Thursday, November 29, 2012

Review: Stillwater Artisanal Of Love & Regret

Stillwater Artisanal Of Love & Regret, Import Series Vol. 1
ABV: 7.2%
Belgian Saison Ale
11.2 oz btl
Served in Dogfish Head Signature Glass
Reviewed on 5/10/12

This ale pours a light brackish brown.  Thick off-white bubbly head that keeps.  Good lacing and carbonation.  Lots of particles floating around.  On the nose, there's a strong earthy-type smell, with some hops, lemon, herbs and spices, yeast. The taste is lemony, with a touch of spices and other citrus flavors.  It's fairly light tasting with earthiness.  Definite yeast.  As I got closer to the end, yeasty sediment took over and it became harder to drink.  The mouthfeel is grainy--I can feel the particles on the tongue.  Slightly thinner than expected.

When I opened the bottle, it pretty much exploded, something I wasn't prepared for.  It's definitely an interesting earthy-type beer, though as I continued drinking it, I liked it less and less.  Perhaps I poured it a bit too vigorously and allowed too much of the sediment to get into my glass.  Perhaps I picked up a bottle that had gone bad (I couldn't find a date on it).  Perhaps my palate's not ready for this one.  Anyway, I wasn't too fond of it, but I'd be willing to give it another go in the future.

Score: 78

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Slight Change to My Current Top Ten

I've had a slight change in the My Current Top Ten list, which hangs out in the right column of this page.  Ballast Point Sculpin IPA and Green Flash Palate Wrecker have switched places, mostly owing to Sculpin now being available in my area and Palate Wrecker being a seasonal that, well, hasn't wrecked my palate in quite a few months now because there's none to have.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Review: Southern Tier Harvest Special Ale

Southern Tier Harvest Special Ale
Extra Special Bitter (ESB)
ABV: 6.7%
12 oz bottle
Served in Dogfish Head Signature Glass
Reviewed on 9/3/12 

This ale pours a nice amber color with a thin white head that quickly dissipates.  Mild carbonation and mild lacing present.  Not as lively as you might expect for a recently released, fresh beer.

Nose has malt, hops, citrus, hints of nutmeg and pumpkin, and a slight floral smell.  Taste reveals a bit more than the smell, with malt, hops, nutmeg, grapefruit, citrus, floral and even pumpkin notes coming with a hint of cinnamon.

Mouthfeel has some earthiness yet is smooth, slightly dry, and slightly bitter.  It presents a decent balance of flavors.  Slightly thin on the back end.

Overall, this has a good mix of decently balanced flavors that come together for a good autumn taste.  Hints of a pumpkin ale, and also suggests an IPA and even a brown ale.  Interesting profile, even if it might be a bit all over the place.  For me, it's not quite there but it's close.

Score: 88

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Dogfish Head Burton Baton: A Tale of Two Reviews

For its Burton Baton, Dogfish Head says, "we brew two 'threads,' or batches, of beer: an English-style old ale and an imperial IPA."  The number two is fitting, as I have two reviews for Burton Baton.  Back in February 2012, I purchased a four-pack of Burton Baton that, according to the stamped date, was bottled on November 28, 2011.  So, before my first review on April 21, I had already had two of them; after the first review, I decided to hang on to the last one for a bit longer and review it again, which ended up being on June 2.  The April 21 review was almost at the five month point, and the June 2 review was just beyond the six month point.  As you can see in the latter review, the beer has definitely changed in terms of its flavor profile, as the maltiness has become more dominant.

I should note that my aging process, if you can even call it that, is fairly primitive.  I keep beers in a box or an unused cooler, stored upright, in my basement, doing my best to preserve them from light and temperature changes.  Maybe one day I'll work up to something a little more formal like a special refrigerator or other temperature controlled area. 

Dogfish Head Burton Baton
12 oz bottle
Served in Dogfish Head Signature Glass
Bottled on 11/28/11 

4/21/12 review (5 months) 

Pours an orangish amber with a thin bubbly head that quickly dissipates.  Good carbonation showing.  The beer is opaque and somewhat cloudy.  Minimal lacing.

Smell consists of vanilla and oak, sweetness with a touch of honey, touch of spice, the slight aroma of a fine liquor.

Taste has dominant flavors of vanilla and oak.  Malt, some hoppiness, somewhat bitter on the back end.  Alcohol taste comes through but not overly strong.

Mouthfeel is smooth with some earthiness.  Has a good balance of flavors with a good balance of bitterness and the feel of a fine whiskey.

Overall, this beer has a good complex mix of tastes, coming across as bold and unique.  A beer that's big and demands to be savored.  Pricey but superior.

Score: 97

6/2/12 review (6 months)

Pours a cloudy orangish-amber with a thin bubbly head that quickly dissipates.  Mild carbonation.  Mild lacing.

Smell consists of malt, vanilla, oak, bit of an alcohol/liquor note, faint spice and sweetness.

Taste has malt and some chocolate notes coming through.  Touch of vanilla.  Touch of spice.  Fading hops.

Mouthfeel is smooth with an earthy feel, and there's almost a chewiness coming through.  Dryness on the back end.  Fading bitterness.

Overall, this beer still has a good complex mix of flavors, though it has definitely changed since the 4/21/12 review.  The flavor profile seems to be moving more toward that of a stout, as the malty notes are more prevalent.  It still has a definite alcohol taste.  It's perhaps easier to drink than it was the last time.

Score: 97

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thanksgiving Dinner: What About Beer?

Okay, we're up to the first stop in the holiday season with Thanksgiving.  It's customary to have some wine at the table, but what about beer? 

Following conventional beer-food pairing wisdom, quadrupels, tripels, and dubbels would be the best way to go, and who could argue with having a Trappistes Rochefort 10, Unibroue La Fin du Monde, or Boulevard The Sixth Glass with any meal? If you've managed to save a few pumpkins ales for this occasion (good luck trying to find them now, which is even crazy to contemplate--what if you couldn't get a pumpkin pie right now?), they also make a good logical pairing.  Basically, as Garrett Oliver and Randy Mosher and others say, you'll want to match intensity with intensity.  Not overly spicy or bitter beers that are along the lines of something earthy and have a somewhat yeasty profile should work well considering traditional Thanksgiving fare; the aforementioned Belgian style beers and pumpkin ales might do the trick, along with pilsners and hefeweizens/wheat beers.  An IPA might not be the best choice, as hop bitterness will overwhelm the food flavor.

The beast is cooked.  Now choose a beer!

 An interesting thought I've been having is pairing stout with the turkey meal.  Say what?  I'm thinking that a bold imperial stout might be best saved for dessert, but something like an oatmeal stout, which can be rich and creamy but not as bold and spicy and full of dark chocolate and coffee flavors as an imperial.  Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout seems like a good one to try—creamy, mellow, smooth, yet quite flavorful.  I'm thinking, how could this not go with turkey and gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and the like?  A 550-ml (about 18.6 oz) bottle is relatively inexpensive and even enough to share with someone, depending upon how you view such a thing.

Anyway, remember that I'm an amateur at this, so you should do what you want to for beverages.  If you've got a beer that you truly want to crack open when you sit down for dinner Thursday, by all means go for it.  Or mix it up with something completely unexpected.  Hopefully, you can sit down with friends and family and share a meal (if not your beer) and give thanks, which is the most important thing.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Ballast Point: Now Available in Maryland

Ballast Point is now available in Maryland, with visual confirmation of Sculpin IPA (number 6 on My Current Top Ten list, reviewed here), purchased from Corridor Fine Wine in Laurel:

Also spotted on Corridor's shelves were Big Eye IPA, Pale Ale, and Indra Kunindra.  The Frisco Grille in Columbia, Maryland, has Wahoo Wheat on tap as I'm writing this, with Sextant Oatmeal Stout coming soon. Exciting!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Reviews: Heavy Seas The Great Pumpkin and The Great'er Pumpkin

Don't tell Linus, but Heavy Seas has two versions of The Great Pumpkin Much like Halloween and other pumpkin ales, though, these two have probably already come and gone for this year.

Heavy Seas The Great Pumpkin
ABV: 8.0%
Clipper CIty Brewing Co., Baltimore, MD
22 oz bottle
Served in Dogfish Head Signature Glass
Reviewed on 9/30/12 

This pumpkin ale pours a solid amber color with a thin white head that quickly dissipates.  Decent carbonation.  Mild lacing.  

Smell consists of nutmeg, malt, slight cinnamon, mild hops, slight pumpkin.

Taste has pumpkin, malt, nutmeg, hops, cinnamon, mild citrus, slight floral, slight brown sugar.

Mouthfeel has good dryness and bitterness not expected in a pumpkin ale.  Decent balance of flavors.  Somewhat smooth, somewhat earthy. 

Overall, this is a solid if not sensational pumpkin ale with unexpected (in a pumpkin ale) dryness and bitterness.  Pumpkin takes a back seat to other flavors, but it still works.  Might be somewhat close to an Oktoberfest type of beer.  Fairly drinkable.  Equal parts smooth and earthy.

Score: 90


Heavy Seas The Great'er Pumpkin
ABV: 9.0%
Clipper CIty Brewing Co., Baltimore, MD
22 oz bottle
Served in Dogfish Head Signature Glass
Reviewed on 11/3/12

This pumpkin ale pours a solid amber color with a thin white bubbly head.  Moderate lacing.  Moderate carbonation.

Smell has pumpkin, brown sugar, malt, nutmeg, slight allspice, slight bourbon, slight hops.

Taste consists of malt, pumpkin, brown sugar, slight hops, cinnamon, nutmeg, slight bourbon, some alcohol.  Similar to The Great Pumpkin with less citrus and more whiskey and alcohol.  

On the mouth, it's smooth with good earthiness and a grainy texture on the tongue.  Nice hit of dryness.  Flavors are well balanced even with a bit of an alcohol kick.

Overall, this one is a tasty improvement over the solid The Great Pumpkin.  It has more of a kick yet still retains its pumpkin ale qualities (with this version actually having a somewhat stronger pumpkin flavor).  The alcohol kick makes you wonder how it might taste with some age, though it's quite good fresh.  It has many of the qualities of The Great Pumpkin in taste, and it's definitely a pumpkin, but here it's taken up a notch .  The "aged in bourbon barrels" indicated on the bottle is definitely evident.

Score: 92

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Review: Schneider Weisse Tap 6 Unser Aventinus

Schneider Weisse Tap 6 Unser Aventinus
ABV: 8.2%
Kelheim, Germany
16.9 oz bottle
Served in Dogfish Head Signature Glass
Reviewed on 6/1/12

This weizenbock style beer pours a medium dark brown with a solid white head that keeps its form.  Good lacing and thickness.

On the nose, there are aromas of bananas, malt, hops, raisins, hints of spice, and a touch of vanilla.

Taste reveals bananas, cloves, some malt and hops, good spiciness coming through, quite sweet with some hints of a light chocolate.

Mouthfeel is smooth, with well balanced flavors that really get into the mouth.  Refreshing character not typical of a higher ABV beer.

Overall, this is a well balanced, tasty, uncharacteristically refreshing beer that's comparable to Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier but with a bigger alcohol kick.  Looks dark, tastes light.  Nice.  Definitely can't beat the price. 

Score: 93

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Stouts: Beyond St. Patrick's Day and Pints of Guinness

St. Patrick's Day will always exist as a day to get your Irish on, head to your local Irish pub, dine on fish and chips and soda bread and down some pints of Guinness while wall pictures of James Joyce and Samuel Beckett look upon you from the grave and the band at the far end is playing "Danny Boy" to a singalong crowd.

Guinness, the most famous stout in the world, has always been something of a marker.  You have one in your hand and you're perhaps making a statement that the standard light-colored lagers are too weak for you.  You might get a reaction from someone such as, how can you drink that?  If you're drinking on days other than St. Patrick's Day and in places other than Irish pubs, you're definitely setting yourself apart.  Some might even say you're on the road to craft beerdom.

There's nothing wrong with a Guinness.  It's widely available, quite drinkable with a nice smooth yet somewhat complex taste, and, surprisingly, fairly reasonable in terms of calories.  But there's a lot more out there beyond Ireland, and there's a great diversity of substyles and tastes.  Here are a few you should be able to find:

Bar Harbor Cadillac Mountain Stout 
This stout has notes of milk chocolate, coffee, malt, and, to a lesser degree, hops and caramel to the nose.  Tasting very much like it smells, with mild but consistent chocolate and coffee, and malt and caramel coming through on the back end.  It's fairly balanced and smooth, with good proportioned tastes that aren't overwhelming.  Almost like a mellow liqueur. 

Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout
Comes in a 550 ml (18.5 oz) bottle and fares from England.  Pours dark black with a bubbly beige head that is quite thick and puffy.  Chocolate, caramel, oatmeal, coffee, spice, malt notes on the sniffer.  Taste is rich, with a mix of oatmeal, chocolate, mild coffee, caramel, and mild spice (much like it smells).  It's smooth and creamy with almost a milk-like quality to it, with light bubbles and good thickness.  Superbly balanced.  Easy to drink.  Low in ABV.  A classic that's widely available and relatively inexpensive.

Victory Storm King Stout
Storm King has nose notes of hops, malt, coffee, and caramel.  On the palate, you can pick up hops, coffee, chocolate, some oak, and some mild spice.  Even as with a 9% ABV, no alcohol taste comes through.  Quite smooth, with a good thickness and creamy texture coming through.  One of the best out there for an inexpensive price.

Other stouts to seek out: Founders Breakfast Stout, Stone Imperial Russian Stout, Hoppin' Frog B.O.R.I.S. The Crusher Oatmeal-Imperial Stout, Old Dominion Dominion Oak Barrel Stout, Anderson Valley Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout, Bear Republic Big Bear Black Stout.  Guinness also makes a Foreign Extra Stout, which is much more tasty and complex than its standard stout.  It stacks up well with some of the other stouts mentioned. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Review: Ballast Point Sculpin IPA

Ballast Point Sculpin IPA
ABV: 7.0%
Ballast Point Brewing Company, San Diego, CA
22 oz bottle
Served in Dogfish Head Signature Glass
Reviewed on 8/24/12 

This IPA pours a light amber color with a snow white head.  Very good lacing with decent carbonation.

On the nose, aromas of hops, pine, lemon, citrus, fruitiness, slight malt.

On taste, strong dry bitter hops right at the front, with a fruity character following.  Definite lemon and apricot notes.  Some malt and pine notes as well.

Mouthfeel is smooth, well balanced with a bold profile of flavors yet still retaining a good even light crispness.

Overall, this is a great tasting, distinctive IPA.  Strong flavors present with good hoppy bitterness and dryness.  Quite fresh and crisp.  A classic that, according to some reports I've seen online, may soon be available in Maryland. 

Score: 97

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Too Many Beers, Not Enough Time (or Money)

I was just having this conversation with a guy working at a local store: too many beers, not enough time to try them all.  Even more, not enough money to try them all.  Yes, the age-old conundrum that appears in many parts of life.  Somehow, we never seem to be rich, have lots of free time, or live forever.
The beer selection at a good store can be overwhelming.  What's one to do?  Say you've got a bunch of IPAs or stouts or pumpkin ales at home--do you really need to buy more?  You're suffering from a lack of imports in your stock—do you go Belgium, England, Germany and make your home supply more UN?  Do you get more of what you like, more of what you've yet to try, more of the highly rated, more of that one brewery you really like?  Those seasonals won't be around long—better stock up on those!  And there's that limited edition, 22 oz bottle that's priced more than everything else you have combined—do you get that, justify it with the notion that it won't be here the next time you come?  You're looking at a wall of 200+ beers and you're getting maybe 12, which means you've got to make choices
So, here's what I do, always subject to change: tune out the questions, go for a mixed sixer or two, mix up the styles, grab at least one seasonal and one local/regional, and go 60/40 new/previously had.  If you just want all new in your mixed sixers, grab a four or six pack of something you've previously had and liked.  Make it to the counter, purchase, and don't look back.  Inevitably on the drive home you'll be thinking about one you didn't get.  But don't worry--there's always next time.