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.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Half Acre - Ginger Twin

It's time again to review a brew from the Windy City.  This particular beer is made by Half Acre and is called Ginger Twin.  It's an India-style red ale, which is not a style combination that I am familiar with but I always love trying new things and brewers that aren't afraid to put them out there.  Now we all know there are good gingers and bad gingers and I'm hoping this beer leans toward the former and not the latter.  On a side note, I love what Half Acre posted on their blog when this beer first came out.

"Ginger Discount:

*Anyone with God given red hair will be granted an 8% discount on Ginger Twin purchases.
**Anyone with God given red hair and a Longshoremen's beard will be granted a 10% discount on Ginger Twin purchases.
***Identical Twins will be granted a 15% discount on Ginger Twin Purchases
****Identical Twins with God given red hair will be granted a 25% discount on Ginger Twin purchases.
*****Identical Twins with God Given red hair and Longshoremen's beards will be granted a special treat (each) and 50% off additional Ginger Twin purchases.

(The Ginger Discount only valid at the Half Acre Beer Emporium located at the Half Acre Brewery & World Headquarters. 4257 N. Lincoln Ave Chicago, IL)"

I mean, c'mon, how kick ass is that?  Nothing like a brewery that shows a little personality.  Let's pour!

Aroma 10/12
The aroma is entirely that of a sturdy IPA, full of pine, grass, with lesser resin and grapefruit notes.  There is a spicing that happens even behind that and ties everything together rather nicely.  I am not able to detect any of the red malts through all the hops.  Also, the aroma of this beer is only of a moderate intensity even with all those delicious scents inside.

Appearance 3/3
I love the look of this beer.  The color is whimsically true to it's name and emulates perfectly the ginger beards depicted on its label.  The head is as aggressive as you pour it, showed superior retention, a light maize color, and left extreme lacing all over my glass.  I'm looking forward to this being a sticky, delicious beer.

Flavor 18/20
Well, the malts certainly make their presence know in the initial sips of this beer.  They barge in the door like a student late for class.  They are the dry, biscuity, crisp malts that I love to see in a good pale ale, but not the caramel-like and/or lightly toasted malts that I expect to see in a good red ale.  If anything it shows flashes of the light buttery flavor that can sometimes accompany a red ale, but I'm afraid that's as close as it gets.  Virtually no malt sweetness is present.  The backbone of the beer brings out some of the brighter citrus from the aroma and can be downright sweet on the tip of the tongue.  Hoppy herbal spiciness is present, but not overbearing and complements the resin nicely.  All of this is overseen by a moderate bitter tinge.  To get any sense of the sweet malts used in this brew, you must give it a wine taster's slurp.  This brings a super rich combination of resin and caramel rushing to your tastebuds and you'd swear you were sipping on some big ol' DIPA!  The finish is again biscuity and crisp, but features a nice bitter with it.  It also shows off the body of this beer remarkably well.

Note:  The caramel becomes more detectable as a general sweetness toward the bottom of the bottle. is there a real reason for this?  Is it my imagination?  Is my palate simply become acclimated to the hops and able to more easily detect other flavors?  I find this odd since usually the malts are more present than hops at colder temperatures and as the beer warms, usually it is the hop aromas/flavors that open up.

Mouthfeel 5/5
This is nice and smooth in the mouth, a neat contrast from the crisp bitter flavors in this beer.  The carbonation is just about perfect.  It keeps the beer drinkable and refreshing in spite of the silky, bitter brew in which it resides.

Overall Impression 8/10
This is a very tasty beer that I would not hesitate to drink again, but it's a stretch to call this a red ale, even an India-style red ale.  Simply put, it lacks almost any of the sweetness that one can expect to encounter when drinking a red ale.  Even if this is a beer that is not at its freshest, I would've expected the hops to deteriorate and not the malts!  The sweetness in the malts only becomes easily detectable when the beer is slightly below room temperature.  To its credit, this beer has a delicious, yet less-than-robust aroma and a mouthfeel that keeps you drinking.  As an IPA, its pretty damn good!

Total 44/50
I'd not be afraid to give this brew a solid B on it's report card.  I'd also tell its parents at conferences that it could really be something if it just applied itself... to the style it intended to be.  I'm sure that Half Acre with all their brewing prowess could quite easily squeeze some more sweet, malty goodness into this bottle and truly set it apart as a red.  Heck, as it stands it's one helluva IPA, so with some small tweaks to make it a true a red ale it would easily fall into my top 5, even top 3.  After all, there's really nothing to complain about.  It's flavorful, shows good aroma, insane lacing, and is surprisingly drinkable even with its smooth body and bitter flavors.  I can easily and happily recommend it as an IPA.  Those who love and respect the red ale style might be a tad disappointed by the lack of sweet malts.  However, one can only be so disappointed when they're looking for one thing and find an equally pleasing substitute.  It reminds me of an Emerson quote:

"If we shall take the good we find, asking no questions, we shall have heaping measures."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, September 13, 2012

New Glarus - Coffee Stout

Well, gang it was the first blustery, cold day of the season and that put me in the mood for a stout.  Also, today the Chicago Bears play the Green Bay Packers and I'm going to need a good, sturdy beer to fuel me through that 60 minutes of intense rivalry.  Not that I'm a fan of either team (go 49ers!), but I always enjoy watching a hard fought game.  Football aside, I have no idea how long this beer has been in my fridge.  I assume somewhere around the 18 month mark.  It's not one that New Glarus currently brews and they currently have it listed in their "Beers We Have Known and Loved" section on their webpage.  I don't know if they'll brew it again, but I sure hope so because it's a solid go-to offering when it's available.  Let's pour!

Aroma 11/12
This is an absolute truck load of delicious malts.  Chocolate comes first, is followed by some smoke, and a lovely dark roast.  The coffee is very muted until the beers warms to an appropriate level and then... Look. Out.  The aroma almost doubles in intensity and richness as a rich, dark coffee jumps out of the glass and all but covers the chocolate.  

Appearance 3/3
A gravity-defying tan head floats atop an all but completely black beer.  True to its name, only some coffee-toned browns are visible at the top most edge when the beer is held to light.  The head offers excellent size and retention.

Flavor 17/20
A surprising sweetness starts this beer.  It's a much brighter sweetness from the malts than one would expect in a coffee stout and feels like a combination of chocolate and black malts, but also gives a hint of lactose as in a milk stout.  The beer then flashes the palate some rich coffee goodness before fading gradually back to a smoother blend between the coffee and the darkly roasted chocolate/mocha malts.  A nice light char has been overseeing this whole process and making its presence known throughout - another nice layer of flavor complexity.  The finish again provides that lighter, brighter malt sweetness and mixes it with the coffee, which seems to rob the brew of some of its richness.  There's plenty of coffee flavor, it just doesn't seem as bold and dark as it could be.

Mouthfeel 3/5
This category is clearly the weakest part of the beer.  One generally expects a thicker, chewier experience in their stouts.  The label claims this beer to be "full-bodied," but it's medium-bodied at best.  If it is truly a full-bodied, then it is done a gross disservice by both its boisterous carbonation and the coffee.  As in the aroma, the coffee pushes the malts around in every aspect of this beer and mouthfeel is no exception.  The big chocolate malts are made to feel thinner by the coffee, just as a glass of chocolate milk would suffer a lighter body if you poured an iced coffee into it.

Overall Impression 8/10
The lightening of key elements by the coffee is truly the beers Achilles' Heel.  When the beer is cold the malts are quite impressive and shine on their own, AND there is a point in the temperature transition that is ideal where both of these elements embrace each other and absolutely sing in harmony.  However, past that point, the coffee sandbags what could be a remarkable beer.  Not that it's short on flavor by any means!  It has loads of flavor, unfortunately it's all too easy to see what this beer could be.

Total 42/50
For a beer sold in a six-pack, it's definitely one to purchase.  Heck, the aroma alone is almost worth the price of admission.  As indicated in the previous paragraph, my main problem resides where the coffee meets the malt.  A coffee stout needs to have that big body to carry the big flavors.  That in mind, a coffee stout should always be malt-based with coffee added and not appear to be coffee-based with malts added.  That in mind, this is a super tasty stout that I have enjoyed, and will continue to enjoy, if and when it becomes available, on a number of occasions.  The lighter mouthfeel and carbonation keep it ridiculously drinkable for a stout with this much flavor, but the char and coffee give it enough bitter so that it falls far short of being a lackluster brew.  I don't know when New Glarus is planning on brewing this again, but it would be a welcome addition to any fridge for the fall season.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Shmaltz - Hop Manna

I don't really know what to say about this beer as I haven't yet heard much about it.  Though I have been impressed with other Shmaltz offerings, such as their Coney Island Lager and their collaboration with Terrapin, the Reunion Ale.  In any case, I approach this beer with nothing but an open mind as I really don't have any other choice.  Well, the label says that it's dry-hopped with the Big 3C of hops (Centennial, Cascade, & Citra), so I suppose I should expect a really nice aroma, right?  One way to find out.  Let's pour!

Aroma 10/12
When the beer is colder than the desired serving temperature, almost all the major players in the aroma come from the malts.  It starts with straw and some neutral, body-giving malts, but also finds caramel and rich dark bread.  As it warms the hops begin to do their thing.  A pine is first, but it is made fresher and more crisp by a light citrus backdrop.  Grass is also easily detectable in this really nice blend of cohesive scents courtesy of a dry-hopping with Centennial, Cascade, and Citra hops.  Despite being dry-hopped, this aroma eventually settles into a pine-forward balance.  Well done.

Appearance 3/3
This beer falls into the glass in a handful or orange and siennas with some citrine accents on the bottom.  Sorry, normally I try to abstain from obscure color references, let alone multiple ones, but those are the colors that come first to mind.  It's capped off by a nice cream-colored head that shows adequate size and retention.

Flavor 17/20
I may have misspoke about the sweetness in the aroma.  Granted, a large portion of it is going to come from the dry-hopping, but now I'm questioning how large a contribution the malts made because they make virtually no contribution to the flavor's sweetness.  Normally, in an IPA one expects a sweet initial wash of flavor to counter the pending hops.  Not in this brew.  It begins with hop bitters and the neutral 2-row malts detected in the aroma.  When sitting in the mouth, I find the beer does just that - sit.  There's not a lot of flavor transition here.  The malts add some biscuity goodness, which adds a nice crispness to a style than can quickly become far too sweet, and there are some grassy hops with a citrus tinge, but that's about it.  This is closer to a pale ale/APA than an IPA in my book.  The finish is essentially a continuation of the backbone - dry, bisuity malts and a citrus backsplash - but for the first time we are shown a bit of the resin and it is a welcome arrival.

Mouthfeel 5/5
The 2-row malts give a nice body, as expected, and the carbonation stays largely out of the way, keeping this beer smooth, appropriately-bodied, and very drinkable.  The 6.8% ABV is never a factor.

Overall Impression 8/10
For an IPA, especially one entitled "Hop Manna," this brew comes across as a little light as far as hops are concerned.  Certainly, not a bad beer, but could easily make a name for itself in the craft beer world with a bit more "oomph."  It has a great, ever-changing aroma and a solid mouthfeel, but the flavor didn't knock me out for a 22 oz. bomber bragging about its hops.

Total 42/50
Now, I may have been a little negative about this beer and its lack of hops, however, it is far from a bad beer.  In fact, as a pale ale or even a APA this beer would rival anything on the market, ranking right up beside such powerhouses as Three Floyds' Alpha King.  As it stands, the hops were not nearly aggressive enough (faded?) and the beer didn't offer that IPA malty sweetness.  I'll remember this brew as a remarkable pale ale and recommend it to people as such.  It might not have been what Shmaltz was aiming for, but they hit a target nonetheless.  L'Chaim!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Oskar Blues - Deviant Dales

The first time I had Deviant Dales was at a bar in Washington D.C. called Elephant & Castle Pub and they were charging $12 for a pint can.  I was desperate to try it for the first time and so I splurged and got a can.  I did not regret that action.  Today, I am finally reviewing Deviant Dales as part of "/r/beerblogs" community on Reddit.  In a rather neat idea, a bunch of bloggers are reviewing it together and then posting/sharing the results with each other.  Since it was the first time we've tried something like this, the response wasn't exactly overwhelming.  However, such things will be tried again and I look forward to more community interactions and discussions with fellow beer bloggers.  If you're interested in finding more on the Reddit community for beer blogs you can check that out by clicking here.

Also, as a side note Oskar Blues is one of my favorite breweries and I have yet to be disappointed by their offerings.  Their Ten Fidy is one of my favorite stouts ever and their Old Chub scotch ale is out of this world.  If, for some strange reason, you are still not a believer that good things can come in cans, Oskar Blues is out to prove you wrong.  Buy some and try it.  You won't regret it.  But now... on to the Deviant Dale's!  Let's pour!

Aroma 11/12
So many hop aromas at once!  The nose is initiated with a blend of pine and pineapple, but the pineapple soon reveals itself to be a citrus medley full of pineapple, grapefruit, lemon, and some cleansing grassy notes. As you can imagine, it makes for a rather tart hop profile.  Resin enters the picture fashionably late, arrogantly aware of its own importance.  Malts at this point are a muted brown sugar flavor.  However, the sweetness blends so well with the sweet hop aromas and the malt aromas are so distant in this hop-forward beer, that the malts are hard to define even at a proper serving temperature.

Appearance 3/3
This is a B-E-A-U-tiful beer.  When held to light it's a sunset in a glass.  When set on a table it's rusty, dusty orange-red.  When held in front of you, those oranges seem to glow from within, as if there were embers on the very bottom of the glass.  The head was about a finger thick of a dense, orange-pastel colored foam.  It was a great look to top off an already great looking beer!

Flavor 19/20
The first few sips seem dominated by resin in most phases of the beer until the tongue becomes a bit more acclimated and then other flavors become more apparent.  The initial flavors are a rush of resin over a caramel malt that is desperate to be heard.  The primary flavors of the beer slowly fall into place as a big, fat, sweet caramel note shares a park bench with an equally large resin bitter.  The two arrange a really nice, if not precarious, balance with support from some sweet lemon citrus (now appearing caramelized thanks to the malts) and, if held long enough in the mouth, a spicy hop note as well.  Giving this beer a wine-tasters' slurp shifts those flavors into "Ludicrous Speed" and is super intense.  Also, as this beer warms beyond proper serving temp, the peppery hops really come forward and add an interesting tingle to the existing bitter.  Eventually the malts fade away entirely and the hops are left to their own devices to start the finish.  The finish offers little except a reprise of the bitter before the beer slides lazily down the throat, leaving the mouth bitter and the back of the throat slick.

For those not understanding the Ludicrous Speed reference.

Mouthfeel 5/5
The loads of sweet malt let this beer slide over the tongue and provide for no foaming action in the mouth, even when given a slight swish.  The carbonation is minimal, but what is present speaks loudly.  This gives the impression of more carbonation that is actually present, but without disrupting the smooth, heavy mouthfeel.  Well done.  The 8.0% ABV is really only present in a minor way during the finish and otherwise remains unseen.

Overall Impression 10/10
I really like this beer.  It's a chewy, thick, sweet, bitter slap to the tastebuds that leaves you wanting another can.  In fact, I just opened another can.  I wish the hop flavors were a bit stronger in order to offer a bit more complexity to the "caramel vs. resin" battle, but it's still a damn good beer all the same.  This is a big beer that's worth the price of admission.

Total 48/50
Did any of us really doubt the deliciousness that would be present in an "upper echelon" Oskar Blues product?  It has a great aroma, gargantuan flavors, a big smooth body to carry them, and a deceptive ABV. "Well, if it has all those characteristics why didn't you give it a perfect 50," asked both people reading.  Fair question.  Frankly, I thought the aroma was just short of amazing.  It is certainly delicious and definitely delectable, but fell short of me rolling my eyes and uttering an expletive.  Also, as mentioned earlier I felt that the hop flavors were under utilized.  Certainly a few hop flavors are present like pine and citrus, but they are an afterthought compared to the giant bitter and caramel notes.  They've certainly added hops at the beginning and the end of the boil, but it seems that the "flavor" issuance of hops received the short straw.  Or maybe the sweet flavors of hops are being usurped by the sweet malts.  Or maybe the freshness has something to do with it.  These beers were canned on 4-03-2012, making them about 5 months old.  Looks like they're a little older than I thought.  I imagine that given a fresh can, this could be a perfect score.  I'll just have to find a fresh can... just to be sure.  This is definitely a premier IPA and not to be missed.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Mikkeller - I Hardcore You

I enjoyed the description of this beer from the Brewdog Blog so much that I'm just going to quote it here,

"I Hardcore You is a 9.5% Imperial India Pale Ale, an international collaborative effort between 2 of Europe's most rock 'n roll brewers. This beer is a blend of BrewDog’s Hardcore IPA and Mikkeller’s I Beat You. After the blending, the beer was then dry hopped a further twice. Making I Hardcore You a beer which has been dry hopped four times, or maybe even six times. We kinda lost count."

Oh, and from what I can tell, this was a one-time brew collaboration between the two that was originally brewed back in mid-2010, but recently enjoyed a resurgence in May of 2012.  I appreciate Mikkeller more every time and drink it and while my experience with Brew Dog is limited, I haven't been disappointed yet.  Let's pour!

Aroma 11/12
There's a great citrus blend happening here and rushes out as soon as the cap is pried.  At first the nose is sweet with honey, but in short time the citrus blend harmonizes with it and the results are splendid.  The citrus fruits are pineapple, lemon, and some lesser mandarin oranges.  There is a funk behind it all that comes across as a bit earthier than normal and some distant hop notes of grass and a little spice.  The beer begins to warm a bit and that funk note from earlier has started to open into a full resiny blossom.  It never overtakes the citrus/honey blend, but it is a concentrated, dark smell that hopefully translates into a big, hoppy flavor.  Other aromas are hints of the alcohol and a toffee-like malt that blends so well with the sweet hops that it is difficult to nail down what exactly it smells like.

Appearance 2/3
This beer pours and sits in the glass the color of dark honey.  It is an all-but-opaque cloudy glass full of orange-browns and rusty hues.  The head was fairly long lasting, a nice almond color, and possessed a nice fluffy texture.  While one can't give it points for a range of color, it certainly looks ominous and give the impression that this IIPA means business.

Flavor 18/20
It definitely does not start out as sweet as the aroma, but with a lot of dry-hopping I suppose that's to be expected.  However, sweetness is still the first characteristic detected.  It's more of the toffee from the aroma, but with a bright citrus note immediately behind and trying to upstage it at every chance it gets.  The toffee persists its way into the backbone of the beer and refuses to be tamed.  The brown-sugary toffee has some competition from some orange zest, an early splash of pine, and some resin but nothing that threatens its crown.  As the beer sits in the mouth the resin bitter becomes stronger as does an earthy note from the hops and both lead to a more complex finish.  The beer washes down with a mixture of orange and caramel, but not without a strong earthy note and some pepper.  The aftertaste is lingering earthy resin which trumps the alcohol by leaving the mouth watering and not dry.

Mouthfeel 5/5
Very smooth and extremely full-bodied, in true IIPA fashion this beer offers very little carbonation to play on the tongue.  The alcohol is mostly camouflaged throughout the beer, becoming noticeable in only the aroma and the aftertaste.  Feels like a big ol' IIPA should.

Stolen directly from the BrewDog website.
Overall Impression 8/10
While this beer wasn't as laden with hop flavor as I had imagined, the balance in it was impressive.  This wasn't a hop bomb, though it certainly is hoppy.  It was more of a huge, balanced, IPA.  The malts were definitely sweet and served their purpose, but I feel the hop FLAVORS (not their aroma nor their bitter) suffered in turn.  In the same vein, while this beer balanced the malt and the hops well, it never really bothered to blend them except in the aroma.  It's more of a meeting of the "immovable object" and the "unstoppable force" instead of a cohesive blend between these two powerhouse flavors.  That said, it's still remarkably tasty and I'd easily like to have a few bottles on hand for a rainy day.

Total 44/50
I'm pretty sure I said in all in the "Overall Impression" section.  This beer is big, tasty, hoppy, and sweet.  The aroma is fantastic and seems to blend all the good things that are happening in this beer.  Unfortunately, for the flavor, the blending is not as successful.  It's like two semis colliding in your mouth; the results are pretty kick ass, but I can't help but wonder what this beer would've been like had the two powerhouses decided to work together.  The aroma shows it can be done - those flavors go great together!  Now it's just a matter of getting these two great breweries to tweak the recipe ever so slightly before the next release of I Hardcore You.  Right brewmasters?  Next release?  Eh?  Hopefully we can all see this again in two years.

Also stolen.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Midwest Brewers Fest 2012

In case you couldn't tell, I was super pleased with the 2011 MWBF and it had me pretty excited for the 2012 experience.  All the previews and information looked good.  Would it live up to expectations?  Let's find out.

Shuttles were running like crazy, taking fest-goers from parking to the festival entrance.  A nice touch.  Heck, even the line was made enjoyable as I saw Dan from Chicago Beer Geeks, Mark Hedrick founder of The Brew Shed, and even had my logo recognized twice (it was emblazoned on the t-shirt I was wearing)!  This year I had VIP access and I was granted access to the grounds an hour early.  The setting was remarkably serene.  Blue skies, some green grass despite the drought, and also this guy...

I didn't find out until after some digging that this guy is called "Jack Avery's Kin."  It was really chill, acoustic music with an early American sound that definitely set a nice vibe for those entering the fest.  You can check out more about him here.  I'm not getting paid or anything to endorse this guy, I just happen to dig his sound.

Talk about your gorgeous days to have a festival!  It eventually got a little hot, but even that was tamed by a later breeze.  The fest was not to be thwarted!

People I Met
In the same vein as last year, I met a ton of good folks.  Some were folks I hadn't seen in a while and some were entirely new to me.  Again, it proved to be one of the most exciting parts of the fest.  As always, I had a great time with the crew that came with me.

Everyone else that I'm about to post pictures of I have met ENTIRELY because of the Sud Savant website. I either met them via the Twitterverse, at a festival, through Facebook, or because they were a reader who started a conversation or two.  It's a great testament to craft beer folks and the community that they create every day.

Of course Lance was there.

I got to see Master Steve again of Misfit Brewing and met Ashleigh from Two Brothers.  Ashleigh and I had a great conversation about craft beer (what else?) and only wish I had a digital recorder present because it turned out that it would've been a great interview.  A project for another time, no doubt.  She even started up a conversation with my wife about craft beer (the subject of cupcakes may also have been breached).

Second annual photo with Darien (a.k.a. "Utilikilt")

I even got to bother/re-shake hands with  Marty Nachel and bugged him for a picture as the poor man was just trying to sit down for some food! Though I must confess, I liked it better last year when he was administering tests about beer knowledge and giving us crap for our answers.

There was even a guy there dressed as Ben Franklin!
Unfortunately, there were also some people that I met for the first time and somehow did NOT get a picture with them.  I finally met Facebook craft beer cohort Pete Bochek and  The Brew Shed  founder Mark Hedrick!  While there were no photos this time, I'm sure our paths will cross again.

   VIP Perks

Inside the VIP tent.
This is the first festival that I have attended as a VIP and there are certain pros and cons to such an experience.  The pros were as you'd expect:  much-needed, complimentary bottled water, a spacious, shaded tent with plenty of seating (shown above)...

some classy table decor,

A VIP exclusive pouring schedule (click to enlarge),

And a perk one might not expect... ALL THE BAR-B-QUE YOU CAN EAT!  It was hosted by Brand BBQ and it was delicious!  The meats were tender, the sauces were delicious, and the servers were fast.  What more do you want?  The "burnt ends" sandwich was my particular favorite.

The VIP ticket was also redeemable for a souvenir glass.
Truth be told I had very few issues with the VIP tent, but there were some things to be improved upon.  First, for a VIP tent I thought that the lines were a little long.  Perhaps I'm being sensitive, but I feel an additional volunteer pourer or two (or even an additional pouring station) could really have sped things up an improved the process.  Second, many of the "special pours" were beers that I would have no trouble finding in a local beer store.  I know it's hard to find the quantity they did, but I'd be willing to sacrifice some of that for some beers that I've either never heard of or never tasted before.  Third, there was no where that a VIP could simultaneously smoke a cigar a get a beer.  Sure, there was a designated smoking area right next to the VIP tent, but the VIP tent was the only area in which the "no smoking" was enforced.  Granted, I support this.  You don't want a big, smokey tent when you're trying to taste amazing beer.  However, any of the general admission tents did not have this problem.  You stood in line with your cigar, received your pour, and got out.  Maybe since the rest of the festival was so much more of an open air environment that it wasn't as large of an issue, but it was the one time I felt penalized for having a VIP ticket.  When it came down to it, we cashed our cigars early and went in to the VIP tent to get more beers.  We have our priorities after all.

General Perks
Speaking of cigars, the cigar booth was again rocking this year and was another great source of tasty vices.

Promise not to tell my mom.
Photographic evidence of a successful day.
Besides the cigars, the festival as a whole had a ton going for it.

1.  There were no rest room lines.  Ever.  Plenty of toilets in plenty of locations.
2.  The extra beer from the VIP "special pours" were brought out to that brewery's spot in the general admission area.  Double awesome!  Talk about some unexpected surprises for a few lucky fest goers.  I actually ended up getting some Sixpoint Resin that way.
3.  Gorgeous grounds of course.

4.  There were some glass blowers/spinners there again this year making custom glasses from old beer bottles.

This is the gadget they used to heat the glass.
5.  Some pretty cool vintage beer shirts for sale.

6.  Plenty of rinsing stations!  There were 2 per tent and they had golf carts coming around regularly to make sure they were still full.  The kegs were full of cold, filtered water that really hit the spot on the hot day.

7.  Free samples of food from Whole Foods!  Just like they rocked it last year with their chocolate covered bacon, this year they were handing out bread that you could dip in a Gruyere & Gouda fondue.  Wow!  There was also some sort of mustard that they were offering, but I was unable to try any of it.

8.  Speakers in the Chicago Craft Brew Werks Tent (a.k.a. Craft Beer 101 Tent) were insanely well-informed, well-spoken, and more than accommodating for questions.  I didn't get to see all of the speakers, but the ones I dropped in for were a real treat.  This is a really undervalued portion of the fest.

9.  Even the general admission area had plenty of space for sitting in some shade in between beers.

Winners and Losers
1.  B. Nektar Meadery absolutely ROCKED IT!!  The line for their tent was massive once word spread how friggin' delicious their brews are.  They truly built on their success from last year and were easily the celebrity of the day.  Their Cherry Chipotle was out of this world!  Hopefully, my good karma will let me get my hands on a bottle soon and I can do a full write-up on it.  What a beautiful, beautiful mead!  It began with a sugary cherry nectar, not the tart cherry flavors most commonly seen, and then flows into this spicy, roasted beautiful mixture that still incorporates the thick, sweet cherries from earlier.  If you see this, buy it.  No question about it.  The heat is quite a bit more substantial that most beers that involve chipotles.  You have been warned.

This picture is taken from the back of the line, which has
started to curve, full of people who want B. Nektar Mead.
2.  Big Muddy's Pumpkin Smasher was truly outstanding.  It is the closest beer to pumpkin pie that I have ever had.  It had a great nose and was a great blend of sweet gourd and milder spices.  It even featured some malts that gave a very "crust-like" charateristics!

3.  Gilbert's Sausages.  I enjoyed these guys so much last year that I HAD to have some again this year. Put it this way, as good as the FREE bar-b-que was in the VIP tent, I still shelled out $5 to take a bite outta one of these.  Boy am I glad I did because they brought a new sausage variety.  Just for me, I'm sure.

Does that not sound insanely delicious?
4.  5 Rabbbit Cerveceria.  Not only did they serve their beers from behind a super fancy podium with a built in rinser (see below picture), but they were also serving some damn tasty beer!  The most notable was their "5 Grass," a 'hoppy ale brewed with sage, juniper, and Tazmanian pepperberry.'  It smelled of lemongrass and juniper, but the flavor was slighty minty and refreshing with a bitter finish.  It had the flavor of pepper, but no heat.  Very interesting and certainly unique.

5.  Oskar Blues.  They were pouring cans of Deviant Dales.  'Nuff said.

6.  Alltech's Lexington Brewing Company.  This is the second time that I've had their Kentucky Bourbon Ale and both times I've been impressed.  It smells like it should and tastes even better.  Tons of bourbon flavor that eventually invites in some crème brûlée notes.

7.  Sixpoint.  They brought three big, hop-forward beers, but still showed definite distinctions between them. It just goes to show how nuanced a brewer can be with hops.  Kudos!

8.  John Henry - 3 Lick Spiker Ale.  Brewed by Cold Spring Brewing Co, this brand is new to the area, but is a welcome and tasty addition.  The aroma was rather light, though that could have been the breeze, but the flavor was sweet and full of chocolate, oak, with a nice bourbon flourish.  It's worth a try kids.  Check it out.

1.  Horny Goat from WI didn't bring enough beer!  They ran out pretty early in the fest AND didn't show up for one of their "special pours" in the VIP tent.  For shame!  They really could have showcased their product to a lot more people.  Granted, there's something good to said about running out, but still...

2.  Criminals.  There seemed to be a heightened number of police, but I never saw any actual crimes.  There were no fights, no vomiting/passed-out people, no nudity, etc.  Everyone seemed really well-behaved, so why all the strong presence?

Wow, well that turned into a much longer post than I anticipated.  And I pretty much covered everything except the other musical acts, the bags tournament, and the contest that Marty Nachel judged.  It was a seemingly short day that captured all of the great aspects they incorporated into last year's fest:  good food, good fair grounds, good folks, and plenty of craft beer.  It was definitely a success and something I look forward to attending in the coming years.