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.