Wednesday, May 30, 2012

New Glarus - Hop Hearty

New Glarus seems to be locally known more for their general line-up of beer, but the national acclaim tends to come from their fruit beers and rightly so.  Their fruit beers (Raspberry Tart & Wisconsin Belgian Red) are two of the most authentic fruit beers you will find.  Their authenticity does not allow them to become "candied" or an excessive sugary sweet.  In any case, when New Glarus temporarily shifted gears to put out a seasonal that emphasized hops instead of fruits (Apple Ale, Cherry Stout, Cran-bic, etc), I definitely took notice.  Today's review is for said hoppy beer, New Glarus' Hop Hearty IPA.  I have possessed it for a while, but I don't believe long enough for the hops notes to wither away entirely, even if it is certainly not as it was when fresh.  Let's pour!

Aroma 11/12
This begins with some stronger straw notes with a little bit of must behind it.  As the beer warms, the hops emerge more and more in an acidic citrus that is both cleansing and fresh, an odd (but not unwelcome) departure already from the previous aroma.  Things continue to impress as an authentic "freshly ground grain" aroma grows strong and joins with the hops.  When I say grain, I mean "exactly like those little dishes they pass around on brewery tours so that everyone can smell the grains."  It's obviously not as intense, but the scent is as unmistakable as it is delicious.  The clean hops and the fresh grain both give this beer an amazingly balanced and natural smell.

Appearance 3/3
A nice, light tan head arises to an acceptable level, retains well, and slowly settles to cover the surface.  The beer itself is quiet striking.  It pours a bright copper with pumpkin shades within, but with a red tinge to the whole works.  Very neat.  For an IPA, however, the lacing is disappointing.

Flavor 18/20
Things begin with a distant hop bitter, but quickly move into a brighter hop citrus melding with a caramel's sweetness.  The hops make the caramel appear more sugary than it perhaps truly is, but the combination is truly balanced, even if it's not at all what one normally expects in an IPA.  This is not remarkably complex, but it is ridiculously well done.  The finish brings a bit more of the authentic grain into play and also leaves a light bitter that coats the mouth.  The aftertaste is almost entirely clean and with only a hint of the grain left in the mouth, you'd swear the light bitter was from it and not hops.  For an IPA, there is very little hop presence here, but they really make it work.

Mouthfeel 5/5
Nothing wrong here.  In fact, this brew's body and carbonation only further contribute to this beer's incredibly refreshing nature.  Its body is not so thick like other IPAs, nor its carbonation far and few between to help add to that illusion.  On the contrary, its body (medium/medium-full) seems lighter than the flavors would have you believe and the carbonation is anything but sparse, yet diminuative so as not to disrupt the beer as a whole.  Combine those two characteristics with the fresh citrus and natural grain and you've got yourself a most refreshing, natural feeling beer.

Overall Impression 10/10
This is a departure from a lot of IPAs on the market and, oddly, a seeming return to the roots of the style.  It truly seems like a beefed up pale ale!  There is a light, refreshing, nature to it from the citrus, carbonation, and strong grainy malts, but the hop presence is more than is required of a pale ale.  If you're a regular reader, you know my descriptions can be pretty lengthy.  Not for this beer.  Each paragraph is short and succinct thanks to this beer's simple, well-brewed nature.  What a great, refreshing beer!

Total 46/50
Fresh, non-syrupy, and with great balance this IPA is one that is not going to feel like a chore to drink on a hot, summer day.  The hops aren't even heavy-handed.  They're presented wondrously in a balanced beer that is sure to please those looking for more than to be beaten over the head with a sack of hops (though that does sound like the best punishment ever).  If this is still around (Note: I haven't been to Wisconsin in a while), go buy it.  It's a great IPA that doesn't skimp on flavor to deliver a balanced, tasty, refreshing, true to style, bottle of goodness.  While it's not quite the aroma powerhouse that some other New Glarus beers are, this just became one of my favorites from them regardless.  I'll be looking for this again!  Cheers!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Stone - Vertical Epic Ale 11.11.11

For those that do not know the history of Stone's Vertical Epic project, here's the scoop:  Stone has been releasing a new beer on each day where the month, day, and year are all the same number.  It began on February 2nd, 2002 (02.02.02) and will end this year on 12.12.12 (though the release dates are slightly different than the actual date of the bottle).  They are designed to be enjoyed in a vertical tasting (a progressive, side-by-side type format) when 12.12.12 is released or slightly thereafter.  Needless to say, it requires a lot of patience to hold out that long and it requires a long time dedication to craft beer.  It's a very cool idea and it has waited a long time to come to fruition.  Since I have another bottle of the 11.11.11, I'll still have one for a little vertical tasting session of my own.  But that's later, let's taste now!  Let's pour!

Aroma 10/12 
Fairly simple, but enjoyable nonetheless.  The chiles are first and foremost, but far from overbearing.  In a pleasant twist, they not only give the beer a spiciness and heat, but also the aroma of the actual vegetable.  I like that a lot!  There is a dull sweetness behind the chiles, like a rich, sweet bread made with brown sugar.  Also, there is a brighter sweetness even behind that.  It is somewhat fruitlike, but extremely difficult to discern.  Perhaps it is the Belgian yeast used in the brewing process?

Appearance 3/3
The head was right around one finger and a lighter color of the beer beneath.  The brew itself is mahogany and dirty copper with some very attractive red and magenta shades when held to light.

Flavor 18/20
This is a most unusual brew!  Things start off very salty in the mouth.  It's nowhere close to seawater, but the shock was just about the same.  A cinnamon splash follows immediately after along with a bit of the vegetable chile flavor, and then things simmer down a bit into a more mellow, sweet backbone.  The blend of caramel, cinnamon, and spice is almost like a Hispanic dessert of sorts.  There is also an unusual, brighter sweetness on the tip of the tongue, like grapes or honey.  The chiles are adding a lot of flavor at this point, but not much heat or spice as of yet.  The finish is a resurgance of the chiles in all of its characteristics: vegetable flavor, spice, and a smidge of heat.  It also refuses to let go of that cinnamon laden sweetness and so the combination of malts and chiles continues through to the end, but not without a dash of boozy goodness.  Holding this beer in the mouth really lets the cinnamon and darker malt flavors come out, but a quicker swallow yields a tangier, sweetness.  Very interesting.  The aftertaste is fairly clean despite all the spices and heat, but the beer does leave the mouth sticky.

Mouthfeel 4/5
Even the very end of this bottle has adequate carbonation to prevent the bigger flavors from becoming a chore to imbibe.  The carbonation is plentiful and tiny, but never intrudes on the palate and lets those bigger flavors do their thing.  It is simply there as a balancing act; never intruding as a main character nor attempting to steal the show.  The touch of warmth in the finish was the only time the 9.4% ABV showed itself and it was a welcome addition.

Overall Impression 9/10
This is definitely one of the better chile beers that I have had.  And yes, I call it a chile beer even though it is technically categorized as a Belgian Strong Dark Ale (even if it does lack the aggressive carbonation to be considered such).  It does not back down from the chile flavors, like so many others.  Other beers seem to just barely add the roasted pepper notes and an amount of heat that only a gringo could detect.  Stone adds more than an average amount of heat (though still far from aggressive) and does not back down from the authentic, vegetable flavors of the chile pepper.  Also, while it incorporates the "boilerplate" ingredient of Hispanic themed beers, cinnamon, it also chooses to shake things up by putting the cinnamon and chiles in with a Belgian Flanders Golden Ale yeast.  It's very creative, very unique, and very tasty.

Total 44/50
I wish that this were not a one time release by Stone.  Or at the very least that it gives them the confidence to brew a seasonal (or dare I say, year round) chile beer.  This is very well done and better than almost any other chile beer I've had to date (that crown still belongs to a local brewery, Bent River).  The heavier body is nice, the carbonation is present but unobtrusive, the sweetness is present to balance the chiles, and the chiles are *gasp* actually present in more than just a wisp of a roasted note buried deep in the beer.  I love the authentic chile flavor in this!  It gives this beer a definite leg up.  If you have a extra bottle, go ahead and give it a try.  If not, I hope that 12.12.12 comes quickly for ya!  Good on you Stone!  I'm already looking forward to December to crack open the rest of these.  Cheers.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

21st Amendment - Bitter American

Dammit.  It's an election year.  This of course means that extremists from both parties will emerge as predictably as cicadas to declare the opposite party's dedication to evil and single-handedly destroying the U.S. of A.  It also means that any form of entertainment I choose to enjoy will inevitably be populated by attack ads like flies on a summer roadkill.  All that said, I try not to focus on all that.  Truth be told, I try to ignore it much as possible by doing my own research and selecting the best candidate.  Plus, summer brings out more reasons to be proud to be an American than most other seasons.  Summer gives us the 4th of July, D-Day Anniversary, Flag Day, VJ Day (Victory in Japan), and this weekend it brings us Memorial Day.  While Memorial Day can certainly be a time to crack open a few craft beers with buddies, grill out, watch the Indy 500, go shopping, and enjoy a day of rest, I certainly hope that we can all take some time to remember those who have died while  in service to this great country.  They have certainly earned it we owe them that much.

Stepping off of my soapbox now, but I'll be reviewing a beer that is closer in name to the divided politicos than the fallen soldiers.  Today's review is for 21st Amendment's Bitter American.  I obtained this with a trade from Eric as I currently don't have 21A in my neck of the woods.  The can indicates that this is an "extra pale ale with bold malt and hop flavors."  Since I love pale ales and big beers, I'm really looking forward to this.  Let's pour!

Thanks to my buddy Kevin for this pic.
Aroma 10/12
Not initially strong in aroma.  The malts are first to the nose in a straw & biscuit combination that eventually allows the biscuit to win out.  Hops come next and are a well-blended mix of a  light pine and spice.  Citrus, at this point, is far, far in the background, but as the beer warms it becomes more and more of a primary player.  This citrus note allows the hops to dominate the slightly warmed beer with a sweet citrus note, not unlike a mandarin orange.  Very pleasant!

Appearance 3/3
This would earn higher marks if it could.  It pours a fairly light gold, but settles in the glass as a wonderful bright apricot orange.  The head is a perfect size, slightly beige in color, and shows excellent retention.

Flavor 19/20
This concoction definitely focuses on the "crisp" nature of a pale ale!  The beginning is an insanely dry and crackery malt with even a bit of bitter on the front of the tongue.  What a great sensation!  Before diving into the backbone, the beer dangles those sweet citrus hops in front of you for just a moment before snatching them away and plummeting the drinker into what Coolio would certainly describe as a "Malt-tastic Voyage."    It is a voyage of more crackery malts that are so crisp you'd swear you could snap them in half.  A moderate bitter from intelligent hop usage adds to the effect.  The finish is a continuation of the backbone, but with hints of grain.  It then becomes perfectly clean before splashing back to existence with a steady crescendo of bitter.  That bitter doesn't linger too long and the aftertaste is mostly clean and extremely drying.  I can't believe one beer can do all this!

Mouthfeel 5/5
The carbonation in this brew compliments the crispness extremely well.  While the carbonation is not abundant, what is available is fairly lively, helping give that extra little bite.  The body is much heavier than most pale ales and at 4.4% ABV this "session ale" (as described on the can) has no detectable warmth.

Front half of can.

Back half of can.
Overall Impression 9/10
This beer focuses all its effort into one characteristic with laser-like intensity: being crisp.  Everything from the  dry crackery, malts and carbonation, to the light citrus aroma and light bitter flavors all come together for a common purpose.  I must say, it succeeds wonderfully.  On top of being crisp, it's also light enough in flavor and ABV that I could truly put these down all day.  Talk about a session ale!  21st Amendment has hit the nail on the head.

Total 46/50
It's not so much that it's a really bitter beer as the name would imply (though the can claims 42 IBUs), it's that 21st Amendment has managed to remove almost all sweetness from this beer.  No caramel malts, no hoppy citrus, no unfermentable sugars, this beer is just dry malt and fairly clean hops.  As unappetizing as that may sound, this beer is fantastic!  Some folks might like a bit more sweetness in their pale ale, but I would urge them to try this anyway just for a different take on a fairly universal style.  I absolutely dig it, even though most of my favorite pale ales often involve a citrus bouquet from the hops.  Doesn't matter.  Like I mentioned earlier, I could drink this all day.  In fact, if these were available in my area, I probably would.  This was my first 21st Amendment beer, but I can assure you, it won't be my last.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Mikkeller - Ris a la M'ale

Let me begin by stating that I know absolutely nothing about this beer other than the following:
          1.  It is brewed with almonds and cherries.
          2.  It required me to undress it before consuming.
This beer came with an unusual paper wrapping that covered the beer.  

Fully clothed.
The wrapping laid out.
Sure it kind of looks fancy (as does the cork & cage) and I like opening presents as much as the next guy, but I appreciate it more knowing that it inevitably helped keep sunlight from reaching the beer.  Much like the wrapping, the bottle size is also unusual, ringing in at 12.7 oz.  Go figure.  Mikkeller has never had a reputation for doing this according to convention, after all.  This is something I really like about them, so it only adds to my excitement to try this beer.  Let's pour!

Aroma 10/12
It begins rather vinously, but soon lets in floral notes which are quickly usurped by a sharper citrus aroma.  The sour cherries come behind that citrus, but blend very well with it.  A warmth becomes apparent from time to time but is well hidden.

Appearance 3/3
Generally fruit beers have little head, but this proved to be the exception in its size but not its duration.  It provided about a finger of fizzy head that didn't linger long, yet still managed to leave some lacing - definitely not something I expected in a fruit beer.  It pours the color of a blush wine, but once in the glass it becomes a cloudy sunset red at the bottom with some cider-like brown hues toward the top.  Very interesting color palette.

Flavor 15/20
What a unique brew.  This is not overly sweet or tart like most cherry beers, but instead appears to be using the almonds as a balancing agent instead of combining them both into some sort of "amaretto beer."  It begins with a very light, barely tart, cherry flavor and when held in the mouth the sweetness dulls a bit more.  Holding in the mouth also brings that citrus sharpness on the sides of the tongue and a slight bitter not unlike the rind of a fruit.  As the beer warms the cherry's and almond's sweetness come forward nicely, but make sure not to create an overly sweet beer.  Balance was definitely considered when making this beer and it was not in vain.  This is especially evident in the finish.  Immediately after swallowing a sweet gulp of cherry/almond/tart goodness, the finish provides a perfect amount of light bitter to balance the sweetness as well as aid to a cleaner finish.  This is not a beer that will leave your mouth slimy with sugars!  In fact, even though it's a cherry beer the bitter wins out in the finish and carries on into the aftertaste.  Not a particularly strong beer, but if the fruit flavors were more intense, I don't see how it could maintain this balance.

Mouthfeel 4/5
It started out very much like one would expect a fruit beer to start: high levels of champagne-like carbonation that prick the tongue.  Even though this is only a 12.7 fl oz bottle, those levels died down pretty quickly and the bottom half of the bottle was much easier to drink.  The body isn't heavy, but it's larger than one expects a fruit beer to be, and the 8.0% ABV must have been contributed by ninjas because it is completely invisible.

Overall Impression 5/10
I think that the more I drank of this beer the less I was impressed.  Yes, there was a good, less than authentic, cherry sweetness and it wasn't overdone.  It also managed to provide a great balance and a nice finish for we would all assume to be a sweeter style of beer.  However, while the flavor was balanced, it wasn't all that present to begin with.  As mentioned earlier, a more intense fruit beer will be harder to balance (any and all brewmasters, please read that as a challenge).  However, dulling down the fruit (a.k.a. flavor) for the sake of balance is... well... cheating.  Don't rob me of flavor, just try to balance it out some other way.  Some could call this beer nuanced, but I feel like it's just a weaker version of a cherry ale.

Total 37/50
Had only this beer turned out like its promising aroma!  Heck, I might've even been pleased with a sweeter brew, whether that be like a lambic or like an amaretto.  The aroma was quite nice, but the flavor seemed thin and bland in comparison.  For those that dig a more mellow, less sweet, fruit beer, this could be right up your alley.  However, for those of us who have easy access to New Glarus' Wisconsin Belgian Red (and enjoy a fruit beer from time to time), this brew simply does not cut the mustard.  I appreciate their attempt at balance, I really do.  Balance is seldom a bad thing, but in this case it comes at the expense of flavor.  Bummer for Mikkeller since I really admire the brewery and what they do.  However, this beer does not live up to their high standard.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Terrapin - Big Hoppy Monster

Yes!  Through a beer trade I have procured another bottle from Terrapin.  As that I now have two fine trading partners in the Southeast, I wish I could say I remember which one sent this, but it doesn't matter since Ruy and Keith are both awesome.  Write that down.  Long story short, I've been in love with Terrapin ever since cracking open their "W-N-B" (the new censored name of Wake-N-Bake), a coffee oatmeal imperial stout.  If it's an imperial from Terrapin, I'm excited.  Plus, this time of year begs for beers that are a bit lighter as we all start getting used to the long, beautiful days and craft beer filled gatherings and reds usually fit that bill marvelously.  Let's pour!

Aroma 11/12
My nose thanks me for opening this beer.  Tons of red malt and toffee right off the bat and blended nicely with a "dark orange" citrus bouquet of hops: apricots and caramelized orange.  In fact, the fruits are so dark, one could just as easily find some raisins as well!  Slow to develop are a slight mustiness and a boozy note that lets you know you're dealing with a monster.  There are no Belgian yeast characteristics, but I associate this aroma with a Quad - a saturating, rich aroma with hints of booze.  This should be fun.

Appearance 3/3
It's difficult to see in the picture, but the hue of this brew is actually closer to the "39" on the EBC scale shown. Its a dusky, hazy, brown/mahogany with a head the shade is rust were it a pastel color.  The bottle actually gushed on me, but the head turned out relatively small compared to its vigorous "how-de-do."  It stayed for an acceptable period before finally coating the surface.

Flavor 19/20
If you'd have told me this was a red, I'd have called you a liar.  Whoa!  I've never had a red like this!  The beginning is very creamy with lots of body-enhancing malts and slides easily into that sweet malty goodness - full of toffee and the aforementioned raisins.  Holding the beer in the mouth continues the malts, but adds a hint of brown sugar and bright, yet far off, citrus on the sides of the mouth.  There is very little to none of the orange-like notes from the aroma.  The finish is remarkably clean for such a monster of a beer!  You swallow and the majority of the flavor goes right along with it.  All that remains is a slight alcohol tingle and an earthy red malt that clings stickily to the back of the throat.

Mouthfeel 4/5
I dock a point right away for gushing, but the carbonation in the rest of the beer is not unpleasant.  Please note that "unpleasant" does not equal "perfect."  I know this is a big beer and sometimes big beers can be a little harder to carbonate.  However, if that is the "rule," then how do Belgian strong ales (dark or golden) achieve such a high level of carbonation in their big beers?  Big should not be mutually exclusive to "well-carbonated" and this beer could have used a little more zest.  The body is big and holds all that malt flavor wondrously.  Well-hidden is the 8.3% ABV and it only comes out when it seems most beneficial for the flavor profile.  Very well done.

Overall Impression 9/10
This is a big beer in body, flavor, and a deceptively high ABV.  It smashes the mold of "red ale" and charges forward to define the style on its own.  It is like no other red ale you'll have with it's unique aroma, raisin notes, huge flavor.  If more reds were like this, I'd be inclined to sample the style more often.

Total 46/50
Given the great, rich taste of this beer and its "take no prisoners" attitude, it seems to me that a 46 is a bit low.  However, there are a few things holding this beer back; namely the carbonation which affected its score by both gushing out upon opening and leaving the beer feeling flat a bit too early on in the bottle.  Do I recommend this beer?  Wholeheartedly.  Will red ale drinkers like it?  Who knows!?  I feel that this departs from the style in such a way that the answer truly is a toss up.  Should the average craft beer drinker pick this up whenever they see it?  Yes.  Buy it.  If you're looking for the biggest, baddest-assed red you can find, then look no further.  I didn't find all the hops that the name would imply, but according to the label this is a 2011 vintage.  I can't wait to try one fresh!

Also I wish to give this bottle extra, brownie, craft beer, unicorn, glitter points for its great bottle art.  Lots of great colors that jump out at you, a hot rod, and a cartoon turtle smoking a cigar.  It's aesthetically pleasing and kicks some ass.   Good work, Terrapin.  I never doubted you for a second!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Three Floyds - Dark Lord (2012)

I can't take it anymore.  The Dark Lord has been chillin' in my fridge for half a month now and I must taste it.  The Bard, Billy Shakespeare, words it more eloquently that myself when he says,

"As is the night before some festival
To an impatient child that hath new robes
And may not wear them."

For those unfamiliar with Dark Lord and why it is so sought after, click here.

Enough people have asked how it is, or how it compares to Goose Island's Bourbon County Stout (Wes), or how it compares to other years, etc, etc... and now I have to know.  Confession time: this is the first time I will ever have sampled Dark Lord.  Needless to say, I'm pumped after hearing so much about it, but also wary.  It seems like whenever you hear about Dark Lord (or ANY über-popular beer) you primarily hear two sentiments.  1.  Oh my gosh, it's SO good! and 2.  It's OK, but it's overrated.  In this case, I'm still very excited to finally be tasting this, but I also have the bullshit meter on so that I can review this beer as accurately as possible.  Since we've already established that patience is not my strongest suit... Let's pour!

Aroma 12/12
This is a beautiful smelling beer, even if the stout characteristics aren't exactly its strongest.  It smells very sweet and is an insanely pleasant mixture between a molasses malt and a strong fruit aroma.  The aroma could be considered port-like or like a dark cherry pie, though having just purchased some port I would lean toward that.  (Note:  For those that don't know, Port is liquid sex in a bottle.  Buy a bottle that's over $10, make sure your significant other is going to be around, and don't plan on going anywhere.)  It does have some very dark notes, as a stout should, but they are placed much further back in relation to the fruits and the nearly-burnt molasses.  A light charring in the malt at times give a hint or two of smoke and is a very neat nuance to find behind the port.  As the beer warms the Intelligensia coffee is undeniable, but it is a timid spectator and has no interest in a starring role.  This gives it more characteristics of a stout in my mind, and it forces me to bump it up a point from 11 to 12.

Appearance 3/3
This is black and holding it up to the light only reveals the darkest of stained wood tones around the edges.  The head was small, half a finger, and would seem to indicate a very low carbonation.  This pours like oil!  Or blood.  Given the name of this beer, it's probably a mixture of both.  The head is dark brown, creamy, and slides lethargically down the side of the glass after a swirl.  Enjoy it while you can because after 15 seconds, it will only remain as a ring around the surface and disappear soon after that.  Normally, I swear, I would be docking points for a paltry head, but with an ABV of 15% you have to have some sort of allowance for style.  After all, would one dock Samuel Adams' Utopias for "low carbonation"?  Methinks not.

Flavor 19/20
Port.  I swear there is port in this beer!  The initial flavors are of black cherry juice and a slight booziness, but they ever so gradually bring in the roasted, slightly smokey malt notes and soon enough you'd swear you were holding port in your mouth.  The backbone is still boozy, yet not hot, and brings in tons of fruits.  However, they are not the typical dark fruits that one would normally associate with a stout: plums, figs, raisins, etc.  These fruits instead lean heavily on dark cherries and sweet, red, vinous grapes.  I could even understand it if someone said they tasted a red raspberry or two.  The fruit aside, there is a darkness lying behind it: the deeply roasted, lightly charred malts.  However, they are so subtle and nuanced that they lend more of a dark tone to the existing fruits than actually coming forward as their own flavor.  It's a tremendous example of brewing prowess and understanding how flavors can compliment each other.  The finish finally shows us an insanely smooth glimpse of the coffee we saw in the aroma.  This time around it appears to have more mocha sweetness to it and less of a typical coffee's bite and bitter.  The aftertaste is the smoldering remains of the port, much as if the Viking-esque character from the label had just pillaged a town (or my taste buds).  The port is there, albeit greatly reduced, and the smokey, charred notes become a little stronger as the beer runs over the back, bitter-sensing part of the tongue.  Despite the permeating sweetness of this beer, it does not leave the mouth slick or slimy.  In fact, after an initial salivation, the tongue is left feeling quite dry and one can feel the alcohol being exhaled and as a warmth in the chest.

Mouthfeel 5/5
As mentioned in the previous sentence, the warmth that this beer spreads throughout the chest is fantastic.  That 15% ABV is remarkably well presented in this beer.  It isn't camouflaged completely, but what is present is used to enhance the already spectacular blend of flavors.  The body is as heavy as I've seen in a beer and insanely smooth.  This, of course, comes at the risk of extremely low carbonation.  For me personally, this is something I don't entirely mind in an imperial stout, especially when a quick swish in the mouth gives that little bit of texture that only carbonation can add.  However upon first sips, just sitting in the mouth, this beer can come across as almost completely flat.

Label art
Overall Impression 9/10
Long story short?  I love port.  I love its warmth, its unusual, elusive smokiness, its sweetness, its body, and its unique flavor.  For all these reasons I love Dark Lord.  The only possible things holding it back are an absent head and the fact that I might not know this was a stout if it weren't on the label.

Total 48/50
This was tremendously tasty in every sense of the word "tremendous."  I barely could've imagined that a beer could so closely resemble a port.  Do I usually look for something a little more "stout-like" in an RIS?  Yes.  That was my only issue with this beer other than the head (which has been excused earlier in this review).  I should like a bit more of that stout "darkness."  However, the amount of dark flavors that currently exist in this beer are a flawless compliment to the other flavors.  Would more dark flavors ruin that harmony?  Probably, but a mix of two great flavors is not a bad thing, it just might not be as good as the single perfect harmony they've already established.  

Cheers to Three Floyds and what they've got here.  I'll definitely be trying for DLD tickets next year as well!

Oh... and for those wondering the Russian text of "тёмный лорд русское имперское пиво" on the Dark Lord bottle translates as, "Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout,"  or "beer" instead of stout.  You're welcome!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Great River - Hop-A-Potamus

Friends!  It's only May 9th and you've already made this my best month ever!  With a little extra love from Goose Island, it's not only my best month, but I also breached 20,000 hits.  I'm feeling pretty good about things right now and with that in mind, today's review will be for a brewery who also has quite a few things going for them.  Today, I'll be reviewing Great River's Hop-A-Potamus.  Don't worry, if you haven't heard of it.  They're a local brewer in Davenport, IA (just off the Arsenal Bridge, for those wishing to find it), but are enjoying a pretty good local distribution and really coming into their own with some unique, flavorful beers.  Also they recently won a "Canny" Award at the first ever Cannys.  The Cannys are "a competition that recognizes the high-quality, captivating graphics featured on craft beer in cans. Awards were presented during the Craft Brewers Conference, May 2-5 in San Diego, California." (Source:

Photo blatantly stolen from Great River's Facebook page.
The best part about Great River?  Their craft brewing spirit.  They've embraced cans.  They collaborate like crazy with a local distillery, Mississippi River Distilling Co, to the point where both business have been out at local supermarkets giving out samples.  They have a great presence at local festivals.  They try creative things at their bar ("We have organic brown beer and vanilla beans?  Throw 'em in the firkin!").  They seem to embody everything that is right about craft beer and I hope that attitude continues with their deserved success.  The can for Hop-A-Potamus reads,

"Hop-A-Potamus is a double dark rye pale ale made with a ton of pale and six kinds of rye malt for a 'full' body.  This double dark rye pale ale is fiercely hopped with a Northwest blend for a stampede of flavor and aroma.
Beware: Hop-A-Potamus will charge if provoked!  Hop-A-Potamus is not for the foolish for the faint of heart."

With a description like that, who can wait?  Let's pour!

Aroma 10/12
I initially poured this beer a bit too cold and it changed the aroma completely.  Initially, the hops and rye were fairly minimal but the sweet malt was bursting from the glass.  The malt was so laden with caramelized sugars, I could've sworn it was an overripe banana.  Really weird considering the style.  The hops materialize soon enough and provide a light citrus and what could be a peppery spice, though that is likely from the rye. While the malts never fade away entirely, the rye becomes more noticeable in that earthy, slightly sour way that rye has about it.  Thankfully, the sour of the rye helps to bring out those faint citrus hops.

Appearace 2/3
Simply sitting in the glass, this beer appears like a darkly stained cherry wood.  Deep walnut browns and blacks abound, but not without ruby facets shining from time to time.  When held to the light, the red shades become even more striking and allow for all sort of brown-red combinations like maroon and even magenta.  The head was small, less than a finger, but appeared creamy, wet, and thick.

Flavor 18/20
A lot of earthy, yet not spicy, rye gets things started and quickly moves into a backbone that is quite reminiscent of the aroma.  The sweetness returns in that uber-caramelized way that I swear reminds me of an over ripe, caramelized banana!  Is there Belgian yeast in this?!  Despite the sweetness, the beer remains remarkably crisp, and enjoys a faint, bright citrus note.  An earthy note from the rye casts its shadow over the proceedings to bitter things up quite a bit (and add a moderate peppery spice), but only an occasional glimpse of hop resin is available from time to time.  The finish is a strengthening of all the ingredients that would cause you to buy this beer in the first place.  The hop resins bite at ya, the rye is earthy and bitter, the alcohol (9.0% ABV) even shows up a bit, and there's a finish almost like mouth-watering, bitter, brown ale. Aftertastes are a reprise of the rye's sour and a dark, lingering bitter down the back of the tongue.

Mouthfeel 5/5
 I dig this.  For a beer that claims to have 9% ABV (I believe it) and 99 IBUs (I am skeptical), this beer drinks like it has neither.  It's full-bodied (as advertised on the label) and offers a carbonation that is not aggressive enough to compliment or bring out a rye's spiciness, but neither does it leave the beer feeling flat or syrupy.  Keep in mind, not feeling syrupy is no easy task with he amounts of malt the brewers have crammed into this can.  The warmth is all but invisible throughout the beer and two pints of this on an empty stomach will leave you laughing at all sorts of internet nonsense.

 Overall Impression 8/10
This is a tasty beer, but I'm having a difficult time determining the borders after these worlds collide.  On one side, you have a ton of malt (rye and pale).  This results in a lot of sweetness, a great color, and a full body.  Got it.  However, if six kinds of rye malt are being used in this thing, I rather expect it to be insanely earthy, peppery with spice, and bitter like a custody battle.  While I get lesser amounts of bitter and earth, the spice is all but absent.  And on the OTHER hand, you have a pale ale - traditionally, a biscuity.crackery tasting, dry, lightly hopped delight of a beer (pale ales are rapidly becoming one of my favorite styles).  I'd venture that none of the pale ale characteristics remain.  There is an abundance of sweetness in the malt, despite the rye's attempt to bitter things up, and... OK, I guess I can see how some folks could argue this an "imperial" version of a pale ale.  Abundance of (attempted) dry malts up front and a nice hop presence behind.  However, if that argument IS to be made, then the malts up front need to be made even more dry and crisp (the hallmark of a great pale ale) with the rye, and the hop presence at the end could be made even stronger.

Total 43/50
I can nitpick all I want, but in the end this is a damn tasty beer.  Big, earthy, with high marks in the technical categories, and a well hidden ABV, this beer is one I would encourage more locals to buy if it was available.  This beer sold quickly once it hit the shelves.  It truly is a unique beer and I have trouble measuring it against other styles... but I'll try anyway.  It's not as rye heavy as Sierra Nevada's Ruthless Rye, but then again it's also trying to blend in the pale ale style.  It's much more bitter than a good pale ale (like, say, Three Floyds Alpha King), but lacks some of the hop intensity one might expect give the abundance of malt (and the high IBUs).  This review was written on my last two 16 oz cans, but I happened to find a lonely 4-pack in the back of a grocery store cooler.  Huzzah!  If you're planning a visit to the Quad Cities, make sure that Great River is on your list.  They completely understand the craft beer vibe and they make some damn good beer to boot.  Cheers Great River!  Keep up the great work.

Stolen from the Great River website.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Equity for Punks

As I talk to more and more craft beer folks, I am finding that Brew Dog's "Equity for Punks" program is not as widely discussed as I imagined.  Long story short?  Brew Dog is  was, raising capital by selling equity (stock) in an online IPO.  This not only gets money to Brew Dog, but gives a feeling of involvement to craft beer drinkers, and a neat way for dedicated customers to feel better connected to the business - a business that they have now helped build.  

This is different than Green Bay Packers "stock" in that GBP stock is not an actual stock nor does it have any monetary value (nor is it transferable).  Equity for Punks, on the other hand, is actual ownership in the company, which can grow in value and be sold after a one year holding period.  They even throw in discounts at all their bars and their online shop AND make certain beers available to you that are rare, early releases, or both! Check out their promo video.

Since they're based in Scotland (hence the cool accents in the video) there was some issue regarding a exchange from dollars to euros.  I wasn't able to purchase the stock with a credit/debit card online, but instead had to send a wire transfer to the UK.  In any case, things finished up nicely.  I got a nice certificate that indicates how many shares I now own and just this last week I received a rather ominous looking, black, plastic envelope in the mail.  Much to my surprise it was the S.W.A.G from Brew Dog  that they had promised for investing in Equity for Punks.  Very cool!  What's in the packet?

A pencil.  Though a #2 wouldn't be very punk.

A sweet keychain/bottle opener

A lapel pin

A temporary tattoo

A big ol' sticker

A small poster
I don't show this because the spoils were so extravagant, but because craft beer is about sharing.  If you weren't able to participate in this Brew Dog experience, that's OK.  Feast your eyes on some items that not everybody gets to see!  This is what my experience was.  Well, this and hopefully a ton of return on my investment.  They didn't even have to send anything besides the stock certificate, but they did and that's pretty cool.  Thanks Brew Dog!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Dark Lord Day 2012

Fellow craft beer quaffers, I had the distinct privilidge of attending this year's Dark Lord Day hosted by Three Floyds Brewing Co in Munster, Indiana.  For those not familiar with Dark Lord Day, Three Floyd's website describes it as such,

"Dark Lord Day is the only day of the year to buy Three Floyds Dark Lord Russian Imperial stout. DLD is a festival where participants can meet other beer enthusiasts, sample beers from all over the world, buy Dark Lord, try Oak Aged Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout, eat BBQ, listen to live music, and generally have a great time."

My buddy Lance was quick enough on the draw to snag a pair of tickets and I was fortunate enough to be invited.  Cannot thank him enough!  In hindsight, I did not take nearly enough photos at Dark Lord Day (hereafter referred to as DLD), but then again, there was not a ton of things to take pictures of.  But I get ahead of myself....

First off, we arrived around 2-ish and searched desperately for a place to park.  This is to be expected.  I expect having trouble finding a parking place at a regular beer festival (or even a downtown area on a Friday night), so I definitely did not expect to find one close by the gates.  After a short walk, we arrived and we greeted by several of these colorful maps (any pic may be enlarged by clicking on it).

Actually, the first time I tried to take a photo of this map, the maps were hung outside the fence surrounding the outhouses.  There was a man outside peeing behind the outhouses (no idea why) and I almost got a picture I didn't want and made waaaay too close a friend.  This experience made me a bit leary of what was awaiting behind the fence, but those concerns turned out to be unfounded.  The next five photos are a right-to-left panorama of what I saw upon entering DLD.



If your first thought was, "So what he saw first was people?" then you are correct.  Lots of people.  Thankfully Three Floyds (hereafter referred to as FFF) limitied their ticket sales intelligently, so while the crowd required a bit of patience to make one's way through, it never required a battle.

The Grounds
The festival was essentially held in their parking lot.  This has not worked very well for other brew festivals, but since the weather was so overcast most of the negative aspects (cooking alive) were not a factor.  Also, having this in a parking lot doesn't exactly add to the overall charm.  Now, I'm not saying I would've expected a beautiful lakeside park to hold an event entitled DLD, but with an event that has SO much hoopla and hype surrounding it, I think they could do a little more for the atmosphere and theme (black tents with jagged awnings?  cups with a cool logo on it?  some creepy viking stuff mounted on posts above the crowd?).  Their website does such a good job at exuding their "vibe," I suppose I expected a bit more of that on their own turf.  The tents looked like standard rentals, offered no shelter to fest goers, but clearly stated the items for sale within.

Draughts for sale.
Sixers, cases, and bombers for sale.  Yes, the XV Baller
Stout is $30 for a bomber.

Lines for beer.  They were kept moving very well.

The Facilities
There were plenty of port-a-potties and I only once had to wait in line.  Sure there were lines at one section, but apparently very few people realized that the outhouses followed the fence for some distance - allowing the outhouses at the far end to be entered immediately.  Also, apparently there were also outhouses on the opposite side of the festival (bottom left corner of map), but I never had to venture there.  No rinsing stations were needed as they gave you a new plastic Solo cup for each beer.  I suppose it helps keep cost down, but it's not very green, nor does it let me receive a cool free souvenir.

They had an section of the lot reserved for picnic tables where people could grab a seat, eat their grub and cool their heels.  This section was also used by many people to crack open and share their beers that they brought from home.  This was the best part of the day!  Lance and I tried so many different, random, amazing beers that I had never even heard of!  First we hung out with some gents from Michigan that had access to GADS of small, unusual Michigan craft beers (some no longer even in business) and as we remained at our seat, different folks would pass through either offering a taste of their own wares or eyeing ours hopefully and (of course) eventually receiving a pour.  The beers we tried were as follows (though some shall remain nameless since there were not on Untappd for me to track).

1.   Wild Heaven Craft Beers - Ode to Mercy
2.   Great Divide - Barrel Aged Yeti (2011). Though it was infected.
3.   New Glarus - IIPA (Thumbprint Series)
4.   New Glarus - Cherry Stout (Thumbprint Series)
5.   Surly - Abrasive Ale
6.   Tröegs - Nugget Nectar (x2)
7.   East End Brewing - Gratitude (2010)
8.   Victory/DFH/Stone - Saison du BUFF
9.   Kuhnhenn Brewing - Penetration Porter
10. Jailhouse Brewing - Conjugal Visit
11.  New Glarus - Moon Man

We also received pours from growlers by Founders and many local varieties whose names are already lost to myth and history.  I shit you not, one was a topped off growler from 2006 from a mystery brewery in Michigan.  Yes a growler from '06.  It had been filled so full that very little air was in the growler itself and had been chilled since then.  It was a definite high point of the day.  Wow!

There is also this beer by Jolly Pumpkin.  I have never seen it before, but the bottle smelled SO amazing that I will not rest until I find it.  If you know of this beer, where to find it, or would like to trade for it, I'm all ears.  Please comment on this article or email me and we'll definitely be in touch.

Here are some of the fellas kind enough to share and share alike...

Photo: Lance Martin

Photo: Lance Martin

Our pile of finished, shared goodness.  (Photo: Lance Martin)
The Food
I only had a pair of hotdogs and they really hit the spot.  FFF was also serving these monster sausages that looked damn tasty.  That's about all I can really speak to, but with the smells emanating from the grills, I wish I could've spoke to more.  They were also serving FFF beers and kept the lines moving amazingly well for how many people were there.  Nothing, but good things to say about the service.

Happy FFF minions! (Photo: Lance Martin)

Even a cameo by FF Brewer Abby Titcomb!! (Photo: Lance Martin)
The Dark Lord
The line to get DL was... well, the line to get DL.  It was long, windy, but full of good people and good beer.  Many folks in line (such as ourselves) were wise enough to save some of the beer they brought from home to drink in the line.  That said, everyone was so cool about the line that I'm sure people would've allowed you to step out of place for a moment to snag a cold one.  We met some cool folks!  The first picture describes the line involved and the rest of are of good craft beer people.

This gives an overview of half the "sharing" area of the lot. It also
shows the official beginning of the line. (Photo: Lance Martin)
So the line for Dark Lord stretches well behind where the above picture was taken.  It goes from behind this picture, allllll the way around the food tent to the left and finally to the line "beginning"  See that grey wearhouse in the right side of the picture?  That's where the line officially begins.  It's the point of the amusement park ride where a sign says, "Your estimated wait time is... 55 minutes"  Ours wasn't 55 mins from that point, just a little perspective.

See the end of the wearhouse?  That corner is out of picture in the  above photo (to the right).  This is
the view after you turn that corner and look back.  Yes, it's a long ass warehouse.

We meet fun people.
Eventually, you are allowed in the warehouse and the scene improves a lot.  This is the scene upon entering.

Buy your allotment here.
 I can't recall exactly where, but at one point your crappy ticket is exchanged for a really sweet looking, Super Bowl-sized Golden Ticket that contains a scratch off portion.  All of this is done is a bad-ass looking Russian font and here are some gratuitous pics to prove it.

Front of "Golden Ticket"

Reverse of "Golden Ticket"

Close up of Front side art.  How kick ass is that?!  It makes me wanna get a tattoo!

If that scratch off portion reads "Yes" underneath it, then that ticket holder has the opportunity to purchase one of the special Dark Lord varieties being sold that day for $50.  The varieties this year were: barrel aged, barrel aged with vanilla bean, and... OK, so that's all I can recall off the top of my head, but I'm pretty sure one was bourbon barrel-aged, and another was barrel aged with a type of dark fruit.  Don't quote me.  Please comment if you can speak with certainty about the other varieties.

You've got a keeper there, sir.
On the way out of the warehouse, there was a death metal band playing and in the low light, this was the best shot that I could get.

After that we were sort of guided out of the warehouse and I can't help but feel like we missed out on other things going on in the warehouse.  Well, I don't feel like we did, but did we?  I'm sure there are capacity issues to worry about in there and only so many people can be inside at once, but are there other things besides bands in there?  We saw people in there at any time of day and now I wonder if there wasn't something that we missed while chilling outside and drinking amazing beer.  Again, please comment if you can speak with certainty about any additional goings-on in the warehouse.

That pretty much sums up the day, kiddies.  No orgies.  No secret rituals.  No "Eyes Wide Shut" moments.  Just a beer festival full of damn good beer, awesome people, and the smell of grilling.  For me, that's a helluva good day.  I hope this helped satisfy the curiosity of folks that were not able to attend!  Cheers to all of ya and be sure to keep reading.  After all, I plan on reviewing one of these Dark Lords while they're still fresh!

Thanks Three Floyds!  What a neat experience!



Lance's haul.  That lucky bastard.