Sunday, January 13, 2008

FABTS January Meeting

On Saturday, fourteen local craft beer enthusiasts met at Bangkok Boulevard for the monthly meeting of the Fredericksburg Brewing and Tasting Society. The theme for this month was Stouts, all styles except Imperial Stouts. Imperial Stouts were tasted at the September and November gatherings. In all 22 stouts and 2 non-stout home brews were sampled. (Home brews are welcome at all meetings, regardless of style.) Stout styles reviewed included Dry, Sweet, Oatmeal, Foreign Extra, American, and Russian Imperial (for comparison.) There was a nice variety of beers donated, although several folks mentioned a dearth of stout offerings to be found at retailers. Bankok Boulevard filled in some of the holes with offerings from their menu. The preliminary listing for the meeting is posted beforehand at the FABTS web site.

Many of the stouts sampled were designed to be easy-drinking session beers. The flavors are not over the top, but very easy on the palate. The alcohol levels are generally on the lower side, in the 4-6% ABV range. The style guidelines allow for higher ABVs for Foreign Extra Stouts, such as the 8% in the Lion Stout we sampled.

The afternoon started with a proper Irish slant as we tasted Guinness Draught Stout, Beamish Stout, Murphy's Stout, and O'hara's Celtic Stout. These Dry Stouts are quite suitable for enjoying at a relaxing afternoon at the neighborhood pub. The Shipyard Brewing Bluefin Stout we tried was an exceptional example of an American Dry Stout.

On a local note, Oak Barrel Stout from Dominion Brewing was among the beers sampled. This has been a long-time favorite of mine, and also of others in the group. It was the opinion of many that this beer as undergone a disappointing change. I found the vanilla flavoring in the beer to be much too strong and over powered any other flavors in the beer. I have some other bottles of this with the same bottling date as the ones sampled and I plan to both re-sample and to watch for another bottling run at my retailer. If this flavor change turns out to not be fluke, it will indeed be unfortunate.

In the Sweet Stout category, Mackeson's XXX Stout was a stand out. At 4.9% ABV, it would be easy to spend an afternoon throwing back pints of this smooth ale. We also sampled Young's Double Chocolate Stout. This stout is made with actual chocolate. I've had this beer from a bottle in the past and found the chocolate flavor very pleasant. Saturday's sample was packaged in cans and presented a much higher chocolate flavor. "Yoo-Hoo beer" was one description offered. I think I'll stick with the bottles. Another chocolate-flavored Stout tried was Bison Organic Chocolate Stout. This one had a subtle cocoa flavor and was much easier to drink than the canned Young's.

In the Oatmeal Stout category, Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout was among the beers enjoyed. This is a classic example of the sub-style. Those in attendance were pleased that this beer is finally being bottled in dark brown bottles rather than the clear glass in which it was found for so many years.

Dogfish Head Chicory Stout was one of the American Stouts tasted. The Chicory Stout has mild hints of coffee, chicory and licorice. This is the second time recently that I've had a sample of this offering from Dogfish but have never gotten to enjoy a full round. I must pick up a couple of bottles soon and try it in-depth.

Both home brews we had were from Dave F. He brought along his smoked pumpkin ale that we tasted at the December meeting to solicit opinions on how the beer is holding up over time. As he did last month, Dave received many accolades from the group.

For about three hours we tasted and engaged in lively discussions of the beers. It's always interesting to hear the varying opinions on the beers from the members. The group consists of folks with a wide variety of backgrounds; home brewers, professional brewers, non-brewers, beer judges, and both long-time and new craft beer enthusiasts. I do encourage any craft beer enthusiasts in the area to come out to these meetings. It's a great way to meet other folks with the same interest, and to experience a wide-range of beer styles and flavors. After each meeting I come away with new knowledge or appreciation of a beer I had not tried before. Check out the FABTS web page and be sure to join the mailing list to be alerted to upcoming activities. The next gathering will be held at Kybecca on February 9. Hope to see you there.

Many thanks to Chad at Bangkok Boulevard for offering his restaurant for our meeting this month, and for donating a number of the beers reviewed. Chad is a very gracious host and even acted as official bottle opener for a spell.

Update, Jan. 20: The theme beer for the February meeting will be Strong Ales.

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