One of the great things about drinking a lot of craft beer is that it's pretty much impossible to run out of new things to try. Brewers are constantly experimenting with new styles, barrel aging programs, and even new hop varieties. Recently, a new hop variety was created by Select Botanicals Group called HBC (Hop Breeding Company) 342. While a more catchy name has yet to be announced, this new hop has already caught the attention of a few breweries, including one of my favorites, Alpine. Their new IPA, Melonhead (referring to the "melon-like" characteristic of HBC 342), is the newest addition to their lineup and I was able to find it on tap at O'Brien's.
Melonhead IPA pours a clear, golden color with a very thin white head. The aroma had a good amount of citrus hops along with some grapefruit, a touch of pine, hop resin, hints of watermelon, and a sort of musty smell that I can only describe as horse feed. Luckily the musty smell was masked well by the other elements.
The flavor opens with some grapefruit and a slightly chalky citrus hop bite. A touch of bready malt is present briefly before a sweet and drawn out caramel finish takes over. I was hoping to pick up some of the watermelon that I had smelled but it never really showed. At 6.75% ABV, this is significantly lighter than most of Alpine's other IPAs and the taste is significantly more mild. But it's still a refreshing and very tasty IPA and one that I hope they continue to brew. I doubt that this will ever be bottled, but keep an eye out for it on tap around San Diego.
Final Grade: B
Top 100 Beers Tasted: 34
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Monday, January 23, 2012
You would think that aging beer in bourbon barrels would be easy enough to do: Take a decent base beer, throw it into a bourbon barrel, forget about it for a few months and then take it out and bottle it. But, for a variety of reasons, it's not quite that simple. First of all, you can't just take any beer and throw it in a bourbon barrel. If the base beer is crappy, aging it in bourbon barrels isn't going to make it not crappy. You also need a beer whose flavors will be complemented and enhanced by the bourbon. Some beers work with bourbon and some beers don't. But few that I've come across work as well with bourbon as FiftyFifty's Imperial Eclipse Stout.
FiftyFifty is a brewery from Truckee, California, whose beers pretty much never show up in San Diego. However, they have a pretty good reputation, largely based on their Eclipse series. This series of beers began a few years ago when FiftyFifty aged a stout called Eclipse in Pappy Van Winkle Barrels. The next year, they released three different barrel aged versions of it, and this year they're up to seven different versions. I ended up with the Elijah Craig 18 Year version (also called Elijah Craig 20 because the barrel is 20 years old). A big thanks to my friend, Andrew, for finding this beer for me.
Eclipse pours an oily black color with a thin, light brown head. The head might not have been too impressive, but the huge amount of lacing this beer left down my glass was. The smell was, in a word, incredible. One of the best smelling beers I've ever come across. There were rich aromas of coconut, milk chocolate, bourbon, toffee and fudge. It's not uncommon for a barrel aged beer to smell like whatever was in the barrel (in this case, bourbon), and that's it. But the bourbon was almost an afterthought to the other rich and sweet smells here. I could have spent hours just smelling this one, but I couldn't wait to have a taste.
The taste opens with a lot of coconut and chocolate sweetness (almost like a Mounds bar), then changes to flavors of honey, roasted malt and a touch of coffee. The bourbon is there, but it blends into the other flavors so seamlessly that you don't detect any of the heat you get from a lot of bourbon barrel aged beers. This may be the best bourbon barrel aged beer I've ever had, and it's without a doubt one of the top ten beers I've had, period. If you can snag a bottle of this (or of any of the variations of Eclipse), you have to do it. Amazing stuff.
Final Grade: A+
Top 100 Beers Tasted: 34
Monday, January 16, 2012
I wasn't planning on doing anything special for Friday the 13th (maybe "special" isn't the right word). Then I saw an idea on beeradvocate that was too good to pass up- drinking a 13% beer to celebrate (another poor choice of words. "Mark"? "Commemorate"?) the day. What a great idea? And what was even better: I happened to have a 13% beer that I had been aging for over a year, just waiting for the right occasion to open it. The beer is called Black Albert.
Black Albert is a Russian Imperial Stout from the De Struise Brewers of Belgium. Clocking in at exactly 13% ABV, it's not exactly the kind of beer you should take on if you're in the mood for something light and refreshing. Luckily, on Friday the 13th, I was not.
Black Albert pours an oily black color with a beautiful 1 1/2 finger mocha colored head. The head showed great retention and left some trickles of lacing down the glass. The smell really lets you know you've opened up a monster. Huge notes of raisin and dark chocolate jumped out of the glass right away and were pretty much all I could smell until the beer warmed up a bit. Once it did, the complexities in the smell began to emerge and I started to get notes of espresso, fudge, some dark fruit and a little bit of oak.
The taste is rich, complex and very, very dark. Lots of dark fruit and espresso hit the palette first and are quickly followed by notes of rye bread, raisin, black licorice, charred malt and just a bit of milk chocolate sweetness. For a beer this big, it actually hides its alcohol surprisingly well and the slick and velvety mouthfeel goes perfectly with the complex flavors. It's definitely not a beer for everyone, but if you like your stouts about as dark as they come (like I do), this beer is about as good as it gets.
Final Grade: A
Top 100 Beers Tasted: 34
Thursday, January 12, 2012
I try to avoid taking a lot of things too seriously in life, and I'll include beer on that list. I absolutely love beer and I've had an absolute blast over the past year and a half chronicling the beers I've been fortunate enough to try. But if I let something like my quest to try the Top 100 Beers become the sole purpose of my life, I feel like it would lose the "fun" element. As a resolution of sorts for the new year, I'm going to try to make this blog a bit more fun. The quest for the Top 100 Beers will carry on as normal, but I've also decided to try and find the worst beer possible. After all, it's tough to appreciate great beer unless you've had truly bad beer.
As I stated in my Best/Worst Beers of 2011 post, Kennebunkport IPA was the worst beer I had ever had. A lot of people who had tried the beer agreed that it was abominable, but few I talked to would go as far as to say it was the worst out there. My interest was piqued. Is it possible that a beer could be worse than Kennebunkport IPA? Could I possibly wrap my mind around that concept?
So I set about to see what people were saying was actually the worst beer out there. In the past few months, there have been multiple threads on the beeradvocate.com forum in which people have asked the beeradvocate community what the worst beer out there is. If we go purely by reviews on beeradvocate.com, the two worst beers in the world are Corona Light and Michelob Ultra. But these weren't even mentioned in the forum. The two beers that I noticed pop up a ton were Anheuser Busch's Wild Blue and a beer called Original C Cave Creek Chili Beer. I was able to pick both of them up and decided to try Wild Blue first.
When I poured Wild Blue, I could only think one thing: "Uh oh." The beer pours a dense purple color with a thin but incredibly creamy light purple head (think sour cream with lavender colored food coloring mixed in). The color of the beer reminded more of Grape Crush than of any other beer I'd ever seen. I had a feeling before I even took a whiff of this one that it was going to be a truly memorable experience.
How can I possibly describe the smell of Wild Blue? Imagine, if you will, taking blueberry flavored cotton candy, grape cough syrup and dog vomit and then mixing all of that into a pitcher of Welch's Grape Juice, then pouring a frosty glass of that and taking a whiff. That's pretty much what Wild Blue smells like. It's the most sickeningly sweet concoction I think I've ever smelled. Whatever "blueberry" smell is in it is so overwhelmingly artificial that it literally makes my stomach churn to remember it. Let's move on.
I was pretty sure that Wild Blue was going to be worse than Kennebunkport IPA before I took a sip. In fact, the smell scared me so badly that I was afraid to take a sip. I finally mustered up all the courage I could, closed my eyes and took a small mouthful. Holy God. The taste is eerily similar to grape cough syrup with an identical consistency. Tucked not so subtly behind the cough syrup flavor are big artificial blueberry notes along with some hints of grain, stale bread and A.B.C. (already been chewed) blueberry scones. There's a strange sourness that lingers in your mouth long after the beer has been swallowed; a reminder of what an idiot you are for drinking Wild Blue. I downed a few sips of this cold, let my friend try a sip (the look on his face was priceless), tried to get my girlfriend to try it (she refused), and then sat pondering the hideous goop in my glass for about an hour before trying it one last time, nearly vomiting, and then dumping it down the drain.
Wild Blue is unquestionably worse than Kennebunkport IPA. I thought KBC IPA would be tough to beat, but it turns out it wasn't even close. My hunt for the worst beer is off to a good start. I can't imagine anything topping Wild Blue, but we'll just have to see. Brace yourselves.
Final Grade: F
Top 100 Beers Tasted: 35
Monday, January 9, 2012
I realize it's been a while since I knocked another Top 100 Beer off the list, so I figured that the first review of the new year would be a good time to do one. I've long overlooked Unibroue's La Fin Du Monde, probably because its widespread availability makes it a little less sexy of an option than some of the harder beers to find. Well, La Fin Du Monde, your time has finally come. At #92 on the list, Unibroue's La Fin Du Monde.
La Fin Du Monde pours a cloudy and glowing yellow color with a beautiful one finger tall foamy tan head. The aroma is full of Unibroue's signature sweet yeast with some notes of lemon curd, pale malt and spices.
The taste is largely comprised of pale malt and sweet yeast flavor, but some notes of golden delicious apple peel, clove, chalky yeast and some faint earthy hops creep in towards the finish. The 9% ABV is really well hidden and this beer is really a joy to drink. This beer may not be the most exciting beer on the Top 100 List, but it's a really great Tripel and probably the best of many good beers that Unibroue makes.
Final Grade: A-
Top 100 Beers Tasted: 35