Friday, February 22, 2013

Dogfish Head - Burton Baton (2007)

Today my quest to break out some of my weird an unusual beers takes me back to 2007.  It was a troubled time for America and I give you the following alliterative list to prove it:
  • Barbaro is euthanized
  • Bears lost the Super Bowl
  • Britney Spears shaves her head.  Gets new tattoo
  • "Breakfast of Champions" author Kurt Vonnegut dies
  • Boris Yeltzin dies
  • Bob Barker leaves the "Price is Right"
  • Boston wins the World Series
Gratuitous Barbaro pic.
There were a lot of bad things, beginning with "B" that happened in 2007, but thankfully Burton Baton flew in the face of it all.  Having been brewed off and on since it's release in 2004, it eventually gained enough popularity to become brewed year-round.  Thank goodness.  It's labeled as an Imperial IPA, but Burton Baton is actually a blend of an DIPA and an English-style old ale, which is then aged in a big ol' oak tank.  Normally, I would not review an IPA or DIPA that is one month over 6 years old.  However, the bottle contradicts my logic by clearly stating, "Lush & enjoyable now, this beer ages with the best of 'em."  OK, I'll bite.  Let's pour!

Aroma 10/12
Oak notes are prominent, but nothing about this beer is harsh or aggressive.  The vanilla and oak touch the nose and bring with them some interesting travel companions.  A faded citrus is next.  It carries the remnants of juicy grapefruits and pineapple, but those fruity bits have all but disappeared completely.  Thankfully, we still have a slight acidity that gives the scent a bit of a bite.  The old ale notes come in after that and carry with them all the things we love about the style: sweet malts, a light roast, raisins, and a nice gentle warmth.

Appearance 2/3
I'm not expecting the world when it comes to carbonation in a 6 year-old bottle, but I was pleasantly surprised at the half finger of head that formed after a fairly aggressive pour.  Unfortunately, the head was the high point for the appearance of this beer.  It sits in the glass the murky color of a sun tea that has steeped too long and grown too dark. Held up to the light an attractive red can be found in the center of the glass, but it is poorly situated amidst a fog of rusty hues.

Flavor 19/20
Whoa!  One is immediately lambasted by dark fruits, caramelized sugar, honey, a deceptively sneaky warmth, and a wash of malty sweetness.  There's no fading in here; this beer is sweet and it means it.  There is a richness of flavor that cannot be anticipated from the aroma.  I wish there were more to say about the backbone of the beer, but the flavors are so robust and well-blended that there is little opportunity for nuance.  If held in the mouth a pepper note arises, but I am uncertain if that another remainder of the hops or just alcohol tingle.  I swear that at times this beer even shows glimpses of maple syrup.  The finish shows a slight warming and a moderate bitter to show us that the hops cannot be forgotten just yet.  Both sensations linger well into the aftertaste where that pesky pepper note appears again as a dot on the horizon.

Mouthfeel 5/5
Excellent work here.  Not only is this beer smooth thanks to some barrel aging and some cellaring, but also thanks to gads of malt.  Remember the honey and syrup mentioned earlier?  Well, it's nowhere NEAR as thick as those, but it's just as silky and smooth.  Since we're on the subject, it definitely has a full body and loads of sugars to let this beer absolutely slide all over the mouth.  It avoids becoming to heavy and thick by utilizing perfectly present carbonation, alcohol warmth, and that peppery prickle.  The alcohol warmth, of course, gets stronger as the beer warms and helps contribute to a dryer finish.  Prior to warming no one would have a clue about the 10% ABV.

Overall Impression 9/10
This aged incredibly well.  True, the hops are not at their peak freshness, but that doesn't mean their hallmark cannot still be found 6 years after bottling.  The aroma was not the strongest trait of the beer, but the less impressive introduction made experiencing the rest of the beer an exciting surprise.  The flavor was intense and sweet and the mouthfeel was amazing.  This beer did great things with its dark fruits, oak, and camouflaged warmth.  What a treat!

Total 45/50
Silky without being syrupy.  Sweet, but not one-dimensional nor cloying.  What more do you want?  This beer gave big flavor without feeling like it was beating you.  I would definitely say that at this age it errs more on the side of the English-style old ale than an Imperial IPA.  It's abundance of sweet malt, dark fruits, color, and apparent ability to age well all point toward the old ale.  The aroma would indicate an IPA that is too old!  A beer that clings to its "big beer" status and former glory with a thick body, now unbalanced sweetness, and perhaps a high ABV.  Thankfully, it became much more than that over the last 6 years.  Maybe Burton Baton was one of the best things to come out of 2007.  It sure as hell wasn't James Blunt.

And they ain't kiddin'!


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Hoppin' Frog - Barrel Aged Naked Evil

Today is a bottle that has been a long time coming.  I received it as a Christmas gift from my father and its name alone qualifies it as one of my more rare/interesting beers.  First off, it's barrel aged.  This is more often than not a good start to a great beer though far from a prerequisite.  Second, those barrels are whiskey barrels and not bourbon barrels.  Not that there's anything wrong with bourbon barrels, I just happen to be much more familiar with whiskey than bourbon, with few exceptions.  Third, this is a barley wine - a style that lends itself unusually well to being made into big ol' beers.  Fourth, it's a Belgian-style barley wine.  This is just another layer of complexity that I'm looking forward to having wash over my taste buds.  The bottle has this to say,

"On a recent trip through Belgium visiting the monastery breweries, we discovered an excellent barrel aged ale that had an incredibly satisfying flavor combination.  Aging in oak barrels added a memorable richness, that we seek to achieve with this barrel aged Belgian-style barley wine-style ale. Being the ideal celebration beer to release on our 5-year anniversary, Barrel Aged Naked Evil is fermented with both British and Belgian yeasts and aged in whiskey barrels for a lightly spicy twist on this old-world beer style.  Sweet malt flavors will become smoother and rich dark fruit characteristics will build with time to add a wonderful complexity and depth of flavor."

Aroma 12/12
I smell this and instantly feel like I should be in more formal surroundings.  You are immediately embraced by dark boozy fruits, raisins, vanilla, whiskey, and a lesser oak.  It is simply a fantastic blend.  As it warms the whiskey takes the forefront with strong tones of vanilla, toffee, a lesser oak, and a faint Belgian spiciness hidden in the back.  The dark fruits are still very present, but know their place.

Appearance 3/3
Pours like silk with very little head.  In fact, one wonders if they'll receive any head at all until it begins to fade in at the middle of the glass and slowly push its way to the top like a person newly awakened and slowly making their way through the first of their morning routine.  The ale's legs on the other hand are ridiculous.  They stick to the glass and show virtually no signs of falling.  The color is a bright copper with an abundance of ruby glints, sunset orange hues, and earthy reds.  Gorgeous.

Flavor 20/20
Oh my!  This begins in the same sweet fashion as the aroma with boozy fruits, but makes a gradual and seamless transition into vanilla, toffee, candi sugar, and more whiskey.  Somehow the oak is not completely subdued by all these imposing flavors and still manages to make its own small contribution.  Sitting in the mouth it continues to enjoy all those confectionery inspired flavors and ceased to be quelled.  The finish is like the smoothest, sweetest shot you could imagine.  Think high end, "no burn" whiskey, and caramelized hardened sugar.  Oh, but add amazing dark fruits and oak.  Enticed yet?  The aftertaste adds some bitter, but it appears to be a result of the dark fruits and alcohol, not so much that of hops.  Absolutely wondrous, rich flavor as complex as it is harmonious.

Mouthfeel 5/5
The mouthfeel was the first clue that this beer was not going to be Belgian-style in a yeasty, banana, bubble gun, clove, spicy kind of way.  It was going to be a Belgian-style in a quad, knock your socks off, highly carbonated, dark fruit kind of way.  Carbonation is initially pretty strong, but fades to a perfectly appropriate level; being present to provide texture, but never allowing that sensation to become too strong or to distract from the flavor.  It also never threatens to lighten the medium-full body.  Obviously, the whiskey provides some heat to the beer at 11.3% ABV, but again in congenial way where it never threatens to usurp the other more important flavors.  The spiciness incorporated by the brewers doesn't hurt one bit either, nor does the way it leaves the mouth sticky with caramel in the aftertaste.

Overall Impression 10/10
A masterpiece for Hoppin' Frog!  By far the best offering of theirs that I have ever tasted.  It is a rich, superbly blended cornucopia of Belgian quad goodness: active carbonation, dark fruits, whiskey heat, and smooth as you please.  Good gracious!  Can we all sign a petition so that they'll make this again?

Total 50/50
Well, Hoppin' Frog has joined the elite ranks as one of the few beers to earn a perfect score on Sud Savant. Deservedly so.  This beer is fantastic!  The barleywine style that they claim in their descriptor can be difficult to find sometimes, especially if the drinker is more accustomed to the more common "American Barleywine" style.  However, as a traditional or "English barleywine," this beer is a marvelous blending of styles.  It incorporates all the malty, caramel-laden, fruity, boozy, silky goodness that we've come to know and love and combines it with even more dark fruits, active carbonation, and spice from the Belgian style.  On top of that it throws in whiskey and oak!  What else could you want?!  The correct answer?  Some in your glass and then some in your stomach.  Top marks to Hoppin' Frog!  What a beautiful bruiser!

The specs.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Cigar City - 110K + OT (Batch 4)

Before really researching this beer I had very little idea of its history, let alone its style.  The label gives us nothing other than a cryptic name and information required by certain government agencies.  This made the discovery process throughout the review very fascinating!  Every review experience was full of truly honest impressions, surprise, and a chance to categorize.  Thankfully, you have no such need to be so honest.  The full history of 110K + OT (or rather its name) can be found here.  It's definitely one of the best things I've seen come from an internet forum, until this one involving William Shattner.  But I digress...  The website description goes even further with the inside joke and reads,

"110K+OT is not for college pukes, white collar sissy boys or mamby-pamby Nancy boys who haven’t done an honest days work in their lives. Nor is this beer for the common man. This beer is for the working man who has arrived. If your work boots are steel toed, come back when they are gold toed! "

As I said, when beginning this review I had no idea of its style.  I did know that it changed annually with every batch, but I had no idea which batch I possessed since I received this bottle in a trade (Thanks Ruy!).  Turned out to be Batch #4, an Imperial Amber Ale.  But unlike any Amber I've ever had.

Aroma 11/12
Whoa!  There is a lot going on here and it's all sweet.  Fruit esters are strong and come across in a variety of rich scents: fig, pineapple, apple, and grapefruit.  It's very dark, but with the sting of citrus.  More typical malt aromas sit further back, but are just as rich.  Caramel is powerful and blends surprisingly well with the fig/prune.  There is also a little bit of mustiness and a sneaky alcohol warmth that I feel will play a part further on in the review.

Appearance 3/3
The head is astounding.  Excellent in size and retention, it leaves a light khaki colored lace all over the inside of the glass.  The color appears brown when sitting on a table, but when held to light gives hints that the fig aromas will be visiting again soon.  The colors range from the sludge-like color of prune juice to handsome purples to bright, gem-like magentas.  The overall tone is a earthy maroon-magenta and was definitely a surprise to see in a beer this dark.

Flavor 17/20
This is most unusual.  It starts with sweet fruits like green apple, minus the tart, and does a short, sudden crescendo into an orange rind and dark fruit backbone.  To say that this is an odd combination is an understatement.  It's unique and not unpleasant.  There is a caramel note, but it is easily shouted out by the dark fruits, more of which fade in gradually along with a faint booziness, and more green apples.  The finish brings forward a lot more warmth, the orange rind, and eventually a bitter that has remained hidden until this time.  Unfortunately, the bitter seems to be a byproduct of the fruit and not so much a balancer thereof.

Mouthfeel 5/5
This is one full-bodied and silky smooth brew!  The carbonation is far from minimal, but its role is very subdued which is perfect in a big Imperial-style beer like this one.  The alcohol warmth in the finish also adds a tickle to the tongue to keep things interesting and far from syrupy.  However, with all this sweetness, sticky saliva is unavoidable.

Know that!
Overall Impression 7/10
No one can claim that this beer is not full of flavor.  After doing some research and finding out that this beer is an Imperial American red ale, I give this beer kudos for incorporating flavors I've never before seen in this style.  I like that kind of innovation.  My only gripe is my own fault; I find it too sweet.  No doubt this beer, being an "American" version of the style, initially involved a healthy dose of hops.  Thankfully, while those are still there in all their citrusy glory, they are not present to balance this beer with resin or pine.  Granted, red or amber ales can and should be malt centered, however a great crisp finish is often a hallmark of these styles and this beer lacked it.  I would've even accepted a moderately crisp finish.  However, the alcohol and bitter do not equal "crisp."  They can certainly contribute, they can even help make it dry, but this beer proves that they cannot stand alone.

Total 43/50
What can I say... another beer that I've possibly ruined by waiting too long to drink it.  In my defense, had it said anything on the label pertaining to style I might have made a more urgent effort to drink it.  As it stands, I can hardly believe that this is a red of any kind, let alone an imperial.  There are just so damn many flavors in this beer that I would never have expected in a red/amber.  Big props to Cigar City for that.  I can hardly imagine this beer with even more complexities added by fresh hops, but I can imagine it having more balance.  The mouthfeel and the appearance are also deserving of superlatives.  Now all I have to do is find a fresh bottle, no matter what style this year brings.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Thank You

Fellow craft beer enthusiasts,

     Yesterday I was offered and accepted a new job!  It is with the Rock Island Auction Co., the nation's leading auction house for firearms, edged weapons, and military artifacts.  Essentially, I will be doing exactly what I have been doing here at Sud Savant.  They have hired me to write-up articles on upcoming auction items as well as manage their social media.  This is a dream come true!  Not only is the work something I am familiar with and enjoy doing in my free time, but the subject matter is also exciting and an area of personal interest.  This means two things:

1.  I am going to be spending most of my days on my butt writing about craft beer and/or guns.  In order for me to not gain 400 pounds, I should probably take up a diet of ice cubes, lichens, and on special occasions, lentils.

2.  It gives me a chance to say, "Thank you."  Without all of your hits, comments, "likes," trades, and ever-increasing readership each month, this opportunity may never have happened.  You guys and gals are iron-livered muses and just add more truth to the adage that "craft beer people are good people."  

To celebrate this job and to say thank you, I will be breaking out some beers that I have been holding on to for some time.  Most are expensive.  Some are exotic.  A few are just plain old.  In any case, I hope you enjoy reading about some interesting brews in the near future because I'm going to do my best to pull some fun stuff from the cellar and get to work.  I don't have the world's most exotic collection by any means, but hopefully it'll be something we can both enjoy.  So keep your eyes peeled, keep reading, and thank you.

Super stoked,
Sud Savant