Sunday, May 28, 2017

A mixed-six set of reviews focused on beer from West Virginia. There is a wide range of beer being brewed across the state line. This set contains three of the ones I've really enjoyed... and three I could do without.

Mountain State Brewing's Almost Heaven Amber Ale pours caramel color with billowing head. The aroma is malty and somewhat sweet. But the flavor is way off from the aroma and from what is typical of amber ales. This batch might be infected. It is mild at the front but closes with a vinegary, sour bitterness that reminds me of the smell of dirty socks. If this is how this beer is supposed to taste, then it definitely isn’t for me.

Big Timber's flagship porter is a lighter porter, but a pretty good one, with a fairly hearty flavor. It pours coffee brown with a little bit of head. The aroma is coffee, caramel, a little bit of vanilla. The flavor is big on the sweet stuff, the caramel and some chocolate come through, and the finish is rich. I like this quite a lot.

Big Timber isn’t trying to remake the style with their flagship IPA. The can boasts three words, "Familiar, fresh, piney." The beer is, indeed, all three of those things, and not one of those is a bad thing. This beer pours slightly cloudy yellow with a huge head that fades quickly. The aroma is piney, indeed. A big, floral hop quality is the defining nose character. The flavor is bright and clean and crisp, with a little citrus and garlic on the finish. Respectable beer.

Bridge Brew Works Humulus Lupulus IPA was trouble from the get-go. I opened the aluminum pint bottle and it foamed over more than any beer I have ever opened. I ended up losing about half of the pint. What was left poured hazy yellow with (big surprise) extreme carbonation and foam. The aroma was acerbic, lemony, and bright. The flavor wasn’t very good. Sort of minty up front with a medicinal close. Chalky, mostly mouth wash and aspirin. A little bit of grapefruit and lemon grass weren’t enough to make up for the other qualities. No.

Alright, I’ve now had two beers from this Bridge Brew Works, both in aluminum bottles, both stored in the same way as every other beer I drink, both opened as carefully as any other beer ... and both of them gushing out of the top like volcanoes. Thankfully I opened Momma Rye IPA over the sink, so I was spared the mess. But even after letting it sit for several minutes it still poured mostly foam. This problem is enough to put me off of the brewery for good. There is no sense buying a pint of beer and losing half of it in a mess, then having to stare at ridiculous foam while it dissipates over a long while. Once I was able to taste this beer it was nothing special. The aroma had only a mild, very slight rye in the background, and the flavor was muted and boring. Bridgeworks, you have a problem in your packaging. I won’t be buying any more of your products.

I recently sampled Greenbrier Valley Brewing's Bourbon Barrel Aged Stout at the West Virginia Craft Brew Festival. I liked it enough to make a trip to the brewery to get a growler filled. I have never had a bad beer from this brewery, and this one proves that they can do big, aggressive brews as competently as their paler ales. This stout may be little hot, yes. And just a little thin, but that's all I can come up with when I search for any negatives. It pours dark brown to black with crimson highlights and minimal foam. The aroma is is heavy on the barrel, but some of the malt comes through. The flavor has a big finish, with a nice blend of chocolate/anise notes and a big closing hit of the bourbon barrel. I’ll have this again. I might even drive back to Lewisburg specifically toward that end.

Monday, May 22, 2017

This mixed six is entirely random.

Barrel Chest has been my favorite Roanoke beer store for a few years now. They have a great bottle selection and plenty to choose from on tap, by the glass or for your growler. Just lately they've been brewing their own beers. I've not sampled every one of the house brews, but I've tried several, and I have not yet had a bad one. This one right here is my favorite so far.

Entire Double Brunch is an imperial stout aged in maple syrup rye whiskey barrels with coffee, cinnamon, and vanilla beans. Yes, that is a lot to pack into a stout. No, I can't pick up on each distinct flavor. But, damn, this thing amounts to a big, warm, rich, absolutely delicious stout that I would buy regularly if I could. It's only available at the location right now, and they aren't filling growlers, but I'm glad I had a glass during my last visit. This beer is very dark brown with a lot of foam. The aroma is warm and sweet and very inviting. The barrel and the cinnamon are what dominate the aroma and the flavor, in my opinion. But that isn't to say this beer is all barrel or all spice. It folds together into something really unique. Entire Double Brunch would make a great dessert, but it's pleanty big enough to make a meal of. Just remember that the ABV (something like 11% if I remember correctly) might sneak up on you.

Petrus Aged Red sour ale is absolutely delicious beer. Just outstanding. It pours copper/brown with a fair amount of foam. The aroma is sweet caramel malt, cherries, and some character from the barrel. The short-hand description is that it kinda smells like Dr. Pepper. The flavor has the tart cherries and the sweet malt, but the barrel shows up with a lot more clarity. Oak and vanilla add to the complexity. As it warms the tartness becomes stronger, but the 8.5% ABV is never present at all. This goes down like candy.

I had hoped that Sierra Nevada River Ryed Rye IPA would be a stealth return of the lamented, long lost Ruthless Rye. It isn’t. It’s not bad, but I can’t help but compare it to Ruthless, and it’s no Ruthless. River Ryed pours a pekoe tea brown, the foam is average. The aroma is an herbal IPA with a very faint rye in the background. The flavor is the same. The rye comes in slightly stronger on the finish, but still in an ultimately understated, sedate way. It’s almost hard to detect, at least in comparison to what I’d hoped for. This is OK. I don’t mind it. I don’t love it. I loved Ruthless, and this ain’t Ruthless. This is ... eh. Not bad. I guess.

Stone's new Revolver IPA series is apparently going to be a series of showcases for single-hop beers. This bottle is from Series 2, which features mosaic hops. Single hop mosaic beers are a good gateway from pale ales to stronger and more complex IPA. This beer shows off mosaic hops in standard fashion. It pours dark yellow with average head, the aroma is dominated by herbal/floral quality of the hops. The flavor is a mellow malt that finishes with bright, clean hops. Not particularly bitter, not the mouth-stomp of the best Stone IPAs. But not bad at all.

Apparently Left Hand's Fade To Black is another series of beers. This series is stouts, and the one I had is Volume One, brewed in the foreign stout style. This beer makes a good argument that a solid stout doesn’t need barrel aging, coffee beans, or other ancillary affectations to stand out. It pours black as hell with an average head that fades quickly. The aroma is anise, strong herbal notes, some lemon and molasses. The flavor is really big, very dark roasted malts and some coriander atop everything in the aroma. I’m still gonna seek out my barrel aged favorites, but stouts like Fade To Black Volume One are a great reminder that there are wonderful beers that never touch oak.

It sounds like a slight, or maybe a back-handed compliment, to say that Deschutes The Abyss Imperial Stout is another good example of a barrel aged imperial stout. But it’s a style that I love when it is done well, and it’s done well here, so my assessment is intended as praise. This beer pours black with a little bit of tan head. There is heavy licorice on the aroma, along with the usual oak/vanilla barrel notes and an herbal quality. The flavor adds some bitter malt/baker’s chocolate stuff to that mix, and it all goes down very smoothly. There is nothing about this that I don’t like.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

This is a mixed six-pack of beers from DuClaw Brewing.

I don’t love the Blood Orange version of DuClaw's Neon Gypsy IPA, but I do like it better than the regular version. The blood orange in this variation seems artificial, but it covers up the astringent quality that put me off the original. This pours bright rust/orange with a fair amount of foam. The aroma is dominated by the sweet orange flavoring, but there is also a little bit of pine/citrus hops character, too. The flavor is big on the orange, but the finish has a little bit of kick. It’s alright.

Sometimes I really don't know. Sometimes I think the problem may be the way I’ve conditioned my palate. Gigantic sledgehammer IPAs and steamroller stouts may have left me ill-tuned to appreciate milder styles. There’s nothing really wrong with DuClaw's Morgazm Blonde Ale. It just doesn’t do anything for me. It pours slightly cloudy yellow/orange with a little foam. The aroma is mild, sweet citrus. The label says grapefruit but this reminds me more of tangerine. The flavor is the same, tangerine, maybe a little lemon, but more sweet than anything. It doesn’t taste bad but I don’t want any more of it.

I was initially underwhelmed by Sweet Baby Jesus, DuClaw's peanut butter porter, the first time I tasted it. I have come to like it more over the years, its a pretty good dessert beer. This coffee infused version, called Sweet Baby Java, sounded like my kind of thing, but the coffee is hardly there at all. To my taste this is basically no different from SBJ. It pours dark brown with quick fading head and smells like a standard porter; chocolate roasty malt with a little bit of coffee (and, yes, some peanut butter). The flavor is the same, and it closes sweet. Sure, there’s a mild coffee quality, but I already picked up on something like coffee in the original recipe. This isn’t bad, its just not really anything new.

Now, with this beer, you can taste the coffee. And I like it. DuClaw's 865cc is a fairly simple, straight-forward coffee stout, but that's a good thing. It pours black with a little bit of fast-fading suds. The aroma is coffee, rich malt, a little bit of chocolate. The flavor is all coffee and malt, but that's what I was hoping for. Some of the coffee stouts I’ve tasted recently have played the coffee card delicately. This one is unapologetically coffee forward. Nothing wrong with that.

Midnight Due is DuClaw's barrel aged sour. It smells very good but somehow fades on the flavor, and that's disappointing. This beer pours dark brown with copper highlights and little foam. The aroma is really nice, oak barrel aging and sour tone combine into a mix of red wine vinegar, vanilla, rock candy and spice. But the flavor is ultimately a little flat, only a fairly straight-forward tart blast comes through with no complexity at all. Ultimately, between the tempting aroma and the so-so taste, this is an ale that writes a check it can’t cash.

This last one is the best of the six, and easily the best thing I've ever had from DuClaw. Hell On Wood barrel aged barley wine is a fantastic example of a high ABV, oak aged barley wine. Strong, rich, and smooth without being overtly hot or medicinal. My bottle was from last year's brewing. I don’t know if it would have been this good had it not been aged a bit, but as it is right now, this is a damn fine bottle of beer. It pours bronze/brown with a bit of foam that quickly fades. The aroma is great; bourbon, oak, vanilla, butterscotch, a little pepper, a little bit of citrus. The flavor is all of that and closes strong and very rich, with a little alcohol curl in the nostrils. I completely enjoyed every drop of this beer. The ABV, just north of 13%, is as well hidden as it could be.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Mixed six, all Virginia brews.

I’ve been curious to try Chaos Mountain's Belgian strong ale, Theory of Chaos, but I’d been bracing myself for a superhot alcohol bomb. At 18% ABV, I'm told that Theory of Chaos is the strongest beer brewed in the commonwealth. My expectations for taste were low, it just sounded like a stunt beer. This beer surpasses ... hell, it really just destroys my cynical expectations. Theory of Chaos really tastes good, and the heat is minimal. You could get into a lot of trouble with a four-pack of this thing.

ToC pours very dark brown with crimson/rust hightlights and almost no foam. The aroma is brown sugar, candied dark fruit, something like ginger and figs. The flavor is slightly sweet and warm. Molasses and apples add to the mix on the tongue, each sip is more complex. But sip it slowly. This beer is one seductive piledriver.

Brothers Fire Thief Imperial IPA pours very dark brown to black with a little bit of caramel colored foam. The aroma is really nice, the smoked malt is undeniable. The flavor is heavy on classic stout character, chocolate and roasted malt, a little bit of spice. The smoke is subdued on the flavor, but adds some nice character. Somewhat chewy mouthfeel. Tasty stuff. Some of Brothers imperials often seem a little hot to me. This one is dialed in just right.

Three Notch'd describes Minute Man IPA with words like juicy, fruity, and strong. I think that’s just about right. This beer seems to me to live somewhere between a NE style juice bomb and a classic West Coast hop-monster, and I like it quite a bit. It pours cloudy orange with a decent amount of foam. Aroma is sweet citrus... oranges, tangerines, and the like. The flavor is the same. Not complex at all, just a ton of mildly sweet citrus, but absolutely delicious..

South Street's Acoustic Kitty is a fairly standard double IPA in terms of aroma and flavor, but with a slightly creamy mouthfeel that sets it apart a bit. Pours very cloudy orange with an average to big pile of foam. The aroma is pine resin, some citrus, some notes of green pepper. The flavor starts out malty and closes big and bitter. I’d buy this again.

Young Veterans Jet Noise Imperial IPA appears to be unfiltered, it is a hazy golden color with average head. The aroma is pungent and dense; grapefruit, new cut grass, sour apple, some caramel. The flavor is punctuated with pine resin and cracker malts. A fairly forward double IPA, and not a bad beer at all.

Young Veterans Semper FI P.A. is a tasty, rich, and smooth IPA. It pours cloudy orange with average head. The aroma is a nice combination of rich malt and citra hops, vanilla notes and citrus, with a richer and more herbal hop finish. I enjoyed this beer.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Since I started running a couple of years ago, I've tried to have time for at least one race a month. Sometimes that's tricky, given the demands that shiftwork makes on my schedule. Then there are other times when I can fit in two or even three races in a month. For May of this year I had time for two races. They were my thirty-third and thirty-fourth races since I started racing.

The Huckleberry Jam is a unique race. It's a 7.4 mile long, point-to-point race along the Huckleberry Trail, from Blacksburg to Christiansburg. The race organizers provide shuttle service back to the starting place in Blacksburg after the race. Lucky had planned to run a trail marathon on the morning of the Huckleberry Jam, but a combination of bad weather and a sinus infection changed her plans. So she came along with me, as she's done before, and provided support for my race. This time the support was mostly provided by driving to the finish line so I wouldn't have to take the shuttle back. By the time the race was over, I was really grateful. This race turned out to be on a memorably, unseasonably cold day in early May. And it wasn't just cold, it was also rainy. Running in that stuff turned out to be kinda fun... but standing around sweaty in a parking lot after the race, in cold wind and rain, is not what I would call fun.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Here's a megaset of Ballast Point reviews. Not the normal six, this is a mixed twelve-pack.

Wahoo White is a typical wheat beer. It pours cloudy yellow with lots of carbonation and an average head. The smell is of lemon mild cereal malt. The taste is more of the lemon and malt, a little bit of floral hops, and that usual sweet, banana like wheat beer quality. OK, whatever.

There’s nothing wrong with Bonito Blonde Ale, but it isn’t memorable. It pours slightly cloudy yellow with an average head. The aroma is mildly citrus hops and a creamy malt, some notes of straw and bread are there too. The flavor is all of that, and there’s a little hoppy zing in the finish. It’s fine, but I don't want any more of it.

I think that Sea Rose, a tart wheat ale, is just right. It’s crisp and light and very refreshing, the ABV is low, and this thing could become a favorite summertime yardwork beer for me. The color is dark pink/purple/copper colored. Somewhere on that spectrum. The aroma is appetizing. It reminds me of a light wheat ale, a cherry tart, and a little bit of lemon. That’s the flavor, too. The finish is a little more tart, a little bright, and really nice. I enjoyed every drop.

Nitro Red Velvet is a golden stout. It's an interesting experiment, but ultimately not very good. It pours more copper than red, and there isn’t much foam. The aroma is mild vanilla, sweet malt, some citrus. The flavor reminds me of overly sweetened candied yams. I don’t pick up on the promised ancillary flavors, like beets and chocolate. In fact, I don’t pick up on anything I enjoy. This is kind of a crap beer.

Manta Ray Imperial IPA is very good beer. It's well balanced, but still unmistakably imperial. This beer pours hazy yellow without much head. The aroma is citrus, pine resin, buttered bread. The flavor is slightly sweet and malty right at the front, but quickly turns to very big, bitter hop notes. Some onion and vinegar in the mix, too. One of Ballast Point’s best.

I’ve come to like Sculpin quite a lot, and I like Unfiltered Sculpin even more. It pours cloudier orange than the original version (obviously) with average foam. The aroma is tangerines and lemon and buttery malt, but it’s danker and more aggressive than the original version. That sums up the flavor, too. The finish is funky and strong. Ballast Point says this is a limited release. I hope it becomes at least semi-regular.

Big Eye IPA is a cloudy orange with average foam and carbonation. The aroma is slightly dank and a little malty. It’s big, but it isn't outright to the hoppy side. The flavor has that same balance... Grapefruit and malt and floral hops. It isn’t a bit bad, I could have it again, but Ballast Point has better IPAs and far better beers in other styles.

Longfin Lager is a relatively run of the mill lager, and it’s too sweet for me. It pours yellow with a little foam. The aroma is standard lager. Hay, sugar, a little vanilla, a little bit of grassy hops. The flavor is like the aroma, but the finish is sweet enough for this beer to wear out it’s welcome with me pretty quickly.

California Kolsch is actually decent. I'm not a fan of the kolsch style, so I like it more than I expected to. It pours clear yellow/orange with a quick fading bit of foam. The aroma is to the malty side, sort of a just slightly sugary vanilla, plus notes like roses and citrus. The flavor is slightly malty, too. Not overly malty, but this beer isn’t a hop explosion. I could drink this again.

Tart Peach Kolsch isn't really as good as the original California Kolsch. I don't think the tart peach adds anything. It still pours clear yellow/orange with a average to sligght head. The aroma is still malty and floral, but the tart peach notes are there. Maybe a bit too much. It seems like artificial flavoring. It works a little better in the flavor. Slightly malty, slightly grassy, and the peach is slightly tart as promised. But I liked the original California Kolsch better, and found it more surprising.

For a session ale, Even Keel is actually pretty good. It pours orange with a lot of foam. The aroma is citrus and grassy/floral hops. The flavor is actually ... well, the flavor is there. You can taste it. There isn’t a lot on the front, but the finish is a pretty drinkable mix of malt and hops. Most session ales close like water. This one closes like beer. Hell, it actually tastes like an IPA. I like it.

I think I like Mango Even Keel every bit as much as regular Even Keel. It pours clear, bright orange... maybe a little more of a copper color than the original, with a fair amount of foam. The aroma is citrus hops, and the mango is there in the aroma. It smells like something really refreshing. That’s how it tastes, too. Bright, clean and crisp citrus, and more of the mango on the finish. I can’t complain one bit about this beer. I may even drink more of it over the summer.