Welcome to my beer blog. Here I'll post some of my thoughts on and reviews of craft brewed beer. Follow me on Twitter @AleThoughts

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Beer Review: Sierra Nevada Bigfoot 2006

So this storm came through and messed up a bunch of stuff on the East coast. We decided to have a party of sorts in preparation for the destruction. I pulled a few semi-old bottles from the closet for the occasion. Over the last year or so I've collected a handful of vintage Sierra Nevada Bigfoots. Since I've now got doubles of some years I figure its ok to start opening some. This one is from 2006 (bottled and distributed late 2005?). By my calculations that puts this one well over five years old.

I really enjoy this beer fresh. It's a very hoppy American barleywine. It's somewhat of a booze bomb too at close to 10% alcohol by volume. I figure that both of these characters would mellow out a bit over time. I tend to enjoy the less hoppy English barleywines more. I've got a nice relationship going with the 2002 JW Lees Harvest Ale. Just like the Lees, though, Bigfoot changes year to year. 

It pours cloudy caramel brown with a solid one finger head. This is retained at the edges through the end of the tasting. Carbonation streams are strong at first and disappear a few minutes after the pour. The aroma is of caramel, toffee, toasted bread with a slight dark citrus tinge.

The flavors up front are lovely. Deep caramel, toffee and a very strong hoppy bitter presence. Five years later and it holds some sharp hop flavors, that's Sierra Nevada's calling card. As it opens up the toffee sweetness deepens and the aggressive hops give way to sweet candied citrus. The finish is sweet like chocolate and caramel. It feels quite viscous, as it should. It's a rich, rich beer. The alcohol warmth is not as obvious as in the fresh vintage.

Just like most barleywines, Bigfoot is very enjoyable as a sipper. Some of the very aggressive flavors have mellowed a bit. I've not even taken in to account the slight difference of this brew year to year. I think five years rest is great for a barleywine. Or, is it this specific 2006 batch? I didn't have this fresh when it was first distributed. The oldest I have in my collection is this batch. I'd love to get my hands on some 2005, or older. This makes me want to buy a few cases of this every year.

What's the oldest Bigfoot you've had? Thoughts?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Beer Review: Epic Brewing Sour Apple Saison

We picked up this bottle Epic Brewing Sour Apple Saison in Durham, NC on our vacation road trip this summer. We don't get Epic up here and we're huge fans of the loose saison style so we figured we'd give this one a shot. The labeling says that this is from their Exponential Series, which is Epic's big beer offerings. Take a look at that list, there's a lot there I'd like to try.

The label is printed "RELEASE #6", which their website says was brewed on June 6th of this year. In addition to specific release info they clearly list which malts, hops and spices were used in the brewing process. I really appreciate that this information was readily available. I wish more breweries would give us clear release, brew or bottle dates. My wife and I split the 22 ounce bottle in two tulips.

It pours hazy yellow with a bright white fluffy head. The settled in carbonation streams stick around for a bit and the head retention is good. The aroma is of tart apple, funky yeast with mild spiced bread notes. The flavor begins with a big tart and sour fruit smack in the face. There is zero sweetness. The middle has some light pepper and spice notes. As this beer warms some banana and lemon notes come out. It finished creamy and slightly sour. The mouth-feel is medium to medium-thin with some slight alcohol warmth in the finish.

Really, there's no apple in it. The name is derived from some of the tasting notes. I am completely ok with this naming and labeling. Just don't go in to this think that it's a sour apple cider, it most certainly is not. This saison is a nice change of pace, and it's anything but typical. It's a refreshing palate cleanser. I feel that it's well made and found it quite enjoyable. At 7.8% alcohol by volume this will having you feeling quite nice, quick. I imagine that this would keep well for an extended period of time. I'd get it again if I could find it, maybe even a few to keep on hand.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Beer Review: New Belgium Lips of Faith Kick

Did you hear the news? New Belgium now distributes to Maryland. About damn time! There's a slightly different version of the Fat Tire label that says something along the lines of "don't be crabby, we got to the Chesapeake". I guess this is to answer similar reactions from others who share my feelings. It is about time.

Craft beer folks will know to skip the Fat Tire and go right for the big boys, the Lips of Faith series. In all seriousness, I'm very happy that New Belgium stuff can be had in Maryland. I'm thrilled that they sent out some of the special and seasonal releases in addition to their standard line. I hope this is a sign of things to come. Prices seem very reasonable at about $4 for the standards and $7-$9 for the big guns.

Kick appears to be a fall seasonal. The jack-o-lantern themed label give that away. This brew is a collaborative effort between New Belgium in Colorado and Elysian Brewing Company in Washington. It's a sour ale that's a blend of sorts. 75% is an ale that's brewed with cranberry juice and pumpkin. 25% is an un-fruited ale that's been aged in wood barrels. It clocks in at 8.5% alcohol by volume.

I poured from a 22 ounce bottle into a medium snifter. I offered to share this with my wife, but she declined. Ok, I'll drink it by myself. Darn. It appears evenly hazy, pale orange with a fine bubbled head, small streams of carbonation that come up sporadically through the tasting. The head scoots to the edge really quick. The aroma is with faint hints of cranberries with some light wood notes. It reminds me of chardonnay wine.

Sipping commences. It's big and tart. Huge tart orange citrus up front which sticks through the middle. I picked up some earthy woody notes and tart and sour cranberries in the middle. It finishes with hints of sweet cherries. The lingering aftertaste is rocky and sour with some hints of cinnamon spice. It comes back and goes away a few times. This is a palate cleanser, for sure. Kick feels light to medium in body with not a hint of alcohol.

I'm pleased with this, my NB-hype excitement aside. For the price, this is a VERY well executed lightly sour ale. I don't pick up too much from the pumpkin addition, but the cranberry is there for sure. This could be a good one for the adventurous beginner who has had success with lightly sour brews. Very enjoyable as a sipper after dinner. The 8.5%ABV is extremely well hidden. The  use of cranberry and the cinnamon notes make me want to save this for the colder holiday weather. But, it's quite enjoyable in the light summer as a sour to finish off a tasting session.

In my recent shopping I grabbed some Clutch, a dark sour ale. We'll see how that one is tomorrow.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Brewery Visit: Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, FL

Yeah, so what, it' been two months since my last blog post. Fear not! I have not given up on enjoying craft beer. I've taken my time to just drink and enjoy beers without a pen. I've continued to check-in on Untappd (tbrown4) and posted pictures and brief tasting notes on Twitter (@AleThoughts) for those who are interested.

My wife and I are on vacation in Florida and yesterday I spent the better part of the afternoon visiting Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, FL. Tampa is about a 90 minute drive from where we are staying. I planned to arrive as soon as the tasting room opened. Cigar City is very small and has limited distribution. Their bottles and taps can be found in Florida, Alabama, Philadelphia and New York City. I've had a few of their beers, mainly traded from friends.

The brewery is located in a very small industrial-ish park near Tampa's airport, just off of I-75. I arrive to an open garage type door and the smells of brewing. I really had no interest in doing a traditional tour. I've done lots of tours, I've brewed several batches of homebrew, I know how beer is made. What really interested me was the obscure special release brews and some good conversation with the employees.

Not in Ybor Since 2009!
I should have just backed my car right in.
I wish this truck would visit Baltimore.

I walked in to the tasting room at 11AM. There were a few jolly employees hanging out and a few "drop by" customers picking up some bottles and growlers to go. The tasting room is a fairly simple bar. Several medals and plaques hang on the wall. A decent amount of merchandise (hats, shirts, etc) hangs on the wall near the door. A cooler has a good selection of goodies to take home. A chalk board lists what available on tap, as well as pricing for growler fills. The bartender greeted me and asked what I'd like.

This tasting room is different from what I'm used to, it's a pay-for-your-drink experience. I honestly prefer this kind of tasting room...I'm not limited on sample size or number of samples. There's also no limit on the amount of beer you can purchase to go. Oh boy. I'll tell you this now, every beer I tasted was at minimum "very good" for the style. Many of them were excellent and superior representations of their styles. It just feels like they hit the mark of everything. Here's what I had the pleasure of tasting:

Jai Alai IPA - this is their American IPA, which is the base for many of their experimental and "one-off" brews. Its crisp and tasty, very easy to put back. Clocks in at a more than-modest 7.5% ABV
Humidor IPA - this is the Jai Alai aged on Spanish cedar. Had some very nice earthy wood notes which added some depth to the flavor profile
French Oak Jose Marti  - CC's American porter aged on French oak. Delicious vanilla and wood notes throughout. I enjoyed this quite a bit.
Hillsborough River Dry Stout - not a huge fan of the style, but I had to try it. Surprisingly tart. Crisp and clean with a bit of richness. Very impressed with it.
Cubano-Style Espresso Brown  - Another Maduro spin-off, this one it out of this world delicious. Aged on vanilla, cacao and coffee beans. This is a good breakfast beer.
Minaret ESB - a pretty standard English bitter. It was enjoyable, but I doubt I'd get it again.
Big Dummy - this was a tribute brew for a departing-brewer named Tim. It's an "American" amber made with Belgian candi sugar and a strain of Belgian yeast. Quite yummy, but it was almost too rich.
Tocobaga - a very malt heavy American amber which is balanced out with "tons" of hops. Smelled and tasted dank...like it could treat Gloucoma.
Table Saison - I'd had a few of their saisons before (Guava Grove and Sea Bass), but this like most here was new to me. Sorachi ace and Citra hops made this one of the most enjoyable saisons in recent memory for me.
Jai Alai White Oak Aged IPA - one of the stand outs of the day for me. The Jai Alai is a very good IPA, throw it on white oak, bam! This was delicious. This makes me remember why I've enjoyed oaked IPAs so much in the past. Southern Tier's Oaked Unearthly was a favorite for years. This one stomps all over STs, but clocks in within a sessionable range. I grabbed some bottles to bring home.
Guava Grove - I'd had this saison before, and I enjoyed this fresh tap tasting. Wonderfully tart and crisp.
Florida Cracker White - total Summer session beer right here. A Belgian white brewed with coriander and orange peel. Not an original idea at all, but the execution is spectacular. I wish there were more options out there like this in the craft beer market.
Big Sound Scotch Ale - for years I've disliked the style. I recently had Oskar Blues' Old Chub on vanilla and that changed my outlook. This is BIG for the style in my opinion at 9.5%ABV. Delicate caramel, toffee and vanilla notes. I grabbed a bottle to bring home.
Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Brown - I was so excited to try this one. Yet another spin off of the Maduro Brown. The finish on this brew is spot on, it's a damn oatmeal raisin cookie. Holy crap. They nailed this one. I took a 32 oz growler of this back "home". Erin and I split it as a nightcap.
Rum Barrel Hunahpu's Imperial Stout - This one wasn't on the draft list. It just arrived in front of me, and I did not ask any questions. A very, very, very solid RIS aged in rum barrels. So deep, so tasty. Very rich and boozy. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I wish I could have taken some home.
Chocolate Maduro Brown - Maduro with cacao. Simple and delicious.

Some "guest brews" from Swamp Head in Gainesville, FL. I'd never heard of this brewery so I figured I'd give them a try.
Big Nose IPA - seems like an average craft IPA. It was good, but I've had better.
Cottonmouth Wit - again, average for the style. Crisp, clean and refreshing.

I really like the variety that Cigar City offers. It appears that they like to experiment. Take a look at the list of their brews on BeerAdvocate. They use the Jai Alai and Maduro Brown as bases for lots of different beers. I'm happy that I got to try a few versions of both. My favorites were the White Oak IPA (Jai Alai) and the Oatmeal Raisin Cookie (Maduro).

Cigar City has a line of brews called 110K+OT which I had read about. Currently they are on batch #4. The style changes with each batch. I'd seen the list of these brews but was really curious about the origins of the name of the series. Was there a 111K, a 100K? Was this a batch code? Couldn't be the batch size? Well....apparently it was named in "honor" of a particularly aggressively-self-confident member of the craft beer community who openly claimed that he made $110,000 a year plus over-time. This claim was made in an open forum where others in the industry were discussing their salaries. Apparently this guy is a competitive talker and a one-upper.  I found this to be quite humorous. I was able to grab two bottles of 110K+OT Batch #4, which officially is an imperial amber ale but came out more like a barley wine.

A policy that I found odd was with the growler fills. You have two options 32 oz or 128 oz. According to the state of Florida, a 32 oz growler is one serving. A 128 oz growler is likely to be consumed by more than one person. They prohibit the 64 oz growler because they believe that it would be consumed by one person, which would be excessive. Jeebus...I really get annoyed with dumb alcohol laws. I mean...I could walk out of there with a single serving 32 oz growler of a 10% ABV beer, which the state of Florida thinks that I will drink all by myself. Ass-backwards. But, I'm just happy that growlers can be filled. Cigar City will fill your own glass, as long as it's 32 oz or 128 oz. They have both sizes available for purchase for $4 and $7 respectively. I must say that their growler-filling etiquette is perfect. Filled all the way to the top, oxygen mostly removed and the cap is shrink-wrap sealed. I wish more places would do this.

Towards the end of my session at the bar I was asked if I wanted a tour. The bartender then said that I could wander the brewery floor on my own. I took the second option and got some shots of the tanks, and LOTS of barrels.

If you'd like me to post pictures of each of these brews I tasted check my Twitter feed. I figured that I'd leave them out of this blog post for now since I posted pictures on Twitter as I was drinking

That's it. My visit was awesome. I was able to take my time to taste all that I wanted and was able to take A LOT home with me. Thanks to the kind folks at Cigar City for their hospitality. I look forward to coming back. This was worth the drive for me, and I hope to make it an yearly thing.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Beer Review: Deschutes Hop Henge Experimental IPA

This bottle of
Deschutes Hop Henge Experimental IPA is the last of the "must drink soon" brews I got from my buddy Jeff in Seattle. I've been looking forward to cracking this open since the day it arrived. From what I understand this is the second version of the Hop Henge IPA. The original bottling was simply called Hop Henge Imperial IPA, but the hop additions were tweaked as of January 2009. The bottle states that this measures 9% alcohol by volume and 95 IBUs. This very well could be a boozy bitter bomb. This is a 22 ounce bottle stamped "BEST BY 06/16/11 1126 M". I'm assuming that this was bottled in March. Ok, so not at all past it's prime and well within it's freshness period.

It pours out dark amber, copper and slightly hazy. There is a big fluffy two finger head on a moderately aggressive pour. The head thins out to the edges and sticks around to the end and has a s
ticky lacing all the way down the glass. Lively carbonation streams stick around for a while.

Fairly prominent sweet malt, toasted bread and earthy round hop aromas. Strong earthy dark hops in the front. The middle tastes like slightly sour orange but not quite bitter grapefruit. It finishes is oddly caramel sweet. Hop Henge feels medium in body and slick. It feels chewy at times and makes my mouth water.

This is a very good double IPA. Like all IPAs I'd imagine that this would be incredible when it's super fresh. It's a little aggressive on the hop side of the flavor profile. The alcohol is pretty well hidden, though you really expect it to be a bomb with such a strong hop and malt presence. I enjoyed this beer a lot.

Under the cap, "Bravely Done"

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Firestone Walker Tasting Event at Teresa's Next Door in Wayne, PA

by Jeff Pilcicki (@thebeerhaunt)

A little while back my good friend Jeff visited a local tap bars for this event. Jeff has the suburban Philly scene covered for us. You should follow him on Twitter!

Of all the breweries that distribute near, but not to Pennsylvania, Firestone Walker has long been at the top of my list of breweries I'd like to see enter my fine state. Of course, Deschutes would top that list, but as they have yet to cross the Mississippi River, that's not likely to happen anytime soon (but hey, we'd welcome you!). Firestone Walker has distributed nearby for a while, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, and Pennsylvania was finally added to their repertoire on April 11, just over a month ago.

On April 12th, just the second day of distribution in the state, I attended a low key launch event at Teresa's Next Door Bar in Wayne, PA, one of the better bars I frequent. Teresa's is sometimes referred to as "Suburban Monks", as it specializes in high quality Belgian and American beers, as well as phenomenal food menu. Because I work during the day, I wasn't able to arrive until 4:30 in the afternoon, missing David Walker's appearance, and arrived during a lull in the crowd. 
I sat down and ordered the sampler - Walkers Reserve, Double Jack and Abacus.

I liked the way they notated the beers.  Circles on the paper with letters inside corresponding to the beers on the right
Sadly, in my excitement, I forgot to document each beer as it was consumed, but the image above shows remnants of lacing on the glass of Double Jack, as well as a half full Walker's Reserve. In my haste, I also picked a bad sequence to drink these beers. I began with the Abacus, a 13% barley wine probably my favorite, but also the most flavorful, palate killing beer of the day.  There's a boozy warmth to this beer, one that any drinker looking forward to the bourbon barrel aged treat will enjoy. It's not overpowering, but lets you know that it means business. The bourbon taste takes over up front with a caramel taste, and subsides to the dark fruit and sweet but mellow malt profile in the finish. A phenomenal beer that's great now, but will only improve with age.

Double Jack came next, 9.5% double IPA - Firestone Walker is two for two. Citrus hop based IPA loaded with hops and a full bodied beer. Despite that, I wouldn't consider it a hop bomb - incredibly balanced, but big.

Finally,the Walkers Reserve was just about everything you could ask for in a porter. A chocolate and coffee taste up front with a strong roasted malt finish.  Not as carbonated as some porters I've had make it feel fuller in body, and finishing with some oak and vanilla notes. 

After those three beers, I asked the bartender about the '14' - their 14th anniversary beer, a 12.5% strong ale. He said they only had bottles and they weren't for take out. I ordered a second Double Jack, as I wasn't about to drink a bottle of '14', as well as a sandwich called 'Meat Porn' an incredibly juicy aged Kobe Beef Burger. 

Unfortunately, the bartender wasn't exactly clear to me when he told me they only had bottles of '14' - what I later found out was that they were SERVING it from the bottle, $7 for an 8oz pour. Of course, had I known that, I would have ordered it. I took a break with a water while I mulled it over.  ...And ordered a '14', of course. I think a review on beeradvocate.com sums it up well "this is part quad, part stout and part barleywine.' Unfortunately, I don't have tasting notes on this beer, but let me tell you, if I fall into a chance to buy a bottle, I will not pass it up.  '14' is a beer that smacks the drinker in the face, but in the most delightful way possible.

Ahh. Heaven.  
At this point, I had made a few friends sitting at the bar, what one is bound to do after a few hours of drinking alone at a neighborhood bar. So I deviated from Firestone Walker and went a different direction… By ordering a Pliny the Elder,which turned into two, and a long nap when I arrived home.

I'd like to thank Jeff for this piece. I look forward to more reviews in the future. Make sure to follow him on Twitter @thebeerhaunt

Beer Review: Brooklyner-Schneider Hopfen-Weisse

My sister-in-law brought over this bottle of Brooklyner-Schneider Hopfen-Weisse last weekend to share with my wife an I This is my second time with this brew, first of this bottling. Hopfen-Weisse is a more hop forward weizenbock collaboration between Brooklyn Brewing Company in New York and  G. Schneider & Son Brewery in Kelheim, Germany. I'm still somewhat new to the weizenbock style. I really enjoyed the German bottling of this collaboration a few months ago. Let's see if the New York version holds up.
I poured this from a 750ml bottle into a Weyerbacher tulip. It appears hazy straw gold with a tall big bubble white head, light lacing with about a 1/4" of the head retained through the tasting. It smells of light creamy lemon citrus, fieldy spices with some sharp bitter hop notes. The flavor profile begins with huge spicy hops up front. As it settles in there are some very light watery citrus flavors. This left me a bit disappointed. The middle on the German bottling mimicked this same aroma almost exactly. The US version fell flat. It finishes with a long bitter aftertaste.

This is a good beer. However, I prefer the other bottling to this one. I'm fairly certain that the other version was done in Germany and this one here in the States. The German one had a much creamier, almost lemon meringue flavor to it that was much more dessert like. This very is much thinner and hop forward. It's a decent and somewhat refreshing brew that is perfect for a Spring-time picnic.