Sunday, December 30, 2012

Flossmoor Station - 15th Anniversary

Well gang, in the last week I celebrated yet another birthday.  Besides recounting all the blessings and accomplishments of the past year, it's also a great excuse to drink whatever the hell I want.  Today, that translates into someone else that celebrated a birthday, too.  Today's review is for Flossmoor Station's 15th Anniversary Abbey style Tripel Ale.  Flossmoor's 15th anniversary has long since past as I've been holding onto this bottle for quite some time, but today seems as good a day as any to open it.  Besides, it's my birthday.  For those unfamiliar with Flossmoor Station, they're a local brewer located in (you'll never guess) Flossmoor, IL and have had some past success at events you may have heard of like GABF and those listed here.

The bottle specifically lists the brewery's 15th anniversary as July 8th, 2011.  Looks like I've been cellaring this longer than I intended.  The bottle also tells us that this brew tips the Toledos at 15.0% ABV, utilizes magnum and crystal hops, and pilsner, carapils, & demarara sugar malts.  Also, in my neck of the woods one will hardly ever see smaller breweries using nice wax-dipped bottles, which is always a nice touch.  Let's pour!

Aroma 12/12
It's the first sentence and there's already SO much going on in this beer.  The nose begins with lots of fruity aromas like apples, green grapes, honey, and a subdued Belgian yeast.  As it warms, the Belgian notes really come on strong with a pronounced banana note and a clove-based spiciness.  Later still, it becomes dominated by a wonderful sugary smell with a little warmth and a spiced-not-sweet Belgian yeast.  Finally, it puts all these things together by toning down the larger scents (Belgian, sugar, spice) and bringing out the fruity acidity.  Now THIS is a golden ale!

Appearance 3/3
Perfect.  It pours as golden as the wax crowning its bottle, but sits in the glass as a brilliant ocher color.  Oddly, looking down at the beer from the top it shows strong ruby hues!  And no I don't have red flooring.  Because I have aged this bottle so long, any sediment remains in the bottle and the resultant beer is crystal clear and bright.  The head is as white as the snow outside my window and rose to a finger in height; an impressive feat considering that the bubbles are nearly microscopic in size.  It lasted as a ring around my glass until well into the beer.

Flavor 20/20
This is an insanely complex brew!  It begins with unadorned sugary, malty sweetness and quickly moves into fruity sweetness full of apples and golden raisins.  Things blossom widely as those two flavors combine into the flavor of caramelized fruits (this is not an exaggeration).  Belgian yeast, not far behind, adds its goodness and a strong alcohol presence is felt.  Note that it is "felt" and not "tasted."  The strong warmth never impinges on the flavor itself, but gratuitously pricks the tongue while in the mouth.  A bitter note is present when holding the beer in the mouth for an extended period and adds complexity and balance to this sweet beer.  Way back in the flavor profile is a dull sour whose origin likely lies in fruity acidity.  This makes even more sense upon swallowing where the first impression of the finish is an almost citrusy splash of said acidity and a reprise of the aforementioned bitter.  The aftertaste is surprisingly clean after such a warm, sweet, clingy beer. However, the only sensation remaining in the mouth is the lingering effects of the alcohol on the tongue.

Mouthfeel 4/5
This is a beer that absolutely coats the mouth with its sweet, sugary presence.  It borders on syrupy at times, but its lighter flavors and ABV help draw it away from that characterization.  It also possesses a halfway sneaky alcohol warmth.  Granted, at 15% ABV, it's hard to do anything sneakily.  However, the flavor is never too boozy.  To the point, I've had many bourbon barrel-aged brews with half the ABV that taste twice as hot as this brew.  While it doesn't taste hot, the alcohol is undeniable in the mouthfeel and how it pricks the tongue. A lot.

Overall Impression 10/10
This is the lightest tasting big beer you'll never try.  It's not light in flavor - anything but! - but most big beers tend to be heavy handed with the hops or a very rich stout.  This beer is a giant, but still manages to taste like an excellent golden (an Imperial golden?).  The fruits and sugars are present to keep this beer sweet and innocent, even if the ABV and heavyweight body would just as soon mug you in broad daylight.  In your own driveway.  In front of your kids.

Total 49/50
Personally, I liked this beer a lot.  It's complex, big, and captures all the essentials of the intended style.  The flavors are out-of-this-world intense an unlike anything that you'll find anytime soon.  I checked the average scores on BA and RateBeer after this review and was shocked to see them so low!  Perhaps it was a different beast when it was fresh, but as it stands currently it is an "Imperial Golden" that will be my measuring stick for some time to come.  If anyone disagrees with this point of view, please remember that it's my birthday so I am right and everyone else can go suck a potato (insert good-natured wink).  Good work Flossmoor!  Please know that we won't hold it against you if you decide to NOT limit this recipe to just a 15th anniversary beer and to brew this one again.

Friday, December 21, 2012

21st Amendment - Monk's Blood

As almost all of you have heard by now, 12.12.12 was the date that the monks at the St. Sixtus Abbey who brew the famed Westvleteren 12 allowed some of their beer to be sold in the United States.  This was all over the news even outside of craft beer circles.  As this beer is often mentioned in discussions about "The Best Beer in the World," it was highly sought after and was sold out almost instantly at any location that was given an allotment of the six packs, despite its $84.99 price tag.  Needless to say, I was not able to buy any, but have a bottle of Dark Lord ready and waiting (plus a mystery Bonus Bottle) for anyone that is willing to trade.

Because I'm a little full of sour grapes right now, today's review will be for 21st Amendment's "Monk's Blood."  It's a Belgian-style dark ale that is made with cinnamon, vanilla, oak chips, and dried figs.  The new ingredients intrigue me and at 8.3% ABV it also sounds like it packs quite a punch.  Oh, and for those not willing to read the old-timey text written on the can, it reads as such,

"Legend has it that in the evening, the monks would retire to their chambers & settle in with a few passages from the Good Book.  But Brothers Nicolas and O'Sullivan had other plans.  Working in the brewhouse all day, they were forced to repeat the same old recipes the elder monks had invented years before.  They needed a little diversion, And found it in the cellar of the monastery with a fresh twist they put on the beer and the way they enjoyed it.  Brother Nicolas (or 'Nico' to his close friends) brought some hand-rolled cigars.  O'Sullivan, the outspoken one, broke the vow of silence by spinning a remix of some Gregorian chants.  Together, they'd thrown down a could nice hands of Texas Hold 'Em and savor the handcrafted brew they crafted in secrecy.  Everything was good.  Or so it seemed. But deep in his heart Nico knew they were drifting into the 'dark side' of beer.  Next thing you know, they'd be skipping Lent.  Then one night they'd face the Judgement for their actions with a hard knock at the door.  Outside, the Abbot and elders would be holding stones in the air.  A threat the brothers were sure would lead to the spilling of "Monk's Blood"

Maybe they should just stick to brewing, but as always they feature a kick-ass can design.  This particular brew was canned on March 5th, 2012.  Let's pour!

Aroma 11/12
All the things that make the strong Belgian style great come rushing out of the glass.  Lots of cloves are quickly overwhelmed by even more of the yeast's banana notes.  Raw sugar (or likely Belgian candi sugar) and vanilla intertwine, while the figs and warmth sit back at first.  Eventually the figs come on strong and mingle with the banana delightfully, even if the figs edge out the banana ever so slightly.  Warmth grows stronger as well, but never becomes intrusive.

Appearance 2/3
I'm afraid this isn't a very attractive beer at all.  Have you had or seen prune juice before?  Yeah, it's that color.  Even when held to light it's that same milky brown hue.  The head was modest in size, beige in color, and crackled and popped its way down to a ring on the surface's edge.  There is also a lot of sediment in this brew, so pour gently.

Flavor 18/20
The first sensations of this drink are much brighter than anticipated, given the prominence of the dark fruit in the aroma.  It begins with a delicate, playful vanilla and some citrus-like tones.  However, it rapidly grows dark like a bank of storm clouds being pushed across the sky.  Very quickly there are the dark figs, the cinnamon, and the earthiness of spice all present and dominating the flavor profile.  Thankfully, the cinnamon avoids my worst fears and refrains from overwhelming all other flavors.  These dark flavors are intense and feel even larger with the strong alcohol warmth.  In the finish, things remain dark but also become bitter thanks to the earthiness from the cinnamon and the newly detectable oak.  It's a combination of dark fruits, bitter, and some boozy vanilla to wrap it all up.    A word of caution to those of you who enjoy slurping to enhance certain flavors!  In this brew, all you'll find is a brash alcohol.  

Mouthfeel 5/5
This beer is appropriately carbonated, which in a strong Belgian means there's a bunch of it.  Good news though, it seems to be taking the same advice as the cinnamon and is not a distraction by being overly prickly on the tongue.  There is some of that sensation, but it's mostly due to the cinnamon and not the bubbles.  Warmth plays a large roll in this brew and is not shy about it.  I dug it.  It makes for a strong beer, yet didn't suffer the same failure as many of the new "bourbon barrel-aged" beers by tasting like "two fingers, neat."  A full body carries all these flavors perfectly.

Overall Impression 8/10
This is a very well put together beer: the gentle flavors come out and the big flavors are not permitted to destroy a lá General William T. Sherman.  The lighter, sweeter flavors are quite nice and I wish they played a larger role by perhaps utilizing a less quick and dramatic shift to the dark, strong flavors.  However, this is a Belgian strong and it is supposed to be both dark and strong so the beer can't be faulted for that.  I enjoy the  interpolations that 21A has introduced here as a change of pace, even if my personal taste would prefer something lighter.

Total 44/50
Let me just say that I am comparing beer from a can to some of the best Belgian beers that I have ever had.  To those that for some crazy reason still doubt that amazing beer can be canned, this beer stands in direct opposition to your argument.  It is a great Belgian dark with its own twists and I always love trying new takes on old styles.  This particular beer is still well worth your time, especially if you normally find some Belgian varieties too sweet.  The earthiness and dark flavors help tone those down a great deal.  I didn't get much of the oak throughout the beer, but that's OK.  There were more than enough other flavors to compensate for it.  Also, I'd like to mention that this beer left my glass far too quickly.  I was fighting to ration it the entire time so that I'd have enough beer for later parts of the review.  So while my tiny, tiny gripe is that I wish the up-front sweetness lasted long or had a larger role, the proof was in the pudding as I drank this beer faster than I could write about it.  If you have some, great!  If not, you may want to find a kind trading partner as 21A has made it official that Monk's Blood will be taking an "indefinite hiatus."  Which begs the question, if they're shelving a tasty beer like this, then what do they have in the works?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Surly - Wet

Well, this is one of those beers that I never thought I was going to be able to try. It sells quick, it doesn’t distribute outside the brewer's home state, and while I have plenty of family in Minnesota, I don’t have a go to trading partner up there. So when my wife brought back some Boston-based Wachusett beer for some friends that used to live there, imagine my surprise when they responded in kind with this little gem! Thanks Jim & Anne!  In fact, I only received this beer last night, but so much of its reputation is based on freshness that I wanted to drink it and review it as soon as possible.

For those not familiar with Surly’s Wet, it boasts on its can that the hops are picked on Day1, shipped on Day 2, and used on Day 4 so that the hops never have a chance to dry out.  Different hop varieties are used so the brew may vary a bit, but rest assured that will this much attention being paid to freshness (or "Ultra-Fresh" as the can states) you are all but guaranteed a big resiny treat.  The beer that I am reviewing today was canned on 10/1/2012.

Please excuse both my recent posting infrequency as I have just moved into my first house. There are features of said house that will definitely warrant their own post in the coming months. This also means that I haven’t yet set up a great spot to take pictures of these amazing beers, so bear with me.  Let's pour!

Aroma 12/12
Things begin with some very pleasant pine and orange rind notes. Rising up just behind those are mangos, pineapples, and some resin lingering in the background. However, once the beer begins to warm the resin takes on more of a primary role with the rind and gives a very “bitter orange” vibe to the overall character. Along with this resin comes some pretty strong grassy notes and since I happen to love that particular hop trait, it is most welcome. For those of you keeping track, yes I’ve only talked about the hop aromas thus far. The malts are in there, but are very far back and only open up once the beer has warmed. I’m thankful they show up as it gives the beer a more substantial, intense aroma and their sweetness helps to emphasize the sweet hop aromas like the pineapple. 

Appearance 3/3
This beer pours lighter than I expected, but still looks like a million damn dollars. It shines like a orange sapphire (yes, there are orange sapphires, smarty pants) and enjoys much of the same brilliance and clarity. Its robust eggshell colored head is maintained by a constantly ascending carbonation. The head forms slowly but builds tall and fluffy, before settling a bit and taking on more of a whipped cream texture. If any photographers out there are looking to create stock images of beer and what it should look like, this is it. Wow! Also worth mentioning, I’ve written the review up until this point with beer in my glass and the head is still present! I’ve never seen retention like this. Top marks and extra sparkle magic unicorn rainbow brownie bonus points to Surly for this! 

Flavor 19/20
First impressions are everything and this beer’s impression is bitter. I’m anxious to see what happens once my taste buds acclimate a bit more to the bitterness. Interestingly enough, the bitter in the first sips can be sensed in accented waves, each punctuating its own beginning. My initial notes read as, “woody, resin, long lasting bitter” and I’m pretty sure a part of my tongue went numb. Thankfully it recovered, finally acclimated, and then other flavors begin to emerge. Most notably are a muted pineapple and a sweet malt that I am having trouble placing. It’s sweet and lighter and almost sugary, which makes me think honey but the flavor isn’t correct for honey. This malt flavor is more fruitlike and definitely not the typical caramel malts used in making heavy duty West Coast IPAs. A quick wine taster’s slurp gives me little additional information, only a splash pineapple, a hint of the warmth, some nice pepper spice, and shot of pure resin. The finish is (obviously) not as intensely bitter as when I started this glass, but it still unapologetically offers its own take. Immediately after swallowing is a mellow sweetness, detectable only after one’s tongue has been adequately prepared for the resin, and then an intense aspirin-like bitter that fades in to tie up any loose ends. In hindsight, the sweet malts that confused me earlier are probably caramel malts that taste sweeter with melding with pineapple from the hops. It’s a great combination!

Mouthfeel 5/5
A big bodied beer to hold some big flavors. It rolls around in the mouth like mercury, but the hops’ spicy pepper note give a prickly sensation on the tongue and keeps it from becoming sluggish. The carbonation that was so present in the glass and contributing to the head is still ascending in subsequent pours, but this diminishes its presence in the mouth. The result is a beer that feels exceptionally smooth and silky thanks to an unobtrusive carbonation that dies quickly once inside the mouth. The warmth that became present during a slurp really never had much more presence than that. 

Overall Impression 9/10 
This beer is impressive, but definitely has the potential to be more-so if drank closer to its birth date.  I feel that the main consequence is that the fruits in the aroma do not come out as well in the flavor, resulting in a less complex beer than it was created to be. At 2 ½ months of age, this beer still has plenty going for it. It’s head and appearance were fantastic, its aroma was excellent, and it’s tasty as all get out. Right now it stands as a strong West Coast IPA, but at a younger age it could truly stand out from the pack. The only question is how to do that. How can you possibly get this beer with any less hop deterioration than Surly has tried to do?

Total 48/50
The answer to the question in the previous sentence is, “you don’t.” Surly has made more than an earnest effort to get a beer into its customers’ waiting hands that is as fresh as they can possibly make it and can it. Any further action lies in the hands of distributors, retailers, and how quickly craft beer drinkers can snatch it off the shelves. I dig this beer as a whole, with only minor nit-picky issues here and there. If Surly had the same distribution abilities as Oskar Blues, this beer would compete nationally with Deviant Dales. Hop heads should of course seek it out as fresh as possible, but if you’re not accustomed to how relentless hops can be, you may wanna sit this one out. This beer is a stern reminder than Minnesota is not just a state of quiet, polite, church-going folk. It’s also a state filled with potential hockey defensemen ready to administer a hockey stick enema if you stand in their crease too long. So noted, Surly. So noted.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Founders - Backwoods Bastard

I remember trying Founders' Backwoods Bastard when it was fresh and being blown away at the intense bourbon flavors in this beer. It was almost too much!  For that reason, I aged a few of them to see how that booziness would mellow out after a year or two.  This bottle is part of that experiment and is a Backwoods Bastard brewed in 2011.  Shall we see how things have progressed?  Let's pour!

Aroma 10/12
Time does not seem to have settled this brew down one bit!  The bourbon aroma and strong warmth are immediately and intensely present and not far behind it is a rich, raw sugar that almost comes across "mapley"  at first.  The oak is easily detectable behind these two strong aromas and as the beer opens up a dark vanilla is added to the mix.  It's a great flavor and blends excellently with the earlier sugar/molasses note.  Eventually it all but surpasses the sugar notes, and soon the dark roast of the malt can be faintly discerned.

Appearance 3/3
This beer is much darker than I anticipated!  It looks black in color, but when held to light reveals lots of nut and coffee browns and even a magenta shade or two.  The head is tan in color and creamy in appearance.  Were it not for the smaller amount, it would not look out of place atop of a Guinness.

Flavor 16/20
The flavor on this has not mellowed either, at least not to my recollection.  It starts with a smooth, medium-bodied wave of molasses and vanilla, but transitions very quickly into the bourbon/whiskey flavors and loads of oak.  To be quite honest, it's difficult to find much beyond the bourbon, its warmth, and the sugary vanilla goodness.  The finish is still boozy and sweet, but does add a layer of bitter to things as the beer sticks to the back of the throat and leaves the mouth slick.  The aftertaste is a less intense of version of what one would find after drinking bourbon on the rocks.

Mouthfeel 4/5
Obviously the warmth is a major factor in the mouthfeel of this brew, yet surprisingly the alcohol does not achieve any sort of drying effect on the mouth.  The beer instead makes the mouth water and makes it slick or even sticky in the back of the throat (must... refraining from... "That's what she said").  It also begins by feeling fairly substantial in the mouth, but soon becomes thin despite all of the malts inevitably used to achieve the high levels of sweetness.  It's a 10.2% ABV, but the warmth is done well in this one.

Overall Impression 6/10
As mentioned eariler, the bourbon in this is simply too masking of other key attributes of the beer.  All that is detectable is bourbon, sugary vanilla, and wood.  The roasted malts that were detectable in the aroma are completely lost.  Thankfully, the warmth settled when compared to a fresh bottle.  It was never overbearing, but added just the right amount for the bourbon flavors to come across as truly authentic.

Overall Impression 40/50
This is not a bad beer by any means, but I've certainly had others in the style with much more to offer.  I've had Wee Heavy beers with dark fruits detectable and stronger secondary malt characteristics (ahem, the roasted malt).  I've also had them with more substantial bodies that truly carried the immense flavors within them.  I enjoyed the boozy/sugary balance in Backwoods Bastard, but ultimately it was a fairly simply beer.  It does what it does well, but minor tweaks could make this yet another beer from Founders that garners national attention.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Wachusett - Imperial Pumpkin

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!!!  May your blessings be innumerable and your loved ones be close.  To celebrate this day, I've already had 2 bloody marys, 1 mimosa, 1 Woodchuck fall cider, and 1 Heineken.  While I know it's not the most prestigious lineup in the world, it has done the job and filled me with the holiday spirit... and it's only 1:30 p.m.

Today's review will be for Wachusett's Imperial Pumpkin ale.  It's something that my wife and sister-in-law picked up in Boston for me on a recent trip.  Actually, it was a trip that my wife took on our three year wedding anniversary so she knew she had to pick up something nice.  Wachusett brews this beer with pumpkin puree, Belgian Candi sugar (sic), vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.  It sounds pretty par for the course, but this brewery has the ability to do some very above average brewing.  Let's pour!

Aroma 9/12
Things begin with a subdued, sweet caramel malt and some equally muted spices.  The pumpkin seems pretty far behind until the beer warms in the glass and only then takes over as the primary aroma.  Once warmed properly the pumpkin and spices are both easily discerned with a sugary caramel blending well with the pumpkin aromas.  Unfortunately, the cinnamon and nutmeg seem to be a bit strong after additional warming.

 Appearance 3/3
The glass burns with rusty siennas and burnt orange colors.  The off white head is perfect in size, shows adequate retention, and remains as a creamy covering on the beer's surface.

Flavor 15/20
A flash of dark sugary caramel is given before plunging the tastebuds into a dust devil of holiday spices.  The pumpkin is all but undetectable, but the beer does offer you a cinnamon and ginger laden brew in its stead.  However, through continued warming the semblance of a balance takes place.  By that, I mean that the pumpkin and caramel are actually allowed to be tasted through the aggressive spicing.  Still not enough to consider it balanced, by any means, but the sweetness is welcome nonetheless.  The finish is 98% spices and dominated by the cinnamon of course.  There is a hint of the Belgian candi sugar, but it is merely a polite suggestion amongst a yelling match.  It fades a bit a lets some pumpkin flavor through, but again it is vastly outnumbered.  The aftertaste is a ginger/cinnamon tingle on the tongue, but otherwise remains as a bittersweet note, an undeniable dryness, and an eventual bitter.

Mouthfeel 4/5
 A full bodied beer, but is made to seem lighter by the tongue-pricking action from the cinnamon.  The carbonation itself is actually done quite well - tiny, non-aggressive, smooth even - but the abundance of cinnamon again spoils an otherwise excellent aspect of this beer.  The warmth is occasionally detectable on an exhale, but other wise the 8.0% ABV remains well camouflaged throughout.

Overall Impression 5/10
As mentioned earlier, the cinnamon in this beer is simply too much.  It overshadows the otherwise nice, sweet flavors of the malt and it also ruins what should be a nice, smoother body that what is shown.  The pumpkin is generally weak, or maybe it just seems that way since it is being covered by other flavors.  I think there are good things happening here, but there's too much interference.

Total 34/50
Unfortunately, this beer has found one of my pet peeves: pumpkin beers that hide behind too much spice.  Oddly, in Wachusett's case, I don't think that it's hiding an inferior beer behind the flavor of numerous spices.  The beer behind this seems to be well-made, sweet, exhibits fine carbonation, and a good body.  It would just be easier if it were easier to detect all of that goodness behind the veil of cinnamon and ginger that is presented.  Which brings up a question that has been bothering me.  When are brewers going to learn that cinnamon kicks other flavors' asses?!  It's strong stuff fellas!  A little bit goes a long way.  If you want to make a cinnamon or spiced beer, the please by all means continue to add excessive amounts of cinnamon (and/or nutmeg).  However, if you'd like to make an amazing pumpkin beer, please consider letting me taste the friggin' pumpkin.  Even with all this beer's other positive attributes (sweetness, body, carbonation, etc) was still weak on the pumpkin.  This, unfortunately hits on one of my other beer pet peeves: beers that promise one thing and deliver another.  Sorry, Wachusett!  I've had some tasty offerings of yours, but this falls a bit short.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Dogfish Head - Saison du Buff

Howdy everybody!  First off, allow me to apologize for writing so sporadically as of late.  Not only am I currently working retail during the holiday season, but I also went on vacation, attended 3 weddings, had an offer accepted on a house, and am a new uncle!  Needless to say, I've been kept a bit busy.

Today's beer is Dogfish Head's Saison du Buff.  Well, it's kinda Dogfish Head's.  This brew is actually a collaboration between Victory, Stone, and DFH.  It was brewed once before in 2010 and we're definitely glad to see it back.  It is brewed in each of the three breweries using the exact same recipe and then released in stages throughout the year.  Besides the collaboration of three powerhouse names in the craft beer world, the most notable attribute of this beer is its ingredients.  It's an ale, a saison to be specific, that is brewed with parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.  And yes, for those of you wondering, it probably sells very well at Scarborough Fair.  You can find the full story behind this beer by clicking this link to Dogfish Head's website.  I've had Victory's version on tap before and look to have a repeat of that great experience in a Dogfish Head bottle.  Let's pour!

Aroma 11/12
Not surprisingly, the beer starts out with strong herbal notes.  However somewhat surprisingly, you'd almost swear there was some mint added to their already long list of herbs.  Floral notes come forward and continues to waft from the glass.  In another twist, I'm finding more cloves in the aroma and not so much of the pepper for which saisons are known.  Overall, this aroma is fantastic and you'd be hard pressed to find another beer that smells like it.  Think of a flowery golden ale and now add a dash of Belgian spice and a hearty handful of herbs.  It's wonderful.

Appearance 3/3
The glass is filled with a hazy, pale straw color and topped with an off-white head.  The head shows good retention and is constantly being rejuvenated by pillars of bubbles that can be seen ascending from the bottom of the glass.  Not a ton of shades present, but its on the mark for the style.

Flavor 19/20
Whoa!  This beer went through about 4 major flavor changes in the first 3 seconds of tasting.  Let's see if we can nail those down.  Initially, it's a dark sweetness that quickly morphs into what appears to be a citrus, but is really just some of the saison's sour coming to the forefront.  The herbs also make their presence known as do some dry, bitter notes.  Which of these flavors stick around when held in the mouth?  Actually, the light sour assumes the throne as the beer's primary flavor, but it is not without assistance from the floral notes giving the beer a very light, sweet taste.  This lighter, sweeter flavor makes it easier to see the hints of pepper in the brew as they clash well with the sweetness and keep the beer true to its style.  The finish is given some brief foreshadowing when held in the mouth, but still remains quite a surprise when it finally reveals its full bitter.  The finish may have some lingerings of the floral sour that preceded it, but it is largely dry and with a long-lasting bitter.

Mouthfeel 4/5
This beer exhibits a medium mouthfeel that feels lighter thanks to the delicate sweetnesses within it.  Its sour never comes close to taking over the beer as a whole and while the carbonation isn't as aggressive as the style usually demands, that's OK by me.  It's abundant in its muted state and still allows the beer to feel like something more substantial and full-bodied.  Almost any prickly sensations could be initially considered carbonation, but upon holding the beer in the mouth it can be quickly determined to be the spices.

Overall Impression 9/10
This tastes like a saison should, but includes some of its own twists.  Saison lovers should definitely seek this out, but might be out of luck as the most recent batch (as of this writing) was released by Stone in late May 2012.  The herbs go remarkably well with the style, yet are far from overwhelming.  The sour/floral taste was impressive as was the incorporation of Belgian yeast's spicy flavors in a more subdued manner.  This is a complex beer with varied flavors coming at you from every angle and with a finish bitter enough to keep you coming back for more.

Total 46/50
Even though I emphasize talking about the sour/sweet/floral primary note of this brew, please do not categorize this with the genre of beers that one might generally avoid for being "too sweet."  There is so much going on here!  The herbs, the sour, the floral, the spices, the bitter... it all comes together for a remarkably balanced and well-assembled beer.  This is one of the best versions of the style that I've had thus far.  Granted, my familiarity with the style is less than others, but I stand by that statement.  This is one collaboration that we can all hope is reconvened very soon.

For those not understanding the "Scarborough Fair" reference.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Sierra Nevada - Bigfoot (2012)

Here's a brew that many of you will recognize!  Sierra Nevada's Bigfoot has not only been a perennial offering, but also has excellent availability during the end of the summer months.  Now, it's been a while since I purchased this, but I don't remember it costing an arm or a leg either.  In fact, I bought a second six pack of it this season.  That might not mean much to you, but to a guy that's trying to taste as many different beers as possible that's another 6 times that I am guaranteeing myself that I will drink this beer in addition to the 6 I already purchased.  Guess I better start emptying this sixer.  Let's pour!

Aroma 10/12
Dry, hoppy aromas rush from the bottle as soon as the cap is lifted, however the beer as a whole is much more balanced.  Rich caramel malts combine with resinous, peppery hops and a faded citrus that still contains more than a hint of grapefruit and lemon.  Some raw sugar arrives late to compliment the caramel and as the beer opens in the glass a darker, bittersweet aroma, like that of molasses, steps forward as well leaving the beer with a deliciously sweet malt emphasis.  There is a slight alcohol warmth that tries to remain invisible, but 9.6% ABV in a bottle can only stay hidden for so long.

Appearance 3/3
This beer pours an amalgamation of dark autumnal colors.  It initially appears as a shade just this side of red from the dying leaves that still crowd some branches.  It even looks as opaque as some of those dead leaves, but when held to light a gorgeous sunset red fills the bottom of the glass and the remainder lightens to a handsome shade of bright sienna.  The head rests gently on top of this brew and is a light beige color.  Top marks for size, retention, texture, and lacing.

Flavor 19/20
The first impressions from this beer are two very hearty handshakes from hoppy bitterness and that raw sugary, caramel malt.  At first, you can't tell which one wants to meet you more, but eventually the bitter flavors of the hops take over and maintain the style's accuracy.  The backbone involves a fading sweetness and a proportionally increasing resin.  An interesting ray of sugary lemon pokes through that bitter, but its appearance is as brief as it is unmistakable.  Both the sweet and bitter remain strong when holding the beer in the mouth, though a quick slurp allows the alcohol to easily shout over the top of both of them.  The finish is triumphantly resinous and the warmth finally reveals itself to the drinker.  The bitter quickly turns to that of something charred (and maybe a bit peppery) and lingers on the back of the tongue.  It should come as no surprise that the ABV and the bitter leave the mouth quite dry.

Mouthfeel 5/5
Anything that hides alcohol this well deserves some credit.  You almost won't find the warmth in this brew except in the finish and easily with a wine tasters' slurp.  However, this is not the only characteristic worth mentioning.  The body and carbonation go wonderfully together and are perfect for the style.  All the malts used make for a silky smooth body, but not at the expense of carbonation.  The carbonation is present, but diminished so as not to distract from the "big beer" body style.  It also gives the lightest foaming action that adds even more to the creamy mouthfeel, while also keeping it from feeling syrupy.

Overall Impression 9/10
From my limited experience with the barleywine style, this seems to me to be an excellent example.  The colors are beautiful, the aroma very nice albeit diminished by age, the flavor profile is spot on with plentiful malts and a stronger bitter, and the mouthfeel is above and beyond.  Had this been fresh, I can only imagine that the hops would have presented yet another layer of complexity to this brew and possibly have added to its sweetness.

Total 46/50
I have no idea why I don't hear more in the craft beer universe about this brew being vertically tasted.  To me it seems like an excellent candidate: relatively inexpensive, high ABV, annual release, readily available, and extremely tasty!  Then again, I suppose I don't hear much about vertical tastings at all let alone for this brew.  This is a great beer for all the reasons that would make it a great vertical taster and because of its thick body, sweet and bitter balance, and that oh-so-delicate foaming action.  There's no reason not to pick up this beer.  For those not yet accustomed to bitter or hoppy beers, this may be a bit of a stretch for you as the flavors in this are big.  However, I will say that it's also well balanced.  So for those looking for big, tasty beers who want something more than a hop bomb, or are looking to venture into hop bombs in the near future, this is definitely a beer you'll want to check out.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Smash Brewery - Belgian Waffle

Today, I'm reviewing a homebrew from a good buddy of mine who is brewing some truly creative and delicious beer.  Also, at the rate he is procuring larger scale brewing equipment, it wouldn't surprise me if he quickly becomes a neighborhood favorite (and beyond).  The beer of his I'll be drinking today is his "Belgian Waffle," which, you guessed it, will taste like a Belgian waffle.  It's my understanding that actual whole, cooked waffles were used in the brewing process, though I don't recall at which stage.  I'm excited to drink this and see who it stacks up against the more established, widely distributed craft brewers.  Let's pour!

Aroma 10/12
The beer begins pleasantly enough with the sweet aroma of crisp apples and a fainter caramel.  Oddly, I am not getting an intense maple or syrup aroma at this point.  Further back is a faint almost champagne-like dryness and it's a unique little nuance that seems thrown in for good measure.  Slightly more detectable is a lightly floral aroma that blends nicely with the sweet apples from earlier.  All these aromas were from a 2-3 oz pour, but after I poured the entire bottle and got all that tasty sediment off of the bottom, this beer really opened up.  It went from "just plain apples" to "apples and gobs of caramel apple dip."  The caramel complements the apple very well and only now can I begin to see the maple syrup arriving on the scene.

Appearance 2/3
During my initial 2-3 oz pour, the beer was golden in hue and quite nice.  After pouring the entire bottle and its sediment into the glass, it more resembled apple cider fresh from the orchard; brown, cloudy, and a pinch of dark crumbs at the bottom.  The head rose nicely with loads of tiny, tightly packed bubbles, fizzed loudly, and faded away very quickly to absolutely nothing.  No lacing.  No head.  Nada.

Flavor 17/20
The waffles sure do not take long to make their presence known as even the earliest flavors are that of golden, fried, sweet, bready goodness and even a sweet cream.  The sensation is longer than most introductions, but slowly the apples' honey-like sweetness creeps in and is easily detectable, especially on the tip of the tongue.  A slight alcohol tingle is also present from time to time.  When held in the mouth the beer has a blending of light sweetnesses almost like the aforementioned cream, but in its candied form, like the center of a "bulls-eye" or "cow tail" candy.  As the beer warms, the sweetness shows its true colors and reveals itself to be the Belgian yeasts that were undoubtedly used in the brewing process.  The finish truly adds another dimension to the brew!  Its 7.5% ABV is laid completely bare and gives the impression of a much more alcohol-laden beer.  The alcohol combines with a wonderfully high and unexpected smoothness and goes down like a caramel liquor with the tongue still left tingling.

Mouthfeel 4/5
There's lots of good things happening here, especially for what I consider to be a golden-style Belgian dubbel (or a duppel-style golden ale).  A medium body with lots of lively carbonation and well utilized warmth are all appropriate for the style.  Though even for a Belgian dubbel, the carbonation can be a bit to aggressive a prickly at times.

Overall Impression 8/10
Obviously this brew has some Belgian-style roots and is not afraid to show them.  The sweetness, yeast, carbonation, and warmth all point to its origins.  The overarching apples were an unexpected, yet welcome twist, as were the light floral notes in the aroma.  They almost had me classifying this with a "golden ale" twist, but the other stylistic points were stronger contributors to the brew as a whole.

Total 40/50
Definitely a great start for one of this homebrewer's earlier efforts.  It had tasty, distinctly Belgian characteristics and added something of its own to make it unique.  I must say, while the taste of the Belgian yeasts were certainly detectable, as were the waffles - thus satisfying both parts of its namesake - I was expecting some serious maple syrup action.  Not that the caramel didn't satisfy that necessary sweetness, and   not that said caramel didn't go phenomenally well with the apple notes.  I suppose I was just expecting more of the maple syrup used  during brewing to come through as... well, maple syrup that I use on my waffles and pancakes.  It's a minor complaint for a tasty beer that follows its style remarkably well and I'm sure will only become more refined in its subsequent batches.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Southern Tier - Pumpking

Now if you've had any of Southern Tier's big ol' bomber bottles, you know that those things are rife with flavor.  It's with that in mind that I'm pretty excited to be reviewing their pumpkin ale, Pumpking.  Pumpking is often listed as one of people's favorite pumpkin beers and definitely has a national reputation for excellence.  This should be a good review for me as I feel I am notoriously picky about pumpkin beers, especially their balance between pumpkin sweetness and those fall spices.  Let's pour!

Aroma 12/12
I unhesitatingly give this a 12.  It is completely unique to anything else on the market.  It erupts with a buttery pumpkin nose and a extremely delicate use of cinnamon and nutmeg.  The sweetness of the pumpkin comes later, and not far after a bready malt sweetness oozing with caramel.  There is also a distant dark vanilla which blends painfully well with the buttery notes.  As the beer warms, the initial buttery note turns into more of a vanilla custard.  This is insane!

Appearance 3/3
It pours a bright orange appropriate to an aisle in any big box store selling Halloween wares, but thankfully sits in the glass in a hue more natural to the season.  More of a "burnt orange," with golden highlights than the traditional Halloween orange.  The head was 1.5 fingers tall and its off-white color was tinted by that of the beer below to a pastel rust color.

Flavor 19/20
It begins humbly enough, with a mild-mannered, authentic pumpkin flavor and a dash of nutmeg and cinnamon.  Soon that delicious buttered pumpkin note from the aroma eases gently in on a viscous wave of caramel, though not in quite as strong a fashion as in the aroma.  What a flavor!  The backbone then transitions to that of pumpkin pie filling replete with all the spices and sweetness expected.  Minus the buttery flavor, which I would not remove for the world, this is almost an exact replica of pumpkin pie filling straight from the can.  Holding the beer in the mouth longer allows the spices and caramel to die down a little and one is left with a lot of natural tasting pumpkin, cinnamon, and some neutral 2-row malts.  The finish gives a brief reprise of the pumpkin flavor right before the cinnamon goes down the throat kicking and screaming.  Believe it or not the aftertaste does show that there are hops present in this beer!  Not long after swallowing, the mouth is left dry and bitter.  It's definitely not something that I expected after drinking a beer this sweet.

Mouthfeel 4/5
The mouthfeel might be the only noticeably lacking part of this beer.  It remains far from distracting, but the mouthfeel is far from anything I associate with "imperial."  The ingredients list 2-row malts, undoubtedly used to bolster the body of this brew, but I think they took the day off.  The body is medium at best but does a surprising job at carrying all these large flavors.  Its carbonation is tiny and feels active, but closer inspection will reveal the majority of that tingle on the tongue to be the cinnamon working its magic.  The ABV is listed as 8.6%, but I never saw a trace of it.

Overall Impression 10/10
A top 5 pumpkin beer on the market, maybe even top 3.  The nose is without question unlike any pumpkin beer currently available.  It is phenomenal and it alone would justify purchasing the bottle.  The flavor is less, but certainly not disappointing.  This has instantly earned the status of "go-to" bottle for pumpkin seasonals.  It is something that I'll will be purchasing on an annual basis.

Total 48/50
Boy, to dock this brew two points seems like a bit much considering how much I enjoyed it!  However, there are some areas that I see for improvement.  A bit more caramel would be appreciated and I think could really combine well with all the pumpkin/vanilla custard sweetness.  Also, if we're adding more caramel, presumably by adding more caramel malts, then that would also take care of the lighter mouthfeel.   However, knowing Southern Tier's ability to make huge, tasty, sweet beers, maybe this is something they tried and it made the beer thick, syrupy, and undrinkable.  Its mouthfeel might not be imperial, but it sure tastes like one and that's more important anyway.  If you haven't heard of this pumpkin beer already, it definitely deserves your attention.  It is anything but a spice bomb and easily ranks at the top of its style.  It should be widely available and at a decent price.  What are you waiting for?!

Approval from the ORIGINAL Pumpkin King has yet to be determined.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Innis & Gunn - Highland Cask

After my last Innis & Gunn review, there were a ton of comments both supporting and lamenting this brewery.  I've never written anything else that has received such a response!  In short, I knew I'd have to review another I&G beer in short order.  That day is here!  Today's review will be for Innis & Gunn's Highland Cask ale.  This beer is aged in oak barrels and their have a pretty cool genesis story for those interested in that sort of thing.  Some of their detractors talk about the apparent marketing machine that Innis & Gunn has at their disposal.  The good news is that there is virtually zero, I repeat, zero I&G marketing in the US, so I don't have to try and deal with any preconceived notions that I might have.  Big thanks (again) to Keith for snagging me this brew.  Let's pour!

Aroma 6/12
Initially, I didn't think this smelled much like whiskey at all.  I should know.  I love bourbons and whiskeys.  It didn't have that quintessential sweetness, but instead was more earthy and grain-like with just hints of peat poking through.  Just to make sure, I grabbed a nearby bottle of Redbreast (a 12 y.o. aged Irish whiskey) and inhaled deeply.  Sure enough, the I&G lacked that sweetness that makes whiskey such a treat.  Obviously, that missing characteristic is quite a disappointment.  To further add to that disappointment, there's not much behind the boozy warmth!  This could have been a great combination of sweetnesses from the English Strong Ale style and that of the whiskey, but I&G has definitely whiffed on all this potential and instead given us a boozy, timid smelling brew.  To those that might be saying, "Hey!  This beer is aged in Scotch Whiskey barrels, not whiskey barrels, you idiot," I say that's OK.  It doesn't smell like Scotch Whiskey either.  Again, I should know.  Johnny Walker and I have long been good friends.

Appearance 3/3
Despite a weak start in this review, the beer actually appears quite handsomely in the glass.  True to its name, it is just darker than some whiskeys and bourbons with shades of rust, mahogany, and burnt orange.  It's clarity is quite high, but the head hisses and dissipates too soon.  My photos do not do it justice.

Flavor 12/20
Thankfully the beer begins by tasting better than it smells.  It starts with a traditional English Strong Ale sweetness, some nuttiness, and hints of dark molasses.  These delicious sounding flavors are far from intense, but they are tasty.  A butterscotch is present, but is easily overtaken by the ESA flavor.  There's not much else to say as this beer is remarkably simple and thin.  What I am NOT getting is any semblance of Scotch Whiskey!  Where is it?!  Daddy needs his special medicine! Even slurping this beer only goes to show how bland it truly is.  There is NO reward for slurping, not even an extra alcohol kick.  The finish is unusual as it doesn't continue or reintroduce any of the already existing flavors in this beer.  It's just this oaky, bitter, earthy, toasted flavor that leaves the mouth more bitter than anything.  What an odd, underwhelming beer.

Mouthfeel 3/5
This beer is going to get points for its ridiculous smoothness and that's about it.  Overall, the beer feels thin and certainly not  big enough to adequately carry a flavor like Scotch Whiskey.  Carbonation is tiny, but adequate and persists until the end of the glass.  To their credit, the 7.1% ABV is invisible.

Overall Impression 4/10
This beer misses so many things that could have gone right.  It doesn't smell like whiskey or Scotch whiskey.   It doesn't taste like whiskey or Scotch whiskey.  It doesn't have a robust malt profile that could have potentially complimented the whiskeys' sweetness, had there been any whiskey in the first place.  Why is the end bitter?  Why does this beer feel so thin?  Arg!

Total 28/50
This is a world of difference from the last Innis & Gunn beer that I reviewed.  Their Rum Cask brew was really tasty and I enjoyed it immensely!  On the other hand, this beer is one-dimensional and lackluster in flavor, offers very little in aroma, and drinks as easily as the smoothest macro.  It begins with molasses and ends bitter with no scotch or whiskey in sight.  With it's shiney label, high ABV, and "cask-aged" claims, this beer is like dating a very dumb, gorgeous person:  all style, no substance.  It simply seems tired and vapid.  Thank goodness that this beer has only been brewed once and it not part of their regular line-up.  If anyone at Innis & Gunn is listening, please burn this recipe.  You are better off starting from scratch and building the beer that this SHOULD have been.  It's not up to what I perceive as your usual standard of quality.  C'mon!  It's brewed in Edinburgh for Pete's sake!  You should know if your beer tastes like Scotch whiskey before it leaves the brewery.  For shame.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Stone - 16th Anniversary IPA

In the interest of drinking beers before their hop profile has deteriorated, I have decided to crack open my bottle of Stone's 16th Anniversary IPA.  This beer promises to be a doozey with Stone stating right on the bottle that they're brewing this one with lemon verbena & lemon oil.  Now I had a pretty good idea of what lemon oil was, but I had not heard of lemon verbena, so if you need to look it up like I did, then click here.  Whether you know or you don't, new ingredients get me excited and I'm always ready to try one out.  So let's pour!

Aroma 12/12
Starting off, things were pretty impressive.  Excellent lemon and pineapple notes from the hops as well as a lesser herbal quality and a dash of pepper.  The warmth arrived calmly and easily, while the malts provided a dark bread (almost earthy) & roasted qualities.  Very nice all around!  I then sat down to do some typing and the like and came back to it after it had warmed and let me say this... LET THIS BEER WARM!  I know that it's fairly common knowledge in the craft beer universe that beers open up as they warm, but rarely can I recall a beer that so aptly provides such an example to that lesson.  This beer became infinitely richer and nearly succulent with hoppy goodness.  This is what world class IPAs should smell like!  The original flavors intensified greatly, but also brought in a great resin aroma, a surprising floral essence(!), some reminders of the hops' Cannabaceae relatives, gooey caramel malts, and upped the booziness just a little bit.  Fantastic!

Appearance 3/3
This is a beautiful beer.  It pours a color that nearly matches the shade on the bottle and is bright and clear as a crisp fall day.  When I poured it, the head overcame the top of the glass, but was so sticky that it continued to ascend in the shape it left the glass.  Almost like a Play-Dough Fun Factory, but for head.  I'm very impressed.

Flavor 19/20
As difficult as it was to stop sniffing this beer, my mouth wouldn't stop watering and I finally gave in and tasted it.  I was given a smooth salutation from some silky caramel malts, but before long the other flavors begin to slide their way in as well:  pepper, resin, very subdued apple/mango notes, and an undying caramel.  An unusual citrus is present as well presumably from the lemon verbana and/or lemon oil used in the brewing process.  It's definitely a more candied, sugary lemon flavor, but its appearance is not unwelcome.  In fact, this particular type of sweetness goes remarkably well with the caramel sweetness from the malts.  What a fan-freakin'-tastic balance of an intense sweetness and a big, strong bitter.  If held long enough in the mouth the sugary lemon can be easily detected on the tip of the tongue, but eventually transforms into a peppery, resin-laden concoction.  This type of complexity is SO satisfying.  The last two flavors in the mouth (pepper and resin) are a Stone's ridiculously talented way of foreshadowing the finish before it actually happens.  The finish removes 90% of the sweetness that was experienced in the backbone of the beer and instead gives the drinker a bitter, very peppery, resin-dripping, bitter affair that quickly leaves a moderate dryness.  The aftertaste is largely remnants of the bitter, but eventually the entire mouth is salivating for the next gulp.

Mouthfeel 5/5
This beer is a little more than medium-bodied, but made to feel like much more thanks to the buried carbonation and the ridiculous amounts of smoothness that provides.  It is insanely silk relative to its body.  The gads of peppery spice give the illusion of carbonation but make no mistake, any carbonation involved in this bad boy is far beneath the surface.  Warmth is used appropriately and also contributes to the big beer feel of this brew.

Overall Impression 10/10
What's not to like about this?  The balance of sweetness and bitter is fantastic, the mouthfeel is to die for yet avoids being a chore to drink, complexity abounds, and my mouth and nose are left extremely happy.  Some folks could argue that their DIPA has been made too sweet.  I understand that.  Some folks want their IPAs and DIPAs a little more one-sided than others.  For me, this really hit the spot with big flavors on both sides just slugging it out.

Total 49/50
I'm not sure why this beer is rated as low as it is by so many people.  Maybe there are more hopheads out there, who don't like any stupid malts sweetening up their beers, than I had originally assumed.  For me, I dig it.  Not only that, but I didn't find out until much later how much rye Stone used in brewing this beer.  That makes perfect sense!  The pepper spiciness and the earthy bitter now come clearly into focus.  Though admittedly, the bitter was easy to confuse as hops due to... well, the abundance of hops.  This is the second Stone beer in a row that I review that has received a 49/50.  The first was their 10th Aniversary Ruination and while this beer is much less intense than the 10th Anniv Ruination, it should not be overlooked.  ESPECIALLY because of its $7.99 price tag.  This beer is a steal and I can't believe I can still find it on shelves.  Do yourself a favor and take advantage of its wide and plentiful distribution.  You shan't be disappointed.  Good on ya Stone for another variation of the IPA style!!  Happy anniversary and many, MANY more.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Dogfish Head - Punkin Ale (2011)

Hey yo!  A good majority of us in the U.S. craftbeer scene have had the privilidge to enjoy a Dogfish Head Punkin Ale.  It's generally well-received, earning an 88 on and a 90 at RateBeer.  But how well does it age?  Will its 7% ABV have kept it safe throughout the course of one year?  Where ever will we find someone to answer these persistent questions?  Don't worry.  I might know a guy.

If you'd like a little history of DFH's Punkin' Ale, their website has this to say about it,
"Punkin Ale is named after the seriously off-centered southern Delaware extravaganza Punkin Chunkin (check out some of these Discovery Channel videos of Punkin Chunkin, you gotta see it to believe it!). In fact, Punkin Ale made its debut as it claimed first prize in the 1994 Punkin Chunkin Recipe Contest. Yes, that was a full 6 months before we even opened our doors for business!"

Obviously, being DFH's first award (even before they officially opened), gives it a special place in their history.  I'm sure there's a great attatchment and sense of gratitude toward this beer for a great start on a burgeoning business.  Shall we see why this brew received its award back in 1994?  Let's pour!

See the Dogfish even has little fangs for Halloween!  Extra
beer geek points if you noticed this before.
Aroma 11/12
This is very well done and exceptionally balanced.  First to the nose is actually the pumpkin flesh, a nice change from being ambushed by spices as is all too easy to do with this style.  The mix of allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg (as listed on the bottle) are not far behind, but they are presented as rounded and not a sharp kick.  There is also a distant brown sugar that blends very well with the light caramel malts.  This smells like the holidays!  I'm reminded of gingerbread men, but not quite as dark.  As the beer warms, the spice, pumpkin, caramel trifecta is right on the mark, as all three contribute and can easily be detected.

Appearance 3/3
It is several shades lighter than the below photo would indicate, which does not do it justice.  It is a combination of dark gourd hues, a mish-mash of autumnal palette colors, and a rusty amber shade.  Definitely appropriate for the season.  Its bisque head is adequate in size and shows above average retention.  

Flavor 17/20
With almost no introduction the beer rushes in and there is plenty of pumpkin and spice to go around for everyone.  Behind those primary flavors is some nice caramel sweetness and a surprisingly dark tasting malt. There's also an interesting bitter note to balance all the sweetness of the malts & pumpkin - likely contributed by the spices.  As the beer sits in the mouth, all the distractions of the spice, bitter, etc fall away and one is left with a relatively undisturbed, slightly sweet pumpkin flavor.  This isolation is shattered as soon as you swallow.  Immediately, the spices rush back in, practically tripping over themselves to be the first down the throat, and leaving a slight alcoholic warmth in their wake.  The spices and alcohol give the tongue a tingling sensation before transitioning to a rather drying and bitter aftertaste.  The beer as a whole is well-balanced between the dark, almost molasses-like malts and the spices, with the more subtle pumpkin flavors doing their damnedest to keep pace.

 Mouthfeel 5/5
The carbonation is kept at a perfectly subtle level for this beer and leaves most of the prickly sensation in the mouth to be contributed by the spices.  Thankfully the carbonation does give the drinker a fantastic(!) silky foaming action in the mouth.  This combination of low carbonation and nice foaming keeps the beer drinkable, yet substantial.  At 7%, I'm surprised I can sense much of the alcohol warmth at all, but if anyone knows how to expose and utilize an alcohol's warmth, it's Dogfish Head.

Overall Impression 8/10
A nice pumpkin beer!  It definitely does not hide behind its spices.  While said spices are certainly present in this beer, they never dominate the profile.  The aroma is well done in its balance and the mouthfeel is a "best of both worlds" characteristic that could be easily overlooked despite its importance to the beer as a whole.  There's a lot going on at once: spice sensations, spice flavors, pumpkin sweetness, malt flavors, bitterness, foaming action... take some time to appreciate all of it.

Total 44/50
This is a little less robust of a beer than Dogfish Head typically puts out, but they can't all be giant killers now can they?  In other words, it's not a super high ABV, flavor saturated, tongue punching ale to be reckoned with that we're used to seeing from DFH, but who says that's a bad thing.  This is one of the most drinkable DFH beers that I've ever drank and please do not infer that means it's short of flavor.  There is plenty of flavor to be found here, and thank goodness it's not all a Tony Montana-sized desktop coke mountain made of cinnamon and nutmeg.  There was restraint used in making this brew and I appreciate that to no end.  Usually, buying a less-than-powerhouse beer is not why I buy Dogfish Head, but if it can guarantee me an excellent pumpkin ale, then I will make that purchase time and time again.

"If only this were cinnamon and nutmeg..."

Saturday, September 29, 2012

21st Amendment - Hell or High Watermelon

It's that magical time of year when we start delving into some wonderful fruit beers that truly help to welcome in the fall season.  I refer of course to pumpkin, yam, and gourd beers.  Heck, I suppose a few folks are even releasing some cranberry beers, but as I am not a fan of cranberries I will continue to ignore them.  With all these new fruit beers (Yes, guy who knows everything, pumpkins are considered a fruit) being released I figured it was only appropriate to consume my last vestige of summer fruit beers.  Today's review is for 21st Amendment's Hell or High Watermelon.  Besides having a clever name and great can art (as always), I cannot say that I've ever had a watermelon beer before.  Nor have I ever fruited a beer with watermelon.  It just seems weird, which is why it's perfect.  New weird ingredient?  Count me in.  Neat talking point with fellow beer geeks?  Sign me up.  Answering questions with brief affirmations that end in prepositions?  Right on.  Let's pour!

Aroma 7/12
There are no bad smells coming from this beer.  Unfortunately, there are not much for good smells coming from this beer either.  It just sort of... exists.  At first, I got some aromas almost like a distant sour/wild ale and touches of the grain and lemon given by the wheat in the malt beer, but even as the beer warms it never opens.  I smell only the minuscule wheat and none of the sugary sweet watermelon that I expected.

Appearance 1/3
This poured with virtually no head and what did appear hissed away completely in well under ten seconds.  Unacceptable.  It pours a pale, straw yellow color and plenty of sediment has ended up at the bottom of my glass.  It is an unfortunate, drab shade of yellow and this beers sole redeeming visual quality is that any edge of the beer seems to have a slight pinkish tinge to it, as if the glass were outlined with this rosy hue.  It's a good thing we don't drink beer for how it looks.

Flavor 13/20
It starts out with a citrus hint, but is ultimately rather creamy in its initial flavor.  From there we are given a mouthful of the same light citrus and some very faint bitter before the beer settles in a very neutral way in the mouth.  Not too exciting.  Even a wine taster's slurp only manages to bring forward a slightly invigorated version of the light citrus with some grainy malts.  Overall, the citrus, the ever-so-slight bitter, and the yet-to-be-described carbonation combine for a pretty crisp beer, even if it isn't laden with flavor.  Oddly, the flavor picks up slightly in the finish.  We go from a grainy, mild, citrus splashed backbone, to a finish that begins with a very light candy-like sweetness courtesy of the watermelon.  It lingers into the finish before fading away slowly and leaving the mouth with the wheat's grain flavor.  Initially the finish is quenching, but somehow manages to leave the tongue dry as it continues.

Note:  The beer almost has to be room temperature before the watermelon enters the main flavor profile in any significant fashion.  I know it's supposed to be drank in the summer when it's warm out, but sheesh...

Mouthfeel 4/5
This is probably the most sound area of the beer.  It's light in body, well-populated with lively carbonation that dies down appropriately in the mouth, crisp at times, and drying in the finish.  This is one part of the recipe that could be a foundation for them to build up the other areas of the beer.  The mouthfeel has a lot going for it as a summer ale.

Overall Impression 4/10
Ultimately, this beer is average, but if one considers the potential involved having been brewed by 21A plus the fact that there was a cool new flavor involved, it ends up being more disappointing that if one had just been reviewing an average beer to begin with.  Everything save for the mouthfeel seemed to fall far from expectations.  The fruit barely contributes at all, the aroma is bland, and the flavor is grainy and muted.  As mentioned earlier, the mouthfeel shows promise and hopefully 21A continues to build on that cornerstone and surround it with a better base beer, perhaps some citrusy hops to strengthen the citrus of the wheat and the drying characteristic, and a watermelon flavor that is present in more than just the finish.

Total 24/50
Ouch.  To date, I believe this is my lowest score given.  Normally, I have in my mind that even a beer with no faults would score no lower than a 25/50, and that beers with faults (off flavors, off aromas, major style deficiencies) would be scored lower as necessary.  This beer is making me reconsider all of that.  Certainly, it is an average beer.  People who cling firmly to their adjunct lagers would have no problem drinking this beer.  However, my disappointment got the better of me and I had to score it low.  This is 21st Amendment after all!  I think it goes without saying that we expect some pretty premium stuff to flow from their camp (Monk's Blood, anyone?).  For them to put out this offering just seems like they're not trying.  Yes, I'm aware that 400 lbs of watermelon go into each batch.  Yes, I'm aware that this is a light, sessionable brew suitable for summer drinking.  There ARE things going for this beer, they are just grossly outweighed by what doesn't.  I feel a jerk handing down such a negative review without much constructive criticism, but  this beer could really benefit by scrapping it and starting anew.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Stone - Ruination 10th Anniversary

As if Stone's regular version of Ruination wasn't aggressive enough, for their tenth anniversary of the brew they really upped the ante.  The ABV jumps from 7.7% to 10.8% and they used TWICE an much hops in the brewing process (5 lbs/bbl).  That number doesn't even include the pound each of Citra and Centennial used in the drop hopping!  This brings it up to a sadomasochistic 110 IBUs and undoubtedly intoxicating aroma.  I figured this would be a good choice to review today as it should have no issues blasting through to my allergy laden sinuses.  I also selected this brew as Stone is not the only one celebrating an anniversary.  This week was my third wedding anniversary and like Stone's, it will be bitter (just kidding, wife).  My wife may have left town to go to Boston to see her sister and I will be giving her crap about that for the next 50 years even though she is well aware how flexible I am with dates typically reserved for celebration.  All joking aside, I'm very excited to be cracking open this beer (and to be married to such a patient woman).  Let's pour!

Aroma 12/12
On a day where my sinuses seem bent on revolution and forming their own sovereign state, this beer speaks as sweetly to them as any ambassador.  Immediately detectable are pineapple, lemon zest, grapefruit, and pine.  Traveling behind those, in an appropriately viscous manner, is a slow-moving, dank resin and a gooey caramel/toffee combination.  Awesome.  Awesome.  Awesome.  As the beer warms, mandarin oranges show up for the anniversary celebration as well as a hint of alcohol warmth.

Appearance 3/3
What an appropriate color for the newly-arrived fall months.  A cloudy glowing gourd shade of orange fills the glass and exhibits a wonderfully-sized cream colored head.  There's a fair bit of lacing, even if it seems that the weight of the beer would prefer to pull it right back into the glass.

Flavor 20/20
Whoa!  Where to start with this?!  After a gentle wash of caramel sweetness on the tip of the tongue and a playful citrus preview, this beer becomes more bitter than a custody battle.  Over septuplets.  This beer while not defining unbalanced, definitely spoils the hops and lets them get away with murder.  The bitter taste in the backbone of this beer is unlike anything I've ever drank.  It simply permeates everything.  I can't say that the beer is unbalanced, since there are other malt elements at work here.  However, the hops put their own tint on everything as if they were imitating Picasso's Blue Period.  What's especially neat is that the other flavors DO remain detectable, but they are now a "bitter" version of themselves.  Bitter caramel.  Bitter oranges.  Bitter pineapple.  You name the flavor and this beer has transmutated it into something completely different.  The finish is rather like a Wile. E Coyote cartoon, where it experiences an unusual hovering of sweetness before falling promptly into a unrelenting bitter (minus the tiny umbrellas and exclamatory signs).  I should also mention that the bitter involved in all phases of this beer is akin to chewing on an ibuprofen tablet, though much more muted.  It is sharp and commands attention.  The aftertaste is equally unrelenting and the sticky nature of this beer allows it to linger longer than in-laws during the holidays.  I mean, the bitter just goes on.  And on.  It dries the mouth insanely well and one's common sense is challenged when taking another sip, knowing that it was the beer that caused the problem in the first place!

Mouthfeel 5/5
This beer will absolutely coat every surface your mouth like fresh stucco.  You can't get rid of it!  This thick and sticky brew traps the bitter flavors in on your tongue and holds it hostage.  The carbonation is wisely left in the shadows for this brew.  It can be confused with alcohol heat and hop spice in initial sips, but ultimately it serves to add to a silky quality.

Overall Impression 9/10
I am only halfway through this brew and am already aware that this is going to be a battle.  It is just such  a strong brew!  The aroma is powerful, the taste is Herculean, and the body is titanic.  That said, this beer accepts no excuses, but I find myself wishing it were a bit more forgiving.  There are some really beautiful flavors present in this beer, but they are shoved violently into the lockers as the hop bitter and alcohol make their way down the high school hallway of your palate.  I certainly cannot fault this beer for not being flavorful enough.  This beer is intense and only for those experienced in the ways of hops and craft beer.

Overall Impression 49/50
For what it is, this beer earns an appropriately high score.  You want DIPA?  You got DIPA.  In fact, this supersedes DIPA and you could probably give it some new, confusing nomenclature (DIPA+, TRIPA?).  However, when it comes down to it there are other factors at play in this beer and they definitely deserve their time in the spotlight.  Yes, DIPAs and IIPAs need to be somewhat abrasive.  After all, isn't that why we buy them?  While the answer should be yes, this beer makes that decision almost punitive.  This brew is certainly a sipper and is sure to please even the most staunch of hop heads.  It's good for what it is, but I could use a intermission from all its unabashedness.  This beer is a monster and I hate to say it, but it kicked my ass.  Consider my palate ruined, Stone.  You've done your job well.