Tasting Notes with Jim Beauregard -- Jim's best for 2012: Ten beers of note

JIM BEAUREGARD December 18. 2012 9:02PM

It's time to unveil my top 10 beers of 2012.

As the year of tasting goes on, when I find a candidate for the list, it goes into a file. At the end of the year, I review the file and pick out the 10 most distinctive beers to pass on to you.

Criteria? Well, it has to be well made; that is, free of any obvious faults. That's the easy part. Then, a well-integrated production that has variety and interest. Admittedly, such a list has to have some subjective character - your list might differ significantly from mine. So if you favorite isn't here, feel free to bump one of mine.

10. Porter, Founders Brewery, 6.5% abv. Lovely, dark and deep. Dark tan head, black beer, intense coffee aroma, rich and compelling. No hops on the nose, all malt and kernel. Rich creamy palate, good weight again, very rich coffee flavors, chocolate in the background, well integrated alcohol again, mouth-filling flavors that linger long after you swallow. Delicious.

9. Samuel Adams Porch Rocker, "Beer with natural flavors added," no abv listed. Inspired by a traditional German mix of beer with lemonade (don't blanch; we're good here). Yellow-amber hue under a very frothy white head, super spicy nose that jumps out of the glass at you, with cinnamon and cloves, honey hints, citrus, off-dry on the palate, with medium bitterness, though it's really the flavor profile just mentioned that marches forward, fruit, spice and hops, and just that hint of sweetness from the malt.

8. Duvel Belgian Golden Ale, Bottle Conditioned, 8.5% abv. Huge frothy head, as a Belgian ale should have, lasting, with cloudy golden beer (the bottle conditioned part), medium malt, medium-plus hops, citrus, lemon, orange peels and some bread on the nose, a dry palate, with medium-plus bitterness, medium-plus acidity, mouth watering, medium-plus alcohol that is balanced and well-integrated, medium body, and medium-plus flavors reflecting the palate. Medium-plus to long finish. Very good.

7. Samuel Smith's Organic Chocolate Stout, 5.0% abv. Average head, an in color, over brown-black beer, high intensity malt nose, low hops. The palate is medium-dry (a little sweetness), well-balanced, medium-plus bitterness from the hops, medium acidity, medium and well-integrated alcohol, full body, creamy texture, high flavor intensity of chocolate, some coffee hints in the background. Pair with chocolate cake, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, anything chocolate.

6. The Orkney Brewery Dragonhead Stout, Scotland, 4.0% abv. Dark brown head, black beer underneath, the nose is all about malt. Off-dry, creamy heavy weight and full body, medium acidity, well integrated components, high flavor intensity that runs along the kernel route - espresso/coffee, chocolate, roasted flavors, rich and intense, the finish goes on long after the beer goes down. Striking.

5. Pale Ale, Dry Hopped, Founders Brewery, 5.4% abv. Slightly off-white frothy head, vibrant golden beer underneath, cloudy, lots of bubbles shooting up from the bottom, very hoppy nose, citrus, lemon and lime, floral, hints of resin. The palate is dry, with lots of hops bitterness, good acidity, medium-plus carbonation, balanced alcohol, medium body, medium texture, medium-plus flavor intensity of citrus, bitterness, lemon, spice, resin. Long, pleasing finish. Lighter than a typical pale ale, but very good nonetheless. It says summer.

4. Samuel Adams Octoberfest, Seasonal Brew, 5.3% abv. Darker beers are coming along now with the cool weather on the horizon. Off-white head, amber beer with a little hint of orange. The nose is malt, and the bottle mentions the use of five roasted malts in the brewing. Served cold, it's dry on the palate, mildly bitter, with some hops in the background, integrated alcohol, medium body, medium texture, and flavors of caramel, grain hints, cereal, but leaning toward the sweet on the finish.

3. Chimay Peres Trappistes Cinq Cents (light yellow label), 8% abv. A Belgian Tripel. The Tripel style presents with malt and spice, also with clear fruit aromas. For the Chimay, it's golden beer under a just off-white head, creamy and large, with a predominantly hops nose, though the malt is certainly there. The palate is dry and this is the beer that shops hops. Good bitterness and acidity, well-integrated alcohol, medium body, heading toward light, medium-plus hops citrus flavors with malt in the background. Medium-plus length finish. This is the drink-on-a-hot-summer-night beer. Food pairings include pork, richer/heavier seafood, including lobster and fish steaks. Try it with a creme brulee for dessert.

2. Dubuisson Scaldis 12, Pipaix, Belgium, 12% abv. "Belgium is to beer what Cuba is to cigars and France is to wine," says Garrett Oliver of the Oxford Companion to Beer. This brings us into the Belgium ale ballpark, and into the subset of Belgian strong ale The "12" in Scaldis 12 refers to the alcohol by volume. This puts us in the "strong" category. These beers tend to be pale to gold in coloring, with flavors of both fruit (leaning toward pear and apple), and spice, heavier on the hops, and lighter on the malt. This one is golden-colored, cloudy, with a slightly off-white head, thick, creamy and lasting, with the characteristic Belgian lace (tip the glass so the head goes right out to the tip, then stand it up to see the lace). The nose is very intense and rich with hops and fruit. The palate is very dry, and very, very rich, medium-plus bodied, heavier than, say, a Duvel, with citrus and white fruit, pear predominating, citrus in the background, and soft malt all along the way. It packs a punch at 12% abv. Spicy finish that goes on for quite some time.

And topping the list:

1. Samuel Adams Verloren Gose, 8.0% abv, 1 pint bottle. If the word Gose (pronounced Goes-uh) isn't familiar, you are not alone. It is a little-known beer style, based on a wheat ale. Since few people might be familiar with it, Sam Adams chose the name "Lost" (Verloren) to bring it back to our attention. It includes a bit of salt and also coriander. It contains both malted and unmalted wheat.

The style goes back to the 10th century in Saxony (Germany), where people were still experimenting because the Beer Purity Law (Reinheitsgebot) hadn't come into force just yet. Over the past century, the beer slowly went out of style, such that few remember it today. It doesn't even have an entry in the Oxford Companion to Beer.

Unfiltered and therefore hazy, golden-brown colored (leaning more toward the gold), it has a creamy head that lasts and a malty cereal nose with some hops lingering in the background. Bright and intense on the palate, dry with low medium bitterness, good acidity (makes the mouth water), medium carbonation, and 8% alcohol that is very well-integrated, medium body and texture, and intense flavors of malt-related grain and hay, hints of nuttiness, and a strong citrus profile that starts in the background but moves to the forefront on the way to the finish. An excellent rediscovery.

So there they are. Next week: my top 10 wines of 2012.

Contact local beer and wine writer Jim Beauregard at tastingnotesnh@aol.com.


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