Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Evil Twin Brewing - Imperial Biscotti Break

Since it's Halloween, I felt it would be appropriate to talk about about something a little different- phantom breweries. I don't think I've talked about phantom breweries on here before, so here's the rundown. Basically, a phantom brewery is run by a brewer who doesn't own an actual brewery. Instead, they contact breweries that have extra brewing space, and brew their recipes at those breweries. To me, the most famous phantom brewery (or at least the one I see around the most) is Mikkeller, run by Danish brewer Mikkel Borg Bjergsø. What I didn't realize is that Bjergsø has a brother, Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, who runs his own phantom brewery, Evil Twin. I had noticed some of Evil Twin's beers on shelves for a while, but I didn't really think much of them until I noticed that one of their beers, Imperial Biscotti Break, had quietly snuck into the Top 100. This beer is a double stout that was brewed at a brewery in South Carolina using coffee beans from Charleston Coffee Roasters. At #66- Imperial Biscotti Break.

Imperial Biscotti Break pours a viscous black color the consistency of motor oil. A dark brown head starts off small, and then gradually grows as bubbles of carbonation slowly reach the surface, almost like they're crawling through molasses. The smell started faint, getting stronger as the beer warmed. I picked up some heavy roasted malt, chocolate covered raisin, sugar cookie, espresso, molasses, and straight dark chocolate. There was something in the smell that hinted at a bourbon character as well.

The taste opens with a huge mix of roasted malt and molasses with a sticky coffee hard candy undertone. The middle featured flavors of chocolate cake, chocolate covered black cherry and vanilla. The finish brings new flavors of mocha and milk chocolate. The mouthfeel is big, chewy and mouth coating, with just a hint of warmness to it. This is dessert beer at its finest and one of the best stouts I've had.

Final Grade: A

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 42

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Southern Tier Brewing Company - Pumking

There's a lot of debate over who makes the best pumpkin beer. But for whatever reason, the general consensus seems to be that the East Coast makes the best pumpkin beers out there. Three breweries in particular seem to come up a lot when it comes to the top pumpkin beer: Cambridge, Dogfish Head and Southern Tier. Overall, the one that seems to have the most praise is a beer from Southern Tier called Pumking. Reviews of it can be a bit polarizing, varying between "It's way too sweet" and "It tastes exactly like a pumpkin pie," but the general consensus seems to be that it's the best (or at least one of the best) pumpkin beers made today. Of course (repeat after me) Southern Tier doesn't distribute to California. Luckily, I was able to track down a liquor store that was able to order the beer directly from the brewery. After years of trying to track this down, I give you Southern Tier's Pumking.

Pumking pours a slightly hazy burnt orange (dare I say, pumpkin?) color that seems to glow in the glass. A solid one finger bone white head caps the brew. The smell is absolutely out of this world. Enormous aromas of pumpkin pie are immediately evident along with notes of pumpkin, baked brown sugar, molasses, cinnamon, allspice, buttery pie crust, baked yam and toasted marshmallow. This beer is worth it for the smell alone. Wowzers!

Even though the smell was awesome, if this beer tasted the way it smelled, it would probably be a challenge to finish a bomber of it. Luckily, the taste is toned down a bit without losing the best elements of the smell. The taste opens with some cinnamon and a touch of pumpkin flesh, then moves to a big hit of nutmeg. The finish brings notes of toasted malt, more pumpkin and vanilla. Overall, this beer is absolutely fantastic. I can see how some people could be overwhelmed by the sweetness, but I happen to love sweet things and think that Pumking is the best pumpkin beer I've ever had. If Southern Tier distributed to San Diego, I would undoubtedly have a large supply of this in my fridge. If you're lucky enough to be in an area where Southern Tier distributes, you have to give this a try. What a beer!

Final Grade: A

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 40

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Founders Brewing Company - Founders Breakfast Stout

For as long as I've been into craft beer, I've been trying to get my hands on Founders Breakfast Stout. It's a double chocolate coffee oatmeal stout (seriously, what doesn't sound good about that?) that has been getting amazing reviews for a long time now. I knew I had to try this beer, but the issue was how I was going to go about that. I tried the trade route, getting as far as having a trade in place for one before things fell through. Discouraged, I tried the online route, but all the shops I looked at never seemed to have any Breakfast Stout in stock. Recently, I was finally able to find a shop from Minnesota that had it in stock. So after a long, long wait, here's #26 on the Top 100- Founders Breakfast Stout.

Founders Breakfast Stout pours a motor oil black color with a near identical consistency. Despite a pretty vigorous pour, the beer yielded only a tiny light brown head before it quickly settled down into the black. I tried this beer pretty much straight out of the fridge, and was really surprised by the lack of coffee in the smell. In fact, the smell was downright weak. But then, I gave it about 20 minutes to warm up and it made a huge difference. All of a sudden, huge notes of dark roasted coffee, burnt wood, black licorice, and some faint cooked oat aromas came flying out of the glass. This was more like it! The coffee smell is probably only matched by another beer from Founders, Kentucky Breakfast Stout.

The taste opens with a nice and velvety smoothness with some soft notes of roasted malt and oats. Then the beer sucker punches you with a huge hit of rich dark roasted coffee, burnt coffee grounds, unsweetened baking chocolate and a touch of cola nut. The finish leaves a lingering acrid coffee and roasted malt bitterness that's pretty intense and pretty incredible. My one knock on this beer is that it feels a bit thin, but the oats do their best to keep the feel from getting way too thin. Overall, this is a pretty incredible beer, and one that's even better once it warms up. There have been rumors that Founders may start distributing to San Diego in the near future. I can only hope those rumors are true, because I would love to be able to drink this stuff on a regular basis.

Final Grade: A

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 40

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Boston Beer Company - Verloren

Say what you want about Sam Adams, but they try a lot of cool styles. When I was in Boston earlier this year, I got to try Sam Adams' 26.2, a gose style beer brewed specially for the Boston Marathon. While this beer was exclusive to Boston, it must have elicited a pretty positive response because they recently brewed another gose, Verloren, which did get national distribution. Never heard of a gose? Neither had I until about a year ago. Basically, a gose is a light unfiltered wheat beer, with a lot of similarities to a wit beer. The major difference is that the gose style uses salt in the brewing process, giving a very different quality to the brew. I've tried a few goses now and am slowly falling in love with the style. Let's see how this one turned out.

Verloren pours a hazy copper color with a thin but insanely creamy tan head that lasts forever. The smell was largely wet hay and coriander with some noticeable orange rind in the background. I also got some faint wheat smells and a touch of salt. I'm far from being a gose expert, but this one smelled pretty on the mark.

The taste is largely grainy and toasty with a good amount of coriander and a touch of some indistinct spices. Biscuity malt undertones carried the flavor until they subsided in a thick and bready finish. To me, even at 6%, this beer felt way too heavy. A gose is supposed to be light, crisp and drinkable, but this one just didn't have it. A bit of a chewy mouthfeel caused the lighter flavors (and any hint of salt) to get completely washed out. What was left behind wasn't bad, but it was a shadow of what a good gose can be.

Final Grade: C

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 39

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Uinta Brewing Company - Oak Jacked Imperial Pumpkin Ale

Well, we've reached the month of October and you know what that means...pumpkin beers! Last year, I tried nearly all of the pumpkin beer that I could get my hands on, but there were a few I left behind. One that I really regretted not trying when the season was over was a beer from Uinta called Oak Jacked Imperial Pumpkin Ale. This beer is part of Uinta's Crooked Line series of beers and is a beefed up pumpkin ale (clocking in at a whopping 10.31%) that has been aged in oak barrels for 6 months. I was pretty curious how the oak barrel treatment would work with a pumpkin ale, so I grabbed this one as soon as I saw it this year.

Oak Jacked Imperial Pumpkin Ale pours a dark mahogany color with some ruby tinges. A strong pour yielded a thin, cream colored head that left some subtle spots of lace down the glass. The smell was definitely full of pumpkin, but it had a rich sweetness to it, almost like the pumpkin had been soaked in molasses. Under all of the sweet pumpkin smells, I found some brown sugar, yams, nutmeg and a hint of oak chips. All in all, a pretty intriguing smell.

The taste opened on a pretty substantial oaky note with some pumpkin flavor mixed in. I wouldn't call the oak flavor completely overwhelming, but it didn't really allow the pumpkin flavors the freedom to wander over the palate. There were also some hints of cinnamon and baking spices thrown in with a touch of caramel malt. The mouthfeel was smooth without being syrupy and the high alcohol was concealed pretty well. Overall, this is a nice fall beer, but I definitely left wishing there was a bit more pumpkin flavor to it.

Final Grade: B+

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 40

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Cascade Brewing - Sang Noir

It's been a while since I ticked another Top 100 Beer off the list, so I figured it was time to delve into the cellar and pull one out. The beer I chose is a beer that I picked up a few months ago- Sang Noir.

If you live outside of Oregon, you probably have never heard of Cascade Brewing, yet alone tried any of their beers. That said, among sour beer fans, Cascade beers are some of the most coveted in the country. I'm a huge fan of sour beers, but coming across any of Cascade's beers proved pretty difficult for me for a while. Finally, I got an email from Bottlecraft saying that they had just received a shipment of Cascade. I hurried down the next day and was lucky enough to scoop up a bottle of the highly coveted Sang Noir.

To say the brewing process of Sang Noir is extensive is a bit of an understatement. Simply throwing a beer in bourbon barrels and then bottling it isn't enough for them. Sang Noir, for example, is "a blend of red and double red beers that were aged in bourbon and Pinot Noir barrels for 12- 24 months then blended with barrel aged Bing and Sour Pie cherries." Off the top of my head, I can't think of any other brewery that throws their beer through a process like that. Let's review this puppy. At number 69 on the Top 100 List: Sang Noir.

Sang Noir pours a deep chestnut color with some ruby tinges when held to light. The head, a dense and foamy mass of khaki colored bubbles, forms quickly and takes a while to settle, leaving thick streaks of lacing down the glass. The smell was absolutely amazing. A touch of bourbon upfront quickly gave way to huge aromas of ripe red cherries, caramel and vanilla. Some pinot noir barrel was apparent in the background. I could have spent hours just smelling this beer, but it smelled way too good to not taste right away.

The taste opens with a nice lactic sourness, full of sour cherries, cherry skin and pit and vanilla. A touch of bourbon came through in the middle before a long and ever changing finish. On the finish, I picked up pinot noir barrel, red delicious apple and some nice tannins. I'm not sure what to compare this beer to, but it's awesome. The closest beer out there that I've tried might be Supplication, but this just may be better. This is a first class sour and one of the better beers I've ever tried.

Final Grade: A+

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 40