Saturday, November 19, 2011

Firestone Walker - Double Jack

Everybody clamors about Parabola.  The masses murmur over Abacus.  But since I live in a smaller market,  I wanna talk about one of their more widely available beers: Double Jack.  However, I won't really have much to talk about since I've never had a Firestone Walker beer before.  Looks like the only way I'm going to be able to speak on this is to get pryin'.  Let's pour!

Aroma 11/12
This is not what I expected at all from a DIPA when I first opened the bottle!  At the start the aroma was a rather striking partnership of honey and hops.  Quickly thereafter, a strong, sweet aroma appeared and presided over a wide variety of hop characteristics.  The sweet note was dominant at first and reminded me of tangerines and mangoes.  It tinged all the other characteristics in interesting ways.  It brought out the sweetness of the grapefruit, it made the beer as a whole seem brighter, and it really covered up a lot of the pine.  After a while this odd, yet not unpleasant, sweetness subsides and let some more traditional aromas take over - plenty of biting grapefruit and pine.  After a brief warming, a light grass note speaks up along with a subtle mustiness.

Appearance 3/3
The beer is surprisingly clear and bright for the style.  The change is appealing and the color is all orange peels, golds, ambers, and if rust had a pastel shade, this would be it.  The head is slow to form and provides a neat visual trick to watch it slowly struggle to the top of the tulip glass.  The head is ample in size, moderate in longevity, and leaves tons of sticky lacing.

Flavor 20/20
What a great start to a beer!  The beginning is loaded with a very smooth, delicious caramel malt.  Thankfully, that is not lost when the beer transitions to the backbone.  In fact, I wouldn't say the beer changes like most others do, rather it keeps adding flavors on top of the existing ones.  So that delicious sweetness?  Now, it begins to be balanced out by the grapefuit, a moderate resin-based bitterness, and combined with a brighter honey-like sweetness.  The darker sweetness of the caramel and the resin are a flattering combination.  This is really a treat!  The citrus and honey of course combine on the palate and remind one of orange blossom honey, however this is not a dominant flavor.  It's one of the many, distinct, balanced flavors in this wonderfully layered beer.  The finish is the only time the beer hints at its 9.5% ABV and even then it's not readily apparent.  It also yields a darker, more concentrated, intense bitter than has been previously shown, but other than those two additions, it's really an extension of the backbone.  Also, if anyone figures out how a beer dries the tongue, but remains a bit slick in the back of the throat let me know.  Shouldn't one or the other take over?

Mouthfeel 4/5
This is about as much carbonation as is appropriate.  By being plentiful, but not overly aggressive, it really bridges the dual characteristics of the bright color/aroma and darker sweetness/heavier mouthfeel.  This does leave the mouth slick at times.

Overall Impression 10/10
This is a most impressive beer!  It doesn't follow the typical DIPA recipe and comes out ahead for it.  All the technical prowess is there, but it provides a sweeter, yet still balanced, version of the style.

Total 48/50
Normally, I'm happy if a DIPA doesn't try to beat my tongue to death with hops.  Anyone can pull that off.  It takes talent and prowess to pull off a balanced version of the style and Firestone Walker succeeds with flying colors.  Not only does it provide that much sought after balance, but it also refuses to play the same ol' song and gives the craft beer world some much needed variety in a style whose popularity continues to soar.  This is anything but the "usual" flavor and aroma and it's damn good.  Even my wife likes it and she is not the biggest fan of IPAs, let alone DIPAs.  Caramel, orange citrus, honey, a gradually evolving bitter, grapefruit, and a pleasant mouthfeel all make for an excellent, tasty beer and ensure that my first Firestone Walker will definitely not be my last.  Prost!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Brewdog & Stone - bashah

In the interest of full disclosure, I'd like to first say that I am the proud owner of some Equity for Punks!  If you don't know what that is yet, check it out here.  After finally taking the plunge last week after a near immediate blessing from my surprisingly understanding and slightly dismissive wife (quoth her email, "Just go do it"), I find myself doing something new, exciting, and a bit helpful to the craft beer community.  With my new investment in mind, I figured it was time to break out this bottle that had been sitting in my beer fridge for quite some time.  This bottle is called "bashah" and is the collaborative effort betwixt our friends at Stone and Brewdog.  I know!  It DOES sound good.  My only concern was that the bottle might be a little too old considering this is supposed to be a black Belgian DIPA.  To be specific, this bottle is from batch 352 and was bottled on 12/19/2010.  Under a year should be fine for a beer this steeped in hops and darkness, right?  Is that not the story behind imperials and IPAs?  That their strong flavors preserved them?  One way to find out if that legend holds true.  Let's pour!

Aroma 7/12
Granted, this is an older bottle, so it should come as no surprise that the majority of the aroma is cocoa with no detectable hop character.  There is some Belgian yeast sweetness that makes a faint appearance, as does some coffee and some roast, but the IPA goodness (let alone the Double IPA goodness) has died out a long time ago.  At this point, it smells like a pretty tasty stout.  I find that the roasted malt appears as the beer continues to warm.

Appearance 2/3
Not pitch black, but very very dark. The traces of mahogany are only visible along the edges when held to light.  The khaki-colored head was small and lasted as long as it had to, but where it touched my glass it left a rather impressive lacing that indicated lots of good pitting.

Look at that lace!
Flavor 19/20
For a beer with a less than impressive smell, this beer still has what it takes to knock your socks clean off!  Initial flavors are the sweetness of malt, raw sugar, and caramel.  Then the backbone begins to rush in and this beer gets big in a hurry!  Lots of coffee, hop bitter, dark caramel, roasted chocolate malts, and a light saltiness that I have had in other dark beers (notably Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch), but can never seem to place.  This is big and complex - a great combination.  The finish is very bitter, hints at the former sweetness, and drys the mouth quickly.  Maybe those hops did not disappear completely after all!  This beer leaves a great inky, hoppy bitter aftertaste way on the back of the tongue that seems to skulk about like some sort of great, black predator crouched in the back of its lair.  It lives back there.  It belongs there.

Mouthfeel 4/5
Its carbonation is barely present without feeling flat; I love that in a dark beer.  The body is not as heavy as one would expect from a beer this dark and with this much flavor, which is a nice surprise when you're finished and not weighed down.

Overall Impression 9/10
This is a damn good beer, but I felt I had to dock a point for not being at all what is on the label.  It claims to be "The Black Belgian Style Double India Pale Ale."  Granted, that's a pretty tall order to fill, but it can (and has) been done.  The black is definitely present, but the rest gets lost.  Any Belgian characteristics are slight at best.  The hops offer no flavor nor aroma (in a bottle this aged), even if they certainly have their say in the finish.  Those DIPA hops really come out in the aftertaste, too.  The beer that was present was a delightful, hoppy stout that was good enough to score a nine here.  Big, complex, bitter, and not heavy.  What more do you want?

Total 41/50
I thought this was going to be a brief review. I respect Stone and Brewdog a LOT and when I first smelled this beer I was ready to be disappointed by the rest. It smelled simple and weak. I didn't even really want to post a crappy review about two breweries I like so much, but figured I might be able to get away with it if I screamed loud enough that this was an old bottle.

Then I tasted it.

Wow! What a complete 180! While it's not the style on the label this is still a damn good dark beer that I keep wanting to call a stout. I don't want to rehash the beer description, but I can't reiterate how much this beer redeemed itself. To reward such a redemption, I'll stop calling it a stout and begin calling it my "bête noire." Cheers and kudos to the boys at Brew Dog & at Stone!! You boys can get together for a playdate any time you like!

The legend held true.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

New Glarus - Laughing Fox

End of the line!  Last stop on my New Glarus journey!  Well, at least for a little while until I start breaking out all the Thanksgiving-esque beers (*ahemCran-bic*cough*).  I think the bottle does a fantastic job at explaining this beer's namesake, and so I'll reprint it here.

"In playful pursuit of butterflies a Red Fox danced across the brewery hill.  His joy so pure it bubbled through our hearts and into this beer.  Laughing Fox is a sparkling Kristal Weizen brewed in the Bavarian tradition with 50% Wisconsin wheat in our open top fermenters.  Tickle your nose (sic) notes of spicy close and cinnamon abound.  Dan's inspired Weizen interpretation reflects the deep bittersweet color of our Fox's red coat."

Frankly, that sort of imagery and simple appreciation of wildlife is why I moved back to the midwest.  It's the kind of scene that makes you take a deep breath and smile.  The description is almost straight out of "Dances with Wolves," but it's better because there's a distinct lack of Kevin Costner and noticeably more references to beer.  Agreed?  Good.  Let's pour!

Botte art image user without permission for educational purposes only.

Aroma 12/12
Aroma is always one of Dan Carey's strong suits and this beer is no exception by a long shot!  Straight into the tulip glass, this beer is an absolute powerhouse of banana-y Belgian yeast and cloves.  It is so strong at times that it almost smells candied.  The cinnamon is definitely riding in the back seat on this one, but does round things out a bit more as the beer warms.

Appearance 3/3
True to its "Kristal Weizen" form, this beer has as high a clarity as is possible in a beer this color.  It is a bright copper color, with tones of dark honey and amber.  The head is lasting, tall, and proud with soapy sides and a whipped, fluffy top.  Top marks!

Again, sorry for the pink hue.  Even after setting the white balance,
my phone insists on tinting everything.
Flavor 19/20
Initial sips are also true to the Kristal origins with a light malt that almost tastes like cream.  Roasted malt is present, but not the showcased flavor.  That honor belongs to a bright, slightly tart/sour citrus flavor that floats high above the earthier malts, balanced spices, and a subtle vanilla sweetness.  The finish leaves little of the citrus backbone and focuses more on a woody, earthy note.  It is fairly drying and has a light bitter.  This beer tastes almost nothing like it smells.  In this case, it is a good thing because as it stands it is very style appropriate and the the bolder, sweet flavors of the aroma would have no place in the style.  They certainly have their place (a very delicious place), but it is not here.  Lots of restraint used and it is not misplaced.

Mouthfeel 3/5
This beer feels a little heavier than it should, but it can be largely attributed to the large quantities of Kristal (and Pils?) malts present.  Carbonation is crisp, but not prickly.  It fills the mouth nicely (thank you wheat), but eventually finishes with a wetter more "fizzy" feel.  The carbonation is lasting to the end.

Overall Impression 8/10
This is a superbly crafted beer.  The smell is outrageous, the look is desirable, and the flavor is spot-on stylistically.  Even though this beer is exactly what it is supposed to be, I do confess a small bit of disappointment that the flavor didn't borrow more from the aroma.  I know!  I know!  It's not supposed to!  But with a smell like that, and a flavor that's appropriately sour/tart it can be a bit of a let down.  Frankly, that's not much of a criticism at all.  Did I mention that this beer smells good?  It does.

Total 46/50
It can be hard to get excited about a beer that does not wallop us with some new or bold exciting flavor.  Is that the beer's fault?  No.  Does that make this a bad beer?  I believe the score states otherwise.  Is this beer solid?  Absolutely.  Does this beer show craft beer drinkers a variety on a popular style?  A style that they might not have seen outside a bottle of Weihenstephaner or Tucher?  You better believe it.  It's also a quality version of the style that remains remarkably drinkable.  Some people might be disappointed that they're not getting their "witbier" experience after experiencing the aroma, but this beer needs no apologies for not pretending to be something it's not.

I'm pretty sure this makes my Indian name "Drinks with Foxes."
Wait, the wife might not like that one...

Monday, November 7, 2011

New Glarus - Staghorn

Normally, I'd ask if you're sick of New Glarus beers yet, but since I know such a thing is as probable as the Colts winning the Super Bowl this year I'm continuing my ironman streak of reviewing New Glarus beers until my beer fridge has made room for more newcomers.  It's a dirty job, but somebody has got to do it.  Today's review is for their Octoberfest called "Staghorn."  Let's pour!

Sorry for the pink-ish tint.  8MP Cell phone camera is the best I have at the moment.
Aroma 10/12
The first hints to the nose were almost-musty straw aromas.  They were followed by a clean lager smell and a developing hint of sweet malt with a biscuit toasting.  There is also a light citrus aroma that when combined with the straw-like malts, smells very much like earthy, ground coriander.

Appearance 3/3
The label of this beers asks the drinker to "Be sure to hold this one up to the light of any harvest moon and enjoy 'Wisconsin's Real Red.'"  While I certainly consider the malt base to be adequate for a red, I think that definition would sell this beer short.  This beer is a desireable burnt gold color, the way autumn leaves sometime hang in their transition from yellow to brown.  Lots of ascending carbonation is a nice touch and the head sticks around so long that if it were company, you'd have to start brushing your teeth to get it to leave.  The abundance of lacing is only the icing on the cake.

Picture doesn't do this beer justice.

Flavor 18/20
Stylistically accurate and well made.  The beer starts clean and creamy and its backbone stealthily, gradually takes over the palate.  It is malt sweetness and the bit of toastiness from the aroma.  There is no hop bitter to speak of, though the malt sweetness is not allowed to completely take over so apparently the hops are playing their part from just offstage.  While their bitterness is not felt, a bit of their citrus tartness is.  This is not entirely customary in Oktoberfest beers, but the crispness is welcome and is wonderful metaphor for the crispness in the fall air.  The finish is somewhat drying and slightly bitter, more good indicators of hop presence, with less sweet malts than in the aroma or backbone.  The aftertaste is a lingering, light, lonely bitter note.

Mouthfeel 5/5
The non-prickly, smooth, and ample carbonation in this really helps keep the beer lighter and refreshing.  It is slightly heavier than medium-bodied and never comes close to being cloying with its malts.

Overall Impression 8/10
This is certainly a well-made, excellent Oktoberfest and it adheres well to the traditional guidelines.  It is difficult for many to fully appreciate lagers with all their subtleties and discreet flavors.  However, this beer with its technical prowess and unique Oktoberfest sweetness can be appreciated by experienced and developing palates alike.

Total 44/50
I love Oktoberfests.  I really do.  I look forward to them and pumpkin beers more than almost any other types of seasonal beer.  Drinking an Oktoberfest or Marzen is like a welcoming to the upcoming season.  However, I am seldom blown away by an Oktoberfest.  Are they tasty?  Hell yes.  Are they well-crafted?  They can be.  Do they have a great beer heritage?  Absolutely.  Is it going to knock of the socks off of a lot of craft beer drinkers?  No.  However, in the case of Staghorn that is not the beer's fault.  This is a lager and in a world of "triple this" and "barrel aged that" if can become difficult to appreciate a simple, balanced, beer that doesn't have its volume turned up to 11 (for those that don't get the "11" reference, please see the video at the end of this post).  This beer is tasty, sessionable, refreshing, and suited in more than one way for the fall season.  What?  Did you expect anything less from New Glarus?

"But our beer goes to 11..."

Saturday, November 5, 2011

New Glarus - Raspberry Tart

I'm glad my New Glarus kick continues because this brew has been sitting in my fridge for waaay too long. Now, New Glarus is recognized for having some world-class fruit beers. The first I had was their Wisconsin Belgian Red, but this review will be dedicated to their Raspberry Tart. Full disclosure: with all the New Glarus beers I’ve tried this one has eluded me until this day. My wife has even had this one, but not me! That all changes now. Let’s pour!

Aroma 12/12
The distinct, slightly sour fruit of raspberries is abundant and is presented in a way that says “refined.”  A champagne-like dryness sits just behind all the fruit, giving the aroma of some high-end sparkling ciders but with raspberry tones instead of grape or apple.  Thus making it a bit more acidic and, as the name would imply, tart.  The thick fruit aroma will not be ignored and at times gives wafts of a fermented  “boozy” character.  It is almost like smelling a jar of homemade raspberry preserves and if you’ve not been fortunate enough to have a grandmother into jarring fruit, go to the grocery store and crack open a jar of those most expensive-looking raspberry preserves you can find, stir it vigorously with your first two fingers, and take a deep whiff.  They won’t mind.

Appearance 2/3
The appearance leaves nothing to be desired with the exception of the head, which aggressively fizzles and dies like champagne.  The color is phenomenal!  Ruby reds, sparkling magentas, vivid vermillions, and edges that brown ever so slightly like real cherry juice.  This all seems remarkably appropriate given the trees during this time of year, but shouldn't have any trouble being appreciated year round.

Nothing says "Drink me!" like a wax dipped, 750 mL bottle.
Flavor 20/20
Wow!  This is not your alco-pop variety lambic!  “Wow” even seems inadequate.  Perhaps the only thing with more authentic raspberry flavor would be a glass of recently-muddled raspberries.   Initial flavors are mellow, sweet, full, and round.  I swear it’s nearly buttery.  The backbone is an amazing progression of fruit flavors, from fermented raspberry sweet, to tongue tantalizingly tart, to a bitter flavor.  I strongly recommend just holding it in your mouth to experience this.  I think I found a “raspberry black hole.”  The flavor of raspberries that is so dense and folded on itself so many times that it gets darker and darker.  Eventually, the flavor is so dark that at points it appears as a light bitter note.  OK, no more psuedoscience jokes.  The bitter is not as aggressive (and, in my opinion unpleasant) as a cranberry is, but it is certainly another layer of taste in this world-class fruit beer.  The finish is a bit earthy, as if when eating a cherry, you happened upon a bit of the stem.  It continues the bitter and earthy notes and combines them with a sense of carbonation all over your tongue.  A nice effect considering the carbonation in this beer is actually much lower than what one would expect.

Mouthfeel 5/5
This beer takes huge steps away from lambics that err by being too light-bodied and overly carbonated.  Raspberry tart is the most full-bodied fruit beer that I have ever had.  It sits heavy and the mouth and is never offensive with its carbonation.  The bubbles are so tiny that despite their few numbers (a bit of an oddity in a fruit beer), in the finish they still leave the tongue feeling like it has been bathed in effervescence.  It leaves the mouth a bit slick from the sweetness, but it is a small trade for a beer this wonderful.

Overall Impression 10/10
An excellent, world-class fruit beer, hands down.  This only goes to show that fruit beers can be so much more than candied, overly-carbonated, fruit juices!  The color is simply ridiculous, the aroma intoxicating, the flavor complex and authentic, and the mouthfeel substantial without inducing lethargy.  It is amazing in every category and an example for fruit beer makers everywhere.

Total 49/50
There are simply not enough superlatives for this beer.  To avoid glowing about every single facet of this beer, I’m going to simply reiterate my favorite characteristic.  THE FLAVOR!  How this beer transitions from a sweet raspberry straight from the vine, to a tart biting thing, to a bitterer, aged, rounded flavor is absolutely beyond me.  One of those excellent flavors would be great.  All three separates the men from the boys.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to finish the rest of this bottle before my wife knows I have it open.