Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Ben Middlemiss Brewing - Benediction

When I was first getting into craft beer a few years ago, I started looking for the craziest beers I could find. On one of my beer hunting expeditions, I found a beer from New Zealand called Benediction. The bottle looked intriguing, but I wasn't sold until I looked at the back label and saw this passage:

"Ben Middlemiss Benediction ale made its first U.S. appearance in 2000 at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia, as part of Michael Jackson's 10 Most Exciting Beers of the New Millenium."

What??? I thought, Who knew Michael Jackson was into beer? And who knew he had a list of the 10 Most Exciting Beers of the New Millenium? When I got home, I looked up some more information on the beer and found out that the Michael Jackson the label referred to wasn't that Michael Jackson, but a world renowned beer critic by the same name. As if that wasn't discouraging enough, I found out that this beer isn't even really the same beer as the one that Michael Jackson (the beer one) had held in such high regards. It's a re-brew of the beer by one of the two guys responsible for the original recipe. And, if the reviews I found were any indication, this new beer was a shadow of the former recipe. Discouraged, I hid the beer in the back of my cellar and pretty much forgot about it. Last week I was clearing out space for new beers to cellar when I stumbled upon it. It had waited long enough. It was time to give this beer a try.

Benediction pours a murky orange-ish brown color with a big and fluffy tan head. I was pleasantly surprised by the smell, which showed huge notes of banana, freshly baked bread and fig. Some faint Belgian yeast and chocolate notes lingered in the background. Maybe this beer wasn't going to be so bad after all...

Well, my hope for this beer lasted about as long as it took to take my first sip. I was expecting this beer to taste like a traditional Dubbel should (basically, I was hoping for all of the things I was smelling). Instead, I got sucker punched in the mouth by a big metallic/vinegary twang. This beer is sour as hell! And it's definitely not in a good (or intentional) way. I'm not sure if the whole batch was bad or if this bottle was just a lemon (a lot of other reviewers reported the same tastes I picked up though, so I'm thinking it's the former) but this stuff was gross. Behind the sourness were notes of lemon rind, aspirin and rusty spoons (maybe Salad Fingers would like this beer). Stay away from this beer. Stay far, far away.

Final Grade: D

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 39

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery - Ta Henket

If you watched the show, Brewmasters, you probably remember the episode in which Sam Calagione, the founder of Dogfish Head, traveled to Egypt to make an ancient ale called Ta Henket. In case you didn't watch the show, here's Dogfish Head's write up on the beer:

"For this ambitious liquid time capsule, we used ingredients and traditions plucked from Egyptian hieroglyphics.
Ta Henket is brewed with an ancient form of wheat and loaves of hearth-baked bread, and it's flavored with chamomile, doum-palm fruit and Middle Eastern herbs. To ferment this earthy ancient ale, Sam and friends traveled to Cairo, set out baited petri dishes and captured a native Egyptian saccharomyces yeast strain."

 Before we go any further, let's take a look at these ingredients. Ok, good on the bread part, good on the chamomile part, good on the...what the hell is doum-palm fruit? After a bit of research, I found out that doum palms are native to north Africa, specifically Egypt, Sudan and Kenya and bear a fruit that was sacred in Ancient Egypt. According to a few sources online, the fruit is supposed to taste like gingerbread. The Middle Eastern herbs used are a blend called za'atar and can be made in a variety of ways, usually using a combination of thyme, oregano, marjoram, sesame seeds, salt and sumac. Alright, let's try this puppy.

Ta Henket pours a clear honey color with a one finger tan head. I found the aroma to be pretty mysterious. As hard as I tried, I had a ton of difficulty picking out individual smells. There was definitely a ton of bread and wheat and then a background of chamomile, cinnamon and maybe a touch of allspice.

The taste opened with a lot of doughy yeast and bread with some wheat, white peach and some faint indistinguishable spices. If it's anywhere in the taste, the doum fruit may be hiding somewhere in a finish that leaves a slightly tart aftertaste. If it's there, it's very subtle, though. I'm usually not a fan of beers that taste like bread, but this one didn't feel weighed down by the breadiness. I definitely wish I could have tasted more of the stranger ingredients in this beer, but it was still a pretty decent experiment.

Final Grade: B

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 38

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Nebraska Brewing Company - Black Betty Imperial Stout-Reserve Series Aged in Whiskey Barrels

When you think of places in the country that have good craft beer, states like California, Oregon and North Carolina might come to mind. But what you might not know is that craft beer is a country-wide phenomenon. Just look at some of the states that are starting to produce great craft beer: Texas (Jester King and Shiner are just a few breweries in the state), Delaware (home of Dogfish Head) and Minnesota (home of Surly and many others) have all gotten into the act. However, there are some states that have been a little slower to adopt the craft brewing phenomenon, and these are states that I really don't expect to try beer from anytime soon unless I end up traveling to those areas. One of these states was Nebraska. But then I started noticing a few bottles popping up around town from a brewery called Nebraska Brewing Company.  And, you're not going to believe this, they're from Nebraska! After passing over their bottles because of their high price point a few times, I finally decided to give in and try one of their beers, Black Betty.

Black Betty is Nebraska Brewing Company's Russian Imperial Stout that has been aged in Stranahan's Whiskey barrels. The beer pours black as night with a noticeably thick consistency. A nice, full khaki head forms right away and stays at about a quarter inch above the beer, leaving thick streaks of lacing down the glass with each sip. Black Betty smells of medium roasted coffee, chocolate syrup, molasses, licorice and shows some faint sweet whiskey notes. A lot of beers that have been aged in whiskey or bourbon barrels show a ton of barrel notes on the nose, but this one was surprisingly (and nicely) restrained.

The taste opens a bit on the sweet side, with notes of chocolate cake, dark chocolate covered espresso beans and molasses. Then it progresses to a dryer middle and finish, featuring some charred wood, whiskey and burnt brownie flavors. The mouthfeel is near perfect, coating the mouth nicely while giving off a warming sensation from the over 9% ABV. Despite the heavier mouthfeel, the flavors hold up well and don't feel weighed down at all. I still don't know if I can justify the price, but this beer is an absolute keeper. If you're a fan of barrel aged stouts, this is right up there with the best. Go, Nebraska!

Final Grade: A

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 38

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Golden Road Brewing - Point The Way IPA

Not so long ago, craft beer in Los Angeles was almost completely nonexistent. Then, something crazy happened: LA started caring about (and making) good beer. And while there still isn't an LA brewery that's generated a ton of buzz throughout the industry (yet), there are a few that are starting to make a little noise. One of these breweries is Golden Road Brewing, located in Glendale. The founders, Tony Yanow and Meg Gill both have a pretty solid resume in the brewing world (Tony is the founder of a successful beer bar in LA and Meg has worked for Oskar Blues and Speakeasy) and they were able to get Jon Carpenter, a former assistant brewer for Dogfish Head, to be their brewmaster. Golden Road's flagship beer is an IPA called Point The Way and I grabbed the first can I saw down here.

Point The Way IPA pours a hazy burnt orange color with a nice looking one finger tan head. As soon as I started pouring the beer, I smelled a ton of juicy grapefruit hops. When I smelled it a little more, I got some notes of caramel malt, orange zest and a pretty substantial amount of pine. Not bad at all.

The taste was a pretty nice balance of bready malts and peppery citrus hop notes. I got a good amount of grapefruit throughout with a slightly off-putting flavor of waterlogged bread in the middle. Luckily, that flavor was short lived and was followed by a dry finish with notes of grapefruit pith and aspirin. At 5.2% ABV, this isn't close to being one of the bigger IPAs out there, but the low ABV coupled with the refreshing prickly mouthfeel make this a really approachable and drinkable IPA. If there's such a thing as a "Summer IPA," this is it. It's not exactly mindblowing, but this is a solid beer and a definite step in the right direction for beer in LA.

Final Grade: B+

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 38

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Bryggeriet Djævlebryg - Gudeløs

It seems like recently, there have been a lot of collaborations between brewers. Whether it's New Belgium and Lost Abbey or Stone and The Alchemist, brewers from across the world have been getting together at an astounding rate to create some top rate brews. But not all of the collaborations out there are from places you would expect. In fact, thanks to a trade with my friend, Beau, I may have found the most unusual collaboration I've ever seen: A collaboration from a Danish brewery called "Devil's Brew" and the Danish Atheistic Society. Somehow, these two got together and created an imperial stout called  Gudeløs, with a portion of the profits of every beer sold going to the Danish Atheistic Society. Craziness!

Gudeløs pours a smooth black color with an absolute beast of a khaki colored head. The head lasts forever and eventually settles to about 1 finger and leaves a ridiculous amount of sticky lacing down the glass. The smell is full of dark flavors, with powdery dark chocolate, licorice, molasses and charred wood at the forefront. I also picked up some traces of tobacco and, surprisingly, a little tropical fruit that I thought smelled like lychee.

The taste is loaded with dark chocolate and roasted malt. I picked up a ton of rich, chocolatey sweetness throughout with some big notes of chocolate cake and brownies. The mouthfeel was smooth and velvety and worked absolutely perfectly with the all of the sweetness in this stout. The finish brought some bittersweet chocolate and charred oak. I'm not big with adding beer to things (or adding things to beer), but this is absolutely screaming to be poured over ice cream. This is dessert beer at its finest. A must try if you love all things sweet like I do. Thanks, Beau!

Final Grade: A

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 38

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Stone Brewing Company - Smoked Porter-Vanilla, Smoked Porter-Chipotle

I reviewed Stone's Smoked Porter almost 2 years ago (have I really been doing this that long already?) and wasn't the hugest fan of it. Ok, I really didn't like it. I had pretty much written off the beer until last summer at Stone's Anniversary Party. Towards the end of the event, I was walking around, looking for some final beers to try when I stopped by the Stone booth and saw they had a version of Smoked Porter that was brewed with vanilla beans. I tried it, hoping the vanilla would kill the meat-like smokiness that I kept tasting in the original beer. Not only was the smokiness pretty subdued, the vanilla worked amazingly with the flavors of the beer. It ended up being one of my favorite beers of the day.

Recently, Stone announced that they were going to be bottling both the vanilla and a chipotle version of their Smoked Porter. You know what that means...face off! Here's how this is going to work: A head to head matchup with 5 categories (appearance, smell, taste, mouthfeel, use of secret ingredient), winner takes all (by "all" I really just mean the title of "Walker's Favorite Version of Smoked Porter"). Alright, let's get ready to rumble!

Category 1: Appearance

Because these are both versions of the same base beer, it shouldn't come as too much surprise that their look is identical. Both pour a very deep brown/black color with a one finger khaki colored head. I noticed a bit more lacing down the glass with the vanilla version, but I'm gonna call this one a split.

Winner: Tie

Category 2: Smell 

I remember being really blown away by the vanilla version when I had it on tap last year. Out of the bottle, I found it a bit less impressive, but still pretty nice. I got some notes of roasted malt, cola nut, vanilla and the barest hint of milk chocolate. The vanilla was there, but a bit too restrained for me.
In the chipotle version, I smelled the chipotle right away, and the combination of the peppery smell with the notes of chocolate in the background reminded me of Mexican hot chocolate. A bit of coffee and earthiness lingered in the background. Winner.

Winner: Chipotle

Category 3: Taste

After smelling each of these, I didn't think the vanilla would stand a chance against the chipotle in the taste category. But, unfortunately, the chipotle version doesn't taste anywhere near as good as it smells. I got some flavors of day old coffee upfront with a touch of smoke and pepper on the finish. Some relatively mild roasted malt flavors carry though the entire taste. The finish leaves a bit of a dry and earthy taste on the tongue with a bit of cracked black pepper. The chipotle never really shines in this one. Bummer. The vanilla version opened with a ton of vanilla upfront. I've noticed a really artificial element to a lot of vanilla beers I've had in the past, but this didn't taste artificial at all. Roasted malt and coffee followed the vanilla with a good amount of smokiness and dark roasted coffee coming in on the finish. The vanilla version is going to take this one, even though it wasn't as good as the draft version.

Winner: Vanilla

Category 4: Mouthfeel

You would think that this category would be a tie, just like Appearance. But the chipotle version came across as being way thinner than the vanilla version. I'm not really sure if it was the vanilla flavors that made the beer feel richer, but the chipotle version definitely felt pretty weak.

Winner: Vanilla

Category 5: Use of Secret Ingredient

I'm not going to lie: I was a little disappointed in both of these beers. The chipotle gave me a ton of hope with the smell and then failed to deliver in the taste. The vanilla version was good, but really didn't deliver in the way that the draft version of it did last summer.

As far as use of the secret ingredient goes, both were great choices by Stone. Chipotle peppers have a great smokiness on their own, so using them in a smoked beer just makes sense. That said, the Smoked Porter-Chipotle really left me wishing they had used more chipotles in it. With a bit of heat and more chipotle flavor, this could have been a really interesting beer. With a lot of smoked beers, I don't know that vanilla beans would be a good compliment, but with all the harsh smoky flavors the original Smoked Porter brings to the table, the vanilla really mellows things out while bringing in a flavor that strangely complements the smokiness. That said, the bottled version was a bit weak in the vanilla department and almost let too much of the smokiness through. So which version is going to take it? Who will be crowned "Walker's Favorite Version of Smoked Porter"? Chipotle put up a good fight, but I have to give this title to Smoked Porter-Vanilla.

Winner: Vanilla

Final Score: Vanilla 3, Chipotle 1 

 Final Grade:

Chipotle: B-

Vanilla: B

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 38