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Schlenkerla Helles Lagerbier

The Potable Curmudgeon Roger Baylor gives us more than one beer to think about when he posts on Schlenkerla Helles Lagerbier.

The beer – just now available in the United States and not well known outside of its Bamberg home – is a delight, brimming with flavor beyond what you’d expect in a 4.3% abv beer, in part because of a sly smoky notes.

Matthias TrumMatthais Trum (pictured here giving a tour of the brewery) points out that the lager contains none of the smoked malt that Schlenkerla uses in its the Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier-Märzen or the Urbock, but hints of smoke because it is fermented in the same old copper kettles and fermented with the same yeast.

Quite frankly, you might find it more of a hint of smoke, perhaps because of its underlying rustic character – a plus, I think – and just he right dose of local hops. It is a particularly versatile food beer. It would go quite nicely with something as simple as a tossed salad topped with bits of smoked bacon. Perhaps halibut on the grill, marinaded with a curry and coconut sauce. Or something bold like salmon with in a chipotle barbecue sauce.

But back to a bigger point that Baylor makes:

Franconian beers aren’t always as squeaky clean and technically flawless as similar styles brewed elsewhere in Bavaria. This is not intended as an insult, and it is not to imply that they are deficient or flawed.

Rather, it is to suggest that they bear the delightfully quirky imprint of their geographical origins.

In a region where the countryside is never far away from the heart of the largest city, and a hundred breweries, most of them small, operate within a morning’s leisurely drive of Bamberg, the aromas and flavors experienced in a half-liter of solid Franconian lager can be redolent of all things pre-industrial – woodsy and full, smoky and firm, hoppy and dry, sometimes crisp like the lazy autumn evenings imbibing outdoors, and other times mellow and cool as the summer mornings right after opening time when the town elders gather at the Stammtisch to begin another day’s session.

That’s beer in context.

Arrogant Bastard: Well, it’s not wine

“Water into Wino” is one of about 20 wine blogs I’m currently subscribed to via my newsreader.

Imagine my surprise to find a tasting note today for Arrogant Bastard Ale. For starters the commentary reminds us that most people have never seen the label, let alone tried the beer. Those of us who’ve been drinking this beer for 10 years may no longer notice the words (even when sober) but those just getting to know the Bastard sure do.

With a label and name that would alienate most wine buyers in a flash, this beer seduced my playful side immediately. As if the name wasn’t bold enough, the words “You’re Not Worthy” adds to this cocky marketing strategy. The bottle also reads “It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth.” Having read so much wine media lately, seeing this written as a selling point in such plain terms is refreshing, rather than that message being relayed in a passive aggressive way as I sometimes notice in wine branding. Turns out it’s not just a gimmicky beer, it’s a tasty one too that lives up to its claims of complexity.

Go ahead and read the tasting note for yourself.

A worthy 6-pack

It’s that time of year. How many Top 10 movie lists have I already seen? Do I care about the list of 10 best wines (since I can’t afford and/or find any of them)? Somebody else’s Top 10 CDs? (Here I’ll add that if you aren’t crying by the time you get to Charlie Miller performing “Prayer for New Orleans” on Our New Orleans you must never have been there.)

Should I make a beer list? I’ve thought about it (and that might be enough). I’d be more interested in seeing what’s on Garrett Oliver’s list or Phil Markowski’s. And I will look forward to seeing what Stephen Beaumont reveals as his Taste of the Year in a few days.

Another list worth looking at, I think, is Don Russell’s favorite new beers in 2005. You’ve got to register to read it, so without he accompanying explanations, his list:

1. Dreamweaver Wheat. FromTroegs Brewery in Harrisburg, Pa.
2. George’s Fault. From Nodding Head Brewery & Restaurant in Philadelphia.
3. Stegmaier Anniversary IPA. From the Lion Brewery’s in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
4. S’muttonator Doppelbock. From Smuttynose in New Hampshire.
5. Peche Mortel. From Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel in Quebec.
6. Supplication. From Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa, Calif.

Supplication would also be on my list (if I were making a list).

Epic, indeed

It makes no sense to endorse a beer from a brewery whose products you’ve never tasted, but we’d sure like to try Epic Strong Ale from Roots Organic Brewing, a brewpub that opened in Portland, Oregon, earlier this year.

The beer is 14% abv and calculated IBUs are 70, but it’s not those numbers that intrigue. The recipe includes 60 pounds of malt smoked over cherry wood then soaked in single-malt scotch, brandy and cherry juice.

The execution may suck – although the early reviews of Roots’ beer indicate otherwise – but that’s not the point. The willingness of brewers – be they American, Belgian or Chilean – to attempt such experiments keeps the category moving forward. Pretty exciting.

UPDATE: Roots closed in 2010.

Tasting note: Pêché Mortel

Pêché Mortel from Canada’s Brasserie Dieu du Ciel certainly qualifies as one of the most hyped beers of 2005. Is it that good?

Roger Baylor, a.k.a. The Potable Curmudgeon, says yes:

All I can say is, “wow.”

Beers truly worth the hype are rare, but if – and only if “ you enjoy coffee the way I enjoy coffee, Peche Mortel is amazing, and perhaps worth the deal I’m about to offer you.

Of the essential components of Imperial Stout, a strident black color and a mouth-filling body (9% abv) are the only ones making a showing alongside the strident coffee character, which acts as the surrogate balancing hop in this luxurious ale. As with espresso, it’s overwhelmingly roasty, and leaves a faint acidic tickle going down my throat.

Very, very specialized – and very, very good.

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