October 2008 Archives

I've mentioned before how much I love Belgian ale, right?  Well, the various Trappist ales, brewed (or at least overseen) by monks in Trappist monasteries, are unique, complex, and almost universally delicious.  The Trappistes Rochefort beers are brewed at the Abbaye Notre-Dame de Saint-Remy in Rochefort, Belgium.  They release a 6, 8, and 10, which are primarily told apart by the color of their bottle caps.  The 8 has a green cap, and I wish I'd had a chance to compare it to the 6 and 10 for this review, but I didn't.  Maybe next time.

Anyhow, this beer is quite remarkable.  It is a big, meaty beer and pours a dark brown.  This beer is 9% ABV, and it comes through in the nose, along with various dark fruits, figs, and spices.  It has a sturdy, thick mouth feel and a strong, roasted, malty heat.  The alcohol is certainly potent, and the richness of the flavor makes one drink rather slowly.  Though it is available primarily in 335mL (11.2 oz) bottles, it might be a good idea to split one with a buddy, because this can take a while to drink.

While enjoyable, I would classify this beer as something that should perhaps be accompanied by food.  Heavy, rich dishes such as duck or lamb, strong cheese, or something similar would hold up well to this beer.  Indeed, it's not really an after work refreshing beverage, but more of the sort of beer you'd sip while pondering a three-pipe problem.

The JR Alternative: Yikes

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Recently Jesse was kind enough to give me a few cigars, which I was happy to accept.  Two of them were JR Cigar branded sticks, I believe part of their JR Alternative line.  This particular line of cigars is intended to provide low-cost similar-tasting alternatives to high-end cigars.  In fact, Jesse bragged to me, "I got sixty of them for forty bucks!"  When I did the math later I realized that he only spent $1.33 on those two cigars, I still felt like perhaps he was getting ripped off.

So anyhow, yesterday I was about to go for a walk, and felt like smoking a cigar on my stroll.  I put on my best three-piece brown town suit, fitted a brown bowler hat upon my head, and popped open the humidor.  Not knowing what was in store for me, I pulled out one of these JR Alternatives and lit it up.  Wait, let's rewind a bit and talk about what this thing looked like.  It had a pale wrapper, perhaps a Connecticut leaf, that was splotchy and veiny.  There were some dark lines here and there that made it look as if the leaf had been creased and then pressed out again, and the texture was rather rough and dry.  Small imperfections littered the cigar: holes, knobs, scrapes, and so forth.  Plus, the cigar felt rather lumpy.  There were a few places beneath the wrapper where it seemed to rather cave in.  The unlit stick smelled quite strongly of compost and wet grass, which isn't always bad, but in this case didn't seem very appetizing.

I wouldn't give up, however.  I lit it up, and was immediately rewarded with a smell not unlike burning cardboard.  As it smoked, it did burn rather evenly, though I have no idea how.  When the mold-grey ash was tapped off, it revealed an uneven roll with some unattractive hollow spots.

The flavor overall was not enjoyable, either.  Overwhelmingly spicy at first, with the sort of acidic feel that works its way all the way down your throat and up the backs of your nostrils.  I was not enjoying that.  There was also an element of sourness that I didn't enjoy much.  Overall it was a chore to smoke this cigar, and I put it out just about at the halfway point, hoping for it to improve.

In closing, while I'm very grateful that Jesse gave me some cigars, I'm fairly certain his tastebuds (and mine) would be better off spending sixty bucks on forty cigars than vice versa.  I'm going to give this cigar one star, because it did light on fire, and that's pretty much the first thing you can ask for in a rolled up lump of tobacco.  Sorry, Jesse!


"In an effort to crack down on binge drinking among French teenagers, the government last week proposed raising the legal age for buying alcohol to 18 from 16. It also wants to ban sales of alcohol at highway filling stations and to ban all-you-can-drink "open bar" evenings at French high schools."

I'm appalled, just appalled. If you live in France, I hope you get out of your armchair, grab a long gun  from your gun safe, put down your pipe and slippers, light up a fat cigar and GO RIOT!

Actually, I'm joking here, I don't advocate rioting, and having been in a couple, don't feel they're all that fun. They are a great learning experience, now I'm the guy who ducks and rolls into the bushes for backfires, unexpected fireworks, laser pens and gunshots.

In all seriousness, I think the drinking age issue is ridiculous. The issue is about teaching responsible drinking at an early age, and practicing responsible drinking. If you're on the floor every night, puking in your shoes you're practicing something along the lines of a "gonna be a homeless wino" based lifestyle, rather than a leisure based lifestyle.

MacTarnahan's Brewing Company used to be called Portland Brewing Company, and that's how I knew them when I was first introduced to their MacTarnahan's Amber Ale over ten years ago.  I suspect that they were renamed because of a branding problem.  Mac's Amber was at the time very popular in Oregon, and it was difficult to tell from the label that other Portland Brewing Co. beers were related to it.  In any case, I have sampled Mac's Blackwatch Cream Porter many times, though it had probably been a good five years since this tasting.  I do believe I've been doing myself a disservice, because this is a pretty tasty porter.

It's a very dark beer with a thick, frothy tan head.  When held up to the light, you can barely see a ruby glow through it.  It smells sweet and sort of toasty, with strong coffee notes that are emphasized when you take that first sip.  It's got a roasted coffee bitterness that coats the palate in a very pleasant way.  There is a sweet, chocolatey malt flavor and a very smooth mouth feel.  However, I'd have to say it didn't feel quite as creamy as I'd expected.  Perhaps I've been spoiled by Boddington's, Old Speckled Hen, and other English cream ales, but I really want a thick, luxurious texture to a cream ale.

The sweetness of Mac's Blackwatch lingers on the palate for a while, and though this beer has a disappointing lack of hop characteristics, it is still a very pleasant, enjoyable porter that I'd recommend for anybody during these chilly Autumn evenings.

Romeo y Julieta ViejoI did not pick a particularly cheap cigar to review today, but I certainly went with something of exceptional quality. The Romeo y Julieta Viejo 'B' is an attractive box-pressed belicoso. It's made of aged leaves, and the Mexican maduro wrapper is a lovely chocolate shade with a slightly oily sheen. It's a firm, well-made stick with a familiar, earthy smell to it. I guillotined the pointed end off and after a quick toast, lit it up. Right from the first inhale I noticed a range of very pleasant flavors. This cigar is of medium strength, and it had a rather tight draw at first. Not an impossible draw, though. It reminded me very much of smoking a pipe with a filter in it. The smoke, consequently, didn't have the full mouth feel that I enjoy right away.

Notes of toast, nuts, and a slight hint of earth were very strong during the first third of the cigar, after which the draw opened up considerably and my mouth was filled with a luxurious, decadent smoke. As I moved past the halfway point, the cigar added an element of spice and some rich cocoa. There is also a hint of sweetness and a bit of pepper on the front of the tongue. Throughout the cigar, the burn was very even and left behind a solid, milky-white ash that, when tapped, fell off cleanly and without any fuss.

During the final puffs, this magnificent cigar became overwhelmingly earthy, perhaps with some bitterness left behind by an accumulation of tar. However, the flavor was still enjoyable, and I smoked it until the butt became too short and awkward to hold. Overall, a really magnificent cigar that I'd highly recommend to anybody looking for a top notch smoke.

For those of us who occasionally indulge in just a bit too much beer and wine tasting, Gmail has now integrated a tool called Mail Goggles that can hopefully prevent some of those embarrassing late-night drunken emails.  As you can see, it requires the sender to finish a number of math problems in a given amount of time before allowing mail to be sent.  Pretty clever, huh?

Cusano Corojo '97 RobustoAs our stalwart readers may have noticed, the website took a bit of a break at the beginning of the month. I actually went a week or so without smoking any cigars, which is rather typical of this time of year. As the weather cools down, I tend to move inside, where I'd rather puff away at my pipe than a cigar. However, I recently had the opportunity to try a Cusano Corojo '97 Robusto, which is a lovely Dominican Republic stick. It's only 5 inches long, but packs quite a wallop and overflows with flavor. In appearance, this cigar is dark and slightly oily, giving one a promise of strong smoke and strong flavor. It does not disappoint.

It starts out spicy and hot right from the first light, filling my mouth with a surprise peppery bite that made me question my ability to finish this fine looking beauty. However, it quickly mellowed into a rich, full-bodied smoke with flavors evocative of its dusky appearance. I tasted cocoa and coffee at first, though as the smoke continued there were strong flavors of grass and greenery. It almost transported me away to some sort of jungle paradise in my mind. The smoke was thick and creamy, providing almost a buttery mouth feel, and as I continued through the cigar, I swear there were a few hints of peppery clove in there, as well.

The cigar also held its ash well, in a solid, compact whitish gray form. I didn't fear it flaking off onto my smoking jacket at all, and it cooperated with me quite well when I tapped it into the ashtray. Overall, this smoke was a really magnificent experience and I'd love to have a few dozen more of these.

newbelgium_abbey.pngI am a fan of Belgian beers. When given a chance, I almost always go for their malty complexity, interesting yeasty esters, and spicy goodness. However, Belgian imports can run a bit on the expensive side, so it's always a treat to see an American brewery trying out a Belgian style. New Belgium Brewery does just that. Though they are probably most famous for their Fat Tire Amber, I find most of their other brews to be far more enjoyable. One of my favorites at the moment is the New Belgium Abbey, a Belgian-style dubbel packed with delicious drinkability.

This beer is rather sweet and malty, and its 7.0% ABV provides a pleasant boozy warmth throughout the drink. The brew has a lovely dark amber color to it, very similar to authentic Belgian dubbels, and a firm, steady white head. It has a candied, sugary flavor which is luckily well balanced with the rest of the brew, and overall creates a beer that is refreshing and quite drinkable. While the complexity offered by the yeast may not match up to some of its Belgian forebears, for the price this is an excellent substitute. I'd highly recommend giving this beer a try. It's excellent for an afternoon drink, or could be paired with red meat or perhaps even mussels.

These guys really know their chocolates. A friend recently described the owner of Lillie Belle Farms, Jeff Shepherd, as a "mad genius of chocolate", and when you visit their website and take a look at some of their incredible concoctions, you'll see exactly what that means. I recently had the opportunity to sample a number of their really incredible concoctions and have decided out of the sheer kindness of my heart to share my findings with you.

makersmarkcup.jpgThe first treat for my delighted tastebuds was the Maker's Mark Cup, made with dark chocolate, a candied pecan, and, of course, a really astounding pecan butter, dark chocolate, and Maker's Mark bourbon ganache. It starts off with a nice, firm crunch accentuated by the candied pecan perched delightfully on top of it, and is followed by a heavenly, velvety texture filled with all the creamy deliciousness of bourbon, bittersweet cocoa, and butter. The filling on this was only a tiny bit chalkier than the Frangelico Cup reviewed below. Lingering on the palate was a subtle alcohol heat from the bourbon and a delicious wave of cocoa that you really don't want to go away. These are magnificent little treats.

Next up was the Frangelico Cup. I couldn't find a picture of this little beauty, but it's another of Lillie Belle Farms' line of cups, and this one is filled with some sort of chocolate Frangelico creme. Frangelico is a hazelnut liqueur, perhaps most famous for its cleverly-shaped bottle. I am typically not a fan of hazelnut flavors, and thankfully that part of the Frangelico didn't emerge very strongly on my palate. The creamy, smooth chocolate broke in my mouth with a perfect sort of crunchiness. There were strong, dark notes of coffee, cocoa, and perhaps some sort of dark fruit, with a delightful cocoa bitterness in the finish that lingered just the right amount of time. The most astounding thing about these chocolates is the way they roll around in your mouth with the most pleasant of textures.

Finally, I finished up with a Wild Cherry Balsamic Cordial. I was skeptical of this treat because I wasn't really sure that wild cherries and balsamic vinegar should be paired with chocolate, but I trusted Jeff's insane genius, and bit in. A firm, crunchy shell gave way to a magnificent concoction. Dark cherry and hints of balsamic vinegar complemented each other like some sort of well-trained orchestra, swimming amidst a tart, sweet, creamy texture. Incredible, and worth a try.

If you'd like to try these, or some of Lillie Belle Farms' other delights, I'd suggest visiting their online store.

youngs-double-chocolate.gifI am skeptical of stouts; I'm doubly skeptical of chocolate stouts, espresso stouts, cappuccino stouts, double chocolate stouts, chocolate cappuccino stouts, and all other combinations of these styles. So many times they end up tasting like bitter, poorly designed dark beers intended merely to separate the eager seeker from his hard-earned cash. This, of course, is something that we at Leisure Nouveau frown upon, which is why I took it upon myself to taste a can of Young's Double Chocolate Stout. It was a public service. I was also rather attracted to its vivid purple-and-yellow can, and the rattling widget inside.

The can warned me to serve the beer cold, but not ice cold, so I took it out of the cooler and let it sit for about half an hour before popping the top with a very satisfying, bubbly hiss (that's the widget's job, you know), and pouring its nitrogen-saturated, creamy black contents into a frosty pint glass. The head was rich and chocolaty in appearance, and possessed a wonderful rich texture. Chocolate was powerful in the nose, as were some burnt, bitter aromas and perhaps a few hints of coffee here and there. It brought to mind all of the best things I loved about good stouts and chocolate milk. This beer promises real chocolate, and it delivers.

Young's Double Chocolate Stout was a very pleasant experience. I was both surprised and overjoyed, to tell you the truth. I am writing this review off of my notes, but all the same, my mouth is watering and I am eager to find another one to drink right away. I suspect I may have to do just that! Pardon me while I cut this review short.

allgaeuer-bueble.jpgI recently had the opportunity to enjoy an Allgäuer Brauhaus Büble, a pleasant, golden German pilsner. It's made according to the Reinheitsgebot, also known as the German Beer Purity Law, which governed the ingredients that could be used in Bavarian beer during the 16th century. Actually, it was not repealed and replaced until the 20th century, though I suspect it didn't get followed very strongly by many breweries.

But back to the Büble: it poured nicely, a beautiful pale gold that always invokes images of crisp, delicious German pilsners. After all of the Märzen I'd been drinking lately, it was nice to have a beer that didn't focus entirely on being dark and malty. This one was fairly light and refreshing, with a slightly floral nose, a solid, bright flavor, and a crisp, neat finish. When approaching the world of German pilsners, this would be an excellent choice.

(From a Private Communique, dated IX XXX MMVIII, found in memorabilia of the
Aloisius Bartholomew Reginald Masterson-Smythe collection. I report with minimal editing; entry follows in three parts.)

The Macanudo 1968 Caper
part the first

    On Thursday, I excused myself from employment about an hour and a half into the morning, the exertion of reading the local newspaper leading me into a state of great exhaustion. Arriving home by eleven, I felt barely well enough for tea, but managed. Following a restorative but robust round of cricket in the fresh air, my malady returned, forcing retirement early in the evening; I bade my fellows adieu and enjoyed a nightcap.

    Not entirely cured the next morning, I remembered that one cannot be fully rested without a bath, during which I decided that a proper straight-razor shave might be of aid, an activity which first required coffee and a pipe of fine Virginia flake. Indeed, I felt considerably better after this very recommended curative regimen, though I wasn't yet fit to return to work-- it was once again tea-time.

    After tea and cakes, I carefully selected a good clean pair of silk underwear (other materials leave the humors out of balance), and chose a tie which properly reflected my state of mind, projecting a successful workplace attitude.

    I was about to select an invigorating cigar in preparation for the day's toil, when the door-knocker sounded. Peddigrew, my dwarf, announced that Chang the Chinaman had come calling.

    That Chang! Always punctual.

    It had been a long while since I'd heard the Oriental's autocar clattering in the drive, a curious brown contraption emblazoned with gilt initials and strange symbols, lacking a door on the driver's side so that the nimble fellow might leap out to swiftly deliver parcels without the impediment of a portal.

    As always, the serious-looking man wore his foreigner's clothes in brown to match the delivery-vanagon, with golden stripes. He wore same ridiculous hat I always saw him in, and his brown shoes and pitifully outlandish short pants revealed matched brown socks. He seemed tense, so I decided to say something pleasant.

    "Why, Chang!" I said, "A fine day to you! I do say, of all the Chinamen I know, you have but the finest timing of all."

    Chang's eyes glinted dangerously, the words of an Oriental curse upon his lips. Mercifully, he refrained-- having to explain to the firm my absence on account of ancient Cantonese sorcery would have been an exercise in unpleasantry.

    "Call me that to my face again, an' you'll be eatin' out of a funnel the rest of yer life. Take it, an' sign here, jerk."

    Using the supplied inkless stylus to mark his curious tablet, I claimed my parcel with great incredulity, unable to fathom why he should mind my complimenting his superb timing. Chang left muttering and in a dreadful hurry, without tea-- no doubt to his next adventure in far-away lands.

    Pausing briefly to reflect on the package's long journey, imagining the many rickshaw trips Chang must have taken to bring it so far, the ocean voyages by junk or catamaran or vessels unknown it must have endured, my reverie was halted when I noticed that the post-mark was not in fact from Ceylon or Cameroon, but of the very town in which I dwelt.

    The parcel was from none other than my arch-nemesis, Einrich the Teuton. I opened it carefully, being wary of any booby-traps or poisons my old "friend" may have slipped in for nostalgia's sake.

    What I found within moved me to far greater suspicion than any manner of quaint inveigelment, for it was a devious construction in two parts: a sheet of fine vetiver-scented stationary and wrapped within it, of all things, a single chestnut-hued cigar!

    You surely may understand now my vexation as I read the letter, and learned that the Teutonic Terror said the cigar was a peace offering to me. He wished a chance to begin a productive correspondence. He even generously offered to accommodate Chang's special postage requirements.

    "So the Teuton makes at last his move," I muttered.  Too disconcerted for a cigar,  I lit instead a large Meerschaum of burley and latakia. It was absolutely essential for contemplation.

    Long had it been since Einrich, Alfons the Turk, and Christo the Honduran last danced a tango of death with me, over the matter of a wild Chilean pear trap-- but, that is another tale for another time, for though I was victorious, the memories are unpleasant and I do not wish to now summon them: Unto this day, the terror prevents me from eating certain fruits with my bare hands.

    I turned the cigar over in my hands. The last time I had smoked a Macanudo, it had been out of severe desperation, a slender, rather pale cigar used only a last resort at a dire time, and not at all to my taste.

    This item was different, however. An attractive, richly colored, moderately veined wrapper enclosed a shaft of formidable girth. At surely six Imperial inches, it smelled of heavy spice and promise. It was perfectly round, and very firm in construction.

"Surely," I thought, "this cannot truly be a Macanudo. Some secret game-- and no doubt a deadly one-- must be at play."

    At a snap of my fingers, my dwarf promptly brought quill, ink, and blotter, stationary, and Fez. He got on all fours and dutifully leveled his back.

    Between latakia-laden puffs, I contemplated this Cigar of Mystery as I addressed a missive to my old companion, Hasim the Arab. Of all those I knew, it was he who would be surely the most adept at advising me.

    I wrote, as Peddigrew waited patiently.

paulaner_salvator.jpgToday we're going to drink the Paulaner Salvator Doppelbock, a nice, strong beer very characteristic of its particular style. I enjoyed this beer so much that, unfortunately, I didn't take a lot of notes while drinking it. But let's start with what I remember. It has a very floral, delicious nose. Nothing about the smell of this beer encourages one to delay his first sip, so I didn't. And then, blessed beer!

Earlier this week, my associate Mr Maujean mentioned that he consumed a bottle of Spaten Optimator, which is another doppelbock. A bock is a strong lager, and its name comes from the town of Einbeck, where the style supposedly originated. It also is German for "goat", so one will typically see goats used in the decor of a bottle of bock. Not so with this beer, which features a very happy monk drinking beer with a very happy nobleman of some sort. This is probably a nod to bock's history of being brewed by monks, who once liberally quaffed these thick, sweet, high-alcohol beers to keep their spirits nourished and inebriated during Lent. Do all good beers come from monks? It's very likely, I suspect.

Let's back up a little. The doppelbock is one of my favorite German beer styles. I'll admit to being more of a malt-head than a hop-head, even though I'm an Oregonian. Salvator really comes through for me on that sort of expectation, with a strong, syrupy malty body, caramel notes and some mild or medium ester notes. There is some bitterness mid-palate and almost an overpowering, cloying finish. Overall, however, this very strong beer is thick, burly, and delicious. I highly recommend giving it a try as soon as possible.

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