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Brew Notes: Belgian styles from New England.

Notes from the tasting panel for Modern Brewery Age, by Peter V.K. Reid, editor of Modern Brewery Age; with Gregg Glaser, editor of Yankee Brew News, and Tom Conti and Robert Lachman of the YBN tasting panel. Joining us each week is a rotating cast of tasters, to include Dr. Steve Victor, formerly of Yale University; Connecticut state government economist Ernie Adamo; home brewer Phil Simpson; Northeast Beverage field sales director Greg Zannella; Maltose Express Homebrew Shop co-founder Tess Szamatulski; Former rocket scientist and future craft brewer Mark Szamatulski; Marty Juliano, Northeast rep for Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.; Renzo Kian-Kubota, artisanal beer buyer for Harry's of Fairfield, CT, and a variety of guest tasters, lately including newly-minted commercial brewer John Watson. Every month we sample 40-50 beers. We write up the the best examples of a given flight of beers; Our rating of "Five mugs" denotes "Excellent" and "Superb" with all panelists in agreement; Four mugs denotes "Very Good."

*****

Two Roads Gueze Two Roads Brewing Co. Stratford, CT

The Two Roads Brewing Co. was founded by industry veterans who aimed to build the Two Roads house brands in a measured fashion, while utilizing 90% of their initial capacity for contract brewing. They've assembled a raft of contract partners, many of them local and regional, but perhaps since Connecticut is under-served by strong local craft brands, the house brands have really taken off. When we asked a Connecticut wholesaler what's selling at the moment, he answered without hesitation: "Two Roads."

Two Roads Brewer Phil Markowski has built up a polished repertoire of beers, including Li'l Heaven, arguably the best session IPA in New England. However, Phil's true passion has always been Belgian styles. He was the author of Farmhouse Ales, published in 2004 by Brewer's Publications, and during his years as head brewer at Southampton Publick House, saisons and bieres de garde were house specialties. Now Mr. Markowski has produced that holy grail of Belgian beers, a gueze.

Mr. Markowski describes the process thus: "We add cultures, and after several months we add other souring agents, bacteria, pediococcus, and Brett, we let it go and be patient, when the beer is in the barrel, the bacteria seals beer off from air, allowing the bacteria that are anaerobic to work, and a year plus down the road, we bottle it. It's a long process to do it the traditional way."

The Two Roads gueze has one unusual characteristic--a touch of honey. "We have beehives on the property," Mr. Markowski notes, "so we took some honey to prime for refermentation, the yeast consumes that and create C[O.sub.2]. It's not traditional but gives us a sense of place."

Our tasters ranked this gueze right up with the Belgian versions, and they liked the grace note of honey.

"A nose that would make Cyrano proud," said Dr. Steve Victor. "Has real lambic character."

"Beautiful lambic nose," said Robert Lachman of New England Brewing Co.

"Tart and funky aroma, this is right on," said Pete Reid.

"Flavor is also beautifully tart and clean," Mr. Lachman added.

"There is a honey sweetness in the background, but it's subtle," Dr. Victor noted. "That slight sweetness makes it distinctive. I'd take this over a dry convention gueze any day. It's tart without being metallic. A very seductive finish--it's tart then it drops away."

"A fruitiness that makes it delicious, like the best kind of sour candy, with a sweetness that makes it balanced," said restaurateur Frank Whitman.

"It has all the character of a nice gueze, that slight sweetness of the honey softens the edges," said Gregg Glaser of Yankee Brew News.

*****

Spencer Trappist Ale St. Joseph's Abbey Spencer, MA

The first and only certified Trappist brewery in the United States has been producing an abbey single for about a year now. Our panelists gave the beer top marks, although some thought the packaging was a bit too stark and simple for a beer with such an important and intriguing back story. And the price point is pretty high, $17.99 for a four-pack, right up there with the imported Trappists.

"A clovey, yeasty, sweet, spicy abbey single nose," said Gregg Glaser. "Aroma profile is higher than your average single, more banana and clove."

"The nose is nice, that banana and clove carries into the flavor," said Phil Simpson. "Flavor profile is right on, the right amount of sweetness, and malt and spice. Carbonation is a little high."

"There is some good spice in the middle, and it finishes perfectly," said guest taster Lawrence Kaczmarek. "That extra C[O.sub.2] is OK by me, it adds something too it, gives it a more heavenly feel."

"All the authentic character," said Gregg Glaser of Yankee Brew News.

"A beautiful beer," said taster Robert Lachman. "Balanced clove and spice, very drinkable."

"Exactly what I expect from the style," said Tom Conti. "Clove up front, then the sweetness. Right on style, a perfect job."

"Very European, and quite delicious," said restaurateur Frank Whitman.

"Stylistically perfect," said Greg Zannella of Northeast Distributors. "It's not overly clovey like some of the American-brewed Belgian styles. There is a good amount of spice, but it is balanced, there is a good amount of sweetness there."

"Great example of the style, and it's nice that they are making it right here in the U.S." said Lawrence .

"Nicely done," Phil said. "Sweetness and malt and spice all well melded. A very pleasing beer."

*****

Soft spoken Biere de Table & Demure smoked Saison Thomas Hooker Brewing Co. Bloomfield, CT

The Thomas Hooker Brewing Co. of Bloomfield, CT, has produced a Belgian-style twelve pack with three Belgian style beers. Two of the three beers in the package--Soft Spoken Belgian Table Beer, and Demure Smoked Saison--receive our top recommendation (We weren't nuts about the third beer, a Belgian-style IPA).

The Biere de Table is a 3.8% abv brew with only 14 IBUs. "Lovely sweet nose, a little candi," said brewer John Watson. 'Proper for the style. Carbonation is low."

"Sweet lemony nose, very nice," said homebrew shop owner Paul Zocco. "Citrus carries onto the flavor, this is nice and clean."

"Peachy citrusy nose, you could scarf this down, mild and pleasant, nice bitterness and not too sweet," said taster Tom Conti.

As for the Demure Beechwood Smoked Saison, it's a 6% abv saison, made with the addition of beechwood smoked malt.

"Honey and smoke in the nose," said Paul Zocco, "it's a little sweet, but good."

"Smoke is there, with the honeyed malt," John Watson agreed. "Also a touch of apples. It's sweet for a saison, though, it's more like a Belgian blond ale with smoked malt. The smoke is well balanced with the sweetness, they should change the name to smokin' blonde."

"Light smoke in the flavor, you get it right away," said Tom Conti.

"Just a touch of smoke," said Gregg Glaser. "A little sweet but very nice."
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Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Geographic Code:1U1CT
Date:Nov 28, 2014
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