Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ballast Point Brewing Company - Barmy Ale

It's been a little while since I reviewed a beer from one of my favorite breweries, Ballast Point, so let's just go ahead and fix that right now. One of the things I love about Ballast Point is that they're always trying out new beers and fiddling with old ones. Until a few weeks ago, their most recent creation was a beer called Barmy Ale. I got an email a few months ago saying that they were going to be serving it at the brewery, but I wasn't able to try it while it was there. Luckily, a few kegs of it were sent around the area and Pizza Port Carlsbad ended up with one. After passing up on it the last few times we were there, this weekend I finally decided to give it a shot.

Barmy Ale is totally different than most of the beers that Ballast Point is known for (beers like Victory at Sea and Sculpin). It's a golden ale that is brewed with apricots and caramelized honey. While the description may make it sound like a lighter beer, it certainly packs a punch at 10.7% ABV.

Barmy Ale pours a beautiful honey color with a thin layer of cream colored foam that disappears pretty quickly. The smell is big and aromatic with huge notes of apricot, honey and bubblegum. There's a touch of something that smells like perfume somewhere in the background.

The apricots are certainly the star of the show in both the smell and the taste, but there are also some notes of apple cider and white grape. The consistency is a bit sticky and syrupy without being too much so and the sweetness gives it an almost mead-like quality. The alcohol is pretty well hidden, but there's a touch of a warming sensation that lets you know that Barmy Ale is a beer to be taken seriously. Overall, I was really glad to have finally tried this. It's a completely different direction for Ballast Point, but yet another new beer from them that is definitely worth a try.

Final Grade: B+

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 21

(It was a rough weekend, as two of my Top 100 got booted from the list. Ouch)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Listermann Brewing Supply & Mfg. - Cincinnatus

One of the great perks of beer trading is the exposure to beers and breweries you would never have come across otherwise. When I was discussing possible trade items with a trader in Cincinnati, we decided the best thing to do would be to send each other a list of beers we could get in our respective areas and then to each choose the ones we wanted. He listed off some from breweries I had heard of and then listed a brewery I had never seen before: Listermann's. The beer he was offering was called "Cincinnatus" and he claimed that only 900 bottles of the beer had been produced. How could I say no? A few weeks later, a box came to my door containing (among other bottles) a strange looking, white wax-dipped bottle of beer with a slightly creepy-looking picture of the head of a Roman statue. Today, I decided to open it.

Cincinnatus (named after a Roman dictator who gave up the dictatorship to be with his family) pours a nearly black color with a pretty thin mocha colored head that settles to a ring around the top of the glass. The beer was aged in bourbon barrels and I picked up a lot of the bourbon in the smell along with some notes of raisin, vanilla and caramel.

The taste was pretty similar to the smell as it was dominated by bourbon flavors. This beer was brewed in 2009, so it's had a while to mellow out. This is probably a good thing, because I have a feeling that this would be really "hot" if it was fresh. As it is now, the bourbon flavors are a bit subdued, allowing some vanilla and caramel to creep out along with a hint of peat. There's a warming sensation on the finish that makes me feel like this beer is way above the 9.5% it's advertised as being. Overall, this beer was good but not great. The bourbon still (even after two years) comes off a little too strong and doesn't really allow the beer itself to shine. I wanted a bit more, but I'm still very glad to have gotten to try this one.

Final Grade: B

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 23

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bell's Brewery, Inc. - Bell's Expedition Stout

I've been fortunate enough to try a few beers from Bell's in the past few months. While in Cincinnati, I got to try their Consecrator Dopplebock and their Two Hearted IPA and I was able to obtain three more of their beers (Hopslam, Special Double Cream Stout and Expedition Stout) in a trade. I ended up with two bottles of 2008 Expedition Stout and finally decided to give one a try a few nights ago.

According to the website for Bell's, Expedition Stout is a beer that is best with some age under it, as they describe it as being "intensely bitter" if it's had while fresh. The guy I got the bottles of Expedition Stout from said that the 2008 version was perfect right now. Let's see if he was right.

Expedition Stout pours an insanely black color out of the bottle with the consistency of motor oil. Just the way I like it. The head was short lasting, but a beautiful dark chestnut color. Once the head was gone, all that was left was a thick black liquid in my glass. I got pretty big notes of caramelized pears right away with a big, roasted malt character along with some coffee and dark chocolate. As I let the beer warm (which I highly recommend doing if you're able to acquire it), I started to pick up some hints of smoke and even a bit of leather.

Any intense bitterness this beer may have had when it was brewed is long gone now and my first sip picked up a huge malt sweetness along with big notes of chocolate cake, molasses, cocoa powder and a bit of raisin. The bitterness comes in a bit at the finish with some espresso and dark coffee grounds. I can tell that this beer has mellowed a lot since it was brewed and it's nearly perfect right now. The mouthfeel is huge, thick and a bit syrupy and chewy as a tootsie roll. I loved every sip of this beer and I have got to get some more. How this beer is not in the Top 100 is beyond me.

Final Grade: A

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 23

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Surly Brewing Company - Abrasive Ale

Recently, more breweries have begun putting their beer in cans. While it makes sense environmentally, taste-wise a lot of beer fanatics have been up in arms about the trend. The common perception is that while cans may be easier to recycle than bottles, they impart a metallic taste on whatever their contents may be and therefore aren't trustworthy containers for good beer. Manufacturers of mass produced (read: "crappy") beer have been canning their beers forever (Bud Light, Pabst Blue Ribbon, etc.) but in general, most craft breweries stay away from cans. Up to this beer, I had only tried beer from two other microbreweries that can their beer: Maui and Caldera. While I thought the beer from a can from Maui and Caldera was good, I had yet to be blown away by a beer from a can. Enter Surly Abrasive Ale.

At #33 on beeradvocate.com's Top 100 list, Surly's Abrasive Ale is by far the most highly rated canned beer in the world (at least for now). I was able to get a can with a relatively recent bottling date (3/21/11) and gave it a shot today.

Abrasive Ale pours a burnt orange color with a head of about a 1/2 inch of cream-colored foam. A bit of carbonation was visible inside the hazy body of the beer. While I may have been a bit skeptical about the beer before I smelled it, once I did, any doubts I had disappeared. I got huge notes of mango, pine, citrus hops and apricot. The aroma was huge and fresh, as if it had come to me straight from the tap.

The taste was every bit as good as the smell. There was a nice citrus hop presence and some candied grapefruit off the bat along with a slight bit of white pepper. While the hops were big, they were never allowed to become bitter as midway into the taste, big flavors of caramel malt and mango took over and carried the taste all the way through the finish. The finish was unbelievably smooth and sweet without becoming cloying at all. Needless to say, if Surly ever makes it out to California, I will be buying this beer in bulk.

Final Grade: A+

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 23

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Lost Abbey - Judgment Day

It's always nice to pop open something a little out of the ordinary for a special event. For a wedding, maybe it's champagne. For a date night, maybe it's some wine. And for Cinco de Mayo, maybe it's some crappy beer. But what does one do for a rapture? Since this is a beer blog, I think it's obvious that I decided not to go the "champagne" route. But there are so many beers to choose from. Which would be perfect for a day like today? Hmmm, maybe a beer called Judgment Day? If the name doesn't do it for you, maybe the label adorned with the four horsemen of the apocalypse will.

Judgment Day is Lost Abbey's take on the Belgian Quadruple style and another beer in their Good vs. Evil lineup. I'll go out on a limb and say this one is going to fall under the "evil" category. And at 10.5%, it's sure to sweeten any rapture.

Judgment Day pours a dark and murky brown color with some slightly reddish tinges when it's held to light. A smallish light brown cap of foam coats the top of the beer. The aroma wasn't huge off of this one, but I picked up some raisin skins, yeast and brown sugar with the yeast really standing out as the beer warmed. On a side note, there are good yeast smells and bad yeast smells. The yeast smells coming off the Kennebunkport Wheat I had a few weeks back were awful. This beer had a pretty nice yeast smell as it was a bit more earthy and subdued.

The taste starts with some malt sweetness and some prickly carbonation. The middle has some notes of raisin and prune along with some brown sugar. Sadly, the beer started to go wrong for me right after this. While the beginning and middle flavors of this beer are sweet and a bit malty, the finish suddenly turns bitter with an earthy taste that almost tasted a bit dirty. It seemed totally off from where this beer seemed to be heading. The worst part about it is that it doesn't do what a finish is supposed to do- leave you wanting more. It was a little disappointing for a beer that showed a lot of promise off the bat. I'm still glad with the choice of beer, but I'm hoping to drink some better stuff before this whole reckoning business goes down.

Happy rapture!

Final Grade: B

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 22

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Brouwerij Westvleteren (Sint-Sixtusabdij van Westvleteren) - Trappist Westvleteren 12

People who love beer love to argue about beer. Everyone has their favorite style, their favorite brewery, their favorite type of glass to taste from, etc. And so it's rare to find something that beer lovers truly agree on. If you look at the rankings from the two main beer appreciation sites, beeradvocate.com and ratebeer.com, their top 100 lists look almost nothing alike. Sure there are a lot of repeats, but the order is all over the place. The #2 beer on ratebeer's Best of 2010 list couldn't even crack the top 10 on beeradvocate's Top 100 list. Every once in a while (as happened earlier this year when Pliny the Younger was re-released and briefly claimed the #1 spot on beeradvocate or in this year's ratebeer rankings which put Kaggen! Stormakstporter as the #1 beer) another beer rises to claim the top spot. But generally, there is only one beer that is regarded as the best beer in the world- Westvleteren 12.

As I said in an earlier post, there are seven different trappist monasteries that are licensed to brew Trappist Beer. Westvleteren is one of them, and the only trappist brewery that you actually need to visit to get their beer. Other than actually visiting the abbey itself, the only way to get the beer is to either to trade or buy some from someone who has visited the abbey.

For a very long time, I didn't think I would ever get to try this beer. I heard rumors from the owner of Beverages 4 Less in Santee that he thought he might be getting a few bottles in, but this never seemed to materialize. And at the $60 for a 13oz. bottle he was going to be selling them for if he ever got them in, I wasn't sure that I really wanted the beer that badly. So my quest for the #1 beer in the world was temporarily postponed and I figured that either our paths would cross by chance at some tasting or I would have to actually go to the brewery at some point and pick some up. Either way, it looked like it was going to be a while before I got to try the best beer in the world.

Enter technology. A few weeks ago I went on ebay, just to see what bottles of Westvleteren 12 were going for. Some were as high as $60, but I saw one posting with a "Buy it Now" option for $30 with a $10 shipping cost. $40 for a 13 oz bottle of beer. Steep, but not as bad as I had expected. I decided to see if anyone else wanted to try this beer as badly as I did. Sure enough, Beau came through and agreed to split the cost with me. About a week (and one bottle that got lost in the San Diego Fed-Ex warehouse) later, a small, brown unlabeled bottle with a cap that read "Westvleteren 12" showed up at my door. Three days later, we opened it and gave it a taste.

Westvleteren 12 pours a very murky brown color (almost like Coca Cola) with a very thin, tan head. You can see tons of yeast swirling in the bottom of the glass right after the pour. So far, this wasn't looking that great. Then I gave the beer a smell. Really, there's no way to put into words how amazing this beer smells. There are so many different smells in here that I don't think I came close to picking out half of them. What I could pick out were some aromas of brandy-soaked raisins, a bit of chocolate, fruitcake, tons of dark fruit, molasses, some hints of overripe banana and a bit of something I picked out to be jackfruit. The intensity of the aroma was like nothing I've ever experienced before in a beer and it alone made the price worth it. It was incredible.

The taste was every bit as good as the smell. I got a lot of raisin and brown sugar along with some brandy upfront. There's a lot of sweetness off the bat with just a touch of booze that warms up your mouth and feels smooth and velvety going down. Plum and raisins come in on the finish with just a touch of heat from the alcohol. There was a subtle spiciness to the beer as well with just a hint of white pepper in the background. The melding of all the flavors was flawless and what truly makes this a special beer.

Major thanks to Beau for thinking (as I did) that $20 for three shots worth of beer wasn't crazy. We were definitely right.

Final Grade: A+

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 23

(Edmund Fitzgerald came back! We are now at the highest number yet-23. Also, credit goes to Beau for the great picture of the Westvleteren 12 bottle cap. My camera obviously didn't grasp the magnitude of the situation and refused to take a clear picture during the tasting.)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Great Divide Brewing Company - Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout

On Friday, my friend Beau and I got together to try some new beers, one of which I will review in great detail very shortly. Since you can't just taste one beer at a tasting (even if it is a fantastic beer), we got a few others to try, one of which was Great Divide's Oak Aged Yeti. Great Divide makes four versions of their Yeti Imperial Stout- Yeti, Oak Aged Yeti, Espresso Oak Aged Yeti and Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti. I plan on trying all of these eventually, but as of Friday, I had only tried the Chocolate Oak Aged version. Since the Oak Aged version is the best reviewed of the bunch, I decided that it should be the next up.

Oak Aged Yeti pours a jet black color with a pretty huge head that eventually settles to about two fingers worth of head the color of hot chocolate foam. I was pretty surprised by the first smell I picked up-hops. By law every beer must have hops, but it's rare to find a stout that has a large amount of hops and even more rare to find a stout in which the first aroma you pick up from it is hops. Along with the hops, I got some more familiar stout aromas- wood, a pretty big charred aroma, roasted malts, a bit of blackberry and some cocoa powder.

The taste was pretty big and (in my opinion) far better than that of the Chocolate Oak Aged version of this beer. There are big flavors of espresso and dark chocolate and some good hop bitterness upfront. The finish brings a descent into dark roasted coffee-acidity and a slight charred bitterness. The bitterness on the finish was pretty big, but it wasn't overdone or overly bitter and left you wanting more. I haven't had a lot of beers from Great Divide (yet), but so far this is the best I've had from them. This is definitely worth picking up.

Final Grade: A

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 21
(Sadly, Edmund Fitzgerald Porter left the ranks of the Top 100 this week, dropping my number of Top 100 Beers I've tasted down to 21. Not to worry. A few beers should be popping up on here shortly that won't be leaving the Top 100 anytime soon.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Private Weissbierbrauerie G. Schneider & Sohn GmbH - Schneider Aventinus

I figured it had been a little too long since I added a Top 100 Beer to the blog, so here's one you may or may have not heard of (I hadn't)- Schneider Aventinus. This beer is labeled a "Weizenbock," or wheat dunkleweizen and is brewed in the town of Kelheim in southeastern Germany. Typically, according to beeradvocate, weizenbocks are higher-alcohol dunkelweizens. I'll admit, I don't have a lot of experience with dunkelweizens. The last one I tried was the Trader Joes Dunkelweizen and let's just say I was not a fan. However, I decided to give the category another go, if for no other reason than the beeradvocate community seemed to love it. Currently, it's sitting at #87 on the Top 100 list.

Schneider Aventinus pours a deer chestnut color with some reddish hints and an absolutely incredible tan head that's as creamy as they come. The smells are typical of German wheat beer with notes of banana and clove. This one definitely had a bit more to it than most wheat beers, with some yeast and cinnamon creeping up in the background of the smell.

Taste-wise, this one really lived up to the hype. It's smooth and complex, with a creamy mouthfeel and a pleasant amount of alcohol that leaves you with a warm sensation. I got a lot of banana bread flavors upfront along with some clove and a slight bot of spice that I'm guessing came from the yeast. Overall, I would say that this beer is well deserving of it's reputation and is an absolute bargain at prices as low as $3.99 for a 500ml bottle. If you can find this, pick it up. You will not be disappointed.

Final Grade: A

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 22

Monday, May 9, 2011

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery - Midas Touch

If you could go thousands of years back in time, what kind of world would you step into? More importantly (for the purposes of this blog), what kind of beer would you find? Until very recently, we could only speculate as to what kind of beer people drank thousands of years ago. However, newer technology has allowed us to pinpoint the ingredients left behind on pieces of pottery and other artifacts that make the picture a bit more clear. But knowing the ingredients of beer (if you could call it that) back then wasn't enough to satisfy one brewery. They had to know for themselves what that beer would taste like. And so, in 1999, Dogfish Head (who else would do something like this?) began bottling what they called "Midas Touch"- a beer made from the ingredients found on the inside of a piece of pottery in King Midas' tomb. The resulting beer featured ingredients like saffron, muscat grapes, barley and honey.

Midas Touch pours a golden, honey color with a small, tan ring around the top. The smell is full of wine-like qualities along with some honey and tropical fruit. The only other beer I can think of that smelled like this one is Chateau Jiahu, one of Dogfish Head's other beers in the "Ancient Ales" series which is brewed using a 9,000 year old recipe from Chinese pottery.

The taste of Midas Touch is sweet and smooth, with the honey really shining through. There's a lot of white grape-like sweetness as well and a touch of sourness that reminds me of wine. The finish reminds you that you're drinking a beer, with some yeast and bready malts. Overall, the balance of this beer was pretty well done and, while it wasn't my favorite of Dogfish Head's beers, it's another beer in their lineup that's worth a try.

Final Grade: B+

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 21

Note: There's been yet another change in the rankings and Duvel has come out of nowhere to take the #98 spot. So the number of beers I've reviewed in the Top 100 climbs to 21. There are a few that I'm going to receive in the next week or two that should make that number climb a bit, including one very special beer that should be arriving tomorrow. More on that to come.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Three Floyds Brewing Company - Gumballhead

In most beer trades, the traders agree to a certain number of bottles of beer to trade, be it one bottle or an entire case of beer. However, it's always polite to add one or two "extra" bottles. These are entirely up to the beer trader and is kind of the trader's way of showing how much they know about beer. For example, if you know that the person you're trading with is all about getting beer from areas that don't distribute to them, you might throw in something from a small local brewery. If you know the trader really enjoys a particular style, you might throw in what you believe to be a good example of that style. No matter how you choose to do it, extras are part of what makes beer trading exciting. You literally never know what's going to be in that box when you open it.

In the recent trade I did with a trader from Cincinnati, the trader wasn't able to find a few of the beers I requested, so I got some fantastic beers that I wanted (Kentucky Breakfast Stout and Hopslam) along with some nice extras. One of these was Three Floyds' Gumballhead.

Three Floyds has been on my radar for a while now. They're based out of Indiana and make some of the top beers in the world, including Dark Lord and Dreadnaught. One of their beers that sort of flies under the radar is Gumballhead, a Pale Wheat Ale. "Uh oh," you're saying, "Wasn't that last beer you reviewed a Wheat Ale? And wasn't that behemoth the first 'F' you've ever given on this blog?" Relax. I'm not against wheat beers in general. I just happened to really not like the last one I tried.

Gumballhead pours a pale honey color with a thin head that looks to be all carbonation and dies fairly quickly. The smells of this one are more along the lines of what a good wheat beer should smell like (are you listening, Kennebunkport?). I picked up some banana, bubblegum, melon and a slight hint of hops on the nose. None of these elements were particularly overpowering and they melded together perfectly. On a side note, this beer may have the best label I've ever seen. It looks to be some kind of pissed off cat with a black eye and a cow nose and there's a cigarette hanging from his mouth. Fantastic. We need more beer labels like this.

The taste starts with a lot of caramel malt flavor and some citrus hops. The hops come in first and are followed by a lot of malt flavor. The wheat gives this beer an amazing smoothness and a nice, creamy mouthfeel. This is probably the best wheat beer I've ever had. (Insert Kennebunkport joke here.)

Final Grade: A

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Federal Jack's Brewpub - Kennebunkport Wheat Beer

Every few months, Trader Joes comes out with a new flyer that advertises all of the company's new and exciting products. In the newest edition of the flyer (which dropped yesterday) you can find a new beer- Kennebunkport Wheat. Being an employee of the company, I felt it was only right to give it a shot in the name of product knowledge.

Kennebunkport beers aren't entirely new to Trader Joes as we've carried their Kennebunkport Pumpkin Beer and their Kennebunkport Blueberry Wheat Ale before and I vaguely remember us carrying an apricot one as well. However, I've never seen Kennebunkport Wheat on our shelves before and the fact that there are only 20 reviews of it on beer advocate (the last one before mine being in 2009) makes me think that the brewery recently decided to bring this baby out of retirement. Let's find out why.

Kennebunkport Wheat pours a very clear and pale golden color with a 1/2 inch white head that sticks around nicely. What caught me off guard about the appearance was how clear the beer was. Usually when I think "wheat beer," I think of cloudy, unfiltered, banana-tasting goodness. But the beer in front of me looked like Corona and smelled like cleaning supplies. Something was off. To be completely honest, it didn't start off smelling like cleaning supplies. When I first poured the beer, it smelled like Pyramid's Audacious Apricot Ale, with big notes of artificial apricot. This was weird, but not terrible. However, as the beer warmed, the smell took on a characteristic that I can only describe as "the smell that lets you know you just turned down the aisle where the bleach is kept in Target."

I wish I could say the taste was better than the smell. Oh, how I wish. Really, there just wasn't much taste to be had. I got a light bit of lemon sourness and then a watered down grainy flavor. As the beer warmed a bit, I started getting a huge yeasty, bready malt flavor that was flat out gross. Needless to say, this beer will not be found on the Top 100 list anytime soon. I just can't help but wonder one thing: Why would they bring this beast out of retirement?

Final Grade: F

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 20

Monday, May 2, 2011

Midnight Sun Brewing Company - Mayhem- Belgian-style Double IPA

Midnight Sun is a brewery I've been interested in for a while. First of all, they're the only brewery I know (besides Alaskan) that is based out of Alaska. They also have some fantastic names for their beers (ie. Panty Peeler Trippel, White Collar Crime Wit and Monk's Mistress Belgian Dark) which is always a good thing. While a good name doesn't necessarily make a good beer, knowing the brewer has a sense of humor never hurts. While being based out of Alaska might be cool, it's also their biggest obstacle. It's very rare to see any of their beers in California, especially bottled. I wanted to try a beer they make called T.R.E.A.T. but when I contacted the distributor, they said that the brewery doesn't ship to Southern California as of yet. I ended up having to buy the beer online from a store in Idaho but haven't tried it yet. More on that beer in the near future.

While bottles from Midnight Sun are near impossible to find, if you look around hard enough, you may stumble upon the occasional Midnight Sun beer on tap every once in a while. Yesterday, after attending the Carlsbad Street Fair, my girlfriend and I wandered into Pizza Port Carlsbad and I was surprised to see one of Midnight Sun's beers on tap- Mayhem. It was finally time for me to try my first Midnight Sun beer.

Mayhem pours a slightly cloudy golden/orange color with an off white, fluffy head that shows good retention. The aroma is huge with juicy notes of grapefruit jumping out right away. There's a bit of candied grapefruit as well along with some mild spiciness and a bit of barnyard funk.

The taste started off a little slow, with some floral hops leading the way. Then a huge citrus hop bite hit along with some white pepper that absolutely destroyed my taste buds. I loved every sip of it. The "Belgian" element comes in soon after the hop bite with some light Belgian yeast and malt smoothness that settles the hops down a bit. For me, there was just enough Belgian yeast flavor in the beer to justify the classification of the beer without going overboard on the yeast. This was definitely the best Belgian-style IPA I've ever had.

Final Grade: A

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 20

(Side note: Knuckle Sandwich recently left the ranks of the Top 100, but Bell's Two Hearted just returned to spot #100. For now, I'm still at 20.)