Monday, December 30, 2013

New Belgium - Coconut Curry Hefeweizen

Is it just me or when you see a beer with "Coconut Curry" in the title, you just have to take it home?  I have to know what it's like!  I have to try it.  I also enjoy that I'm supporting creative brewers, but my motives are far from altruistic.  I want what others call "weird beers."  If it weren't for weird beers how would we know that we like beers with coffee or syrup or chili peppers or smoke or weasel poop?  Without creative brewing we'd all be drinking fermented honey or fruit juice or something.  So let's keep this progression going because if beer as we know it is this good, who knows what a few experiments might turn up over the next several hundred years!  It's our solemn duty (*wink*) as craft beer drinkers.  All right, </speech>, but seriously... rare ingredients are good things.  This beer seems to have them and the Lips of Faith series by New Belgium has turned out some pretty damn good brews.  How can I lose, right?  Let's pour!

This picture is not blurry.  My camera was drunk.
Aroma 10/12
This is a not a bruiser in the aroma department, but I will give it kudos for performing the seemingly impossible task of incorporating all of the ingredients of its namesake into the aroma.  At first this comes across the nose as a sweet-smelling hefe: gum-like Belgian yeasts and a a spicy clove note.  Then you start to realize that part of the sweetness is in part thanks to the coconut.  The coconut does not come across aggressively or über-sweet like some of the candies based on the same, but instead like the creamy, almost neutral sweetness of coconut flesh.  In the back is the curry that steadily grows stronger as the beer warms.  At first the spice is simply detectable as an overall spiciness, maybe an extra boistrous strain of Belgian yeast providing more-than-usual pepper notes or an especially zesty clove, however the curry slowly becomes more distinct to eventually take a seat as one of the predominant aromas.  We are left with a Belgian yeast sweetness, made to seem sweeter by a well-hidden coconut, and loads of spice.  Neither one overpowers, but both are strong.

Appearance 2/3
Despite not mishandling this beer, I was disappointed to see white floaties traveling around my glass like annoying insects that I could not shoo away.  Having not yet taken a drink, I'm unsure if they are pieces of coconut, sediment from the hefe, or some combination of both.  The beer is cloudy as the style should be and pours a dusty golden hue.  Its head is ivory in color and constructed of many tiny, distinct bubbles that are steadily replaced by line of their brethren rising from the bottom.

Flavor 19/20
There is no easing your way into this beer.  From the moment it hits your lips, it is upon you and greeting you as zealously as a long lost aunt during an surprise Christmas visit  Things begin as a very spiced version of a hefe, but quickly the curry takes over the flavor.  This is a bit scary since a curry flavored beer has been requested by approximately 1 person ever who was then promptly flogged - not a exactly a popular option.  With a little bit of patience and close attention to what is being tasted, the spiciness (almost bitter for a moment) combines with a wash of coconut sweetness and the flavor turns wholly into that of a delicious Indian meal.  The sweetness of the hefe was almost completely drowned out by the spices but is reborn in the coconut and the transition is surprisingly easy - huge kudos to the folks at new Belgium for spotting these complementary flavors in seemingly opposite corners.  Fascinating!  The finish, much like the food, leaves plenty of spice on the tongue and is perhaps partially aided by a lively carbonation.  This lingering spice not only muddies the remaining hefe sweetness into an earthier, darker version of itself, but also leaves the tongue tingling in a few distinct places.  The aftertaste is surprisingly non-existant or perhaps just seems that way after such unmistakable flavors.

Mouthfeel 4/5
The carbonation started out as extremely active, but halfway through the bottle mellowed to that of a frisky american lager.  It has a medium-heavy body which actually gains a nice smoothness as the carbonation shrinks.  There's no real warmth to speak of no matter what the curry tells you.

Overall Impression 9/10
This is an impressive brew.  Not only did they use such exotic and unconventional ingredients as coconut and curry, but they also missed all the pitfalls that can happen when utilizing such potent ingredients.  The hefe behind these large ingredients is quite good and not some sub-par version hiding behind flavors.  New Belgium found a sweet and lightly spiced beer and paired it with a sweet and spicy food.  This combination may be out of left field, but works together like the field of dreams.

Total 44/50
To say I'm surprised by how well this beer works would be an understatement.  I buy a lot of unusual sounding beers.  The constant experimentation and pushing of boundaries is something I find exciting in both food and drink and the ingredient list on this beer certainly satisfies that.  Not only do I find these things exciting, but new ingredients also pique my curiosity.  The beer has a good hefe base to it, which is only detectable in brief splashes.  After that, it's "The Coconut & Curry Show," and the beer excellently replicates the taste of those succulent Indian dishes.  If you like that, you're bound to like this beer.  If not, it still may have something to offer.  The spice and sweet, fruit-like qualities of a hefe pair surprisingly well with the same qualities of the Indian food.  Granted, the curry/coconut takes the spice and fruit levels and cranks them up to  a level beyond what we beer drinkers would call "imperial."  The coconut/curry is an exaggerated version of the style's calling card flavors, but the similarities are undeniable; I can see why they made it.  I like this beer.  Tasty, unique, well done, pronounced, an excellent pairing of style and new ingredients, and it's exactly what it claims to be on the label.  My only question is, if I order this in a bar, do I receive some naan instead of pretzels?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Jolly Pumpkin - Calabaza Blanca

It's two days before "All Hallow's Eve" and what better brand of beer is there to review than Jolly Pumpkin out of Dexter, Michigan.  Not only does their name make them an obvious choice, but their often eerie bottle art and unusual flavors make them a brewer that stretches comfort zones and pushes the boundaries for many a burgeoning craft beer drinker.  Today's review will be for their "Calabaza Blanca" (translated:  "White Pumpkin"), an artisan white ale allegedly "brewed in Belgium's biere blanche tradition," according to the label.  Jolly Pumpkin tends to focus on open fermentation and barrel aging, so one comes to expect a bit of sour goodness when cracking any of their bottles.  This particular bottle is from batch 853 and was bottled on 7-28-2011.  Let's pour!

Aroma 11/12
My first whif from the bottle elicited a "Wow, that's funky!"  However, things settled much more pleasantly in the glass.  Overall, it is a very floral brew with a distinct sour note behind it.  The sour in the aroma evokes more sour green apples than it does the pungent orange peel used in its brewing, but that is not an unwelcome development.  A very earthy coriander complements things nicely... or is that a coriander that blends well with an earthy hop variety?  No matter, it all adds up to a classic gueuze type aroma.  Ooh, and the orange blossom floral qualities open up even more as the beer warms.  This is not a light aroma!  It's got some oomph behind it.

Appearance 3/3
Everything on the mark for the style.  A bright, high clarity, sunshine yellow gleams in the glass and is capped by a noisy white head that fizzes quickly to a ring around the surface.  OK, so normally one expects some haze in a witbier, but with how long this bottle has been again all that sediment on the bottom is going nowhere.  The clarity and color seem awfully summery for this time of year, but I won't hold that against it.

Flavor 17/20
Wow!  The sour invades your personal space like an exuberant uncle at a family reunion.  The blast of intense lemony lactic flavor dulls when held in the mouth, as does the angrily aggressive carbonation, and one is left with the earthy, slightly bitter fragments of the sour-splosion that just occurred.  Unfortunately, little else takes place.  The bitter could just as well be from lemon peel as it could orange and any coriander spiciness is wanting at best.  The finish, of course, tends to emphasize the bitter a tad more than in the backbone of the beer, but that's about the only change.  It is of course ridiculously dry, but that is aided gradually by the sour left in the mouth that inspires a helpful dose of saliva.  Very tasty and not light on flavor, but extremely simple aside from the sour and earthy bitter.

Mouthfeel 4/5
The body in this beer is nearly nonexistent.  I mean almost water, people.  That is fixed a bit once the zealous carbonation has quickly died, but even then the beer can be called very light at best.  Normally, a carbonation level this high would interfere tremendously with the texture of the beer, but with a beer this light it really can't do much damage.  Any further negative effects of such high carbonation, even for a bottle conditioned beer, are lessened by the simple fact that the bubbles are so damned tiny.  I have no idea how they did it, but they did.  A mouthfeel like this and the accompanying low ABV of 4.8% lead me to think of this beer as more of a simple gueuze or a musty berliner weisse than any sort of white ale or witbier.

Overall Impression 7/10
This is well made, robust in both aroma and flavor, and definitely something for someone getting into sour beers to try.  Its body, sour flavor, and high carbonation all keep it a refreshing beer, while the low ABV and light body mean you could probably drink quite a few if the flavor wasn't so intense.  In fact, this brew is probably meant to be drank in quantity or popped like champagne, but its simplicity doesn't quite fit the bill as something to sit down and savor.

Total 42/50
This is a tasty beer.  Or rather a tasty sour champagne that is barely less dry than real champagne - and with less alcohol.  This is a refreshing change of pace from big IPAs and some of the pumpkin/yam beers of the season, but probably not enough to keep me coming back.  Ultimately though, it IS something that I would buy to show to my friends how different and unusual beers can be.  It also may be something that a drinker heavily into lambics could branch out to try.  Good work Jolly Pumpkin.  You've made a refreshing beer that doesn't skimp on the intensity of its flavor, but now I'd like to request some complexity.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Stone - Enjoy By 9.13.13

Stone's "Enjoy By" is a double IPA that they have released to alleviate a single problem: deteriorating hop quality.  As we all know some beers are able to be aged if kept properly and that aging can alter the flavor of the beer.  This can often yield some pleasing results and sometimes can do more harm than good.  Hoppy beers and those with high alcohol content are often good candidates for aging as both of those qualities were originally popularized thanks to their powers of preservation.  However, while hops may act as a preservative, the qualities that we all love that hops imbue to beer tend to fade rapidly as the hopped beer ages.  In rare instances, this can work out, but more often than not it is less desirable and a far cry from the original intent of the brewer.

The deterioration has implications in aging, but also on the shelves.  How do you know if your IPA or other hop dependent beers are fresh?  How do you know you're getting the best tasting, least decayed, brewer-intended flavors?  Stone provides an answer to this problem with their "Enjoy By" series.  Other brewers simply use "brewed on" dates on their bottles or cans, but Stone is definitely putting their dates front and center in an attempt to promise drinkers a fresh, tasty, hoppy experience.  If you were buying a hoppy beer, wouldn't one of the factors to consider be the freshness of the brew?  Stone hopes so.  Time to see what they're offering.  Though with an IPA from Stone, a consistent maker of hop heavy styles, one can generally count on high quality.  I wanted to drink one as close to the date as possible to have it at its "worst" and see how it holds up.  Let's pour!

Aroma 12/12
It's got almost every hoppy aroma that I can think of short of wood, pepper, and herb.  First sniffs are beautiful and sweet, full of pineapple, pine, sweet sticky caramel malts, and grape fruit.  As the drink warms more grassy and musty notes arrive and they grow more noticeable to tame the amazing initial aroma.  It only grows to a moderate intensity, blending with the sweetness for balance, but not covering or overtaking it.

Appearance 3/3
When first poured, the beer is capped with a peach pastel colored head that slowly fades to ivory shades as the beer trapped within is drawn to its brothers below.  That beer pours a golden orange shade that is screaming for fall to arrive.  It is a slightly hazed beer in an earthy tangerine hue.  The colored head won me over.

Flavor 17/20
Not what I was expecting.  Given the nose of this beer, I anticipated a nice sweet introduction full of those sugary caramel malts and a grove's worth of citrus.  In the words of the venerable Judge Smails, "You'll get nothing and like it!"  The malts at the beginning were neutral at best or completely destroyed by the mothership of hop bitterness that just landed on my tongue.  OK, so maybe it's not the mothership, but it's enough to destroy any other flavors and it looks like it's headed for the White House.  Maybe a splash of citrus survives this resin onslaught, but little else.  I wrote down earlier that I could find a semblance of the caramel, but I may have been drinking at the time.  All there is now is a distant citrus, plentiful black pepper, and lots of bitter of the back of my tongue.  Oddly, the finish shows some malt!  The beer's body clearly indicates that Stone didn't skimp on adding malt, but you're hard pressed to find much of it in the flavor.  The finish instantly ends the black pepper flavors and continues the bitter.  This doesn't even give the illusion of balance, even if the caramel and alcohol heat do become slightly more present as the beer warms.

Mouthfeel 5/5
Body is great for a DIPA, big without being a chore to drink.  Peppery tingles remain on the tongue for some time after swallowing and carbonation is spot on perfect for a beer of this size - it permits for texture while largely staying out of the picture.  This beer is 9.4% ABV and is camouflaged but can be detected in a few of the exhales when you take a break between sips.

Overall Impression 6/10
One dimensional beers just don't win me over.  Now, I will say that I have had other Stone "Enjoy By" dates both on draught and in bottles and I recall enjoying those more than I did this.  The aroma was incredible, the mouthfeel was spot on for a DIPA, the ABV well hidden, and the appearance was solid.  The flavor was the only thing that I felt was not on par for Stone's normally superior performance in the realm of Americanized IPAs.

Total 43/50
Of course my first thought is, "Did I let it get to close to the 'enjoy by' date?  Should I have drank it earlier?"  Maybe.  However, if Stone says it's good for another 2 days, then they'd know better that I would.  Besides, isn't that what this whole beer is about: making sure the beer is fresh and providing a date with which you shoul expect a lower quality?  In their defense, I suppose I drank it toward the tail end of its optimum freshness, but I also suppose that I still expected excellence inside of that date.  Granted, excellence was not far off.  In fact, in every category where flavor was not a factor this beer received perfect marks!  However, the hop bitterness seized control like an ambitious despot and cruelly subjugated its inferiors.  Do the hops play nicer in fresher batches?  Undoubtedly.  However, this beer just goes to show exactly what it sets out to: fresher is better.  If this is it close to its worst, you know it's worth picking up earlier from that date.  For those that like bitter beer, you could  even pick this up after the date on its bottle, otherwise don't expect a lot beyond the bitter of an otherwise fantastic DIPA.

Monday, August 19, 2013

New Glarus - Strawberry Rhubarb

"The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated."

Even if it means I no longer get to dress like I'm 
from 1979.  Yes, that's my real hair and mustache.
Beer geeks!  Hello!  I've missed you all!  Between taking on some new responsibilities at work and being involved in some local community theater, I've barely had 30 minutes at home on any given day that wasn't spend shoveling food down my throat or preparing to enter/exit my bed.  Unfortunately, this is not nearly enough time to write the craft beer reviews that I like.  Fortunately, my obligation to the theater is ended and I now have my life back!  Actually, it was a great time, but I'm very glad to have some time again to write about and review amazing craft beer.

As good fortune would have it, my father MOTHER, who lives close to the Wisconsin state line, was gracious enough to pick up some of New Glarus' Strawberry Rhubarb for me.  You may consider me excited.  Rhubarb in the spring and early summer is a childhood treat that I recall quite fondly.  Whether it was in a rhubarb crisp, rhubarb pie a la mode, or just raw dipped in sugar from the bottom of a Dixie cup, rhubarb is a tart, sweet treat that absolutely sings summer.  Mixing it with strawberries, as if often done in pies, is also awesome, though since I can find strawberries much more easily than rhubarb, I tend to be a bit of a "rhubarb purist" and try to find it featured by itself.  I'm also excited because, duh, it's New Glarus and they make some of the best fruit beers that you will find.  Even when their normal fruit crops were low in supply thanks to an drought-inducing and uncooperative Mother Nature, NG produced their Serendipity and made splendid results with what they had available.  One of my favorite "fruits" AND one of my favorite brewers?  I'm ready to get this party started.  Let's pour!

I love how even the red ink and the green top emulate both
of the fruits that comprise this excellent beer.
Aroma 11/12
When this was first opened I could smell candy in the air.  Sweet, sugary goodness enveloped me.  I was wondering if it would smell any different when the nose was close, but it would end up not varying too greatly from what was first detected.  This beer smells very sugared.  Like the best Jelly Belly ever.  Do you want that in a beer?  Your call.  I'm a little wary of it right now.  I like fruit, but I'm not here to drink the equivilant of Kool-Aid that I used to make as a kid with an extra two cups of sugar.  I'm not too worried because this is new Glarus, but usually their aromas are the strongest part of their beer and while this is far from bad, all the sweetness makes me nervous.  The aromas of each fruit are detectable and with the rhubarb the sugar goodness ends up working pretty well.  It's easy to remember those sugar-carrying Dixie cups we had as kids.  There is an attempt at a balancing agent, though I won't go as far as to use the term "bittering agent."  The sensation is more akin to that of a black tea.  As this warms, it shows a hints of mustiness and reminds me of real, fresh strawberry juice from my juicing days.  I suppose that gives some additional credence to it being more "authentic," but it smells so unbelievably sweet!  However when it comes to New Glarus, it is easy to give them the benefit of the doubt regarding authenticity.

Appearance 2/3
This looks pretty much like cider straight from the apple orchard after you've stirred up all the sediment in it.  For the most part, it's simply brown and cloudy, but New Glarus is full of tricks.  Hold it up to the light and you'll quickly see a glinting ruby with all but trace amounts of the brown leaving the glass completely.  Didn't see that coming!  The head is moderate in size, cream in color, dissipates rather quickly, but stays as a creamy covering on the surface.

Flavor 20/20
When you have a beer that contains such sweet ingredients as this, it's expected that when it first hits the tip of your tongue, you'll be hit with a very forward sweet flavor.  Expectation met.  Though in a brief rearranging of the expected order, the tart of the rhubarb comes forward first followed by the sugary wash of strawberry juice.  I suppose I would've expected the sweet sensation first given the placement of those particular taste buds on the tip of the tongue.  The tart makes room for the nectar-like strawberries with getting out entirely out of the way.  This two combine in the way they do in a well-made pie before turning to New Glarus' staple fruit beer finisher.  By that, I don't mean how the beer finishes, it just seems that if you hold a New Glarus fruit beer in your mouth they will all (Belgium Red, Raspberry Tart, Serendipity) resort to this darker, slightly more bitter flavor.  I wish I could describe it better.  I suppose it's like biting a bit too close to the core of an apple.  Still lots of the apple flavor that you expect, but just a hint of something bitter as well.  Only the sensation in the Strawberry Rhubarb isn't bitter, it's just... I don't know.  I just don't know what to accurately compare it to.  Perhaps the faint "tea" note from the aroma?  Do they age this in oak the way they do their Wisconsin Belgian Red?  Is it just the same malt base?  Are they again using aged Hallertau hops?  What is it?!?  I have a feeling that only Dan or Deb Carey can scratch this itch of curiosity, but if any of you awesome craft beer people out there know, PLEASE comment below!  The actual finish is a lingering tartness (no surprise there), that much like the beer when in the mouth, gives way to the "mystery flavor" in the aftertaste while the mouth is left with an unexpected dryness considering how sweet and tart the beer is.

Mouthfeel 5/5
As always, when it comes to New Glarus fruit beers, the mouthfeel is more than you expect.  They never miss a chance to dive out of the way of "average."  This brew successfully avoids the over bubbly and thin qualities that a lot of lesser lambics tend to find.  The beer, while ample in carbonation, provides it with microscopic bubbles.  This keeps the beer feeling lively in the mouth, but without the prickle of over-carbonation (or the burps).  It also lets the beer feel more substantial by allowing the drinker to feel more of the actual liquid than the bubbles, contributing to a heavier and silkier mouthfeel.

Overall Impression 10/10
It's a New Glarus fruit beer, what did you expect, a sub-par effort?  Other than an aroma that I basically couldn't convince my brain wasn't some crazy, new, amazing, Skittle flavor and a somewhat murky appearance, this beer earns top marks all around.  Strong aroma, well-blended and captured flavors, and a great mouthfeel all make this yet another fruit beer to find from New Glarus.  If you haven't had a New Glarus fruit beer, there's no excuse.  Make a friend in Wisconsin, trade them something amazing from your area, and get it.  If you want to drink world class beers, you can't miss them.

Total 48/50
I try hard to reserve high scores for beers that really "wow" me.  But how can you be wowed when you expect greatness?  It's like the honor roll student that brings home another report card full of straight A's.  "Great job honey.  Throw it on the pile with the rest of 'em."  But you know what?  It's still an A.  It's still another testament to continued excellence.  Some might say that this beer doesn't differ much from the other New Glarus fruit beers; that they just did it with a different fruit.  I say, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."  Dummies.  More for me.

Keep making the good stuff NG, and I'll keep puttin 'em away.  Cheers!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Ska - Vernal Minthe

Some people simply don't drink stout in the summertime.  I may understand that reasoning after running a race, having done yardwork, or otherwise spending all day in the sun, but I fail to see the problem with a delicious stout simply because of a little heat wave.  A heat wave that has been mercilessly bashing the Midwest and East Coast with a fury of an axe-wielding Viking berserker.  Besides, Ska's Vernal Minthe even has the word "vernal" in the title meaning "1. of, relating to, or occurring in the spring. 2. fresh or new like the spring."  So they clearly don't want me to fall into the trap of only drinking beer styles during certain seasons, right?  Guys?

Oh, who cares when you drink a particular style!  I like stouts.  A lot.  I might knock over my own mother to get one (sorry, mom).  In case you couldn't guess today's review is for Ska's minty experiment in the stout world.  I'll tell you, they must be doing something right because I essentially have to battle my wife in a no-holds-barred, Jackie-Chan-meets-Jason Bourne-style battle, just for one of these cans every time I bring them in the house.  Let's pour!

Some good pulp-like can art.

Aroma 10/12
Ever open a package of Girl Scouts' Thin Mints cookies?  Of course you have.  They're legalized crack.  Because you have opened one of those silver-wrapped, cylindrical diet wreckers, you can also imagine what this beer smells like.  Roasted malt is present first, but is quickly overwhelmed by the peppermint and spearmint.  The result is a cooling, menthol minty-ness that also manages to incorporate some darker cocoa aromas.  The mint cooling is the primary aroma, but it shows a healthy promise for the beer beneath it.

Appearance 2/3
It looks like a stout should, but I withheld a point for the lackluster head.  It was a nice tan color, but couldn't even raise a finger's worth of foam and died a death as inglorious as its birth.  This beer is all but black, with some dark coffee browns along the edge when held to light.

Flavor 18/20
The early combination of dark chocolate/cocoa notes and the bright mint, make the Thin Mints comparison an easy one to make.  Thankfully, that is not all the beer offers.  As it sits in the mouth the mint remains, but the cocoa tones begin to becomes a sweeter more molasses-like note.  It's sweet, but dark in a way that is appropriate to the beer's composition.  Lots of neutral malts also begin to appear, which of course offer little in the way of flavor, but in this case do help the beer transition to the finish.  Put the beer on the tip of your tongue to get a tingly, sweet sensation.  The finish is also a mint reprise, but with little else to combat the mint it becomes as fresh and refreshing.  Any lingering flavors are fairly light, but the omnipresent mint tingle along with some dark, almost charred, malts, and a bit of a peppery bitterness all come together in a pleasant echo of the beer you just enjoyed.

Mouthfeel 4/5
Ah.  So this is where they tried to make it a "seasonal stout."  The mouthfeel is not what one typically comes to expect from a stout.  The body is a solid "medium," but the carbonation is aggressive and prickly.  Maybe this is in concert with the menthol-like cooling of the mint somehow?  Is it just an illusion?  Eventually that carbonation dies a bit and the beer is smooth down the throat with a little bit of sticky cling.

Overall Impression 9/10
Not an "all the time" beer, but it certainly did what it set out to do.  It's not often that some of these "flavor experiments" turn out for the best, but this is one that has succeeded.  The aroma is spot on, the appearance is black and... well, that's about it, the flavor is distinct and harmonious, and the mouthfeel is pretty darn close to style.  It's a nice experiment that I'm bound to drink again one day and until then will undoubtedly use this beer in conversations of unusual beers.

Total 44/50
Not a bad score in my book, though this stout undoubtedly will have its detractors.  It's a distinct, unique flavor and that simply won't appeal to every single craft beer drinker out there.  Does it taste like a thin mint cookie?  Yes.  Has my wife discovered that it pairs insanely well with a mint chocolate chip ice cream sandwich.  Within moments of tasting it.  Can you drink this in any season?  Of course.  I've never had a stout with mint in it before, but after drinking this I wouldn't be afraid to try others' forays into the combination.  I claim this as a successful experiment by Ska!  They tried something different, did what they said they would regarding a new flavor, and it turned out pretty darn well.

Bad news:  having been released in the spring, if you can't find it in your area, you may have to wait until next year.
Good news:  There's still a lot of this out there and it shouldn't take a secret treasure map to find it.  I suggest you do.  It's always fun to try something new.

Perhaps my wife's new favorite food pairing.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Deschutes - Hop Henge Experimental IPA

This is a beer I know nothing about before tasting it.  While that might not make for very interesting reading or back story, it should provide for a very honest and unbiased review.  We just started getting Deschutes in the area within the last four months or so and I am definitely OK with that.  I don't buy sixers that often and since the selection of Deschutes we have thus far is primarily six packs I have not been picking up a whole lot of it.  I've also had all the current varieties thus far and choose to focus on new experiences.  However, when I saw this bomber which was both new and from Deschutes I had to snag it.  Besides, try and tell me that the label art doesn't look promising.  Hops are spilling forth from bags from bags!  It's a veritable monument to hops, right?  Let's pour!

Bottle gives no brewed date, but reads "Best by 08/27/13"

Aroma 11/12
A promising beginning shows plenty of citrus aromas with pineapple and grapefruit leading the way.  Floral notes are not too far behind, but resin seems distant at this point.  The caramel sweetness is present and doing its best to mingle with the hops, but its definitely second fiddle.  After the beer warms it opens up beautifully.  A rich honey note steps in to dance with the hops, which remain strong, and the piney resin begins to kick things up a notch.

Appearance 3/3
This bright beer's transparency really helps showcase the honey and pumpkin hues.  The head was particularly pleasing in texture, size, and retention.  A creamy color to match the wet, creamy looking texture as bubbles breached the surface everywhere they could.

Flavor 18/20
I had to wait until my taste buds acclimate before I could truly get a handle on everything that was going on in this bottle.  There are a pair of large flavors at work and its hard to hear anything else of the din of those two oafs.  Largely the huge caramel malts are fighting the hop pine flavors tooth and nail, but behind that are some solid flavors as well.  In fact, the caramel flavors are apparently in a tag team with some biscuity malts that take over because the sweetness seems to die away rather quickly.  The beginning shows us brief splashes of the aroma's citrus before it is almost immediately washed away by the two larger flavors.  Those two gorillas give make for a backbone thick with caramel sugars, pine, resin, and... no that's about it.  Hopheads should love the finish particularly as it gives the tingle of  hop acids, alcohol warmth, and spicy black pepper before it begrudgingly sticks and slides down your throat.  The aftertaste is what one should expect in a strong IPA with plenty of bitter resin, a persistent pepper, and a slight drying effect despite the plentiful malts.  Not the biggest IPA I've ever had, but definitely enough to satisfy those seeking their daily ration of humulus lupulus.

Mouthfeel 4/5
My first note on this was "thick."  It was accurate.  All the malts required to balance the "henge's-worth" of hops result in a big body beer that stumbles and bumbles its way across your taste buds.  The carbonation is spot on and leaves most of the tingly sensations to the resin, peppery hops, and a warmth that seems to only make an appearance in the finish and aftertaste; an interesting trick in a 10.9% ABV brew.

What a great sight!

Overall Impression 8/10
The amounts of flavor in this beer are certainly to be reckoned with.  I also appreciate the body and the fact that the beer somehow maintains a perfect level of carbonation regardless of how warm it gets in the glass.  The transition of flavor from sweet (brief citrus & caramel) to bitter (biscuit, resin, pine, grapefruit's bitter) is also an interesting characteristic to which one should pay attention.

Total 44/50
I'm trying really hard not to be fickle or hypocritical.  On one hand, I often criticize beers for not "bringing the thunder" when it comes to flavor.  This beer certainly does bring with it some substantial flavor, but brings it with all the nuance and tact of a bowling ball.  It's just... asserts itself with flavor.   Again, flavor is good!  I'll never fault a beer for having flavor, I just want to taste more than just the splatting of ingredients on my tongue.  Sure, I tasted several different flavors, I just  really had to search for them behind the giants in the way.  The imagery of a paintball being fired on the tongue refuses to leave me.  Not because this beer was so over-the-top intense, but because it basically all came at once until you get to the finish.  SMACK!  Where was the chance for flavors to develop on the tongue?  I don't know.  The more I type the more I sound to myself like a whiny idiot.  Maybe this is what happens when an amateur tries to put into words the subjective notion of flavor.

TL;DR:  Good beer.  Lots of flavor.  Expect a car wreck of hops in your mouth, but not a wide spectrum of flavor.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

21st Amendment - Allies Win the War

OK, OK, so I missed VE Day (May 8th), D-Day (June 6th), Memorial Day, and I don't feel like waiting until VJ Day (Aug 15th) to review this beer.  Heck, I've waited long enough!  The original release date of the collaboration between Ninkasi and 21A was back in November of 2011.  The can, on par for 21A, has some great art on it that mimics the famous photo of FDR, Churchill, & Stalin at the Yalta Conference.  The history nerd in me must note that the Yalta Conference occurred in February of 1945, about 3 months before the Allies did "Win the War."  Tiny details aside, I'm ready to taste and heed the immortal words of Gen Dwight D. Eisenhower when he said, "You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months."  OK, so maybe that's not what he had in mind.  Let's pour!

Aroma 10/12
When they say that this is an ale brewed with dates, brother they ain't kiddin'!  Dark fruit aromas abound with dates and raisins practically burping up and out of the can.  This pairs nicely with a dark molasses sweetness and makes for a very rich bouquet of malts.  The dark fruit aromas lend themselves very well to an almost vinous/boozy aroma.  Oh, and all that is when the beer is still cold.  Warming adds toffee notes to the molasses and a woody/earthy hop note.  I must say I'm surprised to have any hop aromas at all after the can has sat for as long as it has.

Appearance 3/3
A tan head the color of aged parchment caps provides a modestly sized cap for the dimly lit beer that idley loafs in my glass.  Sitting there it shows shades of maroon and stained cherry wood.  Lifted to the light the beer tosses aside the "wood" and puts an exclamation point on the "cherries!"  Vibrant reds and glowing magentas fill almost the entire glass, save for a iced-tea colored tinge at the very surface.

Flavor 17/20
I kept taking sips and waiting for the beginning of the beer to show me something, but alas, it never really does outside of some neutral, body-giving malts.  Small sips show a lot more of the neutral malts and, of course, plenty of the added dates.  Larger mouthfuls reveal a much more complicated beer of dark roasts, dates, a very nicely balancing bitter, an undercurrent of dry, biscuity malt, and a subdued molasses.  The bitter seems to seek out the rearmost sides of the tongue and make sure they not left out.  The finish is a bit boozy and offers and additional bitter punch to the omnipresent dark fruits as they descend.  The spicy hops immediately become present in the mouth after the beer has gone.  Lots of black pepper and dry tongue tingling goodness!

Mouthfeel 5/5
All the neutral malts start things with out a medium-full body, but eventually morph into heavy, creamy texture.  As it sits heavier in the mouth, things begin to turn peppery and tingle the tongue.  That's three unique mouthfeels during the course of one beer and I approve.  The 8.5% ABV is barely noted in the finish due to the prominent spicy hops, but does still make its presence known.  You'd think a beer involving added dark fruits would not end dry nor bitter!  A pleasant and contrasting surprise.

Overall Impression 8/10
I certainly did not expect where this beer was going based on my early sniffs!  Things were dates, raisins, vinous, and malty, leading me to believe I'd be receiving a very dark, sweet beer.  This was not to be the case.  The hops really stepped things up to not only give this beer balance throughout its backbone, but by also taking the beer in a completely different direction and ending it in a spicy, dry, bitter fashion.

Total 43/50
This beer turns the tides like the Battle of Stalingrad (I had to fit in a WWII reference somewhere)!  Starts out with dark fruits, but finishes with a bitter, spicy note that repels the initial invaders.  I like it.  It has definitely turned into a sipper thanks to the closing flavors and a body that is pleasant to roll around the mouth.  I haven't found any sources indicating that this beer has been brewed since 2011, but it would be a darn shame if this was the only time this was brewed.  Who knows?  Maybe they can make the recipe a bit more robust and release one helluva barleywine!  Much like VE Day, they might just earn their own ticker tape parade.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Goose Island - 25th Anniversary Ale

It seems a very good friend of ours is celebrating a rather special occasion.  That's right friends, while I might be late to the party there was no way that I was going to miss offering a hearty and well-deserved "Congratulations!" to Goose Island on their silver anniversary!  Twenty-five big years of holding down the craft beer scene in Chicago.  It wasn't always easy, but their persistence, dedication to quality, and determination to spread the craft beer gospel has paid off in spades.  Before I get this review started, if you haven't seen it already be sure to check out the interview with Goose Island Founder, John Hall.  It was conducted by cool guy and all around beer badass Nik from Chicago Beer Geeks.  Talk about an insane privilege!  All right, now let's see what GI has whipped for us for this festive event.  Let's pour!

Aroma 10/12
The first sniffs of the chilled brew are almost akin to a good German lager.  European hops are prominent with their earthiness and a delicate, fresh citrus that blends with it.  A faint but unmistakable pine note enters later as the beer warms.  The malts are barely roasted and bready with only trace amounts of caramel.  Not a powerhouse of an aroma, but they don't all have to be, do they?

Appearance 3/3
This beer absolutely sets the glass on fire with its bright reddish-coppers and orange hues.  Super high clarity and capped with a nicely contrasting ivory colored foam.  No movement from bubbles inside, but the head remains as a surface covering for some time and shows no sign of stopping.  Hold this one at arms length and look into it as you move it toward and away from a light source.  You won't be disappointed.

Flavor 17/20
A malt-driven beginning showcases some dry, crackery, and crystal malts.  Things get only a drizzle of caramel before a bitter fades in slowly as does a tart tinge.  The main backbone is a caramel/crystal malt combination with some spicy hops thrown in the mix.  Thankfully, the caramel's round, mellow sweetness increases as the beer warms in the glass.  The delicate hop citrus notes from the aroma have been made even less of a presence, but are still detectable.  Well, balanced but with an emphasis on the bitter as the style demands.  The finish actually allows the caramel to finish its say before washing it clean with a light, resinous bitter that makes the sides of the tongue tingle ever so slightly.  Aftertaste is more of the resin clinging to whatever it can.

Mouthfeel 5/5
I like this.  It's a moderate-full mouthfeel that helps you to ration out the beer and take your time.  Its lighter flavors would have you drink it more quickly and fall victim to the invisible 6.4% ABV.  In fact, the body is the only clue that you're getting anything other than a standard strength ale.  The carbonation is initially fairly aggressive, but slides deceptively into the hops' spiciness as it sits in the mouth.  It's a neat trick.  Somehow despite that nearly prickly carbonation, the beer swallows with a smooth and creamy finish.  There's a lot of neat stuff going on here if you're willing to pay attention to a characteristic that often goes unheralded.

Overall Impression 7/10
I suppose the beer does the style well: the English hops are well used in the "bittering only" capacity, the color is gorgeous and appropriate, it enjoys a caramel sweetness, and exhibits a sturdier body than expected while remaining quite drinkable (as most English styles demand).  For a reasonably priced sixer this beats out a lot of options that are available.

Total 42/50
This is not a bad beer.  It's not a knockout either.  Maybe Goose Island is brewing this as a tribute to one of their earlier beers and I don't know about it?  Note:  Upon further investigation, it is.  Click here.  I'd definitely purchase this over a lot of other beers available.  I might even use it to win over the adventurous few who are thinking of taking the leap into bitter beers, but aren't ready for stronger IPAs or American-style brews just yet.  I suppose that experiencing year after year of big ol' anniversary beers from any number of brewers I was expecting something a little more "special" from Goose Island on their 25th.  In hindsight, I appreciate the tip of the hat they are giving to their roots, and if I want something bigger I'll turn to a bottle of Big John or Bourbon County.  Also, since I haven't said it yet on the blog... big, huge, massive kudos to Goose Island for proving all the pessimists wrong and still brewing amazing beer after they were bought by AB-InBev.  If that purchase had any effects, they were all positive.  Goose Island's capabilities are expanded exponentially and AB-InBev has the ability to endlessly mimic a recipe, giving GI a consistent product even as their production happily ramps up to new levels.  I won't claim complete amnesty and say I wasn't concerned at all, but Goose Island has proved us all wrong and I've never been so glad to eat a bit of crow... er, goose.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Rogue - Voodoo Doughnut

For those that don't know, besides being recognized for a plethora of breweries and an un-funny show starring Fred Armisen (I tried to get into it! I really did.), Portland is also known for a local doughnut shop called Voodoo Doughnuts.  If you click on that link, you'll be taken to their homepage and if it doesn't immediately start you both salivating and contracting diabetes then your screen resolution is set too low.  One of the artisan doughnuts that they make is called the Bacon Maple Bar.  It's a raised yeast doughnut (those are the kind that aren't like cake), with maple frosting and bacon placed lovingly on top.  It's the breakfast of champions.

For those that like syrup on their breakfast meats and naming the cavities in your teeth, this is a match made in heaven.  I have a friend in Portland who fights himself daily to not go into Voodoo Doughnuts to sample their unending deliciousness.  However, this beer has generally received less than positive reviews.  I've heard that it tastes like everything from the "elephant ear" chew toys for dogs to "wet campfire" to "silly and surprisingly charming."  Well, it's time find out for myself and hopefully accurately clarify for any other curious craft beer drinkers not fortunate enough to find a bottle to taste for themselves.  Whether the outcome is positive or negative, I would like to point out the collaboration between two local landmark businesses and how cool that is.  I feel that the camaraderie and collaboration are integral parts of the craft brew scene and that we all benefit from them in the long run.  OK, putting the soapbox away... Let's pour!

It'll definitely capture your attention on the shelf.

Aroma 11/12
With the promise of maple-slathered meats lying within, I couldn't help but steal a sniff directly from the bottle.  It immediately earned the response of, "Oh, shut up."  Not because it was that amazing, but because it smelled exactly like what it is supposed to smell like.  In other words, a lot of maple and brown sugar.  I quickly poured into the glass to see if a it remained the same and by and large it did.  In the glass, it initially provides a well-blended balance between maple and smoke.  Later on this smokiness would reveal itself to be more of the mesquite variety and not like that of peat.  It rather smells like a McGriddle, but with more smokiness and likely less heartburn, which I attribute directly to the "Pepto pink" hue of the bottle.  A faint sharpness (a distant, faded citrus?) of unknown origin shows itself from time to time and it could be simply the association in my mind, but there is a saltiness to be detected as well.  Beer promises maple bacon doughnut.  Beer delivers maple bacon doughnut.

Appearance 3/3
It pours a clear, bright copper with pale golden highlights.  The head is a good size that starts out a pastel orange shade, but fades to a light almond color.  It falls gently and crackles slowly like autumn fire.

Flavor 15/20
Despite the promise of sweet flavors rolling over the tip of the tongue, the first flavors are instead more crisp and like whole grain wheat.  Right behind that is load of roast and smoke flavors and then... wait... where the hell is the maple?!  One now easily tastes a slight sourness (that distant, faded citrus again) that was only barely present in the aroma and a lot of the neutral, crystal malts (at least that's what I assume the C15 and C75 stand for in the ingredient list).  This has all the makings of a decent brown ale with the smoke/roast notes, but they too quickly turn to that neutral, faint citrus sweetness.  The swallow is barely bitter at all and finishes with little discernible flavor whatsoever.  Even the aftertaste is a whisp of the smoke, but mostly those crystal malts.  They're still there.

Note:  Don't let this beer get anywhere near room temperature!  It turns into a, smokey, salty, chore of a mess.

Mouthfeel 4/5
As a brown ale, this is not bad at all.  It is mouth-wateringly carbonated with bubbles that are never prickly, but instead very gentle and lightly foaming.  It provides more a very nice and refreshing mouth sensation that complements the crisp initial flavors of the beer quite nicely and helps them stand out.  It holds the smoke flavor adequately, but the light body of the beer seems painfully inadequate to hold what should be some pretty sweet flavors (especially considering the lack of hops).  Yes, I know that Rogue seldom issues a bruiser outside of their XS series, and in my mind are more known for issuing nuanced beers instead of powerhouses.  However, I doubt that Voodoo Doughnuts is issuing pastries that are light on flavor and if amazing food is what you're aiming for, you better damn well hit it.  Light, refreshing, well carbonated.  Great for a brown ale, but it serves poorly for the task at hand.

Overall Impression 6/10
What promise was shown with this beer!  The aroma is as intoxicating and rousing as a good breakfast.  The maple abounded and the bacon playfully floated past like tiny delicious magic carpets.  I felt like Homer Simpson in the Land of Chocolate.  Unfortunately, also like Homer Simpson I woke up to a rather disappointing reality.

Where the hell did all the maple syrup go?  Everything was so promising and then all I get is a smoked brown ale with a very nice mouthfeel.  Granted, things have turned out worse, but with how amazing the aroma smelled it was quite a fall back to earth.  This lack of maple and the light body are my only two qualms with this brew.

Total 39/50
This is not a very flattering score.  I do not agree with the folks who say that this beer is terrible or too smokey.  Of course, this bottle is quite a bit older and the beer may be an entirely different animal straight from the tap.  For those that find this beer too smokey, have a glass of Ardbeg's Galileo scotch; then you will  know "too smokey."  I am simply disappointed not to find more maple sweetness in the beer!  If I were drinking this as a straight brown ale, I might have enjoyed it more; especially around the fall season when bonfires are rife and smokey porters & rauchbiers are in full swing.  As it stands it's a tasty brown ale (until it warms), a bit heavy on the crystal malts, with an excellent mouthfeel for that particular style.  But doughnuts are sweet and I want sweet.

I hope that this review was helpful without all the hyperbole found in a lot of comparisons for this beer.  I read a lot of reviews for this beer before I found it and still had no idea of what it might taste like.  The reviews were all over the map.  My two sentence synopsis?  Beer promises maple bacon doughnut.  Beer misses maple bacon doughnut.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Great Divide - Espresso Oak Aged Yeti

I've been breaking out some decent bottles in the last month or so, some of which are documented in this blog.  Today will provide no exception as I'm finally ready to crack open a bottle of Espresso Oak Aged Yeti from Great Divide Brewing Co. out of Denver, Colorado.  I'm pretty excited to say the least.  I've only snagged tastes of Yeti before and one of those was a bottle that was shared at the 2012 Dark Lord Day, but it had soured.  I tasted it anyway just to see the off flavors.  As with many beers, this one is not immediately available in my area, so you know that when I saw it at a beer store when I was out of town, I had to snag it.  Especially after being subject to its reputation for too long.  Let's pour!

Oh baby.
Aroma 12/12
Even before opening the bottle I was expecting a monstrous coffee aroma in proportion to the mythical creature of its namesake.  Thankfully, I was mistaken.  Yeti did not try to bowl me over with overpowering coffee.  I was apprehensive after seeing "with coffee added" on the label instead of being brewed with coffee or a malt that might elicit the same flavors.  As mentioned, Yeti does sets aside all those worries and gives the drinker something truly special.  It's not often one is comforted by a Yeti.  You may quote me.

Surprisingly, the first to the nose is a dark, dark chocolate malt and is followed closely by brewed espresso (naturally), and a lesser sweet oatmeal or lactose note.  The coffee is anything but overpowering even as the drink warms, and I give this beer high praise for its restraint.  When chilled, the beer initially makes the sweet creaminess easy to detect.  Eventually a bit more balance appears and a bitterness begins to grow on the palate.  The final stage is a glorious one as chocolate and heat step forward a bit, and the coffee + chocolate blend begins a perfect harmony.  I mean perfect.  I can hardly tell which one is more present.  Is there one that's 51/49?  55/45?  Couldn't tell you.  They are wondrously blended.

Yeah.  Pretty sure even the head could be SRM rated.

Appearance 3/3
I should just be able to write, "This looks like one of the best stouts you've ever had" and you would know.  However, in the interest of maintaining a high level of detail I shall elaborate.  It pours black and thick and raises a generous, two fingers of chocolate mousse-colored head.  The head nearly has the appearance of cake it is so thick.  Look at the below photo!  I had to take one, it was that striking.  I mean, c'mon, it even could have its own SRM rating!  Its longevity was also impressive as was its lacing.  There is nothing to complain about here and if I could give it more points I would.  Maybe I can just send money to Denver and tell them to buy themselves something pretty.  They deserve it.

Look at that head!  It makes you wanna slice it up and
serve it with ice cream!

Flavor 19/20
So maybe now is when I'll be overwhelmed with coffee, right?  Right?  Well, perhaps not as this particular bottle was born on December 19, 2011.  Maybe I should just drink it and find out.  The first sips are absolutely saturated with flavor and only once the tongue begins to acclimate to this tsunami of goodness can one begin to pick apart the flavors.  A burst of dark roast comes first, but is instantly washed away, almost literally, by the foaming action of the beer and an intense dollop of extremely dark chocolate.   The chocolate sits heavily in the mouth and refuses to be moved, but instead is paired with a salty flavor and bits of char from the malt.  I must commend the chocolate/salt blend.  Wow. This is absolutely delicious!  The coffee flavor has faded with age, but it still provides a general bitter to help darken the beer as a whole.  The bitter is, of course, more present in the finish as the beer flows over those 'bitter' taste buds on the back of the tongue.  The mouth remains coated with chocolate and coffee flavors and only much later in the aftertaste are we treated to any hint of warmth in this beer.  It comes with a lingering chocolate java and ties things together nicely.

Mouthfeel 5/5
After swallowing, I found myself wanting to chew this beer.  Some part of me needed to get every last savory bit of flavor out of this brew.  I even chewed the sides of my mouth a little bit just so my teeth could scrape off any lingering dark, smoky goodness.  This is unquestionably a full-bodied, big ol' beer and packs an absolute flavor bomb.  It offers a carbonation a smidgen higher than I might expect, but it also might be necessary as this beer is extremely sticky in the mouth after swallowing.  When the beer is still chilled, that carbonation offers an neat foaming action, but later on is there to simply provide texture for a very large beer.  Warmth is invisible save for its brief cameo in the aftertaste.

Overall Impression 10/10
I'll try not to gush, but.... WOW!  What a beer!  The flavors are massive and the chocolate espresso blend is a home run.  The coffee flavor itself had faded (I'll never know how much), but even in its current state adds a solid bitter that lends itself well to portraying a darker chocolate than perhaps was intended.  Please keep in mind that even though there are many mentions of chocolate, this beer is not what one would call sweet.  Just as a 90% cacao chocolate bar isn't exactly something you offer to the kiddies.  Superior appearance, amazing aroma blend, massive flavor, and it absolutely slides across the bottom of your mouth.

Total 49/50
If you see this, buy it.  Even if it's $20, buy it.  It would be a bargain and one of the few beers at that price point that actually deserves to be there.  I'm pouring the second half of this bomber bottle and loving it even more.  When it's more chilled, the beer foams up in the mouth nicely, but really smooths out as it warms.  i know I've mentioned that before, but it's a really cool effect and I can't tell which mouthfeel I appreciate more.  It is simply excellent on every level.  I'm glad the coffee wasn't immense, but that the flavor was definitely Sasquatch-sized.  My wife likened the brew as a whole to Cuban Coffee.  For those that don't know Cuban Coffee is essentially espresso that is brewed over several table spoons of sugar.  Any sugar that is not immediately dissolved is taken care of in the next step as the steam wand of the espresso machine is placed deep in the brewing vessel to almost super-saturate the espresso with the sugar.  This results in a a delicious, sweet, thick concoction that is the equivalent of nitrous oxide for pretty much anything that is alive and brave enough to not fear its heart exploding.  If a cardiologist sees a cup of it, it spontaneously bursts into flame.  Heart issues aside, I also really appreciate the fact that they make no qualms about wanting you to drink this for breakfast (see below picture).  If I could I wouldn't even wait til breakfast in my morning routine to enjoy this brew; I'd bathe in it.

A wise man once said, "Don't sweat the petty things and don't pet the sweaty things."  I hope that I can make an addendum to this sage wisdom with, "but always drink the Yeti things."

Word at both top and bottom indicate that this is a "breakfast beer."
Whatever that is, I love it.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Homebrew Submission #1 - Winter Dark Ale

Hey everybody!  Today's review will not be the first homebrew that I've ever reviewed, but it will be the first one submitted to me for just such a purpose.  I could get used to this.  There's no "brewery" name nor even a name for the beer, but it has been enthusiastically made by someone that enjoys beer enough to brew it themselves and that says something about one's initiation, their dedication to the craft, and also to the finer things.  Thanks to my buddy Jim for ponying up 12 oz. of something he put his elbow grease into.   The only information that I have on this beer is that it is a "dark winter ale."  Shall we see what homebrewing prowess awaits us?  Let's pour!

I wish.
Aroma 9/12
True to style and nicely so.  This is a dark, malt-centered beer that has a healthy amount of dark fruit aromas.  Raisins and fig are easy to discern and are often a welcome addition to a nice dark beer.  Spices are next and, thankfully, avoid the pitfall of overwhelming everything in their path.  This is lightly spiced with nutmeg and a distant clove note.  An additional sweetness also comes through that cannot be attributed to the dark fruit flavors.  The nearest I can come to describing it is Belgian candi sugar.

Reviewer Confesstion:
All the previous sentences in the "Aroma" category were written while the beer was still relatively chilled.  Upon warming, the beer opens up and releases what I will at this time describe as a banana aroma.  Normally, I would associate this with Belgian yeast, but that would be a bit unusual for the style.  I question myself.  "Maybe it's the ripening bananas in the next room?  Naw, your nose isn't that sensitive.  Maybe it's that your nose is a little stuffy?  I don't think so.  That's never caused 'aroma hallucinations' before."  I can't deny what I find, but right now this seems to be shaping up to be a Belgian Strong and less like a traditional winter ale.  Not that I'm complaining mind you...  The latecomer aroma steals the show, but still lets the previous aromas maintain a supporting role.  Even later still this aroma disappears completely.

Appearance 3/3
This poured much darker than I anticipated, especially for the style.  Most winter warmers and seasonals are a nice chestnut or maduro brown.  This brew, on the other hand, pours almost black.  When held to light only a brave few magenta glints show through the darkness.  It's not as black as say some top end stouts, but definitely more than a winter ale requires.  A nice surprise!  The head was the only weak part of the appearance.  It rose to less than a finger in height and then settled quickly as a almond colored ring around the circumference.

Flavor 16/20
The brew had set some pretty high expectations with the prior two categories, but doesn't quite match them in the flavor.  Far from saying that this is a bad brew, but it doesn't capture all the exciting nuances of the aroma.  After smelling, I would've expected lots of dark fruits, maybe a faint hint of warmth, perhaps some Belgian yeasty goodness, and all the sweetness that these things bring.  The beer instead introduces itself with darkly roasted malts, a light bitterness that one would associate with that, and a very distant hint of the dark fruits detected in the aroma.  The fruit flavors consist mostly of the flavor without the often associated sweetness.  None of the spice from the aroma is to be found.  The small amount of sweetness that does exist is nutlike behind the roast/bitter combo, but gives the idea of what this beer is trying to achieve.  The finish is a continuation of the nutty bitter, but eventually settles into combination of dark roasted malt and an appropriate bitter.

Mouthfeel 4/5
This has a very light mouthfeel in general and especially after considering the style.  Either the style listed (winter dark ale) or the style alluded to by the aroma would require a more substantial body.  Going by the style given, it would require a full-bodied, richer brew that also might not be afraid to be a little boozy.  Instead, this drinks like a nut brown ale in its body.  If the carbonation were a bit higher, it would be easy to confuse the two.  The bubbles of this beer would be perfect for a big, ol' winter ale by offering only the slightest of textures toward the end of the glass.  This is a unexpected find of  light, mouth-watering, refreshing brown ale, in what would normally be a more sturdy beer.  For those who like winter ale flavors, but not a big, heavy body (or booze) this would be ideal.

In that trusty, brown, label-less bottle.

Overall Impression 7/10
This is a hard beer to score!  It misses some major marks of its intended style, but picks up another style in the process.  If I were guessing based solely on flavor, I'd say a nut brown ale with some subtle complexities.  If I were taking a blind guess at this beer based on the aroma, I'd tell you a lighter version of a Belgian strong.  Another guess on mouthfeel would point me again toward a smooth brown ale.  On top of all this the beer remains remarkably drinkable.  I'd be more at home downing a few of these after raking some leaves in the fall than quaffing one with company in front of a winter-time fire.

Total 39/50
Does either one of the seasonal activities I mentioned in the previous sentence sound bad?  No.  Neither is this beer.  Just because I gripe on and on about how it misses its style, it still turned into a beer that I'd drink anytime.  In fact, with more carbonation this would easily be an above-average nut brown ale.  Note: This may be the only time I've mentioned a home brew being under carbonated.  If I am to consider this a nut brown ale, then I must give extra credit for having an aroma that far exceeds that style.  Also, this batch is pretty early in this particular brewer's career number of batches.  It's encouraging to see this early effort nailing some things that more experienced home brewers miss regularly.  Cheers to you, sir, and thanks for the bottle!  You're brewing better beer than I am.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Surly - Smoke

"How do you know when a beer is really, really important?" he asked with a hint of sarcasm.  "I don't know," she replied matter-of-factly.  "They barrel age it and put some fancy wax on the top?"


This is precisely the reason that I'm pretty pumped to be drinking today's beer.  Well, that and the fact that it's brewed by Surly.  Not only does Surly make amazing craft beer, but it is also a rather blue moon (er... brew moon?) when I actually get to drink it as it is still only distributed in Minnesota.  No more puns.  Let's pour!

Aroma 12/12
There is no confusing a good rauchbier!  My nose gets a frying pan full of salty bacon, smokey clothes after a campfire, and a medium-deep roasted malt.  Oddly, there is a lack of the complementary charred malt aromas that one might expect a brewer to utilize.  One may even detect a distant plum or two as well as some alcohol warmth.  The only other analogy I can think to make is the greasy, browned skin from a chicken after being roasted over wood or grilled with wood chips.  After warming a bit, the smokey and salty combine to give a hint of what smells like soy sauce.  This seems like a short paragraph to dedicate to such an important feature as aroma, but it does what it does very well.

Appearance 3/3
This beer poured much thicker than I expected and much darker than a traditional rauchbier.  Perhaps I should have suspected something a bit "meaner" after I had to fight my way through that cantankerous wax cap.  The head was a shade of brown normally reserved for dark, top of the line stouts!  It hissed as it made its descent, usually a sign of a quick-dying head, but still offered a slightly less that average retention and no lacing.  Check out how dark this bad boy is!

Flavor 18/20
Something that any craft beer drinker should appreciate is present immediately in this beer.  Sure there are some dark, strong flavors at play here, but the base beer itself is still of a very high quality!  Lots of lager elements make themselves known despite the powerful smokey atmosphere.  The first flavor sensations are that of the roasted malt and the (again) distant sweetness of a dark fruit.  The sweetness of the figs, raisins, and almost chocolatey malts are allowed to play around for a bit in the smoke, but before long they give way to a more stern and straightforward beer.  Smoke is always the overarching theme, but after the sweetness things become more bitter and less complex.  All that remains is a dark, dark chocolate malt that gives almost zero sweetness to the roasted, blackened malt.  The elements of the porter have surrendered to those of the rauchbier.  The finish is again smokey while showing off a surprisingly great drizzle of chocolate and some charred malts that had previously remained hidden.  The aftertaste is largely a dry, bitter reminder of that char on the back center of the tongue.

Mouthfeel 5/5
I like everything about this mouthfeel.  It's light enough to drink, yet big enough to carry all these robust flavors.  Especially for a lager!  Typically lagers don't get a lot of respect, but this beer is definitely a counter-argument to all the lager haters out there!  The body is medium-full, but leans more toward full and exhibits a perfect level of carbonation.  The bubbles keep this otherwise creamy beer in check and lively on the tongue.  even though it had all the dark fruit sugars to potentially make it a chore.  Also, I'm not sure I can say enough about the warmth in this beer.  I have never had a beer utilize its alcohol content like this one.  It spreads its way across the inside of the mouth, but never in a way where one would assume it is alcohol.  It nearly teams up with the creaminess to coat the inside of the mouth with very subtle sensation that makes a very large contribution toward feeling like a much bigger beer.

Wax put my Beer Stick to work, SON!  I had to carve through this!

Overall Impression 9/10
So much about this beer is good and so little of it requires constructive criticism.  It has all the hallmarks of a excellent porter such as dark fruit, big body, and color, but also is still an excellent rauchbier!  The smoke never overpowers the other ingredients, but instead either works with them or takes its turn.  That statement may seem a little far fetched if you've just opened the bottle and the smoke seems a bit dominant, but as your palate acclimates, you will notice all sorts of balance happening in beautiful ways.  It also refuses to take for granted the "lesser"characteristics of carbonation and warmth and turns them into critical allies.

Total 47/50
Let me first say that I have been holding onto this beer for a long time.  When fresh, it may very well be umpteen times boozier and taste like it has a dozen more bushels of fruit added.  As it stands, however, it is a smokey, dark beer with glimmers of dark fruit and a stealth-grade warmth.  I never would have guessed anything close to the bottle's claim of 8.2% ABV.  Ever.  It's just one of the surprises that this beer packs beneath its iron-like wax cap.  "What are the others," you ask?  Well, it reads "lager" on the outside of the bottle, so one expects something lighter, less powerful, and more refreshing.  This hits more like a porter on every level.  I love it when beers exceed my expectations, don't you?  Porter lager... whatever.  It's a beer that deserves to picked up if you see it and is one of the best of this style that I've sampled.