Tag Archives: porter

CURRENTLY DRINKING – BIRRA BRAN

Right! I just got back from New York City on Sunday and am in the middle of writing up a wrap-up post on that trip. BUT! I’ve decided to review a beer that I purchased over there at a WONDERFUL place called the Beer Table at Grand Central Station. The store, which accompanies and represents the actual bar they have in Brooklyn, is just…wow. Plenty of beers in all price ranges. I ended up buying three beers – one Oyster Stout from Ireland for $4 and two specialty beers that were…*ahem* more expensive. So this is one of them!

Bran (translated from Welch means Raven)! From Birrificio Montegioco in Italy. The style is an English Porter but, as I found out, a bit unlike any English Porter I’ve had. Interesting note, the bottle was wrapped in a beautifully designed paper and the bottle cap was actually a modified cork. Very interesting. Anyways, on to it.

BIRRA BRAN – Italy – 8.5%ABV

APPEARANCE: Almost Black with slight hints of amber when you put it to light. Almost non-existent head.

AROMA: hint of raisins, cocoa, tobacco, coffee and sliiiiiiiight amount of licorice.

TASTE: Nice vanilla tone off the top. The interesting thing about all the Italian beers I’ve had is that they always have a nice little tartness. It can either be the dominant part or there’s a hint of it, but it’s always there. This is a nice in-between point. A sort of twist in the middle of it that transfers the tastes of the beer from malty and sweet (hints of dried fruits and caramel, actually!) in to the cocoa and coffee notes that finish the taste off at the back of the throat. Not much of an aftertaste. Everything kind of goes away pretty fast.

FINAL VERDICT: So basically, with Porters I’m usually used to Chocolate and Coffee notes being all there is to the beer, but this is…rather nicely balanced. The sweet, fruity notes really make this a refreshing beer on level with a really nice port! Only comment I have is that I wish that there was more of an aftertaste to it, as it kind of goes away quickly.

So that’s it! Stay tuned for my NYC post and, if money is good, I’ll be doing something Ontario Craft Beer Week.

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Lock it in the Basement: Aging Beers

Aging: It’s not just for wines, whiskeys and people who aren’t me.

So I’ve decided to take the next step in my beer appreciation learnings and start doing what I’ve wanted to do ever since I tried some beer that had undergone this process. I’m going to start aging beer. I think my first instance in trying some aged beer was at Dogfish Head’s brewpub, where I had a World Wide Stout that had been aged for one year and…dear LORD, it was amazing. Ever since then I’ve been thinking about it. Last week, when Amsterdam Brewery released Tempest Imperial Stout (a delicious one-off originally brewed last year) I decided to buy a few to be the first test subjects in my beer cellar. Lucky thing I got them too, as all 1400 bottles produced sold out within two days. Also, thank heavens, I was able to get the last Muskoka “Winter Beard” Double Chocolate Cranberry Stout from Muskoka Brewery’s retail store.

But how the hell do I get to aging these things? Well, I’m still reading on the subject, but here’s what I’ve learned so far…

–       The beers have to be stored at a cool 10-20°c in a dark, semi-dry room. A basement, garage or cave will do in a pinch. A closet for apartment dwellers also works.

–       The beers have to be bottle-conditioned, which is to say that there are active yeasts in the bottles allowing the beer to further ferment.

–       Beers heavy in malts like Stouts, Porters, Barley Wines and Belgian Ales are best for aging for long periods of time. This makes sense, since the more malts (sugars) the more of a meal the yeasts have which will allow them to do their thing (eat sugar, poop alcohol).

–       Hoppy beers aren’t that great for aging over long periods of time, as the hops break down after a while and create a kind of skunky, dreadful drink.

–       The higher the alcohol content, the more benefits the beer will have to being aged. The agreed upon rule seems to be “8% ABV or higher”, although many Beglian beers with low ABV percentages have also benefited greatly from aging.

–       If the beer contains Brettanomyces, a Belgian yeast that is usually added near bottling time, you’re able to age it. This yeast does a lot in a few months or years (see Goose Island’s Matilda, which can be aged for five years). Having this yeast isn’t needed, this is just a “if you see a beer with this in it, go for it” kind of tip.

–       While there is some argument on this, it is advised to always store the beer in the upright position rather than on its side. The debate is mainly over how to store beer that has been corked, as laying it on the side will prevent the cork from drying out. Although a way around THAT can be to dip the top of the bottle with wax. You know what, I’ll just leave it to one’s discretion.

The advantage of aging beers? Well, there are certain strong flavours in beers that mellow out over time and bring a rise to flavours you may not have noticed before. In Imperial Stouts, for instance, the alcohol bite goes down along with the heavy coffee overtones and presents a sweeter, almost creamier beer. So it highlights complexities to a beer that you didn’t know were there. That’s a good enough reason for me, at any rate.

Beers can be aged for years and years too. I’ve heard plenty of stories of people opening a bottle of Chimay from 1986  and even a beer that was discovered to have been stored since 1869! Madness? Probably. Worth it? Most definitely.

You can also age beer in things like Oak whiskey barrels to add a wonderful flavour and depth to the beers, but since I’m not Mme. Moneybucks McGee (Of the Southampton McGees), I’m going to discuss bottle aging for now.

Right, so now on to my little project.

It was easy to pick the location (the basement of my cottage in Muskoka). It’s dark, it’s cold and it’s dry, but not dry enough to give me a nosebleed or chapped lips. It also has shelf space, so if a flood happens down there (Give me a break, it IS a cottage. It happens) then I have no fear of water touching my precious bottles. I also have something covering it, so no burglers will sneak in to the house in the middle of the night and find it.

It’s important to label what year your beers are from (see above picture) so you’ll remember. And don’t think you will, because unless you’re some kind of savant or only aging one beer you’ll have at least a bit of difficulty remembering. Just do it that way. To add a fun bit of nostalgia to it, I may also write down a few details of how my life is currently going, so I can look back on it. But hey, do what you want.

So now it’s set up in complete, cold darkness and is FAR AWAY from me. I’ll admit, one of my biggest concerns is the will power it takes to just WAIT. Because now I have some fantastic beers in that room and what’s the harm in just having one? See, this is why I chose the cottage. I go up there about 4-5 times a year now, so the chance of me getting to it is pretty minimal. My other biggest concern is how the room will be in the winter time. If it ends up being too cold, I may have to move them. But I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, eh?

So here’s the score with the beers I have on your right. I have three bottles of this year’s Tempest Imperial Stout, which according to the brewer, can be aged for up to three years. One will be aged for one year, another for two and the final for a third year. The Tempest wrapped in a white top has already been aged for a year and a half (came with a six pack of the beer as a gift) and will be brewed for an additional year and a half. If more Temptests come out every year, I’ll be buying some to age. The Muskoka Winter Beard will be aged for a year. There is also a plan to age some Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout, Goose Island Matilda and Dogfish Head World Wide Stout. We’ll see how those go. Regardless I am going to try to have at least three beers in there at any given time for several years.

And that’s that. If any of you readers have suggestions for beers to age, I’d sure appreciate it! If I can get a hold of it, I’ll try!

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Best of Winter (Providing It’s Gone)

Don’t know about you folks, but up here our weather has been…well, let’s put it this way: Last week in a single day we had snow, rain, snow, hail, rain and ending with some snow overnight. Now it’s practically t-shirt weather with forecasts saying the temperature will more than double tomorrow.

So screw it, I’m calling it. Winter is over.

I think I’m going to make up a very quick list of some of my highlight beers of Winter. If this were a television show, it would be a clip show episode, but as it is I’m just going to list the beers. These are in no particular order and some of them aren’t even seasonals, but beers I’ve just tried over the winter. It SHOULD be noted that during the winter I primarily drink stouts and porters, because it’s cold and my natural instinct is to drink something that seems like a meal (my rule with stouts is that it’s good if I can put a pencil in the middle of the glass, let go and the beer keeps it up). While there are some exceptions in the list, these are mainly black-as-my-soul beers.

1. Winter Beard Double Chocolate Cranberry Stout by Muskoka Brewery – An absolute treat to have both in bottles and on cask. Cranberry taste is a bit too subtle, but it more than makes up for it in the chocolate taste.

2. Lava Smoked Imperial Stout by Ölvisholt Brugghús – This also was a regular visitor to the LeBlanc house. The coffee and chocolate tastes along with the  liquid smoke makes this beer and is a meal all on itself.

3. Wych Craft Blonde Ale by Wychwood – Noticed this turning up more and more in LCBOs this winter, and have to say, rather crisp and refreshing!

4. Double Chocolate Cherry Stout by Black Oak Brewing Co. – The tartness of the cherries just makes this beer a wonderful treat and the chocolate taste adds a wonderful warmth to it. I was really lucky to try it for the first time on cask, which all in all gave a warmth that I needed that particular night. Will be having some more this week.

5. Infinium by Samuel Adams and Weihenstephan – Slight romantic memory behind this one, because The Fella bought me a bottle of this rather wonderful beer that came in a Champagne bottle. Very clean beer with the taste of a nice, somewhat sweet Belgian Tripel. Needs to be consumed in a champagne flute and it matters on the type of company you have with this drink (mine of course, was wonderful).

6. World Wide Stout (Aged for 1 year) by Dogfish Head Brewery – Hahahaha….man. Visiting one of the brewpubs owned by Dogfish Head was such a TREAT. And part of that treat was having this amazing beer, aged for a solid year.  At about 19%ABV had a lovely chocolaty taste with a slight burn I would normally get from an Imperial Russian Stout. But wonderful. WONDERFUL.

7. Tokyo Imperial Stout by BrewDog – Thanks to a wonderful donation to the Tip Jar from reader Raymond Conlon (you could all learn something from him. HINT HINT), I got to try this $24 Imperial Stout at around 14% ABV (though I’m sure it’s cheaper anywhere but here). INCREDIBLY sweet, which was unexpected for its alcohol content. Wonderful taste of cranberries and chocolate in there. I’d go so far as to say it would make an excellent dessert beer.

8. Sublimely Self Righteous Ale by Stone Brewery – What turned me on to Black IPAs. This was a birthday gift from The Fella, who brought it all the way from the states and…wow.  SO. MUCH. HOPPINESS. Drinking it is like putting a handful of fresh hops right in your mouth. Just wonderful. The Fella, who is a malt fiend, could not finish his share. It is my go-to beer whenever I am in the states now.

9. Black Chocolate Stout by Brooklyn Brewery – Tried this during a 5-hour layover in New York City where I met up with friends Rachael Fox and Eddie McShane and we found a decent watering hole to sit down, have a few drinks and have the most wonderful conversation about photography. This beer, which had a WONDERFUL bittersweet chocolate taste and a creaminess. was a perfect match for the night.

10. Spruce Beer by Garrison Brewing Co. – Most of you have read my review in which I talk about this beer, so will keep this short. But I’ll say this: What a wonderful treat it was to have this beer.  A drink that did an amazing job of invoking the spirit of winter. Loved it.

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Gateway Beers Part 2

Yes, GATEWAY BEERS.  Just like The Rock And Roll is a gateway to gang violence, Satanism and baby murdering, so too are there beers that lead you down a path where there is no turning back.  Take the story of Johnny. He was captain of the basketball team.  He didn’t think there was any harm in trying a beer from Belgium.  But after that it all changed for Johnny.  He quit the basketball team and started attending underground craft beer events.  Split the money with his hoodlum friends in ordering some Bolivian Pale Ales to be shipped to his town.  Three months later Johnny was found dead in an alley, a broken bottle of Westmalle Triple in his hand.

Sorry, I have a passion for mental hygiene films. These just come out.

Basically, this was inspired by the friends and family I have who have said “I don’t really drink beer, but when I do I usually drink _______.  What should I have?”.   

I USUALLY DRINK GUINNESS

I’ll say this now.  Guinness is a great drink.  It really is.  For years it’s been known as the beer someone orders if they don’t like the weak mainstream drinks like Molson or Bud.  It’s rich, smooth, creamy and can easily substitute a meal.  It has a wonderful history and a great tradition and while there is a slight risk of looking like a douchebag while drinking one (especially if you explain why it’s so better than the beers your friends are drinking) that doesn’t take away from the fact that it clearly is a work of art in itself.

But, as is the point of this series of posts, there is more out there.

I won’t lie to you.  To find a suitable “next step” for you might take a bit of trial and error.  But the first thing to do is examine what it is you enjoy about Guinness.  Primarily the “heaviness” of it.  On that, there’s three levels to it.

1.  The heaviness frankly scares me and I want something a bit lighter 
– Well it sounds like a nice dark ale would suit you down to the ground.  Hobgoblin Ale by the wonderful Wychwood Brewery was a WONDERFUL starting dark ale for me and to this day remains as an ol’ stand-by when I don’t have a specific beer I want to pick up.  A wonderful dark ruby colour with a taste of chocolate and toffee.  It’s refreshing, comfortable and not as much a meal as Guinness can be.

Another suggestion would be Leffe Brune, a nice little Belgian number that I grew fond of last summer.  A soothing beer with a slight hint of roasted spices and  fruits and a bitterness that’s not overbearing at all.  Truth be told, I actually cook with this as well (see the recipe I posted last week).  Definitely a drink worth trying.

2.  The heaviness is just right, actually.
Well, have I got two beers for you then.  Dragon Stout out of beautiful Kingston, Jamaica really fits the bill for this.  It’s got about the same heaviness of Guinness with a nice, chocolaty finish to the taste.  This is DEFINITELY ideal for a hot sunny day.

Second up is Black Creek Porter out of Toronto’s own Black Creek Historic Brewery (actually in Black Creek Pioneer Village if, like me, you have fond memories of that place. Now’s a reason to go back!).  While a porter is usually supposed to be “heavier” than a stout, I find this one hits the mark rather well.  Nice chocolaty taste with a hint of spices.  This is also a recipe used my Ontarians in the 1860s, so it also provides a nice history to it.  I just recently started drinking this beer and I can’t get enough of it.

3.  Guinness is FAR too light for me.  Give me something heavier!
Alright there, Rambo.  First up is Fuller’s London Porter from our good friends at Fuller’s Ales.  One day my mother, who wanted to teach me about some of the brews she grew up with, bought four cans.  Two was Fuller’s London Pride (which we’ll talk about later) and the other two was this one.  And MAN, was it refreshing.  A deep black colour that not even light can escape out of and a smooth, creamy taste with a strong taste of cocoa.  If Guinness is a meal, Fuller’s London Porter is a meal with seconds.

The second one I’d suggest is John By Imperial Stout by the Scotch-Irish Brewing Company in Ottawa.  All I can say about this beer is: DAMN.  I tried it for the first time last weekend and was really impressed.  Much like the London Porter, nothing can escape the darkness held within and there’s a strong cocoa taste to it.  I’ll be honest, this was a drink that I could probably have one or two of.  You actually feel FULL after this drink, which can be said about many Imperial Stouts, but it still is refreshing.  A wonderful brew.  I actually wonder what it would be like at room temp…

And that’s all for now.  And damn, now I think I’m going to head off to the pub and have a London Porter.  I got me the craving…

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Cooking With Beer: Beer Sausages Inna Bun

One of the things I’m going to be doing over the next little while is finding some recipes and coming up with a few of my own that involve beer.  This will involve anything from sauces, batters, cakes…whatever I can find.  Just to see what I can make with the wonderful drink.

The following recipe is kind of a classic that has served me well over time.  I have cooked it at parties, as a thank you dinner for NYC friends who have offered a couch to sleep on, and of course for myself when I want a food that warms me up, sticks to my bones and brings forth what we all know as The Burp Of Satisfaction.

I’ve included some suggestions for specific beers to try out in this recipe, as they have worked out for me.  But really, as long as it is a stout, porter or even a nice dark ale that you enjoy drinking I guarantee it will work out.  The key of this is that it should be a dark beer.  Suggested drink to go along with it would be the beer that you used for the recipe (What, like you’re going to buy ONE bottle? …jeez).

Beer Sausages Inna Bun
Ingredients:
– Sausages (Brats are a good kind, but if you dream of something bigger I suggest you follow that dream. 2-5 is a good number if it fits in your pan)
– Beer (SUGGESTED BRANDS: Leffe Brune, Hobgoblin Ale, Dragon Stout or Black Creek Porter)
– Half an onion (chopped in to rings)
– Buns (Not yours (sicko), but the kind in the bakery section of your local grocery store)
– Olive oil (just about two tablespoons.  If you don’t have olive oil, safflower of grape seed oil will do.)

Instructions:

1. put oil in frying pan, crank that stove up to high. Then add sausages and fry up until browned.

2. Once the sausages are browned, decrease the stove to medium heat, remove the sausages and throw in the onions.

3. Cook those onions in the sausage juices until rubbery and transparent.  You may need to use some extra oil.

4. Put the sausages back in the pan and pour your beer in. Half a bottle is good.  As long as the sausages are covered about half way you’re golden. And look at that, you now have something to drink while you’re cooking!

5. Turn those sausages in your wonderful beer-onion concoction until the beer has reduced into a somewhat thick sauce. Your entire kitchen will start to smell amazing.

6. Remove the sausages and place in the buns.

7. spoon in the beer and onion sauce in to the buns on the sausages.  If you’ve got a lot of the sauce, go freakin’ wild.  More is DEFINITELY better in this case.

8. Eat and enjoy. If you feel like moaning in a way that makes those around you a tad uncomfortable, don’t hesitate.  Let the food take you somewhere magical

Bonus Feature:

Throw a bit of grated cheese on top.  This adds to more flavour and a HELL of a lot more guilt afterwards, but my god, it’s worth it.

Got a recipe?  E-mail me at robin@therobinleblanc.com and tell me about it!

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