Sunday, July 31, 2011

Dogfish Head - Midas Touch

Ahh, the month of July has started and ended with Dogfish Head Craft Brewery.  It seems unreasonable to think that a month ago was my interview with Sam Calagione, but time does fly when you're having fun.  And it certainly has been fun!  I think in July I have met more people, gained more readers, and had more great beer than in any other previous month.  I might have even made a friend or two.  This community constantly impresses me and it has truly been a "golden" month.  Reference to gold in tow, it is then only appropriate that this review be for Dogfish Head's Midas Touch.  This is another bottle sent to me by my good friend Keith who is constantly forcing me to look for new and awesome stuff to send back his way.  It has been a while since I have had this brew, so enough talking... Let's pour!

Picture is my own.  Bottle art image used without permission for educational uses only.
Aroma 9/12
The aromas read almost like a checklist off of the bottle: barley, honey, white muscat grapes, & saffron.  As the head dissipates, there is a strong smell of baked bread.  When it settles a bit the sweet ingredients begin to shine, and the first to the front are the grapes.  A sweet smell with what could be perceived as tannins, but that could simply be me misinterpreting the warmth in this 9.0% ABV beer.  Once everybody has gotten acquainted, the primary nose is the honey, grain, and warmth in that order.  They all play well together and make quite a striking compliment to one another.

Appearance 2/3
This beer is a golden honey-apricot color, with a stiff ivory head.  No real changing colors or highlights to speak of, and the stiff head, while not insanely resilient, does remain long enough to not be rude.  High clarity allows the drinker to see several never ending columns of ascending bubbles.

Picture is my own.
Flavor 17/20
It is very hard to review a beer this unique.  All the ordinary characters are not present to be gauged and you are truly left with a blank page from which to start.  First to the tongue a light sweet grain drizzled with just a bit of the honey from the aroma and even a bit of the grape sugars - a very round sweetness.  The backbone is full of slightly more vinous grapes flavors, sour notes, herbal strength, alcohol warmth, and peppery spice.  This is very aggressive and biting, especially compared to how this beer starts.  The finish is a flash of bitter before proceeding to the vinous grape, earthy grains, and alcoholic warmth, and leaves the mouth especially dry.  The aftertaste is also unusual, though this should not come as any surprise with this beer's unusual biography and ingredients.  There a very mild bitter that lingers and this is the primary aftertaste, however before this is there is a very different sour/sweet flavor that is this beer's swan song.  It is almost like an earthy, and extremely muted or dull pickled ginger.  All the sour, sweet, and bitter flavors have combined well at the end and they all wish to make sure they send a proper farewell.  It's simply hard to know who to listen to.  As this beer warms the white grape sweetness becomes much more apparent as the beer first enters the mouth.

Mouthfeel 4/5
A medium bodied beer and that is deceptive.  One expects a heavier beer because of the immense, intense flavor, but also expects a bit of a lighter body because of the light, simple coloring.  Carbonation runs rampant, which is important (yeast-wise) to a higher ABV beer, but tapers down nicely toward the end of the 12 oz. bottle.  Lots of uncamouflaged warmth in this bottle as well.  If the flavors were less intense, this very technically sound beer would be much more drinkable.  It currently stands as a sipper.

Overall Impression 7/10
If you are new to the story of Midas Touch (and we all were once), please go and look it up.  Its origins are fantastic and truly show the beating heart behind one of America's most popular craft breweries.  This is a excellently brewed beer with unique, innovative ingredients; no one can dispute this.  When it comes to the flavors, however, there is room for some subjectivity.  There are so many bold contenders, that they seem to fight for the drinker's attentions.  This abundance of flavors combined with the warmth makes a beer that seems to be speaking loudly to you instead of holding a conversation.

Total 39/50
Again, wow, what a story behind this beer.  By now, it should not be a new story to anybody involved in craft beer, but it has not lost its luster.  This is a big beer.  Yes, in this world of DIPAs and Imperials we've all had the chance to roll with some of the big boys, but this beer is not to be toyed with.  Big flavors, high ABV, and a body that keeps from being a complete sipper, all make this an excellent beer.  Does that mean there is not room for improvement?  No.  DFH is beyond capable of making beers with more nuance that this.  Unfortunately, all these intense and unique flavors (I couldn't tell you what saffron tastes like if my life depended on it) are all squeezed in too tightly and it is hard to let them compliment each other, unlike in the aroma.  I also thought that the warmth took a bit more center stage than it should because, again, I want to taste these weird, "off-centered" ingredients.  Do these gripes and nit-picks make it a bad beer?  Far from it.  However, I think we all know that DFH is beyond capable of improving this beer into one that speaks its flavors instead of thrusting them upon us.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

New Glarus - Snowshoe Ale

Oh, my New Glarus conundrum...
1.  I want to drink it all now because it's delicious.
2.  I want to drink it now because it's taking up a lot of space in the beer fridge.
3.  I want to ration it out because I can't easily buy it (2.5 hour trip).
4.  I want to ration it out because I don't want to do 9 straight New Glarus reviews.

Well, the "drink it now" part of my brain won out today, so I will be reviewing New Glarus' Snowshoe Ale.  In the past, I've been pretty nit-picky on New Glarus beers because they've clearly established themselves as a premier brewer.  However, I'm not sure that is entirely fair given their excellent products.  Long story short, I look to be as objective as possible for this review and have been looking forward to this bottle for some time.  I don't even think it is in season right now!  Let's pour!

Picture is my own.  Bottle art image used without permission for educational uses only.
Aroma 10/12
A much, much richer aroma than the typical sweet red ale.  A round caramel is first, but not foremost.  Eventually it blends with a biscuity malt that slowly shows its more roasty tones and the slightly sour note that malt sometimes lends.  For a moment, I could have sworn I felt a little warmth, but not smelled it, though that would seem extremely odd for the style.  There is also a spice that is barely on the edge of perception.

Appearance 3/3
While primarily a dark copper/nectarine color, this beer has more changing colors than a "tiger's eye" stone.  Colas, coppers, reds, rubies, and dusky oranges make this a veritable sunset of reds in this higher clarity beer.  I highly recommend holding the glass out in front of you and moving it about to see the different shades it produces.  The head is beige, slightly smaller than average, wet, and dense.

Picture is my own.
Flavor 17/20
Starting out light, the beer quickly introduces the roasty malts and fades wonderfully into the beer's main structure.  The backbone shows an instant of raw sugar, but then proceeds into the rich caramel from the aroma.  The sour from the aroma is also here and is clearly the hops, not the malt as stated earlier.  It is far too pronounced to be attributed to malt.  The sour is too overshadowed by the malt to be attributed to any particular citrus, but it does make its presence known.  The finish really shows the light malts from the beginning with the sweet taste of cream, before fading into an excellent hop bitter with the caramel in the distance.  The aftertaste is earthy yet includes the bitter and the roast flavors; all traces of sweetness have faded completely.  All of these are moderate in intensity, as one would expect from a normal red ale.  Very nice in balance, maturity of flavors, and subtlety.

Mouthfeel 4/5
It has a much lighter body than one might expect.  Though given the nuance of the rest of the beer's characteristics, one should not expect to be bowled over with a big, full body.  Adequate carbonation, right down to the very end, and a insinuation of creaminess help make this a more substantial offering of the style.

Overall Impression 8/10
Excellent aroma and a balanced flavor show again why New Glarus is a superior brewer.  Those two things alone let this red ale stand head and shoulders above many other offerings of its kind.  Add to that a beautiful colors and a more substantial body and you've got yourself a winner.

Total  42/50
I feel like I have been rating a lot of beers very highly lately, so I was really looking for places to make sure I was not being too generous.  This beer did not allow me to do that.  So many brewers fall into the pitfall of giving you a malt-laden, sweet, unbalanced beer and calling it a red, just because it's the right color.  This beer, while not containing über-intense flavors, is so well made that to give it a lesser ranking is to do it a disservice.  It is a balanced, drinkable, tasty red ale that should be acceptable to both experienced and rookie craft beer drinkers.  You shouldn't feel bad about picking up a sixer to drink casually around the house.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Pints for Pachyderms

Last Friday I was invited by some friends to attend a fundraiser at a local zoo called "Pints for Pachyderms."  Lured by the thought of mutually inebriating elephants and myself, I went and had one heckuva time.

First off, the midwest is currently in the grip of a heatwave and Friday was no different.  I don't know the exact temperature, but it was enough to give me a pronounced 'V' down the front of my shirt.  Gross, I know, but also motivating to down some cold ones.  I'll give some general narration, but then try to give as many quick beer synopses as I can.  Also, in this article if I list a beer as "did not try," it's not because I didn't want to or was playing the part of the beer snob.  They were only giving out one sample at a time though often times you could ask for two.  If it's listed as "did not try," it is because I didn't feel like waiting in line any more.

First Tent:
Wild Blue: 8% ABV.  Tastes like blueberry juice, sugar, vanilla.  Not beer.
Shocktop Raspberry Wheat:  Complimentary, non-overwhelming raspberry.  I could get behind this as a very refreshing (yet sweet) summer beer.
They also had Margaritaville drinks, but I did not have any.

This first tent also had complimentary peanuts in shell, pretzles, and potato chips.  At first I thought the peanuts were just because of the event's name, but they're also pretty standard bar chow and something to change up on the palate from one beer to the next.  Turns out they had them at every table.  Walking to the next tent we were able to walk by some primate habitats.

Primates outside the primate exhibit.

Line for second tasting.
The second tasting area was for Mexican beers.  Given the hot temps it was no surprise that the lines for this tent were a little longer as people waiting for their cool, lighter-bodied beers.  These servers were probably some the nicer ones as well.  The guy promised me, not knowing that I am into craft beer, that the beers get stronger and more "craft-like" as we go.  The girl asked me what I wanted to drink.  I looked at the beers.  She said, "Do you want this one because it's cold and in my hand?"  Me: "You're good, you."

Second Tent: Mexican Beer
Modelo: Light pilsner in a can.  About what you'd expect.
Negro Modelo:  Pretty universal.  Do I need to touch on this one?
Victoria:  Light pilsner with the slight skunk of Mexican beer.
Pacifico:  All of the above (but no can).

You can't take some people anywhere.
 The next station was rather several things all under a larger tent: Potosi table, radio DJ, pints for sale, food, Summit table, and lots of thirsty fest-goers.

Food set up was nice.  Even the plastic wear made it seem more formal!

Thank goodness these were on sale.  Those samples weren't going to hold me.
 I actually visited the Summit table first and was thirsty enough to dive into their EPA.  Not that their EPA is bad, far from it, but IPA, EPA, BPA, etc, are not usually my first choice.

(Out of order) Fourth Tent: Summit
EPA: 4/5 Stars.  Not real bitter.  Very refreshing.  I probably drank this too fast.
Red Ale:  Very hoppy for a red.  Not very malty.
Hefe:  Did not try.
The Summit selections

Hard-workin' men from Summit.
 In this tent, and strategically placed throughout the zoo, were zoo employees with some of the zoo's animals. How cool!  This bird was in the main tent.

Third Tent: Potosi
Steamboat Shandy: Lots of citrus (duh), peach, and even apple.  They ran out of this later.
Snake Hollow IPA: citrus hops with a light bitter finish.  Perfect for the day.  I bought a pint of this later.
Good old Potosi: Did not try
Pure Malt Cave Ale: Did not try

This snake was en route to the fifth tent.
 The fifth station was a true taste of the local scene.  Great River Brewery is a brewery that recently moved across Iowa to our area.  Mississippi River Distillery started in LeClaire, IA (current home of TV show "American Pickers").  Irish Dog solely makes Bloody Mary Mix that used to be concocted right in their kitchen (they inform me they have since moved out of the kitchen).

Fifth Tent: LOCAL BREWS!
Mississippi River Distillery: This gin was phenomenal.  It tasted more peppermint, than true juniper, but allowed for a more mellow experience.  Also elements of simple syrup with very little burn on the way down.  There was a flavor I could not place, but eventually I determined it was "that minty spice in Thai food."  A friend in the group said, "That's right!  Lemongrass!  She DID say they used lemongrass."  Tastebuds: 1, Mystery Flavor: 0  I will be buying this when looking for gin.
Irish Dog Bloddy Mary:  Wow!  This is spicy meat-a-ball-a!  Not painful, but definitely as spicy as you can make it with out that.  Damn tasty.  Heat didn't linger too bad either.  It probably just seemed longer because of the weather.  All it lacked was my customary dill pickle spear and it would have been perfect.  I will be buying this as well.
Great River Brewery - Redband Stout:  This infuses the exact taste of a coffee drink.  Very authentic tasting.  Lots of espresso in what I bet is a milk stout.  Chocolate as well.  Tasty.

There was lots I did not get to try at this table.
Paul, brewmaster of Great River, pouring with the best of them.

The husband and wife team that is Irish Dog.

Giraffe shower scene on the way to the next tent.

I christened these animals, "skunk monkeys," and the name seemed to stick with those around us.

After seeing some animals, we arrived at the sixth table stationed by Goose Island.  Before I go into that, this whole day is a really cool idea.  How many times are there brew festivals where you get to see giraffes and lions?  Not many, I bet.  It really combines two great activities (or dates, if one were so inclined) and makes both enjoyable.  On to the next table.

Sixth Tent:  Goose Island
The only bummer about this table is that I only got one tasting!  They had their good stuff out and I really would have liked to try another one.  Good thing the one I was able to try was....
Pere Jacques (2009):  Smells remind of apple cider.  Flavor is roasted malt, a little warmth, cider, and dates.  Light citrus bitter at the end.  This is the most complex beer I had all day.  I couldn't believe they were pouring a 2009!

Goose Island folks.

Me with an unamused "skunk monkey."

Right by the lions' area was the Woodchuck Cider table.  They had some chummy folks working there and were pouring some of their special reserve.  Now, some of you may not think much of the ciders or that they would even have a Special Reserve, but my good friend (and very competant beer drinker) Keith has been telling me about this for probably a month, so I had to try it.

Seventh Tent: Woodchuck
Special Reserve:  Similar to their 'Fall' variety (which is AMAZBALLS), but more crisp and without their abundance of fall spices.  It also had a light, light bitter toward the end.  Very impressive cider.
Summer:  It is supposed to be based in blueberries, but the first flavor I got was pear!  The blueberries did come though.  They tasted like fresh blueberries!  They were not tart, nor syrupy.

Our tasting group!
 We were starting to lose daylight so the rest of the tour increased its pace a bit.  Next was Dundee tent.  I'm not really familiar with Dundee so I was excited to taste their offerings.

Eighth Tent: Dundee
IPA: Aroma was piney and caramel malt.  Flavor was also caramel, but included cream and resin.  Light clean finish.
Kolsch:  Similar to a cream ale I had recently that also had a sweetness that reminds one of marshmallows.  This was only up front in this beer and makes me want to keep trying this style and discover its recent hype.
Bock:  Aroma that was smokey like Thanksgiving day roast.  My friend Jim found it "like bourbon... oaky," and he is right on the money.  Taste was a light caramel/molasses with a little bit of honey up front.  Very nice!

AHH!!  Twilight is falling upon us!  Quick get to the other tents.

Ninth Tent: Shiner
102: Aroma of lemon and crystal malt.  Flavor is the same.
Old Ale:  More like a lager than an ale.  Light pilsner without the hops.

The tenth tent was all the AB/InBev products.  However, since we are all familiar with them I won't review them here (but perhaps in an upcoming post).  Kudos to big beer for showing up at a small event (especially since their distributor is about 4 miles away).  They brought some of the good stuff too!  Bass, Stella Artois, Leffe, and Bodingtons

Is there anything more majestic than llamas in the moonlight?
That about sums it up kids.  5 hours, 6 friends, 10 tents, 21 beers, one spirit, and one bloody mary.  Not bad for a days work.  The only thing to make this better is if I win those Poison/Motley Crue tickets I signed up to win.  I'll keep you posted.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Beer Trick Shot

These beers were left out in the sun after a graduation party and were no doubt skunked beyond belief.  Being the innovative and enterprising young lads we are, we found a use for them after all.

We give new meaning to "shotgunning beer."

Be sure to check out my brand spankin' new YouTube Channel! 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Disturbing results

Innocently enough I was checking what websites were sending visitors to my site.  As I'm checking through the stats, I see a search result from and wanted to see where my site appeared on the page.  You know, "How easy is Sud Savant to find in a random search?"  Well, it must have been a Google Ad because I didn't see my page anywhere.  The disturbiing part of this story is in the picture below. Check out the related searches to the right (only if you're not eating).  Double you. Tee. Eff.

This is why people use Google.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Rogue - Chipotle Ale

I have NO idea how I have done this many reviews and this is only my second post about a Rogue product.  I have lots of respect for Rogue and have even used their beers to mark certain benchmarks (50, 100, 200 different beers) with a certain bar's membership club.  Today's review is for Rogue's Chipotle Ale.  I love a good jalepeño-based beer!  Sure, there is some spiciness in there and not everybody cares for that.  Naysayers should know though, that the rest of the beer is often made as refreshing as possible to try and counter that spiciness.  Needless to say, in the midst of this midwestern heatwave (which shows no signs of letting up) a whole bunch of refreshing beer is just what I was looking for.  Let's pour!

Picture is my own.  Bottle art image used without permission for educational uses only.
Aroma 8/12
The first smell was almost a farm-like mustyness, as if something a bit gamey had gotten into the mix.  It dissipates soon enough and then the pepper-based heat appears in the nose.  However, even this fades away and gives rise to the premier aroma: the chipotle peppers' flavor.  They are smoky, salty and just a hint of sweetness.  The smoky and salty tones combined are enough to remind one of Bean & Bacon soup.  No other ingredients really shine through the strong chipotle aromas.

Appearance 3/3
This is a gorgeous beer!  When not in direct light, it is a red that nearly matches that on the label.  When lit at all, it is a beautiful, glowing orange with a pumpkin pastel colored head.  There is not a great volume of head, but it retains well and leaves sticky lace on my glass.

Picture is my own.
Flavor 14/20
Very light a crisp off the bat with a dull molasses sweetness.  You really have to hold this in the mouth to get the intended flavors as they are not readily apparent with simple sips.  The backbone is a continuation of the molasses, but introduces the smoky flavor and a mere suggestion of the pepper's heat.  Unfortunately, that is all you get, only a flash and then it is all but gone.  Only when I was more than halfway through the 650 mL bottle did I get any sort of lingering heat.  The heat is briefly restoked as the beer hits the back of the throat and that is really all that differs in the finish.  The aftertaste however adds a moderate but pronounced hop bitter to the lingering heat, leaving the mouth a bit dry and ready for another mouthful.  Very nice touch to end this beer.

Mouthfeel 4/5
It is very light in body, which is great for the style, but still maintains some level of creaminess.  Even in the beginning of the bottle when carbonation was abundant and bubbly, it still had a noticeable creaminess to it.  Halfway through the bottle the carbonation is tiny and sparse, which only makes this lightly creamy texture all the more noticeable.

Overall Impression 6/10
This beer is the consequence of indecision.  Chili beer is a bold choice and so one would expect a bold beer. There is plenty of daring-do in the aroma, but the flavor finds the chilis timid and muted.  The bitter at the end is bold and complimented what existing chili flavor there was (it could have complimented much more as well).  The result is a beer whose chilis are not bold enough to satisfy those looking for a more extreme experience and whose hop bitter is enough to keep away the entry-level beer drinker.

Total 36/50
This ranking still puts this beer in the "Very Good" category and rightly so.  It is not a bad beer by any means, I just don't see it satisfying the needs of those "bold" drinkers looking for a robust exbeerience.  Unfortunately for Rogue, those are the people most likely to buy this beer (especially in this quantity).  This beer is very much like a British Pale Ale, but with the chipotle peppers added to it.  The light creaminess and the aftertaste were the true high points of this beer, but can only do so much in the face of an ingredient that didn't come with guns a-blazin'.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

St. Martin - Tripel

I love Belgian beers, especially Abbey Ales.  They were one of the first "expensive" beers (as I called them) that I got into when exploring craft beer.  Today, I am in luck as I will be reviewing an official "Certified Belgian Abbey Beer."  This is often indicated somewhere on the label and often looks like a stained glass window (picture included at end of post).  This is not to be confused with the seal that indicates an authentic Trappist brew.  Before I get too distracted I should mention that this beer was bottled in February of 2010.  I'm not sure if that will effect the flavors or not (I kept in refrigerated, but I obviously cannot attest to the retailer), with the high ABV, I'm hoping any effect would be negligible.  St. Martin has a great presence on Twitter (@AbbeyStMartin ) and I can't believe I have not yet reviewed one of their beers.  Thanks St. Martin for the great conversation with your customers.  We really appreciate it.  Let's pour!

Picture is my own.  Bottle art image used without permission for educational uses only.
Aroma 12/12
This is an incredibly complex aroma.  Be prepared to smell everything a Belgian beer could possibly include.  As the head settles from a somewhat vigorous pour, a strong malt comes to the nose and smells like rich, baking bread.  The head settles marvelously into place and allows a understated banana to take over.  It is not the overly sweet, candied, "laffy taffy" variety that we find in many belgian-style ales, but a simple, natural, mouth-watering banana.  The warmth can be felt in the nose at this point, but does not truly add itself to the aroma.  Subtle spices soon make their way to you, consisting mostly of a dusting of clove and coriander.  Wait a minute or two longer and a few lemony citrus notes poke out their head along with a clearer malt aroma than in the initial sniffs, and even a touch of honey.  None of these ingredients smack you in the face.  They are presented simply, earnestly, and in balance.  Very complex and extremely well done.

Appearance 3/3
Initially pouring light, but growing darker with more sediment, the Tripel pours a dusty golden peach color with an ample white cloud of head.  Moderate lacing on my glass and a wonderful, hazy brew that seems to catch the light and create new facets with every twist of the glass.

Picture is my own.  Look at all the sticky lace!
Flavor 18/20
The first touch on the tongue is a combination of the bready and light malts from the aroma.  This transitions beautifully into a light citrus, then a very spiced banana and quite a bit of alcohol warmth that is definitely not as camouflaged in the flavor as in the aroma.  The alcohol with the spices and sweetness are nearly reminiscent of a spiced rum.  Almost simultaneously is a dark caramel sweetness, but is largely overshadowed by the alcohol and banana.  To let this sit in the mouth lets the banana+alcohol mix mellow, the citrus grow a bit, gives the whole lot a bit of a sour/tart tinge, and a light bitter to develop.  The finish is more of the spiced banana and strong alcohol warmth.  The aftertaste is oddly a good portion of the bready malt, but also some peppery hop flavor without much hop bitter.

Mouthfeel 5/5
The first thing to mind, of course, is the strong warmth of the brew.  Its body is a nice medium-full and the carbonation, though incredibly tiny, appears in ample amounts even through the bottom of the 750ml bottle.  The creaminess is relatively low for what one normally finds in the style.  Is that a bad thing?  No.  This is already a big beer and it does not need any creaminess to prove or improve it.

Overall Impression 8/10
Nirvana-esque aroma, but the flavor did not quite play at the same level.  The alcohol largely overwhelmed some of the cornucopia of flavors originally found in the aroma.  This is still a damn tasty beer.  Non-candy banana, lots of spices, big flavors, technical brewing, and even a peppery hop at the end all make this beer a winner.

Total 46/50
I am very impressed by this beer and would definitely buy it again, but I cannot help shake the feeling of disappointment that I wish the flavor lived up to that intoxicating aroma.  It was complex, beautiful, comlimentary, and.... wow.  A lot of that was lost when the alcohol was introduced to the palate and overwhelmed a lot of the give and take that was happening.  Long story short, I was thinking that this might be the first beer that I give a perfect rating to, but it got lost in the warmth.  Does that make this a bad beer?  Hell no.  If someone offered me this, whether I knew what it was or not when I sipped it, I would probably give them a hug (in a very masculine way).  Big Belgian authentic taste, alcohol laden, spicy, bananas, and amazing technical specs all make this beer worth every penny.  I just cannot help but think... "what if."

Marty himself.

The seal of "Certified Belgian Abbey Beer."

Monday, July 18, 2011

Samuel Smith - Organic Best Ale

I have mixed feelings about this bottle before I even open it.  First off, I am pretty impressed by most things that Samuel Smith makes.  In fact, in describing the brewery to many friends, I usually end up spouting forth the following sentence, "Samuel Smith makes beer that defines the style it's made in."  I stand by that statement (despite the dangling participle) and have yet to find a beer that would even have me add a caveat to it.  However, this beer is also an organic beer.  Much in the same vein as vegetarian hot dogs, tofurkey and other similar offerings I generally associate less than savory flavors to things that try to replicate the flavors of the things they are replacing.  I have had very few outstanding organic beers.  Which characterstic will win out?  Solid brewing reputation?  Nasty health food stereotype?  Let's pour!

Picture is my own.  Bottle art image used without permission for educational uses only.
Aroma 11/12
For a simple ale, this smell is heavenly!  Very bready malts come first, but not without a light sweetness.  Just behind this sweet bread (yum), is a dainty yet distinct fruit and citrus aroma.  There is definitely lemon present, but the rest is up to interpretation.  This reviewer found the mellow sweetness of pears, but the sharp acidity (albeit not in overpowering quantities) of canned pineapple.  As the beer warms a floral ester develops as well and only adds to this entrancing scent.

Appearance 3/3
The color is very comparable to many macros, if not a tad darker.  Though I have not known macros to be so dependent on light for their appearance.  This beer is lighter than gold under direct light, but dusty shades of pumpkin when offered even the slightest shadow.  The head is fair in size, has only the most minuscule bubbles, and is as close to white as I have ever seen.  It offers fair retention, little lacing, but remains as a collar through the majority of my pour.

Picture is my own.
Flavor 19/20
The first sips reel of cream and light malts, but soon after things become pretty balanced.  Gradually the hops enter, bringing both their light crisp citrus and an unheralded hop bitter.  As it sits in the mouth, all three blend together perfectly with no one ingredient outshining its counterparts.  It is a perfect balance of nuanced flavors and cannot be overstated.  The technical prowess in creating this beer is uncanny.  The finish continues the hop citrus, but allows a dash of its grassy origins to shine through.  There is a clean feeling immediately after the finish, but it does not take long for the light hop bitter to become present in the aftertaste.

Mouthfeel 4/5
This is very creamy for the style and is aided along by its stylistically low level of tiny carbonation.  The pseudo-creaminess lends itself well to the body and overall quality of this beer, but could it be even a more perfect, light, summer drinker with more bubbly in the refreshment?

Overall Impression 9/10
Amazing.  We should come to expect nothing less from Samuel Smith.  This is not the big beer that a lot of enthusiasts are hoping for, but it is a light, nuanced, perfectly balanced ale that should be on everyone's summer refreshment list.  Even macro drinkers can get behind this with its light flavors.  Wow.

Total 46/50
Can I state it any clearer?  This should be on everyone's summer drinking list!  The balance is unmatched and the flavors are more delicate that any other craft beer that comes to mind.  Many organic beers seem like they are overcoming hurdles simply to reach the glass ceiling of "mediocre," but not Samuel Smith.  This beer is so technically excellent, so well-made, and so.. well... just plain tasty that you need to try it.  Do not let its wide availability or relatively cheap price fool you.  Those factors just might make it the best beer you haven't tried. Yet.

Look ma!  It's organic!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

New Glarus - Dancing Man Wheat

It is not often that these words come out of my mouth (er.. are typed) so listen carefully.  "I've never had this New Glarus beer before."  There I said it.  I am not proud, but there it is.  In case you're the type to glaze over article titles, today's review is for New Glarus' Dancing Man Wheat.  I am really hoping that it is made with more wheat and not with dancing men.  Let's pour!

Picture is my own.  Bottle art image used without permission for educational uses only.
Aroma 12/12
Smelling this, one does not want to drink it.  You either want to smell it all day or wear it as cologne.  It is fantastic and has it all: rich, ripe bananas, coriander, cloves, light caramel malt, and a hint of citrus.  Beautiful and a shining example of what a good wheat beer should taste like.

Appearance 3/3
A cloudy, golden honey color topped with an amazing, whipped head is a real smile-inducer to have in the glass. As if the head did not appear light and frothy enough to begin with, at times it even has merengue-like peaks.  The head size was generous, but could have received extra super bonus points for sticking around a little longer.

Picture is my own.
Flavor 17/20
The aroma has deceived me yet again.  Instead of mouthfuls of bananas, caramel, and spices, the beer fades almost immediately into a backbone of toasted grain, citrus, lesser caramel notes and more bitter than expected.  This is not the over-the-top sweet beer from the aroma!  The yeast flavors are being completely overpowered by a near perfect balance of the malt (caramel) and hops (citrus).  In fact, the more I drink it, the more I get over my disappointment  regarding the lack of sweet bananas and begin marveling at the balance this beer has.  Wow!  The longer it is held in the mouth, some of the Belgian yeast's spiciness is allowed to really rear its head, but without the fruity esters.  The finish is still a spicy, citrus bitter, but does show a hint of the caramel and banana to keep things from becoming too sharp.  The aftertaste is not clean.  The bitter stays on the back of the tongue and a odd dryness is left on the sides of the mouth.

Mouthfeel 4/5
Lots of carbonation here, maybe even a bit too much in the beginning.  Toward the end it is still a bit prickly, but not a detriment.  It has a very light body for a wheat beer and no creaminess of which to speak.  The warmth is completely hidden and I was surprised to learn that this beer has a 7.2% ABV.  A sixer of this could make for a very short evening!

Overall Impression 9/10
A superbly balanced beer that takes on all comers of the style.  Not too sweet, high alcohol content, complexity, and a refreshing drinkability are only some of the many strengths of this beer.  Many wheat beers that are sweet often become too heavy and cloying at the expense of wanting to drink more than one.  This beer avoids that pitfall completely.

Total 45/50
If you live in and/or near Wisconsin and have not had this beer, shame on you.  May your children have extra fingers and your cats go bald.  This is an outstanding example of the style!  It improves on several areas of some of my favorite wheat beers, with the only apparent concession being the lack of a robust banana flavor. It has a higher ABV, lighter body, more balance, and a subtle sweetness which allows the drinker to have several without feeling like they are going to have a diabetic seizure.  This is a very nuanced beer sure to satisfy the new or experienced craft beer drinker and another reason that New Glarus enjoys the shiny reputation that it does.  Prost!

Picture is my own.  Bottle art image used without permission for educational uses only.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Brouwerij Verhaeghe - Duchess De Bourgogne

First of all, can we call just agree on calling this beer "The Dutchess"?  There is no way that I am going to be able to work out both the brewery name AND whatever the heck she is the Dutchess of (if you know and feel like you can spell it phonetically or using the IPA phonetic alphabet, please be my guest and leave it in the comments).

The Mona Lisa of the beer world.

Second order of business, since Pinty's untimely demise (see last post for details), I have upgraded in the world of glassware.  Please see pictures later on in this article.

Finally, this bottle of beer was actually given to me.  I was talking to a manager named Steve at my local Hy-Vee Wine & Spirits and never gave him the faintest idea that I was a blogger nor ever would have imagined asking for a free bottle.  Ever.  As we discussed craft beer rather in depth, he ended up wrapping up a bottle and telling me that I had to try it.  This is that bottle.  Hy-Vee should be proud (as should any local business) to have employees truly embracing, endorsing, and passionate about their products.  This is actually the first bottle of beer given to me by any source and I am really looking forward to giving this a thorough review.  Let's pour!

Picture is my own.  Bottle art image used without permission for educational uses only.
Aroma 10/12
The overall aroma is sour.  While not discouraging its components are a bit difficult to place.  It does not rely on the common citrus and berries for its tartness, but instead seems to draw it from fermented green apples, plums, and fresh, sour cherries.  The scent also seems to have a dry tartness to it not completely unlike champagne.  Behind these sour notes are a molasses scent (more sugary than would allow me to call it caramel) and a moderately toasted malt.

Appearance 3/3
The appearance would have one believe that the tart aroma is yielded solely from cherries.  The beer is a beautiful shimmering copper, nearly the color of stained cherry wood.  I recommend holding this beer to the light.  It yields a palette full of red shades and it quite striking.  The head is beige, generous in size, and clings well to my glass.  Quite a feat if this beer is as tart (therefore acidic) as its aroma suggests.

Picture is my own.
Flavor 19/20
The sour flavor is the star of this show and wastes no time taking center stage.  It is a delicious blend primarily consisting of sour cherries, but also featuring the plums and sour apples from the aroma.  Delicious!  This powerhouse backbone, when held in the mouth even yields some bitter notes, as if one bit just into the core of one of the sour apples.  The finish is what truly ascended this beer into a higher category of respect.  For just a moment, a mere flash across the palate, there is a warm, sweet sensation of toffee/butterscotch/vanilla on the sides of the tongue.  Not only is the taste delicious in itself, but it is a perfect compliment to this bouquet of fruits.  At first it was so brief, I thought I might be mistake, but even halfway through the first pour this "flash" is still detectable (and fantastic).  Its origins are presumably from the malt, but it is not the norm for this reviewer to find a lot of malt flavors present in the finish, as it is usually the place to showcase more bitter notes in the beer.  The aftertaste is less impressive, but it has a tough act to follow.  It gently fades away the tart with a noticeable level of bitter from the backbone, without completely erasing the tart.  As a sweeter beer, it is no surprise that the aftertaste is rather clean.

Mouthfeel 5/5
The effervesence of this beer is light and crisp, which works extremely well with the brew since I would describe it in the same way.  Light in body, ample in carbonation, with no warmth, but incredibly smooth.

Overall Impression 10/10
One of the best fruit based beers available.  The flavor is fantastic and were it more rounded, could be considered wine-like without many thoughts to the contrary.  Not to say that this beer possesses a great deal of warmth or suggests tannins, but the fruit bouquet is excellent.  Its color, head, and mouthfeel are also great strengths.  The buttery, sugary flavor in the finish is a masterstroke.

Total 47/50
This bottle is easily one of the top fruit-based beers in the market.  It easily competes with New Glarus' "Wisconsin Belgian Red," and that is much easier said than done.  I give the comparison so that you will instantly know that it is a world-class example of the style.  It seldom comes this refined and this drinkable (most are too sweet for my taste, but I digress).  Find this.  Buy it.  If you're feeling nice, you can let your wife/significant other try some, just don't be surprised when she tries to steal the bottle.  This is a fantastic Belgian brew and with recommendations like this, you can bet I'll be back to see Steve at Hy-Vee in no time.

Side note: This bottle has an "expiration date" imprinted on its cork.  How awesome is that?  I hope other breweries pick up on that!
Great idea!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Mikkeller - Beer Geek Brunch

Tonight I bid farewell to "Pinty" my beloved pint glass.  Pinty was one of Dollar Store's finest pint glasses and was with me from the beginning for all of my current 60+ reviews.  He was cracked today whilst being washed and so a suitable beer must be chosen en memoriam.

False obituaries for inanimate objects aside, today's review is for Mikkeller's Beer Geek Brunch.  It is way past brunch time, but I feel that my exbeerience will be similar, regardless.  There truly is no better way to introduce this beer than to reprint the description from the bottle.

"This imperial Oatmeal stout is brewed with one of the world's most expensive coffees, made from droppings of weasel-like civet cats.  The fussy Southeast Asian animals only eat the best and ripest coffee berries.  Enzymes in their digestive system help to break down the bean.  Workers collect the bean-containing droppings for Civet or Weasel Coffee.  The exceedingly rare Civet Coffee has a strong taste and an even stronger aroma."

I'm not sure who has it worse, me as a drinker or the workers that collect weasel turds all day.  And you thought chicha had a nasty recipe.  Let's pour!

Picture is my own.  Bottle art image used without permission for educational uses only.
Aroma 12/12
This is everything that a stout should be.  Coffee is first in the nose followed by a dark, dark roasted (yet unburnt) chocolaty malt.  The sweet creaminess of the oatmeal peeks out next, followed by just the slightest hint of smoke (which I attribute to the malt.  Perhaps a bit of charring occured after all?).  When pouring a sample, be sure to let the head die a bit.  When the head is still churning and fresh, a great deal of alcohol warmth and oatmeal sweetness come roaring out.  This smells like quite a treat.

Appearance 3/3
Again, perfectly on the mark for the style.  This beer is pitch black, completely opaque, and pours thicker than a Weight Watcher's meeting.  Plenty of brown, sticky head is present which lingers in the glass and leaves some lovely lacing.  This is a pint full of awesome.  The SRC/EBC color chart in the picture is completely superfluous as this beer is out-and-out black.

Picture is my own.
Flavor 19/20
The initial flavor had me a bit concerned, but thankful those concerns were rendered baseless very quickly.  The first sip is a tangy, salty bite in front of the traditional stout flavors.  No, not exactly what one expects when diving into a stout, but thankfully this flavor is completely absent in the rest of the beer and even fades from the beginning as the beer warms.  From this bite, we transition to the backbone almost like leaving an underground tunnel in a car - big flash of light (our biting first sip) and then fades gradually into focus as our eyes adjust (the backbone).  The beer's backbone is phenomenal!  Espresso beans, dark vanilla, alcohol warmth, darkly roasted chocolate malt, oatmeal's creamy sweetness, rich bits of caramel, and a subtle alcohol warmth.  You could let this sit in your mouth for an extended period of time with no complaints.  Not because the flavor is changing and transitioning, but because it is delicious!  Heck, they even throw in a hint or two of black licorice for good measure.  The finish shows a mocha blend of the chocolaty malt and the coffee beans, then proceeds to combine that with the oatmeal.  Gorgeous.  If that was not enough it also includes a sharp hop bitter after a brief, yet distinct moment.  The finish is a peppery hop bitter along the sides of the tongue, but primarily features breaths full of alcohol warmth and coffee.  This is a powerhouse stout and not for the faint of taste.

Mouthfeel 5/5
I was initially looking to deduct a point for the "barely existant" level of carbonation.  The almost imperceptible bubbles could have perhaps used a bit of company, but as it is their lack of presence was not distracting.  Warmth is present, but not completely absent nor overwhelming; quite a feat in a 10.9% ABV beer.  Creaminess is abundant, but the body is not as heavy as I would expect considering this beer's other feats.  It could be categorized as "medium heavy."

Overall Impression 10/10
If you enjoy stouts, this beer will bowl you over.  From the nose to the flavor to the appearance, everything in this beer borders on ridiculously good.  You want imperial?  They've got your imperial right here.  Good gracious!

Total 49/50
This is an extreme beer for the extreme beer drinker.  Gargantuan taste, lots of alcohol, rare and/or unusual ingredients, expensive, and delicious.  This is a sipper, but gladly so.  I can't imagine tearing through a portion of this size as it would result in my immediate and glaring disappointment.  This is my first beer from Mikkeller and I can guarantee that it will not be my last.  If you can find it (and enjoy big ass stouts), you should buy it.  Not only will you not regret it, but it is worth every penny.  I don't know how else to end this except... wow.  Pinty would be proud.