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.