I am not a computer person. Despite how wonderful this website is, I’m not the one to blame for its existence (just the glorious content.) Jacob is the webmaster and occasional editor when it comes to brouwerij-chugach. He’s a great brewer who currently resides outside Chicago (he used to live here in Portland), and lucky for me he sent me a generous gift pack of beers to try and evaluate. I was told to not simply say “its good” and to not hold punches – no problem – I’ll start my review with this: I wouldn’t pay money for any of these beers. Let’s take a look why.
I’m going to try to summarize what I observed about each of these beers and the conclusions I’ve made about how to improve them. Rather than just analyzing aroma, taste, mouthfeel, I’m going to look at the overall beer. I told Jacob I didn’t want to know anything about the beers he was sending so I could give him as much honest feedback as I could about flavors I noticed. Any information presented about the process of brewing any of these beers was learned after my initial thoughts, however I’ve included it in the narrative for simplicity. He also sent me a cheat sheet of “what’s what” to look at after I had my initial impressions. Believe it or not, I was able to refrain from looking at said cheat sheet and did all blind tasting. A few had labels that indicated what might be in the bottle, but for the most part I was (and still am occasionally) clueless. Seeing as how I didn’t know what I was about to drink, I abandoned the BJCP sheets/guidelines and told him what I thought.
For a few of these beers I had my wife try them out as well as a good brew-nerd friend of mine, Greg. Their notes are included.
Here’s the highlight reel.
The first set of beers were all from the same base beer so I’m going to group them together for the review. The beers were all from a split batch of saison that all got a dose of juice from a Sauvignon Blanc concentrate. They were all aged for 3-5 months, then bottled and aged another 9 months. Here are the tasting notes:
The first one was labeled 01. It almost gushed right out, however the carbonation seemed somewhat low when tasting. Aromas were extremely fruity, reminded me of a medium white wine with some strong cidery notes. The flavor was even more cider-like, with residual sweetness lingering as well as some light tartness. In fact, before finding out this was wine, I was wondering if this was a beer-cider hybrid that had been secondary (or tertiary) fermented with a wine yeast. No hop flavors or aromas. The cidery/wine flavors dominate this beer despite finding out the amount of wine concentrate added was about 2 cups per 5 gallons. Greg noticed the wine character immediately upon tasting, whereas I was leaning more towards a cider-like impression.
The second beer in this series was labeled 670. This beer had a light white wine aroma, not much else going on that reminded me of a beer, per se. The taste was more like a light white wine, with what I thought was a bit of brettanomyces funk flavor in the finish. My initial guess for the wine (or cider) blend was 50/50, I now know that to be wrong (this beer got the same 2 cups per 5 gallons dosage.) The mouthfeel was more like wine in this beer, with low carbonation and a dry finish. Overall, it was the most wine-like of the wine beers. If the goal here was to be a beer, I think a little less wine character would be nice, as well as more hop character – this almost reminded me of a Prosecco, to be honest. With a light malt bill from the original saison recipe, I could see how the wine flavors would easily dominate at the ratios mentioned previously.
The third beer that ended up having wine in it was labeled CUV (coming from Red Star Premier Cuvee yeast.) Despite coming from the same batch, this beer was very different than the others. My initial notes were that it smelled like an old gym sock (probably coming from brettanomyces). Other impressions were of moderate funk, yeasty, and some papery aromas. Definitely not my favorite, mostly because of the aromas. Upon tasting I noted more funk and a brettanomyces flavor, with some light fruitiness. After tasting, I read through the description Jacob had written and found there was no brettanomyces pitched! I’m guessing either a bottle or batch infection after being split up, as this flavor was definitely dominant. That being said, I’m not sure what other feedback to give as I think the bottle was infected.
SO… What changes would it take to make the ‘wine beers’ marketable? If you’re going to add wine to a beer, and still want it to taste like beer, do so sparingly. I truly do enjoy beers that have been aged in wine barrels for the accent of wine-like notes, but the concentration at the levels Jacob used was overpowering to still be qualified as beer. Speaking with Jacob, it sounded like these beers have gone through some drastic changes. While not labeled with an “enjoy by” date on them, they sounded like they would have been more unique to try when they peaked. Jacob described them as being much hoppier and balanced, where as currently I observed that they were almost “all wine.” I’m not sure what kind of flavor takeover occurs with this type of addition, but somehow it seemed to dominate. I’m speculating that some of the beer flavors mellowed, leaving more of the wine flavor to dominate. As mentioned, the simple saison malt/hop bill could have faded with age, leaving the wine character to dominate.
The Quad Jacob sent was the most interesting beer I picked apart. I have recently been on a Quad kick after having a fantastic one at 7venth Sun brewing from my Tampa trip and was pumped to try this one. This Quad was uniquely different… but in the sense that I was investigating what went wrong as opposed to letting my taste buds go on vacation.
First off, it tasted like grape drink. Not wine, not grape juice, grape drink. Greg was being nicer, stating more of a complex grape-raisin like flavor, but I got was grape drink. My wife tasted a grape like flavor, but thought the beer missed the Quad mark by the brettanomyces funk and dryness (that being said, she DID like it.) There were a lot of odd things going on here but what stuck out to me was a brett dryness in the beer as well as the grape-like flavors. It turns out Jacob had put a significant amount of rye malt in this brew, and then had chosen to add brettanomyces to the yeast blend. Not bad options for some brews, however this time I feel both of these things were working together to produce this grape like flavor. In addition, the beer finished very dry, which became more and more notable as I sipped it over the course of a half hour. There was no residual sweetness – which is something I’d come to expect (and enjoy) in a Quad.
Jacob later admitted he tried it again and tasted “purple nerds.” He said he also had a plum version (sans brett) that came out much better. I would have loved to try it – the beer had so much potential, but in this case I think the brett brought it down.
A bottle marked CF was next on our list. This my favorite beer from the batch. Tart aromas, brett funk, what wasn’t to love? Tasting the beer yielded more delicious funk and a medium sourness that coated my mouth. I wasn’t getting much in the way of hops aromas (I later learned CF stood for Cluster Funk as he used cluster hops.) More sourness and complexity than a berliner weiss, but not so much as to render it a slow sipper. This is a beer I would drink again (and despite previous sentiments, I might even shell out a few bucks for it in the bar if Cantillon wasn’t being poured.) It came across to me as what a simple wild beer should be – funk, tartness, neither of which dominate too much. It would have been nice to see what dry hopping would have done to it.
I also found out later that Jacob used a second generation Roselare pitch – I really enjoy 2nd gen Roselare. All the beers I’ve made using this blend have come out great as well, especially the ones with the simplest of malt bills.
House House Pom
Finally, there was the House^2 Pomegranate. I can tell good intentions when I try a beer, and this one had them as multiple levels of flavor were present. An appropriate fruit flavor, a solid base beer, but the major flaw was it was simply just too sour. Its had for me to judge whether a beer is too sour sometimes, but it all comes down to drink-ability, and this beer was like tasting vinegars at the specialty kitchen store. That’s not to say the flavor was bad, simply that the beer was just way too sour. I’m not convinced that the arils of the pomegranates gave this beer its sourness, I think it was multiple fermentations due to the fruit additions – but its hard to tell without trying the base “house” beer alone.
The good news is that overwhelming sourness, while hard to drink on its own, can be blended to a more appropriate level. I never advocate for blending out a bad beer, but in this beers’ case, its more just about too much of a good thing, rather than a bad thing. Jacob could easily brew a version of his house beer without inoculating with souring bacteria and blend this brew back if he had much of it left over. What do you do when the beer is bottled and ends up too sour? Crack open a bottle of a neutral beer you like and blend the two! Post packaged blending is a great way to experiment and find new styles and ideas.
This multi-tasting event was one of the more fun tastings I’ve done in a while, simply because I went into each of these brews with NO idea about the base style (with the exception of the Quad, which Jacob marked as “Quad.”) I think this method really gives the taster the freedom to describe the beer in any way he or she feels is appropriate. It does make it difficult to say whether there is too much or too little of a particular flavor without a style guideline (appropriate hops or not?), however it doesn’t leave the taster looking for flavors – rather, we can focus on the ones in front of us.
I tried to convince Jacob that other than the over the top sourness, none of these beers are terrible. He thinks I’m just fluffing his ego to make up for the fact that I didn’t fall in love with any of these brews. That’s not the case – for the most part these are experimental brews with unique flavor additions and while they may not be perfect, there were no off flavors present. In my book, that deserves recognition alone, as the brewing process isn’t an easy one – especially when mixed fermentations are used. Jacob is doing some cool stuff, and I encourage you to check him out over at his site. His beers are unique, and with some moderate to fine tuning would be ones for which I’d eventually shell out more than my two cents.