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 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 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 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.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Mixed six pack of reviews, heavy on Deschutes. Now that Deschutes is planning an east coast location in my part of Virginia, their brews are showing up locally. I was glad to get to try them.

Deschutes Fresh Squeezed is a fine IPA. It pours a bright, clear amber with very little foam. The aroma is strong citrus and floral hops and those are the primary notes on the flavor. Bright, crisp, plenty bitter for a single IPA. I will buy this again.

Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale a very clear but deep golden color with lots of foamy head. The aroma is a buttery, warm malt covered with some floral hop notes. The flavor is a smooth, mellow malt with a mildly hop finish. Nothing really distinct from other American pale ales, but among the tasty ones for sure.

Deschutes Pinedrops is a mild, unimposing IPA that probably pairs well with food and might be a good introduction to the style. It pours pale yellow with a lot of lingering foam. The aroma is lemons, grass, a little bit of sweet malt. The flavor is the same. It doesn't taste bad, but I won't have it again.

Deschutes Black Butte Porter is indistinct. I'd call it quiet, bordering on boring, and while it doesn’t taste bad, there isn’t much here to recommend. The beer is dark brown with a giant mound of foamy head that necessitates a very slow pour. The aroma is slightly bright coffee and mild caramel. There is a little hint of some kind of spice on the back of the tongue, too. Not bad, just nothing remotely special. I think a really well made porter is one of the best styles in all of craft beer. I'd hoped this would be one.

Stepping away from Deschutes, I also had two very good double IPA's this week. Troeg's Nimble Giant is one of them. This beer is very smooth and balanced double IPA. Pours hazy yellow with piles of lingering foam. The aroma is citrus, pineapple, popcorn, and that’s all on the tongue, too. The finish is at once a big hop wash and a strong, mellow malt backbone. Another fine beer from Troegs.

Great Lakes Lake Erie Monster is also a well balanced but complex imperial IPA It pours orange, cloudy, with average head and an aroma of caramel, booze, and big, dry, bitter hops. The flavor is sweet up front and then closes with a burst of hops and vapor on the back of the tongue. Sweet again on the drop. Really nice.

Mixed six pack of reviews, back to various breweries.

South Street's Tongue Dropper is kind of a sour/double IPA hybrid. It pours a hazy, dark orange with a thin head. The aroma is strong and kind of nasty. This beer smells like a gym sock full of dirty cat litter. The taste is better. Pine and citrus hops on the front of the tongue, followed by very mild sourness. A little dry bitterness on the exhale.

The best imperial stout I've had from Evil Twin is called Even More Jesus, which I love with all my heart. I can't resist comparing that brewery's other imperial stouts to that beer. Imperial Biscotti Break is sweeter and not as aggressive as EMJ, but it's delicious all the same. Previously I'd had the version of this beer that adds sour cherry. I like this one just as much, maybe more. This stout pours dark brown to black with a lot of tan colored head. The aroma is chocolate, nutty malt and spice, with a little bit of nutmeg and cinnamon type of character. The flavor is a strong, rich, creamy chocolate/coffee kind of thing with some kick in the finish.

Southern Tier's Salted Caramel Imperial Stout pours very dark brown with a brief, fleeting head. The aroma is delicious. It actually smells salty, although the caramel isn’t much of a presence. There is a lot of dark chocolate and coffee and something like marshmallow on the aroma. Thankfully the flavor isn’t too sweet at all. More of that salt and chocolate on the tongue, with a huge, roasty bitterness in the finish.

Clown Shoes Third Party Candidate is a hoppy lager. It's a decent, dry, bitter lager with a finish that combines a hoppy twist and a sweet malt. It pours clear, bright yellow with average head. The aroma is mild, but slightly sweet and fruity, a bit like a white wine. The flavor is like a lager up front, but closes dry and bitter. The slightly rich, sweet malt pervades.

Lagunitas Aunt Sally sour ale is one of the most accessible, instantly likable sours I’ve had. It’s mild, and may be too mild for fans of the style, but it was just right for me. The beer is cloudy orange/yellow with a ton of head, the aroma is tart and fruity, like granny smith apples and slightly under-ripe citrus. The flavor is a slightly sweet malt up front with a rush of the sour character and some bitter hoppy tingle at the end. I liked this.

Founders bills Redankulous as an Imperial Red IPA. It pours dark amber with a fair amount of head. The aroma hits on the malt. It is sweet and slightly spicy with lots of caramel character. The flavor reminds me at turns of a Scotch ale, an American Strong Ale, and an IPA. I thought it was almost like a hopped up version of Founders Dirty Bastard, with a hop punch in the finish rather than Dirty Bastard's smooth Scotch flood. The rich, whiskey-like malt is dominated, but not erased, by the big hop finish. Complex. Tasty. This is the kind of beer that grows on me and can eventually become a favorite. If Founders keeps it on the shelves, I'll buy it again. If not, I'll buy Dirty Bastard and be just as happy.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Mixed six pack, Evil Twin Brewing edition.

I think Evil Twin must have a corporate policy that three out of every four of their beers has to have an in-joke as a name. That's bound to be the case with Ryan And The Beaster Bunny, a saison that pours cloudy yellow with a lot of foam that fades to nothing quickly. The aroma is grassy hops, lemon, spice, egg malt, bread grains and cream. The flavor has those notes, with a dry, tight finish. Not bad.

Evil Twin's Wet Dream is a complex brown ale with a lot going on. I had it on tap, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Throughout the glass, new notes continued showing up on the nose and the tongue, and I never quite felt like I’d totally figured this beer out. It pours copper/brown with average head and average carbonation. The aroma combines honey, coffee, citrus, mint, a little bit of nutmeg... and the flavor is at turns sweet, rich, and sometimes bitter. A little bit of boozy vapor and coffee comes through in the finish. Really nice beer.

Retro IPA is mild, with a downplayed hop profile and not a lot to recommend it. But if you’re just getting interested in the style, or not a fan of huge hop-bombs, this might be for you. It pours a medium yellow with a fair amount of foam. The aroma is a mild cereal malt and a little bit of floral/grassy hops. The flavor is the same, with a slight lemon zest tone on the finish. Not awful. Not Evil Twin's best, either. Not by a long shot.

Even More Jesus is an imperial Russian stout, and I love it with all my heart. It is so good. It’s soooo good. And now that it’s out in sixteen ounce cans, EMJ is just about perfect. This imperial pours jet black from the can with a huge mountain of chocolate cream brown head. The aroma is very rich, strong, bitter baker’s chocolate and a little coffee. The flavor is huge on that rich, bitter, very strong roasted malt/chocolate thing. Relentlessly so. Coffee, a little herb kick, and a strong, bitter roasted finish. The big ABV is only a ghost on the aftertaste. Ranks with Ten Fidy and Undead Party Crasher and my other favorite imperial stouts. In four-packs of sixteen ounce cans, it's available in my area at a great price. I doubt I'll see a more attractive beer package this year.

Aun Mas A Jesus is, I suppose, an Evil Twin variant of Even More Jesus... but, if I'm honest, I have to admit that I don't know which recipe came first. This beer is not as good as Even More Jesus, but it is still outstanding. It pours completely black with no foam, and the aroma is bitter chocolate, chicory, coffee, burnt malts. The flavor is the same, but a little muted compared to EMJ. A little alcohol on the finish.

I Love You With My Stout is, for sure, an EMJ variant. It says so on the label. This one is leaner, with a lot more boozy/alcohol character and not as much complexity. ILYWMS pours black with average head, the aroma is anise, very bitter, burnt roasted malt, some alcohol. Malty up front on the tongue, but the finish has enough strong alcohol character to almost be medicinal, at least in comparison to the far better EMJ.

Monday, July 11, 2016


Stone's Citrusy Wit is is that rare Stone brew that I don’t enjoy at all. It pours cloudy, dark yellow with a lot of foam. The aroma is strong citrus, grapefruit and lemon, etc, with a little bit of banana/yeast Belgian quality. The flavor is dry, with heavy citrus zest notes that just don’t work for me. It’s artificial tasting, and the finish is just off.

Clown Shoes Rexx is an American Strong Ale aged in bourbon barrels. This beer is a dark, cloudy brown, lighter around the edges, with an average amount of creamy head. The bourbon barrel aging comes through strong on the aroma. Vanilla, some spice, apples, brown sugar, crackers, caramel... it smells really good. The flavor is rich and smooth and a little sweet. Really rich, bourbon/vanilla comes through strong on the finish. Dense, chewy mouthfeel. This is exactly my kind of thing. Strong, rich, uncompromising. It plays the bourbon barrel card all up in your face with no apologies.

Apocalypse Ale Works Heavy Red Horseman is a wee heavy style Scotish ale. It's not the best thing I’ve had from Apocalypse, but it isn’t horrible. It pours copper color with a quickly fading head. The aroma is caramel, walnuts, a little spice and ginger, and the flavor also has a molasses quality. Very malty, but mild. No, mild isn't really the word. Limp is the word. This beer is limp.

I should have tried Apocalypse Ale Work's Winter Snack Stout when it came out at the end of last year, but to be honest, I was turned off by the name. The word "snack" makes the beer sound like a crowd pleaser, something insubstantial. When I visited the taproom recently I saw that they still had some bombers, and the label says this beer comes in at 10.1% ABV rather than the 7.6% listed at RateBeer. I figured a ten-percenter could stand up to some aging, so I picked up a bottle. I'm glad I did. This beer tastes pretty darn good. It pours dark brown with average foam that fades eventually. The aroma is sweet, rich, slightly fruity and malty. Coffee and carrot cake qualities. The flavor delivers the rich oatmeal malt, chocolate, and sweet citrus. Chewy, substantial mouth-feel. I really liked this. I wish I’d tried it sooner so I could have picked up a few more bottles.

Godamighty, now, this is a beer. Avery Brewing never lets me down when it comes to these gigantic, barrel aged malt-monsters. Tweak is a barrel aged imperial stout that boasts a ridiculous ABV, north of 17.5%. This beer pours jet black with a quickly fading and very minimal head. The aroma is really big and rich. Coffee, chocolate, dark liquor, candied fruit, vanilla, creamy caramel, the kind of sweet/rich complexity I expected from the brewery behind the humongous Mephistopheles stout. Although the ABV here is slightly higher than Mephistopheles, alcohol is not an overpowering presence on the tongue. Yeah, it's there. You're gonna taste the alcohol at this level, and this beer is boozy, for sure. But coffee and a chocolate/caramel nut-cream sweet richness are the main notes on the tongue. Wow. I hope I can find a couple more bottles of this. Avery Brewingn consistently delivers. I wish everything in life were as reliable as this brewery.

Ninkasi's Vanilla Oatis stout is decent, if maybe a little underwhelming. Pours very dark brown, no real head. The aroma is bitter baker’s chocolate, but it’s very restrained. The flavor is restrained, too. I don’t pick up on the usual rich, cereal malt thing that I enjoy about oatmeal stouts. The front of the tongue is watery, but the finish is a little better. A little bitter, roasted malt, and just the slightest hint of vanilla show up on the back end.