Saturday, December 31, 2016

Here are my last six beer reviews of 2016.

This bottle of Brothers Craft Brewing's Verdure was a gift from a friend who participates in various projects with the brewery. This beer might not be available to the general public, there was no UPC symbol on the label and I couldn't find any reviews at It is possible that I am enjoying something exclusive with both of the first two reviews in this batch. I didn't think to ask... sometimes, the best thing to say is simply thank you.

Anyway. Brothers Craft Brewing’s Passion Fruit Vurdure is a Berliner Weissbier. It has a very low ABV (less than 4%) and a tangy character that I found very versatile. I sipped some while cooking dinner the other night and paired the rest with my lean beef and vegetables. I thought it was delicious. This beer pours bright yellow with very little foam and a lot of carbonation. The aroma is tart and bright, the passion fruit doesn’t dominate the sourness of the beer’s aroma, but it is there. The flavor is sour enough to pack a little punch, but it finishes clean and bright and doesn’t blind the palate at all. What a wonderful dinner beer.

I’m far from an expert on Berliner Weisse, but the ones I’ve had are turning me into a fan. I can’t taste a tremendous amount of difference between the passion fruit and pineapple variants of Brother’s Verdure, but I’ve enjoyed them both quite a bit. Like the passion fruit version, I found that this one paired well with lean meat and vegetables, and was delicious to sip on it’s own while I was cooking. Like the passion fruit version, this one is tart and bright. The fruity notes are clearly there, but the difference between the variants is a little lost on me. All I know is that this beer pours bright yellow with average head, smells slightly tart, tastes more than slightly tart, and goes down really easy. I’d drink this again in a heartbeat, and I'd buy it in six-packs very happily.

Barn Dog, a porter by Wyndrige Farm, really isn’t a bad beer. It pours chocolate brown, there isn’t much head, and the truth is, it doesn’t smell very good. There is a muted, plastic quality to the aroma that covers the mild chocolate and vanilla notes with something that just ain’t right. But the flavor is a big improvement. The vanilla comes through on the front and the finish is a combined mix of chocolate, coffee, and a little bit of hops. After that slightly bad smell, the slightly good flavor is a nice surprise. Plus, there is a dog wearing a monocle on the label. That's gotta be worth something.

I hate to use a word like "lush" in a beer review, but "lush" is exactly the right word for Old Hickory's Lindley Park Barrel Aged Imperial Stout. It pours dark brown without much foam, and the aroma is chocolate and vanilla from the barrel aging, plus a hint of the raspberries. The flavor adds coffee to that mix. The raspberries come through on the finish and don’t dominate the flavor, they just add an indulgent quality after all of the character from the malt and the barrel. This is the kind of beer that closes a meal in style, but it was also fine by itself.

This is the first chance I’ve had to try Bell’s Black Note Imperial Stout, and I think this beer deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the hard to find, crazy expensive stuff. It’s that good. Black Note pours black with crimson highlights and basically no head at all (11.5% ABV). The aroma is huge baker’s chocolate and vanilla. Big, rich, a lot of punch, just a tremendous smelling beer. The flavor is delicious. That chocolate and vanilla are right there, and the bourbon barrel comes through strong on the finish. Coffee and toffee notes, and roasted nuts are also a presence. This is fantastic beer.

I shared my last beer of the year with Lucky. Like me, she's enjoyed all of Hardywood's Gingerbread Stout variants this year. And, like me, she was anxious to try this one. We agreed that we haven't had a variation of Hardywood's GBS stout that was anything less than outstanding. And Rum Barrel Aged GBS is one more home run, just as I expected. This version isn't significantly different from the other variations, I'm not sure that the rum barrel aging was able to distinctly and clearly distinguish itself from the already pronounced ginger and spice tones of regular GBS. But it's still damn fine beer, no matter how it's been aged. This one pours dark brown to black with average but brief head (as do the others). The aroma, like other versions of GBS, is sweet, spicy and rich. So is the flavor. There may be a little more sweetness and a little more Caribbean spice going on here, as compared to the bourbon barrel aged and coffee blended varieties. But it isn't enough to significantly change the character of an already fantastic stout. I have absolutely no complaints. Hardywood, I don't know if you are capable of a misstep.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Six more beer reviews.

Farmer Ted's Cream Ale by Catawba Brewing just kinda lays there. It pours pale yellow with a quick, crackling head and average carbonation. The aroma is like a slightly sweeter adjunct lager. Corn, rice, etc. Maybe some wheat. A little bit of sugar seems to be a presence on the flavor. I didn’t hate it. There isn’t much going on here, but it isn’t bad.

Catawba Brewing's Firewater IPA is not really an interesting IPA, but not a bad one. It pours orange in color with very little foam. The aroma is a little bit of grassy hops, vegetables, and mildly sweet notes. The flavor is dominated by the hops in a perfectly acceptable way. The malt is not undetectable. Decent.

Brown Bear is the name of Catawba Brewing's brown ale. It pours chocolate brown with a fair amount of light brown foam. The aroma is caramel and a little bit of spice and grassy hops. The flavor is caramel up front, and closes with a very mellow, slightly sweet malt. Not terrible, not life changing. One more beer.

I mean, OK, fine, I guess. Peacemaker Pale Ale, by Lonerider Brewing, pours copper colored without much foam. The aroma is malty and the flavor is malty, but not really distinct or rich or interesting. Not bright and hoppy enough to be a good lawnmower beer, but the malt just lays there. It’s not a terrible beer but it’s really not much of a beer at all.

Westbrook Brewing's Gose is tasty. The can promises that this beer is "sour, salty, and delicious," and the beer keeps those three promises in spades. It pours clear yellow with a ton of bubbles and a little bit of quick-fading foam. The aroma is salty and piercing tartness, the kind of character I associate with cold apple cider or only lightly sweetened lemonade. The flavor is crisp, very sour, and salty on the finish. Low ABV makes this a session winner. I could suck these things down all day.

Give Me Stout Or Give Me Death is a stout that is brewed in collaboration between Stone, Hardywood, and Ardent. For some reason, the insufferable douche-nozzle who currently inhabits the Virginia Governor's Mansion is also listed as a participant in this beer's creation. This stout pours black with a tan head. The aroma is very much like any imperial stout, with roasted malt and coffee notes, plus a very faint and indistinct hint of the berries mentioned on the label. It is to Stone’s credit that they don’t overdo it with ancillary ingredients. The flavor is rich and hearty, with a strong, bitter quality dominating the character. The berries aren’t much of a presence on the tongue, and the stout isn’t really anything special, but it certainly isn’t bad. Maybe if Stone hadn't felt compelled to somehow involve Virginia's current carpetbagging shitheel governor in the recipe, it would have turned out better.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Six more.

The Bruery's Terreux Batch No. 1731 is billed as sort of a session sour. It might be a good gateway between the IPA and sour styles. It’s fairly straight forward, not aggressive, but funky and a little tart. It pours yellow with a huge head and a decent amount of carbonation. The aroma is remarkably well balanced. The first thing I pick up on is the tart brett fermentation, blended well with the triple hop bill. Notes of sour apples, cheese, and taffy blend with dry, bright, lean hops on the nose. The flavor is all of that but closes with a piercing dry bite that is outright shocking (to me) for a beer with the word "session" on the label. It speaks well of The Bruery that their "session" sour still kicks some. This beer is absolutely IPA, absolutely a stun-grade sour, and yet absolutely a session beer. That’s a lot to play in one hand, but every suit is present.

Hardywood's Gingerbread Stout can stand up to just about anything Hardywood decides to throw at it, and it seemingly always adds the new elements to it’s ensemble gracefully. The regular recipe is delicious, and the Brandy Barrel, Bourbon Barrel, and Coffee versions are all even better. This version, Kentucky Christmas Morning, with both bourbon barrel aging and coffee fusion, is also delicious. But I think the coffee gets a little lost in the avalanche of flavor. It pours coffee/chocolate brown with big, tan had. The bourbon and gingerbread character are strong on the aroma and very strong on the flavor, just like the bourbon barrel aged version of GBS.

To my palate it’s also just a notch hotter than the bourbon barrel variant, which is odd since it’s actually about half a tick lower in ABV. I expected the coffee to show up in the mix in a big way, too, and it just doesn’t. Still, when my principle complaint is that it tastes like BBGBS (a delicious, incredibly well-crafted stout), it’s hard to consider that a complaint. Coffee? Sure, the label says so, so I guess it’s there, but I don’t taste it. All I taste is another delicious Hardywood barrel aged, malty masterpiece.

Paranoid Aledroid by Triple Crossing is is a delicious, really creamy, citrusy pale ale that would be fantastic for session consumption. It pours hazy yellow with a ton of head. The aroma is grassy and slightly tart, and there is a sweet fruit and citrus character to the flavor that I could drink all day. Bananas, pineapple, a bready, wheat beer backbone... it’s hard not to suck this down in a hurry.

Hardywood's Cassowary is the base Imperial stout for several of their other beers. It's a very, very sweet stout that became a little too sugary for me by the end of the bottle... but as a beer to share with friends as dessert, this would be just about perfect. It pours black with a lot of tan head. The aroma is huge baker’s chocolate and a little bit of chicory, a little bit of anise. The flavor is super sugary, as you’d expect from a big milk stout. All that lactose is a giant sugar bomb, which dominates the baker’s chocolate and coffee/roasted malt qualities. It’s a good beer, but this is definitely one to share.

Clown Shoes Hammer Of The Beast is kind of a "stunt beer." It's a blend of two stouts and a barley wine, aged in rum barrels. High concept stuff for sure. This beer pours dark brown to black with a light tan head. The aroma is fascinating. The first thing I notice is the rum barrel aging. The aroma is slightly sweet and boozy, with barley wine character coming through after the rum, and molasses and brown sugar and herbal notes blending with a bunch of malt. Then the stout comes through on the flavor in a big way. Coffee and chocolate kind of swirl and mingle with the barley wine notes, although the flavor is dominated by the stout. I enjoy the way this beer plays one card distinctly, and then the other, without ever losing a bit of it in the shuffle. I don’t know that I would want it every day, but this is as unique and tasty as a novelty beer can be.

Great Lakes Blackout Stout is a very bold, bitter, strong stout that holds it’s own even in the current onslaught of fantastic stouts and porters turned out by American craft breweries. The body is black with a thin, cream-colored head. The aroma is rich and malty, with some hoppy notes in the background. Big, rich, roasted bitterness all over the flavor, and the finish offers a lingering look at that 9% ABV. Well done.

Friday, December 16, 2016

If you wanna read six beer reviews, you're in luck. Here's six beer reviews. Again, this set is heavy on stuff I got to sample because of the generosity of my friend Adam. Adam is my Beer Guy. Everybody needs a Beer Guy, and I hope your Beer Guy is half the Beer Guy that Adam is.

Triple Crossing's Falcon Smash is a strong, tangy IPA that flirts with sweetness without ever tipping in that direction. It pours hazy orange without a lot of foam. The aroma is grapefruit, lemon, all kinds of citrus, and a hint of sugar. Something in the background reminds me a little of chewing gum. The flavor is big and clean, the finish is dry. Hell yes.

Battle Creek is a DIPA from Triple Crossing's Lockout Series. It is a fantastic, juicy, balanced DIPA with an 8% ABV so buried beneath a mountain of tangy hop tastiness that it’s almost undetectable. This beer pours a slightly cloudy yellow/light-orange with average head. The aroma is lemon and tangerine and musky, oily richness. Big, juicy flavor. The kind of beer that makes it hard to believe that citrus isn’t an actual ingredient. Just a pure pleasure to drink.

I've been looking for Ballast Point's Mocha Marlin for quite a while and I finally found it in Lexington. This is a very good coffee porter, although I don’t think I like it as much as my beloved, regular version of Black Marlin. This beer pours chocolate brown with average foam and carbonation, like the original recipe. The coffee addition is all over the nose and tongue. This beer smells and tastes like rich, slightly sweet espresso and a little bit of chocolate. There is already a bright morning-blend coffee tone going on in regular Black Marlin, but here it’s more of a rich, dark espresso character. The American hop quality and slightly tangy finish of the original stuff is muted, here, in favor of more of that espresso. Espresso front to back. It’s good, but I’m in love with Black Marlin as it is, and this diversion can’t replace Ballast Point’s delicious hoppy porter.

I’ve not yet had one bad beer from The Veil Brewery, and OK Guy is one more good one. This peach/apricot double IPA pours hazy orange, and my can was as clumpy as a lava lamp. That’s fine, it doesn’t effect the drinkability or the flavor, and this beer is very drinkable. The aroma has the musty simcoe hop thing going on, and there is a fruity character I’d expect from a beer with added peaches and apricots. The flavor is the same, I don’t really taste apricots or peaches specifically... just a tangy fruity kind of thing that gives this beer a little something extra. I thoroughly enjoyed this.

Sierra Nevada's Christmas Jam is the best session IPA I’ve had. I actually liked it. I’d have thought this was a regular ol’ IPA if you’d poured it and handed me a glass without telling me that the S word was on the bottle. It pours golden yellow with a fair amount of foam. The aroma is lemony and grassy, it smells great. The flavor is clean and slightly malty, with a big, hoppy finish. Not watery, not weak, not boring, not thin. This beer actually tastes good. I usually think that session IPA is a waste of potable water. But this is actual beer.

I'm sure at this point that I am the only person who is surprised to hear me say this, but it's just the truth: Hardywood has replaced Stone as my favorite brewery. What that brewery does with stout is just pure, perfect, accessible, gorgeous art. for instance, Hardywood's Gingerbread Stout... it is delicious on it’s own, and the barrel aged version is fantastic. But there are other variants and I have not yet had a bad one. This coffee version is just about as good as coffee stout gets. It pours dark chocolate brown with average head. The coffee is strong on the aroma, but doesn’t mask the ginger and slightly sugary richness of regular GBS. The flavor plays the coffee card really strongly. To my taste it’s mostly a coffee stout, although the gingerbread character is still there, floating in the background. I don’t know if Hardywood can do any wrong at this point.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

My last two races of 2016 were back-to-back weekends, which isn't usually something I can pull off on a shift-worker's schedule. These were my 24th and 25th races, and the second and third races I've run accompanied by Lucky. Both of them were called the Jingle Bell Run; I suppose every other town in America has a Jingle Bell Run 5K in December. Both Lucky and I did particularly well in the first of these two races. Although neither of us set the world on fire in the second race, we both had fun.

Jingle Bell Run, Lexington, VA, December 3, 2016 ... (Time: 22:00)

The Lexington Jingle Bell Run was on a Saturday morning that started out pretty cold but was very comfortable by late morning. This was my second year participating in this event, and last year I ran what was my then PR for the distance. This year I did even better, finishing with a PR for the course and the distance, a decent twenty-two minutes flat. Lucky did well, too. She finished with a podium spot for her age group, which is quite impressive, given that this race divided runners into divisions of fifteen years or more.

Over the first two miles of this race I ran pretty well. I don't think anyone passed me in those first two miles. During the third mile I began to get tired and I gave away three slots to better runners. This race has a lot of hills early on, and I tend to run well on hills. I attribute that ability to the leg-strength I gained over years of carrying around 330 pounds. Short, fast races are never going to be my specialty. I am better at running long than running fast. But my average 7:02 minute miles in this race are fast by my standards, and I'm happy with my numbers. Lucky was happy with her results, too. But I feel bad that I caused her to miss the race awards by dragging her off to a local beer store as soon as we were both across the finish line.

Jingle Bell Run, Roanoke, VA, December 10, 2016 ... (Time: 23:42)

Unlike the previous week's Jingle Bell Run in Lexington, the Roanoke Jingle Bell Run didn't really warm up over the course of the morning. In fact, this was my coldest day of racing yet. That's a dubious PR, and my only PR of the day, unfortunately. I was almost two minutes off my previous week's PR for the distance. I blame the 20 degree weather. I also blame the fact that I was too busy fooling with my Go Pro to warm up with a few laps around the block before the race. My lungs were angry during the couple of hills over the course of this race, and the last mile was particularly tough. There was another runner with whom I dogged it out for that last mile. I'd pass her, then she'd pass me. Then I'd pass her again, only to watch her pass me again. She passed me one last time during the last couple hundred yards. Afterwards I congratulated that runner and thanked her for pushing during the final third of the race. If she hadn't been there to push me, I'd have been even further behind my 5K PR.

Lucky wasn't thrilled with her time, either, but agreed with me that the cold had really zapped us both. Afterwards, during the awards ceremony, the founder of our running club noticed that Lucky and I have become kind of cozy over the past few weeks. So, this race ended with our quiet, happy little coming out party as a couple. No, I didn't PR during this race. And, no, I have never been happier in my life.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Six, with a big emphasis on Asheville Brewing

Asheville Brewing's Perfect Day IPA is a really nice combination of downable and mean. Pours yellow/orange with decent foam. Aroma has some kick to it, a little bit floral and a little bit pungent. The flavor is even better. Well balanced, bright, tangy, tart, some lemon, some crackery notes. I could get behind this thing regularly.

Rocket Girl is a lager by Asheville Brewing. It's not a bad lager, but more or less just one more lager. It pours bright yellow with a little foam. The aroma is one more lager, maybe a little richer than the corn/rice macro stuff at every convenience store. There’s something slightly tangy on the nose. The flavor is slightly tangy in the close. I don’t know, I guess it doesn’t suck or whatever.

Asheville's Lemon Space Dog IPA is a wheat beer. It's a big pile of lemon meringue sweetness, but not in a bad way. This beer pours very bright yellow with no real head to speak of. The aroma is like lemon candy and mildly yeasty notes. The flavor is more of that with a tiny bit of zing in the finish. I think this beer is fairly tasty.

Ninja Porter is Asheville Brewing's flagship porter. It's not an unusual or surprising porter, but a solid one. Pours dark, chocolate brown with little head. The aroma is coffee, chocolate, porter malts. The flavor is the same, but it closes with a slight but nice hoppy twang. I’d drink this again.

Ninjabread Man is a seasonal variant on Asheville's Ninja Porter. It pours dark brown with a lot of foam. The aroma is sweet and rich. Cinnamon, ginger, sugar, sweet Christmasy notes. The flavor is the same, with notes of molasses and spice rounding out the warm, malty porter finish. This beer is very enjoyable.

Hardywood continues to impress with barrel aging. The barrel aged version of Gingerbread Stout is complex, it’s spinning a lot of plates at once. But it doesn’t drop a single one, and the show is glorious. This beer pours big and brown with average head. The aroma is just a series of clamoring nosegasms. Everything you might think could possibly be there is there in spades, with vanilla and ginger and spice and raisins all blending perfectly into that delicious stout malt base. The flavor manages to pack it all in there, keep the tones bright and distinct, and not lose a bit of it. This ain’t noise. This is music. At once there is a rush of bourbon barrel aging, cinnamon, candied fruit, candied nuts, and big, sweet malt. It never gets old. It never becomes cloying. It’s crazy. I am so completely Hardywood’s bitch right now, and if anyone gave me a hard time about it, I’d point to beers like this. If I ever have another child, I’m naming that kid Hardywood.