by Kendall Staggs

VERMONT BEERS
Here are some brief reviews of ten beers from Vermont, provided by my good friend Shawn Murphy.

Heart of Darkness Stout
(Magic Hat Brewing, South Burlington, VT):

The bottle features a really cool label, a trademark of Magic Hat beers. Another is that they are brewed with home-grown hops on the banks of the Ottauquerchee River (try saying that three times after one of these beers). Inky black in color, this Oatmeal Stout has a nice, creamy white head. It starts off with dry, roasty aromatics. In the flavor there is a delicious undercurrent of bittersweet chocolate. It has the character of a Foreign Extra Stout, and reminds the beer writer Garrett Oliver of bottled Beamish. Its body is light, but sufficient. It is slightly smoky, and some hop flavors and bitterness are evident before a very dry finish. Fred Eckhardt reviewed it and wrote that it go well with Ghiradelli dark chocolate; Michael Jackson wrote that it would go well with oysters. It is brewed with English 2-row Pale, Crystal, Cara Wheat, and Chocolate malt, plus roasted barley and rolled oats. The hops are Target, U.K. Progress, and North Down. Orignial gravity: 1.056. Alcohol: 5.3 percent by volume.

Blind Faith India Pale Ale
(Magic Hat Brewing, South Burlington, VT):

Another awesome label. This India Pale Ale has a golden amber color and a dense, rocky head. The hops are certainly evident in the aroma, flavor, and bitterness, and they are pleasant enough. What is missing is a solid malt base. Both the flavor and body are too thin, leaving a watery impression. It's not bad, but not great. It is brewed with all English malt, including 2-row Pale, Crystal, Chocolate, and Wheat. The hops are Willamette, U.K. Progress, and lots of Cascade. Original gravity: 1.056. Alcohol: 5.9 percent by volume.

Double Bag Ale
(Long Trail Brewing, Bridgewater Corners, VT):

The folks at Long Trail say that DŸsseldorf brewers sometimes brewed stronger versions of their Altbiers, and with this in mind, Long Trail has come up with a malty, full-bodied "Double Alt." They also call it a "Stickebier" (German slang for "secret brew"). This beer is dark amber in color. It is rich, malty, and full-bodied. The brewers insist that they used noble hops, but it reminded me of a lot of Pacific Northwest beers. It is fruity, with plenty of hop flavor, but not too much hop bitterness. I consider it a better-than-average Barleywine. Alcohol: 7.2 percent by volume.

Hibernator Ale
(Long Trail Brewing, Bridgewater Corners, VT):

This winter specialty is a Scotch Ale brewed with five different malts, brown sugar, and dash of honey. It was complex and warming, with plenty of malt flavor. It was very tasty, but it did not make me forget the better Scotch Ales from Scotland.

Stovepipe Porter
(Otter Creek Brewing, Middlebury, VT):

This Porter sure tastes a lot like a Stout, and its ingredients indicate that it should be called one. The head was thick with beige foam. Roasted coffee aromas dominate, while the flavors are rich, slightly sweet, and complex. The finish is rather burnt and moderately bitter. I really enjoyed this beer. It is made with Munich, Carapils, and Chocolate malt, plus roasted barley; it has Chinook, Cascade, and Willamette hops. Original gravity: 1.054. Alcohol: 5.4 percent by volume.

A Winter's Ale
(Otter Creek Brewing, Middlebury, VT):

This was supposed to have been a Scottish Ale. This was supposed to have been pleasantly sweet, full of caramel notes, and mildly hoppy. It was, instead, an undrinkable beer, with lots of unpleasant vegetative aromas and a combination of oxidized and sour flavors. Original gravity: 1.060. Alcohol: 5.8 percent by volume.

Trout River Chocolate Oatmeal Stout
(Trout River Brewing, Lyndonville, VT):

This black beer with a moderately thick white head starts out with some good Stout aromatics: a mixture of roast and chocolate. The flavors are rather weak, however, and it further suffers from being thin-bodied. Roasted barley is evident, but the finish is unpleasantly tart. I've had much better homebrewed Stouts.

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NW LOCAL WINTER BEERS
Here are some brief reviews of some of our local winter specialty beers.

Powder Hound Winter Ale
(Big Sky Brewing, Missoula, MT)

Deep copper color, huge beige head. Sweet, fruity aroma. Moderately sweet malt flavor. Just enough hop bitterness at the end. Rich, full-bodied, satisfying. Excellent.

Winter Fish Seasonal Ale
(Fish Brewing, Olympia, WA)

Pale golden color. Hoppy aroma. Hoppy flavor. Lots of hop bitterness. Did I say it was hoppy?

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EXTRAORDINARY IMPORTS
Here are some brief reviews of some of exceptional imported brews available at Belmont Station in Portland.

Young's Special London Ale
(Millennium Edition)
Light amber color, modest head. Sweet, fruity aroma. Sweet and caramelly on the palate. Just enough hop bitterness at the end for balance. The bottle says there are a "phenomenal amount of hops" but many HOTVers will find this not hoppy enough. I thought it was delicious-an exceptional British beer. (500 ml, 6.4 percent abv)

Kapuziner Hefe-Weizen
Pale straw color, dense rocky head. Authentic German Hefeweizen, with more of the clove than the banana esters in the aroma and flavor. Some hop bitterness is evident-about average for the style. Its appealing flavor is accentuated by a very creamy mouthfeel. This is one of the tastiest Weizenbiers I've ever had, from the famous Mšnchshof (monk's hood) Brewery in Kulmbach, Bavaria. (500 ml, 5.4 percent abv)

Crystal Diplomat Dark Czech Lager
Dark chestnut brown color, modest cream head. A dark lager from the second most famous brewery in Ceskè Budejovice (the most famous makes beer known in the United States as Czechvar). This lovely beer has fine, subtle aromatics and a delicious malt flavor. It is very satisfying; better than any Munich Dunkles I have had. When in the Czech Republic, remember to say "tmavè" if you want a dark version of a beer brand. (500 ml, 5.0 abv)

St. Amand French Country Ale
Pale amber color with a big, foamy, white head. A great Bière de Garde, more reminiscent of wine than beer. Earthy yeast aromatics dominate. Slightly sweet malt. Easy to drink for such an exotic beer. Very satisfying. Brewed by the Castelain Brewery in Bènifontaine, France, one of the few remaining Bière de Garde brewers, it uses barley malt from the Champagne region and hops from Alsace. (750 ml, 5.9 abv)

Boskeun Special Belgian Ale
Murky brown color with a thick beige head. The name of this seasonal beer from the Mad Brewers means "Easter Bunny." It is spicy, somewhat tart, and very fruity. Lots of fruity flavor and very potent. Like all the products from this brewery in Esen, Belgium, this beer takes drinkers on a wild ride. (333 ml, 8.0 abv)

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DOGFISH HEAD CRAFT BREWERY
Here are some brief reviews of five beers from the Dogfish Head Craft Brewery of Lewes, Delaware. They are new to Oregon and currently available at the Shop Ôn' Go grocery store on Van Buren in Corvallis. They are definitely worth seeking.

Chicory Stout
Chicory Stout is a rich, dark beer brewed with pale malt, wheat, roasted barley, oatmeal, plus whole Cascade and Fuggles hops. In addition, the brewers add a touch of roasted chicory, organic Mexican coffee, St. John's Wort, and licorice root. This beer is very smooth, slightly sweet, and has a restrained roasted quality that makes it an easy-to-drink Stout. The aromas are especially appealing. The winner of two gold medals at the 1998 Real Ale Festival in Chicago, Chicory Stout has been praised by a number of beer writers. (12 oz., 5.2 percent abv, 22 IBU)

Indian Brown Ale
The brewers call Indian Brown Ale a cross between a Scotch Ale, an IPA, and an American Pale Ale. I call it an extra strong American Brown Ale. This beer is well-hopped and has plenty of malt character. It is brewed with aromatic barley malt, caramelized brown sugar, plus whole Liberty and Goldings hops. It is rich, full-bodied, and satisfying. (12 oz., 7.2 percent abv, 50 IBU)

7Raison D'Être
The description on the label calls this "A deep, mahogany ale brewed with Belgian sugars, green raisins, and a sense of purpose." It does have a beautiful color-dark brown with ruby hues, with a thin creamy head on top. There is a definite Belgian character. The aromas are rich, sweet, and malty. The first taste impression is chocolate, and it is followed by an intense fruity middle that likely comes from the raisins. The hop bitterness and flavors are rather assertive but nice for balance. There is a hint of fusel alcohol in the finish. Voted "American Beer of the Year" in January 2000 by Malt Advocate magazine, Raison D'Être is a great beer-one that gives all beer lovers a reason to exist. (12 oz., 8.0 percent abv, 36 IBU)

Immort Ale
The description on the label says, "Vast in character, luscious and complex, this smooth, full-bodied ale reveals interwoven notes of maple, vanilla, and oak." The aromatics are great, the flavors are even better. It is extremely rich, rather sweet, and very satisfying, with a crisp hop bite at the end. Brewed with peat-smoked barley malt, it undergoes two fermentations: the first on ale yeast and the second on champagne yeast. It is brewed with organic juniper berry, vanilla, and maple syrup, and then aged on oak for two months. Named "Beer of the Year" in 1997 by The Philadelphia Daily News, Immort Ale provides an intense beer drinking experience. Lovers of Fred should be pleased with this one. I think it is better balanced. (12 oz, 11 percent abv, 40 IBU)

90 Minute IPA
The first thing that strikes one about this beer is its package: it comes in a corked and caged wine bottle with a rather crude-looking paper label that features a black and white photo of an old carnival performer getting ready to hammer a large nail into one of his nostrils. The side panel reads, "What you have here is a bottle-conditioned India Pale Ale featuring a single, constant, 90-minute hop addition of Cascade, Columbus, and Chinook hops. It is balanced by a ridiculous amount of English two-row barley malt. Then we dry hop." I shared this beer with some of the more accomplished beer judges at the last HOTV club meeting and the consensus was that although it was definitely a potent beer-drinking experience, the hop bitterness was not overpowering. I liked the Immort Ale much better. (750 ml, 9.0 percent abv, 90 IBU?)

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PROPERLY AGED BELGIAN BEERS

Here are some brief reviews of some of exceptional imported brews available at Belmont Station in Portland.

Saison de Pipaix
[750 ml, 6 percent abv]

Light amber color, fluffy white head, lots of brown yeast sediment from the last of the bottle. Tart, citrusy aroma. Flavors reminiscent of lemon zest with earthy yeast notes. Modest hop bitterness is evident. The ingredients include Munich malt, Hallertauer hops, ginger, black pepper, coriander, and Curaao oranges. It makes a great accompaniment to fine hors d'oeuvres. From the Brasserie ˆ Vapeur (Steam Brewery) in Pipaix, Belgium. (The bottle says this beer was brewed in October 1996 and bottled six weeks later, and then stored in the brewery's cellar.)

Vapeur d'Antan Ale (Bottled in 1995)
[750 ml, 8 percent abv]

Golden color, thick white head, lots of sediment from the bottom of the bottle. Another fruity, citrusy beer from the Steam Brewery in Pipaix. This one is stronger with more assertive aromas and flavors, though not quite as tart. Another fascinating beer, great with gourmet food.

N'Ice Chouffe (Bottled in 1996, #778)
[750 ml, 10 percent abv]

Wonderful bottle featuring two gnomes wearing snowshoes, warming their hands over a little fire. A squirrel and a deer look on and there's a quaint, snow-covered church in the background. The first thing I noticed about this Belgian brew is that it has almost no carbonation, from the time I opened it through an aggressive pour. Dark amber in color, it immediately reminded me of Samichlaus. Sweet malt, cherry, caramel, and warm alcohol notes dominate the aroma and the flavor. It was very tasty, and I drank it at a leisurely pace, sometimes recooling the bottle but consuming most of it at cellar temperature. This is an excellent dessert beer, to be savored like fine brandy-I highly recommend this one.

Guldenberg Belgian Abbey Beer (Bottled in June 2000) [750 ml, 8 percent abv]
This beer comes in a plain green bottle with an elegant paper wrapper. It pours with a huge, fluffy white head. Its color is hazy golden. The aroma is dominated by fruity esters reminiscent of ripe peaches. The flavor is dominated by fruity notes, warm alcohol, and a spicy hoppiness found only in a few other Belgian beers (Orval comes to mind). Hop bitterness is also evident-not like an IPA but more than most Belgian beers-and this does a nice job of balancing the fruity sweetness. According the label Hallertauer and Brewers Gold are used. The high carbonation also gives the beer a playful mouthfeel. The Brewery De Ranke is owned and operated by two friends, Nino Bacelle and Guido Devos, who brew their beers in small batches on weekends in a turn-of-the-century brewery in Wevelgem, West Flanders. This beer is outstanding.

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A TASTE OF GERMANY ON THE WEST COAST

German-style Ales are rare in galaxy of domestic craft beers, but here are five West Coast brews that claim a German lineage. All of these are available at Shop Ôn' Go on Van Buren in Corvallis.

Widmer Sommerbräu, Widmer Brewing Company, Portland, Oregon
From the Widmer website: "Sommerbräu is crisp, refreshing, and slightly dry with a hint of hop flavor and aroma. It's proof that a lighter beer can also be a flavorful beer." I agree with all that; it is certainly a good summer beer. But it advertises itself as a "Golden Kölsch Beer," and I don't think it quite measures up as a true Kölsch. It needs a different yeast strain to achieve that distinction.
Alcohol: 4.8 percent by volume
Bitterness: 26 IBU
Pale and Wheat malts
Spalter Select aroma and bittering hops

Alaskan Summer Ale, Alaskan Brewing Company, Juneau, Alaska
From the Alaskan website: "Alaskan Summer Ale balances a softly malted palate with the clean freshness of German Hallertauer hops. The straw-gold color and easy drinkability are an enjoyable way to celebrate summer." Once again, this is advertised as a Kölsch-style ale. It is light, easy to drink, and flavorful. But missing are the characteristics of a true Kölsch, which include yeasty notes and fairly substantial body.
Alcohol: 5 percent by volume
Bitterness: 27 IBU
Pale and Munich malts
Hallertauer hops

Curve Ball Kölsch-Style Ale, Pyramid Brewing Company, Seattle
From the Pyramid website: "Inspired by the traditional Kölsch-style beers of Cologne, Germany, Curve Ball boasts a clean, crisp, slightly herbal taste and a lighter body." Here's the real deal. I have only had a few Kölsches from Germany (and a few award-winning homebrewed versions), but this one seems very true to style, and that includes a whiff of sulfur in the nose that can only come from the right yeast strain. It is a very good summer beer, and great with sandwiches.
Original Gravity: 1.045
Alcohol: 4.8 percent by volume
Two-Row Barley malt, malted Wheat
Vanguard and Perle hops

Uncle Otto's Weissbier, Portland Brewing Company, Portland, Oregon
From the Portland Brewing website: "Uncle Otto's Weiss Beer [is] an authentic German Wheat Beer on par with Munich's finest. This new spring and summer seasonal is made with a remarkable yeast [Weihenstephan] that imparts complex overtones of banana and clove." The site goes on to say that the beer was named "Weissbier" in an effort to differentiate it from the "rather bland American-style Hefeweizens," adding "They're completely different beers." Brewmaster Alan Kornhauser says, "This is one of the few beers in which yeast is critical to flavor." I would argue that yeast is critical to the flavor of many beer styles, but agree that it is essential to an authentic Bavarian Weizenbier. True to their word, the folks at Portland Brewing have produced a very flavorful example, one that is reminiscent of the Paulaner Hefeweizen, with exaggerated banana notes in the aroma and taste. Congratulations to the brewers.
Pale Two-Row malt, Northwest Winter Wheat
Tettnang hops

Sudwerk Hefe Weizen, Sudwerk Privatbrauerei Hübsch, Davis, California
From the Sudwerk website: "A Bavarian-style unfiltered wheat beer with a light fruity taste and a slightly spicy finish." This is a more balanced version of the style, with more of the clove-like spiciness reminiscent of the best Bavarian brands. I really liked this one; in fact it is one of the best American interpretations of a German Weizenbier available. Skip the lemon. Enjoy all its subtleties of this beer.
50 percent Pale Two-Row malt, 50 percent Wheat.
Hallertauer hops

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BIG, BIGGER, BIGGEST

Here are some big beers that are still suitable for summer sipping. I purchased the first two at Belmont Station in Portland. The third one came from Liquid Solutions in Tigard. Like Belmont Station, Liquid Solutions keeps all its beers cool and dark; shoppers see only the display bottles along a wall. It has a huge selection of imports and domestics and a knowledgeable staff. I recommend it highly.

Topvar Dark Lager
This beer from Slovakia features a dark chestnut brown color and a modest cream head. A brew has all the intense, roasted character of a Stout but the smoothness of a lager. There is a slight burnt quality from black malt. It is very drinkable and satisfying-I recommend it with dark chocolate.
[500 ml, 5 percent abv]

DeLandtsheer Malheur Tripel
Here is a delicious Monastic Ale from Buggenhout, Belgium. It calls itself a "blonde, double- strength (20¼ Plato), bottle-conditioned ale with the outstanding flavor of whole hops." I found it spicy, even peppery on the finish, with a very soft mouthfeel. It became even more delicious as it warmed.
[750 ml, 10 percent abv]

Belzebeth
Talk about intense-this beer proudly proclaims its potency on the bottle neck foil. The label features a rather nasty-looking, dancing, long-tailed devil. It is brewed by the Brasserie Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc Brewery) in northern France, and it is related stylistically to the Belgian beers Duvel, Lucifer, Satan, Judas, and Hapkin. Unlike its Belgian cousins, it is all-malt (no candi sugar), and at least one beer writer, Roger Prost, has speculated that the brewers use champagne yeast to achieve its strength. Dark gold in color with a big white head, it immediately grabbed my attention with alcohol warmth in the aroma and flavor. Next, a myriad of spices and fruity esters competed for my attention with an intense maltiness. The dry, satisfying finish was also marked by a fairly assertive hop bitterness. Not as thick as you might think, it is nevertheless a sipping beer. It reminded me of Scaldis Noël-a spicy, strong beer in its own right at 12 percent abv. But Belzebeth is in a class by itself. Look for it if you plan to attend the International Beerfest.
[250 ml, 15 percent abv]

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GERMAN BEER NIGHT

One night, Joel Rea and Scott Leonard joined me for an evening of eats and drinks - German style. It was all very delicious.

Hirsch Hefeweisse
(5.1 percent abv) Hefeweizen
Privatbrauerei Hirsch, Sonthoffen, Bayern This was good version of the South German Wheat Beer style. It was pale, cloudy, and had plenty of yeast sediment. The aromas and flavors had, according to Joel Rea, "tropical overtones." The ripe banana esters were certainly present, but the clove qualities were muted. I've had better Hefeweizens, but this was a good one.

Steingadener Weisse Dunkel
(5.3 percent abv) Dunkelweizen
Aktienbrauerei Kaufbeuren, Kaufbeuren, Bayern Joel, Scott, and I were all impressed by the rich, chocolaty malt in this Dark Wheat Beer. It also had some Weizenbier character-bananas and clove. It was very drinkable and very enjoyable. The thousand-year-old town of Kaufbeuren, in southwestern Bavaria, is considered one of the "pearls of the Allgäu region," which is famous for its castles and cheeses.

Stifts Weizenbock
(7.0 percent abv) Weizenbock
Allgäuer Bräuhaus, Kempten, Bayern Unlike most Weizenbocks I have had, this was blonde in color. It was one of two beers we sampled that had problems. It was sour and had some off aromas and flavors. It reminded me a little of drinking water from a garden hose. Scott didn't think it was so bad, but there was still beer left in the bottle.

Reissdorf Kölsch
(4.8 percent abv) Kölsch
Privatbrauerei Heibrich Reissdorf, Köln, Nordrhein-Westfalen This very pale beer featured the light, fruity malt characteristic of a genuine Kölsch, and also had a fairly assertive hop profile. It was a well-balanced, easy to drink beer, perfect for summertime. One can almost see the cathedral in Cologne.

Weltenburger Kloster Urtyp Hell
(4.6 percent abv) Munich Helles
Klosterbrauerei Weltenburg, Kelheim, Bayern Here is one of those beers that makes me immediately think "German." Light in color and body, it has a distinctive malt character with honeyish notes, and just the right amount of Noble hops for balance. It was simply an outstanding beer. The Weltenburg Brewery claims to be the oldest monastic brewery in the world, tracing its brewing to at least 1050. It is located near the Danube River town of Kelheim, about 60 miles northeast of Munich. Kelheim is famous for its "Devil's Wall," which was part of the wall the Romans built to keep the Germanic tribes from invading their empire to the south.

Hofbräuhaus München
(5.0 percent abv) Munich Helles
Hofbräuhaus, München, Bayern This beer is similar to the last one, and it comes from one of the larger, more mainstream breweries in Bavaria. Perhaps that it why it seems to lack many of the distinctive qualities that we liked in the Weltenburger Helles. Given the outstanding reputation of the Munich's "court brew house," we were all a little disappointed.

Holzhauser Landbier
(5.0 percent abv) Munich Helles
Aktienbrauerei Kaufbeuren, Kaufbeuren, Bayern None of us knew what a "Landbier" is, and after I looked up the brewery's website, I still don't know. Under "products" it just showed a picture of nine beer bottles. My guess is that it is a Helles, because it was pale gold in color and fairly light-bodied. It had a nice malt and hop character but could have been more assertive.

Jubiläums Pils
(5.0 percent abv) German Pils
Aktienbrauerei Kaufbeuren, Kaufbeuren, Bayern This beer was the biggest disappointment of the night. It was murky and chunky-big no-nos for any Pilsner-with traces of sulfur in the nose and some rather unpleasant flavors. We liked all the other beers from this brewery, but this one was not very drinkable.

Thurn und Taxis Roggen
(4.7 percent abv) Rye Beer
Fuersliche Brauerei Thurn und Taxis, Regensburg, Bayern I had tried this beer before, but barely remembered it. It had a beautiful copper color, an enticing malty aroma, a delicious, slightly sweet flavor profile, and wonderful mouthfeel. The rye notes were distinctive-a little smokey and grainy-but they were not overpowering. It was a delicious complement to our German food.

Würzburger Schwarzbier
(4.9 percent abv) Black Beer
Hobrbräu Würzburg, Würzburg, Bayern This was one our favorite beers of the night. The rich, dark malts were the star, reminding me of dark chocolate, but there were also enough Noble hops for a balanced bitterness. Smooth, creamy, and easy to drink, this was just a great overall beer. The city of Würzburg is in Franconia (northern Bavaria), and is famous for once having been the home of the emperor Friedrich Barbarossa.

Weltenburger Kloster Asam Bock
(7.3 percent abv) Doppelbock
Klosterbrauerei Weltenburg, Kelheim, Bayern This dark amber beer was my favorite in the session. It featured a wonderful malt aroma and flavor, but was not too sweet. The alcohol was evident but it did not get in the way of the taste profile. Rich and complex, it was a classic Doppelbock.

Cambonator Doppelbock
(7.2 percent abv) Doppelbock
Allgäuer Brauhaus, Kempten, Bayern This full-bodied, dark, malty sweet Doppelbock is from the Allgäuer Brewery in Kempten, a southwestern Bavarian town near Lake Constance, where Germany, Austria, and Switzerland meet. This was a good one, but not quite as good as the Weltenburger Doppelbock. The town of Kempten is on the site of the old Roman settlement of Cambodunum, and this is the inspiration for the beer's name.

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