Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Six, if ya want 'em.

Sierra Nevada 11.5° Plato is one more session IPA. I guess it’s OK. This beer pours a slightly cloudy light orange with average head and carbonation. It doesn’t smell like much. It doesn’t taste like much. There’s a mildly hoppy back end and the finish hints at a bit of dry crackle. It isn’t bad, but session beers just aren’t my thing. I felt nothing while I was drinking this. Session IPAs are the rom-com's of beer. I have no idea who enjoys them. I just know it ain't me.

Flying Dog's Oaked Chipotle Ale is part of the brewery's Heat Series. I tried this out of curiosity, and I liked it a lot more than I expected to. It pours dark brown with very little foam. The aroma is sweeter than I thought it would be. There’s a hint of the oak and the pepper, but mostly it’s creamy caramel malt on the nose. The flavor brings the other stuff. The oak and some brown sugar up front, then the chipotle burns and tingles in the finish with a mildly acidic smokiness. I might even buy this again.

It's really, really hard to get pepper right in beer. Stone does a great job with Xocoveza, and South Street's wonderful pumpkin beer called Twisted Gourd are the only two beers with pepper that I really love. This one could be a grower, but it isn't quite a shower.

New Belgium's Lips Of Faith beers are the brewery's high-brow collaborations, but I haven't had one yet that I really love. Flowering Citrus is their colaboration with De Koninck, and this beer is a slow burner that I enjoyed more and more over the course of the glass. I enjoyed the last sip more than the first, which is pretty much what you want in a beer. It pours cloudy dark yellow with a good bit of fluffy white foam. The aroma is floral and a little tangy. Roses, lemons, some spice, a fairly complex bouquet. The flavor is really juicy up front, with lime the dominant presence. It’s clean and crisp, and a little bit dry in the finish. Refreshing. I liked this more than I expected to.

On the other hand, New Belgium's Lips Of Faith colab with Hof Ten Dormaal is very much only kinda OK. Simply called Golden Ale, this is a rich but very typical strong Belgian ale. It pours slightly hazy yellow with little head. Average carbonation. The aroma is like most Belgians, yeasty and fruity, bananas and malt. The flavor adds some grassy hop to that, and the finish is dry. My reaction was very much "Sure, alright, fine."

Stone has spent this, their twentieth year, bringing back some of their most beloved recipes. Not one of them has been a dud. I was very glad to see 2014’s limited release Unapologetic IPA back on the shelves. This batch, billed as Still Unapologetic, is like a giant West Coast middle finger to everyone who says that the New England style IPA has killed off the West Coast version. This beer pours clear gold color with average head and lace. The aroma is understated, as it was in 2014. In the nose there is some mild citrus, mild tropical fruit, a little malt, no big whoop. The flavor, like it was in the first release two years ago, is bigger. Still Unapologetic is dry and bright and bitter as hell. Notes of cantaloupe and grape and clean, grassy hops are punched up by a bright, dry, very bitter finish. The only thing disappointing about this bottle is that it eventually dripped dry. Stone has nothing to apologize for here.

I've made it no secret that I'm totally Stone Brewing's boy. Beers like Arrogant Bastard, Enjoy By, Ruination, Xocoveza, and Thunderstruck are among my favorite beers of all time. Then again, I made it no secret that I thought the last three years were a bit lackluster for my favorite brewery. Recent news has indicated that this hasn't been Stone's best year, financially. But I'm here to say, unequivocally, that at least in terms of taste, this has been Stone's strongest year in ages. These twentieth anniversary re-releases have just been ringer after ringer. It would take a miracle for any brewery to top Stone as my pick for Brewery of the year in 2016.

I've had some of Stone's Enjoy By variants on tap, but rarely pick up a bottle and rarely feel like I've tasted the variants enough to review them. But I sipped a sample of Stone's tangerine version of Enjoy By recently, and liked it enough on tap to get a bottle. This variant is not better than regular Enjoy By, abd maybe it's not even quite as good, but still a delicious imperial IPA.

Enjoy By Tangerine pours clear, light orange color with an awful lot of head. The aroma is pretty much exactly like regular Enjoy By... notes of grapefruit and floral hops. The flavor is comparable to regular Enjoy By, too, but the tangerine is a slight presence on the back end. I love that Stone doesn’t make ancillary ingredients the dominant character when they do a variant of a favorite recipe. My only complaint is that I expected something juicer, here. Something bigger and danker and a little less lean. This beer is subdued by Stone imperial IPA standards. Yeah, it’s good. It’s not mind-blowing like the Enjoy By series can be from time to time (Long live 12-25-15), but it’s still very good.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

I've previously only had Catoctyn Creek's Roundstone Rye at restaurants and bars, this is the first time I've bought a bottle. That's partly because it's hard to track down, you have to special order it at most ABC stores in Virginia. But it's also because of the price. Roundstone is significantly more expensive than my go-to rye, Templeton. Nonetheless, Roundstone is a favorite way to finish a meal, when it's available, and I've always been happy on the rare occasions that I can find it by the glass. I finally picked up a bottle yesterday, and after really comparing and contrasting, I have to say that Catoctyn Creek's rye whiskey is absolutely outstanding, but will not edge out Templeton as my preferred rye.

Roundstone Rye pours only slightly lighter in color than Templeton. The main distinction between this and other ryes is the aroma. Put simply, Roundstone Rye is the best smelling whiskey I've ever had. I could just sit and smell a glass of this stuff for ages. And what makes it so wonderful to smell is that it isn't very balanced at all. Roundstone leans to the sweet side in the aroma, in a strong and wonderful way. Every wiff conjures up something new, and all of it sweet... caramel and butterscotch are dominant, but there are also notes like pancakes, candied nuts, vanilla, sweet potatoes, and gingerbread. This whiskey smells incredible, and this is coming from someone who doesn't really go for sweets. But I go for this.

The flavor is also surprising, and not what I'd expected from that huge aroma. The first time I had this I expected the flavor to just be off-the-charts sweet after taking in that aroma. It isn't at all, and that's what makes it so enjoyable. Roundstone is mild and goes down very clean, almost like an Irish whiskey more than a rye. To my untrained palate, this whiskey is very subtle in flavor. The spice and rich malt I've come to expect from rye whiskey are there, and so are the sweet notes. But it is all dialed back noticeably. This is like a cross between Templeton and Tullamore Dew... lighter on the tongue, and far less aggressive than some ryes, such as Russell's Reserve and Bulleit.

I don't know that Catoctyn Creek's Roundstone Rye is ever going to become a regular purchase for me. The difference in dollars between this and Templeton is prohibitive. But there's no denying how good this is, and there is no forgetting the incredible aroma.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

This mixed six review is made up almost entirely of beers from the North East. These are beers I'd not typically get a chance to try here in Virginia, but lucky me, I have a friend who hooks me up with these things. And, man, this shipment was killer.

Port Jeff Brewing's Orange Dream is one of the best Belgian Tripels I've had. It pours about the color of iced pekoe tea, with average head and carbonation. The aroma is what I expected from the name. It smells like a dreamsicle, sweet orange and vanilla and sugar. I'd have probably been happy with the flavor if it had been similar to the aroma. But the taste is surprising, rich, and even better than the smell. The typical Belgian tripel malts and yeasts are there, despite having not really been a presence in the aroma. On the tongue, the orange and vanilla is milder, more of a background quality, but still a presence. I'm more of a fan of dubels and quads than tripels... except for a handful, tripels often finish with a medicinal aftertaste that I don't like. No such problem here. Orange Dream was tasty to the last drop.

I've been hearing good things about Tree House Brewing out of Massachusetts for a while. The first beer I've been able to try is Green, a Tree House IPA. And this beer delivers on the hype. Green pours super cloudy yellow with a fair amount of head, the aroma is fantastic. Pineapple, herbal tea, a little bit of popcorn, something like Brussels sprouts going on there, too... it’s complex. The flavor is tangy, bitter, a little bit sweet. The citrus thing is the dominant quality, but the finish is a long, lingering floral hoppy note that resonates for several seconds. This beer is just fine.

Captain's Daughter by Grey Sail Brewing is a very good, juicy double IPA with a fair amount of foam and average carbonation. The aroma is lemons, cracker malt, herbal hops. That’s the flavor, too, with a dry and clean finish. This isn't a particularly unique double IPA, but it's a classic example of why the style is so popular. Tasty stuff.

Afterimage is a Double IPA by Grimm Artisanal Ales, a Brooklyn Brewery. This beer pours cloudy tangerine orange with average head. The aroma is a sweet citrus blast, very much like pulpy orange juice, but the rich malt is there in the nose, too. The flavor is just extremely juicy citrus... grapefruit, lemon, clementines, etc. All of it good. Dry, bright, bitter finish. Dank as hell. Wonderful.

So, those four North East brews were all damn fine. But this one, here? This was the jewel of the five. Pile Of Crowns is a Double IPA by Long Island City Beer Project, and barring a miracle, this will be my IPA of the year for 2016. This beer is just super juicy, dank and bright with monstrous citrus and an almost vinegary bitter finish. Not vinegary as in acidic, but vinegary as in the sweet, pungent thing that you might associate with a citrus salad dressing. Salty, sweet, lemony, all good things. Pile Of Crrowns pours cloudy yellow with average head, and the aroma is mostly bright citrus. Nothing surprising for an East Coast IPA. It's the flavor that really brings the fun. And I think "fun" is the right word to sum up the taste, but the components include qualities such as starchy, crisp, a little piney, and slightly sideways. I absolutely adore this beer. I adore this beer so much that it makes me use words like "adore."

This year's variant on Stone's reliable Old Guardian Barley Wine is dry-hopped with Pekko hops. I like it. It's very smooth, very sweet... or, at least, sweater than I’d expected. Certainly not as hoppy as last year’s "extra hoppy" variant. In fact, to my palate, this thing isn’t even as hoppy as regular release Old Guardian. Maybe my palate is changing or maybe it’s even just a little off tonight. I don’t know. I do know that this beer is delicious, and smooth and rich, just not as hoppy as I had expected. It pours deep copper brown with a good bit of head. The aroma is like other Old Guardian brewings... caramel, honey, citrus, apples. The flavor is so rich and smooth, without the high ABV showing up much at all. Just the molasses and raisins and walnuts I expcted from Old Guardian. No complaints at all, although I can’t say that I detect anything special from the Pekko dry hopping.

My reviews of previous iterations of Old Guardian:
Extra Hoppy Old Guardian
Oaked & Smoked Old Guardian
Original Old Guardian

Monday, October 3, 2016

Another six with a bunch of fall beers.

Black Boss Porter is not the best baltic porter I’ve had (my preference is for Smuttynose’s version of the style), but this is still a pretty good beer. It pours dark brown with a fair amount of head. The aroma is not strong but it’s appetizing. Some anise, a little espresso, a faint bit of citrus. The flavor is coffee and sweet malt on the front, and it closes with some milk chocolate notes and a hint of cherries, kind of a Dr. Pepper thing that I often notice in Baltic porters and bocks. The high ABV is there in the flavor, but it isn’t medicinal or synthetic. In my area this beer is inexpensive, which effects my overall score in a very positive way.

Sierra Nevada Hoppy Wheat IPA pours clear, pale yellow with a lot of head and carbonation. The aroma is really nice, a combination of lemon-zest hop tingle and rich, sweet, mellow malt. The flavor is the same, but it closes distinctly to the hoppy side, with strong citrus and a little bit of white grape character. This is pretty good.

Saranac Pumpkin Ale comes in a 32 ounce mini-growler, and pours the color of iced tea with a great deal of foam. The aroma is slightly citrus with pumpkin notes. The flavor is thin and nothing special. Not awful, but not that good. An average ale with a synthetic pumpkin spice finish.

When Saranac’s S’mores Porter came out in 32 ounce growlers for five bucks, I bought one figuring that the little growler itself was worth that. I was surprised and really happy when the porter that came in that growler was delicious. I rolled the dice on the pumpkin ale in the 32 ounce jug for five bucks this time, and this time all I really got out of the deal was the neat little growler. Still, at the price, I can’t complain too much.

Southern Tier Back Burner Barley Wine is really good, really serious barley wine with a gigantic ABV kick. It pours dark brown with a lot of light tan colored suds. The aroma is brown sugar, sweet fruit, raisins, all the typical barley wine kind of stuff. The flavor is very strong, very rich, sweet but not too sweet, with the blackstrap molasses and boozy character fighting for domination of the finish. Just a fine beer by any standard.

Bell's Oktoberfest is not very good, but I haven’t had many Marzens that I enjoy at all, so take my opinion with a grain of salt. If Oktoberfest is your thing, maybe you'll love this. I don't. This pours light copper colored with average head and carbonation. The usual mildly sweet malt aroma of an Oktoberfest, as you'd expect, is present. And an okay hop tingle rounds that out on the tongue. Not awful. Not worth having again.

Buffalo Bill's Black Pumpkin Oatmeal Stout is not a bad beer, but it does go a little too heavy on the pumpkin spice thing. The amount of nutmeg and cinnamon is overdone to the point of an artificial level, kind of like gas station pumpkin spiced coffee. And that’s a shame, because a smooth, rich, slightly sweet oatmeal stout is one of my favorite cooler weather beers. There’s not real hint of oatmeal malt in the flavor, here, it’s just pumpkin overload. This beer pours dark brown with a little tan head, and the aroma is a slightly creamier version of the flavor. It’s too bad the flavor oversells it.

One of the reasons I enjoyed Southern Tier's Warlock Imperial Pumpkin Stout so much is that it's obvious that the beer would be just as good without a hint of pumpkin flavor. I have no way of knowing what this beer would taste like if they left out the pumpkin schtick. Pumpkin isn't a a few notes of the music here, it's just a gigantic drone.

Friday, September 30, 2016

I review whiskey infrequently because I drink whiskey infrequently, and I think every whiskey review I've posted at the blog has primarily been made up of those qualifiers. The only thing I really know anything about is beer. Beer is the only beverage I really even crave. I know less about wine than I do whiskey, but I find whiskey to be far more intimidating and infinitely more nuanced than anything else I enjoy. All I can do here is post my opinion, which is all anyone does with a review. I know that. I also know that inexperienced reviews are sometimes the most useful to fellow newbies. So, there are all my qualifiers. Make of this review what you will.

I don't like Buffalo Trace as much as Maker's Mark, which will probably always be my go-to bourbon. I'm inherently conservative, especially with regard to liquor, both because of it's potency and it's price. Maker's Mark hits the spot for me, and it's a spot I feel the need to hit only occasionally. Having said that, Buffalo Trace does taste good, and at least in my area it's significantly less expensive than Maker's Mark. So those are definitely factors.

This tastes far better than the stuff I think of as frat house whiskey, Jim Beam and Jack Daniels and the like. Buffalo Trace pours a bright amber color, and the aroma is slightly sweet malt and oak notes, as I'd expected. The flavor up front is sweet, with vanilla notes and mild spice that linger through the finish. The finish is where this stuff doesn't quite live up to Maker's Mark. In fact, the close is far closer to the mid-shelf Beam/Daniels alternatives. It's a little minty, like mouthwash, at the end. Not quite medicinal, but neither as smooth, nor as complex as Maker's. What can I say, that's my standard for bourbon. Until it's exceeded, that's the standard other bourbons will have to meet.

I'm glad I tried Buffalo Trace, and the bottle won't sit around neglected in my freezer. But next time I crave that rare bottle of bourbon, I'll probably go back to my old standby.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Another six-pack review, including an autumn classic. I was surprised to realize that I'd never reviewed Pumpking before. It's just as well, I think I'm probably better able to review it more objectively now than ever before. So, let's get to it.

After trying and enjoying Southern Tier's Warlock Imperial Stout with Pumpkin, I thought it possible that my palate is changing and maybe I’ll enjoy Pumking more now. I checked for my review at ratebeer.com and I was surprised to see that I’d never posted a review of Pumpking when I first tried it five or more years ago. To be honest, I haven’t tasted it subsequently since then. I remember that when I first got into craft beer I was primarily interested in stouts, particularly barrel aged ones, and I wasn't impressed by Pumpking back then. It's certainly a popular beer, though, so I decided to get a bottle this week.

You know how it's possible to enjoy the Grateful Dead and still hate Deadheads? I guess that's kind of what is going on, here. The popularity of Pumpking has played a big part in the glut of mediocre pumpkin beers that squander precious shelf space every fall. Having said that, yeah... I liked this bottle of beer.

Pumpking pours amber with average head and carbonation, the aroma is pumpkin spice and rich, sweet malt. The flavor is malty, rich, and warm. The pumpkin and spices are all over the finish, but the warm and only slightly sweet malt is the dominant character. Hell, I enjoyed every sip of this bottle. And, why wouldn't I? I love pumpkin pie, I have nothing against pumpkin in general, and the occasional malt bomb is a nice change of pace from IPA. If I am objective, and I'm trying hard to be, I have to say that this is a good beer. I could drink this once a year.

Yes the pumpkin beer hype is annoying. Yes, the pumpkin beer backlash is just another trend. And, yes, my own bias against pumpkin beer might be a contrivance. I'm not above picking sides for the sake of not having to think too much about an issue. But if I just write honestly about whether or not I enjoyed this bottle of beer, I have to say I enjoyed it. Pumpking deserves to be the big boy among pumpkin beers. It's pretty damn good.

It’s hard for me to drink a beer like Abita's Bourbon Barrel Rye without thinking about Oak Aged Arrogant Bastard, a beer I love. This beer is sweeter, milder, and less demanding than Oaked Bastard, but it isn’t bad. It pours foggy orange with a lot of head. The aroma does have that sweet-spice rye kick. There's vanilla and butterscotch and heat, fairly typical rye notes. The flavor is pretty good up front, but it closes without much clamor. The finish is sweet and thin, if not quite watery. Again, not bad. I won't buy it again, but I wouldn't turn down a freebie.

AleSmith Double IPA is a tasty, dank, west-coast style IPA that I really enjoyed. There's nothing surprising going on here, but if you like the style, that's fine. This DIPA pours hazy yellow with head that hangs around for a while and a lot of carbonation. It has that classic big-hop stank all over it, with a little bit of buttery malt, and the flavor is that in spades. Plus, some sweet fruity notes, peaches, maybe mango too. The carbonation dominates the mouth feel, which doesn’t bother me. Alesmith Double IPA is a gulper. I dig it.

On the other hand, I have nothing good to say about O'Connor's Norfolk Canyon Pale Ale. It pours hazy yellow with a lot of foam. The aroma is mild, just a slight bit of lemon hops. The flavor is water. I mean, maybe a slight bit of weak hoppy something in the finish. But mostly water. Watered down water. I didn’t finish this. I dumped about half of it down the sink. I haven’t dumped out a beer in a long time, but I wasn’t going to waste my beer calories on this. This is piss.

Old ale is a beer style that I don't get to try new examples of very frequently. It might not be a very popular style, and I suppose that's understandable as craft beer becomes more and more dominated by fruit beers and chocolaty concoctions. There seems to be a fair amount of variation within this style as well, with a a range of difference between some of the examples I love the most. Great Divide's Hibernation, for instance, is spicy and sweet... at least when compared to Founder's Curmudgeon and it's malty, boozy character.

This particular old ale, Adroit Theory's Love Of The Damned, is closer to Curmudgeon, and reminds me of North Coast's Old Stock. It has a musky malt and honey character that's right in my wheelhouse. This beer pours dark golden brown with average head. The aroma and flavor are all about sweet roasted nuts, a little grass, and honey/caramel richness. The finish is a little bit boozy. I like this quite a bit.

It took an unreasonably long time for Stone's annual anniversary IPA to find it's way to my area this year. But it's' finally here, and I've had it a few times this week. I’ve tasted Citracado both on tap, and from the bottle, and it’s notably better on tap. Sure, all beer is better on tap, right? But it's really worth mentioning in this instance. The difference is substantial. Citracado pours bright, clear orange with a lot of head. The aroma is typical Stone west coast style IPA, big and dense and bitter, and cranked up (as usual) for an anniversary release. On tap this thing is really dank up front, strong and pungent, and closes with a tangy sweetness that really sets it off well. That close is more subdued from the bottle, and it’s overall dryer and just not as juicy. Either way, it’s more or less what I expected from a Stone anniversary IPA. Which is to say it’s better than most other IPAs regardless of how you pour it. I don’t think I like it quite as much as last year’s Thunderstruck, but I certainly can’t call it a disappointment. No, Stone is not reinventing the wheel, here, but they don't have to. Stone doesn't owe us a damn thing.

My previous Stone Anniversary IPA release reviews:
19th Anniversary (Thunderstruck)
18th Anniversary (Brown IPA)
17th Anniversary (Götterdämmerung)
16th Anniversary (Lemon/Amarillo/Calypso)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Another six, with some more autumn beer.

Last week I tried a pumpkin stout, and I really enjoyed it, which I don't say often about pumpkin beers. Flying Dog's The Fear Imperial Pumpkin Ale is what I think of as a traditional pumpkin beer ... by which I mean I don’t like it very much. This beer pours dark brown with orange highlights along the bottom and sides of the glass. The head is average, and the aroma is rich and sweet. There’s some brown sugar, ginger, cloves, the usual pumpkin beer notes. The flavor isn’t bad up front, with all of that spice being the dominant character, but the finish is awful. The alcohol is noticeable and medicinal, like cough syrup or NyQuil, and the closing quality is fishy. Literally fishy, like water that’s had frozen fish thawing in it. I will not have this again.

Paulaner Original Münchner Märzen is what we know in America as an Oktoberfest beer. It pours a clear, pale orange with little head. The aroma is extremely mild, but I can pick up on a little brown sugar and cereal malt. the flavor is the same. No real hop notes at all, just mild, sweet malt. Not my kind of thing.

I don’t know, maybe it’s just me. These authentic German Oktoberfests generally taste the same to me. Like the previous one, Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest Märzen pours a fairly dull orange with average carbonation and quick-fading head. The aroma is mild, slightly sweet, slightly syrupy, maybe a little more hop character than other Oktoberfests. The flavor is more of the same but even more muted than other beers in the style. Meh.

And also, too, there is Weihenstephaner Festbier, which too is an Oktoberfest beer from Germany, also. Weihenstephaner Festbier is pale yellow, average head, faint fruity and yeasty esters, a tiny bit of hop tingle on the finish. Also, it annoys me that these German beers are bottled in the metric system and translate to 11.2 ounces instead of the 12 ounces I am used to as a by-God ’Merican. If I’m gonna drink a beer I don’t really enjoy, I want there to be a lot of it.

I feel mislead by the name of Firestone Walker Oaktoberfest, especially with regard to the way the word OAK is prominently displayed on the can. Oak aging? Nope, as it turns out. Which might not have worked for the style anyway. Rather than an indication of oak aging, this beer is named OAKtoberfest for the name of the town where the brewery originated. Look, oak aged beers are an important subset of craft brewing, and many of us are drawn to them magnetically because of the rich, boozy character that oak aging provides. Firestone Walker should know better than this kind of deceptive branding.

So, this beer pours clear yellow/orange with a lot of crackly head. The aroma is mild, lemony citrus. The flavor is mild, like most oktoberfests. A slightly sweet, cracker/pretzel malt character finishes with grassy hops. Not awful. Not very good, either, as I find typical of the style. And I'd deduct overall points for the misleading name.

I didn't expect much from the new Lagunitas pale ale, which is out in cans in twelve-pack boxes. This beer pours very bright, clear yellow with average head and a lot of carbonation. The smell is sweet citrus, meringue, just a tiny bit of spice. The flavor is juicy, bright, and a little bitter. The finish is rich and smooth. I actually enjoyed this beer quite a lot, and I should not have prejudged it because of the packaging. I will probably buy it again.

Monday, September 5, 2016

It's Labor Day, so I guess it's time to start talking about autumn beer.

And, already with the pumpkin beers all over the damn shelves. I make myself review one every fall, whether I want to or not, and decided to take the hit early this year. Sometimes it works out in my favor. In fact, I can think of one pumpkin beer that I actually love.

I heard good mumblings about Southern Tier's Warlock Imperial Pumpkin Stout last year and decided to go ahead and try this year's release. What I found was a pumpkin spiced imperial stout with enough strong, rich, bitter malt to stand up to the pumpkin spice. I was pleasantly surprised. Warlock pours black with a creamy head. The aroma is rich and bready, and does have the typical pumpkin/cinnamon/nutmeg qualities of a pumpkin ale. But it works here. I don't say that very often, but I'm saying it here: the pumpkin spice adds to this beer rather than covering up or distracting from a baseline brew. This beer's flavor is like washing down a slice of pumpkin pie with a dark chocolate latte. The finish adds some vanilla and some nuttiness. I cannot deny that I liked this. I'm going to buy it again, on purpose.

Had another brewery released Evil Twin's No Hero Oatmeal Stout, I’d probably be heaping praise on it. But I find it impossible to drink this very good stout without the context of Evil Twin’s assortment of superior stouts framing my opinion. Compared to Even More Jesus and Imperial Biscotti Break, No Hero is only OK. It pours black with a little bit of tan head. The aroma is coffee and chocolate and roasted oatmeal malt, as expected. But only as expected, a qualifier I rarely use for Evil Twin stouts.

The really rich, almost sweet oatmeal malt is so dominant on the finish that it almost castrates the stronger qualities. Somewhat thin mouthfeel, at least when compared to those superior Evil Twin stouts I mentioned before. Don’t get me wrong, this is a damn fine beer. But it’s not at the top of my list of Evil Twin stouts. EMJ and IBB are explosive beers. This one is only a very good beer. Evil Twin has made me change my plans before, out of fear that I would miss out on an opportunity to purchase their releases. This particular beer will not make me change my plans. I don't know if it could have been better named.

I don’t know what makes Deschutes Hopzeit an "autumn" IPA, but it’s a decent beer. Hopzeit pours dark gold color with a lot of foam. The aroma is mild. Slight pine hops notes, but nothing much for the nose. The flavor is bigger and far better than the aroma suggested. Mild malt with a fairly bitter, bright hop punch in the finish. Went down easy, which is no complaint.

The 2016 version of Sierra Nevada’s collaborative Oktoberfest offering isn’t as smooth or as rich as last year’s version, although it’s still very good. I’m told that what I’m missing here are the sweet and fruity notes that many American breweries bring to the style, and that this version (brewed with Germany’s Mahrs Brau) is more authentically German. Maybe so. It’s definitely still a good beer. It pours hazy yellow with a fair amount of head, and the aroma is lemon, cracker malt, and a background of mild spice. The flavor adds a dry, tight finish. It isn’t bad at all, but I’m not surprised at how much I enjoy it, the way I was last year.

So, this is a sweet stout, a style that has inspired nothing but "meh" from me. It's called Quick Start My Heart, which is an awful name. And DuClaw bills it as a Strawberry Milk Stout. I bought this beer mostly out of curiosity, sorta expecting it to be awful, and it is not awful. It isn't very good, but it's not awful. It's OK.

Quick Start My Heart pours medium-dark brown with a creamy, crackly head. The aroma is an average sweet stout with artificial strawberry notes. Yes, it does remind me of Strawberry Quick. Thankfully, those notes are very muted in the flavor. This is just an average sweet stout with some coffee and mildly roasted malt character, and a hint of sugary strawberry candy.

Starr Hill's Last Leaf is a brown ale with maple. It pours a deep copper with a quickly fading head. The aroma is a little bit of buttery malt and some grassy hops, and distinct maple. The flavor is warm up front, with a little spice, but it closes with too much maple for my taste. When maple is done right in a beer, you're not even sure you're tasting it. It's just part of the oeuvre. (See Dogfish Head's 75 Minute IPA, the best maple beer I've had, and the best DFH beer I've ever tasted.) I was tired of the maple in Last Leaf by the time I finished the bottle.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Sixer. You know how I do, boo.

That was deplorable. I will never call you boo again. Anyway, sixer.

Bells Quinannan Falls Special Lager is very light, crisp, refreshing lager that still has enough hop presence to make it worth drinking. You can actually taste it. This beer pours very bright, clear yellow with a lot of head. The aroma is hoppy and bright. The flavor is mild malt on the front of the tongue, and the finish is all about bitter dry hops. Light, but with a bite. This would make an idea lawnmower beer. It was fine. I will never drink it again.

Victory Blackboard Series Berliner Weisse with Elderflower is a bit high-concept for me, but OK. I tried it not knowing what to expect, and this is one extremely tart beer. It pours cloudy yellow, the head fades quickly. The aroma is lemon and some bready, cereal malts. The flavor is extremely tart, bordering on sour, and refreshing. A lot of lemon/citrus. Goes down fast and easy without a hint of alcohol. Another good summertime beer that will never darken my fridge door again.

Ballast Point bills Barmy as a golden ale with apricot and honey. I haven't had much from Ballast Point with fruit mentioned on the label that I've enjoyed (Grapefruit Sculpin being the exception). And this is one more fru-fru fruity beer that falls well short of Ballast Point's superior IPAs and porters. Don't let the 12% ABV fool you, this ain't serious beer. Barmy pours bright, clear golden color with average head and a great deal of carbonation. The aroma is sweet, the honey really comes through, but should a sweetening agent be all you can pick up on in the nose? I don't think so.

The apricot is a mild note on the flavor, but I don’t know if I’d have noticed it at all if I hadn’t been looking for it. Mostly the flavor is dominated by big, boozy alcohol. Not in a good way, either. Medicinal. Others at ratebeer.com have said the alcohol is hidden in this beer, but I don’t think so at all. In fact, the alcohol was just about all I could taste.

What are you doing, Ballast Point? Stop it. Stop. No.

Southern Tier's 2X Tangiers is a citrus double IPA, and it's better than I thought it would be. That makes it the hit of the week. 2X Tangier isn’t a particularly unique double IPA, but it does taste good. It pours very clear, light orange in color with average head. The aroma is sweet citrus, although it is somewhat synthetic. More like citrus flavored candy than actual citrus. That’s the front of the flavor, too, but it doesn’t taste bad. Sometimes artificial candy tastes pretty good. This does taste pretty good, just slightly artificial. The finish is bitter and dry, which is nice.

There are Belgian styles I like, and others that I don't get. I gravitate toward dubels and quads, I usually can't taste Belgian "strong" ales. Tripels do nothing for me, and saisons can just piss right off. I'm not in love with fruit beer, either. But I really like Hardywood. So, you see my quandary here, right? Hardywood has become my favorite Virginia brewery over the last two years, and I’ll try anything they release.

Having said that, this this particular beer is Hardywood kinda dicking around. Peach Tripel pours hazy yellow with a lot of head. There’s spice and some fruit juice on the aroma... not necessarily just a peach thing, though, kind of a syrupy fruit cocktail kind of thing. The flavor is basically the aroma, fruit and spice, some ginger, some allspice. There’s some alcohol on the close. Not bad. Not the roof raiser that many of Hardywood’s beers can be, but not bad. I did not resent this beer. If that sounds like faint praise, that's because faint praise is what I intend.

Hardywood's Barrel Series represents my favorite beers from a brewery I love. Their Bourbon Barrel Cru has been my favorite Virginia beer for two years. I've said that Hardywood could age ginger ale in a barrel and I'd probably enjoy it. That's still true... for certain values of "enjoy." For instance, Barrel Aged Vinalia Urbana, a Belgian style strong golden ale. Right off the bat, here we go with Belgian this and Belgian that again. But, sure, it's Hardywood, and it's barrels, and I want to taste it.

So, this beer pours a cloudy golden color with a lot of white foam. The aroma is typical of the style... spice, fruit, kind of a salty, doughy quality about the malt. The flavor adds a little bit of the barrel aging, but not in a big way. This one is aged in wine barrels rather than bourbon barrels, so that's part of the problem. Wine is for bitter, lonely, hostile middle-aged women and college freshmen. I can taste absolutely no oak here. There’s some vapor and more spice on the finish, and there's also a strong whiff of disappointment. There is more oak on the label than in the bottle. Quit screwing around, Hardywood.

But, yeah, it's OK. Hardywood doesn't do bad beer. Even their disappointments are worth finishing. My sink has never tasted a drop of Hardywood beer, and I don't think that's going to change.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Sixpack of reviews, the first half being IPAs from The Veil Brewing Co. in Richmond.

A friend returned from Richmond with three IPA's from The Veil Brewing Co. for me to try, and this brewery officially has my attention. Hell, after thoroughly enjoying all three of these beers, I'd go so far as to say I'm a new fan.

Master Master Shredder Shredder is a doubly dry-hopped version of The Veil's flagship IPA, and it's delicious. This is a very bitter, aggressive IPA that is as big and bold as many double IPAs. I absolutely love it when a brewery's lower ABV, "single" IPAs are still hop-forward and defiant, and this one fits the bill. This is not a "session" beer. Not even close. This beer does not give a damn if you have delicate sensibilities. It pours a cloudy tan/yellow with a lot of foam. The aroma is bright citrus and hay and the flavor is dank and dry. There’s a little bit of alcohol vapor on the finish, which surprised me for a relatively low 5.5% ABV.

The first thing I noticed about The Veil's Step Dad Chaperone was it's qualities that are distinct from many double IPAs. The mosaic hops are a big presence, but they’re smooth and do not drown out the rich malt. There are mellow, caramel notes throughout, and a finish that's floral and tart. I would go out of my way to get this again, it's really good.

I enjoyed both of the previous IPAs from The Veil, but this one here ... this one is the prize winner. IdonteverwanttoBU pours cloudy, dark orange with average head. The aroma is super dank and juicy. It's big. It's one of those beers that invades your face. The nose fills with citrus, grassy hops, apples, some bready malt. The flavor is pungent, dank and rich, but the finish is bright. There is a little twist at the end that demands the next sip. This is the kind of beer that necessitated the invention of the growler.

Just a side-note... I got into craft beer five years ago or so. So far, in my brief history as a craft beer fan, 2016 has been the best year yet. There are so many good beers on the market right now, and the local and regional offerings are as good as anything available nationally. In Virginia alone, breweries like Apocalypse, Hardywood, South Street, Alewerks, and The Answer are turning out beers I'd serve to anyone. Now, add The Veil to that list of fine Old Dominion beer purveyors. Right now is an exciting time to be a fan of craft beer. And right here in Virginia is exactly where I want to be.

Of course, there are breweries in other states that know a thing or two about beer. Bell's, for instance. Their Oracle Double IPA doesn’t have quite the complexity or polish of some of the best extreme IPA’s... such as RuinTen or The Waldos... but I have to go to that level to find something with which I can compare this beer. I'm dumbfounded by how good this is. It pours hazy orange without much foam, the aroma is some sweet notes, honey and candied pineapple, and big, boozy, strong hops. The flavor is dense and strong and very bitter. Sledgehammer pine and citrus hops atop some caramel and a little vapor that belays the 10% ABV. Very heavy mouthfeel. I've been having to re-think my personal all-time top ten ever since Stone got serious about their malt game earlier this year. The Oracle is one more reason that my personal list of all time favorites is more unstable than ever.

Ballast Point's Homework releases are a series of beers that come with the recipe attached to the bottle, so you can attempt to reproduce the beer at home. The only question I have after drinking the robust porter is why anyone would bother ... this beer is affordable, highly drinkable, and has nothing in the negative column. Why go to the work of reproducing it when it's so easy to buy? This porter is strong and rich and it really pops, like Ballast Point's outstanding Black Marlin (a hoppy porter). Plus, it's cheap and available in my area in grocery stores. I have no complaints. Homework Series Robust Porter pours dark brown with average head, and the aroma has a lot going on. Coffee, caramel, chocolate, citrus hops, some spice. I picked up on all of that and some brown sugar in the flavor, too. I will buy this again.

I'd been worried that the buy-out was going to amount to a net-negative for Ballast Point's products. I'm starting to think I was wrong. This beer is everything I love about this brewery. I'll be grateful when Ballast Point has a local presence.

Victory's V12 is a Belgian quad, and this bottle is the second time I've tried it. The first time was four years ago, before I started this blog. The bottle I had for this review had been aged for one year. I saw when I looked back over my reviews at ratebeer.com that I had enjoyed this beer the first time I had it. I liked it even more this time. It pours dark yellow with average head, and I see from my initial review that I thought it smelled and tasted boozy the first time around. Well, beer is music for your mouth... a song changes over time, both in the way it's performed and in the way it's heard, and during this particular sampling I found V12 to be a lot less boozy and a lot sweeter. I still enjoyed it quite a bit, though. The aroma packed a lot of spice in the background, and that's a presence on the flavor, too. There is that usual bananas-and-cloves Belgian quad thing going on, but there were also citrus, tea, and cake-like qualities that I picked up on this time. This is a fine beer, and might make a great dessert to share with a couple of friends.