Monday, November 28, 2011

Trader Joe's Brewing Company - Trader Joe's 2011 Vintage Ale

Every year, Trader Joes releases the newest release in their Vintage Ale series. I liked the first few years I tried (2006-2007), wasn't a huge fan of the 2008 edition and absolutely hated the 2009. But the 2010 edition was much better and gave me hope that things were back on the right track. Hoping that was the case, I bought a bottle of the newest edition and tried it a few nights ago.

Trader Joe's 2011 Vintage Ale pours a nearly black color with a one-finger tan head. The aroma is full of spiciness with a good kick of Unibroue's signature sweet yeast smell. I also picked up some notes of clove, banana, burnt brown sugar and some cola nut.

The taste had a good deal of spiciness as well alongside some faint dark fruit, cola nut, prune and a bit of booze. Still, at 9%, it hides its alcohol pretty well. Overall, it was a pretty tasty beer and a good addition to the Vintage Ale lineup. My one complaint would be that it was way too similar to the 2010 edition and, up to this point, there had been a pretty noticeable difference between the vintages. Hopefully Trader Joes decides to spice things up a little more with the next edition.

Final Grade: B

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 34

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Mythbusters: San Diego Beer Week Edition

As you may or may not know, November 4-13 was San Diego Beer week. I went into this week thinking that I knew a pretty good amount about beer and San Diego breweries. As it turned out, I learned more during San Diego Beer Week than I could have ever imagined. So rather than do a bunch of write ups on every beer I tried during Beer Week (there were a lot), I'm going to do this post on the beers that changed my perception about either San Diego breweries or beer in general. So here's what I learned.

Myth 1: Green Flash doesn't make a bad IPA

The Place: Churchill's Pub in San Marcos
The Beer: Green Flash Brewing Co.- Green Bullet (9th Anniversary)

I have always loved Green Flash's IPAs. I may not have tried all of the IPAs that they make, but I really like their West Coast IPA, Hop Head Red (a red IPA) and their Imperial IPA. I've also heard great things about their Palate Wrecker Double IPA. So when I heard that their 9th Anniversary beer was a Triple IPA, I knew I had to give it a try. I got the chance at Churchills on the second night of beer week, which also happened to be my birthday.

The beer looked good enough, but the smell was where it started to get weird. I picked up a bit of citrus hops at first. But then I started to smell an overwhelming amount of cantaloupe and melon.

Unfortunately, the taste didn't get much better. A small amount of citrus hop flavor was quickly run out of the picture by a ton of melon and sweet malt flavor. Green Flash makes some great IPAs and I hope they continue to try and make new ones but, sadly, this one should be chalked up as a big miss.

Final Grade: C

Myth 2: I only like "big" stouts

The Place: O'Brien's Pub
The Beer: Dogfish Head Craft Brewery

I'm an absolute sucker for a good stout and things have been that way for a while. But as I've tried more and more stouts, I've been finding that thinner stouts just don't do it for me anymore. Or so I thought. Then I met Dogfish Head's Chicory Stout.

Chicory Stout pours black with a 1/2 finger tan head and leaves some great lacing down the glass. I picked up roasted malt, a slight bit of nuttiness, wet earth and some coffee in the aroma.

At 5.2%, this is not a big stout by any means. But somehow, the flavor feels big. I picked up a slight chocolate sweetness upfront followed by some chicory, roasted malt and espresso. The mouthfeel was noticeably thin but there was a creaminess to it that really kept the flavors of the beer from feeling thin. I have a new favorite "small" stout.

Final Grade: A

Myth 3: I'm not a fan of geuzes

The Place: Ballast Point Brewery

The Beer: Ballast Point Brewing Company - Beachwood Blend (Hout Series)

A few weeks ago, I tried my first geuze: Drie Fonteinen's Oude Geuze. It wasn't a bad beer by any means, but it had an aroma of cheese that I couldn't get by. I didn't write off the style completely, but I assumed (as Drie Fonteinen's Oude Geuze is one of the best in the style) that the geuze style just wasn't for me. Then I was lucky enough to try Ballast Point's Beachwood Blend.

Beachwood Blend pours a hazy amber color with a thin white head. The aroma is big and sour with some nice blackberry and currant notes. As the beer warmed, the barrel aging began to come through more and I started to get notes of freshly cut cedar.

The taste was incredible. Lots of dark cherries, red currants and vanilla work perfectly with the perfect amount of carbonation to make this a tasty, tasty beer. I didn't think a sour beer would be my favorite beer at Ballast's Barrel Aged Day, but this was by far the best thing they had on tap that day.

Final Grade: A

Myth 4: Beer for breakfast is a bad idea

The Place: Toronados

The Beer: Alpine Beer Company - Bourbon Barrel Aged Token

We went to Toronados last Saturday for the release of a beer I've been wanting to try for a long time: Lost Abbey's Cable Car. As it turned out, the beer was only available for sale by the bottle and it was running $50 per bottle. So we decided to get some food and see what else they had on tap. As it turned out, they had an awesome lineup that was too good to pass up, even if it wasn't yet noon. The first beer I had was a bourbon barrel aged version of Alpine's Token Porter.

Bourbon Barrel Aged Token pours a very dark brown color with a thin tan head and some pretty nice lacing. Sometimes aging a beer in bourbon barrels can result in a beer that smells like nothing but bourbon. This beer didn't have that problem. The bourbon was there, but it was tucked away behind some notes of toffee, chocolate and some toffee.

The bourbon led off the flavor, but wasn't overpowering at all, allowing some lighter notes of coffee, toffee, and roasted malt to really come through. The mouthfeel was a bit too light for me, but this was one of the better barrel aged beers I've had.

Final Grade: A-

Myth 5: Beer + Rum = Gross

The Place: Pizza Port Carlsbad

The Beer: Avery Brewing Company - Rumpkin

On the last day of Beer Week, we went to Pizza Port and I spotted Avery's Rumpkin, a 15.9% pumpkin ale aged in rum barrels. I'd never seen a beer aged in rum barrels before, but something told me that there was no way this could work. Pumpkin beers are delicious but my experience with them has been that if the beer is high in alcohol, any pumpkin flavor gets wiped out. Still, I wanted to give this beer a fair shot.

Rumpkin pours a dark honey color with almost no head whatsoever. I picked up notes of rum, pumpkin pie spice, pumpkin, vanilla, golden raisin and caramel. Maybe this beer wasn't going to be so bad after all.

Even though the high alcohol was evident, this beer was amazing. The sweetness of the pumpkin paired perfectly with the sweetness from the rum and there was a nice subtle spiciness to the beer as well. The heat from the alcohol almost made it feel like you were eating a warm piece of pumpkin pie. This beer was a complete surprise and the perfect way to end Beer Week.

Final Grade: A

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 33

Monday, November 7, 2011

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery - World Wide Stout

Beer review time! As you probably know if you've been reading this blog for a while (I'm talking to you, Grandma!), I'm a big fan of Delaware's Dogfish Head Brewery. They have a reputation for being one of the more innovative breweries in the business and always seem to be looking to push the boundaries of beermaking. One area they seem to exceed in is making beers that are high in alcohol. To my knowledge, they make 4 beers that are 15% ABV or higher: Fort, 120 Minute IPA, Olde School Barleywine and World Wide Stout. These beers aren't easy to find around here but I was able to get a 2009 bottle of World Wide Stout a few months ago and decided to open it for a tasting this past weekend.

Clocking in at 18% ABV, World Wide Stout is the strongest beer I've ever tried. It pours a motor oil black color and doesn't produce much of a head, so you're left with what looks like a glass of tar. Just the way I like it!

I thought that after two years of aging, this beer would have mellowed out a lot, but the smell suggested otherwise. I got some big notes of jerky, soy sauce, wet earth, dark chocolate covered raisins, prunes and black licorice. Something about the smell told me that I'm glad I decided to share the bottle instead of taking it down alone.

The taste was really sweet and really syrupy. I read a few reviews that compared it to drinking cough syrup and I can't say I'd disagree. The taste started with a harsh note that tasted a bit like soy sauce and then moved on to a flavor I can only compare to the darkest rye bread ever baked. Lots of molasses, prune and raisin skins came in on the finish along with a good deal of warmness. What a beast!

Overall, I'd be lying if I said I "liked" this beer, but I'm definitely glad I got to try it. Another crazy beer from Dogfish Head.

Final Grade: B

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 34

P.S. If you are able to find this beer, do not underestimate it. It's an absolute beast. A big thanks to my friends Ryan, Luke, Grace, Renee and Jen for helping me put this bad boy down.