Imbibe Hour


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Understanding what you like, not all well aged and crafted works all the time

In my times imbibing it has been important to know what you like and should pursue, and for the most part what items just don't work for you.  With that being said it is probably a good time at this point in my writing as you are gazing at a logo near to my left, that I should mention I don't gravitate towards scotch whisky to imbibie on.

Sure, if you saw my long ago posting of the Johnnie Walker event, it was a good romp and one I enjoyed.  Regardless, I don't seek out scotch often, I appreciate it for what it is, but an opportunity arose and when it comes to good drink I am always up for new experiences.  Cedar Crossing Tavern in nearby Takoma Park Maryland was offering a tasting at their bar for anyone wanting to try a 27 year old Highland Park Scotch that was aged and bottled for a private party.  I never would have bothered with this, except the suggestion came from my wife, and if there is any surprise that gets to me more than anything, it is when my wife wants me to go out drinking with her.  Such invitations come around the frequency of the word "never" or "if at all".

Ah you my good woman of fine deed, I shall take you upon your offer of this! I said without hesitation.  We made our plans and set to try this at the bar for a taste, and if we so desired to buy a bottle if we wanted.

I went in with some sort of anticipation, but the mood turned a little sour as the rain kept coming in.  It seemed like it never stopped and the rolling gray for the past two weeks seemed to be a good presence that wouldn't give up.  I sat at the bar, I was ready to take pictures, I was ready to make tasting notes.  But somewhere in the back of my mind I just couldn't get motivated.  I would have perhaps liked to take a picture for your perspective, but honestly you weren't missing anything in that.  What was really missing was desire, instead of just the pursuit of something aged, highly cultivated and crafted, and perhaps really obscure.

As my wife arrived we ordered.  The bartender pulled out two small Cognac snifters not unlike the ones I used to use.  I say "use to" here because I have discovered what a Glencairn glass really does to a good whisk(e)y.  In my thoughts I was thinking I should have brought mine, but going to a simple establishment as this, which had some happy hour folks in, and lots of swinging conversation, it did not make a good environment for tasting, or perhaps the rude stares I might get from patrons wondering, who does this guy think he is??  I sat my pen down, and just went for the tasting and figured I could go from memory later, and in hindsight it was the right decision.

In the end, long story short, I was put forth with a very aged scotch that felt wet.  The nose probably couldn't get too descriptive mostly to the probably too tapered cognac glass highlighting the alcohol, but there was the typical peat and lots of wood, some faint cigar tobacco managed to come out.  The palate felt thin, there was a strange sense of caramel not unlike a good bourbon but then the grass hit, and suddenly the finish lingered and felt like ashes from a cigarette tray.  And it lingered loooooonnnnnggggg.  It was still enjoyable but this did not by any means make me a bigger scotch fan.

I put my glass down, turned to my wife nonchalantly and said, "So what do you think?" since after all this was her idea.  "It's really strong" she sort of grimaced, to which I sort of replied yeah well that might be because it's whisky... go figure.  I kind of took a devilish grin, but she went with the anticipation of getting to try something without spending money on a bottle she may not have cared for.  She has found good drink this way quite often, where as I have plenty of unopened bottles lying around my house to drive her crazy.

In the end, we had our tasting and left.  I walked away sort of ambivalent thinking this didn't make me any more knowledgeable or crave scotch more.  I did not mind Johnnie Walker Blue and Green (my wife is a fan of the green), but I was not getting in on the scotch train ride this time.

I don't know if another scotch tasting is in my midst anytime soon, but it's important to know going in what you enjoy imbibing and what sort of leaves you unimpressed regardless how aged or obscure a drink might be.  I put my glass down thinking about a scotch fan who could have come in with a Glencairn and sat in a corner to really enjoy this in some comfort on a gray night that would warm themselves up.  Sorry to say that person was unfortunately not me.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Wesvleteren arrives a chance to taste beer greatness?

In the times I have spent imbibing, and specificaly drinking beer, there were many great brews that I came across.  Going down the malt and hops road takes you on lots of interesting twists and turns, some places near, some far, and with that come many tales of greatness.  There isn't a day that goes by that I hear someone usually raving about a beer, claiming it to be the greatest thing ever since sliced bread.  Often times the beer is not where I am, it's from a brewery in some other part of country, and/or it has a limited release that is gobbled up with a low production.  In many ways the hype of it increases the desire among many beer fans to want it even more.  The beer is hard to get, and the rarer it is the demand starts increasing.  The stories get bigger, the raves keep continuing.  In the end it's like a snake eating iteslf into a vicious repeating cycle.  The beer in the end, becomes in a sort of way.. a myth of epic proportions, one where it's great tastes seems hard or impossible to believe.  In many ways the beer almost fits the mantra of, it must be good, because it's rare.

There are a few breweries in the world who have beers that fall into this category.  There is one though that every beer fan finds out about and it basicaly seems to fit into a special category that no other brewery can classify.  The brewery is simply known as Sint-Sixtusabdij van Westvleteren in Belgium, or as many refer to as just Westvleteren.  This is a brewery run by trappist monks who have been making their beers since 1838.  They only make three beers currently, each one placed in a very simple brown non descript bottle.  The only way to differentiate each one is by the breweries distinct cap on top containing the brewery's coat of arms.  A green cap is for their blonde ale, blue for a dubbel style refered to as simply "8", and one of their most coveted a yellow capped bottle containing a Belgian quadrupel style known as "12".  The "12" or "Westy 12" as some refer to, has been written about not just by beer fans but also other well known beer writers.  Many have refered to it as "the best beer in the world". 

The fascination with Westvleteren is nothing new having been talked and coveted about for so long.  In many ways the beers take on the great mythical proportions coupled with images of an old monastery monks, sitting around in robes making beer from their secret traditions.  The reality is they are a solid brewery operation, and don't walk around in robes all the time, but take great pride in what they make.  There is one unique issue that makes their beers coveted as well and herein lies the interesting character.  Westvleteren beers are only sold in one place, the brewery itself and a cafe they own in Westvleteren Belgium.  They are not even sold elsewhere in the country of Belgium (well technicaly read more below).  The fact they have been written about as the greatest and also have an idilyc history with extremely limited distribution (the monks will only produce enough beer to support their monastery) makes them very special.

At some point every beer lover wants to have these beers, but how? 

The result is with the demand many of the beers a "gray" market has appeared.  Demand for these beers all over the world, has created opportunities for people to purchase them and resell them, many times for large amounts of money, very much against the monks wishes.  The bottles within the local area aren't that expensive but have often been resold through other distributors for much more in ways that makes you wonder if it's really worth it.  If you live in America like I do, getting the chance to try these beers requires some leg work and also some introspection.  You can either spend the time to actually fly over and visit, or perhaps spend less money by finding them possibly through a distributor who bought some bottles, but is a small bottle to pay online from some distributor you don't know exactly worth it?  The other angle though which most beer fans do though, is trading with other beer fans to get them.

Acquiring these three beers for me was quite an interesting journey.  In many ways there has been criticism on both sides of the debate about Westvleteren beers. One is the obvious side of the monks who express succinctly for their beers to NOT be resold.  The second is the side and criticism of the monks to make more beer to stop the heightened demand and prices thus making them more available and affordable.  It's an interesting debate with no clear winners.

In the end, I've had many trips to Europe, but one right now is not in the cards anytime soon.  Finding another beer fan, we exchanged some goodies and I have now my chance to try all three of these beers. The best thing was sharing appreciation of good beer with someone, instead of just handing over cash to someone who might have alterior motives and could care less about good drink.

Below are my thoughts on all of them first starting with the Blonde Ale.  I had since purchased a chalice to hold these brews to see them in all their glory.

It was a long journey to get to this point in my imbibing life, a road that takes you many places and certainly ones that make it all worth it.  Another road I hope to do someday, is to get back to Belgium not just to have this beer again, but to also return the bottles and say thanks. My imbibing thoughts are posted below. Cheers to you all!

Review of Westvleteren Blonde Ale

Review of Westvleteren "8"

Review of Westvleteren "12"

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Beer that smells like my cat's litter box? Surely you jest!

So I was pursuing my regular beer imbibing frolic, when I had discovered a unique bottle on the shelf deciding on what to purchase next, when a title sprang forth from a rather dull diamond looking label that I could not ignore.  On that label simply stated the words written in phonetic jocular connotation as to not arouse suspicion but  almost made so the brewers could have a good laugh. On that label was titled the words "Katz Pis".

Now right away I knew what this was about and thought it was pretty funny, but also knew that it would be a good opportunity to review it being a beer fan, and also a cat owner.

You see, the label refers to a bottle of cat piss, or more likely the idea that the beer will smell/taste like a litter box of your feline persuasion.  Sometimes I thought for sure there might be a brewer at the place named "Katz" and this is his addition to glory but let's not go there...

The reality is that in the beer world, there are certain hops that will give of an aroma that many people will identify as urine.  Or specifically a strong ammonia that smells like cat piss.  Hence the name of this beer which is a single brewed hop beer of the Nelson Sauvign variety.  The idea of a urine smelling drink is not knew, it's also particular common among some people who get a cat urine scent off of certain wines, particularly in my opinion, certain varieties of German Riesling's and Gewurztraminer and sometimes Sauvignon Blancs.

For me, I own two cats, and even before sharing their spaces I was more than aware of what cat pee smells like.  I can honestly say I have never smelled a wine or a beer that smells like cat piss.

However, I went into trying this beer out hoping to find something interesting.  What I got was something I truly did not expect.  For more, watch the video review below.