Michigan’s Bell’s Brewery has a fine reputation, and I have been impressed with the few Bell’s beers that I have stumbled upon, so I was quite excited when I saw a lone bottle of their summer beer, Oberon Ale, sitting on the shelf. The Oberon Ale pours a hazy orange, with little bits of detritus floating throughout the beer, and that is almost always a good sign. It seemed to glow, as if it was ill met by moonlight. It has a wonderful bread, orange rind, and floral aroma, each of which carries over to the flavor. The wheat malts are up front and prominent and somewhat creamy, reminiscent of a hefeweizen, but without the banana and clove flavors I associate with that style. I could drink this all day, 8/10, and would except I think I had the last bottle in South Florida, as I have not seen any since this bottle called out to me like a mermaid, on a dolphin’s back, Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath, That the rude sea grew civil at her song.
More tart than sweet, Bell’s Cherry Stout is a deep dark stout with a minimal head, almost no lacing and very mild carbonation. It is packed with flavor, with chocolate and coffee malts, and the tart cherry flavor in the background. It reminded me of a sour ale more than a stout, although the coffee and chocolate malts are stout like. This is very mildly hopped, with almost no bitterness other than what comes through from the cherries. The cherry stout combination tends to be hit or miss, but Bell’s does a good job here. This is an interesting beer, 7/10.
Nick stood up on the log, holding his rod, the landing net hanging heavy, then stepped into the water and splashed ashore. He climbed the bank and cut up into the woods, toward the high ground. He was going back to camp. He looked back. The river just showed through the trees. There were plenty of days coming when he could fish the swamp.
But first he had to get the bottles of beer he had put in the river to cool. Nick pulled the now cold bottles from the rushing water and took one last look at the swamp. He may not have brought anything to read, but he was happy that he had brought the beers to the camp. He knew they would go well with the trout he caught.
Nick liked Bell’s Two Hearted Ale. It was brewed in the Lower Peninusla, far from his fishing camp, but he thought of it as a local beer. He built a fire for cooking the fish and opened the first bottle. He enjoyed the floral hops and orange peel aroma before taking a drink. He took a sip, and the flowery hops and bitter orange were balanced by some biscuit like malts. It was a crisp clean beer. He finished the bottle while the fire burnt down to coals.
Nick got the frying pan out of his pack to cook the trout. After he cleaned the trout and put it in the hot frying pan, he opened the second bottle of beer. He liked to open bottles. Nick remembered that he had placed a carefully wrapped small glass in his pack. He got the glass. It was not broken. He poured the beer into it.
Nick held it up to the late afternoon sun and watched the bubbles race up the side of the glass. Bell’s Two Hearted Ale was a hazy orange color, as richly colored as the canned apricots he had for breakfast. He took a big gulp while the trout sputtered in the hot pan, and swirled the beer around the glass a bit. “Creamy head” he thought.
The trout was finished cooking. He finished the beer while he ate. Nick was glad that he brought the Bell’s Two Hearted Ale with him, 7/10.
He could fish the swamp tomorrow.
Ringing bells are a staple of Christmas cliches. The church bells ringing on Christmas morning herald Srcooge’s redemption. Shane Macgowan and Kirsty MacColl, after a night of drinking and fighting, note that “the Bells are ringing out/For Christmas Day”. And, as Zuzu pointed out, when the bells ring out for Christmas, an angel gets its wings.
The weird thing is that I do not remember ringing bells being a big part of my Christmas Mornings. I am sure that is due in part to growing up in the suburbs, with the nearest church being about a mile away, so even if the church rang the bells all morning, I would not have heard them. The only time I distinctly recall bells ringing on Christmas morning was the year I was in London for Christmas. I walked outside that morning, and the air was filled with the peals of church bells.
Bell’s Christmas Ale* pours a hazy ruby red with a nice head and good lacing. It has a mild honey like aroma, with some piney hops as well. The malts are plum like, with the bitterness of the hops in the aftertaste balancing that initial sweetness. Unlike many Christmas beers, there are no spicy flavors. It clocks in at only 5.5% ABV, so you can drink several of these while assembling your turducken. You are making a turducken, right? And doing it from scratch, none of this mail order or store bought crap, right? If you are, enjoy this fine beer, 7/10.
*HOLY CRAP! ANOTHER BRILLIANT TRANSITION! RINGING CHRISTMAS BELLS TO BELL’S CHRISTMAS ALE! I AM EN FUEGO!
I hear so much about how great West Coast brewers are (a reputation that is generally well deserved) and living and drinking on the East Coast, I have ready access to the best beers that the Atlantic side of the country has to offer, that I tend to ignore brewers from the Upper Midwest, either because they are not readily available here, or they are not one of the glamorous names from California, Oregon or Washington. This is foolish, as there some great beers coming from the middle of the country, and Bell’s Hopslam is one of them. This is a mouth-puckeringly bitter Imperial IPA, but it is has some caramel malts to balance all of those resinous and bitter grapefruit hops. It poured a cloudy amber with a sticky head, had a nice honey aroma along with the hopped up pine and grapefruit, and had a wonderful creamy texture. At 10% ABV, you are not going to drink this beer all night long, but you will enjoy every single one that you pour, 8.5/10.
***I received this as part of my winnings from the NCAA Boxes of Beer Pool. Every single one of you should join the World Cup Edition being run by the Vice Blog. Even if you are not a soccer fan, and I am not, you probably know someone who is and who will help you fill out your brackets, and if not, just wing it. You’ll have a rooting interest in the World Cup, and if you win, you get lots of great beer to try.
I was looking forward to drinking the New Holland El Mole Ocho. New Holland has a sterling reputation, and a beer incorporating mole sauce flavors sounds interesting, but this one was just sort of “meh”. This beer pours a dark ruby with almost no head. The 8% ABV is very prominent in the nose, and there is an alcohol bitterness in the taste as well. There is plenty of cocoa in the aroma and the flavor, and there is a hint of smoky spiciness in the background, but not enough of either to be all that memorable. Had I not taken a photo and jotted down some notes, I would have forgotten that I had this beer, and I only had it a few days ago. Not bad, but not special either, 5.5/10.
Mr. JK emailed me on Saturday night with some interesting news. His son had become buddies with an exchange student from France, and the French student had smuggled in some unique cheeses (a raw milk cheese for starters) when he came to study in Bernardsville. As Mr. JK had been given a selection of these cheeses, why didn’t I come in to NYC on Sunday and try some? Sure thing, I said, as long as it was copasetic with Mrs. JK. Late Sunday morning I got the green light, all systems were go, so I hopped on the PATH, grabbed a few beers when I got to NYC, and headed to their apartment.
Mr. JK set out the raw milk brie type cheese (which felt like velvet on my tongue), a goat cheese rolled in ash (which was brilliant), and an interesting roquefort, among some others. He also made some salsa and hummus. Mr. JK is a gourmand, like me, and an excellent cook. I have never had a bad meal made by Mr. JK, although whatever he can make, I can make better, and he knows it. Enough about him, let’s get to the beer.
Although we had not coordinated beforehand, Mr. JK and I both picked up a couple of saisons for our afternoon of beer and cheese. The first one that we cracked open was the Weyerbacher Muse Farmhouse Ale. Mr. JK took one sip and said that he hoped I was going to pan it. I didn’t think it was that bad, but of the three saisons we sampled, it was the lesser of the group. The Muse poured a cloudy orange, with some herbs and orange zest on the tongue. Not awful at all, in fact it was quite drinkable, but it lacked the complexity I associate with saisons, and Belgian style beers in general, and it fell well short of the next two beers we tried. 5.5/10.
Jolly Pumpkin has an excellent reputation, and I was looking forward to cracking open this bottle of Jolly Pumpkin Bam Biere Farmhouse Ale. I was not disappointed. It poured cloudy and orange, with that funky yeast aroma that I love, along with some coriander and lemongrass on the nose. I noticed some fruity flavors, apple and pear, and a very subtle hops bitterness. Mr. JK was less impressed with the Jolly Pumpkin than he was with the Weyerbacher, giving it a “three at best.” I disagree with him, giving it a 7.5/10.
We finally agreed on the Bruery Saison de Lente. This is the Bruery’s spring seasonal, and it is light and refreshing and perfect for a warm spring afternoon. It has a pillowy head that lasts to the bottom of the glass. I picked up some lemony notes in the aroma and the taste, with the subtle funkiness from the yeast adding some fennel seed flavors, all tied together by the flowery hops. I am not sure what Mr. JK gave it, but I am giving it a 8.5/10. After we kicked the saisons and the cheese, I accompanied Mrs. JK to the Post Office across from the Garden to help her mail some packages. We replenished our beer supply (reviews to come later) and got Mrs. JK some wine, and retired to the roof deck for drinks and laughs. I have been advised that any photos taken that evening of the participants are not to be published.