Saturday, December 29, 2012

Cambridge Brewing Company - The Great Pumpkin Ale

I know, I know. It's kind of weird to do a pumpkin beer post when it's after Christmas. I debated not doing a post on this beer at all, but this one was just too good to pass up.

I'm a big fan of pumpkin beers. However, the more I try, the more I feel like every brewery is just trying to make the same beer. Some of them, like Southern Tier, do it incredibly well. Some, like Coors, do not. But, with very few exceptions, it's seemed like nearly every brewery was throwing nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon and pumpkin into a brew kettle, jacking up the alcohol, and selling it as pumpkin beer. But as I recently discovered, all pumpkin ales don't have to taste the same. Just look at Cambridge Brewing Company's The Great Pumpkin.

The Great Pumpkin pours a hazy orange-ish brown color with a thin off-white head. The smell is like opening a spice cabinet, full of heavy cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. Some clove was in there as well. A bit of cooked pumpkin lingered in the background. I had heard great things about this beer, but after smelling it, I wasn't confident it was going to be much better than the rest of the pumpkin beers I've tried. Then I tried a sip of it.

The beer opens with a tingling of baking spice and a touch of pumpkin flesh. Then it progresses into some flavors I've never experienced in a pumpkin beer before: fresh grassy hops and a bunch of pale malt. The intensity of the hops was something I'm more used to in a pilsner, not a fall beer. A light mouthfeel helped the hops and pumpkin flavors to work together incredibly well, resulting in a beer that feels like the child of a pumpkin beer and a blonde ale. At a mere 4.4%, this beer is a baby in the pumpkin beer category, but it is one tasty, tasty baby. I can't say I liked this more than Pumking, but this was a really great beer and a fresh new take on the style.  A huge thanks to my sister, Melina, for picking this up for me in Boston!

Final Grade: A

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 44

Note: This is probably the last post I will get in this year. Thank you all for your support. It's been a great year for this blog and I and I can't wait to see what beers come across our path in 2013. Have a happy and safe holiday and look for a "Best of 2012" post coming very soon. Cheers!


Friday, December 21, 2012

The Lost Abbey - Judgment Day (Mayan Apocalypse)

So....everyone make it through Armageddon ok? As I'm sure all of you are aware of, today is the day that the world was supposed to end, according to the Mayans. While I wasn't loading up with cases of water and other disaster supplies yesterday, I was sitting down to enjoy what could very well have been my last beer (had the Mayans been right). I felt it was only fitting to commemorate the occasion with Lost Abbey's new Mayan Apocalypse version of their Belgian-style quadrupel, Judgment Day. To make this beer more "Mayan," Lost Abbey decided to brew this version with cinnamon, dried chiles and tamarind.

Mayan Apocalypse pours a deep brown color that's almost black in the glass. A one finger tan head tops the beer and leaves tracks of lace down the glass. The smell is pretty awesome, with big notes of Mexican chocolate, powdery serrano chiles and cinnamon. Hints of caramel, plum and fig were also in there.

The taste opens with a pretty aggressive (albeit one-noted) hit of malt. Slowly, the malt recedes, leaving behind some faint dark fruit, burnt raisin, cinnamon bread and some earthy Belgian yeast. The finish brings a touch of dryness with a creeping chili presence. I couldn't really pick out the tamarind, but if it is in there, it's hiding in the hint of sweetness on the finish. Overall, this was a really solid beer. I'm not a huge fan of the standard version of Judgment Day, but this blows that one out of the water. A very successful experiment by Lost Abbey.  

Nice touch, Lost Abbey.

Final Grade: A-

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 45

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Boulevard Brewing Co. - Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale

Saisons and I have a kind of strange relationship. The first one I ever had, Saison Dupont, had me head over heels for the style. I bought just about all of the saisons I came across for a while after that only to find that most of them weren't that good. It's not that every one of them was gross, but none of them came close to Saison Dupont. American breweries in particular seemed to have a really difficult time with the style. Every one I tried felt really one-dimensional and lacked the funk and complexity of the Dupont. So I kind of wrote American breweries off as far as the style was concerned. Then, a few weeks ago, I happened upon a beer from Kansas City's Boulevard Brewing Company. Boulevard just recently started distributing beers this way and I had heard really good things about them. Their best known beer is a saison called Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale, so I decided to give that a try first.

Tank 7 pours a slightly hazy glowing golden color with an absolute monster of a cream colored head. Kind of like the Saison Dupont, the head swelled up in the glass on the pour and took forever to recede. The smell was a bit faint, but really struck a good note with me. I caught earthy, peppery, floral and citrusy notes all at once. The blend was incredibly complex without feeling heavy. Some faint candied mango, orange peel, barnyard funk and white pepper lurked in the background. This was already the best American saison I'd come across, and I hadn't even taken a sip yet.

A light and peppery hop bite hits first with some smooth bready malt carrying it through. This is followed by grapefruit zest, a touch of grass, some chalky yeast and a smooth finish with notes of lemon zest and pepper. I was really impressed by this beer and it left me with a lot of hope for American saisons. I don't know if this one can match Saison Dupont, but it's a really fantastic beer.

Final Grade: A

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 45

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Traquair House Brewery Lld - Traquair House Ale

Traquiar House Ale is one of those beers that I had seen on the shelves for a long time, but had never tried. I'd heard great things about it, wasn't particularly turned off by the label, and picked it up and looked it over multiple times, but it always ended up back on the shelf. Maybe it was because something "more exciting" always caught my eye, or maybe it was because I'm not the hugest fan of Scotch Ales, but I was always a little hesitant to get this beer. Then my friend, Brian, brought a bottle of it to my house during a tasting we had for my birthday.

It's worth noting that this beer is brewed in Scotland. In a really, really old house. Dating back to 1107, the Traquair House was originally a hunting lodge for royalty, and has seen it's fair share of history through the years. It also holds the designation being the of oldest inhabited house in all of Scotland. A brewery that brewed beer for the workers of the house was in place in the 18th century, but went out of production until the 1960s, when the 20th Laird of Traquair opened what is today the Traquiar House Brewery. Today, the brewery still uses traditional methods and water that comes from a spring on the estate. Traquair House Ale is their flagship beer.

Traquair House Ale pours a ruddy brown color that almost looks more like pond scum on the pour than beer. However, once the beer settles in the glass, it becomes a much more attractive deep mahogany color with a thin light brown head. The smell is unquestionably the best part of this beer, and is full of a rich and complex dark fruit aroma. I picked up great notes of fig jam, toffee, black raisins, fruitcake, golden raisin and a faint aroma of butterscotch.

The taste opens on a dense dark fruit note with just a touch of booze. Toasted oak, a faint peatiness, raisin and burnt brown sugar emerge soon after. The finish leaves just a touch of warmness and a touch of oak. Like I said, this isn't my favorite style, but this beer absolutely kills it. Alongside Dieu du Ciel's Equinoxe du Printemps, this is one of the best scotch ales I've ever had and one I'd definitely like to revisit in the future.

Final Grade: A-

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 46

Friday, December 7, 2012

Pelican Pub and Brewery - Mother of All Storms

I used to not be a fan of barleywines. So much so, in fact, that for a while I considered them my least favorite style (not counting Pizza Beer). But I realized that there were just too many barleywines out there to discount the entire style. And so, gradually, I began to give more of them a try and I started to appreciate them a bit more. I didn't think they were good, but the style was becoming tolerable to me. Then I tried Firestone's Abacus (now called Sucaba) and my mind was absolutely blown. Not only had I found a drinkable barleywine, I had fallen in love. I looked for more and more barelywines to try and found one lurking pretty high in the ranks of the Top 100 that I decided I had to have. But the brewery that made it was a smaller brewery in Oregon called Pelican Pub and Brewery and the beer wasn't really being distributed at all. This kind of problem seems to happen to me a lot.

Fast forward a few months to the end of last year when my friend, Beau, moved to Portland. We talked about getting a trade together and I mentioned that a beer called Mother of All Storms was going to be released in November and I had heard great things about it. Great friend that he is, he managed to go to the brewery on the day of release and score me a bottle. While he was at the brewery, he tried a few different years of Mother of All Storms and while he confirmed that the beer was as amazing as I had heard, he recommended I cellar it for a bit, because the beer seemed way better with a little age under it. So with a ton of hesitance, I set the bottle aside and tried to forget that I had it. Since it's now been over a year, I finally decided that some friends and I would open it alongside a bunch of other barleywines I've been saving for a giant barleywine tasting in a few weeks. But a part of me always wondered what this beer would taste like fresh.

A few days ago, I got an email from a guy at a local bottleshop. The email read "Pelican Pub and Brewery Mother of All Storms- Arrived." I stared at my phone in disbelief for a while, reading and rereading the words. There was no way. As soon as I got out of work, I hurried over there and, sure enough, found a 2012 bottle of Mother of All Storms. My prayers had been answered. At number 49 on the Top 100 List, here's Mother of All Storms.

Mother of All Storms pours a deep reddish brown color with a thin sand colored head. The beer just looks thick in the glass, almost like a dark colored bourbon. The smell opens with a rich aroma of bourbon that's strong without being overpowering. Behind the bourbon, I was able to pick out lots of toffee, raisin, brown sugar, toasted coconut, oak and some dark fruit. This beer is bourbon barrel-aged, so I was a little worried that the bourbon smell might be a little too strong right out of the gate, but it seemed just right.

The taste opens with some burnt raisin skins and a good dose of bourbon. Soon after comes rich notes of vanilla, toffee, butterscotch and toasted oak. The beer leaves a dry and warming sensation after every sip. At 13.5%, this is a huge beer, but it's not harsh at all, even this fresh. I don't know if I liked this better than Abacus, but it's very close and that's saying a lot. I can't wait to try this beer with some age on it as part of the barleywine tasting and I will report back as soon as that happens.

Final Grade: A

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 46

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Brasserie Cantillon - Lou Pepe-Kriek

This past weekend, my girlfriend and I attended something I'd been wanting to go to for a few years now: Zwanze Day. This day marks the release of a limited beer from Cantillon called Zwanze. The beer is almost always a draft-only release and only a handful of kegs are sent out to the world. This year, a total of 35 bars worldwide (and 16 bars in the United States) received kegs of Zwanse, all of which were to be tapped on December 1st.  Zwanze Day doesn't happen on the same day every year, but when it does, you can be sure that the gathering of beer geeks will be epic.

Luckily for me, one of the 16 kegs of Zwanze was sent to Toronados right here in San Diego. What I was even more excited about was that Cantillon also sent a keg of their famed Lou Pepe-Kriek. I've been wanting to try this beer for as long as I've been chasing the Top 100 Beers, and this was finally my chance. After struggling through the massive crowd at Toronados, I was finally able to get my hands on a glass. At number 59 on the Top 100 List, here's Lou Pepe-Kriek.

                                                           (The crowd at Zwanze Day)

Lou Pepe-Kriek pours a hazy raspberry color with a thin pink head. In the glass, the haze is so thick that the beer almost looks like raspberry puree. The aroma is full of a rich, tart cherry smell. It didn't knock my socks off as much as Rose de Gambrinus did, but it was still amazing, nonetheless. Notes of vanilla, oak and ripe strawberry were evident as well.

The taste opens with a huge wave of unripe cherries and a tart lactic smack in the mouth. The oak from the barrels was definitely present, as was a note of unripe raspberry and lemon peel. A champagne-like effervescence kept the mouthfeel light and refreshing and left me wanting more and more with every sip. This was just an awesome beer and I'm really glad I got to try it.

Final Grade: A

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 45