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.