Thursday, April 17, 2014

Olde Hickory Brewery - The Event Horizon

As most people who know me can attest, I like sweet things. And it probably goes beyond what most people would consider to be a "reasonable" level. For example, pretty much every day after high school, I used to hang out with my best friend, Alex. Our after school activities pretty much always started at the same two places- the Palisades Recreation Center tennis courts or at a basketball court in the Palisades. But first, we had to load up on the good stuff-sugar. If we were playing tennis that day, the routine was usually to go with ice cream. A pint of Ben and Jerry's Phish Food ice cream each and we were good to go. If we were playing basketball that day, it was chocolate milk time. But, naturally, chocolate milk isn't sweet enough on it's own, so we would get a big Nesquik, drink about a quarter of it, and then fill the rest with sugary cereal (usually Golden Crisp, AKA- Brown Sugar in a Box) and make a ludicrously sugary cocktail out of the two. It was like a Ghetto Smoothie for white kids who hadn't discovered alcohol yet. How we're not both in the clutches of advanced diabetes is beyond me. Knowing that about me now, you would think that there pretty much wouldn't be a beer that I would consider too sweet. I mean, if Golden Crisp Ghetto Smoothies weren't too much sugar, what could be? At #149, The Event Horizon.

The Event Horizon pours pitch black (hence the name, which is a fantastic name, by the way) with a milk chocolate head that wells up in the glass and finally settles at about half a finger above the surface. Each sip yields some nice tracks of lace. The smell was where things started to get a little strange. Barrel-aged stouts can often smell a little sweet. But after one sniff of The Event Horizon, I knew it was on another level. A huge blast of molasses and brandy soaked raisins Ndamukong Suh's your face the second you get near the glass. When this beer is cold, it's almost sickeningly sweet. I just tried not to smell it as I was drinking it. But as it warmed up, it started to pick up a lot more depth and I could start to see where the hype for this beer was coming from. Once you free yourself from the grasp of the molasses and raisin notes, you start to pick up marshmallow, wet earth, charcoal, oak and ash. Much better.

The taste opens with a sweet and syrupy wave of chocolate and raisin. The middle gives a touch of milk chocolate along with some fudge and just a touch of bourbon. The finish shows just a touch of charred malt and light oak before diving back into the chocolate and raisin sweetness it opened with. For a barrel-aged beer, this tastes surprisingly non barrel-aged. The sweetness, coupled with the syrupy mouthfeel definitely catches up to you in a hurry. And as the beer warms, the smells in here get better, but it becomes increasingly harder to drink because of the sweetness. I'm really glad I got to try this one, but I wouldn't recommend jumping through too many hoops to try it. Unless, somehow, you like sweetness even more than I do. Then this beer was pretty much made for you.

Final Grade: B

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 134

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Unsystematic Brewing - Poppin A Quat Kumquat IPA

About a year ago, I brewed my first beer- Tilda Swinton Pale Ale. I wouldn't say it turned out fantastic, but I absolutely loved the brewing process. However, due to living in a miniscule one bedroom apartment, the room that I needed to brew just wasn't there. Fast forward to January, when my girlfriend and I moved into a house. As soon as we had finished unpacking, it was time to plan out the next brew.

I've loved kumquats for a long time. I don't eat them very often, but I grew up gorging myself on kumquats from my grandmother's tree, so I've always had good memories. Over the past few years as I've schemed about the kind of beers I would brew once I had the space, a kumquat beer was always something I wanted to try. Now that I had the room to do it, I settled on a kumquat IPA and dug up a recipe online. After an overly long brewday (sorry again to my friends who showed up to what I promised would be a "quick and fun" brewday) and a five week wait while the beer fermented and conditioned, Poppin A Quat was ready.

Poppin A Quat Kumquat IPA pours a murky, dark golden color with a good amount of floaties lurking in the body. I didn't notice them so much right after the beer was conditioned, but after a few weeks, there seem to be a lot of them. A thin, off white head caps the beer off. I used an absolute boatload of kumquats in this beer (2.5 pounds near the end of the boil and 2.5 more pounds about a week into fermentation), and they came out pretty nicely in the smell. Upfront, you get some floral hops, mingling with a good amount of bright kumquat flesh, jasmine and candied citrus. There's just a hint of malt breadiness in the smell as well, but it's pretty faint.

While I love how much the kumquats came through in the aroma of this beer, the taste makes me think I may have overcooked the kumquat thing a bit. Kumquat zest and thick tangerine syrup open things up. Then comes some spicy kumquat zest and a hard hit of grapefruit pith. The finish is super dry and almost tannic with a lingering kumquat peel note. The bitterness from the kumquat zest definitely gets a touch off-putting after about half a pint. The mouthfeel is prickly and just a touch sticky from all of the citrus.

Overall, I'm calling Poppin A Quat a success. I probably wouldn't win any homebrewing competitions with this one, but I'm pretty happy with the way it turned out. Smell-wise, I couldn't be happier with the way this turned out. The taste is where it could use a bit of work. But, hey, that's what the following homebrews are for. And speaking of the next homebrew, I may just have another fermenting as we speak. More on that in a month or so...

Final Grade: ...yeah, I'm not gonna grade my own beer.

Top 250 Beers Taste: 135

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Three Floyds Brewing Co. & Brewpub - Zombie Dust

A few weeks ago, I did an in person trade with an awesome guy named Tyler. As a late addition to the trade, I ran up to Alpine for a few things for him, the condition being that he would give me a bottle of Surly's Darkness for doing so. When I met up with him, he said he was meeting with a friend who had never tried Darkness, and wondered if I would be cool with him sending me a bottle later, plus a few extras. This isn't the kind of guy that sends a few Coronas as extras, so I agreed. About a week later, I was talking to him and happened to mention how much I wanted to try Zombie Dust, the Three Floyds beer that's been perched firmly in beeradvocate's Top 10 for a while now. Immediately, Tyler said he could get me one. In fact, he had a trade coming through for some as we were talking and he'd be sure to throw one in the box he was sending me. It took me a while before I could be certain I hadn't just crapped my pants and, sure enough, a short time later a box arrived at my door containing Darkness (another huge want that I'll get to shortly), Zombie Dust and a few other goodies you may see soon. Tyler, you're the greatest! At #7, Zombie Dust.

Zombie Dust pours a slightly hazed orange color with a one-finger foamy cream colored head. Each sip yields a pretty nice sheath of lace down the glass. The smell is a pretty incredible blend of tropical hop notes alongside some spicy pine. Immediately after the pour, I started to smell notes of ripe mango, peach and some pineapple with a musty blanket of pine in the background. There's just a hint of caramel sweetness tucked in there as well. This is definitely one of the better smelling beers I've come across.

The taste opens on the drier side with a big dose of pine tempered by just a hint of overripe mango. The middle shows grapefruit, tangerine and some drying grapefruit pith. The finish brings pine resin balanced by some caramel malt and some lingering pink grapefruit pith. This beer has better balance than most Olympic gymnasts. It's intensely loaded with hops without subjecting the imbiber to massive amounts of bitterness. If this was available here, it's hard to imagine I would be drinking many other Pale Ales. A huge thanks to Tyler for giving me the chance to finally try this.

Final Grade: A

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 134

Friday, March 28, 2014

Stone Brewing Company - Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Russian Stout, 2 Ways

Stone's a bit of an odd brewery in that, for as long as I've been a fan, they've never really had a big barrel-aging program OR a sour program. I say this is odd because it seems like the majority of trending breweries out there have at least one of the two. If you're not a brewery that does barrel aging or sours, you'd better be pretty good at something else to stay popular. And Stone is good at something: Hops. But even as they keep cranking out great IPA after great IPA, they've been experimenting with barrels.

Stone began the Quingenti Millilitre series last year and released nine beers in the series in 2013 alone. Each beer was barrel aged, with the majority spending time in bourbon barrels. Which raised the logical Stone fanboy question: "So the Imperial Russian Stout is part of the program, right?" But last year passed with no sign of a barrel aged Imperial Russian Stout. Were they content with letting the mystique of the remaining barrel aged Imperial Russian Stout that's still out there linger? Or were they still haunted by the debacle that occurred 2 years ago when they released the beer, only to have to recall it immediately for quality issues? Turns out (luckily for yours truly) neither. Stone finally decided to re-release the Barrel Aged Imperial Russian Stout again this year, and it brought a friend- Barrel-Aged Espresso Imperial Russian Stout. Ummmm, boing! Let's dig in.

Stone Brewing Company - Fyodor's Classic (AKA Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Russian Stout)

Fyodor's Classic pours a used motor oil colored black and consistency, with a half-finger tan head that disappears back into the black pretty quickly. The bourbon shy need not apply here. The second you stick your nose near this beer, you get smashed in the face by huge notes of bourbon, charred oak and heavily roasted malt. If there's any sweetness to be found in here, it shows in the barest trace of vanilla and toffee, but they're quickly chased off by an angry mob of bourbon, anise and wet earth.

The taste opens with a wave of roasted malt and bourbon that absolutely bulldoze your sorry palate. The assault continues in the middle, where you're met with burnt coffee, charred wood and unsweetened baking chocolate. The finish rounds things out with some burnt fudge and a final dose of pure bourbon that's dry and lingering. This beer is unashamedly brash, undeniably huge and unquestionably awesome. 100% worth the wait.

Final Grade: A

Stone Brewing Company - Mikhail's Odd (AKA Bourbon Barrel-Aged Espresso Imperial 
 Russian Stout)

There was an approximate 0% chance of this beer sucking. How could it? The words "bourbon," "espresso," and "stout" just feel like they're supposed to be together. Oh, and they put a cat on the bottle. Like I said, 0% chance this was going to suck.

Mikhail's Odd pours black with a one finger khaki colored head that drops pretty quickly. The smell of bourbon was toned down a touch here, but the espresso was not. Even with almost a year in a barrel, the smell of espresso was remarkably strong. Under the espresso and bourbon notes were some vanilla, caramel, toffee, bourbon-laced oak, char and tobacco.

Similar to the standard version, Mikhail's Odd hits you right away with a pretty huge hit of bourbon. The bourbon carries through the middle of the beer, where it's matched by an equally impressive amount of espresso. The finish brings the barest touch of sweetness with some burnt espresso, fudge and burnt brownies. Even with that, the beer stays pretty dry throughout and the bourbon and espresso together are (as Salad Fingers would say) practically orgasmic. Stone absolutely killed it with Fyodor's Classic, but the espresso really takes it to another level. Awesome work, Stone.

Final Grade: A+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 134

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Terrapin Beer Company - Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout (AKA: Wake-n-Bake)

When it comes to Georgia (and most southern states, for that matter), I'll admit that I don't know a whole lot. I know they have some crazy housewives. I know that the laws could be better for you if you happen to be a homebrewer. I know they don't do things like "winter" well. And I know that they make some apparently great beer that never seems to come this way. Thanks to the trade with my friend, Tyler, I finally got the chance to try some of the great beer Georgia has to offer.  At #179, Terrapin's Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout (better known as Wake-n-Bake).

Wake-n-Bake pours a thick looking black color with a thin, light brown head. It's not the beefiest looking beer out there, but some subtle wisps of lace after each sip let you know that there's some body to it. The aroma explodes out of the glass with a huge blast of freshly ground dark roast coffee. Its rich, earthy and nutty and makes you feel like pretty much every other coffee beer you've smelled is far inferior. As the beer warms, sweeter notes of cream, chocolate and freshly baked sugar cookie start to come out a bit more. This thing smells awesome.

The dark roasted coffee doesn't let up when it comes to the beer's taste. It absolutely mauls your palate and it's nothing short of awesome. Every sip sends an explosion of amazing coffee flavors all over your mouth. Beneath the coffee are notes of burnt fudge, brownie brittle, hazelnut, vanilla and brown sugar. The finish brings in some espresso and a big bittersweet chocolate note. As far as equals in the Non-Barrel Aged Coffee Stout department, I'm not sure this beer has one that I've tasted. The most obvious competition would be Founders Breakfast Stout, but (to me, at least) Wake-n-Bake blows it away. I may need some more southern beer in my life soon. This stuff is amazing.

Final Grade: A+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 132

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Bruery - The Wanderer

I'm kind of a big fan (read: the biggest homer ever) for The Bruery's sours. As far as quantity AND quality go, I don't know if any American brewery can match what these guys do. And if you don't believe me, take a look at the scores of their sours on beeradvocate. Ridiculous. One of their highest regarded sours is one that got re-released to the Reserve Society last year (to my girlish screams of excitement when I heard the news). It's called The Wanderer and it's a dark sour ale aged on blackberries and cherries. It was a collaboration with City Beer Store in San Francisco a few years ago and it took silver at the Great American Beer Festival in 2011. Oh, and did I mention there's a platypus on the label? Awesome. Luckily, The Bruery decided it was time to make another batch. At #200, The Wanderer.

The Wanderer pours a dark amber color with a purplish tinge similar to Welch's Grape Juice to it. A one finger tan head drops away pretty quickly. As soon as you pour it, the room seems to be filled with the smell of tart mixed berries. As you get closer to the beer, you start to get more of a sweeter mixed berry and cream note along with some blackberry, juicy red cherry, oak, leather and some vanilla. I was excited enough to try this before opening the bottle and after smelling it, I couldn't wait to dive in.

The taste opens with a slightly lactic (and almost Greek yogurt-like) and sharply tart underripe blackberry and red cherry skin note. The Greek yogurt character isn't like anything I've ever come across in a sour, but it works really really well. Then the flavors smooth out and you get a long push of red cherry, vanilla and caramel. The finish brings things all together with an absolute explosion of new flavors. A light brown bread note, dates, underripe mixed berries, cherry skin tannins and a hint of wood round things out really nicely. This is a fantastic sour. I really hope they continue to make this.

Final Grade: A

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Pipeworks Brewing Company - Ninja vs. Unicorn

We don't get nearly enough beer from Chicago here in San Diego, which is a bummer because there are some amazing beers coming out of Chicago right now. So instead of trying these beers, I'm usually reduced to reading about them on blogs like the extremely entertaining Down The Hatch. I finally got my first taste of the Chicago craft scene a few days ago, when I tried a beer from one of the breweries at the forefront of the Chicago craft beer movement, Pipeworks Brewing Company. Again, a huge thanks to Tyler for giving me the chance to try this.

Pipeworks hasn't been around for long, but they've made a huge splash in their short existence. The names and labels they give their beers are as unique as the beers themselves. I mean, a Big Lebowski-themed White Russian beer called "Hey, Careful Man, There's a Beverage Here!"? Awesome. And we'll get to that beer at a later date. For now, let's take a look at one of their most renowned beers, Ninja vs. Unicorn. Before we get to the beer itself, I just want to commend whoever did this label. Making a unicorn look fierce cannot be easy. Well done!

Ninja vs. Unicorn is a Double IPA that clocks in at a modest (by today's DIPA standards) 8.5%. It pours a glowing orange color with just a touch of chill haze off the pour. A beautiful, creamy one finger cream-colored head shows good retention and leaves a nice sheet of lace with each sip. The smell isn't overpowering, but it yields some mango, peach and caramel with just a touch of pine in the background. Somewhere in the distance, I get the barest hint of grapefruit.

The taste opens with sweet citrusy hops and some smooth biscuity malt. Pink grapefruit, tangerine and peach flavors start things off, slowly turning to peppery pine and hop resin by the middle of the beer. The finish brings some cracked black pepper and some grapefruit pith without ever falling off into straight biting-into-an-aspirin-like bitterness. The malt in here balanced the flavors perfectly and it lends just a bit of caramel sweetness with goes great all the citrus flavors in here. The mouthfeel is lush and full without ever becoming too heavy and the prickly carbonation keeps the sweetness here from becoming cloying. I would love to have this beer on a regular basis. It's one of the most drinkable Double IPAs I've ever come across. Nice work, Chicago. Now get your beer to San Diego.

Final Grade: A

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 128