Monday, February 29, 2016

Six more.

Birra Flea is an Italian brewery. They bill Bastola as a red ale, but it's brewed in the English bitter tradition. This beer pours pale amber, with average head. The aroma is midly fruity, apples and pears, some nutmeg, some cereal malt. The flavor is sweet and light. Apples, a little spice, with yeasty bread notes. Not bad. Not great. I don't regret buying it, but I think one fill is enough.

I was surprised to realize that I'd never tried Troeg's basic pale ale before, so I tried it. This beer pours a highly carbonated, dark yellow with a fair amount of head. The aroma is pears, malt, a little white grape thing going on, too. The flavor is mild and clean but pretty good. A mild, mellow malt on the finish is probably the defining characteristic. This isn't in league with Nugget Nectar or Mad Elf, but I didn't expect it to be.

Weyerbacher's 20th Anniversary Ale is a Belgian. It's copper brown in color with an obscene amount of foam. The aroma was brown sugar, spices, and booze (at 11% ABV I wasn’t surprised to pick up on the alcohol). The flavor is very rich. Caramel, coffee, lots of spices, molasses, and a boozy blast of vapor on the finish. Strong stuff. Once I dug through all that foam, I enjoyed it.

Yeah, there are too many IPAs out there. But there's still no denying a good one. Victory's Hop Ranch is a very good imperial IPA. It pours bright yellow with a good bit of carbonation and a lot of foam that leaves a stubborn lace. The aroma is pine and citrus hops and lemon. The flavor is bright, juicy, and crisp. A little bit of the 9% ABV comes through on the exhale. Nice.

New Belgium's Side Trip is a hybrid, American Pale Ale/Belgian kind of thing. This is actually one of New Belgium’s better grocery store beers. I really do like it. It pours bright yellow, lots of carbonation, thin head. The aroma is malt and bananas and some grassy hops. The flavor is big on Belgian yeast and buttery malt, and it has a dense finish.

And, for that matter, New Belgium's Citradelic IPA is pretty good beer. (I'm just all sunshine and fairy-farts in this set of reviews, aren't I? There was just nothing bad here. Anyway...) Citradelic a little too sweet to be something I’d buy again, but it's not bad. Pours a very bright, light orange color with a lot of foam. The aroma is mild, sweet citrus. The flavor is more of the same, with bright, tangy, sweet tangerine on the finish.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Apparently, posting six reviews at a time is just how I do it now. It seems to work.

Sierra Nevada keeps releasing good IPAs. I guess that's fine, but I am starting to wonder if one more good IPA is really what we need now. Anyway, Five Hop is billed as an "experimental" IPA. I think the "experiment" was designed to answer the question, will people keep buying IPAs? I suppose the answer is yes. This beer pours very bright, lemon yellow with an average amount of head. The aroma is nice; floral hops and pineapple. The flavor is bright citrus up front, finishing dry, with a slightly musty note at the end. A solid but completely superfluous IPA. This beer comes in a mixed twelve-pack with Ruthless Rye, Torpedo, and Hop Hunter. It's not as good as Ruthless or Torpedo, and probably about as good as Hop Hunter. (I liked Hop Hunter a lot at first and got tired of it really quick, so take all of that for what it is worth.)

Champion's Ancho Chipotle Porter is one of those high concept beers. this porter pours dark brown, average head, maybe a little flat. The aroma is mild malt, some coriander, black pepper, floral notes. The flavor is thin up front but the smokey pepper quality comes through on the finish. I wasn’t crazy about the first glass, but liking it more by the second.

You know, it would be nice to get a good porter now and then without a bunch of bells and whistles. It can be done. Sierra Nevada's regular release porter is delicious. Even New Belgium makes a very good porter. Porter's don't have to be crammed full of peanut butter and hot peppers and coffee and vanilla and shit. I'm just saying.

Stone's Americano Imperial Stout is a bright but very strong imperial coffee stout. It pours black with a very thin, tan head that fades quickly to a rim ring. The aroma is citrus and coffee, some lemon notes. On the front of the tongue the flavor is all about the coffee and malt. The hop tingle hits on the back of the tongue. Some alcohol punch comes through in the after taste. Substantial beer.

I'm not in love with Devil's Backbone, a very popular regional brewery. They've done an imperial IPA that I like a lot, and a great many other beers that I just think are OK. The wood-aged version of Dark Abbey, their version of a Belgian Dubbel, is for now only available at the brewery. This is one of Devil's Backbone's very OK beers. It's a little glossy, as abbey dubbels go, but not bad. It pours a dark cherry brown color, very little head. The aroma has that cherry/caramel malt/sugary thing that I associate more with dopplebocks than with dubbels. Those same Dr. Pepper like qualities are there in the flavor, too. The oak is a mild presence in the finish, but it’s subtle. Probably too subtle. As I understand it, oak aging is an expensive process. Devil's Backbone is not getting their money's worth, here.

Clown Shoes Evil Crawfish is a red imperial IPA. It's alright. It pours deep amber in color, like strong iced tea, with average foam and lace. The flavor offers citrus, spice, some nutmeg, a little caramel. Smooth malt on the front and middle of the tongue, finishing up with a mildly hoppy burn. The 9% ABV is completely hidden in the taste. It's fine, I guess, or whatever. It's what Stringer Bell might call a 40 degree day kind of beer.

Perfectly good and done to death.

There are Baltic porters that I love, which is surprising, given that Baltic porters are technically lagers. Green Flash's Cosmic Ristretto is a Baltic porter, technically, but they bill it as a black lager. That's probably a smart move on their part, because this beer isn't as good as the best Baltics. It doesn’t have the bright, crisp finish that I associate with Baltic porters, and just tastes and feels like one more pretty good, heavy stout. But, at more than 8% ABV, and with chocolate and espresso, I probably shouldn’t expect this beer close clean, the way Smuttynose's outstanding Baltic porter does. This beer is just too dense for that kind of surprising finish. It pours dark brown with average head. The aroma is chocolate and the same sugary malt aroma that I associate with Baltics. The flavor is rich and sweet, like a chocolate stout up front. The malt and yeasty bread notes come through very mildly on the finish, along with some vapor. Not what I want in a Baltic porter, but tasty enough on it’s own terms that I can forgive that.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Now that I've run more than a dozen races, it's going to become easy to forget the details about each of them. I decided to write down some of what I remember, and save it here at the blog in one long post.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

UPDATED 10/15/17

I've done enough races now that I'm starting to lose track of them. Obsessively tracking this kind of thing is fun for me, that's just how my brain works. So I decided to keep a table here at the blog with a list of the races I've run, where they were, how I finished, etc.

My Races

Race Distance /Type Location Date Time Overall Finish Pic Link Notes Link
Oh!lly Trail Race 5K Trail Race Charlottesville VA June 9, 2015 36:11 59 of 115 Bib 78 Notes
Vine To Wine 5K 5K Road Race Waynesboro, VA June 26, 2015 26:09 43 of 216 Bib 115 Notes
Four on the Fourth 4 Mile Road Race Roanoke, VA July 4, 2015 34:20 42 of 160 Bib 455 Notes
Fab 5K 5K Road Race Salem, VA August 15, 2015 26:35 140 of 294 Bib 711 Notes
Roanoke River 8K 8K Paved Greenway Race Roanoke, VA August 29, 2015 41:01 28 of 83 Bib 36 Notes
Trail Running Rampage
6 Miler
6 Mile Trail Race Douthat State Park, Millboro VA 9/12/15 55:28 11 of 34 Bib 162 Notes
AHCS Recovery Run 5K Trail Race Low Moor, VA 10/11/15 26:21 5 of 21* Bib 5 Notes
Illuminight Night-Time Trail Run 5K Trail Race Covington, VA 10/23/15 25:08 6 of 30* Bib 28 Notes
Star City 10K 10K Road Race Roanoke, VA 11/21/15 51:08 29 of 204*** Bib 875 Notes
Jingle Bell Run 5K Road Race Lexington, VA 12/5/15 23:03 24 of 185 Bib 327 Notes
Sandman Extreme Half Marathon Wythville, VA 1/18/16 1:57:34 17 of 48 Bib 141 Notes
Y-Resolve 10K 10K Road Race Rocky Mount, VA 2/20/16 53:22 7 of 17 Bib 112 Notes
Blacksburg Classic 10 Mile Road Race Blacksburg, VA 2/20/16 1:27:32 77 of 189 Bib 1381 Notes
Shamrock Hill 5K 5K Road Race Roanoke, VA March 12, 2016 39:22 210 of 261 Bib 433 Notes
Mill Mountain Mayhem 10K Trail Race Roanoke, VA April 9, 2016 1:08:27 80 of 136 Bib 188 Notes
Greenbrier Valley Dirt Dash 5 Mile Trail Race Greenbrier County, WV May 7, 2016 52:40 14 of 34 Bib 15 Notes
Conquer The Cove 25K 25K Trail Race Roanoke, VA June 5, 2016 3:16:54 88 of 142 Bib 330 Notes
Jackson River Scenic Trail Half Marathon Half Marathon Covington, VA June 25, 2016 1:59:07 25 of 79*** Bib 412 Notes
Four on the Fourth 4 Mile Road Race Roanoke, VA July 4, 2016 31:36 58 of 282 Bib 267 Notes
Great Country Five Miler 5 Mile Mixed Surface Race Rocky Mount, VA August 6, 2016 42:22 12 of 30 Bib 169 Notes
Trail Running Rampage Half Marathon Trail Half Marathon Douthat State Park, Millboro, VA 9/10/15 2:51:32 21 of 65 Bib 138 Notes
Peak To Creek Marathon Marathon Jonas Ridge, NC 10/29/16 4:06:47 176 of 292 Bib 181 Notes
Star City Half Marathon Half Marathon Roanoke, VA 11/29/16 1:46:33 79 of 461 Bib 253 Notes
Jingle Bell Run 5K Road Race Lexington, VA 12/3/16 22:00 26 of 244 Bib 658 Notes
Jingle Bell Run 5K Road Race Roanoke, VA 12/10/16 23:42 41 of 494 Bib 628 Notes
Half Marathon Wytheville, VA 01/14/17 1:54:14 9 of 40* Bib 52 Notes
10 Mile Road
Blacksburg, VA 02/12/17 1:49:52 161 of 216* Bib 1476 Notes
5K On The Hill 5K
Charlottesville VA 02/25/17 2?:?? 2 of ?? Bib 02 Notes
Hill Run
5K Road Race Roanoke, VA 03/11/17 22:06 19 of 227* Bib 1633 Notes
3 Mile
Road Race
Richmond, VA 03/12/17 21:49 29 of 515 Bib 1255 Notes
11 Mile
Road Race
Quantico, VA 03/25/17 1:29:37 185 of 2,830 Bib 783 Notes
Osprey 10K 10K
Road Race
04/08/17 46:54 3 of 47C Bib 123 Notes
7.4 Mile
05/06/17 56:30 24 of 120 Bib 55 Notes
Gallop For
The Greenways
4 Mile
05/13/17 28:59 14 of 164 Bib 700 Notes
Conquer The Cove 25K 25K Trail Race Roanoke, VA 6/4/17 5:02:00 178 of 181 Bib 890 Notes
Oh!lly Trail Race 5K Trail Race Charlottesville VA June 6, 2017 36:31 88 of 176 Bib 192 Notes
Jackson River Scenic Trail Marathon Marathon Covington VA 6/24/17 4:20:57 17 of 33 Bib 917 Notes
Four on the Fourth 4 Mile Road Race Roanoke VA 7/4/17 DNF DNF Bib 111 Notes
Charlottesville 10K 10K Paved Course Charlottesville VA 8/20/17 57:16 9 of 13 Bib 903 Notes
Hospice Hustle 20K 20K Road Race Buena Vista VA 9/16/17 1:53:04 9 of 18 Bib 615 Notes
Sticks And Stones 15K Trail Race New River Gorge WV 10/14/17 2:01:13 75 of 117 Bib 77 Notes

*First in male age group
**Second in male age group
***Third in male age group
PR for the distance
PR for the event
CThird place overall

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Six more beer reviews, including two on tap. That mini-growler I acquired early this year has turned out to be a great investment. Two themes in this set of reviews; affordability and porter. Not that this is a set of porter reviews... there is only one porter in this set. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I have not tried to hide the fact that affordability is a big factor in my favorable reviews. If you brew a great beer, but sell it at a prohibitively expensive price, that's going to cost you points in my book. Conversely, if you offer a very good beer at a surprisingly low price, you're going to gain a few brownie points with me. Trader Joe's, the yuppie's favorite grocery store, sells some outstanding beer on their store-brand label, and the prices are laugh-out-loud low. (As a matter of fact, TJ's is one of the few instances where I'd advise you to believe the hype in general. Tasty food, fairly guilt-free in terms of nutrition if you're not stupid about it, and the prices are more than fair).

Trader Joe's 2015 release of their store-brand Vintage Ale is brewed by Unibroue, a Canadian brewery that often impresses me. This beer pours a slightly mahogany brown with average head. The aroma is apple-butter, cinnamon, cloves, brown sugar. All of that is on the tongue, plus pralines and horehound, all kinds of combinations of sweet and spicy. The sweetness dominates the spice, but never too much. I thoroughly enjoyed every drop I poured from this bottle. This is one more reason why those Trader Joe's parking-lots are always jam-packed. There's some damn good stuff in there, including delicious beer, and they're almost trying to give it away. I'm an unabashed TJ's fan, I'd just about sell my leftie to have one of their stores less than a hundred miles from home.

Founder's Azacca IPA is one of the many IPAs out there that features a relatively new, strong dwarf hop. (In my area, "new" is probably a relative term. But that's a whole 'nother.) This is a strong, juicy IPA. It pours a bright copper yellow with average head. The aroma is tropical fruit, citrus, grass, some spice. The flavor is tangy up front with strong hops mid-tongue, finishing with more of that tropical punch; pineapple, tangerines, and a little vapor. This is nice, if not remarkable or surprising ... and I look forward to this hop's presence in the mainstream craft world, judging by this first sample.

Westbrook Brewing's flagship IPA is a bright, clean, very drinkable IPA. It pours cloudy yellow, average head and lace. The aroma is lemon, buttered bread, tangerine. The flavor is rich and bitter. The finish is grassy and strong. There is a little alcohol vapor in the finish. This is good beer.

If you'll indulge me for a minute, I'll offer an opinion on the industry in general. Westbrook India Pale Ale is a good IPA... one of several fine IPAs I've had lately. But there are so, so, so many damn good IPA's out there. Too many. Damn good IPAs are almost becoming old-hat. How about something different? My last two favorite beers have been porters, and both from one brewery (Ballast Point's Black Marlin owned my fridge for the second half of 2015, knocking the same brewery's Victory At Sea out of the top spot.) And I never really considered myself a porter fan before Ballast Point made me rethink the style. These beers remind me that there is more to beer than hops. Ballast Point cannot be the only brewery that gets that, right?

Speaking of Ballast Point and IPA... ahem. That brewery happens to "get" IPA, too. Their Pineapple Sculpin is a very good Sculpin IPA variant, although I don’t like it as much as the grapefruit version of the beer. This one pours clear but dark yellow with about three fingers of head. The pineapple is strong on the aroma, but more understated on the flavor. Malt and citrus hops hit the front of the tongue, and the pineapple is a presence in the finish. It’s more of a candied pineapple thing than a fresh pineapple thing, but it’s still very good.

If I were an honest man, I'd be calling Ballast Point my favorite brewery these days. They've deserved that dubious honor for a year. Stone Brewing has been my nominal favorite brewery for quite a while, but I cannot remember the last time I got as excited over a Stone release as I do over a Ballast Point release these days.

Affordability seems to be a theme I'm revisiting in this set of reviews, And Saranac seems to be a brewery that gets the importance of affordability. while I can't say that all of their brews are good beer, this one damn sure is. I had Saranac's Barrel Aged Rye Porter on-tap, a half-size growler fill from Barrel Chest. This is the third Saranac beer I’ve had, and the second one that I’ve enjoyed quite a bit. It pours dark brown with a very little bit of splotchy head. The aroma is a little like rye whiskey and coffee. The mouth-feel is dense and sticky. The flavors are strong and rich. Whiskey and oak, vanilla, coffee, caramel, cereal malts. I liked this. I’d buy it again. I mentioned that I'm becoming a porter fan-boy, right? This is affordable, delicious beer is a good reason why. Saranac, you win the internet tonight.

Sixpoint is another brewery that impresses me quite a bit. And speaking of porter, Sixpoint has offered not just one, but two different outstanding porters. Not that porter is all they brew. Sixpoint's High-Res Imperial IPA pours a bright, clear, golden color without much foam or lace. The aroma is strong and bitter; floral hops with a little tangy, citrus sweetness behind that. The flavor is a hop rush. Nice, big, clear, pungent, bitter hops front to back. A little vapor on the finish. The aftertaste rages with hops, you won’t shake this for a while. This is a solid imperial, as aggressive as some of the "triple" IPAs I’ve had..

Friday, February 5, 2016

Another mixed six.

I passed up on Hardywood's Apple Brandy Gingerbread Stout when I saw it in my favorite craft beer store, and that was a mistake. I recently got a bottle as part of a trade, and this beer is delicious. I figured, from the label, that it would have too much going on to really do any of it well. I was wrong. This beer is an outstanding stout with clear ginger and apple notes, and a really warm, brandy-like finish. It pours thin but dark, with hardly any head. Apple brandy is all over the aroma, and all over the flavor, too. But the gingerbread comes through in the finish, along with raisins, spices, brown sugar, molasses, and caramel malt. This beer is complex, not at all overly sweet, and fairly aggressive. Hardywood makes some good beer, and this might be the best thing I’ve had from them. If they release it again I will buy it for sure, and I’ll buy more than one bottle.

Burial Beer Company's Skillet Donut Stout is a really well balanced stout. Sweet, but not overly sweet. It pours dark brown to black with a little foam. The aroma is chocolate and coffee and sugar. Thankfully that sugar does not dominate the flavor. It leans to the coffee side on the front, with some bitter baker’s chocolate coming through in the finish, and just enough sugar to imply the donut quality mentioned in the name. This is a fine beer.

Stone's Enjoy By IPA has become just about my favorite regular release IPA. Which is a big statement. I'm really glad they are starting to release variants, and I finally got to try the black IPA version with the 2/14/16 release. This beer pours coffee-brown with average head and lace. The aroma is pine, citrus, dark roasted malt, bitter bread (something close to rye). More bitterness on the front of the flavor, and another rush on the back, plus that charcoal, smokey, roasted malt character. Not as good as the damn-near perfect regular version of Enjoy By, and probably not as good as Sublimely Self Righteous. But still a very good black IPA.

I also got to try the unfiltered version of the 2/14/16 Enjoy By. I had a growler full, and I liked it, but not as much as some of the recent regular releases (the 12/25/15 version in particular was pretty much perfect). This unfiltered beer looks like a cloudy version of regular Enjoy By; bright, light orange color with a lot of foam. The aroma is strong citrus and warm malt, like the regular release. Where I pick up on a big difference is in the taste. The hop dank sediment and unfiltered yeast in this version of the beer add an extra bitter, raw punch to the finish. It’s still delicious, but it doesn’t blow my mind the way the regular versions of Enjoy By continue to do over and over again.

Most of what I've been tasting lately has been good to very good. Devil's Backbone's Danzig Baltic Porter is a break with that trend. I mean, it's not bad, but I love Baltic porters, and this one doesn't measure up. This beer pours very dark brown with little head. The aroma is chocolate and faint cherry notes, it doesn’t have that warm, nutty malt quality that I pick up on in my favorite Baltic porters. That quality is entirely absent in the flavor, too. This tastes more like a doppelbock, with that sulphery finish ... it lacks the bright, crisp finish of the best Baltic porters, and it got a little saccharine toward the end. But I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it at all.

I know craft beer fans who are virtually in love with Clown Shoes, but I ain't one of them. Nothing they've released has blown me away. Their Blaecorn Unidragon Imperial Stout reminds me of New Holland’s Dragon’s Milk, but without the oak and without the liquor qualities. It pours jet black, there’s practically no head. The 12.5% ABV is up front on the nose, along with licorice, blackberries, dark bready malt. The flavor is clean up front but closes with a huge, strong, roasted-to-burnt malty wash and a little bit of tingle. It's good beer, don't get me wrong. But it reminds me of Dragon's Milk, only not as good, and no cheaper. That's hardly a reason to recommend it.