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.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Beer Review: Heavy Seas Plank I

Max's in Baltimore this afternoon was the venue for the release of Heavy Seas newest offering, a wood plank aged English style old ale called Plank I. For a little background on this brew project check out my blog post from April 5th here. This brew was previously available at a small brewery event a little while back. As far as I can tell this would be the first event outside of the brewery for which Plank I was made available.

I got in right around 5PM and there was about twenty or so folks were around the bar. A cask had been tapped and I could see several dark pints being enjoyed. Hugh Sisson and many familiar faces from the brewery were present and enjoying the brew. My buddy Greg popped in just a few minutes after I did. Two seats secured at the front corner of the bar. Excellent. Over the next hour the bar filled in with many more familiar faces, more brewers and some local beer bloggers. All is well.

There were two versions available, a straight up tap version and a dry hopped cask version. I will first share my notes on the base version then I will point out the differences in the hopped cask version

Plank I came to me in a pint class and appeared hazy ruby brown with a tan half-finger head and sticky lacing. There's not much head retained through the tasting. It smells bright and sweet with resinous wood notes with some light bitter notes around the edge.

The tasting begins. It's big, malty and sweet up front as expected. There are some very nice vanilla notes that pop up towards the middle. A mild fruity sweetness set in. As it opens up some coffee notes appear as well as some more woody earthy notes. There is an obvious heavy dark malt presence. The wood notes are just enough to be noticed, not overpowering. With wood aged beers I prefer more wood flavors, but those tend to be very heavy on the palate. This actually feels pretty refreshing, I could have several with out ruining my flavor-catchers. It finishes lightly bitter and doesn't stick around very long.

Cask of Plank I with a bag of hops in side. No C02 here!
The cask version had a more prominent vanilla presence in the nose and flavor profile. The hop addition made this a more well rounded and balanced beer in my opinion, but some of the wood notes are not as present. It almost didn't have the feel of a wood aged beer. The aroma is slightly more hoppy and the finish is much more bitter.

This is a very easy beer to put back. Surprisingly there is no alcohol presence, and at 8% this is an achievement. I enjoyed this beer. While it's not quite up there with the best in the style in my opinion, it's certainly a very good first offering in the project series. It's missing something, but I'm not sure what. I look forward to the bottled version which we should be able to find on shelves locally very soon.

Thanks again to our friends at Max's for supporting local craft brewer's and for the great folks at Heavy Seas/Clipper City for continuing to create fine craft brews!

I'd like to give a quick shout out to our new friends from Charlotte with whom we shared some thoughts and good beer. Cheers!

Enjoy the Dogfish Head 90!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Beer Review: Samuel Adams Utopias

It doesn't get much classier than this. 
My good friend Greg shared some Samuel Adams Utopias with me yesterday afternoon. I would like to extend a huge congratulations to Greg and his wife Julia on the recent arrival of their baby boy! For this special occasion Greg purchased one of the most expensive bottles of beer he and I will likely ever sample. I can't express how grateful I am to him for sharing some with me. 

Many craft beer snobs shit on the Samuel Adams line of beers, simply because they produce a lot of beer. But, they are still a craft micro-brewery that produces a variety of styles that are consistently good quality representations of their respective styles. While many of their brews I am not a fan of, a few of them I really enjoy. 

To understand Utopias, you have to go back and read about and try the
Triple Bock. I had only heard the legend of this brew back when it came out in the mid-90s. I had heard that it was illegal in several states, that it would make you go blind and that it was somehow magical. The bottom line is that the folks in Boston had created a non-distilled 17.5% ABV strong ale that was unlike anything anybody had ever tasted. Last Summer Greg and I shared a bottle of this historic brew, we believe it was from the 1995 batch, about 15 years old at the time of the tasting. That beer is still very raw and unrefined. It's brute force in a bottle with a whole lot of odd flavors. It's a unique experience that every craft beer historian should experience at some point in their life. I've still got some left if you'd like to come by for a taste.

Utopias is the much more refined younger brother and the natural evolution of the Tripel Bock. It's much higher in alcohol content, clocking in at a whopping 27% alcohol by volume. As far as I can tell it's the highest alcohol content found in a non-distilled liquid. Insanity I tell you.

I was very excited to see the bottle on his counter. Greg and I sat and stared at it for a good ten minutes before opening. It came in a brown cardboard shipping box. The bottle itself is pretty freakin' cool looking. Copper metallic finish, in the shape of and with the details of a vintage copper fermenting tank. There are two small functioning doors that open up to reveal an etching of the familiar Sam Adams image.

Utopias pours crystal clear and deep ruby red. It almost sparkles in the light. It coats the glass like a good bourbon and with no carbonation bubbles or head.

The aroma is amazing. It smells of raisins, dark cherries, figs, prunes, sweet malt syrup, burnt brown sugar with some light wood notes and some alcohol. The flavors present in the mouth mirror that of the nose. Tart cherries, figs, raisins are prominent. At times it's so complexly sweet that it's almost savory. Some vanilla and woody notes pop up from time to time. There are several levels of flavor that develop as it opens up. I picked up some syrupy malt sweetness followed by waves of dark fruit and then back again. It tastes chewy at times, making my mouth water. It feels medium in body with huge alcohol warmth.

This is a very complex and enjoyable drink. It's tough to describe it as a beer. The experience is similar to sherry or port tasting. It's a very unique and palate challenging sipper. I get a lot of flavor hints from the Tripel Bock that I spoke of earlier.

At $170-$200 a bottle in my area it'd be a stretch to even consider this a once-a-year treat. If you couldn't pick up my opinion of this experience already, here it is: Utopias is simply stunning. If you don't want to splurge for a bottle, find a bar that's willing to do a sample tasting, likely for around $20. Or, better yet, split a bottle with a bunch of your beer geek friends. You need to experience this at least once in your life. Trust me.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Beer Review: Pub Dog Bourbon Barrel Chocolate Oatmeal Stout

'tis a pity
I picked up a single 16.9 oz. bottle DOG Brewing's Pub Dog Bourbon Barrel Chocolate Oatmeal Stout at Cindy's in Elkridge, MD a few weeks ago. It had been in the cellar, but I decided to open in Friday night. I figured that if it was as good as I hoped that I could easily get more to keep on hand. 

I poured this into a snifter and shared the bottle with my wife and her sister. It came out dark brown with a very fine head and little to no lacing. The head is retained at the edges throughout the tasting. The aroma is very lightly roasted malt and with a hint of chocolate.

Up front it tastes very tart. It's jumbled up with some hints of dark chocolate. The tartness continues through the tasting, almost like it was aged in bad red wine barrels. Not a hint of bourbon or wood. There is not much character or depth to the flavor profile at all. I am saddened by this. 

This beer just flat-out misses the mark. This should be a much more robust beer with well defined and harmonious flavors of chocolate, wood and bourbon. I doubt I'd buy this one again unless some serious tweaking is done to it. It's kind of like a sour porter, not much of a stout feel to it. I hate to post a bad review, but it needs to be said. Do not buy this beer, it's a waste of money. Hell, even if I was offered a free one, I might pass on it.

Beer Review: Silver City Whoop Pass Double IPA

Got this bottle of Silver City Whoop Pass Double IPA from my buddy Jeff in Seattle a while back. It's been in the fridge for a few weeks. Bottle isn't date stamped at all. This is my first from Silver City. I've had a good problem recently, lots of great IPAs sitting in the fridge that need to be drank soon!

Poured from a 22 oz bottle into a Weyerbacher tulip. I shared this bottle with my wife, also a fan of the double IPA style. It came out hazy copper red with an off-white one-finger head and a huge amount of lacing. The head is retained through the tasting. There are some steady carbonation streams for the first five minutes or so.

It smells creamy caramel and malty sweet with some slight hop bitter notes. It tastes up front are of bold and earthy hops. It settles in creamy and malty sweet with a long thin bitter finish down the middle of the tongue. It feels thin to medium with some slight alcohol warmth.

This is a nice double IPA. Its pretty hop forward and has the dark and strong feel of some others in the style like Firestone Walker Double Jack. This doesn't feel as balanced and refined as it should be. It's almost as aggressive as Dogfish Head's 90 Minute IPA and it's a little on the "raw power" side. 

Thanks again to Jeff for supplying me with so many West coast goodies. I can't wait to see what he's got in store for me next.

Beer Review: Köstritzer Schwarzbier

I had Köstritzer Schwarzbier on tap at Metropolitan in Baltimore. I'm not usually a fan of the German black beer style, so I'll stay as objective as possible. I don't see this one on tap often so I figured that I should get it. I also don't jump into the German brews very often. 

It came to me deep black with a small creamy white head. A small amount of head stays through the tasting with lots of lacing. It smells earthy with some dark roasted malt notes. Smells of a rainy damp and dirty garden. It tastes bitter and roasty up front. The middle is a very rich and mildly sweet and it finishes bitter.

This beer has some serious character to it. I enjoyed it quite a bit as a once in a while tangent from my usual pours. As expected it's got a more carbonated and crisp feel than a stout with some umph in the flavor department. But, do not confuse this with a stout as it's a completely different style. This is very close to what some American brewers have done with the the "black IPA" style, though I prefer to just label them as American black ales. So, schwarzbiers are a much less hop-forward version of those. Or better yet, our black ales are a more hoppy versions of schwarzbiers. No real surprises here.

Beer Review: Tröegs DreamWeaver Wheat

I had Troegs DreamWeaver on tap at Metropolitan in Baltimore a few weeks back. This is the first time of the season for me with this brew. I remember it being a decent and refreshing wheat beer, perfect for the recently warm and early Summer-like weather.

It came to me cloudy light gold with a huge fluffy white head that retains through most of the tasting. The lacing is also present throughout. It smells mild lemony citrus with just a hint of sharp spice from the hefe yeast. The taste is of subtle banana and lemon up front. It's  very subdued without much depth. While I appreciate aggressive fruit flavors in a beer, the mellowness of this one is refreshing. As it settles in it's mildy bready sweet and finishes lightly bitter.

DreamWeaver seems merely ok to me. It's an average representation of the style. I'm not sure I'd seek this out, but it's good every once in a while or for someone who isn't in to crazy craft beers. This would be a very easy introduction to the Hefeweizen style and local regional craft brews. If I happen to be shopping for a warm Summer day's session, I'd grab this if I was having a lot of people over. But, it will not be one of my regular warm season brews.

Beer Review: Oskar Blues Ten FIDY

Not an April Fool's joke.
I had Ten FIDY on tap at Frisco Taphouse a few weeks ago for happy hour. I've long been a fan of Oskar Blues and their stellar craft cans. I've had this one several times before, but it's been a while. It's pretty easy to get in my area in cans, but I don't get it often.

It came to me pitch black with a thin dark tan head. There isn't much lacing to speak of and the head quickly leaves. I'm picking up heavy coffee aromas, tart cherries and dark chocolate. It smells fantastic! As I began to sip on it the front mimics the aroma with coffee notes, tart cherries and dark chocolate. It feels deliciously tart and sour in the middle to the back of the throat and finishes very clean with a quick aftertaste. If feels medium in body with not a hint of it's 10.5% alcohol content.

Ten FIDY is an excellent ,flavorful and complex Russian imperial stout. If you like sweet strong stouts, it doesn't get much better than this in my opinion. Priced at about $8 a pour at Frisco its not an everyday beer. I recall this being priced around $15 for a four pack of cans. I may have to go our an buy some of this to keep around. It's too good to ignore.

Beer Review: North Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout

Hello, old friend.
Had Old Rasputin on nitro at Frisco Taphouse a few weeks ago. I saw it on the short nitro list and bit. I've had this several times before, not in well over a year and never on nitro. I'm a big fan of the mega-stouts.

It came to me beautifully black with a thick small bubble tan head that sticks through the entire tasting. A decent amount of head is retained through the tasting. The aroma is a combination of big r
oasted malt notes and some hop bitterness.

As I took my first sips some coffee flavors and more dark roasted notes greeted me. The middle is very dry with no sweetness at all. Some bitter dark cocoa shows up towards the end. It finishes lightly bitter. This is a straight-up, no frills, Russian imperial stout.There's no extra fruity or chocolate flavors, just a well balanced dark and smooth flavor profile. It feels m
edium in body with not a hint of alcohol.

Old Rasputin is dangerously easy to drink. At 9% this one will sneak up on you quickly. A very enjoyable RIS that is one of the better American made versions available. Priced at $4 at Frisco, I was very happy with my decision.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Beer Review: Avery Maharaja

I picked up this bottle of Avery Maharaja in the Philly area about a month ago. It's been in the fridge since. My buddy Jeff (@TheBeerHaunt) recommended this highly. I hadn't seen this on shelves near me, though other brews from Avery can be found.

I shared this bottle with my sister-in-law. On the label it was dated as "Batch No. 13 Mar. 2011", so likely just under two months old at the time of this tasting. Maybe a little past it's prime, but should still be enjoyable as not much should have faded.

Poured this from a 22 oz. bottle in to a Weyerbacher tulip. It appears crystal clear copper with a one-finger white head and medium lacing. A thinned out head is retained through the tasting, clears from the center building up at the edges. There are light carbonation streams throughout the tasting.

It smells piney, of resinous hops, sweet, rich and creamy. There are huge piney citrusy hops up front, darker caramel malt feel in the middle and a long sharp bitter finish. As it opens up it almost tastes of dark butterscotch. It's a chewy one, but it's fantastic. I'm glad this was my last beer of the evening. No dessert needed. It feels medium in body with a light alcohol warmth. At almost 10.5% I was expecting some alcohol presence somewhere.

This is a huge aggressive and very well balanced double IPA. It's got beautiful floral hop notes in the nose and mouth. It's very bright, alive and sensory. Its almost a palate killer. I'd buy this again and would imagine this is even more spectacular when it's super fresh.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Beer Review: Mikkeller Drikkeriget GIPA

Hoppy Easter (a week late)
I had Mikkeller Drikkeriget GIPA on tap at Frisco Beer & Tap House in Columbia, MD for happy hour one evening. I'm a big fan of Mikkeller's beers. They are pricey over here in the States, but they definitely deliver on quality and creativity. It was explained to be by an extremely conversational and knowledgeable barkeep that this is an American IPA brewed in the German lager style. German IPA? Say what? Seems like a cool idea.

It came to be in a goblet and appeared bright clear gold with a one finger bubbly white head and very little lacing. It smells bright and sweet with but a whiff of hops. I'm not overly impressed with the aroma. It tastes like a slightly hop forward Belgian pale, not like an IPA to me at all. There are some very subtle grapefruit notes that are noticeable up front. The middle is unidimensionally dry and finishes slightly bitter. There's not much sweetness until longer after it's gone, the residue on the lips is tasty. It feels medium and creamy in body.

This is a very drinkable beer. I was surprised at the flavor profile, expecting a much more hop forward brew with some depth. This was good, but there are better versions of this style on the market and far better offerings from Mikkeller. Priced at $9 a pour at Frisco will keep me away from it for a while. I applaud Mikkeller for trying something that seems to me to be different and adventurous.

Beer Review: Firestone Walker Double Jack

I got this bottle of Double Jack from my buddy Greg in New Jersey about a month ago in a fairly large trade. We don't get Firestone Walker stuff in Maryland and he raves about them. I could not pass on a chance to get a bottle of their imperial India pale ale, one of my favorite styles. My wife and I split this bottle one fine evening.

I poured mine in to a Weyerbacher tulip. It appears clear faded copper with a foamy white head and some super sticky lacing. It smells of piny resinous hops with a touch of citrus tart sweetness. The nose is huge. Typical for Jersey, right?

The up front flavor is of huge grassy hops. It settles in piney and gooey with a touch of cane sugary sweetness in the middle balanced out by a somewhat dark malt backbone. It's got a long fading bitter finish. To me it feels pretty well balanced considering the potential sweetness of this brew The is a very sensory beer. It wakes up your palate and subsequently kicks the shit out of it.

This is an excellent beer. I'd put this just a notch above Dogfish Head's 90 Minute IPA simply because this is more balanced for the hop profile. At close to 10% in alcohol content it will weigh heavy on your balance and judgement. It's a borderline palate killer with it's huge flavor profiles. But, if you're going to have one craft brew for an evening this is certainly an excellent choice.

I'm looking forward to trying the other stuff from Firestone Walker that I've got sitting here, Abacus and Robust Porter.

Beer Review: He'Brew Genesis Ale

It's kosher. Really.
Picked up this single 12 ounce bottle of He'Brew Genesis Ale in a mix-your-own six pack at Towson Wine & Spirits in Towson, MD. Follow them on the Twitter @TowsonWine. $10 flat rate mixed packs, great price. Nice little shop there. This is my first from He'Brew, picked up a single of Messiah Bold as well. My first experiences with stuff from Shmaltz Brewing Company weren't all that great. I had a few from their Coney Island series and was not at all impressed. It seemed like they missed the mark with those. 

I poured this into a pint glass. It appears hazy dark copper with a white medium bubbled head, moderate carbonation streams and a thin lacing all the way down the glass. It smells glorious. I was very happy with this as it seems I've recently run into some not-so-aromatic brews. It smells of toffee, toasted dark sweet breakfast bread with some more generic sweet malt notes.

Genesis is slightly bitter up front but settles in nice and sweet. The middle is creamy and rich with some toffee, caramel and chewy toasted malt notes. It finishes clean with only a slight bit of bitterness. This combination of flavors is consistent with the English brown style, but this feels a little lighter in body and lighter on the palate.

For what it is, an amber/red ale, this is a good beer. It's enjoyable and easy to drink. It's a good representation of the style and is quite session-able. It's more refreshing than what I would expect from an amber as it's not at all heavy on the palate. I'd get a six pack of this to keep in the fridge without a second thought.

I've been making an effort to drink more small beers and less of the big boys. Tis this season for such an initiative.  

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Beer Review: Cigar City Sea Bass

Kick his ass...
I got this bottle of Sea Bass from my friend Greg in a trade about a month ago during our epic beer weekend. It's been in the fridge in the on-deck status since then. This only the second brew from Cigar City for me. I pulled this from the fridge on Friday evening as my wife requested a Saison. She's a big fan of the style, and I have become rather fond of it recently. I figured that this would be a nice refreshing treat.

Poured in to a Duvel tulip. It appears brown, slightly translucent with a mega foamy off-white-almost-tan head and constant carbonation streams coming from sediment. The carb streams continued heavily throughout the entire tasting, about 30 minutes. I was disappointed in the extremely subtle aroma. I was expecting more of a spice presence and got some light sour fruit aromas.

On to the tasting. Whoa. Crazy funky tart from the very beginning, almost from before it even hits the lips and tongue. I was definitely not expecting that. I was picking up tart cherries, sour grapes and bitter grapefruit. The bitter citrus note surprised me quite a bit. As it warmed it got kind of a creamy smooth middle. It finishes with a long and sour tart aftertaste. I would not recommend drinking this cooler than 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit. I found all of the flavors much more enjoyable as it warmed. I should not have stored this in the fridge, rather I should have cellared it and chilled for 20-30 minutes prior to the tasting.

This beer really threw me for a loop. As I said before, I haven't had many from Cigar City so I'm not sure if this is standard practice for them. I'm a long time fan of the loose style of the Saison. But, from the very beginning of the pour through the end of the last sip I struggled to find any obvious saison characteristics. If you go in to this tasting with the same mind set that you would an American wile ale, you will love it. For that style I thought it was very good. I know nothing on the background of this specific brew, but was something wild let loose inside?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Beer Review: Harpoon UFO Raspberry Hefeweizen

Refreshing and tasty
I enjoyed this pint of UFO Raspberry Hefeweizen from Harpoon last week at Metropolitan in Baltimore. It was the first time in a while for me for this beer. This sweet treat came to me in Flying Dog pint glass. Love the local brewery shout out!

It appears pinkish orange with a thin white head and steady carbonation streams. UFO smells of tart raspberry with just a hint of fruity sweetness. No surprise there, but sometime no news is good new. The flavors up front and in the middle are of creamy bread sweetness with raspberry note. The raspberry influence is obvious but not over done. In my opinion this is should be the goal of any adjunct ingredients. It finishes tart and bitter. For a deliberately fruity hefe, this is perfectly balance in my opinion.

This is a very good beer for what it is. If you like fruit wheats, this is one of the better brews out there for you. Perfectly balanced flavor profile, unique in color and easy to drink. I picture this is an excellent Summer beer. Now...if only it came in cans...

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Beer Review: An evening with two IPAs from Flying Dog. Snake Dog & Single Hop Imperial IPA with Simcoe.

Last Friday I picked up the Flying Dog Alpha Dog mixed 12 pack from Cindy's in Elkridge, MD for about $21. This box includes three each of the Single Hop Imperial IPA with Simcoe, Raging Bitch Belgian-Style IPA, Snake Dog IPA, and Doggie Style Classic Pale Ale. I've long been a fan of their brews. I bought this pack for the new Imperial IPA. I really dislike the fact that I had to buy 9 other bottles of beer, when all I really wanted was the new one. But, the other three are pretty decent on their own, so there's no real loss.

Up first was the Snake Dog IPA. The 12 oz bottle is stamped "221A11", which I poured into a Weyerbacher tulip. From what I can figure that means that it is "best by" August 9th, 2011 and bottled on March 22nd, 2011, making this bottle about six weeks old at the time of this tasting. Not super fresh, but certainly not stale. I may have misread or miscalculated these dates, I welcome corrections.

Snake Dog IPA
It appears copper and slightly hazy with a fluffy white head and decent light lacing. The medium bubbled head sticks around through the tasting. The aroma is not as pronounced as I had hoped. I'm picking up very light grassy aromas and only a faint note of some hop bitterness. It tastes of sharp citrus bitterness up front, like very bitter grapefruit. There is an earthy feel to it as the burnt sugar sweet middle sets in. It finishes with a long slow tart flavor.

This feels to me like a good entry level IPA. It's not overly complex or bitter and is well balanced between sweet and bitter. The aroma left a lot to be desired, but the flavor profile is good. I'd have to assume that a fresher bottle would have a much more robust aroma. The 7+% alcohol content cannot be found at all which makes this very easy to drink.

Next up was the 
Single Hop Imperial IPA with Simcoe. From what I can tell this is the second in the series, the first showcasing the El Dorado variety. I've been enjoying reading about many of the single hop IPAs that have been coming to the craft beer market recently. My buddies and I have tossed around the idea of having a Mikkeller night to try out all 10 brews in his single hop IPA series. Being a home brewer apprentice I can find some scientific value in an event like this. I've also seen that the folks up in Boston are doing a similar project in the context of a mixed 12 pack of their Latitude 48 Deconstructed IPAs, showcasing five different hop varieties in the same IPA base.

Imperial IPA with Simcoe

This 12 oz bottle is stamped "227A11" which I poured in to a Pirat tulip. Using the same "Julian minus 140 days" logic that I used above puts this "best by" August 15th, 2011 and bottled on March 28th, 2011, making this bottle about 5 weeks old at the time of this tasting. This appears to be about one week fresher that the Snake Dog bottles in this pack.

It pours almost clear light copper/faded orange with a fine bubbled fluffy white head and constant carbonation streams. The lacing is very heavy and sticky showing evidence of some decent head retention. It smells creamy, almost of sweet dairy. There are some faint bitter notes. This is another IPA from Flying Dog whose aroma does not impress me one bit. As I sip on it I am surprised by a balanced flavor profile. At 70
IBUs I wasn't expecting this to be a super bitter bomb. The bitter and sweet is superbly balanced, hiding all flavors of alcohol and allowing the beer to maintain some depth. At 10% alcohol by volume, this is no small feat. The hop bitterness appears up front, settles in creamy and sweet and fades away leaving a light reminder of what was just had. The flavors aren't overly complexed, but this was expecting coming from a single hop recipe.

I'm impressed with this beer, and very happily so. It feels extremely well balanced. The stats on this beer would lead you to believe that it will punch you in the face with bitter hops and alcohol, but it doesn't. It's very easy and enjoyable to drink. You'll feel all warm and fuzzy after one. Don't forget that this one is part of Flying Dog's
Canis Major "big" beer series. It's a true ass kicker in disguise.

So there you have it, a fun Tuesday night sipping on some fine Maryland craft brewed IPAs. Don't forget to support your local brewers. Buy their beers. Advocate for them. Introduce them to your friends. Go take the tour. Talk to their brewers. Enjoy!