Sunday, October 28, 2012

San Antonio TX

There's something about Texas that a lot of people really like: be it the food; the cultures; the history. There's also beer.

Arriving late afternoon, the first order of business was to head out to some of the better beer bars. Note a New England hurricane had been narrowly avoided!

First stop was The Esquire, which had some good recommendations from various beer websites.

The chili fries were a great appetizer, and service was prompt and friendly.

However, most of the local brews on tap were "out"! Tried:
Independence - Convict Hill Oatmeal Stout [#3,294]
Ranger Creek - Mission Trail Ale [#3,295]
Little Kings Hudepohl-Schoenling - Cream Ale [#3,296] in a tiny 7-oz bottle

That was about it, as the zombies were out for Halloween;

I knew they were people in makeup, but it was a but scary nonetheless.

Monday - 10/29 - tried to find several local beer bars and a brewery within a 1-mile walk. The bars were closed until 3 PM, based on some local beer establishment laws; the brewery was closed on Mondays

Stopped in at Lüke which boasted an amazing menu. Too bad an earlier sausage po-boy from the fantastic Lagniappe food truck had assuaged my hunger.

At Lüke tried an:
Alaskan Brewing - Amber [#3,297]
Saint Arnold - Elissa IPA [#3,298]

The manger Jason let me sample:
Ranger Creek - Lucky Ol Sun (Saison) [#3,299]
Saint Arnold - Endeavor Imperial IPA [#3,200 !] (bottle)
Southern Star - Buried Hatchet Stout [#3,201]

Jason seemed very knowledgable about beers and proper beer/food pairings. Apparently there's a lot of stuff planned with future beer/food events. The selection of beers was quite eclectic, and I promised to come back the next afternoon for the $0.50 oyster raw bar.

Made it to the Filling Station Tap Room on S. Saint Mary's St, as they are not open until 3. It's a quaint place to try some good beers. It's also next to what seemed like a nice restaurant, although there was no opportunity to try the food.

The bartender Jarvis was a good host, and told the story how the restaurant expanded and had this space left over; the Tap Room is new in 2012. Good selection of beers from as Far East as Brooklyn Brewing and as far west as Green Flash.

Beers sampled included:
Real Ale - Lost Gold IPA [#3,202]
Southern Star - Pine Belt Pale Ale [#3,203]
Saint Arnold - Endeavor Imperial IPA (tap) [#3,204]
Real Ale - Full Moon Pale Rye Ale [#3,205]
Real Ale - Rio Blanco Pale Ale [#3,206]
Alamo - Alamo Golden Ale [#3,207]

Note that given the size of the place (no room for a dishwasher) they use plastic cups; no big deal [remember all cans are plastic-lined] but be aware. Looks like a great place to grab some food from next door, sit on the patio, and watch the afternoon roll by. Met the owner as well (forgot his name - sorry) and complimented him on his place and wished him good luck.

On October 30th, made it down to Blue Star Brewing which was closed on Monday. The brewery prides itself as "pretty much everything" is organic; as part of I guess a full disclosure the bartender wasn't sure about all the hops.

Chatted for a while with a local retiree, who related a story of a recent local church dedication, where all religions were there to celebrate together - Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddists, etc; why only in Texas?

The beer flight offered was tastefully served in stem glasses. From left to right (although not sampled in that order) was:
Blue Star - Extra Pale [#3,308]
Blue Star - Barnstormer Easy Sour [#3,310]
Blue Star - Scotch Ale [#3,309]
Blue Star - Spire Stout [#3,312]
Blue Star - Cornfed IPA [#3,311]

Note that while the Cornfed IPA and the Extra Pale were standouts, the "Scotch" ale was not really "Scotch style". When asked what I thought of it, I said it was nice, bitter, good finish but lacked some of the attributes of what I would term a Scotch ale. The bartender agreed saying I was not the only one to say that.

Also tried an ersatz Kriek, with an appropriate amount of organic natural sour cherry syrup added to the sour ale - actually much nicer than one might expect.
Blue Star - Barnstormer Easy Sour Kriek (with cherry) [#3,313]

The Blue Star has a full restaurant but I did not get to try the food.

Walking back towards town, stopped in at the Friendly Spot.

Again apologize as I did not note the bartender's name, but a younger guy who was very beer-savvy, friendly, outgoing (have a good time at the wedding). Did get to meet the owner - Steve. First up was
Saint Arnold - Pumpkinator [#3,314]

I rarely do this, but this is what St. Arnold says of their own beer: "Pumpkinator...   is an imperial pumpkin stout and our answer to how a pumpkin beer ought to taste. ...10% ABV. It is brewed... for a background hop flavor, pumpkin for a rich mouthfeel, molasses and brown sugar, and spiced and dry-spiced to make it feel like you just walked into your mom’s kitchen while she was cooking 37 pumpkin pies." Yes. 37 pumpkin pies. And that dear readers gives you an indication of what a beer must have to rate a "10".

Was peckish enough to order some blackberry bbq pork sliders,

to go with a
Real Ale - Shade Grown Coffee Porter [#3,315]

Now as the Friendly Spot had one of my favorite beers - Hommel Beer from Van Eecke brewery (which I have toured) - this gives you an idea of the breadth and depth of their beers.

Also amazed at the women drinking unusual beers, especially several who wanted Pumpkinator as well. Finished off with a 
Spoetzl Shiner - Shiner Holiday Cheer [#3,316]
as I was heading back to Lüke.

Fifteen minutes later at Lüke, ordered a 
512 Brewing - Pecan Porter [#3,317]

which is a perfect accompaniment to raw oysters. 

Saw Jason again, who seemed surprised - yet pleased - I had returned. I said I had promised to be back; wearing the proper Club-Belgique colors. Tried a
Ranger Creek - Red Headed Stranger [#3,318]

Along with - maybe - one of the "top 10" burgers in America? Top ten in America - don't know.
Top 10 I have tried? Definitely.

Bavik - Wittekerke Wit Bier [#3,319] (can!)
Rahr and Sons - Ugly Pug [#3,320]

I felt personally guilty about that one Belgian, as I wanted the entire trip to be Texas beer. However someone sitting next to me extolled the virtues of the Belgian Wit, so I had to try it. When I tried to convince her and her friends to try the "frites" with mayonnaise (Belgian style) that was a no go.

So we have a trip where a hurricane was avoided; 26 new beers were sampled, rated and scored; and several wonderful people were introduced to Club Belgique.

See you again in 2014.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

City Steam Brewery

After a long meeting in Hartford CT, where do you go? Well, I would choose City Steam.

This past Wednesday (Oct 23) after an arduous meeting, Club Belgique members Bill and Mark and Mark stopped in at City Steam brewing.

However, to tell the full beer-story, that night before we tried some beers; this included
Blue Point - Old Howling Bastard barleywine [#3,284]
Postel - Dobbel [#3,285]

Note someone may ask "why is Postel Dobbel counted twice, in that you had it as beer #3,273 in Belgium?" Well dear readers, that was a Dobbel from the tap; this was a bottle. And yes, there are distinct, subtle (sometimes not too subtle) differences between draft, bottle, hand-pulled, etc.

Also tried a fantastic aged Kulmbacher Eisbock from 1996 [#3,286], which was an amazingly rich aged flavour without any harshness. A friend's 16-year old son - born the same year this beer was bottled - got to try some as a rare treat.

City Steam always has a nice selection of beers on tap; and as a restaurant the appetizers are always first-rate. This time around the beer sampled included
White Wedding [#3,287]
Innocence IPA [#3,288]
O'fest 2012 [#3,289]
Uncle Dunkel [#3,290]
Summer Stout [#3,291]

The one we agreed was the best - all were very good - was the Innocence IPA. Not too hopped, as sometimes happens, it offered an aggressive sweet taste and finish, without being too astringent.

Wished we could have stayed longer.

Monday, October 15, 2012

London Cask Ale Week 2012

As part of a business meeting trip in London, as luck would have it this was during Cask Ale Week 2012 (specifically 2012 /10/1-2).

For those who do not know what a cask ale is, it's an unpressurized ale that is hand pumped and delivered to the glass from the bottom up. It is also called a "hand-pulled ale".

After arriving early, early Monday (as opposed to Sunday night - thanks Delta) I met up with some folks and headed out. First stop - a proper traditional "English breakfast".

We then set out to see the Tower Bridge, as well as the waterfront near the Thames. 

We ended up at the Barrow Boy and Banker, and tried a

Red Fox - Fullers  [#3,198]
 Organic Honey Dew - Fuller  [#3,199]

Later we hit the Founders Arms restaurant, and sampled a:
Yellow Hammer - O'Hanlon's [#3,200]
London Pale Ale - Meantime  [#3,201]
London Gold - Young's  [#3,202]
Raspberry Wheat - Meantime  [#3,203]

The best part was that we were staying near the Leadenhall Market, considered to be London's most beautiful Victorian Market. 

 Built in 1881, it is also the location where some of the exterior Diagon Alley scenes were filmed from the Harry Potter films.

Even better was a cocktail hour at Old Tom's Bar 

and then dinner at the Lamb Tavern. 

Old Tom's had a great beer selection, and between the two venues the following were tried:
Original - Liftovel [#3,204]
Nightwatchman - ELB East London Brewery [#3,205]
London Lager - Meantime  [#3,206]
London Porter - Meantime  [#3,207]

Chocolate Porter - Meantime  [#3,208]
Ram Rod - Young's  [#3,209]
Bitter - Young's  [#3,210]
London Pride - Young's  [#3,211]

Dinner was apparently well-received, as there was a plethora of choices of typical British fares, with some Indian food as well.

Good times by all.

Best Day in Belgium - Ever

Now that's a pretty strong statement, but please read on and decide. At the end of the work day [2012/10/09] - before heading to Brussels and home - first it was important to stop in at the Norbertine Postel Abbey.


The Abbey is in the town of Mol. Yes, named for moles.

This was to pick up some bread and cheese (not to bring to the US of course), as well as try the Abbey beer. Note in the past Molse Triple (tripel from Mol) has been sampled, but that is from Scheldebrouwerij, not here. There were deer at the Abbey, but no venison nor Bavarian-style deer cheese.

The Abbey is famous for its herb garden, as well as the "neutraceuticals" they sell, such as ginseng extract and others. 

There was even a pharma-like blending and bottling area where you could watch the formulations.

We did stop in and try a Postel beer [#3,273] at Gasthof de Belaard, however it was with a sad note that we discovered the Abbey has "outsourced" their brewing. 

Also picked up were some mole-shaped chocolates (remember, we're in Mol).

The Abbey was not the ultimate destination; we had received confirmation from the brewer that we could visit the new pico-brewery DijkWaert. We had also received a rather cryptic reply - relating to their whisky-barrel aged Mc Thals - "...don't use any barrels nor have I added any Whisky or essences..." I love a mystery!

photo by Danny Van Tricht

 Arriving at the brewery we were welcomed by the brewer/owner Hans as well as his family. They began brewing about 1-1/2 years ago, and have a very nice tidy operation. The first order of business - after everyone introduced themselves - was what's this with the Mc Thals? You do not use old whisky or scotch barrels to age it?

Hans replied wryly that is it was all a brewing formulation secret, and that the natural herbs and spices used in the brewing gave the beer it's near-perfect taste. I mean really, a peaty phenol smoky taste with a hint of salt; barrels from Speyside distillery? Nope!

Has said we would try all the beers currently on hand, and brought out an impressive spread of 8 different beers. And these were all different styles, from a gruit to lambic to Wheat beet. The first one sampled was Thals 1886 [#3,274].

We also had a tour of the brewery; scrupulously clean with different bottles stored and aging. An older son was currently labeling bottles. He may be attending school to be a brewer, and we all wish him well.


After the tour, we continued sampling the beers. Each beer was very different, and each seemed to be better than the last. Han's wife Carine brought over an appetizer plate of cheese and other snacks; the proper way to taste beer. We learned that the brewery's history came about as some hobby "kooks" (their words!) came together in early 2010 to start the brewery, and get married! The brewery name is a combination of Hans and Carine's last names (Dyck, a Dutch twist and you get "Dijk") and Hans' (Wierts, with a German root of "innkeeper", Belgianize it and you have Waert) - Dijk Waert.
The brewery prides itself on 100% natural ingredients, no added chemicals, flavorants, adulterants, etc. They only use all-natural ingredients. For example, if the beer (e.g. Fruity Bierreke) says it contains sour cherries, it is real, honest-to-goodness mashed sour cherries, not syrup. 

The beers tried in order were
Vurig Bierreke (fiery beer) [#3,275]
Goud Vuur (golden fire) [#3,276]
unnamed Wedding Beer [#3,277]
Fruity Bierreke (fruity beer) [#3,278]
Eeuwige Liefde (eternal love) [#3,279]
Mc Thals [#3,280]

We learned about the brewery's other fine points. There is the ability to accommodate up to 20 people on a pre-arranged tour, with a full dinner if necessary. And that the brewing plans include the ability to make custom beer. As with the wedding beer - brewed for a wedding for 2012/10/13 - Dijk Waert can make a small batch of beer for whatever event/taste you want. Note the wedding beer was actually named trouw brouw (wedding beer) for Karen and Steven - we wish you well.

At this point we also learned a dark secret behind some of the other nano-breweries we have visited in the past. Although they do brew beer, to accommodate their market demand, they have larger batches contract-brewed at several larger Belgian breweries who do this. That sort of explained a conundrum from the past, one nano- (pico- really) visited in 2011 couldn't possibly supply the US market to the extent it has, based on the size of said pico-brewery.

A further surprise hit us when it was announced we would be having dinner at the brewery. We broke bread (actually fish, vegetables, stofles and chicken) with the family, including their adopted son from the Philippines, and Hans' spry octogenarian father.

During dinner, it was explained how some of the beer flavours and brewing recipes were arrived at. Some by trial and error, some by the knowledge of what the final product would taste like. An example was also given was how to "age" something like a whisky or cognac. By age I mean artificially take a younger, more "raw" spirit and improve it. The "secret recipe" would be to take a bottle of new cognac, and heat it slowly in the open bottle, in a double boiler, until the water bath reached 60 C (that's 140 F in the 'real' scale).

At this temperature the impurities (such as allyl alcohol, miscellaneous aldehydes and others) are driven off; one blows away the vapor that collects near the top of the bottle, lets the bottle cool to room temperature, caps it and puts it away. It has not been attempted yet, but Hans swears it can turn something like a Johnnie Walker Red into something resembling a Green.

After dessert, we purchased a little over a case of beer, and promised to look into how beer could be shipped to the US for personal consumption. I did leave a copy of one of my book for the family to enjoy. All in all, an absolutely grand day out.

I bet if Dijk Waert ever makes Cognac, it would be spectacular.