Saturday, April 22, 2017

Six beer reviews, with an emphasis on Brothers Craft Brewing and their collaborators.

Citra Spective Sour IPA is a collaboration between Brothers and NoDA. It is pale, slightly cloudy yellow with a thin head. The aroma is lemons, tangerine, some vegetable notes. I like the flavor, it is strongly sour mid-tongue but there is a little malt character on the finish that reminds me of popcorn. Good beer.

Brothers worked with Ocelot to make Us And Them, an IPA. I’d look for a reason to give this beer a positive review just because of the Pink Floyd themed name and label. Thankfully, I didn’t have to look far. This is a dry, tight IPA that hits the right notes. It pours cloudy yellow with a gigantic head. The aroma is grapefruit, pine resin, garlic. The flavor is mellow at first but closes with a bitter kick. Overall, well balance and tasty.

Night Cap is a porter brewed by Brothers and Crooked Run. This beer pours dark brown with average suds. The aroma is subtle, malty, and slightly sweet. Some dark bread, a little bit of cherry. I like that the cherry doesn’t dominate the flavor, it’s there on the finish and not an overplayed card. This is pretty good.

Of the four beers in this set so far, this one is definitely the winner. (Spoiler alert: it's also the best thing in this whole set of six.) Coconut Shy is a Brothers stout with coconut, and it's really good. It pours black with tan/orange foam and highlights. The aroma is great. The coconut is strong but it isn’t too much. It blends with the malty, chocolaty stout very well. The flavor is a little bit like drinking a Mounds bar. Coconut and dark chocolate and a little coffee. When it comes to sweet stouts, it seems like I either don't like them at all or like them a whole lot. I like this a whole lot.

Brothers Drunken Mornings is an imperial stout. It isn’t bad, but it's really hot. This stout pours dark brown to black with little foam. The aroma is oak barrel in a big, unmistakable quality. The flavor is boozy. Boozy may be understating it. I’ve had booze that wasn’t this boozy. It’s good, don’t get me wrong. Obviously a lot of work went into this thing, and the craft shows. But at more than 12% ABV, it might not hurt to let this one mellow for a fair bit.

Soft Serv is an imperial porter from South Street. It pours chocolate brown with average head. The aroma is rich porter malt character, and some chocolate, but I pick up on more of other notes, like vanilla and some caramel and coffee. The flavor is the same as the aroma, but more so. It’s fairly big and aggressive, and not as overly sweet as I’d worried that it might be.

Six beer reviews.

Southern Tier's 2XSmash Double IPA pours clear orange with a lot of carbonation and foam. The aroma is spicy, bright citrus. I don’t pick up on much, malt-wise, in the aroma. The malt is very subtle on the flavor. This thing is all about the mosaic hop load that dominates the tongue front to back. Slightly dank, bitter, with pine and floral character, pepper and garlic notes, and a slightly oily mouthfeel. Pretty good.

Nu Skool, an IPA by Southern Tier, is a dry, resinous IPA that’s brewed in the west coast style. It doesn’t really add much to the approach, but it’s a faithful rendition. It pours bright, clear yellow with average foam and carbonation. The aroma is strong on the mosiac hops, with pepper and pine character and a little malt sweetness in the background. The flavor is hops up front and then bigger hops on the finish. Pepper, pine and floral notes, and a little bit of burn. It’s fine.

Southern Tier's Raspberry Wheat Beer is a light, slightly malty beer with subtle hops and raspberries that would probably be tasty after a hot day in the summer. Pours purple/pink with a little bit of foam and carbonation. The aroma is yeasty, malty wheat beer with the raspberries in the background. The taste is the same.

Sixth Circle is an IPA/sour hybrid brewed as a collaboration between Parkway Brewing and Devil's Backbone. I like this quite a lot, it’s among the best things I’ve had from Devil’s Backbone. It pours bright, clear amber color with an average to slight amount of foam. Average carbonation. The aroma is funkier than I’d expected. A little salty and sweaty and tangy, reminds me of a gose. The is piercingly tart up front and on the swallow, lemons and sour grapes show up, then floral hops on the finish. I liked this so much when I sampled it in a flight at the brewery that I bought a growler and got a fill right then and there.

Elysian Brewing's Immortal IPA is deep golden in color with a lot of foam that hangs around for a long time. The aroma is mild but there is some bitter hop character and a little bit of autumn squash and mustiness. The flavor is mild malt and then a very average wash of west coast hops. This isn’t bad.

Split Shot is a coffee/milk stout by Elysian Brewing. This would be a damn good dessert/after dinner beer. It pours dark chocolate brown with a little bit of foam. While pouring it the aroma is noticeably sweet, like chocolate milk. The flavor is sweet up front, the chocolate milk quality is still there, but then the coffee hits big on the finish.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Osprey 10K was held at Smith Mountain Lake State Park in Huddleston on  April 8, 2017.  It was my thirty-second race since June of 2015. I'm not sure where it falls with regard to how many 10K races I have run, and I'm just too lazy to count. I haven't run very many of 10K's, I'm sure of that, in spite of the fact that I usually run them fairly well. A 10K is a tough distance ... you have to run hard to be able to compete, but it's difficult to really run hard for 6.2 miles. About six miles is what I run for my daily workout, and I typically run that distance in 50 or 52 minutes. But I knew that in order to finish well at this race, I'd need to run a little faster than that. I went into the race well rested, well fueled, and ready to run. It actually went pretty well.

I managed to finish third place overall, with a final time just under 47 minutes. I feel certain right now that that's just about as fast as I will ever run a 10K. I got close to the front early and managed to stay right behind the leader until the half way mark. Half way through the race, a better runner got around me and I dropped back to third place. But I was able to hold on to third and I finished generally satisfied with my time and my performance.

I'm not sure yet what my May race is going to be. Right now I'm primarily concerned with the marathon I have registered for in June. I'm trying to train for that race, with the modest goal of finishing in anything less than four hours. My May race will ultimately just be another training run toward the June marathon.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Six more, like before.

I love that each installment of Stone's Enjoy By Imperial IPA is usually a little different from the previous one. I thought that the Christmas 2015 release was the best one I've had yet, with a little more juicy punch than the beer sometimes features. But each release of regular Enjoy By (as opposed to some of the variants with ancillary ingredients) has been good. This first offering of Enjoy By (4-20-17) from the relatively new Stone facility in Richmond is another tasty one, as expected. I am indebted to my friend Adam for bringing me a crowler to sample, as is often the case. This iteration of Enjoy By pours bright orange/yellow with a fair amount of foam. The aroma is the usual bitter, citrus hop punch with explicitly lemon and tangerine notes. The flavor is bitter up front and closes with a great combination of that lemon from the aroma with a hint of sweet malt. It amounts to kind of a lemon meringue finish after a big, imperial IPA hop front end. As expected, this round of regulation Enjoy By is delicious, and shows no change my palate can discern from the San Diego brewery versions. You're nailing it here, Stone. Stay away from the chocolate and coffee and tangerine variants and keep turning this thing out.

Stone's Richmond staff collaborated with Richmond's upstart Triple Crossing for Fulton Rising, a New England IPA so-named for the fact that Stone and Triple Crossing are both in the Fulton section of Richmond. As Triple Crossing is doing the release, I expected this beer to be typical of their IPAs. And it is, and that's a damn good thing. Fulton Rising looks like a New England IPA, cloudy orange with average head and lace. The aroma is big and juicy, tangerine and lemon and peaches, lots of fruity notes all mingling together. On the tongue, it is juicy up front, too, and then closes lean and bitter. I’d stop short of calling the finish dry, but it is crisper and cleaner than some NEIPAs. Maybe Stone contributed the elements that amount to that subtle quality on the back end? I’d love to see Stone themselves turn out a few beers like this rather than their usual big, biting west coast thing. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, either... but this combo certainly works well.

The Mango Grapefruit version of Waxing Poetic, Triple Crossing's Berliner Weisse, is just delicious. It's the kind of low ABV beer (4%) that I could drink all summer long. Mango Grapefruit Waxing Poetic pours cloudy yellow with a little bit of foam. The aroma is tangy tropical fruit juice, mango and grapefruit in concert with yeasty, banana type notes. The flavor is tart, tart, tart, top to bottom. I don’t notice the mango as much on the tongue, but the grapefruit is bright and refreshing ad juicy. Just wonderful tasting beer.

New Belgium's Voodoo Ranger 8 Hop Pale Ale is one of New Belgium’s better grocery store beers. Often it seems like New Belgium doesn't take their second string very seriously, at least not when compared to beers like the Lips Of Faith series. But this one, like VooDoo Ranger IPA, is tasty. It pours bright yellow with average carbonation and foam. The aroma is hoppy and comparable to other industry standard pale ales, like SNPA. The flavor is hoppy, too, but not clearly into IPA category. The malt is there, and obvious. It isn’t drowned out by the big hops, but it has to compete with it. The finish is slightly sweet. I can see me buying this again.

Whizbang is a hoppy blonde ale from New Belgium, and it isn't a show stopper. But it ain't bad. This beer pours clear, light orange with average head and a lot of carbonation. The aroma is like other hoppy pale ales, a little bit of bitter, floral hop blends well with a smooth malt. The taste is very mild up front but on the finish the hop/floral combo from the aroma comes back a little stronger. I can't bitch about it, but probably won't have it again.

I'll say up front that I'm not in love with Rogue. I know they have their fans, but I typically haven't been one of them. I think Rogue is average at best. But this beer is above average. 7 Hop is a dense, brawling IPA that approaches beers like Palate Wrecker and RuinTen in terms of dankness, huge mouthfeel, and curb-stomping aroma. I’m amazed that the ABV is relatively low, given this beer’s forwardness. It pours dark, clear orange with thin foam. The aroma is pugnacious. The deeply bitter hop profile does not drown out the heaps of malt on the smell. The flavor is a giant blast of that aroma for the tongue, and the finish is very heavy and aggressive. This is a lot of hoppy anger to pack into a bottle with less than 8% ABV. Rogue has done something surprising here. 7 Hop a fine beer by any metric.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Mixed six, totally random, with no common thread.

Lagunitas Citrusinensis is a pale ale brewed with blood orange juice concentrate. My bottle of this was probably a little too old to be ideal, but I still thought it tasted good. It poured bright orange with average head. The aroma is sweet, tangy blood oranges up front, but a warm wheat malt is still there in the background. The flavor is mostly about the sweet citrus. It’s very sweet, but not bad at all. The finish is mild and malty, and if the hop character isn’t as lively as it might have been, it’s probably because I let this bottle sit a little too long. I’d like to have this again fresh.

Stone Stochasticity Project Quadrotriticale is a nice quad, it is rich and warm and strong, and finishes with some distinctly Stone hop qualities. It pours dark amber brown with little head. The aroma is cherries, cloves, bananas, black walnuts... lots of desert like qualities. The flavor is rich and smooth upfront, with some herbal tea character and all of those flavors from the aroma. It blends with molasses and a little caramel, and it closes with west coast/floral hoppiness. I’d almost describe this as a naked version of Vertical Epic.

Sweetwater's Dank Tank Pulled Pork Porter is a porter with smoked bacon flavoring added. I know, right? But, it's better than I thought it would be. I tried it mostly out of curiosity, expecting a novelty beer. But it’s actually pretty good, even if it is odd. It pours very dark brown with a lot of foam. The aroma is a rich, smoky malt with some spicy notes, black pepper and a little bit of hoppy tingle. The flavor is very much a standard smoked porter up front, but on the swallow there definitely is a bacony, tangy barbecued pork quality. A little sweet spice, some coffee, a hint of honey and salt, and big smokiness on the finish.

This is the most I have enjoyed an IPA from Parkway. I think that some of their malty beers (For Lovers Only Imperial Stout and Fortification Barley Wine) are fantastic, but I’ve previously only thought that Parkway’s IPAs were OK at best. Save The Galaxy IPA is more than OK. It’s a damn good beer. It pours bright yellow/orange with a decent amount of foam. The aroma is a bit dank with a sort of piercing citrus quality. The flavor is just great. Especially on the finish, where a warm malt blends with a very bright, very dry, clean, aggressive hoppiness. I like this very much.

I like South Street's American strong ale, Satan's Pony. And I like this barrel aged imperial version very, very much. I think it might be the best thing I’ve had from the brewery. This beer pours copper brown with average foam. The aroma is all barrel; sweet and rich and very smooth. A ton of vanilla, a little bit of spice, some orange peel in there, all of it blending with the malt. Really nice. The flavor is as good as the aroma. While it tilts heavily to the sweet side, it's so smooth and so complex that it never gets old. All that vanilla and malt from the nose mixes with caramel, maple, a little hint of the orange and maybe some cranberry. Oh, yeah, and some boozy character to make that barrel aging worth the time and expense. It was worth my expense, too. I will buy this again.

10 Barrel's Joe IPA is a serviceable IPA, and I can’t complain about it. It pours hazy yellow with average but tenacious foam. The aroma is fairly standard IPA, a little on the dank side, with some lemon and wild onion notes. The flavor is bright up front and closes with a fairly straightforward hop load. Not bad at all. You could knock down three or four of these over the course of a movie without ever getting tired of it.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Six more sours.

Petrus Oud Bruin is very well balanced sour, complex and fruity, that gets better as it warms. This beer pours dark amber with little foam. The aroma is warm malt, apples, bread, candied fruit... a lot of winter kitchen notes on the nose. I didn’t like the flavor quite as much as the aroma, but it isn’t like I had to fight to finish the bottle. This beer slips the mild sourness in at the front, with some caramel and fruit mid-tongue, and finishes with some malt punch. I enjoyed this and wouldn’t mind another glass.

First things first, Petrus Pale Ale smells wonderful. It pours cloudy, dark yellow with a little bit of foam. The aroma is a song. It blends sour and rich and mellow tones beautifully. There is lime and cream and red wine vinegar and some spice, and I just sat and smelled it for a little bit before I ever sipped it. The flavor is really good, too. It starts out with the mellow character, borderline sweet and sugary, and then on the back of the tongue the sourness is high and tight. Just delicious. Far better than I had expected. I have no idea why I assumed this would be a middle of the road sour. I was wrong. It’s one of the clearest and best examples of a non-Flanders sour that I have enjoyed so far.

Monk's Cafe Flemish Red is a delicious, complex blended sour. It pours dark brown with average foam. The aroma is tart, rich, and malty. Dark fruit notes and a tangy punch blend together really well in the aroma. The flavor is great, the sourness hits on the front of the tongue, and the finish is great combination of warm, sweet malt and pungent tartness. Apple, red wine, and brown sugar are woven throughout the end of the sip. Just really tasty.

Roy Pitz Sour Hound is an OK little sour, although maybe a bit thin, and the finish leaves me a little on the "meh" side. It pours the orange/brown color of strong pekoe tea. Not much carbonation or foam. The aroma is slightly tangy, some apple cider, vinegar, a little hint of something like fig. The beer is clean and tart up front, and the finish is sour but evaporates very quickly. It seems to be on the verge of secondary notes when, poof, it’s just done. Not a particularly memorable beer. Not awful, but not special in any way.

Blue Mountain Barrel House's Sour Geist is not a bad beer, but I was a little tired of it by the time I finished the bottle. It pours hazy orange/yellow with slight to average foam. The aroma is lemony and a little funky. A lot of these sours have a quality about them that I think of as "sweaty," and this is one of them. The flavor starts out bright and very tart, but on the finish it just fades to kind of a muted malt-bomb. Each sip was a little less enjoyable than the previous one.

New Belgium's Clutch is a sour stout and it's the weakest of the New Belgium Lips Of Faith sour beers I’ve tasted. It just doesn’t work. It pours dark brown with very little head. The aroma is mild. There is a little bit of mild cherry and oak, and some coffee, but all of it is subtle. The taste ... well, there’s just no way around it. This beer doesn’t taste good. The front of the tongue is muted and dense, the flavor closes with a little bit of that cherry or berry sourness, but there is also an artificial, plastic kind of character throughout the whole sip. The taste reminded me of how band-aids smell. And not in a good way. No thank you. New Belgium’s Lips Of Faith sours are among my favorite examples of the style, usually. This is a rare exception. This beer is kinda crap.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Last Saturday I ran the Marine Corp 17.75k. It was my thirty-first race, and it was eleven miles long. Eleven miles through the woods. God, gorgeous. I finished it in just a breath under ninety minutes. I was the 185th of 2,830 runners to cross the finish line. It was extremely hard and a lot of fun, and I'm glad I did it.

I cannot think of one worthwhile thing to say about it.

I am growing tired of myself. I'm growing tired of this desperation I have always had to capture with words the entirety of my experiences, as though in doing so I could somehow arrest or transcend the temporal passing of life. I grope to grasp the nature of life, equipped as I am with shabby tools. I write at the blog, I collect photos and videos of races and I try to cement moments of runs and hikes. I pour over all of it later, and I find it flat and dull. All of this evidence I collect of my experiences communicates nothing of their urgency. I show you a photo or an immediately transcribed memory, and I try to say, look, see? I did this! I felt this! I was alive for these moments! I was here, and I was grateful to be here, and it meant the world to me! Nothing I say, nothing I can show you, communicates a fiber of how I felt.

There is much of value in running long distances, but it can't be contained in words. In fact, the imperative of each passing mile is so immediate that trying to speak or write about it demonstrates the vulgarity of language itself. Language is unfit to reflect the bliss and agony of a fully felt run. Of a fully felt life. Language and memory are fraudulent.

If there is real transcendence to be had in this physical plane, it is in physical experience. Never let anyone tell you that your physical self, your physical body, doesn't matter. Your body is your vehicle and your medium. Cherish it, use it. Pull everything toward you and suck it up.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Six IPAs with an emphasis on lupulin powder brews.

I’d never heard of lupulin powder until a couple of weeks ago. Now I’ve had a few beers brewed with it, and I’ve liked them quite a lot. Of course, I rolled into this stuff with Richmond breweries and New England style IPAs, so they had me at hello. For starters, there was The Answer's Hard In The Paint. This beer pours cloudy yellow with a lot of foam that fades to a blotchy rim-ring. The aroma is a great combination of sweet and citrus. Honey and vanilla notes are the distinct characters, and I have to wonder if this is close to what HopSlam tasted like back in the day when people raved about how good it was. But this beer hides the ABV in a way that is far more subtle than any HopSlam I've tasted. Hard In The Paint's flavor is a wonderfully layered tapestry of that tangy citrus and smooth sweetness, with sugary, cake type notes mingling with pineapple, grapefruit, granny smith apples and lime. I could drink this beer every day.

So, up until now, based on the three lupulin powder IPAs I have had so far, the shared notes I tend to pick up on include keywords like creamy, vanilla, rich, and sweet. Like the others, Triple Crossing's Surprise Valley pours cloudy, kind of a lemon yellow with average head. The aroma is grapefruit and sugar, tangy and smooth at once. The flavor is piercingly, pungently bittersweet citrus. Big and rich and absolutely delicious. I enjoyed every sip of this beer.

Real Recognize Real is also absolutely delicious. Huge. Juicy. Tangy and somewhat sweet. This is a collaboration between The Answer and Triple Crossing, and it is just fully loaded. It pours cloudy yellow with a lot of foam. The aroma is grapefruit, other fruity notes like strawberry, something like vanilla and starchy notes, too. The flavor blends all of that really well, with sweetness coming through in the finish. Sticky, dense mouthfeel. Wonderful beer.

I bought Knee Deep's Lupulin River hoping that it would be a Lupulin powder IPA brewed in the west coast style, so I could contrast it with the Lupulin powder New England style IPAs I have had from Richmond breweries. I’m not at all sure if this is brewed with the powder, it isn’t that similar to others I’ve had, but it does have a hint of that honey sweetness on the aroma and the flavor. It pours very clear yellow with a lot of foam. The aroma is mostly mild and rich, but the flavor brings some big, bright, West Coast style bitterness through the finish. Not exactly what I’d hoped for, but still tasty.

If you go into this expecting something more like an American strong ale (think Arrogant Bastard or Lagunitas Lucky 13), you’ might enjoy it. But it certainly doesn’t drink like an IPA. Southern Tier's 2X Oak'd IPA is made with maple and aged on wood chips. It is ultimately an odd offering. It pours light orange with average foam and a lot of carbonation. The aroma is maple and brown sugar, primarily, but there is also some citrus hops and spice in the nose. The flavor is smooth and rich and has a little bit of an oaky, liquor quality. It’s hoppy, sure, but mostly about oak and rich maltiness. I really don’t mind it, I could drink it again, but it isn’t something I’d search out.

Stone Pataskala Red IPA is a fairly standard red IPA or hoppy red ale, but pretty good. Pours red, as it should. Deep but bright copper color with a lot of head. The aroma is spice and caramel and a little floral hoppy tingle. The flavor is pretty nice, the malt and hoppy tingle blend from the front to the back of the tongue. It’s maltier than it is hoppy, but it doesn’t taste bad. I could drink it now and then.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sixer... four Stones and a couple of Hardywoods.

Sweet, merciful crap. Bigger Longer Uncut, the Scotch barrel aged version of Stone's Double Bastard, is monstrous. This is the kind of beverage I refer to as "stunt beer." Like Dogfish Head's 120 Minute IPA and Rogue's Beard Beer, this is a beer that, while carefully and artfully crafted, seems designed to raise eyebrows. That isn't to say that DB:BLU is a bad beer, but it's definitely a one-and-done. I am glad I tasted it. I'm glad I had a 32 ounce crowler of it, so I could get it out of my system. And I will never have it again.

DB:BLU pours looking very much like Double Bastard, dark copper color with a little bit of tan (tanner than usual?) foam. But even while pouring it, the senses are assaulted by the peat/Scotch character. You smell it across the table, you could probably smell it across the room. It invades the nose, it rests on the back of the throat, it damn near makes the eyes water. This is like the devil is wearing a kilt and rubbing his devilhood on your nose and laughing with a maniacal Scottish brogue. As a bone-deep Catholic, I felt the need to cross myself while pouring this beer.

Once I actually raised the glass to the nose the peat/smoke/Scotch became even more pronounced. But I could detect a little bit of my familiar and beloved Double Bastard maltiness in the background. Apple and dark bread and caramel and onion, it’s all there, it’s just that the Scot has it’s foot on the Bastard’s throat. By the finish, the flavor loses damn near every bit of the classic, gorgeous Double Bastard quality as the barrel forces it's big, fuzzy, peaty, plaid presence into your mouth. (Is that an indelicate metaphor? Yes, it is. It's supposed to be. This is an indelicate beer. It has big, rough hands and it grabs you and it doesn't treat you with much respect.)

All in all, this is the strongest of the barrel aged Double Bastard variations I have had, but not my favorite. The Templeton Rye version of Double Bastard was better than this, and the bourbon barrel aged "charred" version was a complex and beautiful poem in comparison. In those versions, the barrel aging danced with Double Bastard... kissed it, you might say, and not just on the cheek. Those two previous barrel-aged versions of Double Bastard were showcases for whiskey barrel aging. This one? This one turns DB into a welcome mat for a massive Scotch overload. I’m glad I tasted it. I’ve been dying to taste it since it was announced. And I will never have it again. I’m rating it high based on the unique and singular experience of drinking it. But make no mistake, "singular" is not necessarily a synonym for "pleasurable." This beer is mean, loud, and vulgar as all fuck. In a way, I love it. In another way, I think I need to spend a week in a safe-home.

I like Delicious, which is one of Stone’s more sedate IPAs. I like this double version even more, mostly because it’s the kind of big and aggressive IPA I expect from Stone. This is neither as dry, nor as forward, as Ruination (or it’s variations). Nor is it as juicy and earthy as Enjoy By. But it’s a damn good IPA, and I’d make it a second-string regular if Stone decided to offer it in bottles. Doublicious pours clear golden with a little less foam and carbonation than average. The aroma is citrus, leaning toward the sweetness of something like tangerine, without drowning out the malt. The flavor plays the warm malt up front but closes with a wash of piney, dry, hoppy bitterness. And that ABV, nearly 10%, winks on the exhale. I would absolutely not object to another glass of this.

Give Me IPA or Give Me Death is sort of a companion piece to Give Me Stout Or Give Me Death. Both of them are Stone beers brewed with raspberries and blackberries at the Virginia brewery. This beer is a little better than the stout, Like the stout, this thing doesn’t play the berry card in a distinct way. It’s more of a typical Stone IPA. But IPAs are Stone’s thing, and this one is a fairly typical Stone IPA. It pours dark copper colored with a fair amount of foam and smells like floral and grassy hops with some malt and a hint of the berries. The flavor is a typical, big, bitter blast of hops, but the raspberries are there on the finish in a small, faint, slight, flirtatious way. I won’t go out of my way to get this again, but I enjoyed it.

If Stone’s goal is consistency, then they’ve hit the mark with the Richmond brewery's version of their flagship IPA. I don’t notice much difference at all between this and the classic San Diego release. It may be a little clearer orange/yellow, but that may be my eyes playing tricks on me. There is still not much foam and light carbonation, and the aroma is still grassy and citrus, with lemon or orange zest atop a mild malt. The flavor is still strong, bright, bitter, and the finish still combines the slightly sweet malt with a blast of those pine and floral hops. Well done.

Empress Evelyn is an imperial version of Hardywood’s Evelyn Session IPA, and it is the brewery’s first truly great IPA. I would love to see it become a regular release, or at least a seasonal beer. As of now it’s a very limited release from the pilot taproom in Charlottesville. But you can get it at the Richmond brewery. That's where I had my growler filled, and I only wish now that I could have gotten a couple of crowlers as well. (Hint, hint, Hardywood.) Empress Evelyn pours clear, bright yellow with average head and a fair amount of carbonation. The aroma is citrus, wet grass, a little butter, and dank and funky notes. The flavor is all of that with a nice malt backbone. Dank is the keyword, here. Genuinely dank and aggressive, like the best examples of the style. This is not an extremely original beer, if you have had big IPAs from the likes of Stone and Green Flash, you know what to expect. The joy is that this beer truly delivers that. It is wonderful to see Hardywood do something genuinely big that doesn’t involve barrels, roasted malt, and spices.

Quadrahop Imperial IPA is a typical Hardywood IPA. Not bad at all, in fact it’s perfectly good. But it just falls short of the kind of greatness Hardywood routinely pulls off with their malty beers and barrel aged concoctions. This beer pours slightly pale orange/yellow with a fair amount of head. The aroma is buttered popcorn, some lemony hops and something like green vegetables... Brussels sprouts, maybe. The flavor is mild up front and then closes with this very piercing, almost whiny, astringent hop quality. The finish is all in the nose. These four hops don’t play together particularly well, and the beer actually smells better than it tastes. Empress Evelyn Imperial IPA from the Hardywood’s Charlottesville taproom is the first genuinely great Hardywood IPA that I’ve had. This one? Well, like I said, it’s not bad. But this brewery is capable of art, and Empress Evelyn proves that they aren’t limited to stouts and barrels. Bottle the Empress and let this recipe fade into distant memory. You’re better than this, Hardywood.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Three Fast 5Ks

My last three races were my 28th, 29th, and 30th races overall. (My complete race roster is here.) And all three of them were 5Ks, short and speedy races that are typically not my specialty. I'm pretty good at longer races, and the half-marathon is my favorite distance to race. I've never been particularly fast, but I can stay on my feet and maintain a decent pace for a long time (even impromptu). I still run 5Ks because they are so accessible and they can be a lot of fun. I've never finished them particularly well, and generally concentrate on the longer runs. Regardless, something happened over the course of my last three 5Ks, something I'd never have expected. I actually ran all three of them fairly well.
Special Review: New Belgium's La Folie Flanders Style Sour Brown Ale, 2017 Vintage

Between special releases, seasonal favorites, and pilot batches from favorite breweries, 2017 is shaping up to be a delicious year in craft brewing. I suppose there are quite a few upcoming beers I should be excited about, but there aren't any that I anticipated as much as the 2017 release of New Belgium's La Folie. This sour brown ale was the first sour I ever tasted several years ago, and that bottle of the 2012 release mostly left me confused and at a loss. After the confluence of milder tart styles (gose and the like) acclimated my palate to sour beer, I tried La Folie again last year. I could not get over the difference between the first tasting experience and the second. The 2016 release of La Folie was one of the most complex and rewarding experiences I have had as a craft beer fan. It was a beer that entirely changed my perspective, and I've sought out new sours ever since.

La Folie's 2017 release finally showed up in my area last week. It's been out for a little less than a month. Like every previous batch, the 2017 release is a blend of sours aged one to three years in wine foeders. The process of selection and blending is one of the most meticulous creative processes in craft beer.

As before, the 2017 release of La Folie pours dark brown with a little foam. The aroma is strong and piercing, and is noticeable from the pour. The tart apple notes are off the charts, combining Granny Smith apples, apple cider, and vinegar all at once. The background of the aroma brings some sweet malt, caramel, brown sugar, all kinds of richness. But this time around La Folie seems particularly piercing, right from the first smell.

The flavor, which left me absolutely floored with it's complexity last year, seems a little leaner this time around. I don't get as much on the front end. If I strain for it I still pick up a bit of the crackery malt and nuttiness, but the barrel character doesn't seem like a big presence this year. The finish is unapologetically sour, with cherries and citrus qualities, but I just don't get the oak and the dark bread tones I expected. This year's La Folie doesn't seem to have as much to say.

It's still delicious, to be sure. It's still complex. But not quite as complex as it seemed last year. I have a second bottle of the '17 vintage, and I may age it for a while. Let it evolve a bit. They say that a sour, like a wine, is slightly different from one day to the next, and that what you get if you pour a bottle today might be substantially different from what you pick up on if you wait a day. The challenge with La Folie is making myself do the waiting. Even when it's slightly less than I expected, the experience of drinking a bottle of La Folie is still more than most beers can bring to the table.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

This set of six is all sours. The Sour Six. Sounds like a western.

Never Sufficient by The Veil is a Grodziskie/Gose/Lichtenhainer hybrid with cherries. Combining the styles is supposed to add up to smokey, salty, and sour. I don't get a lot of smokey quality, but the other notes are strong and tasty. Never Sufficient pours appropriately cherry red/pink with a trace of foam. The aroma is really complex and really nice. Cherries, cheese, tart and briney notes, and a little bit of warm, mild malt in the background. The flavor is all about the tart and piercing quality, with berries and salt up front in a big way. The fizzy finish has something like buttered popcorn in the background. Another outstanding mouth-twister from The Veil.

Brooklyn's Bel Air Sour is not bad, but on the light side of sour. Definitely more like a gose than a big Flanders brown or red. This thing pours slightly cloudy yellow with average foam. The aroma is so mild I can’t think of much to report on. A little bit of tart, lemony stuff and a hint of the malt. The flavor is one note, but it’s not a bad thing. Just a little burst of lemony, tangy tartness and then nothing else. Nothing at all on the finish. I’d probably not drink this again.

Avery's Raspberry Sour isn’t a bad beer, either. It’s actually better than I’d expected it to be, given that I found it at Sam’s Club for a fairly low price. But it’s definitely a stepping stone kind of beer. More aggressive than the light, crisp tartness of a goze or Berliner Weiss, but without the strong, intense, multi-faceted bombast of a Flanders style sour brown ale. This beer pours brown with reddish highlights and a decent amount of crackly foam. The aroma is heavy on the raspberries, but some oak is on the nose, too. The flavor is woody and dense up front, and closes with a blast of the raspberries and oak again, before a mildly malty exhale. I could do without the raspberry notes, I have to wonder if the raspberry flavoring is added to punch up an otherwise slightly muted sour brown. But, overall, it certainly isn’t bad beer.

There have been a few sours I have hated, and others I've thought were damn near perfect. Boulevard's Love Child No. 7 Sour Ale isn’t damn near perfect, but it is damn near pretty damn good. It pours very clear copper/orange with a head that fades to a stubborn ring. The aroma is nice, apple cider and vinegar and a little red wine, but it’s understated. The flavor is also nice, although it starts out very much on the mild side and saves all of it’s cards to play at the end. In the finish I pick up on big red-wine vinegar, olives, lime and oak and smoke. I guess saving all your big notes for the finish is okay when they’re this big. Boulevard has a decent little winner, here. It’s pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty .... pretty good.

I like this sour a whole lot. Duchesse De Bourgogne pours dark brown with a huge, foamy head. The aroma is mingled tart and sweet notes, sour cherry, dark wine, apple butter, oak and some spice. The flavor is rich and complex, in fact it’s one of the most complex tasting sours I’ve had. The front of the tongue is where the tart/sour notes hit, along with some of the oak, and then the rich and sweet notes come through bigtime on the finish. There’s brown sugar, cranberries, walnuts, a little bit of red wine vinegar, all kinds of stuff going on. I could have this regularly.

Given the quality and intensity of Rodenbach's Grand Cru Sour, especially with regard to the comparatively low price, I’m inclined to rate it among the best of the style that I’ve had. It’s just outstanding. This beer pours dark, clean copper brown with an average head. The aroma is yeasty and strong, fruit notes, tart apple cider, hints of the oak come through, too. Very big on the tongue from front to back. The oak is the dominant quality throughout, with a pungent, vinegar tone in the finish. This is an aggressive sour, one to save for after you’re acclimated to the style. But for sour fans, this is a must-drink.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Six more, some current and some from the backlog. As is often the case, I'm obliged to my buddy Adam for giving me a bunch of these to taste. He's never once led me wrong.

The Answer's Alternative Hops pours pale yellow with an average amount of carbonation and foam. The aroma is really great. Strong citrus, pineapple, and piercingly strong, dank, slightly sweet pine notes. The flavor is great, too. Just like the flavor, citrus and pine, with a dry but lingering finish. Sticky mouthfeel. This is an example of what The Answer does exceedingly well.

The Answer nails it again with this collaboration with Final Gravity. Final Answer pours slightly foggy yellow with average foam and carbonation. The aroma is Lemon, grapefruit, slightly musky character, vinegar and sweat in the background. The flavor is mildly malty up front, but on the swallow there is a lot of candied citrus and a bright, dry finish. Doesn’t play the juiciness card overtly, finishes clean and polished. Very well done, as I’ve come to expect from The Answer.

Soaring Ridge's Virginia Creeper Pale Ale is a simple pale ale, but it isn’t a bad one, and has a little more character than run of the mill lawnmower pale ales. Virginia Creeper pours slightly hazy golden with unremarkable foam and carbonation. The aroma is malty and somewhat dense. Some floral hops show up, along with something like coffee or chicory. The flavor is rich up front, then dry and crisp on the finish, with a little bit of kick. I’d gladly have another.

Avery's Raja Imperial IPA is a fine double, but I had Avery’s Maharaja first, and I can’t help but think of this as sort of a session version of that delicious, gigantic IPA. As of right now I have rated more than a thousand beers at, and Maharaja is my No. 21 of all time. That's a big, memorable beer. There's no way to drink a beer named after that one without comparing them.

Raja pours cloudy yellow with average head and light carbonation. Like Maharaja, the aroma is maltier than I expect from a double IPA. But it’s a delicious aroma, with fruit and citrus tanginess behind the buttery richness. The flavor is rich and smooth and tasty, with the juicy IPA qualities working with, rather than drowning, the smooth malt. This beer doesn’t benefit from the branding, which forces Avery fans to compare it to the far superior Maharaja. But it stands on it’s own, and it’s a fine beer. I rated this beer a 4 out of 5 at It's a serious statement about the superiority of Maharaja that I consider this a less-than.

I've been up front that one component of my reviews is price. I don't give a fat godamn how tasty a beer is. If the price is high enough to make it cost prohibitive, my review will not be glowing. Maharaja is a beer that I consider to be very expensive. It is also remarkable enough to be worth the occasional purchase. Raja is not as expensive as Maharaja, and it's very good, but still a step down. All of this is appropriate and none of it is a negative. It's also ultimately an underwhelming experience, and I blame Avery's marketing people for the marginalization.

Jackie O's Oro Negro is a delicious imperial stout with huge, rich, malty character and really nice secondary notes in the finish. It pours dark brown to black with very little foam. The aroma is big, strong, bitterly roasted malt with a little bit of the pepper and cinnamon present, too. The flavor is rich and strong and malty, too, and the walnuts cocoa come through in the finish. What a great stout.

Sanctuary is a Double IPA from Triple Crossing's big Lockout Series. It pours very cloudy orange with a head that quickly fades to a rim ring. The aroma is super juicy, I could smell gigantic citrus aroma while I was pouring the can. The nose has bright grapefruit and lemon, some vanilla, and some starchiness. The flavor is more to the dry side, but it isn’t remotely subtle. That lemon/citrus thing is really strong mid-tongue before acerbic dryness hits on the back, followed by a little shot of alcohol vapor. A lot of these cloudy, citrusy, nearly boozy IPAs do play from the same bag of tricks, but I’m nowhere near tired of it. This beer is a another take on a familiar song, but, damn, the pitch is perfect.