May 23 2009

Duck-Rabbit Brown Ale Review

This time around I’m trying the Duck-Rabbit Brown Ale.  Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery is located in Farmville, NC and they call themselves “The Dark Beer Specialist”.  

I tried a couple their beers while in the Outer Banks last summer, but I honestly wouldn’t have tried them if the owner of the shop hadn’t recommended them to me.  Word of mouth, or in this day and age good reviews on the internet, is still a huge factor in how we all figure what we want to try next.  The Duck-Rabbit symbol is the old image that was used by psychologists to reinforce that what we perceive is not only a product of our senses, but also our current mental processes and state of mind.

Honestly, it’s a cool concept that isn’t played up in the marketing I’ve seen.  And without that, just having that image and the packaging they use, the beers of Duck-Rabbit just don’t jump off from the shelf at me.  Luckily, I got some shop advice.

I remembered liking them, so it is good to see that they are expanding and now available in Virginia.  I picked up a few of their brews the other day and the first to get the formal review is the Duck-Rabbit Brown Ale.

It pours a half inch dirty, brown head which dissipates quickly, but clings nicely to the rim of the glass.  The beer is a deep red with cherry highlights. It is very clear for a brown ale and striking.


The aroma is slightly sweet, with hints of caramel and nuttiness that brings pecans to mind.  What really jumps out at you is the smell of the roasted grains.  Usually roasted grains come across in beers as a coffee flavor which can be complex, but mostly end up being overwhelming and boring.  This smells exactly like the actual roasted grains I use when homebrewing.  I taste everything I put in the mash and the pot, and to me roasted barley is warm bread with a slight astringency.  They nailed that, and I loved that smell.

The good news is that that pure roasted flavor comes across in the taste, too.  The mouthfeel is full and there is a hint of toffee.  The bitterness becomes sharper as the beer warms and seems to come from the grains as much as the hops.  Duck-Rabbit says they use Amarillo and Czech Saaz hops in this, but the presence of both was muted at best.  The citrus of the Amarillo was a no-show, but I did get some of the spicy of the Saaz.  Unfortunately, it seemed like the Saaz only helped to make the swelling bitterness even more pronounced.  I wish I had checked the bottling date on this one to see if it was an older bottle.

In the end, I liked this beer and thought the authentic roastiness was amazing, but it puts some wear and tear on your palate.  Solo, it would be really hard for me to drink this all night.  But, with the right foods, it would probably become amazing.  This brown ale with a thick burger, or ribs, or just about any red meat off the grill, would enhance those caramelized flavors and the meat, in turn, would mute the bitterness.  

Try this out, but do so with food.  The Duck-Rabbit Brown Ale is good, but it needs a copilot to really get off the ground.


May 12 2009

Brewery Ommegang Bière de Mars Review

Ommegang, located in Cooperstown, NY, is a brewery that focuses on Belgian-style ales.  They make a very nice saison (Hennepin), a Belgian dark ale (Rare Vos) and a number of other interesting ales (like the Three Philosophers which is Belgian Quad mixed with Kriek Lambic).  

When I heard about their bière de garde beer that is funkified with brettanomyces, well, I had to check it out.  A bière de garde seems like the perfect base for this sort of souring since the style lays out a nice malt base but has a good bit of sweetness that the wild yeast can slowly eat through.

My bottle was the traditional heavy Ommegang bomber that was caged and corked.  This one was from Batch #2, bottled in October of 2008 and is 6.5% ABV.  The label calls it a “Belgian amber with magical space dust woven in.”  The strain of wild yeast is brettanomyces bruxellensis.

This one pours into a goblet a deep, apple juice red.  There is a lot of yeast in this one.  Huge chunks swirl around the glass and stay in suspension for the entire time I drink it.  I’m guessing the space dust turned into a tiny asteroid field.  Being a homebrewer, the chunks don’t bother me, but I am curious about why there is that much sediment.  The head is big and rocky, and it stays around like it is in a contest with the yeast to see who will flinch first. 

The aroma is sour with a relatively light amount of funk.  There is a tiny bit of dry hop spice and lemon, and they peek in from the corners of the barnyard smells.

The taste is acid on the tongue.  The finish is dry, like a saison, with a hint of mint.  The thing that comes to mind the most about this beer is its balance.  There is firm malt and the sourness which is refreshing without becoming that repetitive and pounding one note that a sour ale can become.  

The question I have coming out of this tasting, is should this be cellared?  I suppose it depends upon what you want out of the Bière de Mars.  If you like a pronounced but not overwhelming sourness and slightly sweet balance, find a bottle of this and drink it now.  If you are a sourhead, I’d suggest cellaring this one for a year or so to see how it matures.  This is a heavy-duty corked bottle with tons of living, wild yeast that can keep this beer evolving for quite some time. 

Definitely try this one out.  It is young, but it will grow.


May 5 2009

Lagunitas Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale Review

“We brewed this especially bitter ale in dedication to all the world’s would-be astronauts, in remembrance of the 2005 St. Patrick’s Day Massacre on the Brewery Party Grounds and also in joyous celebration of our 20-day suspension that following January. Do the crime. Do the time. Get the bragging rights. Cheers.” – Lagunitas Undercover Investigation Shut-down Ale label

The story behind the Lagunitas Undercover Investigation Shut-down Ale is well known, but it bears repeating. The brewery was holding regular tastings every Thursday night and some do-gooder had noticed someone smoking pot (not an unusual occurrence) outside the brewery. That led to the police to conduct an eight week undercover investigation into the brewery. Every week the undercover cops would come to the brewery tasting and try to buy pot. Plenty of people offered it to cops, but no one ever tried to sell it to them. Finally the police just got pissed off and on St. Patrick’s Day arrested a few people and shutdown Lagunitas for 20 days.

In an act of wonderful subtly, Lagunitas later released their Undercover Investigation Shut-down Ale. It is a whopping 9.7% ABV and, despite being a borderline barleywine, the brewery calls it an “oxymoronic imperial mild”

This beer pours a golden orange with deep pools of reddening copper. The head is thin, but laces nicely as you drink.

(Imagine I put a picture of the beer here. Go ahead, close your eyes and “see” the bottle….. No, that isn’t what the label looks like at all. Are you even trying? Nevermind. Yeah, well anyway, I must of gotten drunk and forgotten to take a picture of this one.)

The aroma is candy sugar, caramel malt, and traces of citrus and pine hops.

The taste is drier than the sweetness of the aroma would suggest. There’s brown sugar and some alcohol, but no where near the 9.7% that it is. The body is full and deeply coating.

The bizarre thing I got out of this one was a fruity sweetness. It took me a little while to put my finger on it, but it got a big, red Twizzler note. It was a sweet, cherry splash on my tongue that made me want to find some Twizzlers and use them as straws for this strong ale. Well, I guess we have our food pairing for this one.

This was a very interesting beer and well capable of carrying the memory of that St. Patrick’s Day massacre. It was deceptively smooth, and complex. Not something you want to drink all night long, but something you’ll be happy that you had.

If you aren’t holding, of course.


Apr 28 2009

Founders Cerise Review

Here is yet another Founders review, because they just came to Virginia and I am like a kid in a candy shop. Well, a candy shop that only sells beer. And, of course, I’m not a kid and I’m old enough to drink. You know what I mean.

The Founders Cerise is a fruit beer flavored with cherries. That kind of statement usually sends beer drinkers in several directions. I’ll give you a moment. Ready? OK.

If you are the kind of drinker who cringes when you hear about fruit being added to beer, I feel you. I love fruit lambics, and I’ve brewed a few fruit beers in my time (mostly stouts and sour ales), but it is rare that I taste a fruit beer that I want to try again.

The story behind this brew is that they used to make a beer called Rubaeus, which was brewed with raspberries. That has been replaced with Cerise due to the rising cost of raspberries, and to support the farmers of their home state, since the majority of tart cherries sold in the U.S. are from Michigan.

This beer is 15 IBUs and 6.5% alcohol. The color of the Cerise is candy red, but not translucent. Like a dull Kool-Aid red that stains the lips of little kids. The head is thin and light pink in color.

The aroma is tart cherry. There is a back note of acidity, too.

The flavor? This beer has a liquor sweetness to it. It is almost as if someone cracked open a case of chocolate covered cherries and drained the contents into a glass and then threw away the chocolate. There is tons of cherry flavor and cherry skins. The cherries are supposedly added during five different times during fermentation, and there is isn’t a drop of this beer that isn’t riddled with red fruit.

This is a very well crafted beer. It has to be, because the sweetness of the fruit could have quickly over powered this one and turned it into a mosh pit of sweetness. But this has a backbone of light bitterness that keeps this one from becoming too cloying. I’m sure the multiple fruit additions are the secret behind this.

In the end, this one was hard to finish. It just isn’t my thing, but I might try it again with the right food pairing. It might be amazing with a dark, chocolate cake.

So the Founders lovefest ends here. It had to happen eventually, and I had a feeling this would be the dud for me.

It would be interesting to see Founders sour this one up. Dump with one in oak barrels with some brettanomyces, and I’ll be your Huckleberry.