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.