26 January 2010

Widmer Drop Top Amber Ale

Widmer Drop Top Amber Ale (bottle)
Portland, OR
5.0% ABV

(Full disclosure: This bottle was given to me gratis by a representative from a distributor.)

I'm not a big fan of Widmer's Hefeweizen, as I'm a bit of a purist when it comes to wheat beers in general, but I quite liked their pale ale. How will the Drop Top fare?

Pours orange-red, hazy, with a bit of soapscum in the place of head. Tinges of yellow as I hold it up to the light. Smells more sour than expected, lots of sweet maltiness with a distinct sourness up front. Hints of dry hops. Overall impression of the nose is sweet and fruity, slightly tart.

The beer also has a bit of a sourness in the flavor, mostly in the finish. More prominent, however, is a strong hoppy body and a touch of citrus in the malt profile. Aftertaste is clean.

Moutheel is moderate-to-thick, with a slight hoppiness and a crisp carbonation.

What is it with amber ales and a touch of sourness? I've had at least three amber ales from microbreweries with a distinct sour flavor, and yet I wouldn't consider it at all a feature of the style. It's tempting to consider the sourness a flaw, but I doubt that a brewery with the size and reputation of Widmer would make such a mistake. Age is also not a factor, as this one has been in the bottle about six weeks at the time I drank it. Maybe it's some sort of strange function of the caramel malt.

My overall BA rating: 3.3/5

25 January 2010

Widmer Drifter Pale Ale

Widmer Drifter Pale Ale
Portland, OR
5.7% ABV

(Full disclosure: This bottle was provided as a free sample from one of our distributors.)

Pours deep orange-red with a thin white head that dissipates quickly. Hazy, with some effervescence. Smells sweet with apples and some vague citrus with a nice hoppiness underneath. Very fruity, very inviting.

Flavor is sweet, fruity, and quite yeasty, with a bit of a hop bite on the back-end. Yeastiness is something of an unappreciated quality in a pale ale -- usually with an APA you want something clean and clear, but occasionally you find a beer that makes a thicker profile really work in conjunction with the other elements. Drifter Pale Ale is one of those cases. It's not an amazing, life-changing beer, but it's definitely worth a try if you like a good pale.

My overall BA rating: 3.85/5

24 January 2010

Brooklyn East India Pale Ale

Brooklyn East India Pale Ale (bottle)
Brooklyn, NY
6.8% ABV

Will this leave up to my last English IPA? I love Brooklyn beers, but that Meantime IPA is quite a tough act to follow....

Pours dingy yellow/orange with a moderate white head that dissipates pretty quickly. Slightly hazy, but mostly clear. Slight citrus aroma, nice crisp white hops, somewhat yeasty. Flavor is similar, lots of citrusy hoppiness and a slight yeasty finish. Somewhat drying on the aftertaste. Mouthfeel is moderate-to-thick with a nice dose of hops and some carbonation.

Overall this is probably most notable for how well-executed it is and yet how almost totally unremarkable it is. English beers in general tend to be more subtle and subdued than their American counterparts, and this IPA would probably fit in quite well in the English beer scene. It doesn't quite measure up to the Meantime, but it's a nice beer all on its own.

My overall BA rating: 3.7/5

Goose Island Bourbon County Stout (2009)

Goose Island Bourbon County Stout (bottle)
Chicago, IL
13.0% ABV
2009 bottling

My 400th BA review. I always like to have a "special" beer for these kinds of milestones, and when I realized it was creeping up on me I also realized that I had three bottles of Bourbon County Stout in my stash, patiently awaiting review....

Pours thick black body with a thin brown head that dissipates quickly. Smells strongly astringent, lots of alcohol with a sweet malty character underneath. Significant roasted malts with just a touch of dry hops. Hints of chocolate and subtle but strong notes of coffee.

Flavor is rich and complex, lots of dark roastiness and a significant presence of chocolate-covered cherries. Some alcohol astringency that burns on the way down the gullet. Finishes sweet with coffee and chocolate, leaves an astringent aftertaste.

Mouthfeel is thick and luxurious, leaving a significant oiliness on the tongue. Overall drinkability is amazing considering the high ABV. At eleven dollars a bottle I wouldn't buy this often, but I'd buy it -- this is one of the few beers I could see actually being worth that kind of cost.

My overall BA rating: 4.35/5

22 January 2010

Fuller's London Porter

Fuller's London Porter (can)
5.4% ABV
London, England

My store had these for $6.99 a four-pack. How could I resist? I've had this beer a few times, loved it, but never reviewed it. Time to bring out the tasting notes....

Hard to pour into a snifter from a can. Anyway. Coming from the can the liquid is a muddy brown, but it settles into a nice dark roasted color in the glass, opaque but with a somewhat "thin" look. A thick foam settles on top and sticks around. About as nice a presentation as one could ask for.

Aroma is sweet, chocolatey, lots of black patent malt. Hints of dryness, slightly oaty, maybe even a touch of astringency. Approachable. Flavor is similar, lots of roasted malts with a significant astringency on the backend. Slightly sweet in the aftertaste, lots of licorice. Mouthfeel is moderate-to-thick, with a mild carbonation that tickles the tongue.

Overall this is a very nice, even a world-class English Porter. Not that I'm saying anything new about the beer. I'd love to be able to get this on cask one day.

My overall BA rating: 4.2/5

20 January 2010

Short's Mystery Oatmeal Stout

Short's Mystery Oatmeal Stout (bottle)
Elk Rapids, MI
12.5% ABV

So the time has come to attempt again that failure of a beer review that I had earlier with Short's Mystery Stout. Twelve and a half percent ABV, got it. Ready and willing to drink the beer with that in mind, and I've let it warm for awhile before popping the cap.

Pours dark black, completely opaque, with a thin brown head that dissipates pretty quickly. Considering the alcohol, I'm surprised it had any head at all. High marks there. Smells of toffee, chocolate, hints of coffee. Very dry aromatics, lots of chocolate malt. Some sweetness like chocolate-covered cherries, with just a hint of the alcohol that is to come.

The flavor? Well, holy fuck, first of all there's the alcohol. Even knowing what a bomb this thing was going to be, the Mystery Stout is just really, really hot. Strong alcoholic phenols are present in the front, middle, and finish of this beer. Everything else works in conjunction with that basic fact. Peering with my tastebuds (can tastebuds peer? Probably not.) beneath the astringency I get a nice dry flavor, lots of oats and a great deal of that chocolate malt.

Drinking through this glass, I'm amazed mostly at the technical abilities of Joe Short and his brewery team. Just getting a beer to 12.5% ABV is difficult, much less one with this kind of smoothness and drinkability -- the alcohol is present but never cloying, the dryness is dominant but balanced with a malty sweetness. This was obviously a very difficult beer to brew, and just getting it into my glass is an achievement worth honoring.

But is it good? This isn't on the same scale as something like Dark Lord or World Wide Stout, which have similarly insane alcohol but balance that with an overabundance of malt which create a thick-bodied experience of a beer. This doesn't have that kind of complexity: the main feature of this beer is the alcoholic phenols, with the malty dryness and the relatively-thin body making this "drinkable" and "accessible" in the way that a macro-drinker would think of those terms. Which isn't at all a negative, as Short's Mystery Stout is one super-high-gravity beer that you could actually hand to someone whose only experience of beer was macro stuff and expect them to be able to choke it down.

I find myself having complex emotions about this beer. I don't know if, in my heart of hearts, I find this beer to be a bit too one-note, too astringent, too over-the-top without having the kind of complexity that makes those flaws virtues. But on the other hand, I enjoy drinking this, and find it smooth and clean for the most part. Do I enjoy this beer more than I admire it, or do I admire it more than I enjoy it? Certainly a multidimensional kind of thought process, one that I'll definitely be examining more as I drink more beers of this kind.

I may end up buying a six-pack of these and aging them for a hell of a long time. Like, drinking one a year until they're gone.

My overall BA rating: 4.4/5

(My score is my score, numbers picked because I needed to put something down to post the review. But the words in this case are far more important than the numbers. Take that as you will.)

Arcadia Nut Brown Ale

Arcadia Nut Brown Ale
Battle Creek, MI
5.6% ABV

Arcadia always seems to be one of the "also-ran" breweries in Michigan. Having Founders and Bells within easy proximity, and selling beers in all the same stores probably doesn't help. They're still quite small, but they make some nice beers, with a few standouts. Is their Nut Brown one of the former or the latter? Let's see.

Appearance is meh. Brownish-orange (orange? just a slight tinge), slightly hazy, with a very minimal head. Aroma is definitely interesting, with a slightly fruity smell mixing in with the expected nuttiness and sweet malt. Could be an ester produced from the yeast?

Taste is very much standard for a brown, sweet nutty maltiness with a slightly drying finish. Some citrus, quite a bit of yeasty qualities. Ultimately this is one of Arcadia's meh efforts for me -- but then again I'm hardly the target audience for this beer. They've proven they can make amazing high-gravity beer geek beers with their Cereal Killer and others; this beer is meant to be an inoffensive, easily-consumed ale for those looking for an alternative to BMC. On that level, it works well.

My overall BA rating: 3.5/5

14 January 2010

Dark Horse Plead the 5th

Dark Horse Plead the 5th
Marshall, MI
12.0% ABV

Scott gave me a bottle of this because it's one of his all-time favorite beers, and the store didn't get any this year. I'm not sure how old this bottle is, but thanks, Scott, for letting me try it.

Pours into my pint glass extremely dark, completely opaque, with a thin dark brown head that dissipates almost immediately. That's more-or-less to be expected for an RIS with this much alcohol. Smells very malty with some hints of alcohol astringency. Hints of chocolate, coffee, even the cherries you get sometimes with incredibly rich Russian Imperial Stouts. As the beer warms, the nose is filled with lots of rich dry roastiness.

I take my first swallow, and holy fuck is this thing incredible. Very smooth on the palate, rich with coffee, chocolate, and roastiness, with just the right amount of alcohol burn on the way down the gullet. Other than that last bit you don't get a sense of the alcohol at all -- the astringency is completely hidden in the flavor, which is a remarkable technical achievement in a beer this high-gravity. It's possible this bottle is a year old or more (have to ask Scott), which would help explain the smoothness, but even then it's astonishing just how delicious this beer is.

I can't get over how smooth this guy is. I could drink a dozen bottles -- damn the alcohol! This is up there with Bell's Expedition and Founder's Impy Stout and Stone RIS and all of those other famously-good RIS's for me... and I'm a huge fan of the style. If this doesn't make my Best of 2010 list eleven months from now, this will have been an astonishingly good year.

My overall BA rating: 4.6/5

11 January 2010

Short's The Liberator Double IPA

Short's The Liberator Double IPA (bottle)
Elk Rapids, MI
7.4% ABV

This took a lot longer than I expected, but other than me re-drink of the Mystery Stout, this is the last of the Short's Limited Series for this year. Apparently they're planning on doing this every year with new beers, so it'd be fun to try to make a review of a series of limited brews part of my yearly December tradition.

Anyway. I've saved the Liberator for the end because I really love the Huma-Lupa-Licious, and I figured their DIPA would be just as good. The verdict? Well....

The Liberator is a bit one-note, a strong crisp hoppiness followed by a nice wallop of citrus -- the bottle says this is a "Double IPA with Lemon and Orange Zest," and it's actually quite accurate. The hops and the citrus actually balance each other quite well, but I wouldn't exactly call this an amazingly complex beer. Body is hazy orange/yellow, with a very minimal head that dissipates almost immediately. Any fan of DIPAs should check this out, although it's not my all-time favorite DIPA.

My overall BA rating: 4.15/5

Great Divide Saint Bridget's Porter

Great Divide Saint Bridget's Porter (bottle)
Denver, CO
5.9% ABV

I'm feeling uninspired tonight, so here's another one that's just a repost of my BA review. Lame, I know.

A: Dark body, brownish-black with a slight reddish tinge. Thick brown-colored head that sticks around and leaves some lacing.

S: Lots of chocolate malt, slightly sweet, notes of licorice. Hints of dry roastiness.

T: Dry, malty, slightly sweet on the aftertaste. Hints of raisins. Some graininess on the finish and an almost rye-like flavor on the aftertaste.

M: Creamier than anticipated, low carbonation, low hops.

D: A very nice porter. Kind of screams of England to me, even though it's made in Colorado.

Scott from work gave me a bottle of this because he loved it so. I can't say that I like it any more than any of a dozen or more porter/stout-type beers I've had. I'd take a Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald or even an Anchor Porter over this any day. Still, it's quite nice and worthy of Great Divide.

My overall BA rating: 4.05/5

09 January 2010

Flying Dog Dogtoberfest

Flying Dog Dogtoberfest (bottle)
Frederick, MD
5.3% ABV

An Octoberfest in January? Well, sure, if I'm going through some old beers in my fridge. It was good enough for review purposes, but I think I've pretty much said all I had to say in my BA review. Here's the text.

A: Orange-amber body, almost brown, mostly clear with only a touch of haziness, with a thick khaki-colored head that sticks around. Very nice.

S: Sweet, nutty. Hints of... citrus? Maybe even oranges? Strange for a Marzen.

T: Flavor is very bright, lots of citrus flavors, some lemon on the finish. Significant yeastiness. Only minor hints of the expected dry roasted malts.

M: Moderate thickness, with yeast coating the palate. Low carbonation, low hops.

D: This is more of a summer beer than an Oktoberfest. Doesn't really hold up to many of the expectations of the style. Is this a Marzen for those who don't like Marzens?

Flying Dog has always been a source of "meh" beers for me. Decent enough, but not really worth seeking out. This is just more of the same.

My overall BA rating: 3.45/5

08 January 2010

New Glarus Stone Soup

New Glarus Stone Soup (bottle)
New Glarus, WI
5.3% ABV

I've never had a New Glarus, since I've never been to Wisconsin. Those without a thorough knowledge of the Midwestern beer scene will be forgiven for feeling a bit left in the dust by that dependent clause -- New Glarus is a brewery that has so far limited its distribution only to the state in which it is located.

Working in even a small capacity in the beverage industry, you definitely see a great variety in the strategies that the various microbreweries take in growing their customer base. Some breweries, like Rogue, take an approach of widening their net as much as possible, increasing availability in as many areas as possible. This has the positive effect of making your products somewhat ubiquitous and making your brand recognition high, but usually means that your product seems less like a product of a particular place.

Other breweries expand more slowly, but still have a regional presence. Yuengling, for instance, is purely an East Coast phenomenon that expats from those areas tend to remember fondly. How many people just have to get that pint of Yuengling upon a return to an area where it can be found? (I'm certainly one of those.)

And some breweries just stay local. Michigan's own Short's Brewing is one of those, for now, although I'm guessing they'll start moving outside of Michigan in the near future as they expand. The problem with expansion is quality control, with making sure that the beer you produce is handled well in its journey from the fermenter to the glass, and in working with ever-wider arrays of distributors, retailers, etc.

New Glarus is a brewery that (for now) has decided to just stick with one market: Wisconsin. It's a nationally-recognized brewery that certainly doesn't have national distribution. They've been in operation since 1993 and, in the words of their website: "Sorry about the limited distribution, non-Wisconsinites. There are only so many hours in the day to make beer and we can only keep up with the local demand. If you're ever in town stop by our little gift shop and pick some up."

So, how's the beer? It's actually a pretty standard Belgian Pale Ale, which given the context is actually a pretty nice complement. A nice citrus start gives way to a sweet, yeasty finish. Healthy amounts of hops give this brew a nice bitter bite, but far from enough to make me feel like this has been Americanized in any way. Complex enough to be palatable to beer geeks, but accessible to those with a simple interest in a decent brew.

Is it the best beer ever? No way, but if it were made in my hometown I'd support this kind of thing until my dying day. Not a world-class beer, but it's a very nice brew.

My overall BA rating: 3.95/5

06 January 2010

Short's Good Humans

Short's Good Humans Imperial Brown Ale (bottle)
Elk Rapids, MI

What is a beer style, anyway? The bottle on this one lists it as an "Imperial Brown Ale," which certainly isn't a style recognized by the BJCP or by most beer geeks. Nonetheless, it's pretty clear what this is meant to be: a high-alcohol brown ale with perhaps some enhanced hoppiness.

Tasting it, though, I don't really get that same impression. It's more interesting than that. It has a pretty intense earthiness in the aroma and flavor -- it reminds me more of their wet-hopped Kind Ale than anything else, which definitely isn't a bad thing. Overall flavor is a mix of this strange grassy flavor with a nice nuttiness underneath, which leads me to suspect that this beer was wet-hopped. In any case, it's a very nice beer, rich and complex, and while it may not fit into a neat box on a style guideline sheet it's definitely worth a try. Another winner from Short's.

My overall BA rating: 4.3/5

05 January 2010

Short's Uber Goober & PB&J

Short's Uber Goober (bottle)
Elk Rapids, MI
6.5% ABV

Short's PB&J (bottle)
Elk Rapids, MI
Unknown ABV

I've been running behind on these Short's reviews, what with the holidays and all. I had the Uber Goober a few days ago and had begun to write a post on it, but I got sidetracked and never even got past the introductory paragraph. Here's the text of my BA review of the Uber Goober

A: Pour dark brown, almost black, with a thin brown head that dissipates quickly.

S: Dry and roasty, mild notes of peanuts. Hints of sweetness, just a touch of chocolate. Not a whole lot of aroma at all, to be honest.

T: Sweet roasted chocolate malt up front, with a dose of dry peanuts on the back end. Some residual sweetness on the finish with a dry and malty aftertaste. A bit astringent on the aftertaste, as well.

M: Moderate thickness, low hops, but the carbonation bites the tongue a bit.

D: This is actually pretty relaxing and drinkable. The recipe could use a bit of tweaking, but who else would even think to make a peanut-based Oatmeal Stout? If it was just a touch sweeter I'd like it more, I think.

Basically a dry, nutty oatmeal stout. It's a nice beer, but I wish it was more of a peanut butter stout than just a peanut stout. The PB&J is, as far as I can determine, a blend of the Uber Goober and their Soft Parade. How does that stack up?

Well, there's not a huge amount of difference, to be quite honest. The fruitiness is much milder and more subdued than I expected, and could almost be completely overlooked by someone not looking specifically for it. A roasty coffee/chocolate flavor up front, with a dry finish, and a touch of sweet fruit on the aftertaste. Certainly not the kind of fruitiness expected by anyone looking for a sweet and/or fruity beer, and not one I'd recommend to fans of that style. Still, it's pretty drinkable and certainly not unenjoyable.

All I have left is the Liberator, Good Humans, and my re-review of the Mystery Stout. Hopefully in the next few days....

My overall BA rating (Uber Goober): 3.65/5
My overall BA rating (PB&J): 3.85/5

01 January 2010

The Session: New Beers Resolutions AND My Best of 2009

I meant to write and post this a couple of days ago, but my work schedule lately has been pretty punishing, and I've been a bit lazy otherwise, plus we had some friends up from Tennessee last night and spent most of the day with them, so this is a bit of a quick-and-dirty version of this post. Nonetheless, I think it'll be fun to get it done, and hopefully the speed will help me to not overthink my responses.

This month's Session is all about reflecting on the old year and preparing for the new. In the words of The Beer Chicks:

So we want to know what was your best and worst of beer for 2009? What beer mistakes did you make? What beer resolutions do you have for 2010? What are your beer regrets and embarrassing moments? What are you hoping to change about your beer experience in 2010?

I'm going to take these in somewhat random order.

What beer mistakes did you make?

Nothing really springs to mind on this one. There were certainly beers that I would rather not have tried this year, but I always feel that any beer is worth trying once, just to be able to say you've had it. There were a couple of times that I bought singles for review, only to crack it open and start writing it up and realizing that I'd already reviewed it. My reviews were pretty consistent, though, which at least made me feel a bit better about it.

What beer resolutions do you have for 2010?

This is probably the big one for me. My beer resolution for the year is this: just drink the damned thing. I'm something of a beer hoarder, always collecting new sixers and singles for review, and I end up with dozens of bottles sitting around that just wait expectantly for me to open them and write about them. It's not that reviewing a beer takes a lot of time or is an incredibly onerous procedure, but sometimes I just feel like I am just not in the mood to do it. But then the bottles pile up, so my number one resolution for the new year (beer-related, anyway) is to work harder to either review the singles that I have in the house, or just drink the damned things and review another bottle later on.

Note that I'm not talking about cellaring beers here, as that's a valid reason to leave a beer undrunk. These are just endless singles sitting around the house that I keep meaning to review but... ooh, look, shiny!

What are you hoping to change about your beer experience in 2010?

I'm definitely going to be homebrewing more, if only for the decreased cost in day-to-day drinking that that will bring. Last year I started working at a beer store for the first time, which has been a learning experience in a lot of ways that are not always readily apparent, but buying six-packs of commercial beer can be costly, at least in the quantities that I consume it. I'll be moving to all-grain brewing with my next batch, and hopefully that will also help keep my costs down while making my quality even higher.

I'm also planning on visiting some more breweries in the area this year. My visit to New Holland was one of my best single beer-related evenings of 2009. Between that and regular access to Bell's, I've definitely decided that I'd like to visit more of the great breweries and beer locations in Michigan. Dark Horse and Arcadia are less than an hour away, and I'd really love to someday go far enough north to get to visit Short's. Not to mention Founders, which is still on my to-do-list.

So we want to know what was your best and worst of beer for 2009?

I'm not going to bother with a worst of '09 list, as I simply didn't have enough bad beer to be worth it, plus I prefer to focus on the positive rather than the negatives. Instead what follows are the ten beers that I first reviewed during 2009 that I enjoyed the most. I'm not going on a strict numerical rating scale from my BA account -- this is just my personal recollection as I'm sitting here right now.

In no particular order:

1.) New Holland's The Poet, on cask at the brewery. This thing is great in bottles, but approaches pure perfection on cask. A thick brown head on an opaque black body, dry roasty chocolate malt character... this was simply an amazing beer.

2.) Old Towne Emancipation Double IPA, on-tap at the Nook in Huntsville. Alabama's beer culture has been suppressed for far too long by the 6% ABV limit, and Emancipation is a definite sign of great things to come from Alabama's breweries. Thick, malty, with a creamy body and tons of crisp hops, this is not the greatest DIPA I had all year, but it's a fine brew and a welcome addition to Old Towne's roster.

3.) Short's Cup A Joe Cream Stout, bottle. Of all the Short's beers I had this year, this one is the one I'd most like to emphasize. Coffee beers tend to be either too bitter or too syrupy sweet, but this one hits that perfect sweet spot and makes a delicious creamy coffee beer that I could drink by the gallon. If Short's can continue to expand and keep up this level of quality, this will be a brewery to watch in years to come.

4.) Founders Backwoods Bastard, bottle. If there is a Scotch Ale that can hold its own against Skullsplitter, this is it. Beautiful oaky body with a malty but dry finish. Need I say anything more?

5.) Stone Smoked Porter, bottle. I don't really need to tell you how awesome Stone is, do I? If they have a beer that might even edge out their RIS and Ruination in my opinion, it's this one.

6.) Anderson Valley Boont ESB, bottle. From my original review: Somewhat sweet, notes of caramel, rich with grainy malt. Yeasty on the finish. Almost a primer on what a good American-made ESB can taste like. This might have been my biggest surprise of the year, and has been the beer that I've been recommending most fervently for those looking for a good "amber-colored" beer. It's a fine ESB, totally worth seeking out.

7.) New Holland Dragon's Milk, bottle. I might have bought more bombers of this than any other beer I bought this year. Rich, chocolatey, with notes of coffee and a nice dry finish. BA lists this as an American Strong Ale, but hand this to anyone who loves a great stout and they'll be happy. Also awesome: their seasonal Night Tripper.

8.) Bell's Hopslam, bottle. I didn't review a lot of Bell's stuff this year, so this one kind of has to stand in for all the amazing Bell's beers I drank but didn't review. And Hopslam can stand for a whole lot of great beer -- it's a strong DIPA with just enough honey malt to give a great sweetness. A fine beer from one of the country's great breweries.

9.) Dark Horse Tres Blueberry Stout, bottle. A perfect blend of blueberry sweetness and roasty stout goodness. Dark Horse is one of the smaller breweries in Michigan, but they make a whole lot of really amazing beers, of which this is just my example.

10.) Weihenstephaner Vitus, bottle. This has been a very USA-centric beer year for me, but this beer from the oldest brewery in the world is a decent stand-in for my import drinking. Vitus is a great Weizenbock with a nice citrus aroma and flavor mixed with a roasty aftertaste.

Overall, 2009 was a great beer year for me. It's possible I'll be spending a month in Prague next year, which will definitely give me access to some beers I haven't had before, and certainly I'll be trying a lot more complex homebrews. 2010 will also be the year I turn 30, which is both frightening and inspiring. I guess we'll see what the next twelve months brings, but for now I think I've said all I can say. Happy drinking!