reviewing the beers for you here. Well .. that didn't happen for a couple reasons, and effective April 1st, we left the Beer of the Month club. We still think very highly of Wine Gourmet, we just personally wanted to go a different direction.
We still plan to do our own "Beer of the Month" though it may be more of a style focus rather than a "from ________ brewery" focus. For April we decided to try out some Belgian Ales.
To keep things simple, we went with two breweries: Chimay & Brasserie Caracole. These are two we already think pretty highly of, or have at least heard lots of good things about.
There were clear "winners" here. Brasserie Caracole just can not be beat. The complexities of their beers are amazing. Seriously, Carrie was determined (a couple years ago now) to name one of our kids Caracole, or some version of that.

First, we tasted SAXO from Caracole. Here is the description from ~
SAXO from Brasserie Caracole is a very complex artisanal Wallonian blond ale with an unusual hoppiness, bitterness and a touch of spice. Bizzare grainy punch of taste preceding hops and waves of flavors whizzing over the tongue.
Couldn't have said it much better ourselves. We did pick up the scent of cloves, and there was also a nice banana taste to it. A great Belgian, summer-time beer.

Next, we tried Chimay's Triple, aka Cinq Cents when bought in the larger bottles. Here is the description from Chimay's website, ~
Named Cinq Cents in 75 cl (25.4 fl.oz.) bottles, this beer with its typical golden colour, its slightly hazy appearance and its fine head is especially characterised by its aroma which results from an agreeable combination of fresh hops and yeast. The beer's flavour, as sensed in the mouth, comes from the smell of hops: above all it is the fruity notes of muscat and raisins that give this beer a particularly attractive aroma. The aroma complements the touch of bitterness. There is no acidity, but an after-bitterness which melts in the mouth. This top fermented Trappist beer, refermented in the bottle, is not pasteurised.
Chimay beers are really popular around here, but we were kinda disappointed. Justin thought it was "alright", Carrie gave it "meh" vote .. bordering on ugh, and not wanting to drink it again.

We decided to stick with Chimay, and next tried their Red, which is a dubbel. Again, the description from Chimay's website:
First sold in 75 cl (25.4 fl.oz.) bottles, it is noted for its coppery colour which makes it particularly attractive. Topped with a creamy head, it gives off a light, fruity apricot aroma produced by the fermentation. The taste perceived in the mouth is a balance confirming the fruity nuances noticed in the fragrance. Its taste, which imparts a silky sensation to the tongue, is made refreshing by a light touch of bitterness. To the palate, the taster perceives a pleasant astringency which complements the flavour qualities of this beer very harmoniously. This top fermented Trappist beer, refermented in the bottle, is not pasteurised.
This one we liked much better, and we think that this is probably the Chimay that most people are going for around here. We both thought it was good, though questioned whether it was really worth the over-all price tag. It brings to mind a nice Belgian version of a brown ale, pretty much anyway.

We finished off our tasting with Caracole's NOSTRADAMUS, a Belgian Dark Strong. Here is the description from ~
NOSTRADAMUS from Brasserie Caracole is a very complex artisanal Wallonian brown ale, rich, warming, little piquant in the mouth with liquorice, mocha flavors, pear and toasted bread background notes, perfect after-dinner drink or night cap.
Again, Brasserie Caracole's beers just whoopped Chimay's butt. Justin liked this beer, noting that it was "very interesting. Carrie also really liked it and noted that it was fairly fruity.

And those were our beers for April's Belgian Beer Tasting. Chimay isn't bad, it deserves a lot of the attention it gets, though it does seem a little on the pricey end for what you're getting. Brasserie Caracole continuously impresses with it's complexity. Maybe it wasn't fair judging them side by side. One is a Trappist brewery (brewed by monks), one is just a good, old Belgian brewery. Chimay has been brewing beers since 1862, Brasserie Caracole has been brewing since 1766, though the name has changed twice since then. I guess that extra century of brewing has proven invaluable as far as knowledge and talent goes. Fun Fact - Brasserie Caracole is known for a couple things: 1)heating their water via a wood heated oven, and 2)bottling and labeling all their beers by hand.

What do you think?? What is your favorite Belgian beer??

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Homebrew on Tap

Every year we set a goal for ourselves, brew-wise. There are other goals that can be achieved, we don't just limit ourselves to one, but we do always have one in mind as "the next step." Last year we went from extract brewing to all-grain brewing. We also began growing, and using, our own hops. This year, the goal was to start kegging beer. Above is a photo of one of our 5 gallon kegs with our own label on it.

Here is Justin filling up the keg. Right now part of our ultra-elaborate brew set-up takes place in the kitchen. At least the bottling and kegging does. Here is what Justin had to say about kegging for the first time:
The kegging went really well. Setup went about as I expected…I had been reading different posts online about it and stuff so I pretty much knew what to expect. It was A LOT easier than bottling and it feels really nice to be able to have draft beer now. Clean up was pretty much the same as bottling...a little less since I didn’t have to clean a bottling bucket and the carboy. It was really foamy at first but like I said that’s to be expected after rocking and rolling the thing around while it’s being injected with C02….it’s like shaking up a soda can…you have to wait for it to calm back down. So I’m looking forward to pulling off a pint and seeing how it is. With this being the first keg and wanting to be able to try it last night I went the impatient route of force carbing so next time or maybe even with the IPA I will do the slower way of just hooking it up at a lower pressure (between 10 and 15 PSI) and letting it sit for a 3 – 5 days before trying to drink it.

Here he is, pouring a beer. It had been in the fridge to cool down, but he took it out so that he could do the rolling & shaking. As he noted above, pouring the beer immediately pretty much resulted in all head.

Finally, here is a shot of the keg & CO2 tank, where they belong, in the cooler. We got the cooler from Sear's, as it had the best deal going on at the time. We chose black in color since the cooler sits inside - we wanted it to look as little like a chest freezer kept inside as possible.
A couple other things that we've decided on regarding the cooler: 1) We decided NOT to put taps on the outside of it. Originally we had wanted to do this, and had planned on it - but we have two little kids. Shannon, who is 5, already knows a lot about beer, and Carrie could pour beer from a keg when she was 4 ... we figured it wasn't a wise parenting decision given the circumstances. 2) We chose a cooler that has a lock on the front. This, we felt, was another wise parenting decision. There will come a time when the boys are more curious about and interested in the beer inside the cooler, and we'll want to keep them out. Until then, it serves the easy purpose of cutting off someone (he knows who he is) who may have already had enough to drink.
So here is a "Cheers" to our "next step" completed. In the above photos we're kegging our Back Porch Brown Ale. Last night we also kegged 5 gallons of our JedHead IPA. Having two kegs on hand, ready to drink, feels good. The other beers seen in the photos are also all homebrews. That feels good too. Pretty damn good actually.