Monday, August 4, 2014
Let's say you have the good fortune of being a ridiculously talented brewery. But there's one curve life throws your way- you have to live in Anchorage, Alaska, a place where the average daytime temperature in the winter is somewhere between 5-30 degrees Fahrenheit. How would that setting affect the beers you put out? You think you might get pretty good at making really big imperial stouts?
Midnight Sun has been located in Anchorage for nearly 20 years and in that time, they've crafted quite the lineup of imperial stouts. From an imperial pumpkin porter that changed pumpkin beers for me forever (T.R.E.A.T.) to the closest thing to an Abyss clone I've ever come across (Berserker), Midnight Sun has making big stouts down. Luckily for me, they finally decided to remake the one stout in their lineup that had been evading me for years, Bar Fly. This imperial stout is brewed with smoked malt, molasses and brown sugar and then aged in bourbon barrels. Let's check this one out.
Bar Fly pours like molasses syrup, slowly chugging out of the bottle and plopping into the glass. The pitch black liquid slowly churns out a muddy brown head that sluggishly peaks at about a half finger and then draws back down into the muck. A rich curtain of milk chocolate colored lace is left behind with each sip. This beer may be "only" 11.6%, but it looks about 30%. I love it. A deep aroma of molasses, charred barrel, light raisin and prune, dark chocolate covered cherries, milk chocolate, chocolate covered malt balls and just a touch of smoke and ash meets you as soon as you muster up the courage to get near this one.
I wouldn't say this beer tastes quite as good as it smells or looks, but this beer is still pretty special. The taste opens with some milk chocolate and some plum and dark cherry. Molasses, burnt raisin skin and some mocha creep in around the middle. The finish brings kind of a strange dark cherry skin sourness, which I was not expecting at all, alongside just a touch of smokiness and bittersweet chocolate.
Trying this beer after so many years of wanting to try this beer left me wanting to know what the original version tasted. This version was aged in bourbon barrels while the original was aged in red wine barrels, but other than that, these beers should have been the same. For me, this beer was a touch strange in that the two things I was expecting to dominate the beer, smoked malt and bourbon, never really showed up at all. Instead, this beer tasted very similar to another great Midnight Sun beer, Moscow, but with a sort of off-tasting sour dark fruit flavor lingering on the finish that brought it down a notch for me. Overall, though, this is yet another stout from Midnight Sun that is very worth the attention. I can't wait to see what bone these guys throw my way next.
Final Grade: A-
Top 250 Beers Tasted: 126
Thursday, July 24, 2014
I'm not really what you would call the biggest Scotch Ale fan. This isn't to say the style has no redeeming qualities and that there aren't examples out there that I enjoy (Dieu du Ciel's Équinoxe Du Printemps being my favorite so far), but, for the most part at least, the style just tends to not do it for me. And looking at beeradvocate's Top 250, where Scotch Ales make up less than 1% of the list, I would say I'm not alone. Having tried 0% of the Scotch Ales on the list, I decided to give the style another shot. Next up is #158 on the list, Founders' Backwoods Bastard.
Backwoods Bastard is a Scotch Ale with the added twist of being aged in bourbon barrels- a first for me when it comes to Scotch Ales. The beer pours a muddy brown color with just a hint of red to it. A thin, sandy-colored head simmers down quickly, leaving just a thin swathe above the beer. The bourbon in here really jumps out at you the second you get close for a smell. Sweet aromas of toasted coconut, vanilla, burnt caramel, oak, brown sugar and marshmallow envelop the more familiar malty Scotch Ale smells in here.
Whereas the smell strays away from the traditional Scotch Ale elements, the taste leaves no doubt as to the style you're drinking. Tons of rich maltiness with a touch of caramel are the first things I get here. Then the bourbon starts to take over, with notes of heavy oak, mild cinnamon and charred wood. The mouthfeel is slick and a little oily, giving the sweet caramel flavors in here a bit of a buttery feel. The finish rounds things off with some brown sugar, caramel and a lingering charred oak note. This beer may not have turned me into a Scotch Ale fan, but I'll definitely be a bit more receptive to them after seeing how good this was.
Final Grade: A-
Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
I'll admit it- I don't know a whole lot about the state of Iowa. I know they have one of those caucus things; I know the band Slipknot is from there; I would imagine there are a lot of fans of the band Slipknot there (reason enough not to visit in my book); and I know that...well, that's about it. And I would imagine I'm not alone there. But a tiny town in Iowa with a population just a shade over 8,000 peaked the interest of a lot of people recently, when a beers from a brewery called Toppling Goliath started to march up the Top 250 List. In numbers. I finally got my first chance to try one of their offerings last week, when I was able to land a bottle of their famed Pale Ale, PseudoSue. So let's check this one out. At #18, PseudoSue.
PseudoSue pours a clear, glowing golden color with a rich and tightly carbonated one finger bone white head. The retention is pretty impressive and each sip yields a curtain of sticky lace. This beer is named after one of the largest T-Rex skeletons ever unearthed. Fittingly, the smell of this beer is monstrous. Tons and tons of tropical fruit here, led by notes of ripe mango, pineapple, jackfruit and some apricot preserves. There's just a hint of honey malt in the background and zero trace of bitterness to be found. Incredible stuff here.
Taste-wise, it does not get much better than this. A ridiculous amount of pineapple and mango absolutely assault your palate, tamed just a touch by a smooth, sweet malt blanket. Pink grapefruit flesh and just a flash of pine and resin show before a lingering and Barry White smooth finish of pine and mango. This beer uses only Citra hops (my favorite hop, conveniently) and I've never seen them showcased this well. This is by far the best Pale Ale I've ever come across and one of the best beers I've ever had the good fortune to try. Get thee to Iowa, beer lovers.
Final Grade: A+
Top 250 Beers Tasted: 128
Thursday, July 3, 2014
Doppelbocks aren't exactly the most glamorous style in the beer world. They're kind of like the Rob Kardashian of the beer world. Consistently overlooked, clowned on for being (or tasting, in the case of Doppelbocks) heavier than people feel like they should be... Alright, maybe that's not the best comparison. But my point is that dopplebocks are pretty underrated (probably due to the fact that pretty much all of the good ones stay in Germany and most American brewers won't touch the style). This is evidenced by the fact that as of today, there is not one in beeradvocate.com's Top 250 Beers list. There was one on the list, but by the time I was able to track it down, it had been booted. So let's review it anyways and give this style a little bit of the credit it deserves.
Andechs Doppelbock Dunkel pours a deep chestnut brown color with a thin, eggshell-colored head. Similar to a lot of doppelbocks, you get a big hit of rye bread right away when you smell this. But in this beer, there's a whole lot going on behind the rye. Caramel, toasted bread crust, light powdered cocoa, earthy malt and some dark fruit all show up. Already, I could see where the hype (by doppelbock standards) for this beer came from. Smell-wise, it's unparallelled.
The taste opens with a ton of rye bread and a rich, nutty flavor that's almost like a walnut bread. The middle shows mostly dark fruit notes, with raisin skin and banana being the biggest things that stuck out for me. Cocoa, molasses and a touch of rye bread crust round things out, coupled with just a touch of dry heat on the finish. Andechs Doppelbock Dunkel is "only" 7.1%, but it would never trick you into believing you were drinking something light. Whereas most doppelbocks blow people away with tons of rye bread notes, this beer is able to harmonize that flavor with things I've never seen before in a doppelbock. I've got a long way to go before I'm an expert in the style, but it's definitely going to be pretty hard to top this one.
Final Grade: A
Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129
Tuesday, June 24, 2014
If you're looking to get in on the non barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout game, you have some pretty stiff competition. As of last week, my favorite was Bell's Expedition Stout, but you also have to consider the classics like North Coast's Old Rasputin, Stone's Imperial Russian Stout, Great Divide's Yeti and Oskar Blues' Ten FIDY. And that's without considering a huge one that I have yet to try, Surly's Darkness (soon, my friends, soon). Even with all of those beers to compete with, one name I constantly hear in the greatest Russian Imperial Stout discussion is Founders' Imperial Stout. I was skeptical it could be better than any of the others, but I grabbed the first bottle I could get hold of to give it a shot. At #110, Founders Imperial Stout.
Founders Imperial Stout pours a dense and pitch black color with a heavy, one-finger mocha colored head. Each sip leaves some pretty intense, sticky lace spackled on the glass. This beer is a babe. No way around it. I can't think of a better looking Russian Imperial Stout I've come across. True to the style, the nose is rich and roasty. Mocha, heavily roasted malt, char and light roasted coffee are the first things that I thought of when I smelled it. As it warmed, it started to sweeten up and I started to get toffee and some Hershey's Chocolate Syrup. I hadn't even taken a sip yet and it was obvious the hype around this beer was not misplaced.
Every once in a while, you come across a beer where the smell is so good, there's no possible way the taste can compete. I thought that would be the case here. It wasn't. The beer opens with a ton of espresso and dark chocolate-covered espresso beans. The middle sweetens up a touch, with some sweeter toffee, milk chocolate and dark fruit notes. Then the finish hammers you with a sharp kick of anise, tobacco and heavily roasted malt. The mouthfeel is full and lush and offers just a touch of carbonation to break up the heaviness lurking in here. No way around it, this is an incredible beer. It's easily the best Russian Imperial Stout I've come across and maybe the best stout I've tasted, period. Bell's finally made their way to San Diego and I'm seriously hoping Founders is close behind. I must get more of this beer.
Final Grade: A+
Top 250 Beers Tasted: 130
Monday, June 9, 2014
Oh, hello there! It's been a while! In a brief and normally unfamiliar flash of reason, I decided it was in my best interest to take a short break from the blog whilst studying for a CPA Exam. Now that the exam is over, though, it's time to get back to business. And we're starting things off with a good one... Pipeworks' Citra (AKA- Citra Ninja)!
Citra is part of Pipeworks' ever-growing series of IPAs showcasing single hop varieties. I've noticed a lot of breweries doing this recently, but Pipeworks' series has been generating far more hype than most, especially with the Citra addition to the series. Coincidentally, Citra happens to be my favorite hop. Let's check this bad boy out. At #110, Citra.
Citra pours a dark caramel color with a fluffy one-finger cream-colored head that shows awesome retention before settling down on the surface. The smell doesn't disappoint, with mango, pineapple and guava leaping from the glass as soon as the beer is poured. A big blanket of pine and some spicy malt aromas lurk in the background.
The taste opens with a wallop of sticky pine resin, coupled with some nice pineapple and mango notes. The pine is intense, but the tropical flavors to well to tame it. The middle shows some caramel before a lasting finish of more pine resin. The mouthfeel is medium with near perfect carbonation. This beer showcases Citra hops very, very well. This is definitely a keeper.
Final Grade: A
Top 250 Beers Tasted: 132
Thursday, May 8, 2014
One of the best things about having so many breweries in the market today is that it's forced brewers to really think outside of the box. Few beer drinkers today are going to saunter up to the bar at your new brewery and go straight for a beer called "Standard Blonde Ale." They're going to walk in, check out what's different on your beer list and try that. And if your offerings look bland (especially here in San Diego), they're probably going to walk 30 feet down the street to the next brewery. To combat this, there's been an influx of what I like to call "WTF is THAT style?" beers. Many styles that were near extinction have been dredged up and brought back to life, often with a modern twist. This can definitely be said for the Gose style.
A gose is a German style of beer that's pretty similar to a Berliner Weisse. There is, however, one very major addition- salt. A gose is a tart wheat ale brewed with coriander and (strange as it may sound) salt. When done right, this style can be insanely refreshing and it's low ABV makes it a perfect hot weather beer that you can crush like nobody's business.
The most prominent American example of a Gose is made by a brewery in South Carolina called Westbrook Brewing Company. If that name sounds familiar, it's likely because you've seen it on Evil Twin's bottles. They rent out a ton of their brewing space (80% by Evil Twin's founder, Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø's, estimate) for Evil Twin's use. But what Westbrook does with their own space has been quietly gaining steam, led by their Gose. While I'm still on the hunt for their standard Gose, I was able to come across a version of it brewed with an East Asian fruit called Yuzu. Let's check it out.
Gozu pours a hazed and dull-looking apricot color with a half-finger white head that disappears pretty quickly. I wouldn't exactly call the appearance overwhelming, but luckily the smell more than made up for it. Gozu is definitely one of the craziest smelling beers I've ever come across. Right away, you get blasted in the face by a huge amount of citrus and salt. There's a ton of sweet lemons, salt, limestone, margarita mix, lime syrup and umami. Some of those things might sound a little strange. They're not. Everything in here works together really well. This beer smells incredible.
The initial taste you get with this beer is like licking a Meyer lemon that's been dipped in salt. Cocktail sauce, light crackery malt, citrus peel, tangerine and some sour pink grapefruit all show up in the middle. The finish gives you the barest touch of wheat and finishes with a lingering lemony saltiness. I've had a decent amount of beers in the Gose style, but none of them pulled it off quite like this. It would be very, very dangerous for my bank account if this was distributed here. It's so good. Easily one of the best beers I've tasted all year. Amazing work, Westbrook.
Final Grade: A+
Top 250 Beers Tasted: 132