Tuesday, May 29, 2012

New Belgium Brewing - Lips of Faith-Tart Lychee

I wasn't really a huge fan of New Belgium until I started going through their Lips of Faith series of beers. Then I tried two sour beers in the series, La Folie and La Terroir, and absolutely fell in love. Now, let's just say I get pretty excited every time they announce the release of a new addition to the series (even though they're not all sours). So when I read that the next addition to the series was going to be a sour brewed with lychee (possibly my favorite fruit), I almost fell off my chair. A few weeks later, I finally found it in a store and gave it a try.

Tart Lychee pours a hazy burnt golden color with a thin cream colored head. The head lasts forever and leaves tons of sticky lacing down the glass. The smell is full of fruit and citrus, though a bit disappointingly lacking in the lychee department. I picked up a good amount of overripe citrus, lemon flesh, brett, pale malt, earthy yeast, oak and a touch of indistinguishable spiciness, but not a ton of lychee.

The taste opens with a nice snap of lemon and then progresses to some notes of apple cider vinegar, oak and lemon zest. The finish brings hints of pale malt, orange zest and brett with just a touch of lychee on the finish. "Tart" is definitely a good description as this beer never really crosses the line into mouth puckering sourness. Overall, I was pretty satisfied with the taste but disappointed at the lack of lychee flavor. I was a little curious at how the lychee would work in a beer, and after this one I'm still kind of looking for that answer. This is by no means a bad beer, but it's definitely not New Belgium's best.

Final Grade: B

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 38

Friday, May 25, 2012

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery - 120 Minute IPA

If you were a fan of the show "Brewmasters," you know a thing or two about Dogfish Head's 120 Minute IPA. In case you don't know about this beer, here's what you need to know:

First of all, what's with the "minute" thing? As you may already know, Dogfish currently makes and distributes 4 "minute" IPA beers: 60 Minute IPA, 75 Minute IPA (which was recently bottled for the first time and is much harder to find than the 60 Minute variety), 90 Minute IPA and 120 Minute IPA. The "minutes" in the names refer to the amount of time that the beers are continuously hopped for. As the minutes go up, so do the IBUs (International Bittering Units, used to measure the hoppy-ness of beers) and the ABV. So you can kind of think of 60 Minute as the baby of the bunch, 75 Minute as the quirky older cousin (because it's made with a slightly different process, including being barrel aged with maple syrup), 90 Minute as the big brother, and 120 Minute as the granddaddy of them all.

But 120 Minute IPA doesn't stop at just a two hour, continuous hop boil. After the boil and initial hop additions are done, the beer gets dry hopped every day for a month and then sits on whole leaf hops for another month. The end result is an monster of an IPA that clocks in at 18% ABV (18%!!!!) and 120 IBUs. Because bottles aren't distributed to California, the only way for us San Diegans to try it (besides trading for it) is on tap. It doesn't show up often and when it does, it tends to go very, very fast. I finally got the chance to try it this week.

120 Minute IPA pours a dark golden color with a thin cream colored head. Usually beers this high in alcohol don't carry much of a head, but this one seemed to show good signs of carbonation. After trying a few beers this strong (Brewdog's Tokio and Dogfish's World Wide Stout) that almost knocked me out of my seat when I smelled them, the smell of this beer was surprisingly pleasant. I don't know why this surprised me so much, but the first thing I thought when I smelled it was, "It smells like an IPA!" I picked up citrus and pine hop notes along with some cedar and oak and some big caramel and earthy malt notes in the background.

The taste was big and malty upfront with a firm and piny hop backbone. With the alcohol as high as it is, I was really impressed that the hops came through at all, but they definitely did. A bit of prickly carbonation does wonders for the mouthfeel of this one, as it really keeps the beer from feeling too syrupy. Yes, 120 Minute IPA is a big boy, but it's smooth as hell. The alcohol is certainly there, but this isn't the kind of beer that's going to leave you wincing after every sip, like some other beers with ABVs in this range.

Dogfish's founder, Sam Calagione, said in a video about this beer that he didn't want it to drink like a spirit like some other high alcohol beers do. After finally trying it, I can confirm that it definitely drinks like a beer. A really, really tasty one.

Final Grade: A

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 39

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Stone Brewing Company - Bottleworks 13th Anniversary Ale

While I may not be extremely partial to Stone Brewing Company's year round releases, I definitely have a soft spot for their one-off beers. I've tried every collaboration they've released in the past few years and feel like they're only getting better. Some didn't particularly impress me (Green Tea IPA, Cherry Chocolate Stout), but the last few that they've come out (particularly More Brown Than Black and TBA) have been outstanding. Their newest beer isn't part of their collaboration series, but it's in the same vein, nonetheless. Bottleworks 13th Anniversary is a beer that the guys from Bottleworks (a popular craft beer store in Seattle) brewed with Stone at Stone's brewery to be released to commemorate their 13th year in business. It uses an incredible number of ingredients, including 13 types of hops (Bravo, Target, Columbus, Cascade, Delta, Warrior, Magnum, Apollo, Calypso, Perle, Galena, Chinook, Mt. Hood) and 13 grains (Pale Two Row, White Wheat, Aromatic, Weyermann Chocolate Rye, Light Munich, Brown Crisp, Oats, Crisp Light Crystal, CaraMunich, Baird's Chocolate, Lightly Peated, Simpsons Dark Crystal, Crisp Amber). That is a whole lot going on.

Bottleworks 13th Anniversary Ale pours a dark, dark brown color with a thin light brown head. On the nose, I picked up a ton of darker smells: roasted malt, some dark chocolate, rye, cola nut and some bread. I don't know why, but I wasn't expecting all of the dark smells that this beer offered up.

If I had to describe the taste in one word, that word would have to be "busy." I guess that's not particularly surprising given the sheer number of ingredients used. I was a bit surprised to not pick up much of a hop presence at all, what with 13 hops being in this brew. Instead I picked up a huge malt sweetness with a ton of chocolate, caramel and rye. There was a bit of sticky citrus hop resin towards the finish, but it couldn't come close to balancing out all the heavy malt flavors. In the end, the sweetness coupled with a syrupy mouthfeel made this beer a bit wearing on the palate. I don't think this is one I'd go out of my way to recommend. Just a bit too much going on here for it to work.

Final Grade: C+

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 38

Friday, May 11, 2012

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery - Urkontinent

If you've read this blog before, you know that I'm a really, really big fan of Dogfish Head's beers. Over the past year and a half or so, I've been on a mission to try just about everything they have to offer. I thought I was getting close until I walked into Bottlecraft recently and saw...another new beer from Dogfish Head! I can't keep up with these guys. This one sounded absolutely amazing so I had to give it a try. Here's the story behind it, according to Dogfish Head.

"Urkontinent is a social collaboration of worldwide proportions.

The seed was planted when Dogfish Head asked beer-­‐loving tech types around the globe to suggest ingredients for a new off-­‐centered ale.

A small team from the brewery (and
a few of our beer-­‐loving tech friends) then narrowed the list to five: wattleseed from Australia, toasted amaranth from South America, rooibos tea from Africa, myrica gale from Europe and honey from the United States.

The name Urkontinent, a German word for the theory that all of the continents were once connected, is a shoutout to the worldly recipe and ideas that make up this beer. The careful combination of ingredients gives this Belgian dubbel complex coffee and chocolate-­covered cherry notes."

Sounds a tad like another beer they make, Pangaea, but this is still a really cool idea. And wattle seed? Myrica Gale? Where do they find these ingredients?

 Urkontinent pours a deep brown color with garnet highlights. A thin light brown head caps the beer and stuck around for the entire beer. I wish that I could have had the ingredients they used in this beer next to me, because I got a blast of crazy smells when I first smelled it and I had absolutely no idea what they were. Here were some smells I could pick out: powdery chocolate, roasted malt, toasted brown sugar, hazelnut and a touch of spicy rooibos. This beer smells absolutely amazing.

The taste opens with a good amount of malty sweetness and a touch of nuttiness along with some Belgian yeast. A touch of cayenne in the middle leads to a finish of molasses, chocolate, dark fruit and some rye bread. I don't know how Dogfish did it, but they took another batch of extreme ingredients and made another fantastic beer. I can't wait for the next one!

Final Grade: A-

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 38

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

FiftyFifty Brewing Company - Imperial Eclipse Stout-Elijah Craig (12 Year)

Last week was the Craft Brewer's Conference and World Beer Cup in San Diego, which meant that there were a ton of great beer events in town. With all the great breweries in town for the event, it was hard to pick which events to go to, but there was one in particular that I knew I had to attend - the FiftyFifty event at Hamilton's in South Park.

You might remember the name FiftyFifty as the brewers of a beer I reviewed a few months ago - Imperial Eclipse Stout-Elijah Craig 18 Year, a beer which has since climbed all the way to #80 on the Top 100 List. But FiftyFifty makes another version of Imperial Eclipse Stout that's ranked even higher. And I was finally able to find it on tap last week at Hamilton's. At number 65 on the Top 100, Imperial Eclipse Stout-Elijah Craig (12 Year).

Imperial Eclipse Stout-Elijah Craig (12 Year) pours a pitch black color with no head whatsoever. It looked like motor oil in my glass and I couldn't wait to see what lay underneath the ominous surface. A rich aroma of bourbon, vanilla, toffee and raisin wafted out of the glass and could be smelled from a good ways off. I really couldn't wait to take a sip of this one.

I was expecting a ton of bourbon in the taste, but that never really happened. Instead, I got huge notes of chocolate covered raisin and salted caramel, which left a lingering saltiness on the back of my tongue after every sip. Definitely not what I was expecting, but it left me wanting more and more of this beer. The finish brought a ton of complexity with notes of wood, char and roasted malt with a bit of a dryness from the bourbon. In my opinion, the 18 Year Elijah Craig Eclipse was a bit better, but this beer was definitely Top 100 worthy in my book. I really have to try some more beers in this series.

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 38

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Alpine Beer Company - Gouden Vallei

On Saturday, my friend Brian and I made the trip out to Alpine to visit Alpine Beer Company. For me, this trip has been a long time coming. I've been in love with Alpine's beers for a long time and I don't think there's a brewery around that can top their All Star lineup of IPAs.

When we got there, the first thing I was struck by was how small the brewery was. A single large brew tank sits outside of the brewery while the remainder of the brew tanks sit inside the building itself. And it is NOT a large building. After seeing how small the brewery was, I came away really astonished at the amount of beers they're able to crank out. One of the other things that caught my eye as I was looking around the brewery was a bottle for sale that I had never heard of: Gouden Vallei. The description on the board listed it as a Belgian Pale Ale, which, to my knowledge, isn't a style that Alpine's ever made before. I decided to pick one up.

As it turns out, the beer is a collaboration with New Belgium that's a take on the Belgian Pale Ale style with one very significant new addition: pink peppercorns. The brewers used the peppercorns to both spice and dry hop the beer. Sounds pretty crazy. Let's see how it tastes.

Gouden Vallei ("Golden Valley" in Flemish) pours a beautiful golden color that seems to glow in the glass. There was a light touch of haze to the beer and it was capped by a thin tan head. The smell was truly unlike anything I've ever come across before. There was a huge dose of tropical fruit sweetness, mainly guava, at first, but then that gave way to smells I really didn't expect. At first, I picked up a ton of pine sap and resin that reminded me of a freshly cut Christmas tree. Then I started to get an aroma that was a touch medicinal and reminded me of gin. I don't have a lot of experience with pink peppercons, but I'm guessing that I was getting these smells from the use of them in the dry hopping process.

The taste was pretty similar to the smell and opened with a nice amount of mango sweetness. Then I picked out a touch of a flavor I can only describe as gin along with some piny hops. Before the gin flavor got too strong, a wave of caramel malts came along and overwhelmed it, leading to a smooth and sweet finish with just a touch of Belgian yeast. Overall, this was a really, really interesting beer. The pink peppercorns easily could have overwhelmed everything else in this beer, but they ended up working with the other elements of this beer remarkably well. If you're able to make it up to Alpine soon, make sure you don't leave without a bottle of this.

Final Grade: A-

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 37