Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Six beer reviews.

I think Green Man's Harvester Ale is one of the better Oktoberfest beers I’ve had, although I’m not a fan of marzens generally. So, take marzen praise from a non-marzen fan for what it is worth. This beer brings a sweet, rich quality to the style that makes it just highly drinkable. It pours bright golden color with a fair amount of foam. The aroma is sweet, with molasses and sugary malt very prominent. That’s the flavor, too. None of it really segregates to the front or back of the tongue, it’s just this swirl of mild hops, a little something like honey, a bit of pineapple... it all adds up to an unassuming but decidedly sweet brew that I found refreshing.

Green Man's ESB is not a bad bitter, but not really anything special. It pours caramel brown with a little bit of suds. The aroma is creamy, nutty, a little hint of floral hops and maple. The flavor is mildly sweet and malty, just a hint of caramel and toasted malt. OK, fine.

The flagship IPA by Green Man is OK. Just OK. It’s nothing to write love songs about. In Roanoke or Lexington it would actually be top tier, but this is from an Asheville brewery. Asheville is a whole ’nother with a whole 'nother standard. This IPA pours copper color with little head. The aroma is standard IPA. Some grassy hops, some cereal malt. Standard IPA taste, too. Not bad in any way. Just not Asheville.

Space Dust IPA by Elysian Brewing pours clear, dark yellow with thin foam. The aroma is lemon citrus, hay, some bready qualities. The flavor is big on that lemon up front but closes with a really clean, strong bitter hoppiness. Pretty good.

I had Hardywood's Rye Whiskey Barrel Pumpkin Ale on tap at the brewery and later from a bottle. I liked it much better on tap, there were creamy vanilla notes that I just don’t get from the bottle. It pours orange/brown with a good bit of foam. The aroma is like a pumpkin ale with some strong rye character. The flavor has more of the rye, but it isn’t as rich or as warm from the bottle as I thought it was on tap. It isn’t bad but it’s far from Hardywood’s A game.

Underground is a kvass, an example of an obscure low-alcohol style, by Flora Fonta in Morgonton, North Carolina. This beer is one of the strangest, and one of the best beers I have had in 2016. This beer pours hazy brown/yellow without much head. The aroma is just crazy. All kinds of qualities come through; fermented apples, sauerkraut, crusty bread, something like wet cardboard. The flavor is tart and bright and really odd. On the finish there is a salty, moldy kind of thing that I find hard to describe. Somewhere between kombucha and a sour ale. I’m completely indifferent about the low ABV. The body is light and crisp. This beer has surprised me more than anything else I’ve had this year, and I really love it.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Here's six more, and like the last batch, this set features several more from The Veil. I am indebted to my pal Adam for bringing me these beers to try. The Veil is poised to bump Hardywood out of my #1 Virginia Brewery spot at this point.

The Veil's We Ded Mon is a very big, uncompromising Imperial IPA. The brewery bills it as a triple, and it’s hard to argue with the designation. This beer pours dense, pale orange. The head fades quickly. The aroma is very strong and aggressive, in league with the last release of Lagunitas The Waldos and Stone's RuinTen. Nose notes include grapefruit, mango, and all manner of funk. It's supremely bitter, the flavor is mean as hell. Bright up front, closing strong and dank with an unmistakable presence of the big ABV. On the swallow it hits again like a tank backfiring. Big, skanky beer.

Dirt Nap is another imperial IPA by The Veil. It pours with a body like pulpy orange juice. The foam on the top is thin but stubborn. Smells like mildly bitter orange juice, too, but the flavor leans toward grapefruit. Still sweet, but tangy, bitter, with a significant kick. Absolutely no hint of the 8.8% ABV. Just giant juice with a dry, bright twist in the finish.

As long as The Veil keeps turning out delicious beer, I will forgive their tendency to give their brews trendy sounding names, such as Never Heardofit. This gose is light, refreshing, and a really nice after-dinner beer. Pours blood red with a pink, foamy head. The aroma is tart, sweet, fruity candy. I figured that would get old by the end but it never wore out it’s welcome. The flavor is bright, juicy and sour. The finish is sweet berries, a little salt, a little lemon. I probably wouldn’t buy this often, The beers I set out to track down are the ones that plunder your palate. But it is the kind of thing I’d crave occasionally if I had it more than two or three times.

Another established favorite that somehow fell between the boards, I only recently realized that I'd failed to review Sierra Nevada's Hoptimum Imperial IPA at or here at the blog. This beer is a giant mouth twister. Hoptimum pours bright, clear orange with a lot of foam. It has legs for days. There is a big, aggressive hop aroma with the usual West Coast mega bitter notes... citrus, gym socks, litter box stank and something like cabbage. The flavor is that to the power of ten. This is aggressive beer. Hoptimum rubs hard.

5 Beans is Six Point's current version of the bean porters. This year's variation is the least of the three releases so far. It's still very good, but the adjunct ingredients may be on the verge of overkill. It pours very dark brown with tenacious, caramel cream colored foam. The aroma is a little overwrought. The coffee and chocolate from the previous releases are drowned out by an overly spicy, synthetic quality. There is some smoke, some allspice and pepper, but mostly a cough-syrup like density. The flavor is better than the aroma, but that cherry cough drop quality is still a presence. The coffee is there, the chocolate is there, but they are subjugated to a secondary role.

Allagash Little Brett is something like a session sour. I tried it, anyway. Little Brett ought to be called Very, Very Little Brett. Or maybe Very, Very Little of Anything. This beer pours pale yellow with a ton of head. The aroma is a bit promising, it has a mild suggestion of that funky, cheesy Brettanomyces thing going on. The flavor subdues it into almost nothing. This is probably the right beer to use to introduce sours to someone who is pale with terror at the very idea. But if you’re already neck deep in the sour thing, this beer is only going to mildly annoy you. It’s not awful, it’s probably OK for quenching thirst. But not for much else.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Star City Half Marathon, Roanoke VA, November 19, 2016. (Time: 1:46:33)

This year's Star City Half Marathon was my 23rd race, and my strongest race yet. This was my fourth half-marathon of the year. I not only PR'd the race, I finished with such a strong PR that I don't know when or if I'll be able to top it. I did a number of things differently before this race, and any one of them might have been enough to throw me off my game. Instead, it all seems to have added up to the perfect set of new variables. I went into the race prepared to just have fun and not worry too much about my splits or my time. I ended up running strong and feeling great, and I was really happy with my numbers.

One of the changes I made was running in very light knee braces. More sleeves than braces, really. The heavy, metal-hinged braces I've been racing in cut my inner legs so badly that I always finish races raw and bloody. After the marathon last month I decided I was sick of the distraction of the extra pain caused by the braces. I would rather run a little more slowly for a while with less knee support than spend another post-race day constantly un-sticking my jeans from the raw sores inside my legs.

I also went into this race feeling under-trained. I like to have a couple of ten mile runs the week before a half marathon, and during the week that lead up to this race I just didn't have time for anything more than my de rigueur six mile runs.

But the biggest change, the biggest distraction, is the incredible woman who's come into my life since the marathon in October. Out of respect for her privacy, I won't refer to her by name here at this blog. Given the profound effect she seems to have had on my running, I'll give her the nickname "Lucky." Having her in my life feels like the sun has come out from behind the clouds after years and years of struggling.

Lucky is also a runner. She ran with me some during the week leading up to the race, and she ran the half-marathon with me as well. Maybe our relationship is good luck for her, too, because she finished the race with a PR of her own.

Other things I did before the race seemed like logical pre-race strategy, and I'm glad to have at least taken a few things more seriously this time out. I ate right, I got plenty of rest, and Lucky gave me a pre-race leg-rub that made me feel more capable and better tuned than I've ever felt before a race.

All of it added up to the best I've ever felt during and after a race, and I hope it's an indication of the current direction of my life in general. I can't remember having been this happy in a really long time.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Six more.

The Veil's Single Brothers is one more over the top dank, juicy imperial IPA. I love the style, so that's no complaint. Single Brothers pours dark, hazy brown/orange with a lot of head. Gigantic grapefruit and floral hop on the front of the nose, with some hay and butter lurking in the background. Very juicy, tart, creamy, bitter, bright flavor. Just delicious.

Boss Man, by The Viel, is a sour imperial IPA. It pours cloudy, pale orange with a fair amount of foam that disappears in a hurry. This beer is all IPA up front. In the nose there are big, floral hops, citrus, some buttery malt. The flavor is dominated by the sour. It hits hard mid-tongue, and the twist is rich and tangy. Notes of peaches and granny smith apples make it pungent and funky. Yes, sir, I like it.

The Veil's Kevin Kevin is the DIPA version of one of their sour IPAs. It pours cloudy orange without much head. The aroma is funky and sly. Lemons, gym socks, cat pee, a little buttered bread, all of it intriguing. Some sour IPAs, to my taste, are bitter hops up front with sour in the finish. This one does it the other way around. I get the sour on the front of the tongue and it closes with bright, dry hops. Compared to other Veil IPAs, this one lays there a little bit on the finish. From another brewery this would be a huge hit, but from the Veil this one is merely damn good.

New Belgium's Lips of Faith Tart Lychee pours hazy pale yellow with very little head. The aroma is really nice. The sour and a buttery malt both come through on the nose. Very tart, strong flavor on the front of the tongue, and mellow in the finish. I don’t pick up on the cinnamon but I don’t care. This thing tastes great.

New Belgium and Oud Beersel's Lips of Faith sour called Transatlantique Kriek is a damn serious sour. It pours burgundy red with basically no head. The aroma is very strong, tart cherries. The flavor is also very strong, tart cherries, a little bit of wood, a little dab of mud, and some honey. Big ol’ aggressive beer. Sour as Hillary Clinton’s dreams. I love it.

Brothers Craft Brewing isn't re-inventing the wheel with Resolute, a barrel aged Russian imperial stout. But there is nothing wrong with playing a familiar tune if you can play it this well. Resolute pours dark, chocolate brown with average foam. The aroma is really rich with a little spice and vanilla. The flavor is dense and flavorful. A lot of coffee, anise, some nutty character, bright notes, and strong, sweet, mellow vanilla hints of the barrel. This is the kind of beer that reminds me why barrel aging an imperial stout never fails to make me happy.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Here's six beer reviews, this edition featuring all Wicked Weed brews. I got most of these at the bottle shop at Wicked Weed's Brewery Pub in Asheville. I picked up a couple of them at another bottle shop in Asheville. While none of these were bad, I do want to say that the beer that is on tap at Wicked Weed's two Asheville locations is much, much better. You can read my reviews of the two Wicked Weed locations in Asheville at this link.

Wicked Weed's La Bonté Sour, the plum variant, pours hazy orange with a creamy head that fades to a rim ring. The aroma is rich, creamy, and tart. It might sound crazy, but the aroma reminds me a bit of Vermont cheddar cheese. Definitely one of the funkier beers I’ve had. The flavor is rich and malty on the front and then closes with sour bite and the wild, sense-expanding blast of a brettanomyces beer. Plum notes are present on the swallow and exhale. This is what I'd have called a sophisticated beer a few years ago, but I just call it damn tasty today.

This bottle of Wicked Weed's Freak Of Nature Imperial IPA was brewed about two weeks before I drank it. I may have never had a fresher IPA. Wicked Weed says " Drinking this beer is like stuffing your face into a bag of fresh hops while eating a tangerine," and I guess my main quibble is I’d have said "lemon" rather than "tangerine." This beer pours bright, clear, pale orange with a very tenacious, creamy head. I get lemon zest and some spice on the aroma. More lemon on the flavor, with hops, hops, hops. Just a giant, dry, uncompromising bitter, hop bomb that is as good as anything from Portland or San Diego.

Wicked Weed's Tropicmost Gose pours hazy yellow with a thin head. The aroma is sweet and slightly tangy. The flavor is like a crisp wheat beer up front and then the tart, fruity qualities flood the finish and mix with the malt for something very refreshing and bright. I like this.

Wicked Weed's Pernicious IPA is a bright, dry, crisp IPA. It pours golden yellow, lots of carbonation and a big pile of foam. The aroma is a little tangy, lemon and grassy hops. The flavor is lemony and crisp and clean. It isn’t an earth-shaker, but it’s an easy-going companion with bar food and an overall fine IPA.

Barrel Aged Lunatic Belgian Ale is the weakest of the Wicked Weed brews in this batch. It's good. Not great. And there is no real hint of the barrel, to my taste. It pours hazy blond, average head, average carbonation. The aroma is typical Belgian, rich-smelling esters, bananas, cloves, etc. The flavor is pretty much the same. The finish is fuller than many Belgians, though, so it gets points for that. This beer has a big ol' ass for a Belgian single.

I intentionally separated the plum and pear versions of La Bonté by a matter of days so I could try to review them more objectively. I liked the pear variation a lot when I had it at the Funkatorium. From the bottle at home this beer is still very good, but I don’t quite enjoy it as much as I did on tap. And I think I actually like the plum version a little better. This beer pours haze orange with a fast fading head, the aroma is tart and yeasty, but not with quite that pronounced cheese kind of thing I noticed in the aroma of the plum version. I don’t really pick up on pears on the flavor, just that same super-funky, wild, strong brett sourness that makes the other variations so good. Really, all the variations of this beer that I've tasted have been damn fine. Wicked Weed has made sours very accessible to this stout/IPA fanboy.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Notes On An Evolving Palate: New Belgium's Lips Of Faith La Folie Sour Brown Ale

When I visited New Belgium's brewery in Asheville last week, I had an opportunity to sample the 2016 release of La Folie, New Belgium's lauded sour brown ale. I first tried La Folie on June 6, 2013. This was my first foray into the complex and demanding world of sour ales, and I posted a perplexed review here at the blog.

Last week, at the brewery, as I took my time enjoying the aroma and intense flavor of La Folie, I remembered how this beer had knocked me for a loop three years ago. I'm honestly surprised at how much my palate has changed in the three years since I first tried this absolutely wonderful beer. I didn't enjoy it at all in 2013, but in my defense, I did recognize my reaction as the flinch of someone newly exposed to a sensory overload. As I wrote then:
This beer is not trying to cozy up and be your friend. You'll like it on its terms or you won't like it at all. I cannot say I really enjoyed this beer, but I can't remember the last time something bowled me over like this did.

Well, a lot has changed since then, and many of those changes have taken place in my own mouth. The relative popularity of sours, along with the demand for lightly tart, fruity beers (gose and the like), have given me opportunities to fine tune my palate more carefully. I suppose that explains the evolution that has taken place, which I seemed to anticipate even in 2013. In any case, in the fall of 2016, I absolutely love La Folie.

This second review is based not just on the sample I had at the brewery. I enjoyed that sample enough to bring home a bottle, and I've been sipping it this evening. As it did three years ago, La Folie pours brown with very little foam. Whereas I only picked up on malt and cherry on the aroma in 2013, I notice other notes on the aroma now. The barrel aging process is conspicuous, and there are fruity notes apparent other than cherries. In fact, this year, the main secondary characteristic I notice in the smell is apples, apple cider, and brown sugar. This beer smells amazing.

The flavor, which was simply too heavy-handed for me three years ago, seems more nuanced and multi-faceted now. That big, aggressive sourness is still there. There's no getting around that, and if sourness isn't something you appreciate, you probably won't like this beer any more than I did when I first tired it. I guess my taste-buds have been dialed in more carefully, because along with that huge sourness I now also pick up on very strong woody and nutty notes on the flavor. There is also a crackery, dark bread quality in the background that's the best part of the exhale. This beer is layered so carefully. Sour is everywhere... if this beer were music, every note would be played in the key of sour. But there are so many more instruments here than I noticed the first time around. This beer is as dense as a symphony.

La Folie is still an uncompromising beer. If you already have a taste for sours, you will probably find much here to like. If you don't, this beer is just far too aggressive to pick up as your first taste of the style. Nonetheless, I'm glad I did find access to the style, and glad I tasted La Folie again. If I'm able to find it easily enough in my area, it is going to become a regular presence.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Western North Carolina Taproom Tour, Part Two Of Two

This is the second part of a set of reviews of taprooms in and around Asheville, North Carolina. The first part is at this link.

As I wrote in the first part, I mostly concentrated on relaxing and enjoying these taprooms and breweries during my visit to North Carolina. But I do enjoy writing these kinds of posts, and during these visits, I did make some notes on the beer and the atmosphere, and take a few pictures. Again, these reviews, like the Richmond reviews, reflect my experiences during a brief visit, and they should be regarded as such. It's hard to really take in a brewery or a taproom in one visit, but these are my first impressions, nonetheless.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Western North Carolina Taproom Tour, Part One Of Two

This is the first part of a two-part post. The second part is at this link.

When I went to North Carolina for my marathon last week, I had time to check out some of the breweries and taprooms in the part of the state where I was traveling and staying. Part of this included a visit to Asheville, and if you're familiar with that area, you know that there is just too much outstanding beer coming out of Asheville to consider one visit conclusive. I did visit all three of the major breweries in the Asheville area, including New Belgium, Oskar Blues, and Sierra Nevada. Those tours and tastings were ninety minutes to two hours each, and I'll post separate blog entries for each of those breweries later.

For the most part, my taphouse visits were more about relaxing and sampling the beer and food, not about blogging. But I did make a few notes about six of the taprooms I visited during my stay in western North Carolina, and I'll post them, along with a few pictures, here. These reviews, like the Richmond reviews, reflect my experiences during a brief visit, and they should be regarded as such. One brief visit is not really enough to sum up or adequately assess any taproom's oeuvre. But I will tell you a little about what I enjoyed. This is part one of a two-part North Carolina indie taproom review.

When I first started getting active and trying to lose weight in August of 2014, I started writing about it at the blog. I also wrote a long blog post about my first race, a 5K in Charlottesville, in June of 2015. Looking back at how I ranted for paragraph after paragraph about a simple 5K is kind of humbling now. At the time I'd come a long way, but I'd have probably guessed in June of 2015 that 5Ks were about as far as I'd go with running.

When I ran my first half marathon in January of this year I wrote another long blog post. That one is particularly embarrassing for me now, because I look at the purple prose and the attempts at allegory and realize that, once again, I was sure I'd accomplished as much as I ever would. I'm leaving both of those blog posts up because that's all part of the process. Hitting milestones, feeling a sense of accomplishment, working for the next milestone, and looking back at where you were with mixed feelings. That seems to be what distance running is about.

I spent this past summer training for my first marathon, which was yesterday. I posted a long, rambling blog entry about marathon training the other day. That's probably sufficient as far as reflection and contemplation. Now that I've actually finished the marathon I feel like writing something more immediate. These are the things going through my head the day after finishing a marathon. Maybe looking back at a list of bullet points, recorded before selective memory re-frames the race, might be useful as I prepare for my next distance-running project. So, that's all this is. A highlights reel. A list of the things I am feeling right now, one day after completing a marathon.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Here's six beer reviews.

Stone's Double Bastard Imperial American Strong Ale is one of my favorite beers ever, and Templeton Rye is my favorite rye whiskey. I’ve been anxious to try Double Bastard In The Rye since I first saw it last year, but in my area the price has been ridiculous. Sure, Double Bastard is a pricey beer to make. And, sure, aging in Templeton Rye barrels cannot be a cheap proposition. But at what point does that expensive extra step become a bridge too far? I've wondered about it for a year, and when I visited the Stone taproom in Richmond recently, I finally got a chance to try the Templeton Rye barrel aged version of Double Bastard at a price I could live with. And, what can I say? Regular Ol' Double Bastard is just about perfect. It's hard to improve on "just about perfect."

In short, Stone started out with a great beer, aged it expensively in premium barrels, and ended up with still a great beer. It isn't transcendent. It doesn't change everything, and at even the most affordable price I've seen it, that is a disappointment.

Like regular Double Bastard, this beer pours brown with very little head. The aroma is all the stuff from regular Double Bastard... caramel, apples, brown sugar, spice. That’s all in the flavor, plus the boozy blast of Double Bastard is compounded here (because the ABV is elevated to 12.7%). Where I really notice the Templeton barrel aging is in the aftertaste. On the aftertaste the distinct, spicy, sweet, oaky, buttery quality of Templeton is a real, undeniable presence. I did notice it. But I already have a bottle of Templeton, and that bottle tastes exactly like Templeton.

One more note about the price, which I cannot help fixating on. This beer was thirty bucks in my area last year. Thirty damn bucks. I'd never have bought it at all if the taproom hadn't had it at a much more reasonable price. And this is not even for a twenty-two ounce bottle. This bottle stands as tall as the double-deuces, but it has that big dimple in the bottom of the bottle that makes appearances deceiving. This is a 500 ml bottle, not much more than a pint. Stone is milking their loyal fanbase with releases like this.

I was glad to get a chance to try the re-release of Stone's 15th Anniversary IPA at Stone’s taproom in Richmond, and I was curious to see if I’d find it to be different from Sublimely Self Righteous, the regular release version of this recipe. Maybe some of it was in my head, but I thought this beer was quite different from SSR. I liked it enough to bring home a crowler, and that’s what I’m reviewing, here.

This beer still pours brown with a thick, tan head and average carbonation. The aroma is still hop-forward, of course. Pine and grassy notes, but I didn’t really think I picked up on the rye-like notes that I notice in SSR. The taste is where I really detected a difference. There is a rush of chocolate and coffee on the finish that I just do not get out of SSR, and it’s delicious. Really wonderful. Hops in the nose, hops on the front of the tongue, and then sweet, rich smoothness at the end. As much as I love Sublimely, I do like this more. I’d buy this often if I could. I'm glad that Stone balances mild disappointments like the beer reviewed above with surprising beer like this one.

I haven’t been wild about maple beers, but Saucony Creek's Maple Mistress, a pumpkin beer with maple, is very well reviewed. And it deserves to be, it's very good. To my taste, it's really nothing like a pumpkin ale. It pours hazel/brown with a head that fades to a tan ring quickly. The aroma is really nice. Warm spice, some brown sugar, some of the maple. The maple comes through on the flavor bigtime in the finish, but it doesn’t get old. The rum spices and rich malt are nice, too. There is a lot going on here, and pumpkin is the least of it. This beer is very good.

As billed, Roy Pitz Daddy Fat Sacks IPA is a balanced and malty IPA that finishes slightly sweet. That isn’t really my kind of thing as far as a regular IPA choice, I mostly tried this out of curiosity. I'd rate it well for delivering on it’s promise. This beer pours slightly cloudy yellow with a huge head. The aroma is like an English bitter, with some lemon citrus and yeasty notes. The flavor is smooth and understated, and finishes emphasizing the mellow malt.

I’m a litle late getting Ninkasi's Maiden The Shade Summer IPA, but the beer in this bottle was good, regardless of it’s age. It pours cloudy orange with average head and carbonation. The aroma is grapefruiit/citrus and slightly sweet malt notes. The flavor hits hard with that citrus. Grapefruit, and then a lemon meringue, sweet finish. I liked this beer.

The ginger version of Ballast Point's Big Eye IPA is okay, but I don’t enjoy it as much as the regular release. It pours cloudy orange, there is a good deal of foam. The ginger is strong on the aroma, but the fairly juicy, strong IPA aroma of regular Big Eye is still there. The Ginger is front and center on the flavor, too, although the hops aren’t completely drowned out in the finish. I was a little tired of the ginger by the end of the 22 ounce bottle.