Friday, October 28, 2011

Pumpkin Beers!

I'm a pretty big fan of pumpkin things in general: Pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, the pumpkin milk that I bought from Target last night (don't judge, it was delicious). So I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise that I'm a pretty big fan of pumpkin beers. Over the past few years, I've had some good ones (Dogfish Head's Punk'in Ale and Midnight Sun's T.R.E.A.T. come to mind immediately). But as pumpkin ale season rolled around this year, I realized that there were a ton that I had never tried before. So I went about getting and tasting as many pumpkin beers as I could possibly find. I'm sure there are a lot that I wasn't able to find, but here are the ones I did.

Kern River Brewing Company - Pumpkin Ale

I haven't had a ton of Kern River's beers as most of them don't make it down this way. From what I can tell, though, they know how to make damn good beer. I have yet to be let down by them. Beau was able to find their Pumpkin Ale and brought it to a tasting about a month ago.

Kern River's Pumpkin Ale pours a slightly hazy golden color with a very thin tan head. Usually with pumpkin beers, the first thing you smell is pumpkin, but this one was different. I picked up some pale malts and floral hops first with just a faint hint of pumpkin and nutmeg underneath. It almost smelled like a pumpkin pale ale.

The floral hops and pale malts hit first in the taste as well and made up the body of the flavor with some very subtle hints of butternut squash, pumpkin and bready malts underneath. I do wish that this beer had been a little more pumpkin forward, but it was kind of a nice change of pace to find a pumpkin beer whose taste didn't just whack you over the head with pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice.

Final Grade: B

Shipyard Brewing Co. - Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin (Pugsley's Signature Series)

I'd seen this beer for the past few years, but the price always scared me away. But Beau and I were having a tasting so, in the name of science, I sucked it up and brought this beer to try.

Shipyard's Smashed Pumpkin pours a clear copper color with a half inch tan head. The smell was, well, different. I probably spent twenty minutes trying to figure out what I was smelling in this beer and the only thing I could think of was: pumpkin bubblegum. The pumpkin was there, but it smelled almost candied and artificial. I also picked up some raisin and something that smelled like Banana Laffy Taffy. Weird.

If you hadn't told me this was a pumpkin ale, I would have assumed from taste that it was either a barleywine or a grand cru. It's a big, boozy mother with notes of candi sugar, big sweet malts, a ton of raisin and booze. I didn't get any pumpkin in the taste at all. I think that all the big flavors and alcohol in this one (it clocks in at 9%) overwhelmed the pumpkin. I wasn't a huge fan of this one.

Final Grade: C

New Belgium Brewing - Lips of Faith Kick

You might recognize the name "New Belgium" as the guys that make Fat Tire, but what a lot of people don't know is that they also make one of the more interesting series of experimental beers out there: Lips of Faith. This series has been going for a few years and has featured some incredible beers. For this one, they collaborated with Elysian Brewing and made a sour beer using pumpkin and cranberry juice.

Kick poured a hazy burnt orange color with some small patches of cream colored head. The sourness was pretty evident in the smell with a big hit of brett upfront followed by apple cider vinegar, apricot, caramel, orange rind, white wine and some cranberry. No pumpkin though. Hmmm...

The cranberry flavors totally took over in the taste with some faint malt and lemon in the back. The sourness wasn't quite as big as I like, but it was pretty sufficient. Overall, I liked that it was a sour, but I really wanted to smell or taste the pumpkin. A little bit of a disappointment for a pumpkin beer, but still a good beer.

Final Grade: B

Bootlegger's Brewery - Pumpkin Ale

Bootlegger's Brewery is an up and coming brewery that I've just started to see on shelves within the last few months. Some of their beers look pretty interesting, so definitely look for more from them in the future. I didn't even know that they made a pumpkin ale until it showed up at Texas Liquor a few weeks ago.

Bootlegger's Pumpkin Ale pours a slightly hazy orange/amber color with a very thin cream colored head. The smell was full of pumpkin flesh, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and some brown sugar. This was definitely more along the lines of what I've come to expect from a good pumpkin beer.

There's a really nice blend of spices in the flavor to complement a healthy dose of pumpkin along with a hint of grain and molasses on the finish. A lot of pumpkin beers out now have a very artificial pumpkin flavor, but this one definitely did not. I wasn't expecting much from this one, but it ended up easily being the best pumpkin beer I had this year. Well done, Bootlegger's.

Final Grade: A

Uinta Brewing Company - Punk'n Ale

I've been wanting to try a beer from Uinta for a while. Something definitely seems strange about the idea of good beer coming from Utah, but I had heard good things about this brewery, so I was willing to give them a try. I was able to find a bottle of their pumpkin ale at Total Wine in Redondo Beach.

Uinta's Punk'n Ale pours a reddish orange color with a thin cream colored head. The smell had a pretty pleasant dose of pumpkin along with the familiar pumpkin pie spice aromas (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and clove). There was a hint a hazelnut in there as well.

The taste started off with some bready malts and baking spices and then progressed to hints of grain. I didn't get much pumpkin until the finish. Then I caught a bit of pumpkin and cinnamon, but they were pretty subtle. The smell definitely got my attention, but the taste kind of lost me.

Final Grade: B-

Stone Brewing Company - La Citrueille Celeste De Citricado

When I heard that Stone and The Bruery were doing a collaboration, I got pretty excted. When I found out that their collaboration was brewed with pumpkin...oh, man. Let me just read off the ingredient list for this puppy: pumpkins grown on stone's own farms, rye, yams, toasted fenugreek, birch bark and lemon verbena. Pretty crazy stuff.

La Citrueille Celeste De Citracado pours a dark brown color with a very thin light brown head that showed pretty good retention. The smell was full of a lot of spices that I couldn't even begin to distinguish as well as roasted yam, rye bread and something that smelled a bit like curry (which I'm pretty sure was the fenugreek).

The taste had a lot of the yam and fenugreek, but not lots of pumpkin. I also picked up some floral and lemon flavors towards the finish which I think came from the lemon verbena. Overall, this beer was a completely original take on the style. And while I'm not sure how it worked as a pumpkin beer, it may have been my favorite of the Stone collaborations to date.

Final Grade: A-

Anheuser-Busch, Inc. - Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat

I tried going into this one with an open mind. I really did. As much as I dislike Anheuser-Busch and everything they stand for, I couldn't overlook the fact that they had tried to make a pumpkin beer. After tracking down a single bottle, I decided it was worth a shot.

Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat pours a slightly hazy burnt orange color with a fairly nice looking cream colored head and some spotty lacing. I smelled some of the wheat upfront along with some overripe banana and pumpkin with some cinnamon and nutmeg.

The taste starts with a little pumpkin upfront. Then the taste becomes pretty watery and changes to sort of a wet wheat flavor. The finish brings some familiar wheat flavors of banana and bubblegum, but the carbonation and sweetness are so overdone that the beer almost tastes more like a pumpkin-wheat soda than a beer. Still, this was better than I expected.

Final Grade: C

Federal Jack's Brewpub - Kennebunkport Pumpkin Ale

I know I said I wasn't going to review any beers that I've reviewed in the past, but I just had to give this one another show. It couldn't be as bad as I remember it being, could it?

Kennebunkport Pumpkin Ale pours a clear golden color with a thin head that fades pretty quickly. The smell started off pretty well with a rich smell of pumpkin bread. But as the beer warmed, that smell quickly changed to a nasty bready yeast smell.

While the smell started off nice enough, the taste never came close. The beer is thin and watery with a hint of artificial pumpkin along with a gross buttery yeast flavor that I've come to expect from anything from Kennebunkport. The beer behind the yeast flavor tasted like Keystone Light. Gross.

Final Grade: D

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 34

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel - Route Des Épices (Ale Rousse Au Poivre)

Originally, I wasn't going to do a review of Route Des Épices. I buy a lot of beers to try and only a few that I buy with the real intent to review, and this fell into the former category. However, it was such an unusual beer that it may have just worked its way into the latter.

Route Des Épices ("Spice Route" in French) is a rye beer brewed by Dieu Du Ciel in Montreal. You may remember that name from a review I did a few weeks back of their most famous beer, Peche Mortel. The more I try from this brewery, the more I want to try. They make a ton of different beers (only a few of which actually make it to San Diego), all of which I would call unique. Route Des Épices is no different. Not only is it a pretty hard to find style (rye beer) but it's brewed with both green and black peppercorns. Very interesting stuff.

Route Des Épices pours a dark amber color with a thin, cream colored head. The smell was full of the rye and I picked up a lot of what smelled like fresh rye bread, along with some caramel, a bit of wet blanket and a hint of the black peppercorns.

The taste opens with some nice caramel malt flavors and a slight hint of rye bread. Then come the peppercorns. While I was expecting a strange flavor from the peppercorns, what I wasn't expecting was the heat that came with it. It was like biting into a fresh peppercorn. I wouldn't say that this beer was my cup of tea, but it really showed that Dieu Du Ciel isn't afraid to take risks. I'm really excited to try more from this brewery. In fact, I have two more of their beers in the fridge as we speak. Stay tuned...

Final Grade: B

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 34

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Porterhouse Brewing Company - Oyster Stout

A few months ago, I noticed The Porterhouse Brewing Company's Oyster Stout on the shelves of Texas Liquor. And just to clear up any confusion- yes, the beer is brewed with real oysters. While my curiosity always told me yes, my stomach always said no. I've let my curiosity get the better of me in the past when it comes to beer buying decisions (see: Beer, Pizza) so I kept overlooking the beer in favor of other, albeit slightly less exciting, choices. Finally, I could ignore my curiosity no longer and I picked up a bottle to bring to a tasting with my friends Beau (his final tasting before moving to Portland) and Justin.

Oyster Stout pours a dark brown color with a one finger tan head. I was a little hesitant to give this one a smell, but it actually didn't smell that bad. The first thing I picked up was completely unexpected: peaches. The peach smell was quickly replaced by some more familiar stout smells of roasted malt and day old coffee.

Despite not smelling bad, I was expecting a lot of funkiness in the taste. After a deep breath, I took a sip and waited. But the oysters never showed. I got some brief brine flavors off the bat followed by a lot of roasted malt and stale coffee. A slight bit of saltiness showed up again on the finish, but other than that, no sign of the oysters. In fact, the beer was downright drinkable and borderline good. The saltiness was subdued and added a nice layer of flavor that went pretty well with the other more traditional Irish Dry Stout flavors. So as it turns out, curiosity isn't always the worst idea.

Final Grade: B+

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 34

Friday, October 14, 2011

De Struise Brouwers - Outblack

A few days ago, I noticed that I was approaching the 400 review mark on beeradvocate. I completely forgot to get something special for the 300 mark and went with Dogfish Head's Festina Peche. Not a terrible selection (and way better than the beer I had for the 250 mark: Kennebunkport Blueberry), but nothing out of the ordinary. For my 400th review, I decided to go with a beer I bought on a whim a few months ago: De Struise's Outblack. I've had a few of De Struise's beers before, including one of my favorite Belgian beers out there, Pannepot. This one definitely intrigued me with it's label. De Struise claims this beer is a blend of two very different styles: a Belgian Strong Dark Ale and a Black IPA. I couldn't really imagine those two styles going together, but I've tried stranger beers that have worked, so I picked up a bottle.

Outblack pours a nearly black murky dark brown color with a huge tan head that took a full 10 minutes to settle. At first, I picked up a hint of citrus hops in the smell, but these faded quickly and gave way to smells of freshly baked whole wheat bread, dark fruit, chocolate, bananas, figs and a slight touch of booze. To tell the truth, a lot of these smells reminded me more of a quadrupel than a belgian strong dark ale or a black IPA. Whatever style it actually was, it smelled good.

The taste started with a lot of dark fruit and roasted malt along with some yeast, bread and some subdued hop resin and charred grain on the finish. While I didn't get anything in the taste that would lead me to think that any part of this beer was an IPA, it was still a pretty delicious beer.

Final Grade: A-

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 34

Friday, October 7, 2011

Sierra Nevada Brewing Company - Estate Homegrown Wet Hop Ale

Every October, the hop crop is finally ready for harvest. It's one of the best time of year for beer geeks because it's pretty much the only time of year that you're going to get wet hopped beers. Basically, all this means is that instead of using dried hop pellets (which are used for most beers), the brewers are able to use whole hops that are coming in fresh from the field. Sierra Nevada is pretty big on wet hopped beers and they bottle a few of these. Estate Homegrown Wet Hop Ale is different in that it's the only one in which they use hops and barley that are grown on land owned by Sierra Nevada. This is the first organic wet hopped beer I've ever tried.

Estate Homegrown Wet Hopped Ale pours a dark copper color with a huge foamy tan head. The smell was full of dank floral hops, sweet malts and some honey. A touch of overripe mango hangs around in the background.

This beer had a lot of hop flavor, but it wasn't as potent as I was hoping for. Grapefruit pith and caramel malts come in around the middle of the beer and some good hop resin comes into play on the finish. Overall, I was hoping for a little more from this one, but it's still a decent IPA. On a side note, I really liked that they chose to wax dip the bottle. I'm a total sucker for wax dipped bottles.

Final Grade: B

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 34

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

HaandBryggeriet - Dark Force

It's not often that you find a beer that claims to be a new style, so the label of HaandBryggeriet's (don't ask me how you pronounce that one) Dark Force caught me off guard a bit when it claimed to be a brand new take on a stout. Most stouts are brewed with roasted malt and barley, which helps them to get that great black color. This one is brewed with wheat malt and dark roasted malt and is labeled by the brewery as an "imperial wheat stout." I'm always up for a new take on a style, especially a stout, so I decided to see how this idea played out.

Dark Force pours a thick looking black color with a nice and creamy mocha colored head. I didn't really pick up any wheat in the smell, but I got some great aromas of dark chocolate covered cherries, wet earth, milk chocolate, espresso beans and a hint of wet wood. While wheat didn't seem to be a huge element in the smell, I got a bit of a tartness in the background that might have come from the wheat.

The taste starts with a powdery dark chocolate flavor and then progresses into flavors of dark chocolate, black cherries, lots of roasted malt and coffee and then dives towards a hard bittersweet chocolate finish. Again, the wheat didn't seem too present in the taste, but the mouthfeel was smooth and creamy like a lot of the great wheat beers out there. If you can't handle some seriously bitter dark chocolate flavor, then this may not be the beer for you. But if you're sick of all the sweet stouts out there, I'd highly recommend seeking out Dark Force.

Final Grade: A

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 34

Monday, October 3, 2011

Kern River Brewing Company - Citra DIPA

When I was starting on my quest to try all of the Top 100 Beers, I looked through the list and made a note of all the beers on the list that are made in California. As it turns out, there are quite a few. "Perfect," I thought, "those are gonna be a piece of cake to check off the list." As it turns out, I was wrong. Granted, I'm going to have an easier time getting most of the California beers on the list than someone across the country, but some of these are tough to find. One in particular was Kern River's Citra Double IPA.

Kern River beers aren't the easiest to find in San Diego, but if you know where to look, they can be found. Because of that, I figured it was only a matter of time before Citra showed up in San Diego. Then, I found out that Citra was a seasonal release that could be found only at the brewery. I was pretty bummed until I spotted a post on beeradvocate announcing that Citra was finally going to be bottled. I went to liquor store after liquor store looking for it and finally landed a bottle at Mesa Liquor. A few days later, I finally got to try it. At #12 on the Top 100 list: Citra.

Citra pours a slightly hazy golden color with an extremely thin cream colored head. While the appearance didn't really blow me away, the smell did. Huge citrus hops, mango, grapefruit, and a ton of pine waft from the glass and can be smelled from a distance. Second to the Plinys, this may be the best smelling DIPA out there.

The taste starts with some fresh and peppery pine hops along with some flavors of mango and grapefruit juice. Some caramel malts smooth out the middle of the taste and the finish is full of pine hop resin. This was definitely worth the trouble to get and I highly recommend seeking it out if they decide to bottle it again. Let's hope that's in the very near future.

On a side note, Citra just took home a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival over the weekend in the Imperial India Pale Ale category. Well done, Kern River!

Final Grade: A+

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 33