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Beer Reviews

Stone Soup

New Glarus Brewing Company
New Glarus, WI
USA
http://www.newglarusbrewing.com/

Style: Belgian Ale
ABV: 5.3%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Recommended)


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Ah, Belgium. The lush, rolling green hills. The pure, crystal clear Alpine streams. The pristine white sand beaches. The relaxation of a Mediterranean villa. The red light district. It's heaven on earth. Ok, it WOULD be heaven on earth if any of those things actually existed there. Fortunately for the Belgians, who have little else (boo brussels sprouts), they have perfected the art of brewing and waffle making. As I have stated on numerous occasions, I dare anyone to find a country in the world that brews higher quality, tastier, and more powerful beer than Belgium. But hey- when you're forced to share a border with the wooden shoe wearing Dutch, whose sole purpose in life is to fill in the ocean in order to make more swampland available for settlement to create the worlds worst- and most popular- beer, you'd probably try to perfect the brewing process too. I must say, however, that I have yet to find a good Belgian brew that goes well with waffles. Come to think of it, the only thing that goes with waffles is bacon- maybe coffee. But I digress.

What I most love about the Belgians is that the finest breweries in the world are run by an order of Catholic Cistercian monks, the Trappists. That's right- monks. Honestly, if Nigel's church put in a beer tap that served brews of such high quality, you bet your ass I'd be there more often than Christmas and the occasional wedding. These elite brewers (there are currently 8 registered Trappist brewers in the world: 6 in Belgium, 1 in Holland, and 1 in Germany, though some sources cite only 6 remaining Trappist brewers, all in Belgium) make fine ales using high amounts of pale malt, fruit, hops, and yeast that make for a powerful brew that's very unique in flavor. While most authentic Belgian ales we find here are not produced by the registered Trappist breweries (Chimay is the most widespread Trappist brew available in the States), they nonethess uphold the standards set by their monastic predecessors. Ranging from pale to dark to lambics, Belgian ales are some of the most balanced brews out there, with hops, malt, fruit, and yeast all in a perfect synchronization, making for a brew that is generally sweet and spicy- not overly bitter, but still balls-to-the-wall. Whatever style of beer you prefer, there is likely something Belgian that will appeal to your taste buds and give you a new appreciation for quality beer.

When it comes to producing Belgian style ales, American craft brewers have had mixed success. These ales are relatively new to the domestic craft brewing scene, having become more popular in recent years as brewers become more experimental and push the limits of what some refer to as "extreme beer" (personally, I HATE that terminology). While it will be very difficult for any American craft brewer to reach the level of an authentic Belgian brewer (they do have a few centuries head start on us, after all), some that I've sampled have come pretty damn close. I could go on and on about this topic, but I'll limit it to the subject at hand: New Glarus Brewing Co. and their newest spring seasonal brew, Stone Soup, which is a solid spinoff of the Belgian Pale Ale.

New Glarus has previously dabbled into the world of Belgian style brews with their two highly acclaimed fruit offerings, Wisconsin Belgian Red and Raspberry Tart, both fantastic offerings inspired by Belgian lambics. Recently, New Glarus has become more experimental, providing limited edition releases of Unplugged Triple and Unplugged Quadruple Belgian Ales, neither of which I have yet had the pleasure of trying. Like many Midwestern craft brewers, this new limited-edition line is pushing New Glarus to a whole other level, not only with the Belgian brews, but also an Imperial IPA, an Imperial Russian Stout, and a Barley Wine- all VERY ballsy. Stone Soup is not part of this limited edition line but rather a new seasonal brew, making it a much milder take on a Belgian ale, reminding me very much of New Glarus' phenomenal spinoff of the traditional German Dunkel Weiss, Copper Kettle (previously reviewed in this very space by Eddie Glick). While Stone Soup may not be authentic, it nonetheless does a good job of capturing the spirit and flavor of a Belgian ale, although it does lack the overall pizazz that characterizes a real Belgian. After all, if you've ever met a Belgian, you know they're LOADED with pizazz. Probably because they're so close to France. But again, I digress.

Stone Soup pours nice, though not quite as foamy as many Belgian-style ales. A solid head to be sure, but I was able to pour an entire 12 oz. bottle into a pint glass all at once without overflowing. The foamy white head mellows steadily, leaving only a slight bright white trace. The overall color of the beer is a very light golden brown, as you would expect from a Belgian Pale. New Glarus says it's bottle conditioned, giving it a very cloudy hue, not unlike a good Hefe Weizen. The aroma is good, though not terribly strong. The usual suspects here when it comes to a Belgian Pale: spicy cloves and corriander, mixed with orange, lemon, and a hint of banana. Like the aroma, the taste is good, but not overwhelming. It has the flavor you would expect from a Belgian Pale, but without that "it" that makes it unique. The tart fruitiness is well balanced by the spicy undercurrents, the high levels of yeast, and the pale malt. Citrus zest dominates, with hops very hard to detect- a tad more hops could help add some zip to this fairly tame brew (less yeast, more hops- that's Nigel's recipe for Stone Soup). The beer goes down smooth and is light-bodied; it could be considered a session brew, particularly with a very low abv for a Belgian (5.3%). As a spring seasonal, New Glarus clearly developed Stone Soup as a mild beer for the warming weather (this may have backfired this year, as spring is non-existent), which helps explain the light taste and low abv. It's stronger than a Hefe, and definitely stronger (and MUCH tastier) than a Spotted Cow, but a bit too wussy for a true Belgian ale. The aftertaste is not too offensive, but the spice does linger for a bit. This would certainly be a welcome brew on a warm spring day, if such a thing should ever happen, and may translate well into the summer months. A good attempt by New Glarus, but not up to the standards of a true Belgian ale. Give it a try if you should see it in your local pub or grocer, but don't expect to be blown away.

Cheers!

Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on April 8, 2007.
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