Thursday, September 29, 2011

Day 66 (9/28/2011): Dirty, nasty, gross draft lines

Yesterday evening, smack dab in the middle of my so-far-wonderful beach vacation, we were invited by some friends in Myrtle Beach to check out a local band playing. It was at one of those faux-Irish pub type places, so I figured the beer selection wouldn't be good, and I was correct. I have no problem with places not having good beer selections. BMC sells and, though I refrain from drinking it, I understand that others do like it and that is their god-given right. At places like that I normally will just get liquor and be merry.

Unfortunately, I hadn't had my beer for the day and was hard pressed to find something new. I had a Fat Tire - which tasted a little off and then followed it up with a Sam Adams Summer (which was my new beer for the day), which tasted just like the Fat Tire. I have a feeling that I could have tried anything running through their taps and they would have tasted roughly the same.

This gets right to the heart of a very large pet peeve of mine. I don't care whether you serve good beer or not -- if you serve any beer at all, you clean your draft lines. I understand that anyone chugging a Bud Lite or a Natty Ice out of a plastic cup isn't going to be able to tell the subtle difference between the two, but for Pete's sake, think of the sanitary issues concerning that. If you're not cleaning the lines and hardware between keg changes in a bar or restaurant, that's just disgusting.

I'm not asking your servers to get Cicerone certification, to serve me my beer in proper glasses, or even serve good beer. Just do the same thing for your taps and lines that you're (hopefully) doing for your glassware: clean them. I want even my crappy beers to taste like they're supposed to and I want them to be served in a sanitary manner. Is that asking too much?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Day 65 (9/27/2011): Bourbon Barrel Porter by Williamsburg AleWerks

One of my favorite things about vacation is getting to try new things I wouldn't normally have access to at home. This means food, attractions, views, and yes, beer. Beer distribution is so crazy that you never know what you're going to find when you head to a state outside your own. Early on in this vacation in South Carolina, I headed to the store to figure out what local/regional stuff I could get my hands on. One bottle that intrigued me was a bourbon barrel porter from Williamsburg AleWerks. I had never heard of the brewery before, but it had a good score on both sites and I'm a sucker for barrel aged beers, so I picked one up to try.

I am very, very glad I did. This might be one of the best surprises I've had since I got into craft beers. Most stellar beers I get to try I expect to be stellar because of the hype behind them. It's not often that I ahold of an amazing beer that I've never heard of before.

The smell of this beer is tremendous. It's very rich, with a chocolate, almost fudge-like scent mingling with your porter-necessary roast. The barrel treatment is what brings this beer to the next level. It imparts a complex scent of vanilla, oak, coconut, and, of course, bourbon. It fits in with the rest of the scents perfectly, never overwhelming the base beer's characteristics. The taste, though still outstanding, isn't quite as rich as the smell. The low carb'ed, somewhat thick body carries a moderately sweet, bourbony goodness, with a solid roast in the finish. The alcohol is present just enough to add a warming characteristic, but it's not hot or too boozy.

I think the best thing I can say for this beer is that I'm going back to get more bottles to bring home. At $7.99 for a great barrel aged imperial beer, this is a hell of a deal. In my opinion, it's not as good as Parabola, but it's also half the price of it. Overall, outstanding. Kudos to a brewery I've never even heard of before putting out a beer of this caliber. I guess hype isn't everything after all.

Style: Imperial/strong porter
Beer Advocate: A-
Ratebeer: 99/92

Day 64 (9/26/2011): Dale's Pale Ale by Oskar Blues Grill & Brewery

Old beer strikes again! In my haste to grab stuff to sip on during my week on the beach, I missed the date printed on these Dale's Pale Ales and grabbed a three month old six pack. Oh well, chalk it up to inattention and a store not moving product quickly. I'm not going to give it a grade since it's no fault of the brewery that this probably doesn't taste as good aged as fresh. As for the smell and taste, it was a typical American pale ale, but without most of the hops. Not terrible, but certainly not very good. I've heard good things about this beer, though, so I'll have to keep my eyes open for it in the future and try to grab some fresh cans.

P.S. Even old beer serves a purpose, though: it worked just fine in a shrimp boil we made last night!

Style: American pale ale
Beer Advocate: B+/B
Ratebeer: 98/100

Monday, September 26, 2011

Day 63 (9/25/2011): B.O.R.I.S. the Crusher by Hoppin' Frog Brewery

Context: Vacation. That's all that matters. Pretty much any beer tastes passable while I'm staying on the beach.

Beer: As an Ohio beer, I've been meaning to try this one forever. Strangely enough, I found it and found it in South Carolina and found it cheaper than Ohio. Beer distribution and pricing makes no sense. Being on the Ratebeer top 100 list, this one had something to live up to and boy did it ever.

The smell of this is chocolate, coffee, and slight roasted malts. The oats are also there, but it's very slight. The taste is much the same, but it comes in waves. It's sweet and creamy up front, with the chocolate, vanilla, and malt sweetness dominating. A slight bitter roast complemented by the coffee flavor finishes things up, balancing up the front of the flavor. Definitely one of the most balanced imperial stouts I've ever tasted. A little more sweet than roast, but that's the way I like it. The feel of this is amazing. The carbonation is pretty low and, with the oats, it makes for one of the most amazingly creamy beers I've ever drank in my life. Very, very impressive.

Kudos to this beer for hitting it on all fronts.It doesn't have the wow factor of some other really big, barrel aged stouts, but it does everything an oatmeal stout does pretty much perfectly. I can not wait to try the barrel aged version of it. I'm not sure how much it will improve it, but I'm willing to find out. I give B.O.R.I.S. the Crusher by Hoppin' Frog Brewery an A.

Style: Russian imperial stout
Beer Advocate: A/A-
Ratebeer: 100/97

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Day 62 (9/24/2011): Two Gypsies Our Side by Stillwater/Mikkeller

After a six hour drive, I am firmly on vacation. That means sleep, reading, beer, and more beer. Thank goodness.

I picked this up in D.C. during a recent trip and hauled it along just in case I couldn't find anything good around where I was going to be staying. I don't really drink saisons too often, but I figured I had to try a collaboration which features Mikkeller. They make some really great beers, a lot of them exciting and unconventional.

This isn't your typical saison, but it's a tasty and beautiful looking beer nonetheless. It pours a bright, hazy orange with a monster white head. Once it died down a bit, smells of spices, sweet fruit, and a bit of black pepper are followed by the Mikkeller influence - a fruity hop wallop that finishes things up. The taste is a good bit of tropical fruit hops, a nice pale malt sweetness, ester flavors from the yeast, and a slight bit of cloves and other spices. The carbonation is fizzy and a bit higher than medium with a medium body.

This is a good drinking beer. It's a very nontraditional saison, which I would expect from something Mikkeller is involved in. The hops are a bit heavier handed than is typical, but they aren't overpowering. It almost seems like a mix between a saison and an IPA. Very interesting. This isn't one of the best beers I've had recently, but I'm glad I got to try it. I'll have to try some of Stillwater's other saisons that they've done by themselves. I give Two Gypsies Our Side by Stillwater/Mikkeller a B+.

Style: Saison
Beer Advocate: B+
Ratebeer: 96/91

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Day 61 (9/23/2011): Bonecrusher Stout by Schmohz Brewing Company

This beer was awful. Just really, really bad. I was hoping that the reviews weren't right, but of course they were. They only thing it had going for it was its appearance. A decent looking, tan head covers a dark body. Everything is down hill from here. The smell isn't much at all: just roast with pretty much nothing else there. The taste is terrible. Strong bitterness from the roast mixed with a weird, gross mustiness. It seemed thin, but I don't know that I drank enough to be sure. This baby went down the drain. I'm done with Schmohz beers. I've tried two and was not impressed with either of them. I'm convinced that a beginner brewer could put out better stuff than this. I hate to trash a brewery, but this is just not good beer at all. At least boring maco brews are drinkable. I give Bonecrusher Stout by Schmohz Brewing Company a D-.

Style: English stout
Beer Advocate: C+
Ratebeer: 61/38

Day 60 (9/22/2011): Cherry Chocolate Stout by Stone Brewing Co.

Not particularly impressed with this one. The cherry flavor was not integrated well at all, in my opinion. It almost tasted artificial, though I'm aware that it is not. There is also a good bit of tartness in the flavor which is a byproduct of the roast and the cherries. I could've done without the tart flavor; it was really odd when mixed with the chocolate/cherry sweetness. The beer definitely gets partially salvaged by the smell, which got better and better as the beer warmed. Think chocolate covered cherries. I was hoping that the taste would improve with it, but no dice. A valiant effort, but not particular good, especially at almost $4.00 a bottle. I won't be revisiting this one. I give Cherry Chocolate Stout by Stone Brewing Co. a B-.

Style: Milk/sweet stout
Beer Advocate: B
Ratebeer: 98/98

Friday, September 23, 2011

Day 59 (9/21/2011): Punkin Ale by Dogfish Head Craft Brewery

Context: Not a bad day at all. An uneventful day at work, some super big and exciting news, and a trip to Marty's Hops and Vines made for a pretty darn decent day. Not to mention I finally got to use my nifty fall-themed glass I grabbed from Kroger (for a buck! What a deal!)

Beer: Another pumpkin beer. I heard this one had been flying off the shelves, so I scooped up a four-pack when I got the chance. My understanding of Punkin is that is aims for the more balanced side of the pumpkin ale spectrum (much like Smuttynose's version, and unlike Southern Tier's Pumking), with the spices balanced well against the brown ale base.

This ended up being completely true and it translated into a tasty drink that you could drink every day without being overwhelmed by the sweetness or richness of a dessert beer. The smell is pretty much all spices, with cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg being the dominant forces here. There is also a bit of earthiness that I'm guessing it from the pumpkin. As I said in an earlier post, I'm not entirely certain what roasted pumpkin smells/tastes like when it's not in a pie. There is also some yeast breadiness and a slight bit of roast from the brown ale base.

The taste comes at you from a different direction. The spices shine clearly, for sure, but the it is much more balanced than the smell. The earthiness is joined by a slight tartness that must be the pumpkin used. A touch of caramel malt evens things out by adding a touch of sweetness. If hops are there, they aren't noticeable. The spices are still the thing that gets your attention here, but it never seems over the top. Both the body and mouthfeel are roughly medium; nothing out of the ordinary there.

I really liked this beer. It's a little more spice oriented and a little less hoppy than the Smuttynose pumpkin ale, but it never gets out of hand. I would say it pushes right to the threshold of becoming a mess without quite getting there. In fact, you can even sometimes get a good taste of the brown ale underneath all of the other smells and flavors. To many people, this is the epitome of a good pumpkin ale and I don't think they're wrong at all. It's a unique beer without even being too unique or cloying. I'm definitely going to keep trying pumpkin ales, but this one is the measuring stick now. I give Punkin Ale by Dogfish Head Craft Brewery an A-.

Style: Pumpkin Ale 
Beer Advocate: B+/A-
Ratebeer: 90/95

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Day 58 (9/20/2011): Sierra Nevada Stout

Context: An uneventful day at work, a good run, and I finally got time to rack the American wheat I've had sitting in the primary forever onto some mango. Overall, I can't say there's much to complain about.

Beer: Sierra Nevada continues to impress. This one smells like chocolate and roasted malts. Perhaps a little coffee. The taste of this is wonderful and only improves as the beer warms. Like the nose, you get a good deal of chocolate; to a lesser degree, roast; and to an even lesser degree; coffee. It finishes with a slight earthiness which must be the hops. In a pleasant surprise, this stout is actually much more full-bodied than I expected. It's not syrupy or anything, but the body has a weight to it which more than balances the medium carbonation.

This is another outstanding offering from Sierra Nevada. I would put it in my top five non-imperial stouts that I have tried before. Just like their brown ale, Tumbler, there is nothing which jumps out at you and grabs your attention, but it is still undoubtedly enjoyable. In the world of the tortoise and the hare, where the latter consists of expensive, mega-hyped, barrel aged, >10% imperial stouts, Sierra Nevada keeps chugging along with a steady, workmanship-like approach to brewing and selling high-quality, low-price beers. Frankly, I'm ecstatic that I can run to pretty much any reputable beer store (and most grocery stores) in the country and pick up a six pack of this. I give Sierra Nevada Stout an A.

Style: American Stout
Beer Advocate: A-/A+
Ratebeer: 95/94

Monday, September 19, 2011

Day 57 (9/19/2011): Tumbler Autumn Brown Ale by Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

Context: Terrible headache at work only made worse by a day in front of the computer that was interrupted once. That interruption happened to be a fire alarm. This would have been nice if it wasn't raining outside. I then capped it off by stopping at Kroger on the way home, which of course was packed with screaming children, all of whom seemed to be pushing their parents grocery carts. Absolute chaos. So yeah, I was ready for a beer.

Beer: I had been meaning to pick up some of the classic Sierra Nevada brews and finally grabbed a single of their brown ale, porter, and stout. Though they seem to be making money hand over fist, Sierra Nevada only gets credit for breaking craft beer drinkers in via their signature pale ale. They don't get a ton of credit for their other beers, all of which that I have tried have been both delicious and absolutely true to the style. With how crappy the weather was today, I felt an Autumn-centric brown ale was appropriate.

Sierra Nevada nailed this one. I don't particularly care for brown ales, but this is probably the best one I've had. You get a slight breadiness, malt sweetness, and just the smallest amount of roast in the nose. The taste has the same bread like malts, some nuttiness, and the sweetness is countered by some roast and just the tiniest bit of hops. The carbonation is medium low and the body is about medium. This is a fall bonfire beer if I've ever drank one. Outstanding. If I liked brown ales more I'd rate it higher, but even now, I'll give Tumbler Autumn Brown Ale by Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. an A-.

Here's to a better, less headachy day tomorrow!

Style: American Brown Ale
Beer Advocate: B+/A-
Ratebeer: 92/96

Day 52-56 (9/14 - 9/18/2011): Getting caught up with reviews!

As I said earlier, I really need to get caught up on reviews. I'm going to blow through five days really quick here so I can get back up to date and write some more thorough reviews for you all. Here we go!

A surprisingly tasty milk stout. It's on the sweeter side and is a tad bit thin, but there are a ton of stouts this beats every day of the week. Bonus points for being packaged in a pint can and for being locally available. Not going to blow anyone away, but I wouldn't mind if someone handed me one. B.

They promise hops and that is certainly what you get. I didn't particularly care for this at all, but I think my bottle was old. Bitter and astringent; the hops don't particularly taste good and doesn't transition into the malt finish well. It overall was a trainwreck of flavors in my mouth. I'll try again when I can be assured of a fresh bottle. C-.

Somehow my first ever pumpkin ale and I picked a good one. I even had an appropriate glass for it. Poured the most ridiculous head I've ever seen. It was as close to stiff whipped cream as you could imagine. I actually had to take it off with a spoon so I could drink the beer. The typical pumpkin spice scent and taste is there, but it's not obnoxious and is countered well with a good hop presence. A very good beer and if all pumpkin beers I get to try are this good, I'll be disappointed I took this long to try them. B+.

(Also, I had a Founders Breakfast Stout this night and it is my belief that it is much better from a bottle than draft. Coffee in a beer!)

A solid barleywine. It nails the style points, but doesn't really do much creative to put it among the upper tier. A good balance of sweet caramel malt and citrus hops work together to make this barley wine American. Some maple syrup and vanilla flavor is also there. Perhaps the most amazing thing is that though Old Horizontal is 11%, the alcohol is hidden masterfully. I'd love to hang onto a few bottles and see how it tastes after the hops fade a bit. B+.

This was a nice, balanced stout. Not too sweet, not too much roast. Gets better and better as it warms up. I enjoyed this much more than Deschute's Black Butte Porter. It's not going to blow your mind, but sometimes beer is just for drinking, not ruminating over for hours. I wish I could get this here. A-.

There we go, folks. All back up to date. Hopefully things will calm down a tad and I can get back to daily updates. Can't promise, but it's worth a shot!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Day 51 (9/13/2011): La Roja by Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales

A very tasty, if entirely different sour ale. It pours much darker than I'm used to for a sour, with an off white head. You can see how lively this is from the bubbles streaming from bottom to top like sparkling wine.

It actually smells more funk than sour, with notes of cherry, oak, wild yeast, with the malt present in a bread scent. The taste is pretty darn sour up front, but transitions into a slightly sweeter cherry/malt middle and end. As it warms, the carbonation fades a little bit and fruit and oak emerges. My bottle was very, very highly carbonated. When I opened it I lost a bit to gushing. The body is maybe a tad lighter than medium and you can't taste the booze in this at all.

This is a very, very good beer. It is widely available in Cincinnati and is relatively affordable (at least for a sour ale) at $12-13 a 750ml bottle. I can not wait to try some other Jolly Pumpkin beers. I give La Roja by Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales an A-.

Style: Sour/wild ale
Beer Advocate: B+
Ratebeer: 98/87

Day 50 (9/12/2011): Churchkey (Washington, DC)

Last Monday I had a chance to get over to ChurchKey while I was in DC. The restaurant downstairs, Birch and Barley, was closed, but that's not what I was there for anyways. I was there to check out a lambic event at the best beer bar in the city.

Unfortunately I don't have any pictured of the beer or interior since the lighting was low. I was able to try sample of a ton of good beers including Gueuze Tilquin, Oude Gueuze Tilquin L'Ancienne, and Abbaye 
De Saint Bon-Chien.

The first was a clean, crisp blend of new, one year and two year old lambics which are then all fermented and aged in oak barrels. The outcome has a very complex "barnyard" smell, most of which doesn't translate into the taste well. While the puckering lemon and green apple taste is refreshing, not much of the nose factors into it. It is tasting now, but here's to hoping that the flavor will more with age. At 4.8%, you could drink this all day, as long as your palette and stomach can handle the sour.

The Oude Gueuze is essentially the first beer's big brother. At 6%, it has a little more oomph to it, but most of the qualities stay the same. Both have the very funky and complex nose and the simple, straight forward lemony-tart flavors. The Oude Gueuze may be a bit more dry, but that is the big difference.

If the first two were eerily similar, Abbaye De Saint Bon-Chien was a huge departure. Where they were straw yellow, Bon-Chien is an almost copper color with no visible carbonation. No head whatsoever. The smell is cherries, vinegar, oak. It almost reminds me of a wine. The taste is tart cherries, oak, and the vinegar up front and fading into a nice malt sweetness. The carbonation is about just as slight as it looked. If you told me there was no carbonation, I would believe you, but I feel like I got just a couple bubbles in there. As still as you can get while still being carbonated. The wine comparison definitely was there. It actually didn't remind me much of beer between the stillness and hugely complex flavor. Interesting, but I don't think I would pay for it again.

I also got to try some of their food while I was there. I got a tasty muffuletta panini and an order of crispy, hot tater tots. They obviously weren't the highlight while I was there, but they were more than just sustenance. While I came here to have a meal with my beer, you wouldn't be in the wrong to flip that on its head and have a beer with your meal either.

I haven't been to a ton of bars in DC while traveling, but out of the ones I have visited, ChurchKey tops the bill. The number of taps and bottles they have is amazing and the food surpasses mere pub grub. If you like beer, this is your place when visiting the Capitol. They have a ton of great brewery events, so check out their event calendar if you're going to be in the area. I know I'll be back the next time I'm in the city.

(P.S.- I am way behind on reviews because of traveling and house work recently, so the upcoming reviews are going to be very short. I'll try to get back up to date in the next couple of days. Cheers!)

Churchkey on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Day 49 (9/11/2011): Pizzeria Paradiso (Washington, D.C.)

I had been meaning to visit Pizzeria Paradiso since the first time I stayed in Dupont Circle for work last year. Good beer and good pizza? Very little can beat that. They have a great tap and bottle list and have a good happy hour on drafts during the week.

I ordered a 2007 Cantillon Iris, a wonderful unblended lambic that uses only pale malts and utilizes a 50/50 mix of dry and wet hops (More info here). This beer has a bit darker of a body due to the malt bill; almost amber rather than the typical straw color. Iris is definitely sour just like any other unblended lambic, but it has a slight caramel flavor that helps to counter a tiny bit of the tartness. A great beer for sure. Not my favorite sour, but it's definitely up there. I'll give it an A-.

They also had Founders Breakfast Stout on tap, so I got to try my first of these this season. If you like coffee stouts, this is your beer. The coffee flavor was a bit overwhelming for me, but it is what it is. There's definitely a ton of roast in the taste and then the rest is almost like a beer iced coffee. It seemed like the carbonation was high for an imperial stout, as well. I'm going to have to get some bottles of this to re-review, because I remember finding this a lot more outstanding than I did here. B+ for Breakfast Stout.

The meal was absolutely amazing. I started off with a caprese salad, with mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, sun dried tomatoes, and basil, all covered in good, tasty olive oil. I was starving and scarfed it down before taking a picture.

For my pizza, I got an 8" Atomica, which featured salami, black olives, hot pepper flakes, and mozzarella. And not the crappy, shredded stuff that has become standard fare on pizzas today, but creamy, slightly browned real  mozzarella. I also added sausage to it, which ended up being a great choice. The chunks of flavorful, spiced meat added a lot to the pizza. Overall, a great pizza. Probably one of the better ones I've ever eaten before.

I definitely will be back to Pizzeria Paradiso again (most likely the next time I'm in town). Like I said before good beer and good pizza. Can't beat it with a stick!

Founders Breakfast Stout
Style: American double/imperial stout
ABV: 8.3%
IBU: ?
Beer Advocate: A/A+
Ratebeer: 100/98

Cantillon Iris
Style: Unblended lambic
ABV: 5%
IBU: ?
Beer Advocate: A-
Ratebeer: 99/96

Pizzeria Paradiso (Dupont Circle) on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Day 48 (9/10/2011): Black Butte Porter by Deschutes Brewery

I had heard that Black Butte Porter is one of the best American porter out there; on the same level as Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald and Founders Porter. Obviously I'm wanting to get my hands on anything that people claim is the best or darn near it and I was lucky enough to receive a bottle of it recently. Knowing that it was brewed by Deschutes, one of America's best breweries, definitely raised my expectations.

Black Butte pours a dark, dark brown with a couple fingers of very light tan head. The smell is primarily roasty, with dark chocolate, coffee, and a slight hint of hops in the background.

The taste, like the smell, is dominated by the roast. It is almost tart from the roasted malts. There is some sweetness to counter it, but this is definitely roasty. I also get some coffee on the finish, along with some hops, but it all second to the roast. I don't care for this at all. The carbonation is medium and a body that is a tad too thin for a porter.

Overall, I'm not impressed. The taste and smell is one-dimensional with the roastiness overwhelming everything else. I'm not sure if this is an out of the ordinary bottle or what, but I have no idea how people rate this so highly. I just don't get it. I would like to try another bottle of this at some point to see what the deal is. Surely my palette can't be that different from pretty much everyone else's. At this point, however, after trying only one bottle of this, I give Black Butte Porter by Deschutes Brewery a B-.

Style: American Porter
ABV: 5.2%
Beer Advocate: A-/A+
Ratebeer: 97/98

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Day 47 (9/9/2011) Salvation by Russian River Brewing

Salvation pours a dark brown with a tint of ruby red when held up to the light. A billowing off-white head leads behind frothy lacing on the side of the glass. The smell is typical of dark Belgian ales: dark fruits, spiciness from the yeast, and brown sugar.

The taste is a little tart up front with just the slightest but of funk. Other than this, it holds true to the scent. Brown sugar and molasses dominate, but the spiciness and figs/raisins are also there for sure.Both the carbonation and body are medium and the finish is quite dry, which I thought was odd for the style. It doesn't seem like any effort was made to hide the alcohol; this one is boozy for sure.

This isn't a special beer, but it competes well with other Belgian dark ales that can be found on the shelves around here. It's not close to being in the same league as the Rocheforts or Pannepot, but I would put it on the same level as Ommegang and others along those lines. I enjoyed it, but not enough that I would pursue it where it is distributed. There are plenty of Belgians that could easily substitute for it admirably. I give Salvation by Russian River Brewing a B+.

Style: Belgian strong dark ale
ABV: 9%
IBU: ?
Beer Advocate: A-
Ratebeer: 99/98

Friday, September 9, 2011

Day 46 (9/8/2011) Oktoberfest by Sun King Brewing Company

 The Oktoberfest Quest continues! I was given this can a few weeks back and hung onto it so I could try it with others of its same style to compare and contrast. The real can won't look like the one above; this one is just a generic Sun King can.

It pours a far clearer, lighter copper than Moerlein's offering, with a lot larger of the head (though the head was the same off-white. The smell has the same caramel sweetness, though this one might smell a little fruitier.

In addition to the appearance of it, the taste and mouthfeel is a huge departure from the Moerleing Fifth and Vine. This is a great deal more sweeter than it, with an almost bubble gum note added to the malty sweetness. You don't get as much hops on the taste either (though the hops in Fifth  and Vine were not in the spotlight, by any means). You don't get much of the Noble hops used at all, but it's not really missed. The flavor is really solid.

What gets me about this beer is the carbonation. It seems very low. I'm not sure if all cans are like this or just mind, but it somewhat hindered the really good flavor. It's not flat or uncarbonated by any means. I just would have liked a little more.

Overall, this seems like another solid Oktoberfest. I've been a huge Sun King fan since I lived in Indianapolis and it always makes me happy to see them put out another good beer. I'd probably knock this one on the appearance and carbonation, but it surpasses Fifth and Vine on the nose and taste. I'd put these about even, maybe with the Sun King variety a tad ahead. Now I just have to find more Oktoberfests to try!

Style: Marzen/Oktoberfest
ABV: 5.75% (?)
IBU: ?
Beer Advocate: B+
Ratebeer: N/A (Not enough ratings)

I was given a can of this at Beer and Sweat by an employee of Sun King, but you should be able to get this where Sunk King is distributed, which is neither NKY or Cincinnati. Indianapolis folks will be able to easily get ahold of it though.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Day 45 (9/7/2011) Fifth and Vine by Christian Moerlein Brewing Company

I have two confessions to make. First, I'm not a big Moerlein fan. I know, I know; support your hometown boys and all that other good stuff. Outside of the Northern Liberty IPA, I've found the beers largely to be hit or miss. The other confession is that I can probably count the number of Oktoberfest beers I have tried in my life on one hand. During my progression as a craft beer drinker from hoppy to roasty to sour (and on and on), I never really stopped to enjoy the non-stout/porter malty beers. This is much of the same reason I am largely ignorant of Scottish ales and the like.

With that in mind, I decided I would make a conscious effort to dive into the style and considering the time of year, it seems I will have a number to choose from. I will hopefully be trying a number of good ones and, at some point, I'll rank the ones I've tried in order of a combo of preference and adherence to style. I'm not going to rate any of them until I have a little context, though. Bear with me. I'm flying by the seat of my pants here.

Fifth and Vine pours a dark copper with a few fingers of off-white head. The little lacing that is left slides down the glass slowly. The smell is a sweet caramel with an almost fruity tint to it. There is also some breadiness from the yeast.

The taste has a slight roast to it, but the main flavor is the caramel and sweetness that was dominant on the nose. There seems to be some spiciness comparable to a nice Saison or beer utilizing Belgian yeast, which is completely unexpected. The body is just about medium with a tingly sensation from a just over medium carbonation.

This is easily one of the better Moerlein beers I've drank. I don't mind at all that I have five more of these in the fridge. I'm still on the fence concerning what I think about the style, though, but hopefully a broader exposure to the different offerings will allow me to appreciate its nuances.

Next up will be the Oktoberfest offering from Sun King Brewing (Indianapolis). This was a special gift from an employee there and I've been waiting to crack it open.

Style: Marzen/Oktoberfest
ABV: 5.7% (?)
IBU: ?
Beer Advocate: B+
Ratebeer: 63/85

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Day 44 (9/6/2011) Newcastle Winter IPA by The Caledonian Brewery Company

Disclosure: This beer was provided to me to sample and review by a public relation representing the Newcastle brands.

It looks like I've finally made it big time I kid, I kid. In all seriousness, though, I was ecstatic when a PR firm representing the Newcastle brand of beer reached out to me to sample and review both their Werewolf brown ale and a yet to be released Winter IPA. As a beer drinker I cut my teeth on Newcastle Nut Brown ale. For the longest time, before I moved onto more "challenging" beers, it was the only beer I would order. Since I've moved on, I haven't tried it once. With the line expanding into different varieties and someone offering me free beer to drink, what other reason would I need to come back to the beers that put me where I am today?

This Winter IPA pours a transparent light amber with a pretty good sized eggshell head. The smell is primarily caramel malt with a bit of English-style hops and a slight spiciness. It smells like a lighter, less "offensive" version of Great Lakes' Commodore Perry.

The taste is much the same: caramel sweetness with a faint nuttiness and the lightest hop bite. This is most definitely an English IPA; the maltiness and light, spicy hops would throw anyone for a loop who is expecting a big West Coast IPA. I would hope no one would be expecting that from a Newcastle brand, though. The taste manages to fit in the style's characteristic, but keeps them light enough that macro drinkers could probably get a pint down without puckering or spitting it out. The body is medium-light and the carbonation is just about medium.

So what is the verdict? Honestly, I expected this to be terrible and was actually a little surprise. They gave a solid try at an English IPA and though it falls a bit short by trying to hit the mass market appeal, it's not terrible by any means. I'm not the primary market for this beer. I realize that. I think the best indicator of this beer is that my father in law, a fledgling craft beer (Goose Island 312, etc) drinker enjoyed this a bit more than I did. I think that is the market they're going for. Despite this, it still had enough flavor to keep my attention until it was finished. I probably wouldn't seek this out again for myself, but I wouldn't feel terrible buying it for non-craft beer drinking friends or family. I give Newcastle Winter IPA by The Caledonian Brewery Company a C+.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Day 43 (9/5/2011): Parabola by Firestone Walker Brewing Co.

43 days into this "A Beer a Day" experiment and I've had some really good beers. I've awarded a fair number of A's and an even larger number of A-'s and B+'s, all of which were very enjoyable beers. The A's were great beers, but lacked that extra "oomph" to absolutely blow me away. Some were on the verge, but none did it until now.

I got a bottle of Firestone Walker's Parabola through a friend a couple months back and was saving it for a special occasion. While in DC last week, I found a whole shelf full of them at Connecticut Avenue Wine and Liquor Deli and picked one up to bring back home. I could have my cake and eat (or drink) it, too. I had a bottle to try whenever I wanted and still had one put away to share on a special day. And thank goodness for that.

Parabola is a big beer. You don't even need to taste or smell it to find that out. At 12.5%, it's not even eligible to be sold in Ohio even if FW decided to distribute here. It spends twelve months barrel aging, which gives it an amazing, balanced complexity.

It is a pitch black beer with a very small mocha head that is gone almost immediately after the pouring stops. There's not much lacing; only small marks where carbonation flung small bubbles onto the side of the glass. The barrel aging is immediately evident on the nose, lending bourbon and vanilla notes. You also get a lot of bittersweet chocolate and figs/raisins. Alot of times a barrel aged beer can be overwhelmed by what was in the barrel before the beer, but in this case the bourbon melds perfectly with the other aspects of the smell. Amazingly, there is very little booziness to the scent. Strangely enough, it almost smells meaty. I'm not sure how to describe it in a way that's not disgusting, but it wasn't at all.

The taste is sweet, creamy milk chocolate balanced against a significant, but not overdone roastiness. The bourbon and oak is here again, adding vanilla and caramel, but like the nose it is masterfully blended with the other tastes. There is a bit of hops on the finish, but nothing that distracts from the pure awesomeness of the rest of the flavors. This is an absolutely terrific tasting beer.

The mouthfeel is thick and almost syrupy, which is to be expected with this large of a beer. It is most certainly a sipper and you would probably be wiser than I to split a bottle with a good friend. The carbonation is low, but present and suits it perfectly.

This is easily the best stout I have ever had the pleasure to drink before and I'm not certain that it's not the best beer overall that I've tried. This is a big, bold beer, but everything manages to remain balanced in it. This is definitely a beer to savor and think about while you're drinking. There is so much going on with it that you'll want to drink it slowly and let it warm up a bit to get a full appreciation of its smell and flavor. I can not even begin to explain how happy I am to have another bottle of this stashed away. I'll be in DC again next week and just might have to go grab another if they're still stocked. It's just that good. I give Parabola by Firestone Walker Brewing Co. an A+ and my highest recommendations.

Style: Russian imperial stout
ABV: 12.5%
IBU: 82
Beer Advocate: A
Ratebeer: 100/98

Purchased at Connecticut Avenue Wine and Liquor Deli (Washington, DC) for $16.99 a bomber.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Day 42 (9/4/2011): Nemesis (2010) by Founders Brewing Company

The 2010 Nemesis is a black barleywine and the looks of it reflected this clearly. It pours a brown about one tint away from black with a creamy, bubbly off-white head. The smell is a complex sweetness coupled with some floral hops, which can be expected from a beer with 100 IBUs. You also get some spiciness from the alcohol, along with vanilla and some dark fruit.

The taste starts roasty which leads into a complex dark fruit taste with molasses, brown sugar, and chocolate. There is a pretty good hop bitterness on the finish. Perhaps a bit much for my tastes in a barleywine. It is definitely a sipper, not necessarily because of the alcohol taste, but because of the complex taste and the slightly syrupy body (Not to mention the 12%).

This is a good barleywine that just happens to be a bit too hoppy for my likings. I would like to sit on some of these bottles for a few years, though, to see if the hops take a back seat a bit. I recommend this to pretty much everyone if you can still find it anywhere. I give Nemesis (2010) by Founders Brewing Company an A-.

Style: American barleywine
ABV: 12%
IBU: 100
Beer Advocate: A-/A-
Ratebeer: 99/96

Day 41 (9/3/2011): Zoetzuur Flemish Ale by De Proef Brouwerij

 (Sorry folks; no picture for this one. I can't seem to find my camera at the moment and it contains all of the pictures for this review.)

As you may be able to tell from the blog, I've been on a sour kick ever since I was sent a set of Russian River wild ales. I had never heard of this one, but it was a Flanders red and I figured it would be tart enough to hit the spot.

It pours a hazy red-brown with a good sized off-white head. It has nice lacing as splotches of the head stick to the side of the glass. There is a lot going on with the smell. There is a ton of funk from the Brett, a great deal of cherries, some sweetness and spices, and an odd mustiness. It doesn't smell particularly sour at all. This is probably the "funkiest" beer I've ever smelled before. Almost overwhelming.

The taste is a little tart, but not sour at all. The tartness seems like it's from the cherries and not a wild yeast strain. The spiciness in the nose shows up here as well. There is also a strange aftertaste that I can't put my finger on, possibly Brett-related. I can't say this one tasted like I expected; not particularly sour and barely tart. It's not really my thing at all. It has a medium body with medium-low carbonation.

I am definitely disappointed in the lack of sourness. It is super funky and musty, which doesn't go well with the sweetness, in my opinion. I wish I could put my finger on the aftertaste; I definitely did not care for it, but I have no idea what it was.This one wasn't terrible, but was weird. I probably won't return to it in the future. I give Zoetzuur Flemish Ale by De Proef Brouwerij a B-.

Style: Flanders red ale
ABV: 7%
IBU: ?
Beer Advocate: A-
Ratebeer: 98/82

Picked up at Market Wines at Findlay Market for $10 or so for a 750ml bottle.

Day 40 (9/2/2011): Galactic Double Daisy Cutter by Half Acre Beer Company

Galactic Double Daisy Cutter was a special release by the Chicago-based Half Acre Beer Company which spun off their normal Double Daisy Cutter. The difference was that this beer utilizes the Galactic hop variety, a hop grown in Australia which just happens to be the latest craze in IPAs.

It poured a very hazy orange with at most one finger of white head formed of tiny little bubbles. It dissipates onto a thin film on the surface of the beer. This has to be one of, if not the, best smelling IPAs I've ever had the pleasure of drinking. There are very dank, resiny hops, more on the fruity side of the spectrum than floral. You also get a good deal of citrus (orange and grapefruit) with a slight caramel sweetness in the background.

The taste starts with citrus hops, leading into tropical fruit with a touch of honey sweetness. It finishes slightly bitter. The taste is great, but it doesn't quite live up to the smell. The carbonation is creamy and slightly under medium with a medium-heavy body. Somehow despite all of the dank hops, this manages to finish a little dry. Pretty unexpected.

This is a great smelling, great tasting DIPA. It's not the best Ive ever had before, but I am very glad I got the chance to try it. I will most certainly be looking for any other varieties of Double Daisy Cutter that Half Acre decides to put out. I give Galactic Double Daisy Cutter by Half Acre Beer Company an A-.

Style: Double/imperial IPA
ABV: 8%
IBU: ?
Beer Advocate: A-
Ratebeer: 97/79

A buddy picked me up a bottle at the brewery release for $11. If you didn't get a bottle then, you're probably not going to be able to get one.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Day 39 (9/1/2011): Arnold's Ziffel by Listermann (Super secret special tasting!)

A little detour today. Check out my post over on CincyVoices for what beer I had the pleasure of drinking last night. I was definitely honored to have the opportunity to take part in such a cool event! See you back here tonight or tomorrow with our regularly scheduled content.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Day 38 (8/31/2011): The Oracle by Bell's Brewery

I was amazed to find some singles of these about a week after they were bottles up at Bell's earlier in August. Not only does it have an extremely limited distribution, but I found them for $2.99 a bottle! I only picked up a couple of them - one for myself and one for a trading partner - leaving the rest for whoever was lucky to find them. It was very, very difficult not to buy all of them that were there.

This is the much less talked about double IPA brother (or sister) to Hopslam. While everyone clamors for the latter, many don't even know the former exists. It seems far more of a limited release, so that might have something to do with it. What I found was that The Oracle is just as impressive (if nor more so, depending on your tastes) as Hopsmal, though it is an entirely different offering of the same style.

The Oracle pours a beautiful clear orange with a short, maybe one finger tall effervescent white head. It recedes quickly, leaving a slight bubbly layer on top of the body. The smell is hops, hops, hops. I get a ton of pine with a slight whiff of citrus-grapefruit. More pine - leff citrus and fruit than Hopslam. There is some sweetness, but this doesn't smell like a balanced beer, which here smells wonderful.

In a pleasant surprise, this beer ends up tasting magically balanced, despite the smell. There is a lot of grapefruit hoppiness up front, balanced with a strong malt backbone which never lets the hops get out of control. The only bitterness in this beer is in a pine finish. Usually I can't stand bitter finishes, but the sweetness stays on your tongue through it, tempering the bite a bit. Even though this is a 10% beer, there is hardyly any booze in the taste or on the tongue/throat They did a great job hiding the high ABV. If anything, it adds a nice spiciness to the flavor, reminiscent of a rye addition. This is certainly a big beer, but it drinks well with medium carbonation and body.

Boy, do I wish this was more readily available. I think I might actually like it more than Hopslam, though admittedly it's been since early this year since I've had a bottle of it. I would love it if they were released more closely together so I could do a side by side comparison without one of them being significantly older than the other. Which you will like is largely dependent on your tastes: this is definitely a more of a West Coast IPA with a lot of pine and resiny hops. Hopslam is more malt forward, with grapefruit and sweetness dominating the taste. You owe it to yourself to try both, though, if at all posible. I give The Oracle by Bell's Brewery an A.

(P.S. Keystone in Covington tapped a keg of this last night. If you're lucky and it hasn't kicked yet, you can go grab yourself a pint of it)

Style: American double/imperial IPA
ABV: 10%
IBU: ?
Beer Advocate: A-
Ratebeer: 100/99

Picked up from the Root Cellar in Kenwood for $2.99 a bargain. It is obviously distributed in Cincinnati, but if you're trying to find a bottle now, you're probably looking too late.

Day 37 (8/30/2011) Tallgrass Oasis by Tallgrass Brewing Company

(Excuse the blurriness. Not entirely sure what happened there.)

Oasis is a beer with an identity crisis. Not that this is necessarily bad or anything. It just makes it difficult to rate. Tallgrass admits this, calling the beer a double IPA/ESB. Since I'm not entirely sure what a characteristics a double ESB would have, so I decided to review it as a double IPA.

It pours a dark amber, definitely darker than most double IPAs, with a voluminous off-white head. Had to let it settle down a bit before I topped off the glass. It has a good citrus hop odor, but is balanced well with a substantial earthy caramel maltiness. The taste follows the nose, a good balance of hop bitterness and malt sweetness. It's not particularly complex and isn't going to blow anyone away, but it is tasty. Medium carbonation and body; nothing too surprising here.

I give Tallgrass Oasis by Tallgrass Brewing Company a solid B. I'm not sure what this beer is, but it is good. I'm not sure I would pick up a six pack over the alternatives, but if the price is right I would at least consider it. It's balanced and unoffensive and therefore is not going to change anyone's worldviews on beer, but sometimes you just want something you can put back without giving it a lot of thought.

Style: Double ESB/IPA
ABV: 7.2%
IBU: 93
Beer Advocate: B+
Ratebeer: 93/99

Received from a generous Beer Advocate from Kansas City. I believe this is available in Ohio.

Day 36 (8/29/2011): Lips of Faith Kick by New Belgium Brewing

(Note: Except for special beers/events, I'm going to start making these reviews a little shorter. It's taking up too much of my time to write exhaustive reviews every day, so I'm going to cut them down to a paragraph or two until I get a little more free time. Carry on!)

I was definitely interested in trying this when I saw it on the shelf. It is an ale brewed with pumpkin and cranberry juice, 25% of which is barrel aged. I have no idea what the barrel previously held, but I expect at least some wood notes. It is also brewed with wild yeasts, which should lend it a sour/funky nose and flavor.

Kick pours a very pretty light orange with a pale white, soda-like head. Between the pumpkin and cranberry I expected quite a bit darker body, but I'm not disappointed with its looks at all. It has a very tart nose. The sourness and musty funkiness combined with cranberries are the most obvious smells, but there is some oak and other unidentified citrus scents in the background, as well. I get no pumpkin or spices at all, which is a little strange.

The taste isn't nearly as sour as the nose implies, but it definitely is a little. The taste is largely dominated by the tart cranberries, with the oak (?) lending a slight bit of vanilla. There is a good malt sweetness to counter some of the tartness and, again, no pumpkin is present. The carbonation is medium and the body is actually a little more heavy than I expected. Nothing over the top, though.

The verdict? A solid beer. I would have preferred it a little more sour, with the cranberries toned down a bit. You can definitely tell by the flavor that they used cranberry juice and not whole cranberries. It also made me realize that I have no idea what pumpkins taste like in a beer when it is not a typical spiced beer. This was a good beer and I'm glad I got to try it. I probably wouldn't buy it again for the reasons stated above, but I would most certainly recommend it to someone new to sours or just someone who wants to try something new. I give Lips of Faith Kick by New Belgium Brewing a B+.

Style: Spice/herb/vegetable beer
ABV: 8.5%
IBU: ?
Beer Advocate: B+
Ratebeer: 93/97

Purchased from Connecticut Avenue Wine and Liquor Deli (Washington, D.C.) for $7.99 a bottle. New Belgium isn't distributed in Ohio, but you can probably find this elsewhere in the Tristate.