Classy Hooch: Chimay (Blue)

These next few beer updates are part of a Christmas present that I’m finally getting to: The Chimay variety pack. It comes with all three varieties of this Belgian trappist ale. In addition to their flagship blue label, the pack includes a Chimay Red and a Triple, which has kind of a beige label, but I can understand not wanting to call it Chimay Beige.

Not only that, I get official glassware! Fond as I am of my Snake River Brewing beer mug, each Belgian beer is traditionally supposed to be enjoyed from their distinct drinkware. I am now officially a beer nerd and will start calling french fries pommes frites – I apologize for this.

In addition to beer and swell glassware, you get literature providing details on where this ale comes from. Who doesn’t love literature? Chimay’s a product of Scourmont Trappist abbey in Belgium, meaning it’s brewed by monks (they also make cheese. did you know they make cheese? i didn’t know they make cheese). This makes it a Trappist ale, but what I did not know is that there are only 6 beers in the world brewed in Trappist abbeys (the rest are “trappist-style”). Not only that, I’ve had one: Orval, which I’ve reviewed on this site. The remaining four are Westmalle, Westvleteren, Achel, and Rochefort, which is available at the local Kroger (so I guess I know what’s coming next).

I’m starting this flight with the Blue. It’s Chimay’s signature brew, and although I’ve had it before (at Pittsburgh’s excellent Sharp Edge Brasserie), it’s only been from draft, not the bottle. I’ll move on to the Red and Triple next time.

Uncap the Blue and you immediately get the aroma of yeast. You don’t have to swirl or sniff or really do much of anything – you open, you smell yeast. After this, though, the actual smell is much more complex. It’s thick, like other trappists, with that potent alcohol edge to it if you breathe deeply enough; that’s not surprising when you consider it’s 9% ABV.

Based on that smell, you might expect something heavier in taste. What you get is smooth but not syrupy. It’s got hops, but it’s good and malty, too, which I like. The beer has a dark flavor, but it’s complex rather than overpowering. There’s even a little scotch-like edge to it. There’s some floral taste to it (the Chimay people describe it as “rosaceous,” if that helps you), and while it’s not highly bitter, what bitterness there is hangs out on the back edges of your tongue longer after you swallow. There’s also some sourness, but again, it’s not something you’ll notice until after the drink is done.

After this start, I’m excited to taste the rest of the Chimay rainbow. This is a complex beer, and the rest of the family’s likely to live up to that standard.

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Classy Hooch: Red Hook Treblehook

Living in West Virginia, I’ve been snowed in this past weekend. I had the good fortune, however, to be visited by my grandchild-seeking parents, whose Dodge Durango scoffs at the drifts that keep my Jetta garage-bound. So while greater Morgantown cowered behind locked doors, we headed out into winter’s worst for no reason in particular.

As I’ve mentioned before, we northwestern Pennsylvania residents are the kind of people who are MORE likely to go out into the world when life-threatening weather … well, threatens. It’s just something we’ve got to do. So the folks and I headed out into the snowy void on Saturday.

For a quick snapshot of the economics of snow, consider the below picture of the bread aisle at our local Kroger:

At the left is the cheapo bread; to the right are the high-end, Pepperidge Farm joints. This, to me, sends a clear message: We’re hungry, but we’re not particular. Being that we already had the essentials – and were not fearing the end times – we chose instead to pick up some other provisions: Ribeye steaks (which, in another fit of winter pique, would be grilled outside) and a bevy of nifty beers.

Among these was today’s beer, Red Hook’s Treblehook. I’m a big Red Hook fan – their Sunrye was a fantastic summer beer, and their Late Harvest wasn’t bad either – so I’m likely to be biased. The Treblehook is a barleywine, part of Red Hook’s Limited Release series. I started it at the halftime mark of yesterday’s Super Bowl (with a Yuengling lead-in), and finished just as the Saints wrapped up their win.

This is a big beer, both in size (1 pint, 6 oz.; 10.1% ABV) and body, which is what you’d expect of a barleywine (the name comes from the fact that they’re typically as high in alcohol as a wine, but made from grain rather than grapes.). The label marks it as a fall beer, but I’d put it up against any winter warmer. It’s a thick brew that warms up the throat as you drink. The mouthfeel is slightly syrupy but not too heavy – just enough to let you know you’re drinking something substantial.

You definitely get the hop aroma as you drink, but it’s not as floral as most hoppy beers. And like any good barleywine, that hoppiness is balanced by strong malt flavors, so you don’t get the bitterness of hop-heavy beers. If I have any gripe it’s that you get a lingering sour aftertaste after a while, but that’s hardly a hanging offense.

Treblehook might lack the spice of others’ winter offerings, but it’s an excellent beer to accompany watching a blizzard through your window … or the Colts choking a last-minute touchdown pass.

Classy hooch: Fruli

This week I’m drinking Fruli, “a high quality Belgian white beer blended with pure strawberry fruit juice.” Apologies to Fruli fans out there – I don’t know how to type an umlaut so you’ll have to envision the two dots over the “u”.

Here’s what i know from the website. Fruli is a mix of wheat beer and strawberry juice. It is brewed in Belgium near the city of Ghent. It won several awards, and was compared (favorably, I assume) by Time Out London to a “strawberry smoothie with bite”.

That’s the homepage – the rest of the site is curiously incomplete. Under “Fruli” in the navigation bar, you can select “FAQs” or “Fruli fun,” but these pages are blank when you go to them. This is a shame because I really would like to know the kinds of questions that are frequently asked about Fruli – I had naively assumed “Its got strawberry juice in it” would answer 99.9% of the questions you might ask about Fruli, but clearly there’s more under the surface.

There’s also a Fruli blog, but when you click the “blog” link you get the message “Sorry, no posts matched your criteria.” This is fascinatingly cryptic, and it makes me want to unravel Fruli’s secrets.

Here’s what I know about Fruli from drinking it: Its got strawberry juice in it. You get it in the smell before drinking without even trying. The taste is clearly of strawberries. Exactly what I’m drinking is a little hard to determine. At first I thought it was a little wine cooler-y, but it’s better than that. You can get at the beer in Fruli, but it takes some exploration to get past the juice, which really stands out. REALLY stands out.

Not that that’s terrible if you want to drink a fruity, juicy beer. One of the best things about Fruli is that the taste seems very natural. If you’ve ever made a strawberry drink in a blender, well, that’s what it tastes like; you’re drinking juice, not strawberry flavoring. And there IS beer in there, but you probably won’t think of it as beer. Maybe more like a strawberry-beer smoothie.

That sounds a lot more disgusting than I meant it to.

Fruli’s fine. It’s fruity and well-made for what it is. I probably wouldn’t buy it again – it’s not really for me – but it does something different and accomplishes what it sets out to do. With so many beer trends turning into a game of out-hop/alcohol/dark the last guy, here’s something to be said for that.

Classy hooch: Sierra Nevada Harvest

Today’s beer is that second wet hop seasonal I promised (the first was Harpoon’s excellent Glacier Harvest wet hop). The drink is Sierra Nevada’s 13th Release Harvest Wet Hop Ale ($5.99, 6.7% ABV, 65 ibu), which is a real mouthful (the name, not the beer).

Sierra Nevada’s been doing the wet hop thing since 1996, quoth their website, and I assume it takes the small batch approach of other brewers, so the “13th Release” in the name likely refers to the brewing session. This is only my second wet hop, but I really liked the last one. There’s something appealing to me about what’s behind them: Harvest and ship the hops “wet” – as close to picking as possible – for a more floral, less bitter taste that you can only get at a certain time of year. As a documented non-hophead, this kind of beer is right up my alley.

The pour gave up a big foamy head. Sierra Nevada’s Harvest beer tasted godawful at first. This was not the fault of the beer, but rather of me for being an idiot – I had eaten a piece of Irish Cream candy bar about 20 minutes earlier, and that stuff sticks with you. So after a mouth cleansing by (sequentially) milk, cider, and water, things were a little more favorable for beer drinkin’.

Cleansing achieved, I took another stab. The Sierra Nevada is more bitter than the Harpoon (not surprising, considering its 60-65 ibu’s to Glacier Harvest’s 38), and it lingers around the edges of the tongue. The taste is a little spicy – not overly so – a fairly hearty, with a slightly oily texture.

It’s a fine beer, but not as much of a drinker as the smoother Harpoon wet hop. By this I don’t mean it isn’t good, just that you’d be likely to drink less of this and more slowly (not that either beer is meant to be chugged). Hop fans would likely prefer it.

Now that I’m an expert on wet hop beers, having drank all of 2 varieties, I’d have to say that, given the option, I’d go with the Harpoon over the Sierra Nevada. It’s mostly irrelevant now because we’re getting into winter seasonals, but these two beers give a lot to look forward to come next fall. So far, I’ve gone with two fairly well-known brands, but I’m sure there’s others out there (Pittsburgh brewers, help me out here). With a little research, I’ll have some different wet hop beers to add to my experience.

Classy Hooch: Harpoon Glacier Harvest

This beer is the first  of a pair of Wet Hop seasonals: Harpoon Glacier Harvest ’09 Wet Hop Ale ($6.49; 6.7% ABV, 38 ibu), session 20 in Harpoon’s 100 Barrel Series of small batch beers (small as in 100 barrels, presumably). I picked this up at Slight Indulgence downtown; right next to it was Sierra Nevada’s own Harvest Wet Hop, which I’ll get to in a later post. I’ve never had a wet hop ale, and now I’ve got two in the cooler – here’s to new beer.

Wet hopping is apparently a relatively new trend in beer culture. This WSJ story puts it as “the latest expression of brewers’ obsession with hops.” The wet hop style is distinct to fall, when the hops are picked, thus the “harvest” moniker. It’s a variation of the going trend of MORE HOPS, instead focusing on fresh hops, using just-picked hop flowers for a different kind of flavor. According to the article, wet hop beers have less of the bitter, more of the floral and citrus. Sounds good to me.

harpoon wet hopGlacier Harvest has a warm texture, thick foamy head, and surprisingly low bite (at least if you’re not familiar with wet hop beers, like I wasn’t). It’s hoppy but not the kind that leaves your mouth burnt. The overall taste is pretty mellow, and the bottle vanished a lot more quickly than I expected (and that’s a 22-ouncer … no, I don’t need to join any organizations, it’s just that smooth). In fact, the mildness was perhaps the defining characteristic of this beer. Very tasty, but not aggressive in any of the ways you’d expect.

Instead of food, I paired this fine beer with episode 1 of the Prisoner on AMC. I didn’t even realize this was starting tonight (thanks for the heads up, Dad!). I’ve never seen the original Prisoner, but I’m familiar with some of the better-known bits and pieces. Several of these pop up here, but it’s not necessary to know ’em to get it.

Six (no, not her) finds himself in the mountains with a man, 93, he’s never met before and no memory of how he got there. After a blackout, he comes to in the Village, surrounded by similarly numerically named people who all seem to know him. He remembers nothing beyond fragmented flashbacks, but he knows he’s not from around here.

not that six

I AM NOT A NUMBER!

The two-episode premiere packs a lot in. Six (Jim Caviezel) finds himself up against the Village’s patron, 2 (Ian McKellen), a kindly old soul with a penchant for white suits and hand grenades. His brother’s here, but it’s not the brother he knows. A waitress, cabbie and doctor all may be allies or informants. There’s an anchor in the desert but nobody’s ever heard of the ocean. Answers might lurk in the gleaming towers that stand across the desert, but he’s blocked from getting to them by a giant white ball. And what’s with all the wraps?

The bigger questions are what’s interesting here. Would you be happy in a world with no problems? Nobody seems to pay for anything in the Village. The doors have no locks. Everyone knows everyone, and the world seems generally “contented,” as 2 puts it. So what’s 6’s problem?

6: “If I open my mind, you’ll take it away from me.

2: “We might. But we’ll give it back.”

pre lady

Never buy a phone from the Borg Queen.

Six is maybe a little overly dramatic – the drop-and-roll out of a moving cab in the first seven minutes seemed a little extreme – but some good backstory fill-in explains a bit of that, and Ian McKellen embodies genial malevolence. Like the idea of Jesus squaring off against Magneto? More is coming Monday night, and I think I’ll be watching – maybe with that Sierra Nevada. Hopefully the Palm Pre commercials are toned down by then (two per break???). I don’t think I can take much more of their translucent spokeswoman.

Classy hooch: Orval

Orval: Known for its surprisingly curvy bottleNothing goes better with pot roast than Orval Trappist Ale. I just coined that expression, so hopefully it’ll take off. I picked up the Orval on Friday from Slight Indulgence (careful with that link – it’s a talker) on the north side with the intent of drinking and blogging. Instead, I wound up heading to Riverstone. Thus my Belgian friend was left to lurk in the fridge until tonight.

So after cutting up carrots to soak in pot roastiness, I remembered the Orval. What I did not remember, apparently, is how to pour a damn beer. I can tell you that Orval Trappist Ale produces a rich, luxurious head. I know this because that was what filled the majority of my glass following my Natty Light-caliber pour. Hard to believe I used to get paid to do that.

Seriously, that's a crummy pourGiven some time, though, things calmed down and I gave the Orval a taste. As a trappist ale, it’s got some botanicals (read: flowery/fruity-ness) to it, as well as a rich taste and texture. It’s reasonably complex but not aggressive in either hops or spices, and somewhat dense while not syrupy. Considering dinner was pretty simple – pot roast, carrots, onions & garlic – it was nice to have a beer that had some character yet wasn’t chucking heavy flavors at me.

Orval made for an accessible drink that was still out of the ordinary. Both the price ($6.99) and the ABV (6.9% … hey, weird) are reasonable for a single-serving Belgian (though you’re only getting 11.2 oz.). Just be careful with the pour.