29 April 2010

New Holland Envious

New Holland Envious (bottle)
Holland, MI
7.5% ABV

This one apparently ran out in a matter of minutes at the Winter Michigan Beer Fest, which makes me think it must be pretty fucking amazing. Yet BAers have only given this one a B- overall, with twelve reviews. Since the collective wisdom of BeerAdvocate is right more often than it's wrong, this leaves me with a bit of trepidation.

Pours deep ruby red with a thick brown head that dissipates quickly. Almost transparent, but with very slight sediment in the body. Aroma is sweet, fruity, lots of grapes and hints of citrus, maybe a touch of grapefruit? Rich bready qualities underneath, slight notes of yeast.

Flavor is sweet, syrupy, with a strong yeastiness up front. Lots of the aforementioned fruit, significant grape notes and some grapefruit, with a slight chocolate undertone that finishes with a somewhat tarty astringency. Amazingly complex flavor. Mouthfeel is thick, with low hoppiness and a heavy dose of carbonation.

Is this really a B- beer? Not on your life. It is, however, a beer that doesn't fit into an easily grasped style guideline, and asking beer geeks to appreciate fruit without providing some Belgian character to prep the tongue might be a bit of a risk on New Holland's part. I think this is fascinating, engrossing, and definitely worth a try for anyone willing to give it an open look.

My overall BA rating: 4.3/5

28 April 2010

Zatec Dark Lager

Zatec Dark Lager (bottle)
Zatec, Czech Republic
5.7% ABV

Apparently this beer is so new that it's not even supposed to be out yet. My store got these a few days ago, but they're not supposed to be out until June. Did our distributor ship them a bit earlier than anticipated, or was there a mixup? Can't say, but I can at least review the beer.

Out of the bottle it's a light reddish-brown, very clear, with a very thick foamy head. Significant lacing. Smells roasty and bready, just like a Euro Dark Lager should.

Tastes dark, roasty, slightly chocolatey, with a slightly astringent dryness that balances quite nicely. Lots of malty bread character, and finishes smoother and cleaner than expected, despite a touch of astringent dryness.

Overall quite a nice lager that makes me look forward to my upcoming month in Prague. A very nice balance of malt and hop, somewhat sweet, somewhat dry -- if not for the relatively high ABV this might make a very nice session beer. Hopefully I'll get to try it on tap sometime this summer.

My overall BA rating: 4.05/5

Arcadia Big Dick's Olde Ale

Arcadia Big Dick's Olde Ale (bottle)
Battle Creek, MI
9% ABV

Pours orange-red with a very thick brownish white head. Head is foamy, like a root beer float, and sticks around significantly, leaving some lacing. Aroma is very sweet, almost syrupy at first, almost fruity, but with a strong bready malt backbone that keeps it from being too cloying. Slight hints of yeast.

Taste is similar to aroma, with a strong sweet fruitiness masking a bready malt middle and a dry, almost bitter finish. Aftertaste is clean but slightly drying. The alcohol is very well-hidden, likely by the sugary sweetness. Mouthfeel is moderate-to-thick, with a low carbonation and a very mild hop bite.

Overall I like this beer more in toto than the summary above would indicate. I would generally consider an Old Ale that's this sweet to be at least moderately flawed, but in this beer it somehow works with the dryness to give what is to my palate a very pleasing overall experience. Do I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself -- I contain multitudes.

My overall BA rating: 3.85/5

(Note: BeerAdvocate calls this an American Strong Ale, but I'm going by what those who made the beer and gave it a name clearly intended for it to be. Old Ale is such a broad style that the characteristics between it and an American Strong are too minuscule to be noticed, anyway.)

23 April 2010

Big Sky IPA

Big Sky IPA
Missoula, MN
6.2% ABV

Big Sky has only recently become available in this part of Michigan. Moose Drool is the one that gets all the attention, but I'm not really a fan. Their IPA is pretty nice, though, from the couple of bottles I had last night hanging out.

Very clear body, dark amber, thick off-white foamy head. Smells sweet, with strong earthy high-alpha acid hops which will form the soul of this beer. I can't quite identify the hop variety, but I'd love to, as I want to make a beer with the same kind of hop quality. Aroma also has hints of grapefruit.

Flavor is sugary, grainy, with an interesting malt profile that then gives way to an intense earthy hoppiness afterward. Lots of citrus, especially grapefruit. Slight dryness on the finish. Mouthfeel is thin-to-moderate, with a heavy hoppiness (of course) and a moderate carbonation.

Overall, I really like this IPA. The earthiness and grapefruit this this one a complexity that I didn't anticipate, which definitely differentiates it from the whole run of American IPAs that, while great, can definitely feel repetitive.

My overall BA rating: 4.1/5

Jolly Pumpkin Luciernaga

Jolly Pumpkin Luciernaga (bottle)
Dexter, MI
6.5% ABV

I just opened this bottle and had it literally explode out of the bottle all over my desk, my computer, my floor, and my jeans. Guess I'm going to smell like Belgian Pale Ale for the rest of the evening. At least it's good Belgian Pale Ale. I'll review the half the bottle or so I have left. Having to use a non-ergonomic keyboard now while my MS Natural dries. My typing speed is pathetic.

Anyway, pours yellow/orange with a thick white head that sticks around significantly. Even while mopping up the beer off the desk, the head stuck around and barely dissipated at all. Guess that's the flip side of the too-aggressive carbonation. Smells very much like a Belgian pale, lots of yeast and golden raisin aroma. Very sweet.

Flavor has that same yeastiness, sweet golden tartness. Slightly drying on the finish, somewhat astringent on the aftertaste. Not incredibly complex, but good. Mouthfeel is thick, with a pretty heavy carbonation (as expected) and very little hops.

My overall response? "Eh." It's a nice Belgian Pale if you're in the market for a nice Belgian Pale, but it doesn't really rise above the style the way I expect from the rest of Jolly Pumpkin's lineup.

My overall BA rating: 4.05/5

22 April 2010

Hen's Tooth Ale

Hen's Tooth Ale (bottle)
Suffolk, UK
6.5% ABV

Scott gave me this bottle, telling me it was a sample from a vendor looking to sell these at the store. I took it home and figured, well, I've been drinking a lot of English Ales lately, guess one more won't hurt.

Pours rich reddish/orange, very hazy, with a thick brown-white head that thins but never really disappears. I've got to say that I love the presentation. Aroma is less pleasant -- when will breweries learn not to use clear bottles? A not-insignificant skunkiness permeates my nose at first, not so much that I don't get some sweet malty notes underneath.

Flavor is better, with a stronger hop bite than expected from an English Pale, mostly Kent Goldings and Fuggles I'm guessing. Strong sweet malt presence, hints of ripe fruit, and a significant yeasty quality, especially on the backend. Finishes bitter and slightly metallic. Mouthfeel is moderate, with a stiff carbonation and a strong hoppiness for an English Ale.

Is it fair to review a beer that has some skunked qualities? It's easy to argue against it, as the beer is clearly not in the state that the brewer intended, but it's also true that these bottles represent the state of the beer "in the wild," as it were. They brew the beer with significant hops, bottle it in clear bottles, and ship it halfway around the world -- to say that the condition of the beer is less than it would be straight out of the fermenter is to belabor the obvious. This bottle being a freebie from the vendor only makes this claim more specific, as the distributor clearly intended for this to be a sample bottle showcasing the beer's strengths. My review stands.

My overall BA rating: 3.5/5

BrewDog Storm

BrewDog Storm (bottle)
Fraserburgh, Scotland
8.0% ABV

I was going to review this last night, but right before I started to open the bottle my girlfriend called to see if I wanted to hang out with some friends for dinner. My social life does occasionally come before my beer geekery. Occasionally.

BrewDog is one of those breweries that wants to be the death metal band of beer. I say this because of the old Mitch Hedberg bit, "I once played in a death-metal band. People either loved us or hated us. Or they thought we were okay." They're a brewery that wants to be either loved or hated, but for me I just tend to shrug my shoulders and say, "Well, that was pretty decent."

Their Storm DIPA gets a C rating over on BA with 50-odd reviews. How will my palate respond?

Pours dingy orange/yellow with a nonexistent head. Hazy, almost cloudy appearance. Smells somehow off, lots of wood from the whiskey barrel but without any of the malt or hops that would balance that. Smells much like... scotch.

Flavor is weird. Tastes woody and astringent at first, bitter and unpleasant, but after drinking for a few minutes this gains some complexity. Still lots of smokey wood, but a nice wallop of hops and smoke on the back of the tongue. Finishes very dry and somewhat astringent. No significant carbonation or hoppiness on the tongue, moderate thickness, slightly chewy.

I feel somewhat underqualified to review this beer, to be honest. I've never had an Islay Scotch, so if this is what they taste like then obviously this is within the brewer's intention for the beverage. If so, I think I'd prefer to get the real thing straight up in Scotch form than masquerading as an IPA. In any case, the casual fan of India Pale Ales looking for a hop fix should shy away from this, as it has few if any of the characteristics they're looking for. Worth a shot, though, if only to put it in the "love it or hate it" category.

My overall BA rating: 3.5/5 (low mostly because of the low scores for appearance and aroma)

18 April 2010

Stone Old Guardian 2009

Stone Old Guardian 2009 (bottle)
San Diego, CA
11.3% ABV

Shana's dad is in Kalamazoo this weekend, so I took a couple of days off so she and I could spend time with him. They lived in San Diego when she was small, so it was an obvious choice to pop open this bottle of Old Guardian 2009 before bed.

Dear god. Pours dark orange, slightly red, with a tiny bit of haze, but with a very thick cream-colored head that sticks around and leaves some amazing lacing. Smells strongly of dry American West Coast hops, but with a sweet caramel malt balance underneath. Intriguing, interesting.

Flavor-wise, I was expecting a strong crisp hoppiness up front, and that's basically what you get. What I wasn't necessarily anticipating was the sugary sweetness that follows in the malt, along with a lot more caramel and hints of bready yeastiness. Finishes dry. No alcohol astringency on the nose or in the flavor, amazing for a beer that clocks in above eleven percent. Overall impression is of the strong hops and the residual sweetness.

Mouthfeel is creamier than expected, otherwise predictably hoppy and with a high level of carbonation. Dry aftertaste.

I was expecting to like this beer, but I wasn't necessarily expecting to love it this much. The caramel and sweetness make an almost perfect match for the hops, and the alcohol is so well-hidden it's scary. Is Stone the best brewery in America? Maybe.

My overall BA rating: 4.6/5

15 April 2010

Short's Smoked Apple

Short's Smoked Apple (bottle)
Elk Rapids, MI
6.25% ABV

Damn, do I review a lot of Short's beers. Probably because they make so many. This came out a week or two ago, and I've had two of these bottles already, but decided to bang out a quick writeup before bed.

Pours yellow-orange into my Dead Guy pint glass, little to no head. Very hazy, slight orange tint when held up to light. Smells strongly of apples, very sweet and fruity, with, yes, a nice dose of smokiness as well. A bit like the sweet smell of a charcoal grill in the middle of summer.

It's perhaps a cop-out to say that a beer called Short's Smoked Apple would smell and taste very much like smoke and apple, but what else would you expect it to smell and taste like? It's sweet, somewhat astringent, some hints of yeast, but the predominant flavors are right there on the label. You can't blame this one for not having truth in advertising. The sweetness is mostly present on the front and on the tip of the tongue, while the smokiness dominates on the finish and in the aftertaste.

How many fruit beers are even drinkable? How many smoked beers have anything other than the taste of ashes? In terms of sheer technical difficulty, it's hard for me not to give pretty high marks. Is it for everyone? No. Is it for me? Right here, right now, it is.

My overall BA review: 3.85/5

12 April 2010

New Holland el Mole Ocho

New Holland el Mole Ocho (bottle)
Holland, MI
8.0% ABV

I just got back from a screening of Hot Tub Time Machine at the shitty cheap theater in Plainwell. (How was the movie? About as good as a movie called Hot Tub Time Machine is ever going to get. Did you hear there's going to be a Criterion transfer of the film?) It was the kind of rundown old theater that actually set the stage pretty well for the eighties-tastic flick, and walking down the half-lit hallways into the theater made me wish I had a wrench in-hand, just in case of random splicer attack.

Now I'm just being silly. We got home, I took a piss, and said to the lady friend, "So, how'd you like to pop open that el Mole Ocho I bought the other day?" And so we have.

Pours brown/amber with a thin off-white head that quickly disappears. Very clear, with only a slight chill haze. Smells spicy-hot, hints of hop peppers with a sweet malt balance underneath. Hints of bittersweet chocolate and coffee.

Flavor is sweet, malty, with soft hints of chocolate and a peppery spicy burn in the esophagus as it's on the way down. The best way to describe it is like a rich malty dopplebock with a bit of jalapenos added for character. It's not "hot" in the way that spicy food is at all, nowhere near as offensive as Ed's Cave Creek Chili Beer, for instance, but just a slight and pleasant burn. (I'm not really a fan of spicy food, so chili-heads will probably find this highly disappointing, but those with some exposure to heat will likely feel that the heat is quite pleasant.)

Mouthfeel is moderate-to-thick, and the spice gives this a bit of a stinging sensation on the tongue. Overall I find this a quite decent beer, maybe not made exactly to my tastes (I'd like a bit more chocolate here, giving this a more stout-like character), but it's almost certainly the beer that the good folks at New Holland wanted to make.

My overall BA rating: 3.95/5

Sasquatch Stout

Sasquatch Stout (bottle)
Black River Falls, WI

I've had the Yeti and loved it, how's the Sasquatch? The colorful label says this is "brewed behind the Cheddar Curtain" -- a clever motto if ever I heard one. Predisposes me to liking the beer.

Pours dark black, very opaque, with a thin brown head that soon becomes soapscum. Slight brownish notes towards the bottom of the glass, almost like coffee. Smells sweet, very toasty, lots of caramel and bittersweet chocolate. The aroma is very vigorous, inviting.

Taste is similar, lots of dry roasted character with a pleasant bittersweet chocolate finish and a dry aftertaste. Sweetness and bitterness are almost ridiculously well-balanced, making this a very enjoyable brew. I've had a lot stouts, and this stacks up as one of the better examples I've tried.

My overall BA rating: 4.15/5

11 April 2010

Andrews Wedding Amber

A few weeks ago, my sister asked me to officiate her upcoming wedding. After consulting with Shana for travel arrangements (we'll have to be there a day or two earlier than expected and such) I agreed, and offered to make a batch of beer to commemorate the wedding. Since she and her fiancee don't drink a lot of good beer, I decided to make something that would be readily accessible to pretty much anyone, yet with enough quality that I'd be proud to offer it.

The Andrews Wedding Amber was born. Here's the recipe:

10lbs Pale Malt
1 lb Honey Malt
1 lb Crystal 50L

1 oz Kent Goldings (60 min)
.5 oz Chinook (30 min)
.5 oz Chinook (15 min)

White Labs Pacific Ale Yeast (WLP041)

I mashed at around 155 and ended up perhaps using a bit took little water because I only collected about two gallons from first runnings. Once I sparged I got it up to five gallons or so after the boil, and my gravity reading was 1.053, which was in the expected range. I'm getting more comfortable with all-grain brewing, and would definitely like to start doing it more often.

05 April 2010

Oxfordshire Ales Triple B

Oxfordshire Ales Triple B (bottle)
Bicester, England
3.7% ABV

Once again I'm writing up a mild English beer. When will I be yearning for hop bombs again?

Pours orange/amber with a thick bubbly very slightly-off-white head that dissipates fairly quickly, but leaves quite a bit of lacing. Body is hazy and very orange. Smells mild, malty, somewhat dry. Hints of nuttiness, very toasty and quite nice.

Tastes somewhat bitter and quite dry, with a malty sweet middle and a nice clean finish. Very much a classic English bitter. What else need I say? Mouthfeel is moderately thick, with a low carbonation and mild hops.

Overall drinkability? It's probably better than Bodington's, which is saying something. I wouldn't pay five bucks a pint for it regularly, but it's a nice treat. I'd love to try this in England sometime.

My overall BA rating: 3.75/5

(Upon posting this review, I noticed I'm only the second person to review it on BA. Is it new to the world, or just to my store?)

02 April 2010

The Session: Cult Beers

This week's Session comes from Beer Search Party and is about cult beers.

With Kate the Great Day a recent memory and the day of the Dark Lord fast approaching, I started thinking about what beer or beers that I would get up at 4:00 in the morning, drive across state lines, stand in a long unmoving line in the cold and rain for the chance to taste with a crowd the size of Woodstock.

So here is my question to you (with a couple addendums).

What beer have you tasted recently (say, the last six months or so) that is worthy of their own day in the media sun?

And to add a little extra to it, how does “great” expectations affect your beer drinking enjoyment?

AND If you have attended one of these release parties, stories and anecdotes of your experience will be welcomed too.
I haven't attended any big beer release dates, as I'm not much for huge crowds (even huge crowds of mostly-like-minded beer geeks), and I've just generally had other obligations on the days that these kinds of things occur. But I started thinking, what's a cult beer? A beer that gets a few hundred or thousand beer geeks a-Twittering and salivating over their keyboards in anticipation, or a beer that serves to unite an entire region of a state, a beer for all ages, for men and women, a beer that is equally enjoyed by executives, grandparents, college students, and pudgy bearded guys like myself alike?


Okay, so it may not get my juices flowing like the most recent single-batch barrel-aged Belgian sour stout fermented with aged cherries (or whatever) might, but how many American-style Pale Wheat Ales are even drinkable by beer aficionados, much less respected? I mean, there's Gumbalhead, and there's Oberon, and maybe I'll give you Widmer Hefe, and that's about it. Oberon's sweet but not cloying, crisp but smooth, cloudy with yeast but not chewy, and every year it's just a little bit different just to keep things interesting. And it accounts for nearly half of Bell's yearly sales, which definitely helps them to stay afloat and produce the more beer-geeky products they produce, like Expedition and Batch 9000 and the Oracle and all the wonderful small-batch stuff they don't even bottle.

And in Kalamazoo, the release of this sucker is an event. People were calling my store weeks in advance asking when we'd have it, and every bar in town will be serving it all the way into early November, when it goes off-season again. Release parties are held where local bars start tapping pints at midnight, serving customers who resemble all those enthusiasts standing in line waiting for Star Wars Episode One a decade ago. Without the costumes. (I think.) My store has put it on sale for $7.99 for the first month or so after release, and we've sold a hundred cases or so just in the last week.

One of the things I love about beer is how local brewing usually is, how microbreweries generally respond to their immediate neighbors first and worry about the rest of the world later. Microbreweries are tiny businesses run by passionate people making products to serve local demand, and only in Southwest Michigan (or someplace very like it) can a beer like this exist. After four or five months of constant snow cover, of below-freezing temperatures and the Lake Effect and icy roads and a general haze that blocks out the sun and drives most of the population just a little bit crazy, those first days of spring are a herald, a reminder that warmth and sunlight have not been banished but have merely been hiding. People here appreciate the warm days in ways that a Southern boy like me never could, because they live under conditions under which there are just so few really warm days.

And Oberon is a marker of spring, of that return of livable weather, in the same way that the coming of ice cream trucks heralds the beginning of summer. Bright, citrusy flavors dominate, with a light body and an oh-so-refreshing finish. Even the bottle has a cartoon sun, almost a smiling way of commemorating the end of winter and the beginning of something new. Even I got caught up in the momentum of Oberon release, visiting the brewery around noon on the day of release, just to get a fresh taste of this year's batch, as it's always best just when the brewery releases it. Later batches are good, but somehow just not the same.

So what's a cult beer? How about a beer that worships the sun? That good enough for you?

01 April 2010

Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale

Stone Sublimely-Self Righteous Ale (bottle)
San Diego, CA
8.7% ABV

I've got to say I don't know a whole lot about this beer, except it's from Stone, is a seasonal release, and has a bitchin' bottle design. Will knowing little about the beer affect my review?

Pours dark brown, almost black, with a thick brown bubbly head that remains on the top of the beer for some time. Some lacing. Slight reddish tinge on the bottom of the glass. Great presentation. Smells strongly of fresh hops, high alpha acids, with a strong citrus note underneath. Hints of sweet nutty malt underneath, with some sweetness coming to light as the beer warms.

Flavor is very similar to the aroma but somehow... off. First of all, there's a strong alcohol astringency on display here that overwhelms the rest of the palate, making it hard to get the complexity of the flavors. There's still that nice alpha hoppiness, some notes of citrus and a whole lot of sweet malt, but it gets overwhelmed by the "heat" of the flavor and just turns into a bit of a mush. It reminds me a bit of an American-made Weizenbock in flavor, hoppier than a traditional German, but the alcohol just overwhelms in the end. It's still good, but a bit one-note.

Mouthfeel is moderate-to-thick, with moderate carbonation and heavy hops. Somewhat syrupy on the tongue.

Overall I don't have much more to add here. This is a good beer, one it might be interesting to age, but it doesn't quite hit that elusive sweet spot for me.

My overall BA rating: 3.95/5