Tuesday, January 31, 2017

I got six for ya. You want six? Because I got six for ya. Here's six.

Stone's Enjoy By 2-14-17, with coffee and chocolate, doesn’t really work. Certainly not in comparison to Stone’s regular Enjoy By releases. This beer pours cloudy orange and the second pour from the 22 oz bottle was particularly clumpy, as an unfiltered beer can tend to be. The aroma is like a Stone IPA, strong hops, bitter and almost astringent pine and floral notes dominate the nose. The flavor is bold, bitter, and strong. I do pick up on the chocolate in the finish, and I suppose the coffee, too, but it all conflicts with the normally refreshing citrus punch of regulation Enjoy By. I don’t know why Stone keeps monkeying with a good thing, not one of the Enjoy By variants they’ve released in the past year can compare to the straight stuff.

Hardywood bills Virginia Blackberry as a summer beer, but I think I think that anyone who enjoys it would enjoy it year round. It pours light copper color with a little bit of foam. The aroma is slightly tart and sweet, the blackberries are there, but Belgian ale qualities, like bananas and squash, are also a presence. The flavor is where the blackberries really move forward, all over the front of the tongue and the finish. But the Belgian esters and mild malt aren’t entirely suffocated. This isn’t a style I seek out, but it is pretty good.

The Answer's Piece Of The Action is a mosaic hopped beer with all the usual lemony mosaic notes, a clean finish, and a light body. The beer pours yellow with a whole lot of foam. The aroma is fantastic. I let the foam clear for a minute and could smell it from across the table. I couldn’t wait to taste it. The lemon, citrus, and hay on the aroma are strong on the flavor. The finish is dry and bright, with a little bit of vapor. One more damn fine beer from The Answer.

I'll say it again... now is the time to be a fan of Virginia craft beer. There are so many good Virginia breweries right now that it's just hard to comprehend it. In Richmond alone there's Hardywood, The Veil, and The Answer (any one of which is a candidate for any number of superlatives.) Then there's Apocalypse in Lynchburg, South Street in Charlottesville, Parkway in the Roanoke-Salem area... Virginia craft brew fans are dealing with an embarrassment of riches these days.

I had New Belgium's Bretta IPA on tap at the brewery in Asheville last October. I liked it a lot. This review is for the bottled version, which I don’t like as much. It’s still very good, but with New Belgium, more than any other brewery I can think of, there seems to be a lot of difference between the keg and the bottle. This bottle poured clear yellow with a lot of carbonation and an absurd amount of foam. It took forever to pour this. The aroma is funky and weird and really nice. The fruity character is an undercurrent behind the unique, weird stuff. The aroma reminds me of lemons, musty leaves, spices, sweat, and steamed vegetables. The flavor doesn’t seem to quite deliver on the aroma’s complexity. It’s bitter and strong, aggressive, definitely hop forward. I like that, but I remember being surprised by this beer at the brewery. In the bottle it’s still very good, just not quite what I remembered.

Ten Fidy is already one of the best imperial stouts around, and this barrel aged version actually takes it up another tick by adding to an already complex beer. I got to taste this at the brewery last fall. Later I had it on tap at Barrel Chest. On tap, this is as good as the style gets. From the can it is still very good, but seems just a little hotter and not quite as well matured. It pours black with a trace of cherry/tan head. The aroma is all of the usual Ten Fidy stuff, bitter roasted malt and coffee and a little bit of cherries, but the bourbon barrel aging adds vanilla and some undeniable kick. The flavor is not as well balanced as the aroma, at least from the can. The bourbon is a little dominant, and the aforementioned heat unavoidable. It tastes and feels like the 13 percenter that it is. But I cannot fault a beer for packing a punch, especially when it delivers as deliciously as this does. Barrel Aged Ten Fidy deserves to take its place with KBS and Bourbon County as one of the highly sought-after American craft stouts.

I didn’t expect to enjoy the Cinnamon-Raisin version of Ballast Point's Commodore Stout very much, but it’s really pretty OK. The cinnamon and raisin addition is there, but it isn’t too much, it doesn’t dominate the flavor. This beer pours dark brown to black with average head. The aroma is like regular Commodore, there’s a coffee and roasted malt character with some of the cinnamon present in the nose. It’s there mid-tongue, too, but the beer still finishes with the fairly strong roasted malt character that makes the original stout pretty good. I didn’t mind this at all.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Here's six more.

I won't always buy Stone's high end beers. It's hard to make myself pay big bucks when Stone's affordable flagship brews are damn near perfect. But I did buy this bottle of 2016 Southern Charred Double Bastard. OK. So, I didn't think the Templeton Rye Barrel Aged version of Double Bastard was particularly better than regulation Double Bastard. But this... this is really something noteworthy. This beer looks like Double Bastard on the pour, it's dark caramel brown with little head. The aroma is just gorgeous. It smells like Double Bastard, but has huge, warm, buttery, bourbon character. Vanilla, spice ...rich and woody and strong. The flavor is bigger and bolder still. It's complex and rich and absolutely delicious. Nutty, toasted, with burnt sugar and earthy, ochre notes. The finish is spacious and warm, and the big blast of the ABV hits the nose like a ghost train. This is a beer to save for special occasions, or to make any occasion special.

I actually like this new version of New Belgium's Ranger IPA quite a bit, mostly for the warm and mildly funky aroma. Voodoo Ranger pours a clear yellow/orange with some tenacious foam. The aroma is really nice. Slightly tropical, kinda funky, some grassy notes... it all blends together well in the nose. The flavor ain’t bad, either. It’s mild up front but closes with a little bit of bitter kick. A little understated but not tame. Pretty good, I’d have it again.

I guess New Belgium's Citradelic Exotic Lime Ale is somewhere between a gose and a light pale ale, but it doesn’t seem to have enough of any kind of character to appeal to anyone. And what citrus/lime quality there is here smells and tastes synthetic. It pours light yellow with lots of head and carbonation. The aroma is mild, and the lime notes are sedated. The flavor is also sedate, mild, muted, bland, and artificial. It isn’t awful, but it isn’t something I care to have again.

I think Red Chair Northwwest Pale Ale is the best thing I’ve had from Deschutes. It’s really pretty tasty. It pours orange/red with average head, lace, and carbonation. The aroma is incredibly well balanced. Rich, hoppy, just a little bit sweet, with a hint of apple and spice notes. The flavor is is balanced, too... the malt is warm and rich and the hops kick in on the finish without stealing the show. This is somewhere between an American strong ale and a pale ale, and flirts with both styles in a tasty and unique way.

Deschutes Obsidian Stout is a fine, classic take on the American style stout. It pours dark brown to black with copper highlights and little foam. The aroma is coffee and a bit of citrus and charcoal. The flavor is all about the roasted malt. Not a bit sweet, not off balance, just a dark, rich, roasted malt character that is delicious to the last drop. A fine stout.

Clown Shoes Clemtine Witbier is a decent wheat beer with a sweet, polished, citrus character. Pours fairly clear yellow with a good bit of foam. The aroma is lemon, orange zest, sweet and fruity wheat beer notes. The flavor is the same, swinging to the sweet side. But not enough to get cloying. I wouldn’t want this every day, but it ain’t bad.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Six. And I'm drinking a little less as of late, so they'll be coming less frequently. I think the extra carbs were slowing me down, so I'm mixing it up a bit. Anyway...

Sierra Nevada's Maple Scotch is a Scotch style beer with maple added, as the name implies. It is decent, and it really is a scotch ale. I had expected something heavy on maple, sweeter, closer to an autumn, marzen/pumpkin kind of thing. But this ale is legitimately scotchy, and the maple is a secondary presence. It pours amber colored with average head. The aroma is scotchy and malty, and so is the flavor. A bit of hops and some mild maple duke it out for dominance of the finish. I grew to like this more over the course of the glass. If you were to offer me another glass of this, I would not punch you in the throat.

Sierra Nevada's annual winter mixed twelver always has something in it that I'm not that interest in trying. This year it was the Single Hop cascade IPA. Well, what the hell do I know. This cascader is delicious, light, and zesty. It would be supremely slamable in warmer weather. This beer pours clean and clear orange/yellow with a head that fades quickly. The aroma and flavor are both all about the hops. Fruity, citrusy, with lemon and tangerine and still plenty of noticeable malt. Reminds me more of Sierra Nevada’s classic pale ale than anything else, with a clean cascade hop finish. That’s not at all a bad thing.

This year's Sierra Nevada Beer Camp release is alright, but can’t compare to the Hoppy Lager from a few years back. I keep hoping that the next Beer Camp offering is gonna be as good as that beer was, and Golden IPA ain't all that. It is pretty good, but it's nothing that's gonna suck your panties up into your buttcrack. This IPA pours golden in color (duh) with average foam, average carbonation. The aroma is pretty good. A little bit of lemony, tangerine fructose thing. The malt is a bit pedestrian, and the overall flavor is dominated by that sweetness,but not in an awful way. This beer might grow on me if I gave it another chance, but I’m moving on.

Then again, Tropical Torpedo is further proof that I should only reluctantly doubt Sierra Nevada. This isn’t quite what I expected. I expected a slightly sweet version of Torpedo, and wondered how that would work with Torpedo’s aggressive hop profile. To my palate, Sierra Nevada has tuned down Torpedo’s drive to make room for a little sugar, and it all works pretty well. The beer pours clear orange color with a little bit of foam. The aroma is grassy and slightly dank, like Torpedo, but with pineapple-tangerine style sweetness. The flavor brings that stuff forward. But the classic Torpedo bitterness is there, albeit in a slightly downscaled form, on the finish. I liked this bottle from the first sip to the last.

Sleigh'r is a dark double seasonal ale by Ninkasi. It's OK, I suppose. I didn't spit it out and curse and shake my spindly fist at heaven while I was drinking it, so there's that. But this beer really isn’t anything special, and it’s probably the least of the Ninkasi beers I’ve had so far. It’s just boring. It pours amber/brown with average carbonation and foam. The aroma is slightly sweet and malty. The flavor is also slightly malty, slightly sweet... just slight in general. The one and only unforgivable sin is to be boring. This beer is unforgivably sinful.

Victory's Tart Ten is one very well balanced sour. to be honest, at this point in the history of my palate, balance isn’t what I’m looking for in sours. I’ve been enjoying the style more and more, and the more aggressive sours are really winning me over. This one is rich, smooth, and only slightly sour, and it’s probably a good way to introduce the sour beer concept to people who like malty, rich beer. This pours light brown with a little bit of foam. The aroma is something like tart apples and some sweet spices... cinnamon, nutmeg, etc. Up front the flavor is a little tart, with the warm, rich malt in the background. Over the course of the bottle, as it warms, the malt moves forward and the sourness fades and seems to eventually dissolve entirely. The ABV is so hidden in the flavor that you could end up in a little trouble over the course of a seven-fifty. I’d hoped for something with some sour contrivance, and instead I got a beer that seems to be crafted with some delicacy. I would probably love Tart Ten in a few years when my relationship with sours isn’t a novelty. The shame is, I’ll likely never drink it again.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Sandman Extreme Half Marathon, Wytheville, VA, January 14, 2017 ... (Time: 1:54:14)

OK, first some numbers. This was my 26th race, my fifth half marathon, and my second time competing in this specific event. This race has the word "extreme" in the name because it is a race up a mountain, and back down again, and then back up a steady gain into the town of Wytheville. All in all it's about 1,700 feet of gain over the course of 13.1 miles. That felt like a hell of a lot of climbing last year. It felt like a hell of a lot of climbing this year, too.

But, at the risk of coming off cocky, it also felt a lot easier this year. There were a number of differences between this year's Sandman Extreme and last year's. For one thing, last year's event was my first half marathon ever. I just didn't know the distance very well last year. This year I've completed a full marathon and a 25K mountain trail race, and I've run more than 13.1 miles more times than I can remember. I know what a half feels like in my bones. It ain't that bad.

Another difference is that this year I never had to slow to a walk even once over the course of the race. Last year I was slowing to a walk over and over again over the course of the first five miles, up Sand Mountain. I was able to stay steady and consistent this year, and I ran the whole thing. I didn't "blaze" the race (blaze being a relative term), but I did stay consistent, and managed an average 8:40 mile. I'm absolutely OK with that, given all of the climbing.

I finished ninth overall. I was the sixth male finisher, and I was first in my 40-49 year old male group. And I was more than three minutes faster than last year's time. That counts for something.

Lucky was gonna run this race with me, but over the course of the last month she aggravated an old knee injury and acquired a new injury to the back of one of her perfect, gorgeous ankles. (It's as much of a shame aesthetically as it is athletically.) So it didn't make sense for her to run today. Instead, she volunteered to be my one-woman mobile support team. She met me along the route with fresh supplies of water, ibuprofen, there may have been a banana in there as well. Because of her assistance I never had to stop at any of the relief stations. I was able to keep relentlessly moving forward, up the mountain, down it again, and back into town. Lucky also gave me another of her patented, magical leg-rubs last night. I don't know what she does, all I know is, since she came into my life, I'm a better runner than ever.

She says that it's because I'm actually getting better on my own. I say it's because the enthusiastic support of a good woman can move mountains. Either way, we seem to make a pretty good team. I have absolutely no idea what I'd do without her.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Starting 2017 with a set of six focused on Oskar Blues.

Oskar Blues Priscilla Wheat Ale is watery and too sweet. It pours pale yellow with a lot of foam. The aroma is like a muted version of any wheat beer; bananas, some citrus, some sweetness, mild vanilla. The flavor is OK on the front of the tongue, but it turns to water immediately and closes with a muted meh kind of nothingness. It doesn’t taste bad. I guess at least there’s that.

Oskar Blues calls Beerito a Mexican lager. It isn’t completely horrible. It pours darker than I’d expected it to, kind of an amber brown. The aroma has a little bit of hoppiness and some mild honey notes. The flavor is very restrained. Mild, slightly malty, with a tiny bit of hoppy twist at the end. Sure, OK, whatever.

Passion Fruit Pinner is billed by Oskar Blues as a "throwback IPA." It's OK. It would be a decent lawnmower beer. Pours only slightly cloudy orange, lots of foam, lots of carbonation. The aroma is fruit and hay and some pine hop character. The flavor brings a not unpleasant wash of tropical fruit, grassy hops, and just a tiny bit of bite. As session beers go, I’ve had worse.

Oskar Blues Hotbox is a coffee porter. And it is a tasty, slightly sweet, rich, coffee-drenched porter that I thoroughly enjoyed. It pours dark brown with a tan head. The aroma is a lot like any good porter... malty with slight notes of molasses and sugar. The flavor is ok up front, but the close is what really sells it. A giant wash of rich, slightly sweet coffee on the finish makes this thing really stand out.

Death by Coconut is a coconut flavored porter from Oskar Blues. It pours medium brown and thin, like iced coffee. Aroma is coconut, caramel, chocolate and coffee. The flavor is a coffee Porter malt thing up front, but the toasted coconut is huge on the finish. ABV is no presence at all. Pretty tasty stuff.

There was a lot of novelty in this can of Barrel Aged Chubna. It’s a blend of Oskar Blues Gubna Imperial IPA and Old Chub Scotch Ale, aged in Buffalo Trace Bourbon Barrels, and it was the first beer I’ve had in Oskar Blues new Stovepipe cans. It pours dark copper/orange color with average head. The aroma and the flavor both remind me very much of the barrel aged version of Arrogant Bastard, and from me that is a real compliment. It’s smokey, slightly sweet, with some strong scotch and molasses qualities, but there is serious hops fireworks going on here, too. The finish is a malt bomb in the best way, and the bourbon barrel comes through from top to bottom. Very good beer.