Archive for August, 2013

17
Aug
13

Hey Abbott

About eight months ago, I promised readers of this blog a post on beer.  My strict publication schedule has finally brought us to that post in a timely manner.  Rather than write on beer at-large, I have decided to approach things a beer at a time – and then elaborate too much in the usual fashion.

Earlier this week I imbibed a brew from the Ommegang Brewery1 of Cooperstown, New York.  They call it “Abbey Ale”, and it is styled after the Dubbel ales produced by those wizards of beercraft, the Trappist monks of Belgium. Here is some information that greets the viewer of this 750mL, $9.99, corked bottle of beer:  8.2% ABV, a silhouette of two monk-like creatures clinking their goblets together, and the following script, “Ale Brewed with Licorice Root, Star Anise, Sweet Orange Peel, Coriander, and Cumin”, followed by, “Rich, Fruity and Aromatic Burgundian Brew”. All very nice, though it is this label information that has made this beer the second (maybe third) Ommegang brew that I’ve tried. Cumin, weird. Coriander, weird. And I dislike licorice. I also wasn’t sure what “Burgundian” really meant in relation to a beer, and I’m still not sure2.

Still, their Three Philosophers ale was ever-so-tasty, so I trusted the brewer if not this particular brew3.  So, I bought it, brought it home, carefully considered it, removed the cork, and poured half a glass in such a manner as to not disturb the settled yeast carcasses over much, yet produce a healthy ‘head’ of bubbles on the poured glass.  I read somewhere that this last bit (the pour) is crucial.  CRUCIAL.  Hard to say if I accomplished the first goal of the pour, though I can attest to achieving the second part.  Anyway, my impressions of this fancy brew once I had a sniff and a taste were – mixed.  All the visual cues were pleasing.  Nice carbonation and attractive color, a warm brown with a touch of red.  The problems started as soon as I lifted the glass toward my face.  The aroma of the beer had a fair amount of that anise/coriander in it, at least to my nose, and this is not what I’ve been conditioned to expect in smelling a beer.  Persevering, I took a drink, and was greeted by much the same.  All the herbs, so proudly displayed in the label text, were equally proudly displayed in the taste and odor of the brew.  This is not to say that the herbs completely dominated the beer.  I’ve had beer, fruity beer usually, in which that occurs, and it is akin to an assault.  No, here it is more akin to a slightly-too-firm handshake.  Not unpleasant, but perhaps a little uncomfortable.

Now this bottle cost me about eleven dollars, so I’m clearly not a particularly frugal person, but I’m also not such a spendthrift that I would let the rest of the bottle go to waste just because I didn’t like the first sip.  Luckily, because the herbs, though assertive, are not overpowering, the beer improves with continued imbibing.  You might ask, doesn’t every beer do this?  The short answer is yes of course4, but the point I’m trying to make here is that the unusual flavors of this beer grew on me.  By the time I was half a glass into the bottle, the taste and aroma of the beer became familiar, less obtrusive.  When I encounter a beer that is a little off-putting to start, it is not common that by the end of the bottle I end up rather liking it.  I think that if I had (1) a more open mind about how beer was meant to taste and smell, and (2) liked anise/licorice, I might have enjoyed this beer thoroughly from start to finish.  As it is, however, I don’t think I’ll be buying it again.  At least not at that price.

1 Also the brewers of a licensed promotional beer for Game of Thrones called the Iron Throne Golden Ale.  A quote from the brewer, “With a Lannister currently on the Throne, it made sense to do a delicate, but piercing Golden Blonde Ale with Noble hops.”  Well spoken, sir.
2 The only thing I could come up with after a bit of looking around is that good Burgundy wines are almost always hailed for having very complex and rich flavors.  I believe this is the quality that Ommegang meant to attribute to this beer.  Still, it is so unclear to the reader that I can only assume that the brewer was just attempting to piggyback on the good name of the Burgundy wine region, despite this brew having nothing to do with it.  Very odd.
3 Made this mistake with Dogfish Head Brewery once at the Oregon Brewers Festival.  The brewers of the very fine 90 Minute IPA also make the Black & Red.  Stay far, far away from that one my friends.  Syrupy, heavy, very fruity, high alcohol, and very, very minty in the middle of the hot Oregon summer.  Mint?  What?
4 Well, to a point anyway.

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02
Aug
13

Header Mark II

You, a reader of my blog, are now enjoying new and improved(?) scenery at the top of the page courtesy of my recent trip to Acadia National Park. Pictured is what I believe to be minuartia groenlandica, or the mountain sandwort.  Translated further, it is a plant (wort) that lives in alpine to sub-alpine environments amongst granite ledges and the gravel that results from those ledges’ erosion.  Aptly named and described by its wiki, I think, since this is exactly the kind of place I found it. It is relatively rare in Maine because the state is on the southern end of the flower’s range and the environment that it likes isn’t found in too many places there.  The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry (more specifically the Bureau of Geology, Natural Areas, and Coastal Resources within the aforementioned Department1) says that it hasn’t had a documented observation of one of these since 2002.  This suggests to me that either they haven’t bothered looking, or 2002 is when the particular webpage I am looking at was written.  Maybe both of these things are the case.

Anyway, I found all this out by searching the Internet, which is fantastic. I know that statement kind of makes me sound elderly, but I think anyone with half a measure of curiosity should be able to take a step back and wonder at the combination of clever technologies that allows me to start with a digital picture, type “tiny white flower Pemetic Acadia National Park” into Google, find a picture of the same flower captioned “mountain sandwort” on the hikenewengland.com webpage, type “mountain sandwort Acadia” into Google to get to a pdf describing “Focus Areas of Statewide Ecological Significance: Acadia East and West”, which gives me the scientific name of the flower, etc, etc.  Real life is science fiction.  Sort of.  I suppose I won’t be truly mesmerized until I can snap a picture of something relatively obscure like this flower, have my camera wirelessly transmit that picture to a server on the internet, which will run a sophisticated image analysis algorithm on it to identify the flower, compile the sum total of human knowledge on that flower, attach a few other pictures of the same species and related species for reference, and zip all that back to me in, say, a quarter of a second.  You can actually do this with Google Goggles, but it works only a very small subset of the world so far.  Until they get their act together2, I will have to find other things to marvel at.  Shouldn’t be too difficult.

1 Bureaucracy, what bureaucracy?
2 I mean, come on, right? Clearly, they are just twiddling their thumbs down there in Silicon Valley.