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Coeliacs Need Love Too: Estrella Damm Daura

11 Jan

Damm good for a gluten-free beer

I’ve got a thing for gluten.  Bread, pasta, beer – three of my favorite things in this world.  I can’t imagine what I would do if, one day, I found out I couldn’t have them anymore.  Too painful to even think about.  Unfortunately for many, the simple act of consuming these basic staples of the average Western diet is enough to send their digestive tract into fits.

Thankfully for the Coeliac beer lover, “beer” or beer-like beverages can be made from grains other than the main offenders barley, wheat, rye and oats – sorghum and millet are among the more popular. Unfortunately, most of these alternative-malt beers bear little resemblance to their glutened brethren in the taste department.  Daura, the two-time champion in its category at the World Beer Awards from Spanish brewer Estrella Damm, eschews exotic grains for science and uses proprietary technologies to create a beer with less than 6ppm of gluten from barley malt.  The real question is – does it taste like beer?

I was introduced to Daura at a local beer distributer event/trade show here in Madison a few months ago.  Pro-tip: stick around long enough and the beer reps will give you their leftovers rather than lug it back to their cars.

Estrella Damm Daura

Style: Gluten-free Euro-style Pale Lager

Vitals: 5.4% abv, 6ppm or less of gluten, ~$6.99/4-pack at Barriques Wine and Spirits

Company Line: “Estrella Daura is a 5.4% mainstream pilsner lager with a universal flavour and character.  The high quality of the beer is due to the fine selection of ingredients – ensuring that Daura has all the taste, but none of the gluten of a regular beer.”

My Take: Daura pours a pale straw yellow under snow white head typical of Euro-style pilseners.  Aroma hits all the Euro lager notes of light cereal malts, crisp, grassy hops, and a hint of  citrus and spice.  Hits the palate with dry, biscuity malt and faint, herbal noble hops, lending a crisp, spicy finish.  Body is light and bubbly, as one would expect.

Look, Estrella Daura is a pale lager.  It tastes like a hundred other pale lagers I’ve sampled from Europe, Latin America and Asia.  That’s what’s amazing about this beer.  It tastes like beer.  Most of the gluten-free beers I’ve tried taste like some Frankenstein mash-up of cream soda, tequila and Four Loko.  For a coeliac who wants nothing more than a beer that tastes like beer, Estrella Daura is a game-changer.  Hands-down the best-tasting, most beer-like gluten-free beer I’ve had.  I still hope I never see the day when there’s nothing but Estrella Daura in my fridge, though.  No offense.

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New Brew: Hinterland Oktoberfest

16 Sep

As Matt (colleague over at Madison Beer Review) posted last week in his Friday Links (which spawned a brief discussion in the comments section), it did seem as though the Oktoberfest beers were out on shelves and on-tap in our favorite bars earlier than ever this year.  Maybe it was just the late summer heat clouding our memories and confusing our internal calendars.  Either way, Oktoberfests are here to stay for the next couple of months as a favorite fall seasonal in the German heritage-heavy Upper Midwest.  Wisconsin brewers do a predictably good job with the style in general with New Glarus’ Staghorn (currently The Old Fashioned’s $2.50/pint beer of the month for September), Capital’s Oktoberfest, Tyranena’s Gemuetlichkeit (Gesundheit?!), and Central Waters’ Octoberfest some of my favorite local examples year in and year out.

A new (re-)entry into the Madison market this year, Green Bay Brewing Company’s Hinterland brand has made impressive in-roads with its novel packaging (German-style 16-ounce pints in 4-packs) and tap-lines, creating an admirable line-up including its much-beloved Luna Stout as well as Pale Ale, Amber, Cherry Wheat and Maple Bock.  Oktoberfest debuts as their fall seasonal, a fitting tribute to its German roots.  As the days get noticeably shorter, the air catches a chill and weekend mornings and afternoons become dominated by football, the rich maltiness and smooth drinkability of Oktoberfestbier can hardly be beat.

Hinterland Oktoberfest

Style: Oktoberfest/Märzen

Vitals: n/a; Hinterland’s beers are woefully underdocumented on the innerwebs.

Company line: “Lightly filtered, deep golden brown, very malty and lightly hopped. Velvet smooth mouthfeel with rich grainy flavorhinterlandbeer.com”

My take: pours a light golden amber under a loose, foamy head that quickly fizzles to a spotty film.  Aroma is rich with caramel and bready malts, lightly nutty, with a dash of herbal hops and a faint metallic whiff.  Palate is malt-heavy, per the style with layers of caramel, biscuit, and grain husk  on the mid-palate offset by an apt touch of slightly grassy hops that carry through on the finish.  Starts off full-bodied and finishes light and crisp, encouraging sessionability.

Another fine example of the venerable style to add to a solid Wisconsin roster.  Hinterland is quickly becoming a welcome addition to the local beer scene with a growing line-up of well-made beers that do the Fox Valley and Wisconsin as a whole proud.  Whether you can boast German heritage or not (REINke in the house, y’all!), the beers of Oktoberfest make the impending deep freeze all the more bearable and are one more reason why autumn, however brief an appearance it makes ’round these parts, is my favorite season in Wisconsin.

Wine O’Clock: Cannery Row Cellars Chardonnay 2008

28 Jul

Another pick from my Wine Insiders haul, this Cannery Row Cellars Chardonnay hails from my old stomping grounds just outside of the Monterey Bay area of California’s Central Coast.   Central Californian Chardonnay has quickly become one of my favorite wines of Summer with plenty of bright tropical fruit and crisp acidity to cut through the humidity and pair with a wide variety of summer foods.

I may not have stepped foot on Cannery Row since I was wearing Ninja Turtle underwear, but at least now I can drink wine vinted in the foothills of one of this country’s truly spectacularly scenic places.

Cannery Row Cellars Chardonnay 2008

Varietal: 100% Chardonnay

Vitals: 12.6% abv

Company Line: “Fresh fruit aromas herald delicious flavors of apple, nectarine and ripe melon.  Oak aging adds depth and complexity with hints of toasty oak and vanilla.  Balanced acidity makes this wine particularly refreshing.”

My take: pale straw yellow in the glass.  Nose opens with sharp apple and tropical fruit flourishes ensconced in a veil of soft vanilla.  Apple and citrus blanket the palate with a satisfying acidity.  Body is emboldened with rich oakiness which also serves to taper the acid in the finish.

This sits right in the middle of the California Chardonnay spectrum between intense tropical fruits and buttery oakiness.  While I certainly wouldn’t call this example buttery, it’s oaky and vanilla softness acts as a nice counterbalance to the fresh fruit that dominates the front of this wine.  A nice summer drinker with the versatility to pair with poultry, fish, cheese or fruit and pastry-based desserts.

Wine O’Clock: Fair Oaks Ranch Zinfandel Reserve 2005

26 Jul

Yes, I’m still alive and YES, I’m still drinking wine.  Here’s proof – an empty bottle of Fair Oaks Ranch Zinfandel Reserve 2005.  A recent local Groupon deal netted me $75 at Wine Insiders, an online wine-monger with a similar price-vs.-quality philosophy as Barriques, for only $25.  I ended up with 6 bottles in the $10-$12 range for only $30, including shipping.  While I wasn’t familiar with any of the wines I ended up with, at $5 a bottle, I wasn’t out much either way.  After Sumptuary opened my eyes to the raw power of the California Zinfandel, I had to delve deeper into the grape.

Fair Oaks Ranch Zinfandel Reserve 2005

Varietal: 100% Zinfandel

Vitals: 12.5% abv

Company Line: *crickets*

My take: deep ruby in the glass.  Jammy blackberry and black cherry play off spice and cedar in the nose.  Wild berries and bramble dominate the fore-palate with leathery tannins and a hint of pepper bringing home a long, dry finish.

This Zin is a lot tighter and dryer than I tend to prefer, but it nonetheless hits the standard notes of the varietal.  Probably not an example that I’d revisit, but more accessible for those who prefer a more straightforward, mellowed-out red.

New Brew: Capital Weizen Doppelbock

7 Jul

Today’s New Brew isn’t exactly a first-time entry into the market.  Last brewed in 2002, Capital brewmaster Kirby Nelson has resurrected his Weizen Doppelbock as the latest entry in the Capital Square Series of high-octane special-release beers.  Kirby has proven himself to be the Da Vinci of Doppelbocks, with his Blonde Doppelbock, Autumnal Fire, Imperial Doppelbock, and EisPhyre all among the best bockbiers made in America today.

The weizenbock is the platypus of the beer world.  Blending the bright fruity esters and spicy yeastiness of Bavarian weissbier with the rich caramel maltiness and high proof of the venerable doppelbock, weizenbocks are banana bread in a glass, but retain good drinkability, even in warm summer months.

Capital Weizen Doppelbock

Style: Weizenbock

Vitals: 8.0% abv; courtesy of The Isthmus’ Robin Shepard: Liberty hops; Bavarian hefeweiss yeast; wheat and Munich malts

Company line: “A boosted version of all the personality quirks that make the Bavarian Weizen style unique and beloved.”

My take: pours a dark, murky amber with ample white, soapy head that fades quickly.  Aroma exudes clove and banana schnapps.  Liquid banana bread in the mouth with complex notes of chocolate-covered peanuts, soft caramels, and spice.  Finish is mostly dry with a lingering spice note.  Mouthfeel is dense, yet smooth.

Kirby said his inspiration for this beer was Schneider Aventinus, the first weizenbock I ever had, and arguably the benchmark for the style.  He’s reaching in the right direction and his doppelbock chops definitely shine through.  Ultimately, this one lacks the depth and harmony of flavor of the German classic, but it remains a supremely drinkable, highly interesting beer that combines the richness of a winter brew, with the thirst-quenching character of a summer brew.

Check out this post and other great beer-related news at Madison Beer Review.

New Brew: Stone 14th Anniversary Emperial IPA

2 Jul

Another IPA from Stone Brewing? Not exactly Breaking News.  Long-standing standard-bearers of the West Coast-style pale ale, the thought of another amped-up IPA as a special release doesn’t exactly get the blood flowing.  Don’t get me wrong, they’re great at what they do and their IPA and Ruination are textbook examples of their styles, but when you see a special anniversary release, you expect something a little unique.  Stone’s 14th Anniversary Emperial IPA takes a page out of the Redcoats’ playbook and puts a decidedly British spin on a Stone classic.  The results?  A supremely big, exquisitely balanced beer that celebrates with style, 14 years of boundary-pushing, palate-crushing, quintessentially American brewing.

Stone 14th Anniversary Emperial IPA

Style: British-style Imperial/Double IPA

Vitals: 8.9% abv; Brewed with all British ingredients including white malt and Target, East Kent Goldings, and Boadicea hops; ~$6.99 at Barriques Wine and Spirits

Company line:

We went to England this past spring as self-styled “IPA Hunters” on a mission to learn more about the confusing and often contradictory history of India Pale Ale – to look for some certainty where those before us have found mostly mystery and mercantilism. While our success in this pursuit is open to debate, there can be no question that we returned home inspired by the ghosts of Burton and by the experience of poring over 150-year old brewer’s logs handwritten in (India?) ink. Stone Brewing Co., after all, traces its lineage back to the British Empire’s brewing history: we make ales, and all of our original offerings used traditional British styles as a jumping-off point. If this seems a roundabout way of letting you know that, yes, we are in fact brewing another IPA to mark our Anniversary, well, so be it.

This one however, promises to be different! From the imported white malt to the “Burtonised” water to the rare yeast strain to the most pungent hops Kent has to offer, we used all British ingredients to brew our “Emperial” IPA.* While we may have brewed Stone 14th Anniversary Emperial IPA with our own distinctively modern, San Diego-style touch, what good is history if you can’t rewrite it to suit your tastes?

In this case, our tastes called for highly intemperate quantities of Target, East Kent Goldings, and Boadicea hops, bestowing upon this dry-bodied ale a powerfully spicy, earthy aroma. On the palate, peppery hops assert themselves early and often, with malt sweetness making a brief appearance before being beaten back by a long, complex, and decisively bitter finish. What better way to contemplate the fate of empires past, present, and future?

My take: pours a striking goldenrod in the glass under ample white foam.  Aroma is intensely herbal with notes of bitter lemon, pepper, and sweet malt.  Cracked pepper and herbal, resinous hops slam the forepalate, with lightly sweet, slightly biscuity malt carrying through to grassy, bitter citrus peel finish.  Body is light and drinkability high for the strength.

This is certainly a different take on an imperial IPA for Stone.  Torch-bearers for the Southern California School of juicy, dank, super-hopped pale ales with amped up, sticky sweet malt backbones.  While no-less Super-sized on the hops front, the Emperial retains the grassy, herbal bitterness and dry, biscuity malt profile of more traditional British IPAs and the result is intriguing.  Much like our representatives on the football pitch, Stone has managed to play the strengths of the English and American camps to a perfect draw.  Extreme-minded American palates might be yearning for more punishment, but a little bit of balance goes a long way with this commemorative brew.

New Brew: Central Waters Illumination Double IPA

30 Jun

Today’s review will also be my first featured over at one of my new homes, Madison Beer Review. Don’t worry, loyal followers (you’re out there, right?), I’ll still be posting here with the same piss and vinegar as always.

Central Waters Brewing out of Amherst, WI has made quite a name for itself over the past couple years with a series of big beers that spoke to the then-current trend in craft brewing – bourbon barrel aging (it would seem that the Belgian-stlyle pale or IPA is the next big thing).  Barrel-aged versions of their imperial stout, coffee stout, and barleywine put them on the national radar with high ratings on both beer advocate and Rate Beer (if you’re into that sort of thing).

Hoppy styles have never been a focus for Central Waters.  While I know I’m not alone in bemoaning the loss of their excellent Lac du Bay IPA (replaced with the solid Glacial Trail IPA), CW’s strong point has always been their stouts and barleywines.  Their most recent offering, Illumination Double IPA, marks their entry into the extreme hops category.  Could a brewery known for their barrel-aged takes on rich, malty styles pull off a tongue-scorching DIPA?  I was certainly willing to put my palate on the line to find out.

Central Waters Illumination Double IPA

Style: Imperial/Double IPA

Vitals: 9% abv; 108 IBUs

Company Line: “Can you say palate wrecker?  This Double IPA comes in at 108 IBUs.  As hoppy as it gets with a mouthful of citrus flavors.  Grab one today and illuminate your tastebuds.”

My take: pours a vibrant amber in the glass, producing ample sticky foam that hangs around.  Aroma bursts with pine sap, grapefruit, mango and apricot.  Palate brings clean piney hops, citrus peel, tropical fruit and bready malt.  Mouthfeel softens considerably as the beer warms and the smooth, spicy malt shines through the brash hops edge.  Some cooling alcohol in the finish, but overall, the considerable abv is well-masked.

My first sample of this beer, shared among a group of considerable beer palates two weekends ago, gave many of us an impression of cooked vegetables reminiscent of Oscar Blues’ Gubna.  While not entirely unpleasant, it wasn’t exactly desirable and distracted somewhat from the purity of the hop profile and robustness of its malt backbone.  I didn’t get any of that in tonight’s bottle, however, leading one to blame either inconsistency or wonky palates for the aforementioned vegetal character.  Based on my latest experience, Central Waters has crafted a crisp, juicy double IPA that does well to cut through the sticky June air like the lightning that has illuminated the night sky for so many recent nights.

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