Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Lost Abbey - Serpent's Stout

Yet another beer in Lost Abbey's Good vs. Evil lineup is Serpent's Stout. Judging from the name, I think you can guess whether this one is good or evil. I love the good vs. evil idea because when you're thinking about types of beer, the last thing most people would think has to be "Is this beer good or evil?" And if they do think that, it's usually the morning after based on the severity of the hangover it gave them. So, let's look at one of their evil beers.

Serpent's Stout pours a jet black color with a milk chocolate head that faded a little quickly. The aroma is deep and earthy with scents of coffee, dark chocolate, molasses, fudge and some hints of dark fruit.

The taste of this one is phenomenal. There's a lot of dark chocolate and coffee, but there's a really nice earthiness to this beer that reminded me a bit of Bitches Brew (this one's not as good, though). There's a little bit of smokiness in the background as well that blends nicely with some dark fruit flavors on the finish. The mouthfeel is lush and rich without being overly thick. This is definitely one of the better stouts I've had.

Final Grade: A

Kern River Brewing Company - Just Outstanding IPA

Naming a beer is always tough. Do you give your beer a huge name that will make people feel intimidated right off the bat (ie.Arrogant Bastard, B.O.R.I.S.-The Crusher, Knuckle Sandwich, Sea Monster)? Do you give your beer a name that's going to intrigue people (ie. Devotion, Blue Moon, Old Rasputin)? Do you give your beer the classic name that let's people know exactly what they're going to get (ie. Full Sail Pale Ale, Sam Adams Boston Lager)? Or do you do something different? Do you have the balls to tell people they're going to love your beer right off the bat? And what's more, do you have the beer that's going to back that statement up? That's a lot of questions, but Kern River must have gone through them before finally deciding on what to name their IPA- Just Outstanding. Let's find out if they were right.

Looks-wise, this beer gets off to a good start. The beer is a light coppery color with a thin off-white head and some fantastic lacing. The beer smells good, too, with some fresh floral hops jumping out right way along with some caramel malts, overripe mango and some pineapple. So far, so good. Now the most important part- the taste.

The beer starts with a pretty big hit of citrus hops, including a pretty juicy grapefruit flavor. The caramel malts hit late, but mellow out the hops enough that the beer isn't allowed to be too overpoweringly bitter. The finish has a good bitter twang and leaves a lot of citrus hop flavor on your tongue forever. I was skeptical, but it looks like Kern River pulled this one off. Bold, Kern River. Bold but successful.

Final Grade: A

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery - Palo Santo Marron

I love trying new things, so when it comes to beer, the weirder the better. If a beer has a great idea behind it, I'm trying it out. This probably explains why Dogsih Head is one of my favorite breweries. If you look at their lineup, nearly every one of their beers has an incredibly creative and innovative idea behind it. Palo Santo Marron is no different. Palo Santo Marron, which somehow didn't make it onto an episode of "Brewmasters," is a brown ale that is aged in huge, 10,000 gallon barrels made of the Paraguayan Palo Santo wood. According to Dogfish Head's website: "Palo Santo means 'holy tree' and it's wood has been used in South American wine-making communities."

Palo Santo Marron pours an almost black color with only a tiny, mocha colored ring on top for a head. It's intimidating to look at and like no brown ale I've ever seen. The nose is remarkable and has notes of coffee, golden raisin, a little smokiness and some overripe mango. There's a ton going on in the smell here and it makes this beer really intriguing.

To tell the truth, I had no idea that this beer was 12% until I opened the bottle. For a brown ale (or any beer for that matter), that is beastly. A lot of breweries shy away from high alcohol contents because the alcohol becomes all you can taste. Luckily, Palo Santo Marron does anything but that. The taste opens with nice some molasses and raisin sweetness. Then, the taste becomes a little earthy and smoky and the finish is rich espresso. Though a little syrupy, this beer shows almost no hint of its high ABV. This is another must try from Dogfish Head.

Final Grade: A

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Stone Brewing Company - Stone Old Guardian BELGO Barleywine

Every other year, Stone likes to mix things up with their "Odd Year Series" beers. I missed out on the ones they put out in '09, but I'm planning on trying as many as they release this year. The first one out was their Old Guardian Barleywine brewed with Belgian yeast. I thought that this would be an interesting take on the barleywine style, so I picked one up to try. Rumor has it that they're going to release a version of their Russian Imperial Stout brewed with Belgian yeast as well. That one is going to be a must-try.

Old Guardian BELGO pours a deep orangish-amber color with only a tiny patch of caramel for a head. The smell wasn't really what I was expecting at all. I picked up a lot of smokiness right away along with a sort of "peat" smell and some raisin.

There's a touch of the Belgian yeast in the taste, but the sweet, syrupy flavor of the malts kind of overpower it. There's more than just malts, but they're sort of the main feature of this one. I picked up some overripe orange and caramel along with some citrus hops, but the hops seemed stale to me. They didn't have that fresh hop "pop." At 12%, this is a beast and you know you're drinking a big beer with every sip. The beer slithers down your throat and leaves a slight burn on the way down. It's not exactly a hard beer to drink, but it's definitely a sipper. Overall, I don't know if I'd go for this one again. It's a big, boozy bastard and the flavors are a little too overpowering for the Belgian yeast that should be the star of the show.

Final Grade: C+

Tröegs Brewing Company - Tröegs Nugget Nectar

One of the beers that I was most excited about getting to try while I was in Cincinnati was Tröegs Nugget Nectar. I had heard a ton about this beer and the reviews of it made it look pretty fantastic. The first day in Cincinnati, I managed to pick two bottles up and brought them back home to try. The beer is labeled an "Imperial Amber," which I had never seen before. Basically, all that "Imperial" means is that the beer is higher in alcohol than the average representation of the style. I don't know what the cut-off for an amber is, but usually an IPA is labeled "Imperial" if it's above 8% ABV. Nugget Nectar is by no means a huge beer, but at 7.5%, it can sneak up on you.

The beer pours a beautiful, dark amber color with barely any head. The smell is full and intense. Lots of pine hops jump out right away along with some caramel, mango, and peach. As far as I can remember, this is the first beer that I've ever smelled peach in.

Taste-wise, this one definitely lived up to its billing. There's a huge hit of fresh pine hops upfront along with some caramel malts. There's a bit of peach sweetness along with the malts and then a hard and bitter finish that tastes like grapefruit pith. The bitterness on the finish is big and in your face without being too overwhelming. The malts hold it down just enough. This is without a doubt one of the better beers I've ever tried and I'm hoping that it finds its way out here in the very, very near future.

Final Grade: A+

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Great Lakes Brewing Company - Edmund Fitzgerald Porter

For me, Edmund Fitzgerald Porter will always be remembered as the beer that I should have never gotten to try. Over the weekend in Cincinnati, we ended up at a grocery store on kind of an off night with the intent of stocking up for a night in. After picking up the usual array of snacks and treats for a movie night, the choice became what beer to get. Of course, this wasn't an easy choice because almost everything on the shelf was new to me. Great Lakes was one of the breweries I had really wanted to try during my trip and the grocery store had a pretty good lineup from them. Eventually, my choice came down to Edmund Fitzgerald Porter or Commodore Perry IPA. To tell the truth, I felt way more like an IPA that night. Typically, porters are heavier beers and my stomach was still reeling a bit from both the bockfest the night before and the delicious but artery-clogging midwestern food we'd had the past two days. Still, something kept drawing my eye to the porter and so, knowing full on I might regret my decision in a matter of minutes, I took the porter. Now I can say, without a doubt, that it was the right move.

Edmund Fitzgerald Porter pours a deep dark color that looks black but is more of a deep ruby color when held to light. The beer smelled fantastic and I picked up a lot of prune, plum, raisin and smoke. Normally, that might not sound so great together, but these smells blended together perfectly.

I took the first sip a little tentatively, unsure of how my stomach would handle it, and was totally relieved. The beer has some heavy characteristics without tasting or feeling "heavy." I don't know that I've ever had one like this. Roasted malts, bittersweet coffee, brown sugar, a hint of hops and a bit of unsweetened baking chocolate all meld together for a near perfect porter taste. Usually, porters are a one-and-done type of beer for me, but I was able to put this one back no problem. It's the most drinkable (and maybe the best) porter I've ever had. After coming back, I saw on a beer forum that a lot of people believe that this is the porter that all other American porters should be measured against. After trying it, I'd have to agree.

Final Grade: A+

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Cincinnati Bockfest 2011

This past weekend, my girlfriend and I went out to Cincinnati to visit a friend who had moved out there a few months ago. Our visit just happened to coincide with the Cincinnati Bockfest, so on Friday night we went to check it out.

The main Bockfest hall is located just outside of the center of downtown in the event hall for the Christian Moerlein Brewery. Throughout the night, buses shuttled people around to a number of participating bars in the area, including Arnold's, the oldest bar in Cincinnati. Overall, it was a great festival filled with some fantastic German food and some true characters. But was the beer good?

First of all, what is a Bock? A bock is a traditional strong German lager that is usually enjoyed towards the end of winter. The bog brother of the bock, the dopplebock, is a slightly stronger version of the bock (kind of like the Double IPA to the standard IPA). On tap during the Bockfest were pretty solid versions of both of these styles.

So which bock reigned supreme? Over the course of the night, I tried four bocks and the end results looked a little something like this:

4th Place:

Spaten-Franziskaner-Brau - Maibock

Spaten's Maibock was probably my least favorite of the event, but it didn't start that way. The beer pours a pretty clean golden color with a slight white head that goes away pretty quickly. At first, the smells coming off it were good: lots of malts and a slight breadiness. As soon as the beer warmed a bit, the smell took an unexpected turn: Grape Bubblicious. Strange.

Taste-wise, the beer did the same thing as the smell. At first, the beer tasted a bit thin, but had some good maltiness going on along with some flavors of freshly baked bread. As soon as it warmed, the flavor went south and tasted like Grape Bubblicious. This wasn't a terrible beer, but it was my least favorite of the bunch.

3rd Place:

Hudepohl-Schoenling Brewing Co. - Hudy Bock

I tried this both on tap at the beer hall and in a bottle at a bar later in the night. Both times, the beer was enjoyable, but not quite great. The beer pours a nice, golden color with a cream colored head that lasted nicely. This one smelled more like a traditional lager with scents of grain and malts.

Taste-wise, this was better than the Spaten, but not as good as the next two beers. There was some nice malt flavor upfront, but the beer tasted a bit watered down to me. This one definitely had potential, but didn't quite reach it for me. Still, it was nice to try a beer that was made right in Cincinnati.

2nd Place:

Christian Moerlein Brewing Company - Emancipator Dopplebock

The event was sponsored by Christian Moerlein and held in their event hall, so it only seemed right to try one of their beers. On tap were a few of their offerings, but I went for their dopplebock because I had heard that it was tasty. The beer didn't look that great coming off the tap and was an amber brown color with not much of a head. The smell was very sweet and malty.

As far as taste goes, this one had a lot going on. I picked up caramel, brown sugar, a ton of malt and some rye bread. There was a little warmness on the way down that made this one pretty pleasant to drink. What kind of ruined it for me was that the beer was pretty syrupy and a little too sweet to be enjoyable for long. It wasn't bad by any means, but it didn't deserve the number 1 spot on this list.

1st Place:

Bell's Brewery, Inc. - Bell's Consecrator Dopplebock

One of the breweries I was most looking forward to trying in Cincinnati was Bell's, a brewery based out of Kalamazoo, Michigan. Sadly, Bell's doesn't get out to San Diego and I had never had the opportunity to try any of their offerings. Consecrator was my first. The beer poured a deep amber color with a cream colored head that lasted the entire beer. I picked up a lot of malt in the smell along with some brown sugar.

This beer tasted the way I think a good dopplebock should- plenty malty with some brown sugar, caramel and freshly baked bread. The beer was sweet without being overly so and rich without being syrupy. Probably the best dopplebock I've ever had.

Final Grades:

Spaten Maibock: C+

Hudepohl Bock: B-

Moerlein Emancipator: B

Bell's Consecrator: A