Sunday, July 23, 2017

I only have one distinct memory from ninth grade.

It's surprising how often I think about it, if I try to objectively consider the value of this memory. I'm 48 years old now. I've been through two divorces, several job loses, and the murder of my best friend. All of those are experiences that ought to be more formative, more empirically valuable, than my one clear memory from ninth grade. And yet, this one memory from my 14th year pops into my head frequently. Most recently, it overtook my thoughts during a six mile run that was part of the training for my third marathon.

This memory is 25 years old.

The memory is tactile, initially. The first clear part of the memory is the feeling of a sweatshirt against my chest. It may have been the first time I ever wore that sweatshirt. I remember that it was baggy, and it was warm, and I'd hoped that it might hide some of that fat rolls that I'd become very self conscious about during my 14th year. This was during my morning gym glass. My teacher was Mr. Allen, and I don't remember thinking that he was particularly cruel, nor particularly nice. I can remember thinking that he was there to fill a role, to do a job, and to kill the time on the clock between 9 AM and 10 AM.

I guess I apparently also remember that this memory occurred sometime between 9 AM and 10 AM.

I can remember that we 9th graders were ostensibly learning how to play volleyball. We were inside the gym at Alleghany County High School, and there were two volleyball nets set up, one on each half of the basketball court. I can remember that I was one of the students who was assigned to the first of the two half-court nets. The one closest to the locker rooms and the hallway. The hallway that lead to the classrooms, where it was easier and more likely for a pudgy 14 year old boy to slip anonymously into 25 to 30 other anonymous adolescent faces. I wanted to be in that hallway. I wanted to be in one of those classrooms. I wanted to be anywhere other than standing in line, waiting to take my turn to serve the volleyball over the net, waiting to be judged by Mr. Allen and by the other 14 year olds, and by 15 year old April Nicely.

April had been held back a year. She was practically an adult at the age of 15. She smoked, she had boobs, and she was easily the most mature and intimidating human being my 14 year old eyes had ever taken in from the side. April was seated on the bleachers, just behind the spot from which each ninth grader would eventually have to serve the volleyball. For some reason, April and her court of two or three adoring female minions were always excused from volleyball, and other activities. For some reason, April and her minions were always allowed to simply sit on the bleachers and observe the other students. And, when those students somehow fell within April's range of audible commentary, April and her court were allowed to assess each of us. It never occurred to 14 year old me that April was enjoying this privilege through the passive forbearance of teachers. April's position, as judge and qualifier, seemed to me to have been ordained by the universe itself.

I can remember standing in line, waiting my turn to serve the volleyball. I can remember trying to disappear into my baggy sweatshirt. The collar of it was rough against my bottom lip. I can remember the kid in front of me taking his turn, and I can remember walking the four or five steps to the spot where April would have the opportunity to judge my worth as a human being, and (please, God) hopefully dismiss me with ambivalence.

The best I could hope for was to be ignored. I prayed for that.

I walked the four or five steps to the spot where I was expected to serve the volleyball. And as it was tossed to me, I heard the giggling from April and her friends. And I heard April's cool, distinct, vaguely smokey voice.

"Oh, boy," she laughed, "where have you been all of my life?"

The ridiculous hubris of a 15 year old's sarcasm struck me, appropriately, as very silly. I turned around, looked her square in the eye, and silenced her with a brief but obvious rejoinder: "April, you're 15. Most people in this world own socks that are older than you."

Well, I'd like to say that is what happened. That's one of the possible come-backs that popped into my mind when my memory of April blind-sided me during my run the other day. But that isn't what actually happened.

Actually, before I could say a word to April, my real-life, super-athletic girlfriend (who was a couple of years older than me and who'd had boobs for longer than April) appeared out of no where and popped April in the jaw, shutting her up for the rest of the day.

No, that's not really what happened. And, believe you me, I've fantasied about exactly that. And the irony is, I actually do have that girlfriend now. She's really a couple of years older than me, so she's super-mature. And she's been an athlete all of her life. She finished her first marathon before I could even spell the word. But she wasn't there that day. She and I wouldn't meet for more than another twenty years.

What happened that day was, I quietly served the volleyball. And I can't remember if I served it with any competence or if I served it to the entirely wrong side of the gym. I served the ball, and I quietly, obediently absorbed April's dismissal of my entire existence. And I retreated to the other side ot he gym, and I waited to hopefully escape further criticism. Which I must have done, because I don't remember anything else from that day.

In fact, I don't remember anything else from ninth grade.

And I would like to say that this trivial, inconsequential memory faded into the ether, as all childish things do. But it didn't. I have thought about it constantly for the past 25 years. It pops into my head at the damnedest times... during job interviews, during birthday parties for my children ... even while training for my third marathon.

"Where have you been all of my life," she asked, her voice oozing with mockery.

I've been right here, April. Right where you left me. I'm absolutely certain that you have no memory of that day. I'm also absolutely certain that I'll never forget it. It may be the last thing I think about on my last day. Your impetuous, igornant 15 year old voice, defying me to prove my worth. Your 15 years, your nothingness. Your voice, your void, drawing me into your nothingness. Your pain, calling to my pain. Our shared emptiness.

This is the power of an unkind remark. This is the weight of cruelty. Even when it comes from the (presumably) shared suffering of another child, this is the power that simple spite has to negate another's entire life. After 35 years, it hasn't left my mind. It is my only distinct memory from ninth grade.

April, I realize, objectively, that you would not have been cruel to me if you hadn't learned cruelty from some barbaric circumstance. I don't think a 15 year old kid would set out to harm another person unless they had been taught to do so. So, although I am absolutely certain that you don't remember that remark, I forgive it. I forgive it almost every time it pops into my head. At least, I do so lately. Just as I hope you forgive the cruelty that I presume shaped your first 15 years.

"Where have you been all of my life?"

I'm right here, April. Here, and now. And I'll start over again tomorrow.

Monday, July 17, 2017

This mixed six is half Hardywood, half Final Gravity.

Venus Rising is an imperial IPA from Final Gravity. It pours slightly hazy, orange/yellow. Lots of foam. Aroma is lemons and buttered bread. The front of the tongue is mild, but the hops come in big and bright on the finish. More lemons and a little bit of garlic. Very good.

I really like Final Gravity's Doppler Effect imperial IPA. I love the contrast between the bready, slightly sweet malt on the aroma and the piercing, fruit/citrus hops all over the back end of the flavor. The beer pours slightly hazy yellow with average to light foam. the aroma has that buttery, malty quality, and it’s there on the flavor, too. But the finish is lemon and tropical fruit notes, melon and mango. Just a great balance that makes this a remarkable IPA.

Irish Goodbye is a very big version of a dry Irish stout from Final Gravity. It pours opaque dark brown with a slight, tan, creamy head, There is an aroma of licorice, espresso, and some herbal notes. The flavor is really smooth... I’d never have guessed this beer was a little more than 8% ABV. It hides the alcohol behind a ton of roasted malt flavor, and a little sweet coffee character. Creamy mouthfeel. This is the best dry Irish stout I’ve had in a really long time.

Mamaw's Mean Cobbler is a Belgian Tripel with peaches, spices, and other ancillary ingredients by Hardywood. I like this a lot more than their basic peach tripel. The added spices and sweetness make it a delicious dessert beer, as the name implies. It pours a creamy orange color with average foam. The aroma is sweet and fruity, with vanilla and cinnamon as strong presences. On the flavor I think I detect nutmeg, too, although that isn’t listed on the label. The rich lactose sugar and spices, peach flavor and malt are all tied together with a little hop kick at the end. The ABV is undetectable. I thoroughly enjoyed this.

Savor X is a collaborative Baltic Porter by Hardywood and New Belgium. It's rich and strong and has a notably hearty finish. This beer pours very dark brown with very little head. The aroma is malt, bakers chocolate and coffee liqueur. The flavor is a great mingling of that coffee/chocolate thing, but the coffee character dominates, especially on the finish. As strong as this is, I never got sick of it.

Berliner Weiss is becoming one of my favorite summertime brews. I enjoy it for it's easy-drinking low alcohol content and the sharp tartness that makes it such a distinct beer. Hardywood's Berliner Weiss is not a particularly inventive version of the style, it's a classic take, played right down the middle. And it's a huge success in that regard. This beer is hazy, pale yellow with a thin rim of foam. Lemon and salt are all over the aroma, with a little sweet, banana-like character in the background. The flavor is really tart front to back, and the finish is bright and clean. A perfect beverage for campfires, picnic tables, and fireflies.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Three from Stone and three from elsewhere.

I love Stone's RuinTen, a gigantic and uncompromising IPA they bill as a "triple." I look forward to the annual release every summer. This year Stone dispensed with the regular recipe of RuinTen in favor of two alternative recipes.

First up is a double-dry hopped version of RuinTen, featuring Centennial and Citra hops. It was brewed for the Southern California area, which Stone calls home, but was available on tap from the Richmond brewery. I liked it when I tasted it there, and brought home a crowler. This is a super dank, meaner version of regular RuinTen. It pours hazy copper/orange with average head. The aroma is very big, bitter, aggressive, funky. A lot of pine/resin and strong, fat hops. The flavor is bitter as hell front to back, the bitterness changes and mellows some on the exhale but never backs off. RuinTen is already openly hostile. This is version is up another notch. Maybe a little of the complexity from the malt is sacrificed in the bargain, but it’s a great experiment.

For 2017, Stone also released an orange and vanilla variation of RuinTen. I missed it on tap in Richmond but found a double-deuce in a bottle shop. I like this variation, but it's the lesser of the two. The orange seems a little artificial, but it does stand up to the monstrous hop steamroller of the base beer. The vanilla comes through in the background, and it seems a little artificial too, but it ain’t bad. Most of it is an adjunct presence in the nose on the finish. I cannot say I didn't like it. I hope next year I’ll be able to get RuinTen in its original form. But this year, the diversions are not at all unpleasant.

Barrel aging and IPAs don’t usually work for me. Usually a barrel aged IPA loses it's hop character and mostly tastes like an oaked ale, or else the barrel doesn't penetrate the hop-wall at all. But XS, a gin barrel aged DIPA from Stone, totally works. I think the gin botanicals come through strong and mix well with the hops. It reminds me of Jindia, Stone's Gin IPA from earlier this year, but with distinctly woody, barrel notes that permeate the aroma and the flavor. This beer pours a clear orange color with a lot of foam, the aroma is gin and pine and some oaky vanilla. The flavor tastes strongly of the barrel and the hops, and the gin character is really nice here. I don’t even typically like gin itself, but I enjoy this. I’d have this again.

Unibroue Megadeth A Tout Le Monde Saison pours cloudy yellow with a lot of foam. The aroma is typical of a saison, there are some sweet fruit notes, cloves, spice, and a little citrus. The flavor is warm and rich and closes with a nice mixture of malty sweetness and mild hop punch. I was surprised at how good this beer tastes. I'd expected a beer brewed hastily for a band-marketing gimmick. Instead, this is actually one of the better saisons I've had.

Rodenbach's flagship sour brown pours cloudy brown/red. The brief head is gone in an instant. The aroma is tart and bright. Cherries, red wine vinegar, a little bit of brown sugar. Flavor starts out bittersweet and smooth, the sourness comes in on the back of the tongue. Rich on the finish. This beer might be a good introduction to the Flanders style, it kinda plays it right down the middle. The sourness is unmistakable but not overwhelming.

Beers like New Belgium's Dayblazer are the reason I’ve largely ignored session brews for ages. And, yeah, I admit, some of the session beer I’ve had lately has defied the rule... that rule being that session ales are bland, artificially sweet, and boring. But this one exemplifies that rule. It doesn’t taste bad or smell bad, it just doesn’t taste or smell like much of anything. It pours yellow with a little bit of foam. The aroma is the kind of thing I associate with American adjunct corn lagers. It smells a little too sweet and unappetizing. The flavor is watery, starchy, and saccharine. You may as well drink Coors or Budweiser as drink this. I'm not sure who New Belgium is targeting with this beer.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

This mixed set of six beer reviews is pretty random.

Further and Farther is a collaborative IPA by Hardywood and Right Proper. It pours very cloudy yellow with an average head. The aroma is super juicy. Tangerines, pineapple, mango, and a little bit of green pepper show up on the nose. The flavor opens juicy but then close very sharply bitter and dry. Almost acerbic in the finish, but not enough to amount to a bad brew. Very interesting experimental beer.

Tropication is among Hardywood’s better IPAs. It is not in the same league as the fantastic Empress Evelyn. But I think it’s stronger than Hoplar or the recent Quadrahop, and bigger tasting than Great Return. It pours hazy orange with a little foam. The aroma is big and juicy, the tropical fruit in the name and mentioned on the label comes through big on the nose. The flavor has some of the juice but closes drier and leaner than the aroma implies. I hope Hardywood keeps turning out IPAs like this.

Troegs First Cut IPA pours a clear, golden color with a fair amount of foam. The aroma is so mild that it’s hard to smell anything. At least it doesn’t stink, I guess. The flavor is mild, too. Mild to nonexistent, actually. I pick up a little bit on some hops in the close, but there’s just nothing much here to comment on. I guess at least it doesn’t taste bad.

I’ve never had a hibiscus beer that I like very much, and I didn’t expect to like Troegs Crimson Pistil Hibiscus IPA. But it actually ain’t bad. It pours orange in color with a bit of foam. The aroma is that perfumy, funeral home quality I’ve come to expect from hibiscus beer. There is a little bit of hops there but mostly it’s that waxy floral thing. The flavor is better than the aroma. It’s malty, the hops may have faded some in this bottle, but it really doesn’t taste bad. The hibiscus is in the background on the flavor in spite of it’s dominance of the aroma. It tastes alright.

This single foeder batch of Petrus Aged Pale Ale (from foeder 222), brewed for Trader Joe's, is a good beer. I don't think I like it quite as much as the version of the ale that Petrus releases on their own label, but it's still a very good wild/sour ale. The aroma is creamy and tart, some vanilla and lime, a little spice. I don't think it is as complex as I remember the regular version of this ale being, but it still smells great. Tastes great, too. It starts out slightly sweet before turning very strong and sour midtongue. Dry on the finish. I'd drink this again, and at Trader Joe's prices, I consider it a very good bargain.

Ommegang's Fruition is a decent wheat beer brewed with fruit. The fruit is there but it’s subtle, you can still taste the base beer and tell that it’s a pretty good wheat beer. It pours hazy yellow with a lot of foam. The aroma is the usual yeasty, banana type wheat beer thing. There is some presence of the mango and passion fruit adding a tangy quality to the smell. The fruit is on the flavor, too, in the finish, after a warm malt and some dry hop kick.

Friday, June 9, 2017

My thirty-fifth and thirty-sixth races were trail races. Trail running is very different from running on road or track. If I were going to write a brochure to promote trail running, it would begin something like this:

Are you a combination of adventurous and suicidal? Would you like to go for a hike without enjoying it? Do you like running but lament the low likelihood of a crippling injury on roads and tracks? Would you enjoy playing guessing games, like "Is It Venomous?" and like "What The Hell Is Bleeding Now?" If so, then trail running is the sport for you!"

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

This mixed set of six beer reviews is pretty random.

Barrel Chest, my favorite Roanoke beer store, continues to step up as a favorite local brewery, too. What Barrel Chest seems to be doing well, what they do better than other regional breweries who have to brew bigger batches tailored to mainstream consumers, is brew beers that are closer to the most current trends in the industry and the interests of niche fans. Barrel Chest has brewed some super juicy IPAs, some tasty sours, and a couple of stouts that compare favorably to Hardywood's legendary offerings. But this is a review of something they brewed within a confining standard, and for a very good reason.

Over the past month, ten regional breweries have collaborated on a beer, the profits from which went to the Virginia chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Each brewery was tasked with brewing a Bière de Garde with rosehips (roses being symbolically significant to Cystic Fibrosis patients and the people who love them).

Barrel Chest's own version of this beer added raspberries and apricots and was finished with brettanomyces. Brett usually brings a funky sourness to those beers that feature it, resulting in a particular flavor and aroma that is among the most popular and most interesting trends in craft brewing these days. I enjoyed the Barrel Chest version of this beer, but I found that none of the additional flavors could stand up to the rosehips. Rosehips tend to dominate any beer they are added to, particularly on the aroma. Imagine a vase that has been used to store roses a number of times. Even after the last of the roses is long gone, if you raise that vase to your nose, it's still gonna smell like roses. That was the case with this beer's aroma, although the pugnacious quality of the brettanomyces was a subtle note in the background. I didn't pick up much of the apricot or raspberries on the aroma or on the flavor. This beer tastes like roses smell. And if you like roses, it might be something you'll enjoy. I thought it was interesting, but I mostly enjoyed the knowledge that my glass of beer was a small contribution to a good cause.

The Virginia chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation does good work for CF patients and their families. And I don't mean in an abstract way, I'm not talking about long term research or hypothetical goals. The CF Foundation gets life-prolonging medicine to people who otherwise would not have it. This Foundation gives people more time to fight, to the best of their ability, for their lives. This is an important cause, and one that I care about very much. If you would like to make a contribution, please click here and help patients and families who are struggling to live with a cruel disease. I promise you, by giving even a few dollars, you are making a real difference to real people in the here and now.

Anderson Valley's G&T Gose is another bright, tangy, slightly salty gose that will make a delicious summertime beer. It pours pale yellow with a lot of carbonation and average foam. The aroma is melon, cucumber, a little citrus. The flavor closes with a tangy, slightly salty bit of punch at the end. Really nice.

21st Amendment's Blah Blah Blah IPA is a very big IPA, but it’s well balanced. The malt notes and the hop are played equally big. I like it quite a bit. The beer pours cloudy orange with some quick-fading foam. The smell is really great. Gigantic piney hops and a rich, bready malt swirl together in a big presentation. The malt is on the front of the favor, but the finish is very strong and dank, with resin and oily hops in a clamorous finish. Big beer. Good beer.

Founder's Frootwood is a cherry ale aged in oak. It pours orange/brown with a little bit of foam. The smell is a combination of the cherry and oak, with some vanilla in the background. The flavor is smooth and sweet, honey and cherries dominate the mid-tongue, and then the oak comes through big on the finish. I wish Id bought more of this.

Elysian's Superfuzz Blood Orange Pale Ale is not bad but not really anything special. It pours cloudy orange with only a little foam. The orange on the aroma is there, and its pleasant. The malt isnt entirely obscured, either. The front of the tongue is warm and malty, but the orange and the hops are there on the finish. This is OK.

I expected a sweet dessert-type beer from Terrapin's Chubby Bunny, a S'mores flavored imperial milk stout. Instead, I got a strong, rich, aggressive stout that ain't tryin' to sweet-talk nobody. The sweetness is there but it's subtle. The chocolate is there but it is not overplayed. And, in terms of texture, the mouthfeel is dense and chewy. This stout pours black with a light tan head. The aroma is coffee and some sweet spice and chocolate, maybe a hint of graham cracker. The flavor is strongly roasted and closes with a lot of malt character and only a little sugar. I don’t know if a bunny is the right mascot for this beer. Maybe a mellow but fully capable bear would work better.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

A mixed-six set of reviews focused on beer from West Virginia. There is a wide range of beer being brewed across the state line. This set contains three of the ones I've really enjoyed... and three I could do without.

Mountain State Brewing's Almost Heaven Amber Ale pours caramel color with billowing head. The aroma is malty and somewhat sweet. But the flavor is way off from the aroma and from what is typical of amber ales. This batch might be infected. It is mild at the front but closes with a vinegary, sour bitterness that reminds me of the smell of dirty socks. If this is how this beer is supposed to taste, then it definitely isn’t for me.

Big Timber's flagship porter is a lighter porter, but a pretty good one, with a fairly hearty flavor. It pours coffee brown with a little bit of head. The aroma is coffee, caramel, a little bit of vanilla. The flavor is big on the sweet stuff, the caramel and some chocolate come through, and the finish is rich. I like this quite a lot.

Big Timber isn’t trying to remake the style with their flagship IPA. The can boasts three words, "Familiar, fresh, piney." The beer is, indeed, all three of those things, and not one of those is a bad thing. This beer pours slightly cloudy yellow with a huge head that fades quickly. The aroma is piney, indeed. A big, floral hop quality is the defining nose character. The flavor is bright and clean and crisp, with a little citrus and garlic on the finish. Respectable beer.

Bridge Brew Works Humulus Lupulus IPA was trouble from the get-go. I opened the aluminum pint bottle and it foamed over more than any beer I have ever opened. I ended up losing about half of the pint. What was left poured hazy yellow with (big surprise) extreme carbonation and foam. The aroma was acerbic, lemony, and bright. The flavor wasn’t very good. Sort of minty up front with a medicinal close. Chalky, mostly mouth wash and aspirin. A little bit of grapefruit and lemon grass weren’t enough to make up for the other qualities. No.

Alright, I’ve now had two beers from this Bridge Brew Works, both in aluminum bottles, both stored in the same way as every other beer I drink, both opened as carefully as any other beer ... and both of them gushing out of the top like volcanoes. Thankfully I opened Momma Rye IPA over the sink, so I was spared the mess. But even after letting it sit for several minutes it still poured mostly foam. This problem is enough to put me off of the brewery for good. There is no sense buying a pint of beer and losing half of it in a mess, then having to stare at ridiculous foam while it dissipates over a long while. Once I was able to taste this beer it was nothing special. The aroma had only a mild, very slight rye in the background, and the flavor was muted and boring. Bridgeworks, you have a problem in your packaging. I won’t be buying any more of your products.

I recently sampled Greenbrier Valley Brewing's Bourbon Barrel Aged Stout at the West Virginia Craft Brew Festival. I liked it enough to make a trip to the brewery to get a growler filled. I have never had a bad beer from this brewery, and this one proves that they can do big, aggressive brews as competently as their paler ales. This stout may be little hot, yes. And just a little thin, but that's all I can come up with when I search for any negatives. It pours dark brown to black with crimson highlights and minimal foam. The aroma is is heavy on the barrel, but some of the malt comes through. The flavor has a big finish, with a nice blend of chocolate/anise notes and a big closing hit of the bourbon barrel. I’ll have this again. I might even drive back to Lewisburg specifically toward that end.

Monday, May 22, 2017

This mixed six is entirely random.

Barrel Chest has been my favorite Roanoke beer store for a few years now. They have a great bottle selection and plenty to choose from on tap, by the glass or for your growler. Just lately they've been brewing their own beers. I've not sampled every one of the house brews, but I've tried several, and I have not yet had a bad one. This one right here is my favorite so far.

Entire Double Brunch is an imperial stout aged in maple syrup rye whiskey barrels with coffee, cinnamon, and vanilla beans. Yes, that is a lot to pack into a stout. No, I can't pick up on each distinct flavor. But, damn, this thing amounts to a big, warm, rich, absolutely delicious stout that I would buy regularly if I could. It's only available at the location right now, and they aren't filling growlers, but I'm glad I had a glass during my last visit. This beer is very dark brown with a lot of foam. The aroma is warm and sweet and very inviting. The barrel and the cinnamon are what dominate the aroma and the flavor, in my opinion. But that isn't to say this beer is all barrel or all spice. It folds together into something really unique. Entire Double Brunch would make a great dessert, but it's pleanty big enough to make a meal of. Just remember that the ABV (something like 11% if I remember correctly) might sneak up on you.

Petrus Aged Red sour ale is absolutely delicious beer. Just outstanding. It pours copper/brown with a fair amount of foam. The aroma is sweet caramel malt, cherries, and some character from the barrel. The short-hand description is that it kinda smells like Dr. Pepper. The flavor has the tart cherries and the sweet malt, but the barrel shows up with a lot more clarity. Oak and vanilla add to the complexity. As it warms the tartness becomes stronger, but the 8.5% ABV is never present at all. This goes down like candy.

I had hoped that Sierra Nevada River Ryed Rye IPA would be a stealth return of the lamented, long lost Ruthless Rye. It isn’t. It’s not bad, but I can’t help but compare it to Ruthless, and it’s no Ruthless. River Ryed pours a pekoe tea brown, the foam is average. The aroma is an herbal IPA with a very faint rye in the background. The flavor is the same. The rye comes in slightly stronger on the finish, but still in an ultimately understated, sedate way. It’s almost hard to detect, at least in comparison to what I’d hoped for. This is OK. I don’t mind it. I don’t love it. I loved Ruthless, and this ain’t Ruthless. This is ... eh. Not bad. I guess.

Stone's new Revolver IPA series is apparently going to be a series of showcases for single-hop beers. This bottle is from Series 2, which features mosaic hops. Single hop mosaic beers are a good gateway from pale ales to stronger and more complex IPA. This beer shows off mosaic hops in standard fashion. It pours dark yellow with average head, the aroma is dominated by herbal/floral quality of the hops. The flavor is a mellow malt that finishes with bright, clean hops. Not particularly bitter, not the mouth-stomp of the best Stone IPAs. But not bad at all.

Apparently Left Hand's Fade To Black is another series of beers. This series is stouts, and the one I had is Volume One, brewed in the foreign stout style. This beer makes a good argument that a solid stout doesn’t need barrel aging, coffee beans, or other ancillary affectations to stand out. It pours black as hell with an average head that fades quickly. The aroma is anise, strong herbal notes, some lemon and molasses. The flavor is really big, very dark roasted malts and some coriander atop everything in the aroma. I’m still gonna seek out my barrel aged favorites, but stouts like Fade To Black Volume One are a great reminder that there are wonderful beers that never touch oak.

It sounds like a slight, or maybe a back-handed compliment, to say that Deschutes The Abyss Imperial Stout is another good example of a barrel aged imperial stout. But it’s a style that I love when it is done well, and it’s done well here, so my assessment is intended as praise. This beer pours black with a little bit of tan head. There is heavy licorice on the aroma, along with the usual oak/vanilla barrel notes and an herbal quality. The flavor adds some bitter malt/baker’s chocolate stuff to that mix, and it all goes down very smoothly. There is nothing about this that I don’t like.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

This is a mixed six-pack of beers from DuClaw Brewing.

I don’t love the Blood Orange version of DuClaw's Neon Gypsy IPA, but I do like it better than the regular version. The blood orange in this variation seems artificial, but it covers up the astringent quality that put me off the original. This pours bright rust/orange with a fair amount of foam. The aroma is dominated by the sweet orange flavoring, but there is also a little bit of pine/citrus hops character, too. The flavor is big on the orange, but the finish has a little bit of kick. It’s alright.

Sometimes I really don't know. Sometimes I think the problem may be the way I’ve conditioned my palate. Gigantic sledgehammer IPAs and steamroller stouts may have left me ill-tuned to appreciate milder styles. There’s nothing really wrong with DuClaw's Morgazm Blonde Ale. It just doesn’t do anything for me. It pours slightly cloudy yellow/orange with a little foam. The aroma is mild, sweet citrus. The label says grapefruit but this reminds me more of tangerine. The flavor is the same, tangerine, maybe a little lemon, but more sweet than anything. It doesn’t taste bad but I don’t want any more of it.

I was initially underwhelmed by Sweet Baby Jesus, DuClaw's peanut butter porter, the first time I tasted it. I have come to like it more over the years, its a pretty good dessert beer. This coffee infused version, called Sweet Baby Java, sounded like my kind of thing, but the coffee is hardly there at all. To my taste this is basically no different from SBJ. It pours dark brown with quick fading head and smells like a standard porter; chocolate roasty malt with a little bit of coffee (and, yes, some peanut butter). The flavor is the same, and it closes sweet. Sure, there’s a mild coffee quality, but I already picked up on something like coffee in the original recipe. This isn’t bad, its just not really anything new.

Now, with this beer, you can taste the coffee. And I like it. DuClaw's 865cc is a fairly simple, straight-forward coffee stout, but that's a good thing. It pours black with a little bit of fast-fading suds. The aroma is coffee, rich malt, a little bit of chocolate. The flavor is all coffee and malt, but that's what I was hoping for. Some of the coffee stouts I’ve tasted recently have played the coffee card delicately. This one is unapologetically coffee forward. Nothing wrong with that.

Midnight Due is DuClaw's barrel aged sour. It smells very good but somehow fades on the flavor, and that's disappointing. This beer pours dark brown with copper highlights and little foam. The aroma is really nice, oak barrel aging and sour tone combine into a mix of red wine vinegar, vanilla, rock candy and spice. But the flavor is ultimately a little flat, only a fairly straight-forward tart blast comes through with no complexity at all. Ultimately, between the tempting aroma and the so-so taste, this is an ale that writes a check it can’t cash.

This last one is the best of the six, and easily the best thing I've ever had from DuClaw. Hell On Wood barrel aged barley wine is a fantastic example of a high ABV, oak aged barley wine. Strong, rich, and smooth without being overtly hot or medicinal. My bottle was from last year's brewing. I don’t know if it would have been this good had it not been aged a bit, but as it is right now, this is a damn fine bottle of beer. It pours bronze/brown with a bit of foam that quickly fades. The aroma is great; bourbon, oak, vanilla, butterscotch, a little pepper, a little bit of citrus. The flavor is all of that and closes strong and very rich, with a little alcohol curl in the nostrils. I completely enjoyed every drop of this beer. The ABV, just north of 13%, is as well hidden as it could be.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Mixed six, all Virginia brews.

I’ve been curious to try Chaos Mountain's Belgian strong ale, Theory of Chaos, but I’d been bracing myself for a superhot alcohol bomb. At 18% ABV, I'm told that Theory of Chaos is the strongest beer brewed in the commonwealth. My expectations for taste were low, it just sounded like a stunt beer. This beer surpasses ... hell, it really just destroys my cynical expectations. Theory of Chaos really tastes good, and the heat is minimal. You could get into a lot of trouble with a four-pack of this thing.

ToC pours very dark brown with crimson/rust hightlights and almost no foam. The aroma is brown sugar, candied dark fruit, something like ginger and figs. The flavor is slightly sweet and warm. Molasses and apples add to the mix on the tongue, each sip is more complex. But sip it slowly. This beer is one seductive piledriver.

Brothers Fire Thief Imperial IPA pours very dark brown to black with a little bit of caramel colored foam. The aroma is really nice, the smoked malt is undeniable. The flavor is heavy on classic stout character, chocolate and roasted malt, a little bit of spice. The smoke is subdued on the flavor, but adds some nice character. Somewhat chewy mouthfeel. Tasty stuff. Some of Brothers imperials often seem a little hot to me. This one is dialed in just right.

Three Notch'd describes Minute Man IPA with words like juicy, fruity, and strong. I think that’s just about right. This beer seems to me to live somewhere between a NE style juice bomb and a classic West Coast hop-monster, and I like it quite a bit. It pours cloudy orange with a decent amount of foam. Aroma is sweet citrus... oranges, tangerines, and the like. The flavor is the same. Not complex at all, just a ton of mildly sweet citrus, but absolutely delicious..

South Street's Acoustic Kitty is a fairly standard double IPA in terms of aroma and flavor, but with a slightly creamy mouthfeel that sets it apart a bit. Pours very cloudy orange with an average to big pile of foam. The aroma is pine resin, some citrus, some notes of green pepper. The flavor starts out malty and closes big and bitter. I’d buy this again.

Young Veterans Jet Noise Imperial IPA appears to be unfiltered, it is a hazy golden color with average head. The aroma is pungent and dense; grapefruit, new cut grass, sour apple, some caramel. The flavor is punctuated with pine resin and cracker malts. A fairly forward double IPA, and not a bad beer at all.

Young Veterans Semper FI P.A. is a tasty, rich, and smooth IPA. It pours cloudy orange with average head. The aroma is a nice combination of rich malt and citra hops, vanilla notes and citrus, with a richer and more herbal hop finish. I enjoyed this beer.