QTN™: Hitachino Nest Beer

Lurking in the back of my fridge tonight, and waiting for me to taste it, was this little Japanese gem. Hitachino Nest is the first beer from Kiuchi Brewery in Japan, which has been making sake since 1823. For a first beer ever, it’s fabulous. In the Belgian white ale style (flavor-wise, if not color—it’s a little darker and redder than the standard white ale), the beer is spiced and hopped appropriately, with fabulous big yeasty nose and after finish. No wonder it’s won so many awards.

QTN™: Kleinbrouwerij de Landtsheer Malheur

Today’s beer is Malheur, from Kleinbrouwerij de Landtsheer, a Belgian traditional-revival “microbrewery.” This bottle conditioned Belgian ale is spicy with notes of clove and ginger and even a little banana from the yeast, with floral hops up front on the palate and a long dry finish. Michael Jackson (the beer MJ) notes that the brewery uses their own fresh hops which explains the unusually floral character of the beer.

The name? That’s a better story. There’s a uniquely Belgian style of strong blonde ales that all have names like “Duvel” (devil), “Lucifer,” “Mort Subite” (Sudden Death), and “Delerium Tremens.” Malheur? It means “misfortune.” Ironic, for such a good beer.

QTN™: Ridley’s Witchfinder Porter

Before I tuck into follow-up thoughts from Dave’s talk today at Microsoft, a brief pause of appreciation for a really fine porter. One of my monthly beer selections, Ridley’s Witchfinder Porter. Color when poured is a deep ruby-black, with a big (albeit shortlived) thick white head. Nose is malty, toffee-ish almost, with hints of chocolate. After that, the initial taste is malty and full but turns surprisingly, pleasantly dry after, with hints of smoke and more chocolate after. Definitely recommended as a pleasant change from American porters (not that there’s anything wrong with them…)

QTN™: Harpoon Winter Warmer

Since I started making tasting notes on beer only after I moved to the west coast, I missed an opportunity to review one of my favorites. Fortunately, my loving wife informed my in-laws of my preference for Harpoon’s Winter Warmer before we got into town, and they had stocked up in anticipation of our arrival.

The beer, a seasonal spiced winter ale from this Boston brewery, is a dark caramel in color with notes of orange. The citrus notes carry on in the nose, which is spicy with orange peel, and the spice notes, predominantly cinnamon and nutmeg, carry through to the finish. The beer, as befits its kinship to the justly celebrated Harpoon IPA, is thoroughly hopped and spiced, but not so much as to overwhelm the well balanced malt which lends a delightful mouthfeel. Always recommended.

QTN™: Buffalo Bill Pumpkin Ale

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these; seems like the seasonal beers are easier to make notes about. This is probably because a lot of seasonals, particularly winter beers but also some autumnal varieties, rely on a lot of spices to provide their flavor, and it’s easier to say “nutmeg up front” than “vague aromas of bananas.”

And Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale is definitely nutmeg up front. Big big taste of nutmeg with just a little cinnamon and allspice, that fades into a well balanced hop bitterness that fades into with a lot of malt behind. The pumpkin is there, but as anyone who’s tasted pumpkin in anything but pie would guess, it’s mostly providing malty balance rather than a distinct flavor. But it’s a better balanced pumpkin ale than most I’ve tried.

QTN™: Baltika Russian Original Dark Beer

A local distributor just started carrying a couple kinds of beer from a St. Petersburg brewery, Baltika (Russian site here). The Original Dark beer is dark, but only the way an amber or Newcastle is dark. But the flavor is great—a touch of caramel balanced by some hops, with a dark malty undercurrent. I might have to get another. But I have all their other flavors to try, plus some Polish varieties.

QTN™: Mestreech’s Aajt

The beer club that I belong to is starting to cut corners. This is the second shipment that’s arrived without tasting notes. Which is unfortunate, because I know less than nothing about Mestreech’s Aajt, the magnificent Dutch beer I’m currently drinking, except that it’s outstanding.

It’s a brown ale with a very light head. The initial taste is a shocker—bracing, tart, and sharp with a slight note of sweet malt behind it. Very reminiscent of classic Rodenbach, which makes me wonder what it’s doing coming from Holland. A great, refreshing summer beer.

QTN™: MacTarnahan Black Watch Cream Porter

MacTarnahan’s Black Watch Cream Porter won as best porter in the 2001 Great American Beer Festival awards, and it’s easy to see why. Made (according to the website) with oatmeal as well as malted and unmalted grains, the beer is actually pretty light in mouthfeel, but the flavor is incredible. (This may have been enhanced by the fact that I was drinking the Limited Edition version, which conditions the porter in used bourbon casks!) It pours black, with a slightly brown-tinged head. The nose is slightly malty but subdued, but then the first taste: creamy sweetish, with a lingering hint of something. A couple of tastes later and it becomes clear: vanilla from the cask, with a faint overtone of the sweet bourbon. Anthem America thinks it’s a slightly “burnt” flavor; he might be right, but I think it’s more “toasted.”

Honestly, after tasting so many Belgians, I don’t really have words to describe how good this beer is. It’s a completely different flavor vocabulary. Highly recommended.

I enjoyed this one last night over grilled lamb and garlic sausages, which were found at A&J Meats and Seafood on Queen Anne. Thank God, finally found a butcher out here. They aren’t the same old school style as our Boston butcher, Frank (really Francesco), but their stuff is top notch. Their hot Italian sausage is pretty good too.

QTN™: Reinært Flemish Wild Ale

It’s been a while since I’ve done a QTN (Quick Tasting Note), but this Flemish ale drove me to it. The ale is a golden Belgian, 9% ABV (alcohol by volume), and pours with a thick creamy head that stays tall for at least ten minutes. Nose is, true to the name, wild, with hints of clove and peach. Taste is astonishing: sweet up front with more spice and fruit flavor, great bready yeast coming through, and a slightly bitter finish from the hops. Fabulous late spring or early summer beer, probably too heavy for a really hot day but refreshing on a mid-June cloudy 60° Seattle day.

QTN™: Not all barleywines are gold

Tonight’s tasting experiment is LaConner Brewing Company’s Olde Curmudgeon Barleywine Style Ale. I’ve been waiting about a week to try this one, but I think my wait was in vain. This is a truly disappointing barleywine.

Pour: flat, no head. Taste: heavy, syrupy, sickly sweet, with a slightly chalky aftertaste. Smells of yeast, and not in a good way. It’s possible the bottle is old or was stored improperly, I suppose, but I don’t think so. It’s just unbalanced—needs way stronger hop to compensate for the sweetness and alcohol—and not very pleasant to taste. Down the drain.

QTN™: Kerst Pater Winter Ale

Kerst Pater Special Winter Ale: Another Belgian beer today, another winter ale. Will I ever get tired of either? Not as long as I have taste buds and it’s cold out. —On the pour you know this beer is serious. It looks totally black, but when held to the light it reveals a winey red deep within. Head poured dense and tall, rising about half an inch above the top of my glass before subsiding without incident or spillover. Nose complex, yeasty, a little spicy, a little pine note giving a hint of hops to come. Tasting: big malt up front, lingering kiss of hops at the end. Spicy all right, but not overwhelmingly so. Just a deep bready flavor with hints of nutmeg on the way down.

QTN™: New Belgium Frambozen

So a while back I was talking about fruit lambics, and I said something to the effect that the beer was better when it didn’t taste overwhelmingly like the fruit it came from. Well, the Frambozen from New Belgium Brewing Company is not overpowered by the taste of raspberries. The bit that’s awkward is that it could actually use a bit more raspberry flavor, or something. Great brown ale, but I think the lambic flavor—the natural yeast—would have brought out the raspberry a bit more. Still quite pleasant and drinkable, but as New Belgium have had a history of putting out beers that approach the highest Belgian standard this one doesn’t quite hit the mark.

QTN: Hale’s Ales Rudyard’s Rare Barleywine

More Northwestern beers for George today. The style known as barleywine is generally characterized by high alcohol level and high residual sweetness (it’s difficult to make a beer both very dry and high in alcohol, as substantial amounts of sugars are needed to encourage the yeasts to produce the alcohols).

This particular barleywine is a very limited edition from Hale’s Ales—so limited that it’s branded Rudyard’s Rare rather than Hale’s. Looking more like a British specialty beer than one of Hale’s usual brews, it nevertheless is clearly a Northwest beer, with high hopping balanced against the very malty sweetness. It’s perceivably strong, but remarkably balanced considering the high alcohol level (9.2%). Not a lunchtime beer. —Excuse me, I need a nap.

QTN: Snoqualmie Falls Avalanche Winter Ale

This edition of the Quick Tasting Notes™ strays far from the Belgian beers that have dominated lately, back into the Pacific Northwest (at George’s request). Those who visit Snoqualmie Falls for the dramatic waterfalls, or head east to the pass for skiing, probably never knew that there was a brewery nearby. Okay, neither did I, until I found the Avalanche (see the bottom of the linked page). Malty, a deep copper color, no apparent spices, but quite hoppy—in fact, slightly bitter from the strong Northwest hops. Definitely a winter, rather than holiday, beer.

Quick tasting notes: Delirium Tremens Noël

It’s a little late to be tasting holiday beers, but I found the Delirium Tremens holiday beer, their Noël, in the wine department of DeLaurenti’s at Pike Place Market on Saturday and had to check it out. This holiday beer, like the Orchard Street Jingle Ale, is spiced; unlike the Jingle Ale, the Delirium Tremens has a depth of flavor and a sweet bready aftertaste from the complex yeast strains used that keeps you guessing about the flavor. Is it cinnamon? ginger? just fantastic after-flavors from the fermentation? God knows but it’s good.