Saturday, August 24, 2013

Orval Trappist Ale

Sure to make the most expert pourer of beer seem amateurish.

Orval Trappist Ale from the Brasserie D’Orval
6.9% ABV (although that number is debatable

The ale being reviewed tonight is one of two produced from within the walls of the Belgian monastery, Abbaye Notre-Dame d'Orval, the Orval Trappist beer. 

The hue is gold bullion liquefied and placed in glass. Orval appears light and effervescent. The head is huge; bubbly but not creamy.  A puffy rather than thunderous cloud. 

Those little bubbles, like tiny sea eggs, settle to the bottom of the glass.  Occasionally, a few sprint toward the white layer that rests atop the liquid.

As more beer is delivered to the vase, the race of bubbles becomes an all out power struggle with endless baby spheres racing each other to their foamy escape.  

The aroma is like a tractor-pulled trailer full of straw on an autumn night.  The straw is accented by a touch of citrus that makes for a pleasant but not overly pungent scent. 

It becomes immediately obvious that Orval's uniqueness defies categorization.  It initially delivers a surprisingly abrupt alcoholic bite that, thankfully, mellows as the beer sits. 

Nevertheless, a tremendous battle is occurring here.  The frontline pits sour versus bitter, but the cavalry exists in an extraordinary array of characteristics.  

At first, the product of that battle-royale is a bit disappointing.  Imagine something akin to rubbing alcohol.  Not good.  But, to great delight, Orval grows significantly more appealing with time.  In fact, the dynamic change of this beer during a single setting is testament to its depth and gives the beer a kind of luxurious appeal (almost to suggest that this is the connoisseur's beer; one whose best attributes would be missed if downed with haste).  

This beer is complex, and requires slow deconstruction.  It has an acidic nature not unlike orange juice.  Yet, the flavor profile is so very little like orange juice, and very much more like a zesty lime juice matched with the intriguing warmth of a scotch.  

The base of this beer is briny.  It shares the mineral quality of a Gose.  But that's it.  In every other aspect, Orval is much more in your face than the gentle Gose. 

At first, Orval seems more unique than good.  But then it creeps on you.  Ultimately, it develops such as to be quite tasty, and unlike anything else in the fridge (or cellar).  One wouldn't sit around the campfire crashing several of these.  But one could, with great pleasure, sip a single Orval while enjoying a delicious cut of steak.  

As it subdues, Orval eventually becomes a bit more reminiscent of a Saison, in a very general sense.  It grows more "wild."  So, as to say that a farmhouse yeast (or something like it) slowly peaks through. Though it never fully becomes Saison-like.  Truly, Orval is not of any single style.  

So, about that complexity.  Let's say this is a Saison (as wrong as that is).  If so, it is one with an alcoholic kick not shared by others of the style.  And despite seeming airy with a fluffy head, it hardly drinks lightly, though its refreshing nature is slowly released during the duration it spends in the glass.  Orval's undeniable citrusy Trappist sourness is abutted by an unexpected bitter note. 

This beer is so artfully balanced that, as a whole, it is an enigma. 

Due mostly to uniqueness, Orval receives 3 stars of a possible 5 from  

It could be supposed that only Orval's most hardy advocates could enjoy more than one or two of these during any one sitting.  But trying one is a must. And, so, Orval receives TheCraftBeerGuru's highest recommendation


Saturday, August 10, 2013

3 Stars Brewing Anniversary Bash at Churchkey, DC

If the initial hours of the event were indicative, 3 Stars Brewing celebrated its first birthday at Churchkey on Friday night with incredible success.  

Anxious patrons queued at Churchkey's entrance twenty minutes prior to its 4:00 p.m. opening.  The bar quickly reached (and probably eclipsed) "standing room only," with yours truly managing the remaining open stool at the crux of the bar; no doubt reserved for the creepy guy in the corner, sniffing, swirling, observing beer while madly applying pen to pad.  

3 Stars offerings were plentiful on tap, as well as from the cask.  And the styles diverse. Light stuff, including a handful of Saison varieties, all the way to darkness, including a Russian Imperial Stout.  Even a low ABV rye ale was available. 

3 Stars brought to its own birthday party gifts to please everybody.

While the beer was the star of the event, the orchestrator was clearly local beer sommelier, Greg Engert. Engert, beer coordinator for the Neighborhood Restaurant Group of bars, swam deftly through the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd, and around, under, and past frantic (but never frazzled) bar staff.  Often, he was trailed by a flashbulb popping photographer.  

Greg Engert, the rockstar of DC's craft beer scene. 

A tremendous crowd gathered to celebrate 3 Stars' first year -- growing thick even within the first hour of doors opening. The Churchkey staff impressed, handling with remarkable ease numbers that could have overwhelmed. Empty glasses were always and immediately replenished.  

The size wasn't the only thing tremendous about the crowd.  The same adjective was appropriate for the gathering's female contingent (at least in the opinion of this young(ish) male). To put in subtly. More direct? Wow, 3 Stars definitely brought sexy back!

Craft beer rock stars, beautiful women, brew snobs, and countless others congregated at Churchkey Friday evening for a single reason: to celebrate 3 Stars beers.  And most of those beers were hits. While one was a notable miss.  Reviews follow...

The Best...

Two to the Dome IPA

Two to the Dome 
3 Stars Brewing Company, 8.0% ABV
@ Churchkey, Logan Circle, Washington, D.C.

Two to the Dome poured orange in color with a slight head that faded immediately.  It opened with an astonishing citrus scent reminiscent of a freshly cracked can of mandarin oranges. 

While hop spice lacked, its absence left unhindered a delectable flavor profile that was highlighted by massive grapefruit and delicious tangerine.  

Two to the Dome's flaws included a texture that was a bit too thin, and an aftertaste that was mostly absent. 

The highlight may have been Two to the Dome's overall taste had it not been for the superior aroma. The Citra used for dry-hopping made for an unmistakable and utterly pleasing scent. One that compares well with the best in class.  

Two to the Dome is at least a 4 star (of 5) beer, and is highly recommended by

The Worst...

The Movement IPA

The Movement
3 Stars Brewing Company, 5.0% ABV
@ Churchkey, Logan Circle, Washington, D.C.

The most appealing feature of this beer was its appearance which was orange and bright, like the sun. 

The aroma was the first hint that The Movement was going to disappoint.  That scent was off-putting, and (a first for this reviewer) portrayed a tomato-like character.  

Upon tasting, The Movement proved a one-trick pony relying solely and unfortunately on hop spice that dominated the otherwise insipid flavor profile.  

The bitterness, lasting throughout, was accompanied mildly by an unripe grapefruit note that simply failed.  

The Movement was dry-hopped with Centennial and Cascade hops. Unfortunately, the effort did nothing to make this beer anything more than a "typical" IPA, and not really a well done one at that. 

The Movement receives 1 of 5 stars, and certainly no recommendation from 

The Others...

Citra and Lemon Peel Saison

Citra and Lemon Peel Saison
3 Stars Brewing Company, 5.0% ABV
@ Churchkey, Logan Circle, Washington, D.C.

This Saison appeared surprisingly dark and opaque in the glass. Bubbles created a small head, but quickly disappeared.  

The aroma was light, refreshing and nice.  It was similar to the scents shared by most Saisons; sort of wild, and remindful of freshly baled hay.  

Also refreshing was the Citra and Lemon Peel Saison's body.  It was crisp with a perfectly measured spice bite.  While there was surprising sugar sweetness, the body was mostly without stickiness.  

The prominent flavor was derived from the lemon peel, but it was subdued.  Which worked well to produce the best quality of this beer: its excellent balance.  No single trait, good or bad, overshadowed any other.  

The follow-through provided an unexpected lager-like finish.  But it worked. 

As did this beer.  This was not the best example of a Saison, but a very good one.  It was magnificently balanced, and well worth trying.  The Citra and Lemon Peel Saison earns 3 of 5 stars and a recommendation from

Zombie Date Night Imperial Porter 

Zombie Date Night
3 Stars Brewing Company, 9.6% ABV
@ Churchkey, Logan Circle, Washington, D.C.

Cocoa nibs and vanilla beans were utilized during the production of this beer, with only the cocoa effectively influencing the final product. 

Zombie Date Night was a proper name as the beer appeared dark as midnight, but with an eerie purple tint.  

The thin head was foamy and dirty brown. 

The aroma was unabashedly huge and shocked the nostrils.  Along with the Two to the Dome, Zombie Date Night was the most pungent.  The scent here was red wine through and through. With closed eyes, this beer could have been mistaken for a Syrah. 

This was a very rich beer that was initially good, but became a bit medicinal (think cough syrup) with continued sipping.  That richness reflected semisweet chocolate.  No vanilla presence was detected. 

A lingering aftertaste was pleasing and unique, like chocolate milk.  

Zombie Date Night was an enjoyable beer until it became a bit much to bear.  It's probably worth 2.5 stars out of 5.  Maybe more.  Perplexity abounds. can not, at the moment, recommend it, especially vis a vis other dark beers, including 3 Stars' own From Russia With Love.  However, the conclusion is incomplete.  

Zombie Date Night will require a future revisit. 

B.W. Rye, Volume 5

B.W. Rye Volume 5
3 Stars Brewing Company, 3.2% ABV
@ Churchkey, Logan Circle, Washington, D.C.

The B.W. Rye, Volume 5 weighed in at a minuscule 3.2% ABV.  Yet was deep in color, which was ruby red, and truly beautiful with a gemstone-like reflection. 

Not surprising given the low alcohol volume, very little aroma tickled the nose. 

The volume of flavor, unfortunately, equaled that of the alcohol.  This was a sadly bland brew. 

The rye didn't go unnoticed.  It peeked through with a hint of dry bark, but that note vanquished from the palate much too quickly. 

There was also some subtle smokiness, but like the mossy bark suggestion, it also passed too rapidly to adequately satisfy. 

Which leaves this beer as a bit of a quandary.  The flavor, in the instant it could be savored, was enticing. There just wasn't much of it.  

While it seems unfair, this beer, as it is, deserves only 2.5 of 5 stars.  As an alternative to run-of-the-mill IPAs and stouts (and that only) it does, however, achieve the weakest possible recommendation from 

From Russia With Love Russian Imperial Stout

From Russia With Love
3 Stars Brewing Company, 8.5% ABV
@ Churchkey, Logan Circle, Washington, D.C.

Viewed from above, From Russia With Love could just as well have been a cappuccino with its thick creamy head.  A head that proved to have lasting power. 

Like any good Russian Imperial Stout, this one was dark, dark, dark.  You could lose a gold coin in this oily sea. 

The nose encountered an aroma not much different from a recently baked loaf of bread. Malt was the major player here. 

While the texture to From Russia With Love was thinner than other Russian Imperial Stouts, the flavor content was no less than any of its peers.  This was a magnificent beer that offered a chocolate profile with a happily abrupt sweet bite. 

That sweetness, to great credit, never became cloying.  

In fact, From Russia With Love was actually quite well balanced.  Imagine a root beer float, only with chocolate ice cream.  Very good, indeed. 

From Russia With Love competed with Two to the Dome for "beer of the night" honors.  As it stands, this is a 4 star beer and deserves's strong recommendation.  

And that does it.  A good night, no doubt, for 3 Stars Brewing, Churchkey, fellow revelers and, certainly, TheCraftBeerGuru.  So, until the next review...


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Green Flash Citra Session IPA (Hop Odyssey)

A trusted barkeep queried, “Why not call a session IPA, a pale ale?” Surely, the quick answer to the "session" thing is “marketing.”  But, the long of it is that the marketing has effectively created an entirely new class of beer.  And of this class – the session IPA – the Green Flash Citra Session IPA (from their Hop Odyssey series) may be the very best.

from the Hop Odyssey Series
The Green Flash Brewing Company
4.5% ABV

Let's begin by discussing the showcase ingredient of this beer, the Citra hop.  Citra is a relatively new hop variety, and has accumulated in a short time strong adoration.  Two beers considered by many among the best, the Kern River Citra DIPA and Three Floyds’ Zombie Dust, both also feature this particular strain of hop.  Your reviewer has not yet had the great fortune to sample either of these acclaimed brews.

That said, the Citra hop is so acidic and assertive with big, bold tropical flavors that it is surely a variety that one either loves or hates, not both, and likely nothing in-between.  

As will be shown, the same can be said of the Green Flash Citra Session IPA…

...So, let's get on with it. 

The Citra Session was served fresh, mid-Summer, at a favorite Washington, D.C. hangout, Regional Food and Drink.  

In the glass, this beer, though surprisingly clear, maintained a yellowish, nearly orange hue.  While not fully translucent, the liquid blurred instead of blocked opposing images.  A soapy, although hardly thick head topped the beer.

There was a sort of funky yet appealing overall flavor to this Hop Odyssey, likely owing to the distinctive nature of the Citra hop variety.  That aspect was reminiscent of lychee; perhaps a little “weird,” difficult to effectively describe, but generally pleasing to taste.  It was the sort of uniqueness that undoubtedly makes this beer, like the Citra hop itself, one to love.  Or hate.

In this case, chose love.  

The Citra hop announced its presence immediately with a pungent “stinky” aroma.  The air surrounding this drinker’s nose was like that of a cramped living room on Christmas Day; full-on pine tree.  And the entirety of the tree too; including the musky, almost dirty scent of the soil in which it grows.

First sip revealed a satisfying betrayal of the “session” moniker.  The flavor profile of the Citra IPA was much stronger than others sharing the style.   While the body was thin and even a bit watery, it nevertheless delivered tremendous taste.  The sheer volume of flavor was a welcomed surprise.

The tongue was rewarded initially with mild hop spiciness that quickly tapered.  The prominent flavor characteristic, though, was similar to that of the aroma: coniferous pleasantness.

Second to the piney nature was another trait familiar to west coast IPAs: a suggestion of freshly mowed lawn.    The Citra IPA finished delectably with a lingering and surprisingly lemony aftertaste.  

So far, all good, but what was bad about the Citra Session IPA?  It certainly lacked balance.  There was little malt presence to speak of, and the Citra, as a bittering agent, only packed a very mild spice bite.    

Also, about that Citra?  Its “dirty” aspects may not appeal to all.  There was a slight hint of sweaty shirt, as unseemly as that is, in both scent and flavor.  This note, though demure, reflected a wild onion influence.  And the Citra, in this case, seemed more earthy when tropical was anticipated.

Without doubt, however, the good far outshined the bad.  As far as session IPAs go, as the kids say, this one is "up there." 

Many excellent brewers have taken their stabs at the session IPA market.  Founders, in this reviewer's opinion, did poorly with their All Day IPA.  Lagunitas did better with their DayTime.  But Green Flash has surpassed both of these fine craft breweries in this particular style. 

Due mostly to the strength of its flavor profile, much more robust than its peers, the Citra Session IPA, so far, appears to be best in class.

And, thus Green Flash's Citra Session IPA earns 4 out of 5 possible stars from  and a full recommendation.  A session IPA par excellence that would only be better with a bit more balance.  

While available, find this beer on tap.  And, of course....