We crashed late, so Saturday morning began with a late start and liesurely pace. I stayed in my pajamas all day! After an awesome breakfast, courtesy of Dan, we moved back out to the deck. It began with the Blue Point Rastafa Rye, a solid performer with a good hops/malt balance. It took Best Red Beer in this weekend's tasting—true, it was our only red, but it was a worthy red! "P" hit the road after this one.
Next up was Ommegang's Tripel Perfection, my top beer from this year's TAP-NY brewfest. To be honest, I was a little reluctant to try this one for fear that the bottled version might not come close to the little piece of draft heaven I was blessed to discover in April. I needn't have worried: it lived up to its name! It was big and spicy, with notes of caramel, butter and fruit. It was creamy and warming, without being heavy. Both Dan and I scored this as our Best Beer Overall: it was the only beer to score in the 90s, and on flavor alone, we each gave it 37 out of 40 points!
After the ecstatic religious experience of the Tripel Perfection, I wasn't expecting much from the Ommegang Hennepin Saison. Saisons don't wow me; I usually find them to be too sour, too hoppy and too yeasty for my tastes. This one, however, was a sleeper. There was a definite nose of citrus and banana. The flavor was intense! Sweet malt was perfectly balanced against pronounced hops and strong fruity flavors. It was so highly carbonated, that the cork popped up and bounced off of the roof of Dan's house! A rich and complex ale that easily earned a top-five spot. I've overlooked this beer in the past, but I would definitely have this again. What a pleasant surprise!
Next up was the Ommegang Chocolate Indulgence, a rich chocolate stout. Often, chocolate stouts get their flavor from roasted malt alone, but this one was actually made with Belgian cocoa. This had an intense flavor and a complex finish that also put it in the top five.
We finished this tasting session with a Dragonstooth Oatmeal Stout, from Seattle's Elysian Brewing Company. Dan had raved about this one, so I was eager to try it. It had a big aroma of toasted caramel and a strong malty flavor, nicely balanced with hops. This was the most full-bodied beer and it was full of warmth. A great beer that edged out Keegan's Mother's Milk for Best Stout.
We had two sampler packs to go through from Dundee and Long Trail. We arranged them from light to dark:
I'll cut to the chase: These beers were heavily filtered, generally had the lowest percentage of alcohol, and had neglible aroma and only moderate levels of flavor. The Long Trail beers were the weaker of the two. The Dundee Kölsch wasn't terrible. The Dundee Stout was even drinkable. But with plenty of fine craft beers to compare to, these beers just "paled" by comparison. Dan and I had a hard time finishing even the one 12 oz. bottle between us: once we were finshed tasting, most of these beers ended up in the sink. They scored accordingly...
On the positive side, we had a roaring fire going and we watched two great movies, Das Boot and Fargo!
Another glorious day began with breakfast and our final tasting session, this one focused on Brown Ales. "P" had left behind a five-liter "keglet" of Newcastle Brown Ale. We also had Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale to try. We decided to give the Smuttynose Old Brown Dog Ale a second try as well. In this session, we set up all three brown ales and scored them head-to-head against each other.
The keglet is a cool idea. Five liters is a little more than ten pints of beer, and the label claims the the "widget" inside will provide enough carbonation to last thirty days in your fridge. We, of course, left ours in an ice-filled cooler outside on the deck overnight, so it drew really cold.
The first thing we noticed with all three beers side-by-side is that the Smuttynose was much cloudier than the other two (a good thing—less filtering). The Sam Smith's was pretty clear, but the Newcastle draft was strikingly clear for a brown. The heads were similar, with the edge going to the draft (obviously).
The Sam Smith's had the biggest nose, full of malt. The Newcastle had almost no aroma, even when warmed. The Smutty wasn't overwhelming in the aroma department, but made up for this in flavor: it definitely had the most hops, but it also had a good balance with the malt. The other two each suffered from the maltiness riding roughshod over the hops.
In the end, we liked all three. The Samuel Smith's had the most intensely caramel maltiness. Dan liked this as a single winter warmer, but he said he was unlikely to want a second. The Smutty seemed a good fit for the fall and it had the most complexity, certainly worthy of a second (or third) bottle. The Newcastle, we think, would make a great summer quaff, especially if heavily chilled. It had an almost lager-like crispness. In the end, it was the Smuttynose Old Brown Dog Ale that took the prize for Best Brown Ale.
We moved to the deck and rated our last beer, Samuel Smith's Tadcaster Oatmeal Stout. This dry stout had a big toasted, chocolatey malt flavor with a very smooth finish. A great way to end our tasting sessions!
What a weekend! We drank great beer, ate meat and lived like freaking kings!
By Sunday afternoon, we had rated 22 beers using the beerubric—a good piece of work. Amazingly, Dan and I scored most beers within two or three points of each other. It was a great learning experience for both of us. Using the rubric helped us sharpen our beer rating skills. I feel I developed a more refined ability to distinguish between malt and hops flavors & aromas.
It was great to get a weekend out in the fresh air and enjoy some much-deserved peace and quiet! Can't wait for the next one!