Monday, March 15, 2010

What's Behind Door Number 1? - Beer Edition

This past weekend a Rare and Vintage Beer Tasting was held by 7 local beer people and brewers. When having a beer tasting it is important to have a group of people that you feel comfortable enough to talk straight about beers.
We had some great old home brews and then began our Commercial tasting that included notably a 1990 and 2001 Thomas Hardy, 1989 Samichlaus Dark and some mystery brown bag beers.
During the tasting the host went to the kitchen and came back with 2 bottles wrapped in a brown paper bags and marked '1' and '2'. No description or style was given just pour it in your glass and lets talk about what we have.
Bag number one comes around and and it pours with a nice head and a amber/caramel colored beer appears. The aroma is a mix of fermented grapes and cheap pipe tobacco. on the first taste it is highly carbonated and engages the entire palate with sweet malts to bready malt to fermented grapes, slight pepper with just a hint of alcohol. With each drink another taste appears, a very nice complex palate challenging beer.
Beer two comes around and pours dark brown/slightly reddish with a nice tan head. The aroma is dried fruit and sweet tobacco and leather, stronger than beer one. The taste is similar to the aroma, brown sugar, dark fruits with a mild clove and a little bit of sweet alcohol. Goes front to back but does not engage the entire palate like beer one. Very good beer but I go back for seconds on bottle number one. More discussion goes on around the table and seems we all in agreeing that beer one is very complex and are impressed with the way the beer does bring flavors to every part of the tongue and while we all have nothing bad to say about beer two there just was more to say about beer one.

Well the host is smiling from ear to ear and unveils the beer number one it is a blank Trappist bottle, and presents a blue cap. Beer number one is Westvleteren 8 a Dubbel style ale brewed by Brouwerij Westvleteren in the Belgian municipality of Westvleteren. We all comment on how good that beer was and someone mentions that 'Those Beer Rating Sites' rank this beer to be somewhere in the low 20's of their rankings of the best beers in the world. We all agree it is a very good beer. Beer two was unveiled and it was again a blank Trappist bottle with a raised collar and a yellow cap was produced. We all begin to laugh. Beer two is none other than Westvleteren 12, a Trappist Quadrupel(Quad)style, that is also brewed by Brouwerij Westvleteren, that is believed to be the best beer in the world. We all continue to discuss both beers and agreed that we enjoyed the 8 more than the 12. We also had Brooklyn's Black Ops and Goose Island Bourbon County that night and Black Ops got dogged because it was not as good as Bourbon County. It was a tough crowd. The 'Brown Bag Beers' are a lot of fun to get honest reactions for beers that normally would be given unfair peer pressure to enjoy. we also tore up another beer that was presented in bag I thought is was an 'under attenuated-syrup-y mess'. It turned out to be Dogfish Head's Olde School (not a)Barleywine. We still had 5-6 leftover beers we did not get to and we had a great time telling jokes and telling stories that we are going to plan another tasting soon.

This where we talk about what makes a beer world class, that tastes are subjective and how rarity adds to mystique and people believing that a beer is THE beer because he and 100 other people were lucky enough to taste a beer that some of us will never have. As I write this Westvleteren 12 is number two on 'A Beer Rating Site' behind Three Floyds Oak Aged Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout that a whopping 32 'Beer Aficionados' have rated, and number one on another.
I'm not here to club Beer rating sites or the ranking of Top beers, if that is your thing, but the playing field is not level with availability, vintages, p(b)eer pressure and long traveled/mishandled beers. I live in Maryland and our distribution sucks it is getting better, but it still sucks. The Top 10 beers on most of 'the lists' are from breweries in Belgium, Sweden, The US is represented by Russian River, Three Floyds, Bells, and Surly, which we get none of. In Maryland we may get 2-3 of these beers that are in the top 50 on these lists. So how do we hear about these beers? Word of mouth, Beer Rating Sites and the breweries themselves. Folks collect these beers like baseball cards complete with trading with their friends for other beers they have been told are great. A couple of the guys that were at the tasting go with me to the BeerAdvocate EBF in Boston for the last 4 years, so we do get our share of beers that are hard to find/non-existent in this area but very rarely do these beers live up to the hype.

The Wrap Up: Wrap it up 'B'!
Drinking beer is a social practice with friends and soon to be friends. When you lose sight of what makes drinking a beer, any beer, enjoyable(Laughing, catching up, telling bad jokes, offending people and just being obnoxious), then it becomes an anti-social game of using a thesaurus to find new descriptive words for your next Beer Rating. One of the sites uses the slogan 'Respect Beer', I think people need to respect that we do not all have the same palates, likes or dislikes and as a beer drinker you need to be honest with your yourself...the best Rauchbier in the world is still a Rauchbier. Opinions are like belly buttons some are 'innies' and some are gross and stick out.

What it comes down to is you like the beer you like, just don’t try to get me buy into rating beers online and collecting the latest over hyped, hard to find beers because my taste in beer may suck, but it’s mine not yours...and yours blows big time.

Complete Beer Tasting Run Down:
1991 Anchor Christmas
1990 Thomas Hardy
2004 Thomas Hardy
1989 Russian Imperial Stout from a Baltic brewery whose name was in Russian.
Birrificio del Ducato Krampus 2008
Brouwerij De Hemel Nieuw Ligot Grand Cru 2005 (barleywine)
1989 Samichlaus Dark
Westvleteren 8
Westvleteren 12
Dogfish Head Old School Barleywine
Malheur 12
Unibroue 15
Unibroue 16
George Gale & Co. Ltd. Christmas Ale 2002
Weyerbacher Quad
Stillwater Artisanal Ales Stateside Saison
Brooklyn Black Ops Stout
Goose Island Bourbon County Stout 2009
De Molen Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout
Rogue Santa's Private Reserve
Brew Dog Hardcore IPA
2005 Dogfish Head Raison D'Extra
2006 Dogfish Head Worldwide Stout


  1. I absolutely hate our distribution system, seriously how do we not get Bells (when PA and DC/VA get it)? I have been lucky enough to have a brother that lives (actually lived) in Ann Arbor, MI and could supply me with great michigan beers, but still not all that I could want.

    But I also feel that is what makes trips so much fun. You get to see and taste beers that you cannot otherwise get.

  2. I could not agree more. I do not want maryland to be able to get every beer under the sun. I like traveling and drinking local. I remember when we first got Stone in state and I know I have not bought any Stone in a tear or more. Bells and Two Hearted have made going out of state worth while.

  3. Great article House. We need to arrange another tasting before the year is up.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.