It has become something of a tradition – once a year CK organizes a tasting at his home, for a small number of “invitees ”. Oh yes, “CK”, that is the CK as in “SloCK”, a beer you can find under De Graal. With a long history of serving at GBBF together, as well as judging a bit around the globe in tandem, I am usually one of the happy few such invitees.
Now – about every other guy on this site, participates in a couple of tastings (with or without rating purposes) a year. So, in itself, it isn’t very interesting that yours truly also figured at one last weekend. However, there is one good reason I ought to talk about it to you, and no, it hasn’t anything to do with the number or the quality of the beers. The last ranged from middling to excellent, and the number was, to all the Dr. Bill fans, not to mention our Danish crew, very modest.
If one would assemble a “Newbie FAQ” page for raters and/or tasters, one inevitable FAQ would be: “ In what order do I bring forward the selected beers?” And truly, that is not a totally straightforward pattern. There is the obvious ABV, but mouthfeel and final gravity also make for a point – as with darker beers, usually appearing stronger and fuller than pale beers. And lastly, there’s the power of very hopped, spiced beers – or the overpowering force emanating from smoked malts, Brettanomyces or lactic acid.
Here is why I give you this write-up: CK had managed a near-perfect structuring of the tasting. It began with the “starter” beers: a trio of Dutch beers (Wit, Dubbel and StormBock) from Texelse. These were meant, as CK expressed it, for entertaining the early arrivals until the group proved complete. Now neither the Dubbel nor the Bock could be called exemplary for chapters “weak & light”, but yet they functioned well.
They came in small bottles (as opposed to most of the New World entries, later) and all were, flavourwise, in the neutral-to-sweet segment: a taste that is easily washed away by more characterful offerings. CK had the temerity to start off the real tasting with sour, lambic-type beers, next. Usually, that is lethal to other beers to follow. But as you’ll see, he rounded that cliff admirably.
The beers in question were a trio from Iron Hill: Lambic, Kr”ei”k, and Framboise de Hill . (PS: the spelling of the cherry beer earned some remarks, but others soon pointed out that the English way of pronouncing a word as “ Keith ”, perfectly resembles the sound in the Dutch word “ Kriek ”. One Framboise can hide a next one. If “ Framboise Triple ” misses all the strong bugs from the sour ales, it has 2½ % ABV extra to offer. Mind you, when the brewery calls itself Les Frères Houblon, one is entitled to wonder what those brothers think hops might well be. There were none detectable, anyway. And then, the label so proudly spoke of the quality of the fruit added… Too bad!
CK figured that to set off extra sour, some extra bitter might do the trick. (PPS: we were, of course, amply provided with still water and dry bread!). So he went for another Quebec souvenir: Boutefeu Extra Amère , ( amer being French for bitter) from Microbrasserie du Lac Saint-Jean. This one collapsed a bit, as the bitterness was a strange one, coming as an afterthought, the beer oxidized to hell. All the better feared the American “ Olde Richmond Batch Eleven” – an IPA, even with a little aging, will stand up to many’s the powerful beer.
After an IPA, an IIPA, of course: “ Odyssey” from Sly Fox, and to top it, DFH 90 minutes (apparently in some weird variation, but I miss the specs in my notes). There and then, CK stayed chez Dogfish Head, opting for the rare “ Pangaea ”. Now, if there’s none such bitterness available in the Pangaea, this is adequately compensated by the outspoken spiciness, provided by the ginger.
To round off this chapter, CK offered Firestone Walkers’ impressive 11th Anniversary Ale. By general acclaim, this truly superbly balanced beer made for the winner of the day, enjoying this honour jointly with Iron Hill’s “Kriek”. At 11% ABV, it might be hard to see anything else fit to follow after that – unless CK would have plundered his bank account for a Utopias . He didn’t need to, as there was another solution available. “ Baltic Thunder ”, a heavy porter from Victory Brewing has maybe only 8.5% ABV, but the fullness, and roasted notes of this type of beer allow for a full “reset” of the tasting buds. And after a porter, what else but a stout? “ Dragonslayer ” from Middle Ages of Syracuse. Interesting, but in this style, there’s undoubtedly better.
CK concluded this very exciting afternoon with a +/- experimental version of “ Gros Mollet ”, another product of the du Lac Saint-Jean microbrewery. Habitually at 7.8% ABV, this sample figured a full 10% ABV! (Even if we concluded there was reasonable doubt as to the claimed strength, but OK…). So – certainly not a textbook sequence – but one that worked very well. If you plan a varied tasting, you might pick up a hint or two, here, I hope.