Atlanta has somehow become a craft beer mecca with some of the greatest beer bars in the world. This is a tribute to the beers and the bars.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bar snacks

It's rare to go out for beer without there being at least a little food involved.  I've eaten far more of my share of The Porter's browned butter and powdered vinegar popcorn and the Brick Store's hummus than I care to admit, but recently found what I think is now my favorite Atlanta bar snack: fried brussels and cauliflower with rice and nuoc chom (a Vietnamese fish sauce based sauce) at Steinbeck's.  Cheap ($4.50), filling, delicious, and probably quite a bit healthier than your standard fried potato bar snack.  It's not always available but it's there pretty regularly as a special.  This has no resemblance to the overcooked, mushy brussel sprouts you may have grown up being forced to eat.  Went down well with a Corsendonk.  As an aside, any bar owner who says that they don't have enough taps to have anything interesting on tap should look to Steinbeck's 8-10 taps.  That's how you do it.

What are your favorite bar snacks?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Picks for the week

My pick for the week is Wii Rock Band.  If you feel like going out though there's an interesting one at the Brick Store right now, De Regenboog T’Smisje Guido, a rare sweet and sour beer that's supposed to be good.  I'm sure it will be gone before I have a chance to go, so I would love to hear anybody's thoughts on it.

On Tuesday The Porter is tapping Duvel Green and giving away some Duvel glasses to people who show up early enough.

And on Saturday Black Joe Lewis is at The Earl.  Is there good beer there?  We'll see.

Update: Stopped by the Brisckstore yesterday and they had some interesting stuff, including the Guido I thought I would miss out on.  It's a lot like a tripel, but interestingly sweet from honey and slightly sour.

They had also just tapped Haandbryggeriet Dark Force, a Norwegian Imperial Stout made with wheat.  This is one of the best breweries in the world and as far as I know (and the guy at the Brick Store agreed) this is probably the first keg of Haandbryggerietin Georgia.  I hope for many more.  This one was extremely smooth, almost like a strong stout mixed with chocolate milk.  They also had a keg of New Belgium Fall Wild that was about to be tapped so I didn't get to try it.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

New Belgians on Tap at The Porter

St. Bernardus Abt 12 is probably the most commonly sighted Trappist beer on tap in Atlanta, but despite its popularity we never see any of the other St. Bernardus brews.  That changes today with the arrival of St. Bernardus Prior 8 at The Porter.  I got to have this on tap in New York at The Burp Castle a few months ago and it is delicious.  It's a dubbel and it's lighter and fruitier than the 12.

Duvel Green was released in the Northeast about a year ago, but next Tuesday The Porter will be tapping what I'm pretty sure is the first keg available in Georgia.  Standard Duvel is never available on tap in the US (Duvel doesn't trust consistency of the last fermentation in the keg).  Duvel undergoes three fermentations but the Duvel Green only goes through one.  Originally it was going to be the same beer as standard Duvel, just stopped after the primary fermentation (this is sold in Europe as 'kleine' Duvel).  There were problems with this though, so they use the same ingredients but use a little less of the fermentables (malt and/or candi sugar) to end up with a lower abv beer.  By all accounts I've read this is a great beer, but lighter and with less complexity than the standard Duvel.

Update: I didn't feel like dedicating a whole new post to Duvel Green so I'm just going to add a quick review here.  Duvel Red (the standard bottled Duvel) isn't one of my favorite beers.  It would be nice in the middle of the summer on a patio, but except for the great spicy yeast I think it's a little boring.  Duvel Green tastes very similar, but with a little less body and complexity.  It tastes good, but there's not really enough going on to keep your attention.  It's relatively sessionable though, so if you want an easy drinking, sessionable Belgian it may be a good choice.

Sour beers, part 3

This time I hit some sour beers from outside of Belgium, including 3 variations of a Flemish style sour and a sour stout.

Haandbryggeriet Haandbakk: This was the real surprise of the bunch.  This is a Norwegian sour.  Beers similar to Flemish Oud Bruins had been brewed in Norway for centuries but had gone out of style and this was the first attempt at a Norwegian sour in over 100 years.  It was aged in used burgundy wine barrels for 18 months before bottling.  This is as good or better than any Flemish sour I've had. Malt is nicely rich, and faintly sweet with hints of bitter cocoa.  There's a dominant acetic acid sour, leather, slight barnyard funk, and faint apple.  This completely dominates your mouth, the acidity burns your throat a little, and there's an extremely long finish.  This and Panil Bariquee Riserva are probably the most complex sours I've had.

Jolly Pumpkin Madrugada Obscura: A sour stout?  That may sound odd, but historically there were actually a lot of sour stouts, porters, and other British ales.  Brettanomyces (the funky, wild yeast that is one of the main beer souring agents) is actually Greek for British fungus because of it's use in British beers.  Guinness is 3% sour beer, though it's sourness comes from a lactic acid bacteria. Madrugada Obscura is actually a Belgian style stout.  Flavors are cherry, chocolate, and nice sourness (lactic and a little Brett funk) with a dry ending.  Honestly, this is billed as a Belgian style stout, but I taste more Guinness in this than any Belgian stout I've had, possibly because the Belgian stouts I've had weren't sour.  This is worth trying.

Jolly Pumpkin La Roja: This is a fairly standard oud bruin, though a good example.  I taste a little brown sugar, faint apple and lemon, mild Brett, and not much acetic acid.  Overall this is an easy drinking sour.

New Belgium La Folie: I loved the first few sips of this.  The acidity really catches your attention, there's mild vinegar, and you taste some of the wood that is was aged in.  Les and I split a bottle of this before we went out for Valentine's Day and I actually struggled a little to finish my half.  The acidity starts to become overwhelming.  We commiserated about the fact that when The Porter had this once it went quickly and we didn't get to try it on tap.  After we ate we headed over to The Porter and serendipitously there it was, so we each ordered one.  Again, it started great, but it's so astringent it became hard to drink.  The Porter was serving pints of it, and I really think all anybody would want would be 8 oz, but at least it was pretty cheap.  I like the beer, but I didn't bother finishing mine.  I have mixed feelings about the drinkability.  One reason I like sours is that they have much more dense flavors, so even though they tend to be lower alcohol they are still sipping beers.  I think this one goes a little over the edge though in terms of unpleasant acidity.  It's worth trying, but split it.

One last reminder, The Porter has its Flemish sour class this Wednesday.  I'm going to be playing with a Beatles tribute band at Smith's Olde Bar so I won't be able to make it (my day job is a trumpet player), but if you can you should check it out.  It's $25.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Flemish Red beer class at The Porter

As I said yesterday, I'll update when I figure out what beers will be sampled in class, and here they are.

Duchesse de Bourgogne: I think it's safe to say that this is the most popular Flemish red and it was my first.  It's rich, sour, and sweet (like most Flemish sours available it has some sugar added at the end to make it easier to drink, but I find it a little too sweet).  I've drunk it many times and it got me started on my sour beer quest.

Monk's Cafe: I had this at Monk's Cafe in Philadelphia.  It's brewed for them by a Belgian brewer.  It's a little more muted than Duchesse in virtually every way, but still a good beer.

Bacchus: This is apparently a fairly straight forward Flemish red.  I would imagine that it will be similar to the Monk's Cafe, but we'll see.

Ichethem Grand Cru: Reviews around sound like this one might lean a little more towards sweet.  I don't tend to put much stock into online reviews of sour beers though, as I rarely agree with overall consensus, so who knows.

Andelot Proefbrouwerij Reinaert Flemish Wild Ale: This one isn't actually a Flemish red.  It's a strong Belgian pale brewed with Brett (wild) yeast.  I'm curious if it's going to lean more towards a funky saison like Hennepin or more like the trappist Orval.

Should be fun and hopefully I'll learn some stuff.  It's next Wednesday (Feb 17) at 7:30. It's usually $30.  Make reservations at (404)233-0293.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Picks for the week

My pick is Sidebar downtown on Thursday before the Them Crooked Vultures show at The Tabernacle.  They usually have at least one or two interesting beers, and if nothing else always a good pour of Guinness.  I don't see anything unusual and interesting on anybody's lists right now (besides what I posted 2 days ago...BSP is now out of Interlude though).

I would be completely remiss to not point out that The Porter is having beer class on Flemish sours next Wednesday at 7:30.  I don't know yet which ones Molly will have to try, but if you've been reading about sours and want to jump in that would be a great opportunity.  It's usually $30 and includes samples of 6 beers.  I'll update if I find out what they are.  Make reservations at (404)233-0293.

Let me know if you've seen anything else of interest this week.  I've been busy and haven't really looked very hard.

Update 2/12: Them Crooked Vultures was awesome.  I saw them 3 times in October and this was by far the best show.  Sidebar, on the other hand, was lame.  Probably the smokiest bar in Atlanta and no seasonal beers, which they used to have.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Sour beers on tap

If you're interested in trying some sour beers now would be a great time to head over to The Porter.  They have a handful of well balanced sours that would be a good introduction without being overwhelmingly sour.

Hitachino Red Rice: I mentioned this one yesterday in my last sour beer post.  This is a great sour that mixes flavors from Japan and Belgium.

Smuttynose Brett & I: This is a little fruity and doesn't have as much Brett funk as I was hoping, but still delicious and refreshing.

Ommegang Hennepin: Nice example of a farmhouse saison that I previously wrote about here.

Then head over to The Brick Store for Allagash Interlude, a complex, fruity, fairly intense American wild ale and Kasteel Rouge, the beer that started the Flemish red style.  There's not much real difference between a Flemish red and brown except the color.  This one was seen as so beautifully red that it deserved a style of its own.

Update: Sorry, I just happened to re-read this and I realized I confused some sour beers.  Rodenbach is the original Flanders red and Kasteel Rouge is brewed with cherries.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sour beers, part 2

Here are a couple of traditional lambics, a couple of Flemish sours, and a wildcard from Hitachino.

Vichtenaar: Flemish sour.  Balanced sour and malty sweetness, slight anise, caramel, medicinal, only
very mildly acetic.  Not quite as rich as Duchesse de Bourgogne, but also thankfully lacking the cloying syrupy sweetness.  I think this would be a good introduction to Flemish sours, partly because it's not the most sour and partly because you can get it in small, cheap bottles (around $3.50 at Green's).

Panil Barriquée: I had high hopes for this one.  I think that the greatest beer I've had was the Panil Bariquee Riserva, which starts the same as this but spends 15 months in a cognac barrel instead of the 3 that this one gets.  That led to an almost impossible rich and complex sour beer.  This one can't quite match, but is still good. Though it's Italian, Panil Barriquée is actually the only traditionally produced Flemish sour currently made.  Flavors were grape, almost red wine, faint apple, some sweetness and slight caramel without being cloying, lactic sourness, and unfortunately not nearly the amount of acetic sourness as the riserva.  It was a little thin but easy to drink.  This doesn't come close to the riserva, but I think it's quite a bit better than Duchesse. 

Cantillon 1900 Grand Cru: Just about everything that's called a lambic isn't.  They're either refermented with fruit to make a kriek (cherry), framboise (raspberry), peche (peach), etc., or a gueze, which is a blend of different aged lambics.  The Cantillon 1900 Grand Cru is the only pure, unblended lambic available in the US.  A pure lambic is flat.  This one is lemony and intensely sour.  There's a lot going on, but it's hard to pick out many distinct flavors.  Between the flatness and intense tartness I can't really recommend it to people who don't already drink sour beers, but I enjoyed it and any real beer drinker owes it to themself to drink the only real lambic available.  

Cantillon Gueze: A gueze is a blend of various age lambics that have become carbonated in the bottle.  This lambic tasted a little lemon, apple, apricot, and wet hay.  It was pretty sour but a decent Brett funk and slight vinegar.  This is cheaper than the Grand Cru, but much more balanced and the carbonation really adds to the drinkability.  It's clear why lambics are generally blended.  Tasty.

Hitachino Red Rice:  This was on tap at The Porter.  This is brewed with malt and rice, which means that besides ale yeast, Hitachino also uses a sake yeast to process the rice.  It tastes like a mixture of sake, Flemish sour, and Belgian pale.  Some funk, lactic sour, doughy sake yeast, light citrus, maraschino cherry, a little sweet, and nice prickly carbonation.  Great, complex, refreshing beer.

I think that next time I'll be tasting some American sours.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Quick picks

I've been too busy to be able to do much beer blogging (no, this isn't my full time job).  There's some good stuff out there though.  Samichlaus is making a rare appearance at the Brickstore.  Often called the strongest lager in the world (even BSP website makes the claim) it's not actually true, but at 14.5% it's not messing around either.  In the bottle it was very much like a browned chocolate chip cookie and very sweet.  On tap the sweetness has mellowed somewhat and other flavors like raisins and anise come through.  Very boozy and hot alcohol.  Nice and worth trying.  BSP is also carrying Allagash Interlude, a good American wild ale full of Bretty funk and goodness.

The Porter still had Hitachino Red Rice as of just a few days ago and it is well worth trying before it's gone.  Like a mixture of Flemish sour, sake, and Belgian pale. 

Monday, February 1, 2010

Sour beers, part 1

I've been writing a bit about sour beers lately so I decided to do a series of write-ups on a variety of them to hopefully help you jump into these beautiful and misunderstood varieties.

Orval: This is probably the best place to start if you're new to sour beers.  This is the only Trappist beer purposefully brewed with Brettanomyces, a wild yeast that gives a funky sourness often described as horsey or barnyard.  Aging changes the character of any Brett beer quite a bit.  I just drank a relatively young one (just over a year old), so the slow acting Brett had only contributed a mild funkiness.  There were fairly strong tart apple esters, faint pineapple, and a pronounce hop bitterness, leading to a long, dry finish.  I'd like to age a few bottles of this.

Brouwerij Fonteinen Doesjel Old Lambic: A lambic is a beer brewed in a certain region of Belgium, spontaneously fermented with yeasts and bacteria in the open air.  Very few lambics are available straight.  Different aged lambics are usually blended to form gueze, which will carbonate in the bottle because the young lambic still has sugars.  Fruit can also be added, making kriek (cherries), framboise (rasberries), and several others.  Doesjel calls itself a lambic even though it is a blend of a 1 , 2, and 3 year old, which would normally make it a gueze.  I'm assuming that it is still called a lambic because the yeasts went dormant so it did not carbonate in the bottle, making a completely flat beer like an old, unblended lambic.

This is an intense beer, made more-so by the fact that it's completely flat.  Sour apple and Brett take center stage.  There's only minimal hop bitterness in a lambic (hops are primarily used in a lambic as a preservative, so they use old, dried hops that have lost most of their potency).  There was nice oakiness and light malt.  Lambics are generally considered sippers because of their sour intensity, but I found myself wanting to take huge gulps.  Very refreshing.

Jolly Pumpkin Bam Biere: Jolly Pumpkin is a Michigan brewery that has been at the forefront of American sour beers, with virtually all of their beers boasting the touch of Brett.  Bam Biere is their flagship farmhouse saison.  This is hoppier than either of the above Belgians, but the overall flavor profile is similar, with tart apple at the front, surrounded by that Brett funk.  It's nice, but seems a little one dimensionally tart apple cider.  I think aging it longer to bring out more of the Brett would help a lot, but considering those Belgians cost 3-6 times as much this is a nice, easily available option.

De Proef/Bell's Brewing Van Twee: I thought this was pretty underwhelming.  It's a Belgian dark with some tart Michigan cherries and Brett.  The base of the beer was a pretty simple, mild chocolate Belgian dark, the cherries didn't provide nearly enough tartness to overcome the sweetness of the malt, and the Brett was barely there.   

Coming soon: the famous and rare Cantillon Grand Cru, a Lindemans traditional gueze, and two Flemish sours.  Stay tuned.