whatchudrinkin?

Cantillon for Two

We were so excited for Brasserie Cantillon’s annual Zwanze celebration. Exclusive, delicious Belgian lambics? What’s not to love? This year — for unknown reasons — there was a change of venue, that I could stand as long as the calm, friendly vibe of last years event was maintained. A single tweet ruined the whole vibe.

I love Cantillon, but I hate lines. Apex turned the coordinated, comfortable atmosphere of past Zwanze celebrations into yet another beer festival where you spend more time queueing than enjoying the beer.

So Sarah and I had our only little Zwanze at home. My sister brought us a whole case of Cantillon when she moved back from Germany last summer. It’s been in our closet ever since. We dug a bottle of Fou’ Foune from our hidey-hole and enjoyed it leisurely over a dinner of finger foods. 

Nearly two years after bottling, our Fou’ Foune developed a powerful acidity. The fruit has faded from the palate but a delicious fruity scent still lingers. The tart acid is backed by the barest note of Brettanomyces funk. The strong sour note breaks up the usual balance of Cantillon’s lambics. Maybe next time we’ll honor the label and drink it within a year of the bottling date, but Cantillon seems too good —read: rare and special — to drink everyday.

According to reports from the event, Apex was charging ten bucks for a six ounce pour of Gueuze on Saturday, that’s steep. There were no other sours on tap, and the staff was as surly as usual. Sure, they had the one off Cuvée Florian, but I think I’d rather stay home with a bottle to myself. 

Apres Ski in Late Summer

Winternacht was first released as a winter seasonal in 1997. It’s a double alt (or sticke alt) that Widmer Brothers call a winter warmer. It’s a pretty warm beer for only seven percent alcohol. The scent was plenty of caramel layered with toffee. The palate is sweet upfront with a spicy, bitter finish with just a hint of roast. The balance of sweet and bitter is spot on. Like adding coffee to milk chocolate, Winternacht finds a sweet spot between sticky sweet and dark and bitter.

It’s a little disconcerting drinking such a malty, wintery brew this early in the season, but Widmer Brothers isn’t the only brewery jumping the gun on seasonal beers. The pumpkin patches are still green, yet pumpkin beer has taken over all the grocery stores. And this week Deschutes Brewery released the christmasy Jubelale. At least Widmer can claim the Winternacht release was just a matter of coincidence.

Two More for the Road

Only a few beers left in the Beer Camp box. Today we have a couple of beers inspired by Belgium. Both combine Belgian yeast strains with bold American hops.

The first is Myron’s Walk by Sierra Nevada and Allagash. The beer is dedicated to Myron Avery and his Appalachian Trail. It’s a very dry beer with an earthy body. The nose features citrusy hops and the spicy coriander included in the recipe. This golden ale is very spicy, very bright, and very dry.

Second is a collaboration between Russian River and — who else? —Sierra Nevada. Yvan the Great was inspired by famed Belgian brewer Yvan de Baets. The beer has bright hop notes of lemon and oranges with hints of unripe apples coming off the yeast. Yvan the Great is somewhere between a hoppy saison and a Belgian IPA.

Both tasty beers coming from the same basic idea we’ve heard so many times before: combining Belgian tradition and American innovation. 

Fresh Science

For the Love of Hops only devotes a couple pages to brewing with fresh hops. The brewers that Stan Hieronymus interviewed had a few rules of thumb for working with fresh hops. First, remember that fresh hops have a lot of water in them, you are going to need a lot more than you would normally use. Secondly if you cook fresh hops too much the end up tasting like a compost heap, so maybe save your sticky hops for the end of the boil and the whirlpool.

Other than those two rules, there isn’t that much we know about brewing with fresh hops. There hasn’t been much lab work done on fresh hops and the few lessons we have were learned the hard way. These fresh hop beers remain the most volatile and unknown beers available. They come out once a year and each new batch is another science experiment.

Take Laurelwood’s latest fresh hop offerings for example. Workhorse IPA, while still tasty, lacks some of the depth and complexity fresh hops usually impart. A delicious pineapple scent was followed by waves of grapefruit and pine on the tongue. These are typical flavors for Cascade hops, but I was expecting a little more subtlety. On the other hand, the Free Range Red I tasted had extra levels of red berries and a hint of melon on the tongue. I usually find red ales a little dry or bitter for my taste, but the fresh hopped Free Range proved me wrong.

Fresh hops are fickle; some flavors burst forth unbidden and others must be coaxed and coddled. You never know what you are going to get.

FRESH HOPS! GET YOUR FRESH HOPS!

Hops are like herbs. They come in both dried and fresh varieties. And while dried basil has its uses, fresh basil is ideal for pizzas (yes, the pizza above is covered in arugula, but the comparison stands). While you can harvest fresh basil from your window sill most of the year, fresh hops come and go in a matter of weeks. The rest of the year we make due with dried hops, but in September, when they are still sticky from the fields, fresh hops bring new flavors to harvest beers.

This year Hopworks made two new beers in their IPX series featuring Fuggle hops, a mainstay of British brewing for generations. The first is Freshmaker, brewed with fresh, unkilned hops. The second is Fugg Life, brewed with conventional dry hops. 

The difference between the two couldn’t be more apparent. On one side you have a beer bursting with juicy orange citrus and bitter lemon peels. On the other side is a beer with understated grapefruit character and more herbal, grassy flavors. But what really makes the fresh hops stand out is the zing they give the beer. Freshmaker has a tingle that has nothing to do with carbonation. The hops sizzle on the tongue and down your throat.

It’s magical and overwhelming. But you can only taste it for a limited time. Fresh hop beers fade even faster than the most revered IPAs.