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.