I have not been a fan of the French, generally adopting Groundskeeper Willie’s view of them, but I am starting to rethink my stance. They do wonderful things with cheese, and French cooking is the gold standard against which all other cuisines are measured. French movies are great, as are French actresses. And while French wines are world renowned, French beers are often overlooked. They can be great, even if they owe more to Belgian traditions than French ones. The Colette Farmhouse Ale by Great Divide is classic French Farmhouse Ale. Pale yellow and cloudy, with a fluffy meringue head, this is grassy, yeasty and herbal, slightly peppery, and light and refreshing. I enjoyed the hell out of this beer, 7.5/10, so much so that I am thinking about making this the summer of saisons.
And the hits from NCAA pool keep rolling in! I received a nice package the other day from two New York LOSERS.** Hey, if they are sending me beer, they lost. One Vice Blog reader from New York and the Vice Blogger himself pooled their resources and sent me their beers in one delicious package. Sticking with the NCAA Pool theme, I would categorize the two beers as Bracket Busters. They are both based on traditional styles, but they are both so different from those styles that they end up being unique.
The first bottle I cracked open was the Captain Lawrence Birra DeCicco. This is brewed in collaboration with DeCicco’s Market, a local Italian specialty shop, and is a rare one. I have never seen it in my local beer emporium, and they carry damn near every beer imaginable, including several offerings from Captain Lawrence. In fact, it is so rare that I could not find any mention of it on the Captain Lawrence website. According to the label, the beer is “[f]ermented with our house Belgian-style Ale strain to impart the classic fruity and spicy flavors of a traditional abbey ale. Infused with imported Italian chestnut honey and jam to create rich and smoky undertones. Re-fermented in the bottle using even more Italian chestnut honey to give the beer its lively carbonation.”
That description sums up this beer. Beer Advocate describes it as a Dubbel, but it is not like any Dubbel I have had before. This was an interesting drink, earthy and spicy, with the honey flavor more prominent than the chestnut flavor, though that was in there as well. It poured a very dark ruby color, with a decent head. It is sweet and malty, and the Belgian yeast gives it a funky edge, which I bet will only improve with age. If I can track down another bottle, I am going to stick it in the cellar for at least a few months and let the funk rise. Fresh from the brewery, it gets an 8/10.
Next up was the Southampton Cuvee de Fleurs, a saison brewed with a variety of edible flowers. I opened this, poured some into a glass, when my phone rang. I took the call in the other room. When I came back, the kitchen was filled with the flowery aroma of this beer. This has more perfume than a French knocking shop, more flowers than a Mafia funeral, more bouquets than Princess Di’s Wedding, more scents than the perfume counter at Bloomies, more … you get the idea.
The Cuvee deFleurs poured a golden orange, with a fluffy head and nice lacing. The aforementioned floral aroma permeates the taste as well, with some black pepper spiciness to balance it. I would offer this to someone who thinks that beer is not as complex as wine. There is a lot going on in the glass. It is a saison, but it is not like any saison I have come across, and I have tried many. I don’t think I would enjoy drinking more than one bottle of this at a sitting, but that one bottle is to be savored. Great beer, 9/10.
**I am an insufferable asshole when I win anything. God help all of you if and when any sports team I root for wins a championship. I was a complete and total prick during the Cowboys dynasty with the Triplets. Sweet Jeebus, I was a douche when Jason Kidd and the Nets made the NBA Finals in back to back years, and they never won the championship!
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.
The V-Man is a serious softball player, and this past weekend he wanted to get some swings in at the batting cage. He was meeting some of his teammates, and not having anything better to do, I joined them. I first took some swings in the slow pitch softball cage, and while I was not smacking the ball around, I at least made contact on all ten balls. Granted, they would have all been weak grounders to second or short, what are known as ‘Double-Play Balls’, but at least the ball was put in play. I then took some cuts in the fast pitch softball cage. My performance there was sad. When I was done, the high school girls who were waiting their turn were all giggling, and I do not think it was because they thought I was cute.
After the spring training session, we retired to Just Jakes in Montclair for some beer and appetizers. Being the beer dork in the group, I was asked for advice on ordering. I suggested to a guy who liked Hoegaarden that he try the Leffe Blonde. He loved it. The rest of the group was choosing between the Victory Hop Devil or Long Trail Double Bag. The lone female in our group (who outslugged me in the batting cage by a considerable margin) deemed the Hop Devil to be “too perfumey” for her, and opted for the Double Bag. While I slightly disagree with her beer choice, I think “perfumey” is a good description of the Hop Devil. It has a serious hops aroma, which you notice before you take a sip. Hop Devil is another of my ‘go-to’ beers. This beer is damned good and eminently drinkable. It has enough hops ‘perfume’ to keep the beer snobs happy, and enough balance and flavor to entice the macro-beer drinkers in to giving it a try. 8/10.
The Victory Helios is a rebranding and repackaging of Victory’s Saison. The Victory Saison was my summer beer last year. It was a classic Belgian Farmhouse Ale, light, crisp and refreshing, with some yeasty sourness to make it an interesting brew. It does not seem like much has changed with the Helios, other than the bottle is no longer corked (Boo!) and the price has come down considerably (Huzzah!). It is still dry, crisp, refreshing and wonderfully complex, with notes of lemon peel and black pepper spiciness on the nose and on the tongue. 8.5/10.
Ommegang is a New York brewer specializing in Belgian style beers. I am far from an expert on Belgian beers, but I know enough to know that the two beers sampled here are not all that great.
First up is the Hennepin which is a saison style ale. The Saisons that I have had are fresh and bright and have strong yeast flavor. Maybe because they are often called ‘farmhouse’ ales, I usually find some herbal notes in the palate. Not with this one. The Hennepin was thin and weak tasting. It did have a nice foamy head, but there was not much else going on with this beer. I will give it a 4.5/10, and I am being generous with that.
The next beer was the Abbey Ale. This poured a deep ruby color, and had a nice head. It had some spice notes in the aroma, and had a malty flavor. It was not bad, but it was far from great. It gets a 5.5/10.
While I will not go back to the well for either of these beers, Ommegang brews what they call Chocolate Indulgence, which looks worth a try.