Thursday, March 29, 2012

Southern Tier Brewing Company - Crème Brûlée Imperial Milk Stout

When I think of the term "crème brûlée," the first thing that comes to my mind isn't beer. Instead, I think of the Paris buffet in Vegas where I've put down enough crème brûlées in one sitting to keep an entire French kindergarten happy. So how is this tasty dessert related to beer? Through the crazy minds of the brewers at New York's Southern Tier Brewing Company.

The idea behind the Crème Brûlée beer was to make a stout that...wait for it...tastes like crème brûlée. While this admittedly isn't going to be a beer for everyone (especially those who aren't into sweets), it sounded like way too good of an experiment to miss out on and I was able to get a bottle in a beer trade with Beau, who lives in Portland. Thanks, Beau!

Crème Brûlée pours a Coca Cola brown color with a thin mocha colored head. The aroma is incredible, with huge notes of vanilla and burnt brown sugar jumping out of the glass. I could literally smell this beer from feet away. When I got a little closer to the beer, I started to pick up some toffee, caramel and a little bourbon as well.

I was pretty skeptical that Southern Tier (or anyone for that matter) would be able to create a beer that actually tasted like a crème brûlée. But after one sip of this beer, I was a believer. The taste is full of vanilla and burnt brown sugar. Crème Brûlée is a milk stout (meaning that lactose is added to the beer, giving it a rich and creamy mouthfeel) and the mouthfeel really makes the flavors work. The finish brings a touch of roasted malt and some charred brown sugar. Nicely, nicely done. Hats off to Southern Tier for this fantastic beer. If you're lucky enough to find this beer, just remember that it's probably not a great beer to have with a steak dinner. Save this one for dessert.

Final Grade: A

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 37

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Brasserie Dieu du Ciel - Équinoxe Du Printemps

Believe it or not, us Americans have some serious competition suds-wise from our neighbors to the north. And while Canada can't touch the sheer number of breweries we have, they may not be all that far off as far as quality goes. Brewery in point- Dieu du Ciel.

I've reviewed a few of Dieu du Ciel's offerings in previous posts, most notably their Top 100 stout, Peche Mortel. I'm such a fan of Dieu du Ciel that I've bought a new beer from them every time I've seen one. After trying their Belgian Pale Ale, Dernière Volonté, I thought I had run out of new beers from Dieu du Ciel to try (at least beers they distribute to San Diego). But a few days ago, I stumbled upon one of their bottles I had never seen before at Toronados. It was a scotch ale called Équinoxe Du Printemps. Like many of Dieu du Ciel's beers, this is a traditional style with a twist- it's brewed with maple syrup from Quebec. Sweet!

Équinoxe Du Printemps pours a murky light brown color with pretty much no head to speak of. While the beer didn't look like much, the smell was huge, with rich notes of dark fruit and toffee and a trace of maple syrup.

The taste opens with some big, chewy malt along with raisin skins and plums. Hidden in the background is something that definitely reminds me of scotch. Suddenly, the taste turns and a rich maple syrup sweetness takes over. I've had a lot of beers that said they had maple syrup in them, but I've never tasted as much maple syrup as I did in this one. The finish strays from the maple syrup sweetness and leaves a dry and lingering finish with a bit of peat that, again, reminded me of scotch.

This was a really interesting take on a scotch ale. I'd never had a scotch ale before that reminded me of actual scotch, nor had I had a beer that really tasted like maple syrup. Another fantastic offering from the folks at Dieu du Ciel. I'm hoping you'll see more of their beers on this blog in the near future. If nothing else, I'll have to make a trip out to Canada soon.

Final Grade: A

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 37

Friday, March 23, 2012

Alaskan Brewing Company - Alaskan Birch Bock

I'm a pretty big fan of beers that use local ingredients. Maybe they don't always work, but I think there's something to be said for adding an ingredient to a beer that really puts your location's fingerprint on it. This week I picked up a dopplebock from Alaskan Brewing Company that uses a very local ingredient: birch syrup. If the cool local ingredient wasn't enough to make me buy this one, the moose on the bottle definitely was. Nice touch, Alaskan.

Alaskan Birch Bock pours a deep brownish red color with almost no head at all. The smell was big and malty with big notes of rye bread and maple syrup. My guess is that the "maple" I was smelling was really birch, but I've never smelled birch syrup, so I'm still going with "maple."

The taste is similar to the smell: Big and malty with notes of rye, roasted malt, wood and a big and syrupy maple sweetness. To me, the syrupy mouthfeel coupled with the sweetness was a bit much and wore on me the more I drank. Still, this was a pretty tasty dopplebock.

Final Grade: B

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 37

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery - Duck-Rabbit Brown Ale

First of all, I have to admit - brown ales really aren't my thing. It's not that I particularly dislike them, but I tend to get caught up in the hype surrounding the beers of the moment and those beers tend to be more "radical" styles (Double IPAs, sours, barrel-aged stouts, etc.). Browns just don't get my heart racing like a rare (fill in the blank). So it's not often that I'll choose a brown over just about any other style out there. That said, I may just have stumbled across a brown worth trying.

I'd heard of Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery during the course of my many hours spent perusing beeradvocate's site and many forums. But since they're a relatively small brewery in North Carolina, I figured the chances of me ever seeing a bottle from them here in San Diego were slim to none. Then, a few days ago, my coworker, Dan, asked me if I'd be interested in trying some beer he was able to get from his brother who had just traveled to North Carolina. Sure enough, that beer was a brown from Duck-Rabbit.

Duck-Rabbit Brown Ale pours a deep chestnut color with some ruby tinges when held up to light. A soapy looking sand-colored head formed immediately and stuck around for the entire beer, leaving nice trails of lace down the glass. I'm used to pretty mild smells from brown ales, but this one had fairly aggressive aromas of coffee, toffee, roasted malt, chicory, caramel and a rich earthiness. Clearly this isn't your average brown ale.

The taste opens with rich nutty malt flavors followed by a nice hit of earthy hops. The hops are soon replaced by some notes of freshly ground medium-roast coffee, baking chocolate and cola nut and the finish leaves a lingering (but not overpowering) dry bitterness. The mouthfeel is slightly creamy and makes this beer drinkable like no other. This is right up there with Rogue's Hazelnut Brown Ale for me as one of the best browns I've come across. A huge thanks to Dan for getting me this. Looks like I'm gonna have to make a trip to North Carolina in the near future.

Final Grade: A

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 37

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Alesmith Brewing Company - Alesmith Decadence 2011 Maple Smoked Barleywine

In my opinion, Alesmith is one of the best breweries out there. I've tried almost their entire lineup of beers and can say that they range from "well above average" (Anvil ESB, My Bloody Valentine) to "absolutely unforgettable" (Speedway Stout and most of its numerous variations, Alesmith IPA). So when I spotted their newest anniversary ale on the shelf at a local store, I had a feeling it was going to be fantastic. Add to my opinions of Alesmith the fact that Decadence 2011 is a Maple Smoked Barleywine and I was definitely all in.

Decadence 2011 pours a deep amber color with a big foamy cream-colored head. The aroma was way more faint than I was expecting, but I was able to coax out some notes of caramel malt and citrus hop resin. Not really what I was expecting out of a maple smoked barleywine. Hmmm...

Decadence 2011 claims to be a blend of a barleywine and a rauchbier (smoked beer), but doesn't really taste like either. I got a lot of malt right away and it never really faded. Somewhere beneath the malt, I was able to pick out some brown sugar, char, and a bit of red currant. While it wasn't a terrible beer, Decadence never really showed the elements that made me so excited about it in the first place. There's a chance that those elements might come out more as the beer ages, but I'm not really interested in paying $15 more to find out. You still have me, Alesmith, but this was undoubtedly not one of your better efforts.

Final Grade: B-

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 37

Monday, March 12, 2012

Kern River Brewing Company - 5th Anniversary Ale

I've come a long way in my search for the top 100 beers in the world. And while I've had to work hard for a lot of them, some of them come around purely by chance. This past week, I was lucky enough to get the chance to try another beer of the list: Kern River's 5th Anniversary Ale.

While I have yet to have a bad beer of any style from Kern River, their IPAs are really what sets them apart from the rest of the crowd. While their other Double IPA, Citra, has gained more hype, their 5th Anniversary has quietly crept up the rankings to #61 on the list. I thought I had missed out on Kern River's 5th Anniversary, but on Tuesday, I got an email from Toronados saying that they were going to have the beer on tap the next day. Luckily, when I got there, it was still there. At #61, Kern River's 5th Anniversary Ale.

Kern River's 5th Anniversary Ale pours a beautiful and slightly hazy golden color with a 1/2 finger bone white head. The smell was full of a fantastic citrus hop aroma. I got big notes of mango and grapefruit with some candied orange and a bit of earthiness.

The taste opens with some huge notes of grapefruit and grapefruit pith with a good amount of honey malt and mango sweetness to balance the flavors out. The drinkability of this beer was off the charts. It's one of the smoothest and tastiest Double IPAs I've ever had. I'm really glad I got to try this one. It may not be as great as Citra, but it's definitely Top 100 worthy.

Final Grade: A

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 37

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Surly Brewing Company - Furious

You might remember Surly as the makers of a Double IPA I tried a few months back, Abrasive. Well Abrasive isn't the only Top 100 Beer that they make. Besides Abrasive (#34), they make Darkness (#57, I'm working on it...) and Furious (#88). Not bad at all. Since Surly doesn't currently distribute to San Diego, the only way to try any of these beers is to either go there, trade for it, have a friend who gets it or find it online. I was able to find a website that carried Surly and opted to get Furious that way. So glad I did! At number 88 on the list- Furious.

Furious pours a reddish copper color with a 1/2 finger sand colored head and some spotty lacing down the glass. The nose is full of a great combination of pine and citrus hops with a touch of something that smells a bit like tea. There's a hint of caramel sweetness as well in the aroma.

The flavor is chock full of pine and citrus hops with a substantial malt backbone holding the hops in check. A touch of caramel shows up briefly before it's run out of town by a dry and lingering pine hop finish. The mouthfeel is slightly creamy and seems to coat your throat in fresh hops with every sip. This is definitely one of the better IPAs I've had. Surly, please start distributing to San Diego!

Final Grade: A

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 36