I don’t normally write beer reviews, but I felt I had to give a short write up to two fancy American beers that I pulled from my stash the other day. I finally got Peter, my American beer-mule over for dinner the other night which meant that I got to open some of the large bottles he has been bringing me home from America this last while. I felt that with some of the fancier elements of my stash (such as these), I couldn’t really go and quaff them on my own, but how I wanted to!
The first up was a brewery that I had heard of, but never encountered, The Lost Abbey from San Marcos, California. These are supposed to be Belgian inspired beers, and the bottle is a classic large Belgian beer bottle, with a cork. The beer, which is an 11% imperial stout co-opts the story of Eve’s temptation by the snake, and buoyed by the downfall of that pair, the snake goes on to tempt the rest of humanity with Serpent’s Stout.
That is all very well, but the thing that struck me before I even opened the bottle was how amateurish the whole thing was. The labels look like they’re printed at home on an inkjet, they’re lacking that professional sharpness, and there are typo’s on the back, in the first line no less.
From the beginning of time, it was so decreed, “From the this Tree of Knowledge, you shall not eat this fruit.”
It’s a small thing, but basically I have made better labels myself. It just ends up looking amateur. No matter, on to the beer! As you would expect, it poured black as the satanic serpent himself, with a nice tan head, that lasted long enough but not longer than half a glass. What struck me when I tasted it it was that there must be a lot of black malt, and I was immediately put in mind of our very own Diogenes, so I cracked open a bottle for comparison. It hit me then that this beer was too carbonated, and it took away from the flavour. Diogenes was perhaps undercarbonated, but this was off the wrong end. However perhaps they were going for the Belgian feel, their strong beers are highly carbonated. However there was nothing else Belgian here, this was a straight, Roasty, Blackmalt Imperial Stout, the yeast was straight. Comparing this to Diogenes really showed me what the whiskey barrel did, Serpent reminded me of what Diogenes was like before the Barrel. It was a very enjoyable and well made Imperial Stout however, quibbles about the image aside.
My second conquest was another brewery I had heard of on the Hop-bine, Cigar City Brewing, from Tampa, home of the Buccaneers that Manchester Utd. fans hear so much about. It is part of their “Humidor Series”, which finds their standard beer aged on cedar wood, the traditional cigar case, or humidor wood. Each year they do a different one, and this one was their IPA, normally available as Jai Alai IPA. It was a beautiful specimen, it poured crystal clear, and a lovely amber with lovely light ruby tones. I could have looked at it all day if I had not smelled it. Amarillo late hops I am guessing, and dry hopped with Simcoe I am almost sure, by smell. The first sip got me with a lovely toffee sweetness, stronger than I have encountered before, but the signature of many american IPAs, and that lovely toffee caramel balances the big hops very well. Overall, this beer was heavier on late hops than bittering, and so the balance between the caramel and the orangey hops left quite a sweet taste. I got a little bit of the peppery spice you would associate with cedar, but not much. The only other cedar aged beer I have had was an Ale from Hitachino Nest Beer from Japan, and it was much more prominent there. And in case you’re wondering, this label was very professional. Sipping this made me keen to emulate it, and I have never achieved that toffee/caramel taste so strong in a brew. I may try to get it by using a technique whereby you boil a couple of litres of wort really hard in a pan, so it reduces and caramelises. Both of these beers, but especially the Cigar City beer left me wishing we got more American beer here than we do, but at least it seems to be steadily increasing.