Saturday, December 31, 2011

Brewsees Eyewear

The folks down at Brewsees were kind enough to send these in the giving spirit of the holiday season.  If this video sounds like an ad, it's not,  I just think that highly of them.  I've been wearing these non-stop since I got them (showers excluded) and can't wait to start some great conversations at the next beer fest.

You can check these out for yourself on, @Brewsees on Twitter, or just snag one of the endless coupons they throw out on Facebook simply by "liking" them.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Cigar City - Good Gourd

I know... I know...  I said I was done with the pumpkin beers and honestly I thought I was.  I had completely exhausted my supply and so had the stores so that was the end of it, right?  Wrong.  My beer trading buddy Keith sent me a beer mail yesterday and it was a doozy!  Check out this quality selection!

L to R: Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA, DFH Punk'n Ale, Innis & Gunn Highland Cask,
Innis & Gunn Rum Cask, Cigar City Good Gourd, Sierra Nevada/DFH Life & Limb II

With that selection in mind, there will be two more pumpkin ale reviews before this year is finished. Tonight's happens to be for the larger of the two bottles, Cigar City's Good Gourd out of Tampa, FL. If you've been paying attention at all, you know I love pumpkin ales. So without any further ado, let's pour!

Aroma 10/12
"Pairings" seems to be the theme of the aroma.  Sweet pumpkin flesh abounds and is paired with heaps of brown sugar.  The blend of clove and cinnamon smells so good it makes me want to try it as an ice cream flavor.  A slightly earthier nutmeg appears behind the two primary spices as does a light warmth.  While, there's nothing innovative about what's going on here, this beer smells more like pumpkin pie that any I've tried.  The brown sugar aids that comparison immensely.

Appearance 3/3
This is the second beer in a row I've reviewed where the head alone deserves 3 points.  A moderately aggressive pour returns a huge, rising pillar of head that tries to escape my tulip the first chance it gets.  Subsequent pours from this 1 pint, 9.4 oz bottle even yielded and undesireably high amount of foam.  Once it has ascended it is no hurry to come back down.  This fluffy, tan crown resists falling and leaves a fair amount of lace.  The color is also fascinating.  I'm not sure what aspect in the beer would effect its opacity as such, but I've never seen a beer that has such a contrast in color from the center of the glass to the edges.  The center is so dark!  When held up and to the light, it's like a candle has been lit in the bottom with a glowing orange flicker, and the center is some darkened corner.  When simply placed in front of a light source it as handsome a shade of orange as any leaf in fall.

Another picture that does not do its beer any justice.

Flavor 16/20
There are no introductory flavors here!  The drinker is instantly immersed into a candied pumpkin flesh and soon has the brown sugar and caramel malts to join them.  As the beer is held in the mouth the sweetness dies down a bit and strikes more of an earthy spice note consisting of the nutmeg and cinnamon, in that order.  And even after that flavor fades away, a creamy note remains and is complimentary to the pumpkin's naturally smooth mouthfeel.  The finish is primarily brown sugar and spice with the pumpkin struggling to maintain its starring role.  There is a light bitter, but it seems to stem more from the earthy spice than any sort of contribution from a hop.  When these dark, earthy spices and the brown sugar/caramel mix in the aftertaste, it's a molasses-like combination and not an unpleasant end to the beer.

Mouthfeel 3/5
This is not your typical pumpkin beer.  Despite the higher alcohol content, the lighter malt presence yields a much smaller body than anticipated in a pumpkin seasonal.  This lighter malt content also results in an experience that doesn't possess the smoothness of most pumpkin seasonals.  In keeping with what must have been Cigar City's intentions, the carbonation is high.  Not just for the style, I mean the carbonation is really fizzy.  While it never becomes prickly nor distracting, it is an unusual to see this much carbonation in this style.  It also lends itself to extremely large-headed pours.  To its credit, the alcohol content is perfectly camouflaged other than the hint given in the aroma.

Overall Impression 8/10
While full of flavors and great aroma, this beer chose to be a lighter, more drinkable pumpkin ale than most found on the market.  The body feels light, the carbonation is bubbly and lively, and the taste is more like pie than some beers who choose to go a more "authentic" route.  Are any of those sentences a criticism?  No, it's simply what this beer is designed to do.  For what it's worth, it does them rather well.

Total 40/50
This is a craft beer designed to please the masses.  Wait, isn't that an oxymoron?  "Craft beer" and "the masses?"  Not in this case, it isn't.  It smells like pumpkin pie, tastes pretty darn good, hides its alcohol, and has a lighter, more drinkable body which is all the more aided by its high carbonation.  What's not to love?  This may be the perfect blend of being flavorful enough to satisfy the craft beer market (Namely, me.  I'd buy this again) and not being too big, scary, & bold to frighten off the experimental or occasional craft beer drinker.  Personally, I love a super-smooth, authentic pumpkin filled, malt-tastic, balanced, big ol' pumpkin beer.  This beer is not that, but it certainly has its place in the market and presents an welcome alternative.  Heck, it has even shown it has its place in two markets: hardcore craft beer & beyond.  If you like pumpkin beers, but wish they could be a little less "big" or "syrupy," then have I got a beer for you.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Avery - Salvation

Ok, so technically this isn't a winter seasonal or Christmas beer, but with a name like "Salvation" this beer may be lie nearer to the heart of the Christmas season than any other.  Avery's religion-themed beers have earned a great deal of respect from me for their hop accentuated, malt-balanced beers, so I am more than willing to pry off the top on another one and see how it drinks.  Let's pour!

Look.  It's glowing!

Aroma 12/12
No questions about this score.  If there were more points available, it would get those too.  This beer is a spot-on perfect interpretation of what a Belgian-style Golden ale should smell like.  It has a robust, muffled Belgian yeast ester, a vanilla-laced cream, a good spicy clove, and a lesser alcohol warmth that all come together into a aroma that is near floral as any beer I've experienced.  They even throw in a little apricot to keep the drinker on their toes and a brighter grassy hop note comes along to make us believe all the more that we are in some flower strewn meadow.  Salvation indeed.

Appearance 3/3
This pours like liquid gold.  Not some alloy, I'm talking a bright, shining yellow, just-came-from-the-earth, the-Aztecs-would-have-owned-this-if-they could, type gold.  I mean, look at the above picture.  This beer is borderline incandescent.  The high clarity on top of it all just seems wonderfully excessive.  The eggshell colored head was satisfying in size, retention, and enjoyed a modest amount of lacing.  To be frank, it's the first thing this beer has done modestly.

Flavor 19/20
The beer enters the mouth with a fanfare of thick, cream-flavored beer.  It rolls quickly to the backbone and shows hints of its warmth while displaying that wonderful Belgian yeast that is lessened a bit by some newly introduced caramel malts.  Held in the mouth, the caramel and warmth seem to dominate the profile, but a slurp quickly strengthens the Belgian yeast flavors.  More spices are present in the mouth than in the nose, most notably the nutmeg, but not the clove from the aroma.  The spices lend another layer of complexity to place on top of the caramel.  None of the floral esters from the aroma are present, but the finish tries to make up for that with a strong hop presence.  The finish begins with a caramel flavor that I swear I was going to have to chew first.  Thankfully the hops are there to balance by giving more bitter than one would expect in a Golden and a nice peach/apricot note which compliments this beer superbly.  The aftertaste is a fairly distinct hop bitter, a noticeable warmth, hints of the caramel, and a spiciness on the tongue.

Mouthfeel 5/5
This beer is as thick a Golden as I've had.  It's surprising it can be so hearty and still showcase so many delicate flavors!  The carbonation is a perfect match to its big body and the warmth, while never camouflaged, never threatens to overwhelm any other aspect of this beer.  It sits at 9% ABV, but tastes lower.  The hops are very drying despite the robust caramel malts.

Even the label glows!  Crikey!

Overall Impression 9/10
Sure, there is room for improvement, but not much!  The aroma was flawless as was the appearance.  The flavor did not play at quite the same level, but left little to be desired.  More of the floral notes would have been quite a treat and may be my only valid "nit-pick" about this beer.  The beer also introduces more hops than one would expect into a Golden ale.  What else would one expect from Avery?

Total 48/50
This review wrote itself for the most part.  It was all I could do to type fast enough as my mind could gush praise.  Things slowed down a bit in the flavor, but only because there is SO much going on there.  I struggled to grasp it all at once and feel that in addition to my wish of "more florals from the amazballs aroma," my only other aspect at which to nit-pick would be that of an overall theme of flavor.  Not that this beer is all over the place or that it has combined seemingly random ingredients.  Only that I had trouble picking out everything that was going on in this beer!  Each ingredient seemed to grab for my attention at a different time instead of drawing me in together.  In the end, even those grabs for attention were pretty gentle since the beer as a whole is fantastic.  What a tasty, perfume-like, full-bodied bottle of goodness!

While finishing this beer, it seems that Avery has blended the styles of Golden Ale and their big IPAs.  The golden happens in the mouth, but the finish is all about that "big malt" that Avery is so fond of mixing with a pronounced, delicious hop profile.  Very neat and something I'll look for again next year.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sierra Nevada - Celebration 2011

Now that all of my pesky, yet delicious, autumn seasonals are behind me, I can finally get crackin' on some winter craft beer!  I have more than a few socked away so if you like winter seasonals, warmers, spiced beers, or just any beer with a Santa reference on it, you are in luck.  To start things off, I'll be prying open a bottle of Sierra Nevada's Celebration 2011.  I may have had a few of these already this season and am eager to get my thoughts down on paper.  Let's pour!

Look at the gorgeous head on it!

Aroma 10/12
The hop profile is dominant, not huge, and definitely varied.  Christmas firs, grapefruit bitter, a little mustiness, and a fresh grass come together and harmonize in an almost floral hop bouquet.  The malt is roasted to perfection and the molasses just barely peeks past the hops for the sake of balance.  A lemon hop characteristic becomes more distinct as the beer warms.

Appearance 3/3
The head alone is worthy of a 3/3 in this category.  It is light beige, generous, and lazily undulates its way to the top of my tulip to sit there.  And sit there.  And sit there.  Eventually it begins to fade, like a cloud dissolving into my beer, but not without leaving an exceptional sticky lace over everything it passes.  The color is quite handsome too.  Full of bright rusts, coppers, and the color of oak leaves before the turn completely brown for the winter.

Doesn't do it justice.

Flavor 18/20
After starting fairly clean and crisp, the backbone wastes little time before fading in and exhibiting its talents.  A backdrop of light molasses is given and then the hops begin to shine.  The bright citrus shows first and blends extremely well with the sweet malts.  However, when held still in the mouth, a very creamy Crystal malt sweetness takes over.  Now give the beer a quick swish over the sides and back of your tongue.  Violá, hop bitter, resin, and a just a sprig of pine appear from nowhere.  It's funny how the biology of the tongue can dramatically affect a tasting.  The finish is more of the crystal malt, in both flavor and body, and a very drying hop bitter straight from the west coast.  The bitter lingers well into the aftertaste and the beer leaves the back of the throat a bit sticky.

Mouthfeel 5/5
The crystal malts that I have all-but-confirmed are present give this beer a substantial body and really support the strong hop presence.  It remains wonderfully drinkable and the carbonation rings true to the very last sip.  The 6.8% ABV is undetectable and the stickiness left in the back of the throat is far from distracting.  What a great dry finish this beer has!

Overall Impression 8/10
This is a great, solidly-made, seasonal ale.  The best part is that it didn't use more spices than a Turkish bazaar to do it.  It doesn't lean on the typical cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, all spice, blah, blah, blah to make it seem like grandma is baking gingerbread in your mouth.  The body is sturdy, the carbonation is perfect, the aroma is wonderful, and the flavor is quaffable, yet doesn't err by being too light.  A great choice during the holidays!

Total 45/50
To me the score seems low for a beer I enjoyed this much.  It's hard to believe that a beer with this much body and flavor comes in a reasonably priced sixer and not its own bomber (Good work Sierra Nevada!).  I love that a holiday beer doesn't need to show its ABV to be a "warmer" or be an overly-spiced malt bomb to make you feel like old man winter is here.  This is a bargain of a beer with gads of flavor and a high level of technical excellence.  What better gift do you want for the holidays?

What's that?  You'd like a little something extra from your beer bloggers?  Fair enough.  Now, to give a little background my mother-in-law has an extensive Santa Claus statuette collection.  I mean Ex. Sten. Sive.  As in, an entire room of the house if surrendered to forces from the North Pole every winter.  I have risked life and limb ("Not the beer!  My actual limbs!" *bonus points for Sierra Nevada reference in a Sierra Nevada post*) to bring you these photos.  

Merry Christmas to all!  And to all a good night!

I'm gonna get it for this one.

Someone was a VERY good boy this year!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Samuel Adams - Infinium (2011)

They said it couldn't be done.  They said I'd never make it.  The odds were not in my favor.  Well, I'm here to tell you that I did it.  I turned 30 today.  I lived just long enough to make my parents feel really old and to sprout a few silver additions to my hairline (which is wonderfully intact, thankyouverymuch).  Days like today call for celebration, which is why I'll be breaking out a beer meant for celebration: Samuel Adams' collaboration with Weihenstephan called Infinium.  Quite a namesake to live up to and I hope it does.  Let's pour!

Aroma 10/12
Lots of citrus fruits in the nose, but not in a way that one is accustomed to having them presented.  There is quite a nice blend of tangerines, orange rinds, lemons, and what could be argued to be a near-pear aroma.  However, these are not the bright, sharp citrus notes that one finds in a fresh fruit.  Instead they linger in the glass as a dull sweetness that is not quite the flavors with which we are familiar.  It's like eating candy from a foreign country: it's sweet, you know it's good, but it is unusual.  A wonderful medium roast rises from the brew and as the head dies, more of rich caramel tone joins in and blends interestingly with the citrus.  This unique blend, plus the alcohol warmth only enhances it intriguing peculiarity.  As the beer warms, a slightly musty or straw-like aroma joins the fray and paints a more complete picture of the hops involved in making this brew.

Appearance 3/3
The champagne presentation is not uncalled for considering the contents within.  The head rises exuberantly like champagne and fizzes just as noisily at the top.  It dies fairly quickly, but is still impressive given the head-destroying nature of citric acids.  It even leaves some nice lacing on my glass - not something I was expecting from a beer that smells of fruit.  The carbonation is very busy on the inside and constantly rises in a single, centered column.  The shades of gold and orange in this glass are also foreshadowed in the packaging (which is gorgeous by the way.  I almost felt guilty opening it!).  The eye captures loads of honey colors, burnt oranges, rusts, gourd flesh, and when held to light is quite striking.  The ascending carbonation makes it appear vibrant & alive!

Flavor 16/20
The amount of malt flavor in this beer is impressive.  The first sip is a full load of the caramel malt that was first detected in the aroma.  The backbone has quite a bit of warmth exposed - this is not a beer afraid to tell you it means business.  However, it threatens to overpower the overall composition of the beer.  This backbone is an orange liqueur (but thankfully not nearly as orange-laden as a liqueur) and a big, round, occasionally salty caramel malt.  Now that isn't terribly complex, but the interesting nature of the combination makes it very worthwhile.  This is a very big beer and it can be difficult to be nuanced when this large.  The finish is a continuation of the backbone with no large changes.  The only change is extremely subtle.  It is a glimmer of bright citrus trying to poke through like a distant, shining star on a cloudy night.

Mouthfeel 4/5
There's a lot to talk about with the mouthfeel of this beer.  First of all, it's boozy.  Not always a bad thing in a beer, but in this beer it seems like the alcohol is trying (successfully) to be part of the flavor profile and not just an attribute of the beer.  It's not hot, but I think it comes closer than any other beer I've sampled.  Second, the carbonation is a very interesting choice.  Yes, the brewers are trying to mimic the effervescence of champagne, but it is quite a contrast from the big beer that contains it.  One normally expects a big beer to be a bit smoother and gently carbonated.  Infinium, goes the complete opposite direction, filling this beer with lively bubbles that foam up and fill the mouth when sipped.  The body is immense and smooth, and despite the large amounts of caramel malts it doesn't leave the mouth the least bit slick.  In fact, true to its champagne roots, the aftertaste is quite dry.

Overall Impression 7/10
This is definitely a sound, very big beer.  However, it has elements which make it not seem too large.  The carbonation is vivacious and delicate, the smoothness coaxes the beer down your throat, the citrus flavors are gentle, and the color is bright and cheerful.  On the other hand, the body is a behemoth juggernaut that could probably take over a medium-sized metropolitan area and while the warmth isn't strong enough to be a flaw, I feel that it covers up a lot of the details that I'm sure each brewer would want to shine.

Total 40/50
First things first, this is some of the most elegant, well-designed packaging I've ever seen.  It draws the drinker in and intimidates them in the same breath.  Second, I almost didn't make it to 31.  This cork POPPED, slammed into the ceiling and surprised the hell out of me when it did it.  Had I known it was going to make such an entrance I would've opened it around more family members and scared them as well.

This beer has many of the champagne's characteristics it seeks: wonderful carbonation, great aroma, drying aftertaste, and alcohol.  It also has many of the beer characteristics that it sought not to lose: large body, rich malts, dry-hopped aroma, sticky head, and overall character.  It's a great blend of two celebratory beverages!  My only complaints are thus:  I wish the flavor had erred more on adding a bit more bright citrus to balance out the heaps of caramel malt, and I wish the alcohol were a bit more camouflaged to let those flavors work their magic.  That said, this is a big beer on par with any of the other big boys in the market.

Probably more important that any other aspect of this beer is the "listening" behind it.  I'm glad to see that Jim Koch and the folks down at Sam Adams listened to their consumers' complaints with this beer and tweaked the recipe from last year.  That shows humility and a desire to satisfy the customer.  I think with another tweak or two, this beer will be at the level Samuel Adams and Weihenstephan are seeking: sophisticated, festive, and above all, supremely tasty.

Friday, December 23, 2011

New Glarus - Cran-bic Ale

To set the record straight, I'm only a half-liar.  I may have insinuated that the prior post would be my last fall seasonal beer, but in fact, it was only the last pumpkin review for this year.  Loophole having been leapt through, today's review is New Glarus's Cran-bic Ale.  I've been holding on to these last two bottles for a while (since my New Glarus kick in October/November) and I can no longer justify doing so.  Besides, if I don't drink these last two soon, my wife will.  Let's pour!

Aroma 11/12
I'm not sure how complex an aroma one can achieve with a lambic, but this does have a lot going for it besides just cranberries.  Before I go into that, let me clarify, there is NO shortage of cranberries in this ale.  Their tart and bitter nature is abundant and dominates the aroma.  That said, there are some other more subtle aromas present, but they must be sought.  The first is an oaky roundness lent from the barrels in the brewing process and the second aroma is one I am particularly fond of in a lambic.  I find that a good lambic can often give off an aroma like a nice champagne; that slightly dry, tannin-like scent.  The Cran-bic Ale certainly fits the bill.

Appearance 2/3
For a beer that smells this tart, and therefore acidic, I suspect there will not be much in the way of head.  I am correct.  The head is thin like champagne, but not very generous and does remain as a ring around my glass while I drink.  The color is fascinating!  It's a beautiful amber with coppers and a tint of "grapefruit pink" throughout the brew.  The pink is harder to see with a full glass, but when you pour those first few ounces to get a good whiff, the blush of this beer is quite noticeable.

Flavor 20/20
This is the first New Glarus beer where I prefer the taste to the aroma! Not an easy task with Dan Carey brewing.  The beer immediately starts sour like brettanomyces and the proceeds to dump cranberries on top of that.  The tart start is not too intense, but will be a great treat for sour lovers and lambic lovers alike.  Soon after the sour it draws back quite suddenly and lets a marvelous sweetness take over and provide and fantastic balance for the palate.  The sweetness is almost certainly from the cranberries, but it tastes sugared.  Behind this sweetness is the champagne-like carbonation, oak notes, and a light cranberry bitter.  The finish is a mouth-watering tart on the sides of the mouth with the silky smooth oak detectable right down the center of the tongue.  It even throws in those champagne-like tannins to finish this right.  The aftertaste gives one last chance for the tart and bitter cranberry flavors to play on the tongue, but quickly fades into a salivating, fairly clean finish.

Mouthfeel 5/5
It feels like a lambic should, but with a bit more smoothness from the oak.  The carbonation is tiny and appropriate, though the finish can be a bit slick with a beer this sweet.  The light body makes it way to easy to drink this fast and not appreciate the complexities within, but thankfully the tart of the cranberries assumes the task of slowing down the drinker.  The beer is not drying in the least, despite the tannin-like qualities in the brew, and always leaves the mouth watering.

Overall Impression 10/10
This is a superior lambic to many that I have tasted.  It's also a nice compromise for those who think they might be getting into sours.  The aroma showed some delicacies behind a big cranberry scent, but the flavor really let the other contributing ingredients shine through.  The champagne qualities of this beer from start to finish really help to separate it from other offerings in this style.

Total 48/50
This beer is a winner from start to finish.  It really seems to go above and beyond the call of a bubbly, light-bodied, fruit beer.  The oak adds complexity to every area of this beer and the taste is something I truly hope New Glarus brings back year and year again.  I don't know why I'm surprised at how pleased I am with this beer.  With New Glarus' history of award-winning fruit beers (Wisconsin Belgian Red & Raspberry Tart) anything they do that involves tartness, fruit, and beer should simply be accepted with a solemn nod of the head.  If that sounds like bias, it is, but it is bias based in cold, delicious facts.  They have yet to prove otherwise and I doubt they will.  I officially declare this the "Champagne of Lambics."  Prost!

Shipyard - Smashed Pumpkin

Ahhh... another pumpkin beer and, no, I'm not get tired of them.  Today's review comes in the most impressive package: a gold foil top, silver foil "signature" on the label, heavy label paper, biiiig description of the beer on the back of the bottle, and a 9.0% ABV.  Inside this impressive packaging?  Shipyard's Smashed Pumpkin Ale.  I've been ready to dive into this bottle ever since I picked it up, so let's pour!

Aroma 9/12
There is something interesting going on here, but it is not the typical pumpkin ale.  The first aroma of note is that of the alcohol warmth and it is not shy.  It is followed by a not-so-sweet pumpkin aroma (think more gourd than pie) and a light spice.  This spice is not a bouquet like other pumpkin ales, but pretty much just the nutmeg stated on the label.  The beer's most surprising attribute is that I can actually smell some of the "normal" ingredients through the seasonal flavorings.  There is a grainy malt at play and a small aroma from a slightly musty hop.  With the high alcohol scent and slight, creamy (almost vanilla-y) sweetness, one could almost imagine this beer being tinged with a bit of Royal Crown.

Appearance 1/3
I will confess that I gave this beer a bit of a timid pour, but the head size still seemed lackluster.  The retention was slightly better, but the lacing is completely absent.  It poured thick from the bottle, which was promising, but the color seems very light.  It is a pale copper color with wide citrine bands around the edges.  Perhaps this pumpkin was picked before it was ripe?
Note: Later, even an aggressive pour yielded only a moderate, handsome head.

Flavor 16/20
There is only a flash of calm, creamy malt before this beer plunges into its backbone.  It has a rich, sweeter malt that stops short of tasting of caramel or molasses.  It is soon a burst of nutmeg and the not-so-sweet pumpkin from the aroma.  Slurping yields little except more warmth.  When held in the mouth a faint creamy sweetness re-enters the picture and a apple cider sweetness comes with it.  In fact, there's even an apple core-like bitter that tries to balance the pumpkin and malt sweetness.  OK, so it's probably hops, but when it appears with the apple notes, it is easy to imagine the bitterness that comes from taking one bite too many from the center of an apple.  The alcohol warmth cannot be ignored and the sweetness that is present feels a bit too tart to be coming from the pumpkin involved in the brewing process.  The finish is a tingle from the alcohol on the tongue, a continuation of the earlier bitter flavors, and a sweeter pumpkin than has been encountered before in this beer.  I believe it to be a point on the palate where the pumpkin and apple flavors combine to form a sweeter whole.  The aftertaste is simply more bitter from the hops, but does not lend itself to a drier finish.

Mouthfeel 4/5
The carbonation disturbs what smoothness could be possible in a pumpkin beer.  However, it is consistent with the lighter nature of this beer.  Sure, the body is nice and big, but the color, flavor, and carbonation are all that of a lighter more quaffable beer and don't seem to match.

Overall Impression 7/10
There are a lot of good things going on here, but this is not the best pumpkin beer that I have had this season. It's very smooth, despite the carbonation, and the flavor is not particularly rife with pumpkin nor spice.  Though I do appreciate Shipyard's choosing to lean on the pumpkin flavors more than the spices.  The body and mouthfeel are the strongest part of this beer.

Total 37/50
While I just mentioned that the body and mouthfeel are the strongest parts of this beer, unfortunately, I tend to prioritize flavor a bit more.  Not that this beer is bereft of flavor or has a bad one, it just is not what I am looking for in a pumpkin beer and if I may be so bold, I don't think it's what most folks are looking for in a pumpkin beer.  This begs the question, "What ARE most folks looking for in a pumpkin beer?"  The answer: pumpkin!  Sure there is pumpkin in this beer.  It's not overly candied.  It's smooth.  It's subtle.  However, I feel that it's subtlety errs on the side of being overshadowed by other ingredients.  Which is ANOTHER fine line to tread. Earlier I praised the beer for being able to detect it's other ingredients (malt, hops).  I stand by that.  It's not something that one finds in a pumpkin beer, or many seasonals at all for that matter.  I just wish that the prominence of the other ingredients was not at the expense of the pumpkin and spice.  I think this beer just opened my eyes to something new.  Before I had always considered the balance of pumpkin to spice a quintessential characteristic to a pumpkin seasonal.  Maybe now, I'll look a bit more for the balance between seasonal ingredients and our old friends, the malt and hop.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hoppin' Frog - Frog's Hollow Double Pumpkin Ale

One good pumpkin beer deserves another, right?  This is actually a brand that I have not sampled before, despite their strong local presence and fairly local brewery location in Akron, OH.  Today's review is from the Hoppin' Frog Brewery and I'll be tasting their Frog's Hollow Double Pumpkin Ale.  I can't say I've ever had a "double pumpkin" before, but this one looks to be a bit bigger than most regular pumpkin ales and rings in at 8.4% ABV.

Aroma 12/12
This aroma is a pumpkin smashed and liquified into a glass!  There are loads of creamy pumpkin and a detectable vanilla that blends delightfully with the pumpkin. Together they're almost are like a pumpkin ice cream.  The spices are fantastic as well!  Cinnamon abounds, the alcohol warmth is noticeable without being overwhelming, the ginger adds some interesting peculiarities, and the nutmeg is a softer spice that really adds to this beer.  The cloves show up as well, but are much more subtle than other pumpkin beers.  As a whole bouquet it almost comes across as a pumpkin with a hint of mint.  The spices are just that delicate and tickle the nose just so.  This is great and a wonderful balance to boot!

Appearance 2/3
I hate to compare pumpkin beers to the color pumpkin, but in this beer it is unavoidable.  It absolutely glows pumpkin orange, with golden pilsner-esque highlights, and a variety of other appropriate burnt harvest tones.  The head was paltry after a moderately aggressive pour, left no lacing, was gone before I could even take a second picture, and is barely detectable even as I write this.

Flavor 18/20
The initial flavors are very interesting.  The pumpkin is strong up front, comes with faint roast malt, and a bit of the bitter side of the spices.  The backbone is dark and bready (with the bit of sour that comes with good bread), but quickly gives way to the minty pumpkin flavor and lots of it.  The backbone finishes up with a reprise of the roast malt and an über-smooth caramel.  A quick slurp shows a lot of the alcohol warmth.  The finish continues the caramel tones, but the ginger really comes out and I think contributes to the drying finish.  The mint sensation also continues and I'm not sure which of the spices, or combination thereof, is responsible but it is distinct.

Mouthfeel 5/5
Smooth.  Smooth to the Nth power.  It's a great characteristic to have in a pumpkin seasonal since it goes so well with the natural qualities of the pumpkin.  Please don't confuse that with a cream-laden, full body.  The body is actually surprisingly light for the style and the high level of smoothness.  The alcohol warmth is pleasantly present and actually lends a little bitter to the overall blend.  The carbonation is also appropriate for the overall texture of the beer, but without making the beer feel flat.

Overall Impression 9/10
I really like this beer.  Excellent mouthfeel, superior smoothness from the ingredients, plus some very delicious flavors and aromas all make this beer one to purchase.  The minty sensation is unusual, but not unpleasant, and I'm pretty sure is the way the strong ginger is interacting with the other spices.  I love a variation on a style!

Total 46/50
I really enjoyed this beer!  The pumpkin/spice ratio was fantastic and the spices, despite being undeniably minty, were a really nice twist on a great seasonal style.  The mint never clashed with the pumpkin, only contrasted with it in an appropriately spicy way.  As a whole, it's more spicey than pumpkin-y, but neither one is lacking or excessive at any point.  The body and carbonation worked in tandem and were great characteristics for the style.  It's a unique brew that deserves a taste (or two or three).  This will definitely a brand I'll be looking at more closely in the future!

I feel like I'm not doing this beer justice in my description, but it's only more reason for you to try it for yourself!  Even the burps are good!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Schlafly - Pumpkin Ale

I am very excited to finally be drinking some of my pumpkin beers.  A bit late, I know, but I get more excited for pumpkin beers that probably any other seasonal beer so I'm not about to let these little treasures go unappreciated.  Today's review is out of St. Louis, MO from the Schlafly Brewery and is their seasonal Pumpkin Ale.  Enough with tha jibba-jabba!  Let's pour!

Aroma 12/12
A lot of great characteristics here!  The spices rush to the nose and the first "main" scent.  Cinnamon abounds, nutmeg is present, plenty of allspice, and freshly ground cloves are all here, but not so much that they threaten to overwhelm the drinker.  There is a sweet pumpkin smell and it's blended with the sharper sweet of apples.  The fruit sweetness combines with a brown sugar/caramel note and is right on the money.  My mouth is watering just typing this.  Have you ever made a brown sugar reduction on the stove top to glaze a ham?  It's just water and brown sugar (and some butter) that you boil down until it gets thick enough to stick to the ham. The brown sugar note in this beer smells like that brown sugar reduction.  So good!  There is not an overabundance of pumpkin here.  It is not overstated, but is certainly present.  As the beer warms, the pumpkin does begin to show more and more and become a near 50/50 balance with the spice.  Perfect!

Appearance 3/3
It is quite a bit darker than most pumpkin beers I have come across.  My tulip is full of coppers, scarlets, umbers, siennas, and when held to the light this beer shines like a gemstone!  It is very impressive!  The head was small and extremely quick to die.  If I didn't feel so strongly about the beautiful color on this one, I normally would have deducted a point.

See?!  It DOES shine like a gemstone!
Flavor 20/20 
The front of this beer is a wonderful display of what good malts can do! Crystal malts are first giving a milky flavor and foreshadowing the sound body that is to come. The darker malts then kick in and bring tons of bready goodness. There's even a tinge of sour like a dark loaf of bread, and is so perfectly roasted, you would swear it just came out of grandma's oven. This dark bread, hinting at sour, combines readily with the caramel from the aroma and all the spices. It takes a while to realize that the caramel isn't the only sweetness that has entered the picture. Stealthily, the pumpkin has strode into the mix and provided a balance to this beer that is close to unmatched. When held in the mouth, it's quite a treat to taste the bread, then the caramel, and then the gradual, mellow, distinct sweetness of the pumpkin. And this beer isn't finished! The final wave is one of brown sugar and it's a neat dessert-like ending to the super complex backbone of this beer. The finish finally allows the sweet pumpkin to take over wholeheartedly with a bit of the same apple-like crispness from the aroma. The pumpkin wraps itself in caramel as it slides down your throat and leaves the mouth salivating.

Mouthfeel 4/5
This may be the only category keeping this beer from a perfect rating. The carbonation is just a bit too aggressive and/or prickly, especially considering the smooth nature that the pumpkin and malts provide. While this high carbonation does probably prevent the beer from becoming too heavy, a bit less carbonation would've made this beer untouchable. This beer is definitely full-bodied and satin smooth. Remember the last line in the "Flavor" category? Slides down your throat? It absolutely does. Unbelievable.


Overall Impression 10/10
This is easily one of the best gourd beers I have ever had. The length of each category's description is a testament to how much there is going on in this bottle! While there is no subtle flavor in this bottle, the blend and balance are kept marvelously in line and are one of this beer's finest attributes. Everything tastes authentic and not candied or overly-spiced. Each person has their own perference where they like the balance of pumpkin vs spice to be. This beer hits my preference right on the head and has enough other attributes to make this a truly superior beer.

Total 49/50
In my opinion, the most important thing a pumpkin beer can do is balance the flavors of the spices with the flavor of the pumpkin. Too much spice is gross and too much pumpkin can taste candied or like a vegetable. To get the mix just right seems like something I'm always searching for in pumpkin seasonals, but I don't think I'll be searching anymore. This beer has the right mix for my palate. Not only is the balance right, but the initial breadiness and caramel are the two extra touches that will have me singing its praises for a long time to come. It's biggest downfall is that I can't get it whenever I want it. Since the two bottle used for this review were the last of my sixer, it looks like I'll be eagerly awaiting next year's release. BIG PROST to the folks at Schlafly!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

New Belgium - Kick

I finally have the opportunity to break out some pumpkin beers!  Sure, I had a few during the season, but my health really didn't let me review any the way I would have liked.  It's time to make up for lost time.  Today's review is from New Belgium and their "Lips of Faith" series; something I have heard much about, but had little opportunity to try.  I have mixed feelings going into this bottle because of the following description:

"75% Ale brewed with pumpkin and cranberry juice, 25% ale aged in wooden barrels."

I love pumpkin beer and barrel-aged beer, so it sounds pretty good, right?  Unless you dislike cranberries, but who in their right mind could dislike such a holiday treat?  The answer: me.  I'm not a big fan of cranberries.  In fact, I'm sick of the way every decent juice in the grocery store (cherry, grape, etc, etc) feels the need to add cranberries to it.  Needless to say, this annoyance has definitely carried over when they add cranberries to beer.  However, since I haven't even tried it yet I suppose I should keep the belly aching to a minimum.  I hope you all appreciate this.  Let's pour!

Aroma 7/12
First sniffs of this beer were very unusual.  At first, I thought it had a bit of a skunked, German aroma to it, but  as the head settled it revealed itself as a strong musty smell.  This was accompanied by the sour of the cranberry, a very bready malt, and a bit of the barrel-aged wood.  At this point, it all came together and reminded me of an element of Left Hand's T.N.T, which was reminiscent of Campbell's Bean and Bacon soup. Granted, this is a much lighter hint of that aroma here than in the T.N.T., but it is still there. Very unusual.  Thankfully, as the beer warms it comes more into its element.  The tart, sweet cranberry aroma becomes stronger and joins with the bready malts to make it appealing and smell more like a gueuze than any sort of traditional fall seasonal.  It is only halfway through the bottle that the mild pumpkin peeks its head out ever so briefly and leaves a hint of spices in its wake.

Appearance 2/3
There isn't much of the "ruby-hued" shade promised on the bottle, but it's a good-looking beer nonetheless.  Its an ocher center with a lovely gold halo shining around the edges.  The occasional hue of tangerine orange is about the closest there is to ruby.  The head was small, even with an aggressive pour.  The bubbles were tiny and appeared more as a single white presence than an army of little, individual bubbles.  However, that white disc has covered my glass for some time now despite the undoubtedly high acid levels present in a beer involving cranberries

Flavor 15/20
Whoa!  This beer packs a sour punch right from the get-go!  The sour initial taste is quite dominant and refuses to loosen that grip in the backbone.  Though in the backbone we are also given a mild pumpkin mellowness and some great fall spices. The pumpkin can really be brought to light when holding the beer in the mouth and inhaling through the nose.  A slurp on the other hand helps bring out the wood from the barrel-aging process.  In fact, as the beers warms noticeably, the cranberry politely steps aside and lets this pumpkin/spice combo step in, but not without leaving us the bitter aftertaste of cranberries.  Very neat.  The finish is again sour, but fades into bitter and leaves the mouth salivating.  The aftertaste is a faint spice and nice notes from the barrels.

Mouthfeel 5/5
The mouthfeel has a lot of contrasting, pleasant things going on within it.  The pumpkin really seems to add a smoothness to this beer not usually found in lambics or tart/sour beers.  The carbonation, on the other hand, is quite abundant, but doesn't err by being prickly.  It's effervescent and what one comes to expect from a fruited or sour beer.  The body also feels more substantial that a sour or lambic.  This really seems all over the map, but I like what's happening.

Overall Impression 7/10
The previous sentence says it all.  "This beer is all over the map."  Sometimes this works in its favor and other times not.  The aroma is much more true to a gueuze than anything proposed on the bottle.  The flavor is certainly complex, but never seems to bring those flavors together to cohesion.  The mouthfeel is a great example of how seemingly conflicting characteristics can come together for something greater than its parts.

Total 36/50
This beer's ranking still earns it a "very good" ranking.  I appreciate experimentation more than the average drinker, but this did seem a but unusual in places.  First off, it seems that this beer is an attempt to mix a pumpkin seasonal with a cranberry gueuze.  In theory, sure, they're both foods one could find at a Thanksgiving dinner.  It should work, right?  Kinda.  While I wouldn't extend this theory to other Thanksgiving foods (I won't be putting gravy on my pecan pie anytime soon), this beer finds a way to make it work, even if the taste is unusual.

I must recommend that this beer be drank after warming a bit to truly get any of the pumpkin and spice behind the cranberry, musty, sour notes.  The experimentation is super appreciated.  Beer should never "settle" or be satisfied with traditional or status quo and this beer definitely is not settling for the norm.  It has a lot going for it in different areas: different flavors, different aromas, and different mouthfeels, but seldom to those come together for a true fusion or harmony of flavors.  If you're a gueuze-lover, a sour lover, or just appreciate anything involving Brettanomyces you'll probably dig this brew (not that I'm sure whether or not this beer has Brett, but it stands that if you like Brett, you'll like this beer).  I say give it a whirl, just be aware of what you're getting into.  Don't let the pumpkins on the bottle fool you. :)

On a side note, I didn't find out until I finished the bottle that this was a collaboration between Kim Jordan of New Belgium & Dick Cantwell of Elysian.  It's just one more reason to love the craft beer industry.  It's not the cut throat capitalism of nearly every other industry.  In craft beer, people come together to make new and exciting things all the time.  It makes me proud to be a small, small part of it.  Cheers everybody!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Dogfish Head - Robert Johnson's Hellhound on My Ale

This beer is being broken out for two reasons:
1.  Fellow beer enthusiast Jason from mocked me for holding on to this great "super-hoppy ale" and not drinking it at its peak freshness.  I must make amends.  :)
2.  2011 marked the 100th birthday of Delta bluesman Robert Johnson and coincidentally, this post marks my 100th POST!

Now, certainly one of those anniversaries is much more important than the other (I leave that for the reader to decide), but in either case, due to the rare nature of Dogfish Head beer in my locale, this beer has been waiting for a special occasion.  I'm very excited to crack it open and very excited that people continue to read and share this blog.  Craft beer people ARE good people!  I've found trading partners, met people in real life, discovered new festivals, shared opinions, exchanged laughs, partaken in lengthy conversations, and even found a free beer or two along the way.  I'm proud to be a small part of such a great, growing community.  Big thanks to my drinkin' buddy and beer trading partner extraordinairre Keith for snagging me this bottle from 1200 miles away.  Let's pour!

"I got to keep moooovin, blues falling down like hail. And the day keeps on remindin' me, there's a hellhound on my trail."

Aroma 12/12
I keep coming back to the glass because the aroma seems to evolve by the minute.  At first it was a fresh, crisp, lemongrass with lemon rinds to boot.  Then it gave way to distinct grapefruit (as in, "you'd swear it was in a bowl in front of you"), but not with a grapefruit's strength.  After that a faint, bready sweetness was barely allowed to speak a word before being silenced by some bright tangerines.  As it warms in the glass, all these aromas are being allowed to blend together with a sweet malt that brings more balance as it goes and even a little woody hop note.  No noticeable pine or resin, though this may have to do with my tardiness with cracking open the bottle.  This is a citrus cornucopia that is divinely conjured.

Appearance 3/3
This is a fairly opaque beer.  While it tells me that this ale means business, it does not allow for many shades to shine through.  As it stands, the color is a caramelized acorn squash shade that shows some pleasant peach and gold tints toward the edges.  The head was fantastic to watch settle as it lazily lurched its way to the top of my tulip, keeping me guessing whether it would overflow or not.  The beer swirls stickily around the glass, has superior head retention, and awesome lacing.  Well, lacing infers that there are holes in it.  This head whitewashed the inside of my glass.  Impressive.

Flavor 19/20
This beer starts off with classic Dogfish Head characteristics: big, boozy, and a real smack to the tongue!  The malts are molasses sweet and a bit of a surprise given their lack of presence in the aroma.  The rich, dark, sweetness of the malts is both a nice compliment and contrast to the brighter citrus that makes up the other half of this balanced backbone.  However the malts never seem to give the citrus a chance to shine as they do in the aroma.  In fact, the majority of the backbone is dark caramel malts, thick with molasses with glints of the citrus shining.  The finish will dry parts of your tongue completely like parched earth and leave other parts salivating like a Pavlovian dog.  I'm not sure how this happens, but I can certainly attest to it.  As the finish fades into the aftertaste, it's more drying than wetting, but a neat sensation all around.  The finish also includes distinct grapefruit flavors and deep bitters.  The aftertaste is the sweet malts from the backbone being trounced by all that intense bitter goodness.

Mouthfeel 4/5
It is not a light-bodied beer by any mean,s but lighter than one would assume considering the huge flavor.  The carbonation is appropriate at first, but fades into nonexistence toward the end of the bottle.  This compliments the malts and stickiness of the beer, but not the citrus elements. Despite the beer's great stickiness in the glass, the mouthfeel s not slick at all.  In fact, it is fairly drying.

Overall Impression 9/10
A damn good beer, plain and simple.  Like its namesake: not gritty or simple, but still beauiful in its own way.  The aroma is top notch and the I believe that the bitterness would be present no matter how long you left this bottle to cellar!  It's great body shies from being overly heavy, but still packs a ton of flavor.  Now I'll just have to wait to try a fresh bottle.  Ed note: Mariah, the address those crates can be sent to is....

Total 47/50
A solid DFH offering and one they can be proud of.  This beer stands on its own , not because it's a palate-killer, but because of its own merit.  I hate to mention the aroma again, but good gracious!  It stands toe-to-toe with any beer I've smelled.  The flavor stepped away from the aroma a bit, but I feel it did so for the sake of balance.  It's not "excessive" as Dogfish Head can sometimes lean toward, but is anything but small.  Lots of great malt, citrus notes, hop bitter, and an appearance to beat the band all make this beer one of the better DFH offerings that I have sampled.  Truth be told, I feel guilty for having finished this one all by my lonesome. This one deserves to be shared with friends that can appreciate a bitter beer.  Extra music nerd brownie points are also issued to DFH for bringing what would be an otherwise unknown musician into the public vocabulary.  I'll end the post with the description from the beer's label.  Thanks for the reads everybody!  Here's to another 100 posts!

"2011 marks the 100th birthday of Mississippi Delta bluesman Robert Johnson who, according to legend, sold his soul down at the crossroads in a midnight bargain and change music forever.  Dogfish Head pays tribute to this blues legend by gettin' the hellhounds off his trail and into this finely-crafted ale.  Hellhound is a super-heavy ale that hits 100 IBUs in the brewhouse, Alc 10.0% by Vol., 10.0 SRM in color, and dry-hopped with 100% centennial hops at a rate of 100 kilos per 100 barrel brew-length.  To accentuate and magnify the citrusy notes of the centennial hops (and as a shout out to Robert Johnson's mentor Blind Lemon Jefferson) we add dried lemon peel and flesh to the whirlpool.  To read more about Robert Johnson go to"

Clearly, the label art is not my own.