I will begin this post with a confession: I had intended to go back to the fest on Sunday and didn't make it. That means no video and a smallish sampling of beers for review. By my notes, I tried 13 on Friday, which amounts to a little more than 10% of the total available, and I had saved at least a half dozen in my mind to try on Sunday. So obviously, what follows is a wee smattering of all the beers on offer.
That disclaimer out of the way, here are those I did try, with my notes.
Haand Bryggeri Dark Force - A stout in the American style--thick and chalky, robust. Not intensely nuanced, but roasty and nice. [B-]
iQhilika African Birds Eye Chili Mead - Wild sensation. The base drink is a standard dry mead. As you swirl it around your mouth, you get almost none of the chili--it's just a pleasant, sweetish note. But then as the liquid starts going down the hatch, it really heats up, and the finish is all pepper. [B+]
Coniston Bluebird Bitter - Wonderful recipe, taking advantage of such few ingredients (the guide says it's a 3.5% ale). Creamy palate, mild biscuity sweetness, earthy hopping. Yeast has a characteristically English quality. [A]
De Proef Saison Imperiale - Saisons are one of the hardest styles to brew, and De Proef proves the point, delivering a treacly ale that seems more tripel than farmhouse. Creamy and fruity rather than crisp and dry. [C]
Bink Bloesem - Another abbey-style ale but without complexity. Flat palate, musty, and thin, despite the alcohol. A dud. [C-]
Pinkus Altbier - Switching gears to a nice, subtle beer. Very crisp and dry, but somehow richer than the sum of the parts would indicate. An excellent warm-weather beer. [B]
Oudbeitje - [notes as written, with added comments to follow] "Tart but not complex. Okay, as I drink it, it is--but more subtly than I first appreciated. Smoky notes, some mustiness. Very earthy. Strawberry nearly absent, but like old strawberries, decomposing almost. Sally arrives, notes 'Smells like compost!'" This beer delighted no one but me, and it did delight me, more and more as I drank it. Unlike anything I've tried--so organic tasting that it was one step beyond. But I like it out there in the ultrafunky Belgian wilderness. [A]
Rodenbach Grand Cru - People were giving me such a hard time about the Oudbeitje that I decided to get a Rodenbach to show that I knew good beer. This beer was bought out by Palm in 1998, and everyone has feared the worst. Grand Cru is aged in great oak tuns at the brewery which are decades old and contribute the unique character to the beer--perhaps my favorite in the world. Palm's intention to "modernize" the brewery had caused panic. When the brewery reintroduced Grand Cru a year ago, I have to admit I was too scared to try it. But I plucked up my courage and went for a pour. The result? Magnificent. If you've never had a Sour Flanders Red, it's difficult to describe the experience. They are sweet and sour simultaneously, but deep and resonant of palate. In my notes, I wrote "just the same." Go buy a bottle if you haven't tried it before. [A]
Monchshof Schwartzbier - Faintly chocolaty, wet, not particularly distinctive. I would like it drier, and with a crisper malt palate. Not so hot. [C]
Spezial Rauchbier - This was actually Sally's beer, and she was nonplussed. I, however, thought it was quite nice. Perfumed with a very light, subtle smokiness. Roasty and malt-forward, with smoke lingering at the edge of perception, but a light, crisp, summery beer. Strikes me as a great example of German brewing. This beer is the oldest rauchbier still made (1536), in Bamberg, where the style was born. [B+]
Haand Bryggeri Norwegian Wood - Billed as "moonshine," this is actually a traditional brewing style from Norway, with a recipe dating back to a time when all the beer was essentially homebrew. Malt is kilned by fire, and juniper berries are used in place of hops as seasoning. I didn't know this at the time, but my notes bear out the recipe: "Smoky like a rauch, slightly viscous in a way that suggests other grains might be used in the mash. Sweet, hearty brown ale." If you ever see a bottle, buy it for the experience. [B]
HW Lees Harvest Legavulin - I somehow missed that this beer, at 11.5% alcohol, only had 25 IBUs. Hoy! It was like a beer reduction, syrupy sweet and undrinkable. Sadly, none of the Scotch aging came through, except--possibly--in the nose. Or maybe I was just trying to give it some credit. [D-]
De Ranke Kriek - I actually went with four bucks over to the ticket counter for the Lees Harvest debacle, and realized I couldn't go out on such a beer. So back I went to buy three more tickets for an always-reliable kriek. This isn't my favorite example, but it is intense. The sourness shoots it into some kind of physics-bending dryness. The mouth puckers involuntarily. Cherry is mild, and there's a cellary-musty quality which inclines me to think it's been aged a bit. I picked up a hint of salt, which was unexpected but not altogether unwelcome. [B]
Thems the notes. Sorry there aren't more. Ah well, there's always next year!
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