Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A set of six.

Hardywood's Raspberry Stout pours black with a thin orange/tan head. The aroma is gigantic; raspberries and chocolate. You can smell it a couple of feet away from the glass. Even to someone like me who isn’t usually crazy about sweet stouts, this thing smells delicious. It tastes great, too; dense, roasted malt and coffee. The raspberries might be a little too dominant on the finish, but I can’t really complain.

If Hardywood's Raspberry Stout is good, the barrel aged version, with added vanilla beans, is just remarkable. It pours black, and the head is thin and tan. The raspberries are strong on the aroma again, and so is the vanilla and butter from the bourbon barrel aging. The vanilla comes through strong on the flavor, thanks to the addition of vanilla beans. The tart raspberries are there, too, and a strong, bitter, roasted malt finish. Coffee and bitter chocolate notes, and a boozy tone that’s appropriate at more than 12% ABV. Hardywood is just knocking the oak aged beers of the park lately. As they do here.

In my last set of reviews, I reviewed Hardywood's barrel aged version of their Sidamo coffee stout. This is the non-aged version. It's not quite as good as the aged version, but still delicious, and much better than the brewery's discontinued Mocha Belgique coffee porter. This stout pours very dark brown with an average head that fades fast. The coffee and bitter, roasted malt make the aroma smell great. The flavor doesn't disappoint, and adds some coffee and a little lemon hoppy finish. Very good.

Great Lakes Conway Irish Ale is not great and not awful. It pours a clear orange color with a little foam. The aroma is mild caramel, sweet fruit, nuts, grass. The flavor adds apple and sweet tea notes. I didn’t hate it. I won't buy it again.

Barrier Brewing's Imposter Pilsner pours pale yellow. Average carbonation, fairly high amount of foam. The aroma is malt, yeast, pears. Clean, mild, slightly sweet flavor.

Shilkmake IPA is a collaboration by Omnipollo and Tired Hands Brewing. This is a tangy, sweet IPA that’s far sugarier than what I usually go for. But it’s different enough that I enjoyed it quite a bit. It pours a creamy, cloudy orange with little head. The aroma is mild, but there’s some citrus and berries present. What I really picked up on in the flavor was the wheat malt, the sugar, and citrus hops. It reminds me of a fruitier version of Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Extra, which is a beer I’ve come to love.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Six beer reviews.

Maine Beer Company's King Titus is a fantastic porter, one of the best ones I’ve had in quite a while. It says something about the Maine Beer Company’s ability to understate that they aren’t billing this as an "imperial" porter. "Imperial" gets tossed around rather loosely these days, and sometimes it isn't justified by ABV, IBU, or overall palate presence. Maybe the Maine Beer Company realizes that the word is becoming meaningless. They don't call this beer an "imperial," but it is absolutely fit for a king.

King Titus porter pours black with a head that leave spotty lace. The aroma is licorice, some chocolate, dark roasted coffee, and some hop tingle. The flavor is strong, bitter, deep roasted malt and a little hint of citrus hop on the finish. Mouthfeel is somewhat thick, the 7.5% ABV is an appropriately noticeable presence. I’d buy this all the time if I lived in the right part of the country.

Maine Beer Company's pale ale, called MO, pours a cloudy orange/yellow with average head. Fruit and warm, sweet malts on the aroma. Bananas, bread, some citrus. The flavor is much more to the bitter side, with a pine-resin-floral hop punch and a very dry finish. Incredibly well balanced beer. Very complex take on the style. Quite nice.

Great Lakes is a brewery that often surprises me with beer that is far better than their average price range would indicate. Even when one of their beers isn't special, it's still pretty good. For instance, Alberta Clipper, a porter. This isn’t as good as Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald porter, but it isn’t bad. It pours the same dark brown as that other porter, but there isn’t much head. The aroma is slight, I don’t smell much. Just a little coffee and mild citrus. The flavor lacks the slightly smokey malt quality I associate with my favorite porter malts. There’s some hoppiness on the swallow, but a watery finish. I won't buy it again, mostly because this same brewery makes far superior porter.

Alpine Beer Company's Pure Hoppiness is a double IPA. It pours a clear, dark orange with very little head. Aroma of sweet citrus, pineapple syrup, some spice. The flavor is really nice. Buttery, dense malt, and a really big citrus hop finish. I cannot detect the 8% ABV. Leans to the sweet side for a double IPA, but doesn’t sacrifice any hop burn for it.

Richmond Virginia's The Answer brewpub is turning out some solid IPA, I can tell you that much for sure. I've now had, and enjoyed, two of their India Pale Ales. This one is called Larceny. It pours a very pale yellow with average, splotchy head. The aroma is big, tangy citrus. Gigantic grapefruit and pine on the flavor. Very wet and bitter, really pungent finish, something like spearmint on the aftertaste. This is a strongly hop-forward IPA, which is what an IPA should be. Well done.

Hardywood's Bourbon Barrel Sidamo is a coffee stout that pours pitch black with a thin, tan head. The aroma is a blast of bourbon, vanilla, coffee, chocolate, and caramel. The flavor adds buttery toffee notes and the crisp, almost lemon quality of Ethiopian coffee on the finish. A lot of people are tired of the bourbon barrel aging thing, and I get that. It's been done to death over the last five years. But some of us never get sick of it, and I fall in that category. If barrel aging is done right, it adds a strong, unmistakable character that does not dominate the original brew's aroma or flavor. The whole buttery, vanilla-and-fire bourbon quality of a well-done bourbon barrel aged beer just never disappoints me. Hardywood has the barrel aging thing down pat. If you like barrel aged beer, you really cannot go wrong with anything in this brewery's Barrel Series. Sidamo is the taste of a virtuoso brewery playing music they've mastered.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Another set of six.

Brothers Craft Brewing, a Harrisonburg brewery, offers a few beers exclusively to members of the brewery's Horizon Society. I'm not a member of Horizon Society, but a friend is, and he got me a bottle of Brother's mint chocolate variant of Great Debate. This is an imperial milk stout available exclusively to Soceity members. I've not been crazy about stouts with ancillary mint flavors, but this one is actually very good. The mint doesn't dominate the flavor, it shows up on the back of the tongue rather than overpowering the beer. This stout pours dark chocolate brown with a thin, tan head. The aroma is primarily chocolate and warm malt. The flavor is more of that chocolate malt, with the mint sneaking in on the finish. I didn't enjoy the peppermint variant of Ballast Point's Victory At Sea, I thought that the mint was too strong. It was like a good porter, ruined by the addition of toothpaste. That isn't the case with Mint Chocolate Great Debate, and it makes me a lot less dubious about the presence of mint in beer.

Everybody is doing their version of Enjoy By these days. It seems like half of my favorite craft breweries have an "evolving" IPA that is going to be slightly different with each release. On deck now, Firestone Walker, and the 001 release of Luponic Distortion, their "evolving IPA." This beer pours clear yellow with a lot of foam and carbonation. The aroma is strong hops, floral and citrus qualities. The flavor is juicy up front, but then closes slightly dry. Lemon and grassy hop tingle on the finish. Luponic Distortion is OK.

Hell, I don't know what to say about Great Divide's Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout. It's really good, but there are so many versions of Yeti, and they're all really good. I think I'd have to have a flight of all of them at once to be able to pick up the subtle differences. I love the oak aged chocolate version and the espresso version. This one is good, too, but I don't know that I noticed anything distinctly different here. It pours dark brown, average tan head. The aroma is oak and chocolate and coffee and all the stuff I expected. The taste is the same. And it's really good, And I expected it to be really good. All I need to see on the label is "Yeti," and at this point I know I'm gonna enjoy it. But I don't know that we need seventy slightly different variants.

I finally had a chance to sample a few of Devil's Backbone's collaborative beers. Seven Summits is their imperial stout collaboration with Wicked Weed brewing. It pours very dark, chocolate brown with hardly any head. The aroma is candied fruit, coffee, molasses, chocolate. The flavor adds a mild but distinctly herbal, tangy hop burn in the finish. The 10.5% ABV is all over the nose and tongue. This is a very big beer.

Double Pacific Ale is Devil's Backbone's collaboration with Thunder Road. They bill it as an Australian-inspired ale. Double Pacific is pretty good, but nothing surprising. It pours a clear, light amber. Average to below average foam. Average carbonation. The aroma is malt. Buttery, bready, cereal malt. The flavor is rich and slightly sweet, too. A bit of tingle on the finish. No real presence of the 8.4% ABV in the flavor.

Devil's Backbone and Sun King call their collaborative beer Another State Of Kind. This is billed as a "double dank" crream ale, and it's extremely hoppy, with some cream ale qualities on the aroma. To my palate, there is nothing but IPA in the flavor. The beer pours pale yellow with faint, thin foam. Creamy, mildly yeasty aroma with some hops. Those hops are all over the flavor. Bitter front and back. Pretty good.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Another set of six.

She Gone is a delicious Double IPA from The Answer Brewpub in Richmond, Virginia. The brewpub sells their beer to go, and one way to get it is in a "crowler" a 32 ounce one-time-use can. I haven't been to the brewpub, a friend brought me this to sample. If this is an indication of what The Answer does, I need to visit them. She Gone is really good, really big, with gigantic grapefruit notes. It pours hazy yellow with only a little head. The aroma is all citrus; lemon and grapefruit. Huge, juicy burst of grapefruit on the front of the flavor, with a crisp floral finish. I liked this quite a bit. I can imagine all kinds of food with which this would pair well.

Stone is celebrating their 20th anniversary this year. One way they're marking the occasion is by re-releasing their Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout, which had it's original, limited run in 2008. I had a growler fill from a local taphouse and beer store. This is the best stout I’ve ever had from Stone (not a brewery that I think of as stout technicians). In fact, this is the best 2016 beer I've had yet. This review is going to be wordy enough to necessitate something fairly rare in my beer reviews: a paragraph break.

Stone's Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout just about perfect, beginning with how it looks. This is only the second beer I’ve ever given a 5 on a 5 scale for appearance at ratebeer.com (the first one being Nugget Nectar). This beer pours jet black and almost soupy thick, with a caramel colored, creamy head. The head fades quickly to a rim-ring. From the pour I could not wait to taste this stuff. The aroma is rich and extremely bitter. As bitter as a spinster’s dreams. The dominating character on the aroma is super-strong baker’s chocolate, with not a hint of sweetness. There’s nothing sweet on the flavor, either. So much strong, bitter chocolate. If you're philosophy about chocolate is "the more bitter, the better," then this beer is for you. The flavor is just baker's chocolate and coffee atop a smooth, heavily roasted oatmeal malt. The mouthfeel is chewy and heavy, and the aftertaste is this mouth-coating wall of bitter chocolate. Stone can absolutely do stout. This is proof. This is incredible.

Bell's Consecrator Doppelbock is pretty good, as doppelbocks go. It's bright copper in color with very little head and average carbonation. The aroma is cherries, citrus, and sweet malt. There’s also ginger tea and spices and candied fruit on the flavor.

Hardywood's Bourbon Barrel Aged Barleywine is very good. It pours brown/orange in color with a little foam. The barrel aging shows up immediately on the aroma, with vanilla and spices. The flavor really is heavy on the bourbon aging, too; more of the vanilla, and brown-sugar and raisins, too. This isn't what I think of as a complex beer, it doesn't change in it's overall character as it warms. Nonetheless, this beer is delicious.

Dogfish Head is one of the few big breweries still coming up with brew names that I enjoy. This Belgian Triple style ale is called Beer To Drink Music To. It pours bright orange, with lots of carbonation, and a fair to high amount of foam. The aroma is Belgian yeast, bananas, vanilla. The flavor is strong and sweet. Closes with strong alcohol. Not bad, but nothing special.

Ballast Point is becoming one of my favorite breweries, they continue to surprise me. Their Sea Monster oatmeal stout pours thick and black, the foam is thin but it leaves an obstinate lace. The aroma is rich and strong; anise, burnt malt, a little bit of tingle. The flavor is big and hearty up front, with strong cereal malt and coffee. The finish is relatively thin. The 10% ABV is completely buried under the malt. Overall, a really good imperial oatmeal stout. Unfortunately, for me, it had the misfortune of showing up the same week as Stone's Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout. It just can't compare.