Monday, May 14, 2012

International Beer Fest 2012, Part 1

Beer is in many ways a reflection of us ... molded and shaped by history, it comes in different styles that have their own unique characteristics and interesting back stories.  When I do a craft beer review, I try to research the history of the beer, the style and/or the ingredients used.  Fortunately, I have access to stores that carry a wide range of craft beer from, not only the United States, but around the world.  

Still, there are events -- such as the International Beer Fest -- that provide me with an opportunity to try beers that I have not seen or heard of before.  I went to the first annual  festival, which was held last year in Cleveland, Ohio last year.  The event was a lot of fun, although many of the beers that I wanted to try were gone by the time I got to them.  This was especially true of the Belgian beers.  It seemed everyone went first to the Belgian beers with the hope that, even though each taste was only two ounces, the high ABVs would help to get the buzz going early.  By contrast, I had mapped out a different strategy, looking to try different styles and beers brewed with different ingredients, with all of the beers being ones that I cannot find or had not heard of before.. I started at the opposite end of the convention center and, by the time I got to the Belgians, many of the ones I had really wanted to try, like the Trappist beers, were gone.

This year, I decided to keep the same strategy, with one exception.  This year I would start in the Belgian section and work may way from there. I had a map with the beers that I wanted to try already planned out.  One problem. I left it at home.  I was able to recreate the game plan as we waited for the event to start.

This is the first of a two part blog series of the beers that I tried at the International Beer Fest. Part One focuses on the beers that I tried from European brewers.

Brasserie Halve Maan -- Brugse Zot Dubbel: The tour of beers begins in Belgium with a dubbel produced by Brasserie Halve Maan.  I had not heard of this brewery before, so I decided to try its Brugse Zot Dubbel.  The beer poured brown in color, with a good amount of foam.  The aromas of this beer are typical of most Belgian beers ... yeast, with a sweetness reminiscent of sugar or candy.  The beer also has a taste that is in line with a dubbel.  Flavors of bananas and cloves are present, with a surprising tartness that comes out in the finish.  The beer has an ABV of 8.5%.

Rochefort Monestary -- Rochefort 10: Followers of this blog know of my interest in Trappist beers.  The Rochefort 10 is one of two Trappist beers that I tried this time.  This beer is brewed in the style of a Quadrupel, with an ABV of 11.3%.  The beer pours a dense brown in color, with red hues.  The aroma heavily emphasized spices, but other interesting aromas such as port wine and apricots.  The flavors of this beer included nutmeg, candy sugar and cloves.  The nutmeg flavor was the most surprising element of the taste.

Westmalle Monastery -- Westmalle Tripel: The other Trappist beer I tried was the Westmalle Tripel.  (For those following, my first three beers ended up being a dubbel, tripel and quadrupel.)  This beer was quite different from the first two beers.  It poured a clear golden color, with a thick foam.  The aromas suggest fruit and hops.  The taste was lighter and the other two beers, as well as little crisper.  The tripel exhibited flavors of sweet fruit, like a combination of bananas and sugar.  After having sampled this beer, I think I have sampled one beer from each of the seven Trappist monasteries that currently produce beer.

Timmerman's Lambic Brewery -- Bourgogne des Flandres: While I am still sampling beers from Belgium, this Bourgogne des Flandres represents a steep departure from the dubs, trips and quads.  It is brewed in the style of a Flanders sour red ale.  The beer pours brown, and exudes aromas of sour apples.  The taste of the beer is reminscent of Granny Smith apples, with a little spice.  The beer is crisp and has a clean finish.  Indeed, once you have finished the beer, it is as if it has cleansed the palate, leaving just a faint sense of those sour apples.  This beer is a good example of a Flanders Red or Sour Ale.

Dubuisson -- Scaldis Refermentee: I decided to try this amber ale because of the interesting process used to produce it.  The beer is bottle fermented in a hot chamber for three weeks.  The beer pours an amber or gold in color, with little to no foam.  The aroma of this beer features the malts, but there is also hints of the nuts, and yeast.  The taste of this beer is a balance between bitter and sweet, all encapsulated in a smooth body with some carbonation.  (The carbonation is a little surprising given the lack of foam when poured, but that could be just due to the fact that the bottle may have been opened for a while).  The bitterness seems to prevail in the finish of the beer.

Birra Amiata -- Contessa Italian Pale Ale: After sampling some Belgian beers, I moved to trying a couple of Italian beers.  First, I tried Birra Amiata's Contessa Italian Pale Ale.  Although described as an "Italian" Pale Ale, it is definitely in the American style, even down to the use of American yeast and hops.  Still, there was something different about this beer.  While the citrus and pine flavors were present in this beer, there was also a hint of sweetness in the beer.  A sense of caramel that goes along with the bitterness of the hops.

Birra Tenute Collesi -- Collesi Ambiata: The second Italian beer that I tried is called the Ambiata, an amber beer.  This beer is produced with dried fruit, which contributed to the taste of the beer.  The Collesi Ambiata pours a reddish orange in color, with some foam.  The aroma of the beer included some malt and caramel, perhaps from the dried fruit.  The beer had a fruity taste to it, but not as much as some of the Belgian beers that I tried.  

Porterhouse Brewery -- Oyster Stout: From Italy, the tour turns to Ireland.  I said no to Harp or Guinness.  Instead, I tried an Oyster Stout from Porterhouse Brewery. This is a sweet stout, whose sweetness comes from fresh oysters that are shucked into the conditioning tank.  The beer is produced with Pale malts, roasted barley, and flaked barley, along with Galena, Nugget and East Golding hops. The beer pours a dark brown in color.  The aromas of the beer include chocolate and coffee.  the beer is balanced between hops and malts, with the malts having a slight edge. 

Nøgne-Ø -- Two Captains: After an oyster stout, I decided to try a double India Pale Ale from Nøgne-Ø.  This brewery has made a name for itself with some good beers, including a barleywine that I have previously reviewed.  The double IPA is made with grimstad water, malted barley, hops and yeast, with an ABV of 8.5%.  The beer pours a golden color, with a nice foam.  The aromatic elements of the beer feature crisp, whole hops.  The hops provide a citrus aroma to the beer.  The taste of the Two Captains is a good representation of a double or Imperial Pale Ale.  There is definitely citrus, with a little grass as well.

Castellain -- St. Amand French Country Ale: Although France is known for its wine, it does have some good beers as well.  For that reason, I tried the Castellain St. Amand, which is brewed in the style of a French country ale.  The beer is produced with well water, barley from Champagne and hops from Alsace.  The color of the beer is gold, with some copper tones. The aroma is clearly malt driven.  The taste of the beer is likewise malt-driven, with taste elements one would associate with a beer that has a high ABV.  However, this beer has an ABV of only 5.9%. 

Christoffel -- Christoffel Nobel: This beer caught my attention because of the category description, "traditionally brewed beer."  This is a dry-hopped tripel lager produced in the Netherlands.  The beer pours a cloudy, brownish color, with no foam.  The aromatics of the beer are much like a tripel.  The taste of the beer likewise falls within the tripel category.  I could get a sense of Belgian candy sweetness, fueling a malt-centric flavor.    For the last of the European beers that I would try, it was a good way to end.  A full circle, beginning with a Belgian beer and ending with a Belgian style beer.

For the next chapter, I will summarize the American beers that I tried.  Until then ...


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