Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan - Weihenstephaner Original

If you're ever on a gameshow and they ask you what the world's oldest brewery is, don't forget this name: Weihenstephaner. Besides being a mouthful to say, Weihenstephaner is in fact the world's oldest operating brewery. The beer is still made out of the Weihenstephan Abbey and has been ever since 1040 when, according to their website, Abbot Arnold obtained a license to brew. The brewery is located just north of Munich and I definitely plan to visit on my beer pilgrimage to Europe someday. Other breweries I plan on visiting: Westvleteren in Belgium and....well, really that's the only one I'm really excited about visiting for now, but I'll have more of a gameplan once a trip gets closer to happening. On to the beer!

Weihenstephaner Original is a traditional Munich Helles (bright) Lager, which means it's basically going to taste like a German beer should. The beer pours a perfectly golden color with a lot of carbonation and a nice cap of foam which lasts the entire beer. Looks-wise, it's tough to top a good German beer. I smelled the beer and picked up some cloves, a little bit of that Heineken signature skunk/funk (but not in an actually skunked way), some lemon and a light citrus scent.

The taste of this beer is pretty special. A few years ago, I was in Berlin and my dad and I made it a point to try a lot of German beer. For whatever reason, it's rare that breweries out here can replicate that signature German taste. Weihenstephaner has nailed it with this one. While in reality I guess I shouldn't have been surprised because it's a beer from there, it was nice to taste a beer that really took me back to Germany. The beer looks light, but doesn't taste it, which was nice. There is a nice smooth malty element before a quick snap of grassy hops and then a smooth drawn out malty finish. I know I already used the word "smooth" twice in that last sentence, but I couldn't believe how smooth this beer was. If you're looking to try a good German beer, skip over the Beck's and Spaten and grab this one.

Final Grade: A

Monday, December 13, 2010

Lagunitas Brewing Co. - Brown Shugga'

Lagunitas is an interesting brewery from one of the best areas that beer is coming out of today, northern California. Never afraid to try new things when it comes to beer, Lagunitas releases some very different beers. According to their website, this beer "was originally a failed attempt to make our Olde GnarlyWine Ale way back in 1997. Boatloads of Brown Sugar were added to the boil in an attempt to rescue the batch." So while they couldn't save the batch they were trying to make, they ended up making a strong ale that has more than enough sweetness to hide the alcohol. Dangerous.

The beer pours a ruby red color with a cream colored head. There were some nice floral hop aromas coming off of this one along with a pretty heavy sweet smell that I could only interpret as the massive amounts of brown sugar in the beer.

This beer is dangerous. Super dangerous. At 10%, there should be at least a hint of alcohol...but there's not. The sweetness from the brown sugar totally kills any hint of alcohol, leaving you thinking that you're drinking a beer that's something like 4% when it's significantly higher in alcohol. However, this isn't to say that this beer is one dimensional. The hops give it a nice bitterness that make is so the sweetness isn't overwhelming. Along with the brown sugar, there's a nice honey flavor that works well in the beer. Interesting beer.

Final Grade: B+

Firestone Walker Brewing Co. - Solace

I'd like to start this review by saying that, in general, I love unfiltered beers. Maybe it's because my love for beer started (like so many other people) with a love for hefeweizens. Maybe it's because I love looking at a glass of beer and having no idea what's going on inside of it. Or maybe it's because there's something that seems so untamed about an unfiltered beer. Whatever the case, in general, I like them. So when I was looking around in Bristol Farms the other day and saw a bottle of Firestone Walker's Solace with the word "unfiltered" on the label, the case was pretty much settled. I opened it about an hour later, hoping for some unfiltered goodness.

The beer pours a very hazy orange-ish/ brown color that seemed to glow a bit in the glass. So far so good. It reminded me a bit of Russian River's Sanctification at first, but without quite so much of a radioactive glow to it.

The beer smelled pretty similar to a hef. The smell didn't blow me away like Sanctification, but I could pick out some of that characteristic hef yeast, banana, some sort of melon which I eventually thought was cantaloupe, and some honey.

I'm not going to say the taste was a total letdown, but I was pretty excited for this beer going in, and after the first sip, that excitement was pretty much gone. The taste starts with that familiar wheaty/hef taste, and then fades to a sweet and creamy finish with some orange, honey and a little bit of spice. For me though, here's where it went wrong. It felt like this beer had a lot of potential. However, it felt so overly carbonated, that the bubbles blasted the flavor nuances right off your tongue before they had a chance to shine. In the end, there was almost no finish to this beer and the end taste was slightly off and metallic. This beer was dangerously easy to drink, but not quite as enjoyable as I had been hoping for. This is a good beer for the summer, but I'd say if you had other decent choices, you'd be better off going for something else.

Final Grade: C+

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Maui Brewing Company - CoCoNut Porter

Going into this tasting, I didn't know much about Maui Brewing Company. I knew they were based out of Hawaii. I knew that for some reason, they insisted in putting all of their beer in cans. And I knew that CoCoNut Porter was supposed to be good. And that's about it.

As it turns out, Maui has a pretty good reasoning behind putting all their beer in cans. The logic is that by putting beer in an environment where it has no chance of light exposure until being opened, it eliminates any chance of damage due to light (light is bad news for beer and can create the dreaded phenomenon known as "skunking"). In addition to protection from light damage, Maui claims that by not producing bottles, they are reducing the amount of broken bottles on the islands that generally find their way to the beaches. I'm sold.

CoCoNut Porter is a dark beer brewed with hand toasted coconut. Coming from Hawaii, the use of coconut makes sense and I'm expecting this beer to taste a lot like a Mounds bar. The label reads "...like hot chicks on the beach." We'll see...

The beer pours a deep dark brown with a cream colored head that disappears a little too quickly. I picked up a lot of roasted malts and coffee off of the scent, but not too much coconut. Hmmm...

I was expecting this beer to be pretty sweet, but there's barely any sweetness. The dominating flavors are coffee and roasted malts with some bittersweet chocolate mixed in. I was a little surprised. For a beer that's called "CoCoNut Porter," it didn't taste a whole lot like coconut. As the beer warmed, I finally began picking up a hint of coconut on the finish along with a hint of milk chocolate sweetness. The mouthfeel was really light for a porter and it kind of felt weird drinking a beer this dark that felt like a lager in your mouth. Overall, this beer has some good elements, but "...like hot chicks on the beach" it is not.

Final Grade: B

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Deschutes Brewery - Inversion IPA

As you may already know, I'm a bit of a fan of Deschutes. Not only do they make my favorite beer, The Abyss, but they make some other fantastic beers and they are one of the best breweries in the Pacific Northwest. I'm always excited to see the new beers they come up with. The other day, I realized that one of their year-round beers, Inversion IPA, had somehow slipped by my radar. For one reason or another, I had never tried it before. I love Deschutes and I love IPAs, so it only seemed right that I should try this one.

Inversion pours a dark amber color with a small white foam cap. I was actually surprised how dark this was for an IPA. Most are in the gold/copper range, but this was way darker. This beer is dry hopped for seven days (which means after the initial boil, whole hop cones are added after the beer has cooled and allowed to steep into the beer before filtration) and it shows in the smell. The nose is full of intense floral hops along with the smell of jasmine and malts.

This isn't an IPA that messes around. If you take one sip, you're going to know right away that you have an IPA in your hands. The hops hit you hard and bitter and don't let go through the finish. However, this isn't just straight hop juice, this beer is balanced with some caramel malts and some undertones of biscuit and bread. The end result is a beer that will satisfy the biggest hophead, but is also pretty drinkable for anyone else. Yet another good beer by Deschutes.

Final Grade: A-

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Bruery - 3 French Hens

As I may have mentioned before, the Bruery embarked on a 12 year series of holiday beers two years ago. Each beer is named and themed after the "12 Days of Christmas" song. I bought the newest one, "3 French Hens" a few weeks ago, but recently realized that I wouldn't know how to judge it's taste later on if I didn't try one now. So a few days ago, I picked up another bottle and gave it a try. If I can wait, the next bottle won't be opened until 2019, when 12 Drummers Drumming is released.

For the theme of 3 French Hens, the Bruery chose to age a portion of the beer in French wine barrels. So the end result is a beer that is a Belgian strong dark ale with 25% of it having been aged in these wine barrels. I'm expecting some pretty good things from this beer as it ages.

The beer pours a very dark brown color with some lighter chocolate brown tinges on the edges. The head was a pretty massive cream color that lasted for a significant amount of time. The smell gave off a lot of the effects of the aging in wine barrels and I picked up an almost chardonnay-like scent off of this. In addition, there was a sweet yeast smell and some dark fruits present. As the beer warmed, it opened up a lot and those dark fruit flavors came out more. Towards the end, I was picking up another smell that was a little off-putting: vinegar. It was just a hint though, so we'll see if that sticks around in a few years.

The taste was incredibly complex. It started with the sweet yeast that was a little reminiscent of Unibroue's yeast. Then, it moved on to a rich spicy middle and finished on a very smooth but dry note. I tried for a long time to pick out the flavors in the middle, but it was too hard to pick out single elements in the intense blend of spices. The dark fruits were still there and fig and raisin came out with the sweetness from the yeast. On the finish, there were some bready malts and a bit of oakiness that made the smooth finish linger forever. I can't wait to try this down the road and see how it ages. My guess is it's going to be worth the wait.

Final Grade: A-

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hair of the Dog Brewing Company - Adam

A few months ago, I sent out a message to my Hood to Coast team asking them if any of them had any good beers to try. One of the guys from Portland, Alan, sent me a pretty solid list back in return. There was just one problem: many of them are near impossible to find here. After about a week of looking, I tracked down Ninkasi's Tricerahops, which turned out to be fantastic. Despite looking around though, I couldn't locate a few of the other breweries on the list, including Hair of the Dog, a brewery located in Portland. I was especially bummed about this one because most of the reviews of their beers were extremely favorable. It seemed like things just weren't meant to be between Hair of the Dog and I, so I made a mental note to visit them the next time I was in Portland and moved on. Then, I was in a liquor store the other day and sure enough, they had Hair of the Dog! The first one I wanted to try was a beer called Adam.

Adam is another beer done in the Old Ale style. For some reason, I keep stumbling across this style and for the most part, that's been a very good thing. I have yet to try an Old Ale I didn't like. Coton was the first, followed by Deschutes' Jubel and these were both fantastic. Now, it was time for Adam.

Adam pours an extremely dark brown (and maybe closer to black) color with a very thin mocha head that settles quickly. One of the things I like most about Old Ales is how intimidating they look and this one's no different. It's just a mass of thick, dark liquid in front of you daring you to take a sip. The aromas coming off of it were intense: heavy raisin and molasses notes with some dark chocolate, smoke, licorice and a lot of fig as the beer warms. When I first uncapped the bottle, I smelled some hops, but these are all but gone in the glass.

The taste is everything the smell promised and more. There is a lot of sweetness upfront and then a hint of smokiness with a long and lingering finish that brings a pleasant warmness on the swallow. It was really pretty incredible how long the taste lingered, changing as it went. I read one review of the beer in which the reviewer said he didn't get the finish until thirty seconds after taking a sip. I'm not sure if the finish took that long for me, but it was definitely a long time before you got that final taste that stayed with you until the next sip. This beer reminded me a lot of Coton flavor-wise, but this feels like it hasn't been aged as long. This one is "only" 10% while Coton boasts a whopping 14.5%. In a way, I think I liked Adam better though. It definitely didn't feel as untamed as Coton. It's definitely worth a try if you can find it.

Final Grade: A+