Thursday, December 30, 2010

Beer Quest (the conclusion, part 2): Bell's Expedition Stout

So this beer quest nonsense has been going on for nearly a month and I am failing miserably.  Shit is getting desperate.  Yes, drive 45 minutes to Bethlehem for a six pack desperate.  Actually, I was already headed that direction so it was only 10 minutes out of my way.  The place, Abe's, is pretty cool.  Lots of choices.  The guy was whistling and singing Christmas carols the whole time I was there so that prompted thoughts of the movie Gremlins and horrific chimney accidents.  When I asked if they had Bell’s Expedition Stout, the guy basically walked around the store with me and pointed out all the other Bell’s products they had.  Helpful?  Yes.  A picture perfect representation of the failure of this Beer Quest?  Yes, couldn’t have scripted it any better.  Mildly irritating?  An understatement.  Did they have Expedition Stout?  You’re a dick for asking.

Dear Beer Quest:  you suck, I quit.

Instead I got a bomber (beer geek talk for large bottle, like 25 oz. maybe a little more or less) of Rogue Ale’s Double Mocha Porter and Avery Brewing’s Dugana IPA.  The Double Mocha Porter I wrote about before and this bomber just reaffirmed that it is delicious and I love it.  The Dugana IPA I had never had before and it was honestly one of the best Double IPA’s I‘ve ever had.  Nice and hoppy with very clean, dry, and distinct flavors of citrus and pine that were well balanced.  Not a whole lot of sweetness to hide the hops like in Weyerbacher’s Double Simcoe IPA (another favorite of mine) but also not overbearingly hoppy like some double IPA’s I’ve had.  I will be drinking this again - it was awesome.

Now, fast forward to Christmas Eve.  I spent it with Wife’s side of the family and our tradition the past few years has been to pick names for a gift exchange.  They call it “Pollyanna”.  Unfortunately, this year when we picked names I was a bit drunk on the Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale and was unable to commit to memory who’s name I picked.  And I just so happened to have misplaced the slip of paper with said name written on it.  I won’t go into detail about how I rectified this mishap, but other than the family pictures that we had to take wearing red scarves, things worked out well in the end. 

During the gift exchange, my “Pollyanna” was revealed to be Wife’s Sister.  Wife’s Sister left the room, I think she went outside, and returned with two cold, heavy gift bags.  As I opened one bag I saw a six pack of Green Flash’s Hop Head Red and it was at this moment I realized that perhaps I had quit the beer quest prematurely.  I quickly moved on to bag number two and there it was - a mix and match six pack with 2 Expedition Stouts, 2 Celebration Ales, and 2 Racer 5 IPA’s.  A Christmas miracle - my beer quest was complete.  Thank You, Wife’s Sister.

Obviously, I poured myself a glass.  I was worried that no beer could live up to all the hype I have put into this so I tried to clear my mind and treat it like just another beer.  It poured out of the bottle like an overdue oil change and smelled like the movie Labyrinth, starring David Bowie.  And it was pretty darn good.  Coffee, chocolate, molasses, and hints of fruit blended all together in a beer that went down real smooth, tasting a lot like the song “Oh, You Pretty Things.”  And just like the chorus of that rump shaker, Bell’s Expedition Stout was worth the wait. 

And then things got weird…

Wife and I got home around midnight, so technically it was Christmas morning, to find, oddly enough, two empty bottles of Expedition Stout on our kitchen counter.  I had just woken up from an hour long nap in the car so I had very little understanding of what was happening around me.  I looked in the fridge to see if there were more Expedition Stouts but I saw nothing.  I asked Wife what was happening.  Apparently, Wife’s Friend came over to let out our dog while we were gone and brought two Expedition Stouts and drank them and left them as a monument to my wretched inability to accomplish anything.

Luckily, just as I was about to completely lose my shit, take off my glasses, and smash those two empties together and ram the splintered shards of bottle necks into my sleep boogered eyes, I came out of my nap fog and remembered that I had completed my Beer Quest just a few hours ago and that I had one more bottle of Expedition Stout to drink at my leisure.  So whatever, I thought, a dick move by Wife’s Friend, but I admired it for the way it went for the jugular of my soul on Christmas morning.  No holds barred, steel cage, ladder match, and I liked it.

It wasn’t until I was putting away the beer from Wife’s Sister that I noticed tucked way in the back of the fridge was a six pack of Expedition Stout along with another mix and match six pack that included Bell’s Two Hearted, something from Flying Dog, and some Acme IPA by North Coast Brewing.  Another Christmas miracle! 

And wait, there is more: my younger brother Joe bought me a Bell’s variety case!  Christmas miracle number 3!  I went through the six pack of Bell’s Pale Ale before Christmas was over because it was that good.  Nothing crazy hoppy or imperial or Belgian, it was just a good drinking beer that tasted great - like a fancy Rolling Rock that tasted more like beer than strange water.  This may be my new go to beer whenever I plan on putting in a solid shift of drinking.  It will definitely be the next case I buy. 

Well, obviously I had a very Merry Christmas and I hope you did too.  I could get all sappy here about how all the gifts I got really meant a lot and how I feel like I have some of the best family and friends anyone could ever have and how spending time with them was the best gift of all but it would probably come off as sarcasm or pussy-footed nonsense, so I won’t.  If you want sappy bullshit click here.

Quest Complete. No One Cares. (QCNOC)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Beer Quest (the conclusion, part 1): Bell's Expedition Stout

December 18th has come and gone.  Yes, I went to Union Jack’s for the 12 Bell’s of Christmas, as I mentioned here.  And yes, the whole purpose of going to this event was to complete my epic beer quest for Bell’s Expedition Stout.  And yes, I threw the menu off the table and buried my head in my hands when the waitress informed me that Expedition Stout was the one keg that they weren’t able to get.  And yes, a very large and heavy Acme safe fell on Wife’s head right after she admonished me with the words “I told you, you should have called.”  And yes, I morphed into Randy Quaid and immediately came up with several conspiracy theories to help me cope with the horrible direction my career, I mean my life, has gone. 

Number 1:  The people at Bell’s read my blog and it filled them with hate so they have been using all their power in the craft beer world to keep this beer as far from my lips as humanly possible.

Number 2:  The people at Union Jack’s read my blog and it filled them with hate so they lied to my face and said they didn’t have a beer that they actually had.  This theory also  explains all the laughing and good times happening around me.

Number 3:  I am a government cyborg in training and this is just a test to see how I handle adversity. 

Number 4:  I am a civilian cyborg suffering from the cyborg equivalent of a venereal disease - half syphilis and half computer virus - and Expedition Stout and this beer quest are merely my way of coping with my ever-loosening grip on sanity.

So they didn’t have it.  I should have known.  Earlier in the week, a Tuesday, I went to the Tap n’ Table under the premise (it was posted on their bullshit Facebook page) that they were tapping Nebraska Brewing Company’s Hop God.  When I got there - no Hop God - just a horribly disappointing meal that I finished with a Southern Tier Oat, an imperial stout made with oatmeal (obviously) that I just didn’t care for.  The sweetness from the oatmeal was just too much, at least I think that was what the strange flavor was from.  Maybe someone with more experience in the oatmeal brew realm could leave a fucking comment so that I might gain some insight.  Either way, whether it was from oatmeal or goat nuts it made me grimace in the same way the Lancaster Milk Stout did (such an unsettling foreign sweetness) and I didn’t even finish it.  Later I found out that they didn’t tap the Hop God until that Friday.  Dickbags.

Anyway, the 12 Bell’s of Christmas at Union Jacks did have some other wonderful brews from Bell’s - my favorite being the Batch 9000 (12.5% ABV).  This was awesome.  Dark like a stout with some real nice roasty tastes to it.  It smelled like a roasted black licorice caramel coffee, if such a thing existed.  I don’t like black licorice but the roasty-ness of it made it smell very appealing.  The taste was similar to the smell, minus the coffee, and finished with the fruity heat of a wine.  This beer made me forget all about my disappointment.

I also tried the Batch 10,000 (9.2% ABV), which is the last of the Batch series from Bell’s.  The description of this beer on the Bell’s Website makes it sound like a hodge-podge of whatever ingredients were laying around and then thrown together - in an artful and deliberate way of course.  And that’s what this beer tasted like.  You could pick out different things in the flavor and feel that reminded you of other beers you’ve had.  It had a nice brown color and what seemed like an easy-drinking feel to it compared to the 9000.  In retrospect, it may have been better to have the 10,000 first and then the 9000 (even though that makes less sense than the movie title “Back to the Future”); I think I would have appreciated it more.  Definitely worth trying if you see it anywhere. 

Basically, everything I tried that evening was pretty dang good, with the exception of the porter - just kind of watery and bland - but even that I would give another try because it is Bell’s and Bell’s makes really good beer.  Smoke that, pipe face.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Beer Quest (day 3): Bell's Expedition Stout

(Click here for Day 1 or here for Day 2 of the Bell's Expedition Stout Beer Quest)

So far this beer quest (which all started with this review) has taught me one thing: the universe despises me.  Expedition Stout appears to be everywhere except where I go.  If the place is more than 30 minutes from me, it seems they have it.  Shangy’s, my favorite beer distributor, let me know via Facebook that they have it - but do I want to drive 30 minutes to buy a case of a beer I’ve never tasted?  I’m not that desperate yet.  Also, Abe’s, a six pack store in Bethlehem, has the Expedition Stout listed on their website.  But now we’re talking a 45 minute drive for a six pack.  I hate myself, but not that much, not yet.

Even Wife has noticed how this sinking ship of a beer quest has turned the twinkle in my eye to more of a twankle and a twitch.  In my infinite sadness, I convinced Wife that a dinner out at Union Jack’s Inn on the Manatawny would help raise my spirits.  I love this place: decent food, amazing bottled beer menu, good stuff always on tap, a staff with great beer knowledge, and for the summer months there is awesome outdoor seating.  The fact that Wife agreed to go without me begging leads me to believe that perhaps the stars are aligning and tonight may just be the night that I put this little beer quest to bed.

But the universe wants me miserable and unhappy.  So of course they don’t have Bell’s Expedition Stout on tap this night.  But a man-child in an elf hat happily informs me that they will have it on tap on Saturday, December 18th.  Well that’s just great, keep taunting me world.  I thought of clapping my hands, rubbing them together quickly and repeatedly and then reiki-ing that elf to death.  At least now I know I can expect some sort of Final Destination horrible accident to happen to me on December 17th.  Mental note: sleep in on the 17th and avoid hanging self in the shower like an idiot.

Buddy the Elf goes on to suggest several alternatives for me and eventually I agree to a New Holland’s Dragon’s Milk because I vaguely remember reading a blog post where the author said this was one of his favorite beers.  I like bold statements so I will give it a shot.  The Dragon’s Milk (10% ABV)  is an oak-aged stout that poured black, had a little tan head and smelled like booze.  Hardly carbonated, I liked some of the flavors that the first sip started with: some chocolate, vanilla, and roasted coffee.  However, it finished with a bourbon taste and like I’ve said before, I am not a fan of the taste of bourbon.  For this reason, Wife says my Roman Emperor name would be Vaginitus.  Whatever, I drank it but grimaced a bit at the end of each gulp.   After a brief chat with  Buddy it is confirmed that any oak-aged ale is going to come with those same hints of bourbon, so I can pretty much cross those off the list.  Good to know.  Lesson learned.

Unable to decide what to drink next, I followed my elf hat wearing waiter’s advice and got a few 5 ounce samples: Victory’s Yakima Glory, Rogue’s Double Mocha Porter, and some sour that I can’t remember the name of unfortunately.

Victory’s Yakima Glory (formerly Yakima Twilight) has a great description (from the Victory website):

The tenacious grip of big, juicy hop aroma and character slides smoothly into rich, dark malts. This heavyweight battle between fresh, Yakima Valley hops and dark, roasted malts is resolved harmoniously as the flavors merge to deliver complex satisfaction with a warming edge.  Bask in the "glory" of the bright and brassy hops!

Who wouldn’t want to drink that?  That might be the best description I’ve ever read.  Unfortunately, the brew doesn’t deliver.  There was a nice hoppiness up front, a good aroma with a mild taste but then not much else.  No heavyweight battle here.  This beer finished pretty watery and I got not warming edge.  Maybe my palate isn’t complex enough to pick up on some of the subtler notes of the malts but according to the description, I wasn’t expecting subtle.  But this beer might be nice for a hearty night of drinking with some buddies as it goes down real easy and packs a 8.7% ABV.

The Rogue Double Mocha Porter ( 8.2% ABV) was really good and the 5 oz disappeared quickly.  I would drink this again in a heart beat but I think it is pretty limited so I may not get the chance.  This has a pretty mild finish - a dry cocoa kind of bitterness that you might expect - but I almost want more of a bite at the end, almost like your expecting something more and it is not quite there.  Still delicious though. 

My last 5 ounce sample was the sour (Buddy the elf recommended it be last to minimize the impact on my palette for the other two samples).  Sours are beers that are, well, sour - like a cross between beer and candy and cheap wine and fruit that makes your lips pucker.  Not something I would recommend to a new craft beer drinker right out of the gate but something that, now that I've finally had one, I think everyone should try.  I wish I could remember which brewery it was.  I believe it was a mash up between an American microbrewer and a Belgium brewer but I could also be making that up.  I still had not eaten at this point and I was drinking rather quickly with no breaks or water so things were starting to get a little silly.  I really liked this sour.  It reminded me of a more sour, more tart, more fruity tasting Troeg’s Mad Elf - which, by the way, is an amazing holiday beer that everyone should try.  The 5 ounce sample was gone in around 30 seconds.  I thought about ordering another but wasn’t sure if I could handle a whole glass of the sour.  I also thought about another Rogue Double Mocha Porter but was afraid that the sour had messed with my palate and that I wouldn’t appreciate it as much as I did the first time.  So, I asked Buddy the elf to get me something good and hoppy to burn the sour off my tongue.

He brought me a draft of Green Flash’s Imperial IPA (9.4% ABV).  This was super-hoppy like an imperial IPA should be - as imperial apparently means very hoppy.  Very bitter, perhaps a little too bitter, with out much sweetness so it helped me forget the sour rather quickly.  I liked it but it didn’t blow me away.  I would definitely give it another try because I don’t remember a whole lot about it.  Maybe it wasn’t that memorable or maybe I was further on my way than I care to admit.  Based on this night and this “Evolution of the Beer Geek” at Beer and Whiskey Brothers, I think I have achieved Craftus Erectus (that just sounds perverse and I want to delete that sentence but I won’t).

Regardless, I still need the try this Bell’s Expedition Stout.  So after another unsuccessful stop at Wegman’s, I called Union Jack’s and made a reservation for the evening of December 18th for their 12 Bell’s of Christmas event.  All Bell’s brews on tap including the Expedition Stout.  With my luck, that keg will probably be kicked before I get there. 

Or a plate glass window will fall on my head from absurd heights.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Beer Quest (day two): Bell's Expedition Stout

It’s Day 2 of my beer quest for Bell’s Expedition Stout and I feel the next logical step is to go Wegman’s - a high end grocery store/food court that also sells six packs of beer, and mostly micro-brews at that. I know they sell the Bell’s, so maybe I have a chance. I entered the beer area and slowly scanned the selection. I saw Bell’s Two Hearted, Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout, Bell’s Pale Ale, but very much like how the magic mirror on Romper Room saw everybody but me, I was seeing every Bell’s beer except The Expedition Stout. I walked around and around hoping I missed it, but like a potential classic rusting away in tall grass or boat resting on its side 4 miles inland, shit was clearly not going the way I hoped it would.

So instead I put together a little variety six pack/potential beer quest suicide note. I threw in two Troeg’s Java Head Stouts, a Dogfish Head Chicory Stout, and 3 Rogue Santa’s Private Reserve and headed home depressed, dejected, and slightly gassy.

The Troeg’s Java Head Stout (7.5% ABV) went down easy. Not a whole lot to it. Low carbonation, nice coffee taste but not much else. It had little bit a of a kick at the end like a birch beer. I would drink it again but it would not be at the top of my list for a Stout choice, but not at the bottom either. Definitely worth trying if you like coffee - as this is pretty much a beer that tastes like coffee. And the label is pretty great.

The Dogfish Head Chicory Stout (5.2% ABV) was a little better. This one had more of a malt back bone to it, which I liked. Also, this had strong hints of coffee and a nice roastiness to it with some sweetness (chocolate!). However, the aroma was not that pleasing. As I put my nose in the glass to drink it, it smelled like something my dog had been laying on all day. But I easily got passed that and enjoyed it quite a bit.

The next night I went for the Rogue’s Santa’s Private Reserve (6% ABV) and it was awesome. This hoppy red ale drank like a mellow IPA with a nice combo of malt and spice to finish the way a holiday beer should. I plan on buying more of this. The three I had went down way to quickly and I wanted more. For those of you that have had Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale, this is like a milder version. A little brother or younger cousin to maybe put it in perspective. I love them both.

But the quest must go on. I must find me some Bell’s Expedition Stout…