Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Best/Worst Beers of 2013

Well, my friends, another fantastic year for beer has come and gone and I hope it was as good a year for you as it was for me. Just to give the quick recap, here were the Top 3 Highlights of my year in beer:
  1. Brewed my first batch of beer. Hopefully there's gonna be a lot more of this in 2014.
  2. Watched "The List" of top beers expand from 100 to 250 and knocked off 43 of them.
  3. Got to try the #1 beer in the world, Heady Topper, along with a lot of other beers I never thought I'd get to try.
I recently moved into a house (explaining the lame no-post week last week), which should allow me to do fun things like homebrew, have better tasting events and not have to listen to my upstairs neighbors having weird sex for hours or blasting country music. It's gonna be awesome. Anyways, let's get on with the "awards." As I've done for the past few years now, here are the five best and worst beers I reviewed this year. I've gone off on beers that HAVE made the Top 250 list enough already, so the "best" beers here are beers that you will not find on in the ranks of the Top 250. Not yet, at least. So without further ado, let's do this.

Best Beers of 2013

5. Hangar 24  Brewery - Pugachev's Cobra

If the name Pugachev's Cobra alone doesn't intimidate you, the alcohol content will. At least it should have last New Year's eve, when I thoroughly enjoyed a bottle of this, but stupidly tried to tackle it alone. Take one sip of this puppy and you'll start feeling pretty selfish, too. It's delicious! Bourbon and beer are perfectly balanced in here and Pugachev's Cobra has depth for days. The flavor ranges from dark fruit to tobacco to brownie batter. It's an awesome, awesome beer.

4. Ruhstaller - Exquisite Kolsch


You may remember that earlier in the year, I got a bad can from Ruhstaller and the owner responded to my bad review by thanking me and then sending me a bunch of new beers to review. The Exqusite Kolsch is the one that really stuck with me. It doesn't beat you over the head with hops or blow you away with depth, but it strikes a few delicate chords really, really beautifully. Grassy hops, pale malt and some fruity esters create a fantastic drinking experience. Especially when the weather gets a little warmer.

3. Prairie Artisan Ales - 'Merica

I don't know that anyone out there killed it this year quite as much as these guys did. And while Prairie Bomb! justly gets most of the credit, 'Merica isn't too shabby either. This single hop saison finds the perfect blend of funky/grassy/farmhouse of the saison style with the awesome grapefruit/lemon/passionfruit of the hops. I'm really excited to try more Prairie beers in 2014.

2. Caldera Brewing Company - Mogli

I had tried a few of Caldera's beers before this one and had yet to be impressed by their other offerings. But after one sip of Mogli, I was a believer. The beer smells like s'mores, tastes like espresso and cocoa AND it has a really cute dog on the label. You pretty much cannot lose with this beer.

1. Sante Adairius Rustic Ales - West Ashley

 If West Ashley isn't the best sour I've ever had, it's damn close. It's an apricot sour aged in Pinot Noir barrels that impressed me more than any other beer this year. Tons of incredible apricot flavor here without ever feeling forced or artificial. I'll probably never see another bottle of this again, but it was fantastic while it lasted. Chances are, it's only a matter of time until this pops up on the Top 250 List.

Worst Beers of 2013

5. Hillcrest Brewing Company - Perle Necklace Pale Ale

I loved a lot of things about Perle Necklace going in. I loved the name, loved how they were able to sneak one by the often humorless people who deal with label approvals, and loved that there was finally a brewery down in one of my favorite areas of San Diego, Hillcrest. Unfortunately, once the bottle was open, there wasn't a whole heck of a lot to love. This beer didn't smell great and the taste was just a mess. Faded hops, soggy wheat thins and not a whole lot of joy can be found in this bottle. There are far worse things out there, but this was definitely one of the lowlights of the year that I reviewed.

 4. New Belgium Brewing - Lips of Faith-Cascara Quad

Cascara was another one I'm throwing on here mainly because I had such high hopes for it and it soullessly dashed them. A quad brewed with dates and "coffee cherries" sounds awesome, but "awesome" this beer was not. There's a lot of flavor to be found here, but the flavors run rampant with no boundaries whatsoever. The result is some interesting elements, but no real cohesion. In other words, this beer is a hot mess. The Lips of Faith series in general wasn't fantastic this year, so here's hoping that 2014 is better for the series as well.

3. Anheuser-Busch - Wild Black

Having tried Wild Blue prior, I kind of knew I wasn't in for a good time when I tried Wild Black. Still, this was one gross mother. If you like to pick up things like Robitussin, pureed raisin, wet cardboard and tar in your beer, then I have just the beer for you. For those of us who aren't so inclined (or aren't desperate teens looking for anything to get hammered off of), you may want to look elsewhere. Far elsewhere. 

2. Cisco Brewers Inc. - Island Reserve: Rumple Drumkin

Cisco was a new brewery to San Diego this year and, unfortunately, my first experience was Rumple Drumkin. A rum barrel aged pumpkin beer with a funny name seemed harmless enough when I saw it in the bottle shop. Little did I know what a monster this beer was. From the lime green sediment that left a half inch layer on the bottom of my glass after it settled to the pumpkin beer itself, which tasted nothing like pumpkin, Rumple Drumkin was an experience. I wasn't joking when I said it tasted like an aspirin pill Fun-Dipped in litterbox. Don't be fooled by the catchy name. Just say no to Rumple Drumkin.

1. Boston Beer Company - Samuel Adams Triple Bock

 Not only was I able to try the #1 beer in the world this year (Heady Topper), I was able to try arguably (though I don't know who would argue with it once they tried this beer) the worst beer in existence- Sam Adams Triple Bock. The appearance made me wonder how many hours I would have left to live if I downed the whole bottle, the smell made me gag and the taste was straight from the pits of hell. So really, a pretty pleasant experience. If you're into pain and having unpleasant tastes seared into your memory, I highly recommend Triple Bock.

And that about wraps things up over here. Cheers and Happy New Years to all. See you in 2014.

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 126

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Belching Beaver Brewery - Peanut Butter Milk Stout

If you're a budding craft brewery in San Diego, it can be hard to figure out ways to separate yourself from the pack. One of the densest areas is the Vista/San Marcos region, which alone houses breweries like Port/Lost Abbey, Iron Fist, Latitude 33, Aztec, Mother Earth and more. Oh, and right next door in Escondido is the San Diego powerhouse, Stone. So, again, what do you do to get recognition when you're up against competition like that? One fairly new brewery's solution to the problem was humor.

From their name alone, you can probably tell that Belching Beaver doesn't take themselves too seriously. They also try to keep the "beaver" theme alive in their beers, with names like Perky Beaver, Beaver's Milk, Rabid Beaver Bite and Barrel Aged Ol' Dirty Beaver. I'm not sure how they got label approval for some of their beers, but hats off to them for getting it done. A good beer name can get you some initial recognition, but it's really only going to carry you so far if the beer sucks. Luckily, after trying a good deal of their lineup, I can tell you for a fact that their beer does not suck. Their latest beer, Peanut Butter Milk Stout (sorry, no "beaver" in this one) was given to me by my friends, Ryan and Renee, and I was pretty excited to check it out. Thanks, guys!

Peanut Butter Milk Stout pours a deep chestnut color capped by a half-finger light brown head. The initial whiff is all peanut butter and crushed peanuts. I don't know if freshly made peanut butter smells different than peanut butter that's been in the fridge for a few months, but something about the peanut butter aroma here just smells "fresh." I'm digging it. Roasted malt, light roast coffee, milk chocolate and a trace of toffee linger in the back, but the peanut aroma really keeps them at bay.

Surprisingly, you don't get that much peanut butter from the taste initially. Instead, I caught a mild roasted malt flavor that slowly built into the peanut butter by the middle. When the peanut butter does hit, it's pretty tasty, but it's not quite as intense as the smell would have you believe. There's some light milk chocolate in here and a nice vanilla note rounding things out in the finish. The beer is "only" 5.3%, so the mouthfeel is way light. Cleverly, though, the brewers added lactose to this puppy, so you get a nice creaminess that works pretty nicely with the peanut butter. Overall, I'd say this is a pretty tasty offering from Belching Beaver. I'm really looking forward to more from these guys in the future.

Final Grade: B+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Sante Adairius Rustic Ales - West Ashley

San Diego gets a lot of hype for beer, and rightly so. With over 70 breweries and counting (most of them quality), it's becoming harder to find bad beer down here than it is to find great beer. But that isn't to say that the rest of California is sitting back and letting us make all the good beer. I've noticed a huge influx recently of awesome California-brewed beers that weren't brewed in San Diego. The latest for me is from a tiny brewery in Capitola, California (just south of Santa Cruz) called Sante Adairius.

Sante Adairius may be small, but they've gained an incredible reputation in a very short time. One of the beers that carried them there is an apricot sour called West Ashley. It's a saison aged with apricots in Pinot Noir barrels and it's been blowing reviewers away for over a year now. Because the brewery is so small, the releases of West Ashley are only on site. Luckily, my friend, Eddie, was able to get to the most recent release and grab me a bottle. Thanks, Eddie!

West Ashley pours a glowing and gorgeous even apricot color with a thin bone white head. The smell is redolent of tart apricot skin, peaches and cream and a nicely restrained barnyard funk. Dried apricots, some leather and just a touch of oak are evident as well. Smell-wise, this beer is near perfect. There's enough of a tart edge to let you know it's a sour without making you recoil from all the sourness. And the funk in here isn't depths of the men's locker room towel collection bin funk, it's just a suggestion.

The taste opens with a fantastic pull of tartness, full of underripe apricot, meyer lemon flesh and lemon seed. The middle shows everything from apricot skin to dried apricot to underripe white peach. The beer finishes with some apricot pit, light oak and a drying tartness. The mouthfeel is bright and light in body with just a touch of carbonation.

Everything about this beer just works. It does. It gives you so much in both smell and taste without ever coming close to giving you too much in one area. "Balance" is the key word here and I don't think I've ever found a more balanced sour than this. I don't know when the next time I'll see a beer from Sante Adairius will be, but I will definitely be looking forward to it.

Final Grade: A+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Cascade Brewing - Vlad the Imp Aler

We still have a few weeks left in it, but I think it's safe to say that this has been a pretty great year for me, beer-wise. I've been able to try some ridiculous beers this year, courtesy of traveling and being friends with awesome people. It's also been a great year for beer distribution in that I've seen a humongous improvement in the quantity and quality of beer on beer shelves in San Diego within just one year. Luckily, one of those improvements has been that beers from one of my favorite breweries, Cascade, have become a bit easier to find. The other night, I was able to try one I've been dying to try for a while now, Vlad the Imp Aler.

With Vlad the Imp Aler, Cascade gives us aspiring homebrewers yet another easily reproducible beer. All you have to do is brew a Blond Quad (yeah, I don't know what that is either, but it's been blowing my mind ever since I saw it on the label), a Spiced Tripel and a Spiced Blond, blend them and then age them in a mix of bourbon and wine barrels for two years. No biggie. Let's see how this one turned out.

Vlad the Imp Aler (fantastic name, by the way, Cascade) pours a slightly hazed amber color with a fizzing, thin off-white head. It drops off pretty quickly, leaving just the hazed liquid topped with a fine white ring. If the looks of this one underwhelmed at all, that's soon forgotten as the smell fires on all cylinders. There's a hearty mix of white wine and bourbon, all laced with with some tart and heavy fruit notes. Red cherry and white grape are dominant here, with just a hint of oak in the background.

The taste opens with a nice hit of sourness, drenched in a fruit-laden sweetness. Meaty red cherry notes mix with some Tripel spice, white grape, raisin skins and some candi sugar. The bourbon doesn't really show up until the finish, and even then it's just a trace, coupled with some red cherry skin tartness and a pleasant dryness from the alcohol. For me, the sweetness was a bit much for me to call this my favorite offering from Cascade. Still, I am very glad I finally got my hands on this. Here's hoping next year will bring a lot more Cascade down here.

Final Grade: A-

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Evil Twin Brewing - Justin Blåbær

I've been doing this blog thing for over three years now and over that time I've seen and tasted some ridiculous things. Whether it's been beer made with pizza, beer made with oysters or a Hanson themed beer, a lot of strange things have popped up on my radar these last few years. But as far as labels go, I don't know if I've ever seen anything stranger than Evil Twin's beer, Justin Blåbær. 

As you can see above, the label features an overexposed creepy dude with slight resemblences to Justin Bieber surrounded by goofy comments from the brewers and a caption that reads: "Justin Flashes His Istedgade Eyes." (For those of you, like me, who have no idea what Istedgade means, it's a street that runs through Copenhagen that goes directly through Copenhagen's hipster neighborhood.) If all that wasn't enough, we have this on the side of the bottle:

OMG! It's JUSTIN BLABAER!!! If you have "Blabaer fever," then this is the only cure. 
We stuffed so many blueberries into this beer--it's going to make you shout, "Oh Baby!"

Well played, Evil Twin. Very well played. I'll keep looking, but I doubt anything is topping this beer on the ridiculous meter. Now we move on to the more important question: Is the beer any good?
Justin Blåbær pours a hazed lavender color with a slightly purple-tinged two finger head that recedes fairly quickly. I really liked the smell, which opened with a nice acetic tartness full of blueberry pie filling, a light funk, lemongrass, red cherry and some faint oak. 

 The flavor opens with some acetic tartness right off the bat, full of lemon. The blueberries show up big time in the middle with a nice amount of sweetness and just a touch of underripe tartness. The beer finishes off a touch heavy with some wheat notes, lemon zest and blueberry fruit leather. 

 I have to say, I was really buying this for the label, but the beer inside is actually quite good. It's probably the first blueberry beer that hasn't blown me away with huge amounts of artificial sweetness. You get a lot of blueberry flavor here, but there's nothing about it that feels artificial. The label may be goofy as hell, but there is a very serious beer inside. I may just have the Blabaer fever.


Final Grade: A-

 Top 250 Beers Tasted: 130 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Brasserie de Rochefort - Rochefort 8

I'm going to be reviewing some pretty different beers this week, but before we get to those, I want to backtrack a bit and review a beer I've been meaning to review for a few weeks. This is a beer that doesn't get nearly the attention it deserves, mainly because it has a big brother that steals all the spotlight. While it's big brother, Rochefort 10, is a fantastic beer, today we're going to give Rochefort 8 the attention it deserves. At #120, Rochefort 8.

Rochefort 8 pours a deep and murky brown color with an eager foamy tan head that wells up as soon as the beer hits the glass. The aroma is rich with notes of banana, clove, fig, brown sugar, dark bread crust, vanilla custard, toffee, rum raisin, molasses, brittle and some wet earth. Whew! Did you get all that? After smelling this, I really couldn't wait to see what it tasted like.

The taste opens on the sweeter side with notes of toasted brown sugar, toffee, molasses and candi sugar. Then it progresses to some clove, bread crust, doughy malt and some indistinguishable baking spices. The finish brings in some bittersweet cocoa and some roasted malt with just a touch of alcohol. This beer isn't messing around. It's got so much packed in here, but somehow retains a nearly perfect balance. If you're looking for top notch Belgian beers to try, don't miss Rochefort 10, but don't forget about Rochefort 8.

Final Grade: A

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 131

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Victory Brewing Company - DirtWolf

It's been a while since Victory has showed up on this blog. If memory serves me correctly, it's been about three years. Coincidentally, that was also the last time Victory did anything really noteworthy beer-wise. They've been really quiet for a while, but it may be that they were just biding their time before releasing something that would rock the beer world. And that beer was DirtWolf.

Pretty much as soon as DirtWolf was released, the threads on beeradvocate started popping up: "Is DirtWolf better than Heady Topper?" "Is DirtWolf the next Pliny killer?" "I'm trying to find a surrogate father. Umm...is DirtWolf available?" Ok, one of those is made up, but the hype around this beer was incredible. It surged into the Top 250 List with a full head of steam. So let's check this one out and see if it's worth the hype. At #204, DirtWolf.

DirtWolf pours a slightly hazed golden color with a good amount of visible carbonation in the glass and a smooth, one finger cream colored head. The smell impressed me straight out of the bottle with notes of candied grapefruit, mango, menthol, pine, some musty and earthy hops and caramel malt. It wasn't as strong a smell as I was hoping for, but Victory chose some good hops to use in this one (Chinook, Citra, Mosaic (Hot Hop of the Moment Alert!), and Simcoe) so the smell is pretty solid.

The taste opens with some pine and floral hop notes with a sharp drawl of pine sap across the palate. Some mint, caramel malt and sticky floral hop resin show up next before another smattering of pine on the finish. On the first bottle, I didn't notice it quite as much, but on the next few, I started getting a decent kick of booze on the finish as well, which was a bit of a turn off. The mouthfeel is a bit heavy, but there's sufficient carbonation in here to break it up a touch.

Overall, this beer was good. It wasn't Pliny or Heady or anything on that level good, but I enjoyed it. Maybe I've gotten too used to all of the West Coast style IPAs, with all of their citrusy and tropical goodness, but this one just didn't blow me away. Does it deserve to be known as a good beer? Sure. Is it Top 250 worthy? Not so sure about that one.

Final Grade: B+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 133

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Goose Island Beer Company - Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout

Black Friday tends to be a day that people either dread or adore. Usually, I'm somewhere in the middle. While getting expensive things for not much money never sounds like a bad idea, things can turn in a hurry when you're stuck sardine-style in the electronics section at Target at 2am and some lady behind you seems to think that if she rams her cart into you repeatedly, you and everyone else in her way will magically disappear. Not that that's happened to me before or anything... Anyways, most Black Fridays there's something that gets the masses going. Whether it's the Xbox One, Furby or Tickle Me Elmo, there's something out there that everyone is going for. This year (for a lot of us, at least), it just happened to be a beer. Actually, make that plural.

Goose Island chose Black Friday this year for the release of their Bourbon County Brand line of stouts. Bourbon County Stout was last distributed to San Diego in 2010, back when I was just starting this blog. I tried it, reviewed it, and (luckily) saved a bottle for later, only years later realizing that I should have bought a case of it because it never came back. Now that Goose Island has been bought out by The Corporation Who Will Not Be Named, it's allowed them to focus on the production of their more limited releases like Bourbon County Stout. Luckily, that means that it's back in San Diego. And it brought friends.

Every year on the Bourbon County Stout line brings new additions (this year's big one is the Proprietor's Reserve) but the version that's been the star of the show for a while now is the Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout. Rated #4 in the Beer Advocate Top 250 List, it's the one that I've had my eye on for a while. I finally got my shot when a local bar announced they were going to have Black Friday bottle pours of Bourbon County Stout, Bourbon County Barleywine and Bourbon County Brand Coffee. In the history of driving to bars, I don't know if anyone has driven to a bar faster than I did to try this stuff. At #4, Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout.

Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout pours a viscous black color with just the slightest trace of a mocha colored head. The head doesn't last long, and you're left staring into the depths of what appears to be used motor oil. In a good way! I don't have the words to describe to you how good this beer smells. I just don't. "A-mother-freaking-mazing?" Too obvious. "One of the most delicious smells my nose has ever had the pleasure of meeting?" Not there yet. "Boner-inducing?" Getting there! Let's just say that if weird cave-dwelling animals that ate humans invaded the earth and were eating people dumb enough to wander into caves left and right and were smart enough to make their caves smell like this, I wouldn't be able to help myself. I'd be toast. That's how good this smells. The coffee aroma alone is worth the price of admission. It's dark, roasty and earthy and just explodes out of the glass. Beneath it I get some dark chocolate, wet earth, fudge, cocoa powder and some wet barrel notes.

The taste opens with a rich blend of espresso, heavily roasted dark coffee notes, bourbon and chocolate syrup. None of these really take the lead, but work in tandem Captain Planet-style to rock the hell out of your tastebuds. I've had a decent amount of barrel-aged beers that use coffee, but nothing I've had has used it as well as this. If you care to venture beyond the initial flavors of coffee, bourbon and chocolate, you'll find some caramel, chocolate cake and a slightly charred barrel note. A dry baking chocolate note shows up on the finish along with some mocha and burnt brownies. There's a slight dryness on the finish from the booze, but there's really nothing here that would lead you to believe that this beer is 13%+. It is going to be very hard for anything to top this beer. Thanks Goose Island, for the best Black Friday ever.

Final Grade: A+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 133

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Clown Shoes - Genghis Pecan

The holiday formerly known as Thanksgiving is a mere days away and everyone won't stop asking me what beer I'll be bringing to my family's dinner table. OK, I lied, only one person has asked me. OK, no one has. But IF they did, there are a few beers that come to mind. Most of these beers are fall (read:pumpkin) beers, such as Dogfish Head's Punkin' Ale and The Bruery's Autumn Maple (my #1 suggestion. You know, in case you were gonna ask). But there are other beers that would fit the bill. And when I saw Clown Shoes' new beer, Genghis Pecan, I thought I had another lined up for sure.

Everything about Genghis Pecan as a Thanksgiving beer works on paper. Like pretty much every other Clown Shoes beer it has a stellar label, featuring the dreaded Mongol lobbing pecan pies at an unseen foe as turkeys wearing clown shoes are landing around him. And like pretty much every other Clown Shoes beer, it has a name that's definitely a conversation starter. And a pecan pie porter? How could that not be good? This seems like a shoe-in for a recommendation for Thanksgiving Dinner. Let's check it out.

Genghis Pecan pours a deep drown color, almost the color of maple syrup. A one finger mocha colored head forms immediately and leaves some faint traces of lace after each sip. Everything about this beer's label screams "dessert beer," so I was expecting a ton of sweetness from the smell. But it never really showed. Instead, the smell was incredibly faint, with traces of earthy malt and yeast. The yeast had just a tinge of Belgian yeast sweetness to it. There was also a trace of almond meal and the oil of pecan skins.

The taste opens with some lightly roasted malt and just a hint of cola nut before the flavors drop off and go comatose. It's the strangest middle of a beer I've ever come across. There's just nothing there. Finally, it revives itself and a fairly brief finish shows some toasted walnut, pecan nut oil, faint brown sugar and some raisin. These flavors are so brief, though, that they really feel like an afterthought. The mouthfeel is probably the best part of this beer. It's slick and just a touch heavy, providing the perfect medium for an awesome dessert beer. But unfortunately, in this case, it's kind of like putting an awesome frame around a blank canvas.

So my friends, it is with great regret that I recommend you choose something else to drink for your Thanksgiving meals. Genghis Pecan just never lives up to all of its great promises. I love the concept and love the design, but the execution just wasn't there. I'd like to wish a very happy and safe Thanksgiving to all of you out there. Whether it's beer, wine, or something else, may your glasses be filled with something more interesting than Genghis Pecan.

Final Grade: C

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 130

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Anheuser Busch - Shadow's Wild Black

                                                           Wild Black in the glass...

                                                ...and in a more natural setting.   

Nearly two years ago, I tried a beer that changed my ideas on how bad beer can really be. If memory serves me right, it was the night of the national championship game for college football and the beer was called Wild Blue. I thought I had tried the worst of the worst with beers like Pizza Beer and Kennebunkport IPA. Wild Blue laughs in the face of beers like that. With the first sip, I could feel years taken off my life and my esophagus. It was sweeter than a Nicholas Sparks novel (and more syrupy). It would be hours before my taste buds would regain consciousness and start to work again.

Since then, I've had two beers that were somehow worse: A beer called Zorg and the infamous Sam Adams Triple Bock. The Sam Adams is never going to be topped. It's the bad beer equivalent of Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky and Muhammad Ali all wrapped into one cobalt blue bottle with a disintegrating cork. That beer remains (and most likely, forever will remain) the worst thing I have ever put in my mouth. But Wild Blue will always hold a special place in my heart as my first truly bad beer.

A few months after the Wild Blue fiasco, I was perusing the shelves when I found another version of Wild Blue called Shadow's Wild Black. It looked identical: Same dark and menacing liquid behind the bottle, same pissed off looking dog kicking fruit. I honestly don't know what I was thinking, but for some reason, I thought to myself, "I have GOT to try that!" I walked out of the store a few minutes later with it, only then remembering the torturous experience Wild Blue had been. But it was too late. I was the proud owner of a beer I never wanted to drink. And so it sat in solitary confinement in the back of my fridge for over a year and a half.

We're moving in a few weeks, so it's time to cut down on things we don't want to move. One of these things is the large inventory of beer I've acquired in our time here. So I've been trying to drink the beers that I have no intention of aging. Unfortunately, it was Wild Black's turn yesterday. For science!

Wild Black pours a deep purple color, almost more like a Welch's Grape Juice, with just a faint purple tinge to the head. The color was strange, but I've had some oddly colored beers in the past that ended up just fine. Who knew, maybe it would even be good. I took a whiff... Nope, it was going to suck. A sickeningly sweet artificial blackberry monster latches onto your nostrils the second they're in range and will not let go. If you can get past that, there are enticing notes of chlorine, concord grape concentrate, artificial blueberry, wet cardboard, and what I can only imagine what dog vomit would smell like if that dog had just scarfed a TON of Starbursts.

The taste opens with a faint dash of faded hop sourness, but it's quickly turned into Alderaan by the Death Star of huge sticky and sweet notes of grape jelly, pureed raisin and blackberry Robitussin (if that's a thing). There's a strange and brief wine-like note that reminds me of those fruity Arbor Mist things that they used to have those commercials for when I was a kid with dudes jumping on trampolines. There's a lingering note on the finish that reminds me of what the result of a Will It Blend? would taste like if the experiment was blackberries and tar.

Someway, somehow, this beer is better than Wild Blue. Now that's not saying much, but it's the truth. If this and Wild Blue were the only two beers in existence, would I choose this? No, I would choose life. Stay thirsty, my friends. For better beer than this.

Final Grade: F+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 132

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Williams Brothers Brewing Company - Grozet

I'm all for exploring new styles of beer, and it's been cool to see a lot of forgotten recipes pop up again as brewers look for original beers to try. I was in a local liquor store the other day when I saw a new style I'd never heard of- a Grozet. It's a Scottish style that is brewed with wheat, gooseberries and a few other strange ingredients (bog myrtle, anyone?). Supposedly Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns were quite fond of this style, but with the other options out there in those days, that probably isn't saying much. So let's check the Grozet out.

Grozet pours a clear pale golden color with a 1/2 finger white head and some nice lace. It didn't really look that different to me, but I did notice a lot more carbonation that normal rising from the bottom of the glass. The smell was definitely different, with an earthy and slightly musty note catching me first. There was a definite ripe berry and fruit backbone with notes of kiwi, red currant, gooseberry, fruit leather and just a little wet hay. Promising, for sure.

 Unfortunately, the taste is where things fell apart for me. I was hoping for some hints of all the things I was smelling, but instead I was met with what seemed to be a weak filtered wheat ale. There's some grain, slightly chalky yeast, and a bunch of off-tasting wheat throughout. The finish brings a sort of sour wheat flavor that doesn't linger long before tailing into watery nothingness.

This beer gets points for smell alone, but the flavor just never connected with me. I'll definitely pick up another Grozet if one comes my way, but this particular one will remain untouched by me.

Final Grade: C-

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 132

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Goose Island Beer Company - Halia

Last year, one of the most prominent breweries in Chicago, Goose Island, was purchased by the corporation who must not be named (AKA Anheuser Busch InBev). At the time, I was really disappointed. And in a way, it still disappoints me. It's supposed to be us (craft breweries) against them (the giant beer corporations that sell horse piss with clever marketing). But (so far...) it turns out that everything wasn't so terrible about this acquisition. By selling the brand to You Know Who, it enabled Goose Island to move their mass production beers (like Honker's Ale, 312 Urban Wheat and their India Pale Ale) to other facilities, leaving them space to focus on more interesting beers in their own facility. This also allows them the room to make a larger quantity of their special release beers, which means that beers like Halia, one of Goose Islands famed "sisters" beers, are now showing up in San Diego. Score!

Halia is part of the Four Sisters series of beers that Goose Island makes (the others being Juliet, Lolita and Gillian). These beers are all fruit beers, with Halia being aged in white wine barrels with peaches and Brettanomyces. If I could have picked one of the sister beers to try, it probably would have been Halia, and that's just what happened to show up first out here.

Halia shows up in one of the most elegant looking bottles you will ever see and pours a slightly hazed straw color with a one finger white head that fizzes away like 7-Up. It disappears pretty quickly, leaving behind a white ring around the surface and some clingy lace trickling down the glass with each sip. Light brett notes are immediately evident in the smell, along with some golden delicious apple, spicy yeast, light oak, sweet white wine, leather and just a touch of underripe white peach. This beer smells special.

The taste opens up with some of the light brett notes I was picking up in the smell. It's not a full on funk bomb, but you can definitely taste that brett. This couples with some sweeter peach and juicy green apple flavors, which actually turns out to be a great pairing. Then some white wine, lemon and underripe pear flavors show up and take us through the finish. The beer is crisp without feeling cider-y and nearly perfectly carbonated. The sweetness in the flavor is broken up just enough by the carbonation without the beer ever feeling too fizzy.

Overall, this beer just works. I wouldn't put this in the upper echelon of sour/farmhouse beers just yet, but if you gave this a few years (I probably should have, but didn't have the patience), this could really develop into something special. I still don't agree with Goose Island selling out to the dark side, but if beers like this keep coming my way, I just might forget about it.

Final Grade: A-

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 131

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Prairie Artisan Ales - Prairie Bomb!

More often than not, it really helps to have friends that are into beer. If they live near you, you always have someone to taste beer with. And if they live far away, you always have someone to trade with. Sounds pretty win-win to me.

My friend, Eddie, moved to Northern California a few months ago, right after we shared our first great beer experience together (happening upon a Cantillon Lou Pepe Framboise in a bar, followed by drinking said Lou Pepe Framboise). I was bummed to lose a great local friend who happened to be really into beer, but, as they say, there's a silver lining to every cloud. We stayed in touch, mainly with me being really jealous of all the ridiculous beer he was getting access to up there. Then it was decided that when he came down to visit this past weekend, we should do some kind of trade. Somehow, the words "Prairie" and "Bomb" came up together in the discussion and I almost had a heart attack.

Prairie Bomb! is a beer made by Oklahoma's Prairie Artisan Ales that has been gaining a massive following since its inception. It's a 14% stout brewed with cocoa nibs, vanilla beans, coffee and chili peppers and it's been shooting up the Top 250 List for a while now. I figured I had a shot of getting it in San Diego since Prairie beers show up here from time to time. But after looking for months, I hadn't even come close. It quickly became one of my white whale beers (the others being Zombie Dust, Bourbon County Coffee, Duck Duck Gooze and Fou Foune) and I made it a point to ask every bottleshop I went into about it before moving on to see what else they had. So when Eddie casually mentioned that he had purchased not 1 but 6 (!!!!!) of them and that I was more than welcome to one, I nearly crapped my pants. So here's to you, Eddie. May I one day be able to make you half as happy as you've made me with this beer. At #97 (at last) Prairie Bomb!

Prairie Bomb! pours a slightly thin (for the ABV) looking black color with a huge (again, for the ABV) two-finger mocha colored head. I wasn't expecting much from the appearance at all, but this beer is a looker, with huge amounts of dark lace coating the glass with each sip. The smell is near perfection, with a rich blend of vanilla, coffee and chili evident even from a foot away. Venture closer and you're met with a rich, almost custard-like vanilla smell that's more intense than any vanilla I've come across in a beer (short of maybe Southern Tier's Creme Brulee). The coffee in here isn't dark and overwhelming, but it smells smooth and freshly ground and melds with the vanilla beautifully. Joining the two are some great earthy and smoky notes of ancho chili.

Each sip of this beer brings wave after wave of mouth coating vanilla and cocoa notes. There's some powdery cocoa in here, along with some rich dark chocolate, marshmallow and fudge. The finish brings some light and earthy chili pepper notes with just a slight hint of heat. The beer feels a bit thin, more like a 5% stout than a 14% one, but flavors coat your mouth so much that it never comes close to tasting watery. If you can find this beer, you have to get it. It more than lives up to every bit of hype. And if you can't find it, it always helps to have a friend like Eddie.

Final Grade: A+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 132

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Boulevard Brewing Company - Bourbon Barrel Quad

Now that the dust has (at least somewhat) cleared from the mayhem that is San Diego Beer Week, it's time to get back to the serious business that is beer reviewing. Through a few amazingly generous trades/gifts/chance acquisitions, I've been able to acquire some beers in the last few weeks that I only dreamed I would one day possess. So I've got a big few weeks of tasting ahead to get over the disappointment I always feel when beer week ends. But before we get to those, let's take a look at a beer I've been wanting to try for a while- Boulevard's Bourbon Barrel Quad.

I had been hearing about Bourbon Barrel Quad for years; long before I knew anything about Boulevard Brewing Company itself. Bourbon Barrel Quad is a (wait for it...) bourbon barrel aged Belgian Quadrupel that is aged on cherries. It also may have the best acronym (BBQ) in the world of beer. I've been seeing it pop up on trade forums, online beer sites, ebay...pretty much everywhere but on the shelves of California for a long time. But with Boulevard's expansion in the past year or so, some more of their limited release beers have been showing up. Including BBQ. Let's check this one out.

Bourbon Barrel Quad pours a hazed caramel color with a pretty substantial cream-colored head. The smell had some great quad characteristics, with some banana, clove, molasses, cinnamon and brown sugar at the forefront. I picked up some rye malt, just a touch of booze and some spicy oak as well.

Brown sugar and candi sugar are the first things that pop up, flavor-wise, along with some soft nutty malt flavors. The finish brings some lightly spiced oak notes with a touch of vanilla and some booze. The finish was a touch weak for me. It kind of just died mid-palate. I really did enjoy the flavors in this one, but I wish they would have lasted just a touch longer. The name's promise of bourbon also left me a bit underwhelmed as I got some barrel notes, just no bourbon. I tried this beer fresh, but I have a strange feeling that if you aged this for a couple years, it would be money. I may just have to try that.

Final Grade: B

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 130

Friday, November 8, 2013

AleSmith Brewing Company - Speedway Grand Prix

Yesterday began the 3 day epic event that is the Speedway Grand Prix at AleSmith Brewing Company. The last few years, the event has been on a single night at a local bar, but this year, AleSmith decided to do things differently. 15 versions of Speedway Stout, 3 days to try them all, and 1 very happy me. So on Wednesday, muffin tins in hand (a tradition for the event and a necessity if you want to transport a bunch of taster glasses anywhere) my friends Jason, Matt and I headed to AleSmith to partake in the madness. I tried 12 of the varietals and here's how they turned out.

12. Cherry Amaretto Speedway- Loved this one on paper, but it just didn't turn out the way I was hoping. The cherry came off a bit "Robitussin-like," as Jason put it, and the amaretto never really came through fully. I've had a few versions of Speedway from the event in previous years that were borderline gross, and this was nowhere near that level. A good sign for the event.

Final Grade: D+

11. Macadamia Nut Speedway- I really loved this one on paper as well, but the macadamia presence was a little too strong in the flavor and there were a lot of oily and bitter macadamia skin notes that took away from the sweeter and meatier flavor of the nut itself.

Final Grade: C-

10. Fresh Raspberry Speedway- Yet another one that I thought was going to be incredible. If anything, I think there were too many raspberries added to this one, and the result was a boatload of raspberry flavor, but no real trace of the Speedway itself.

Final Grade: C

9. Turkish Coffee & Cardamom Speedway- On the interesting meter, this was way, way up there. It was a really great experiment and they nearly pulled it off. I got a lot of chai-like flavors with a ton of spices that I really couldn't distinguish. The cardamom rocked  my tastebuds, but didn't really let much else come through in the flavor. Enjoyable but not better than most of the other varietals.

Final Grade: C

8. Nicaraguan Coffee Speedway- The smell of this one was off the charts. Huge amounts of delicious dark roasted coffee. But...the taste just didn't live up to the promise of the smell. The coffee notes felt disjointed and it just never "wow"ed me. Worth trying for the smell, but the taste wasn't quite there.

Final Grade: C

7 & 6 (tie): Nibs & Beans Speedway and Vietnamese Coffee, Cocoa Nibs, Vanilla Beans and Raspberry Extract Speedway - I liked both of these a lot. I liked the Vietnamese Coffee one even better once I figured out that it wasn't the pumpkin speedway I had been told it was. (That really threw my palate for a trip.) The vanilla came through pretty well in both of these versions, which I liked. They just didn't add that much to the base beer, so they were middle of the pack for me.

Final Grade(s): B-

5. Pumpkin Latte Speedway- Very hit or miss in our little group, I actually liked this one a lot. There was a lot of spicy chai mixed with pumpkin pie spice with some coffee notes tucked in the back. The spice was substantial, but it let enough of the Speedway out so you could tell what the base beer was. I would say this one was a hit.

Final Grade: B

4. Lapsang Tea Speedway- Tea and coffee together? After reading the list when I got in the door, I thought for sure this was going to be the worst of the bunch. As it turned out, it was one of the more interesting varietals. The great coffee notes from base Speedway were there, but there were a lot of earthy, almost mushroom like notes mixed in that (while it sounds weird) really worked in here. The finish also brought some tingling tea and earthy hops. I can't say I would want to take pint after pint of this to the dome, but in small doses, it's really something. I would love to try this one again.

Final Grade: B+

3. Bird's Eye Thai Chili Speedway- Now we're moving into the top tier. The Thai Chili Speedway was truly incredible. The coffee element was a bit muted and didn't bring the aggressive dark roast that I've come to love in original Speedway. But this worked, too, as the lighter coffee and cocoa notes laid down a smooth rhythm before the thai chiles came in and shredded my face off. I loved this beer.

Final Grade: A

2. Pinon Coffee Speedway- We sell this coffee at my work (Trader Joes) and, while it's alright, I didn't have high hopes for this beer. We ended up drinking a crapload of it. It was amazing! Apparently Pinon Coffee was made to be put in Speedway Stout. The coffee aroma is so intense I wanted to crawl under a table and just smell it for hours. But unlike the Nicaraguan, the coffee came through in the flavor as well. Rich, roasty and ridiculously tasty. This needs to be bottled.

Final Grade: A

1. PB Cup & Vietnamese Coffee Speedway- Oh, like this was gonna be bad? Peanut butter cups and Vietnamese coffee? Just take my money now, AleSmith. The smell was pure ground up Reese's and mild roast coffee and the flavor was absolutely decadent. Wave after wave of silky dark chocolate and smooth peanut butter gives your palate a massage AND a happy ending. What a beer!

Final Grade: A+

I would have to say that the Speedway Grand Prix was a huge success. Not all of the varietals were off the charts tasty, but with 15 versions, I'm pretty sure that's impossible. If you're a fan of Speedway Stout, make sure you get to this next year. You will not be sorry. Just don't forget your muffin tin.

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

New Belgium Brewing - Le Terroir

Today, we are smack in the middle of San Diego Beer Week. I was fully planning on making this post about a sour event I attended on Friday. However, due to the event not being quite what I was hoping it would be (obscene pricing + multiple sketchy tasting pours + limited tap list), I'm going to move onto something else and come back to San Diego Beer Week after the epic-ness that is planned for tomorrow.

Which brings us to a familiar place- New Belgium's Lips of Faith series. I've kind of been to all ends of the spectrum on this series. I started off in love with it, but lately their offerings have fallen off a bit and it's been a while since I was really blown away by one. Luckily, they just brought back an old favorite- Le Terroir. This beer is a dry hopped sour that I haven't tried in quite a while. If my memory serves me correctly, my first meeting with Le Terroir was on the same day that I met both Pliny the Younger and Alpine's Exponential Hoppiness for the first time. (I think I still have yet to top that day, beer-wise.) So let's go back and take a look at a beer that is definitely worth revisiting. At #183, Le Terroir.

Le Terroir pours a raw honey color with a touch of haze to it. A half-finger cream colored head forms immediately and leaves some nice streaks of lace down the glass with each sip. I may knock some of New Belgium's other beers, but you won't find me knocking their sours. Especially the smell. Le Terroir brings a deep and musty smell with bright notes of lychee, mango, pear and some nice lactobacillus. As it warms, some bready malt and light yeast notes begin to creep up as well as a touch of umami.

Le Terroir is a lesson in balance. It doesn't wallop you with sourness, but rather lets it creep over your palate and linger on the sides of your tongue. Underripe white peach, green apple, lacto and some light apricot all make appearances. The finish brings some mango, soft bready malt and a touch of wood. As the beer warms, a hint of brett is evident as well. I hear La Folie talked about way more than this beer, but this is probably the one people should be talking about. It's one of the better sours out there. If you're a sour fan, do not miss out on this one.

Final Grade: A

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Almanac Beer Company - Heirloom Pumpkin Barleywine

It's Halloween today, which can only mean one thing on this blog- Pumpkin Beer Time! I'm gonna try something a little different this year though: Instead of a pumpkin beer bonanza like I've done the past few years, I'm only going to be reviewing one pumpkin beer this Halloween. But it's a really, really good one.

Almanac Beer Company is pretty new to the scene down here in San Diego. As you may remember, I really enjoyed their single hop series of IPAs. But they've also been known to do things a little differently, including a series of sour beers with seldom used (in the world of beer, at least) fruits like persimmons, nectarines and Buddha's hand citrons. Recently, they released a pumpkin beer that's unlike anything I have ever come across. It's a barleywine made with heirloom pumpkins and partially aged in brandy barrels. Sound interesting? I thought so.

Heirloom Pumpkin Barleywine pours a deep chestnut color with reddish tinges around the edges. Being used to the blast of artificial pumpkin pie that you smell in a lot of pumpkin ales, I was surprised to find nothing artificial in the aroma. Instead, there was a slightly bitter and vegetal wave of roasted pumpkin. That might sound unappetizing, but it was actually pretty refreshing to find something different. Behind the pumpkin aroma were some sweeter notes in the form of toasted brown sugar, brandy, cinnamon and clove. A little brandy can go a long way, but this melded into the other sweet aromas here beautifully. This beer is worth the price of admission for the smell alone.

The flavor definitely brings the pumpkin, but it's not in the traditional pumpkin pie form. It's richer and denser, almost like a pumpkin nut loaf. Hints of nutmeg and cinnamon linger around it, along with some brandy which is really well restrained. Nothing about this beer really said "barleywine" to me (besides the higher ABV), but that was fine by me because everything about this beer did say "awesome." Almanac has done something entirely different with the pumpkin ale and they've knocked it out of the park. Easily in the Top 3 pumpkin beers I've ever had.

Final Grade: A

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Midnight Sun Brewing Company - Berserker Imperial Stout

A little while ago, I realized that I was coming up on my 1,000th beer review on beeradvocate.com. Compared to a lot of people on that site, that's amateur, but I still wanted to mark the occasion with something special. I didn't know which beer to choose, but I knew a few things it had to be:

1. A stout- No way around it, stouts are by far my favorite. My 1,000th beer had to be a stout.

2. At least relatively high in ABV- I wasn't charging into 4 digits of reviews with some weak 4% ABV Oyster Stout. I had to show reviews 1,001 and beyond that I meant business.

3. A Top 250 Beer- Since I've been on this mission for a while, it only made sense to check another beer off the list in the process.

This sounds like it would limit things, but the Top 250 List is chock full of high ABV stouts. Apparently I'm not alone in my affinities. I still wasn't sure which one to go for, though. But I soon had my answer as I walked into Texas Liquor in Carlsbad one day right as they were receiving a delivery including a very big "want" off my list, Midnight Sun's Berserker.

If you've read this blog for a while, you've met Midnight Sun on numerous occasions. From the awesome T.R.E.A.T. to the beast of a Russian Imperial Stout, Moscow, they definitely know what they're doing up in Anchorage. One of their harder (for me at least) to track down beers is one that's been sitting on the Top 250 for a long time. Berserker is a nearly 13% ABV monster of a stout that's been aged in wine and bourbon barrels. I missed the shipment of it last year by a day, but luckily that wasn't the case this year. At #204 (and #1000, reviews-wise!), Berserker.

Berserker pours a monstrous black color, the likes of which I don't know I've ever seen in a beer. A miniscule head the color of mud tries to rise above the surface, but is quickly sucked under. Other than "amazing," I don't know what more I can say about the appearance of this beer. The smell is deep and inviting, with warm notes of molasses, dark chocolate, wet earth, cola and dark chocolate-covered cherries. Booze, charred oak and bourbon hang on the periphery. I didn't think I'd ever say this about another beer, but this really reminds me of The Abyss. High praise indeed.

The taste opens with a smooth wave of molasses, dark chocolate and fudge, with some charred oak and tobacco close behind. The finish brings some wet earth, bourbon and ash. The mouthfeel is velvety, with just a touch of dryness on the finish. Nothing that would lead you to think that you're drinking anything close to 13%.

Again, I never thought I'd say this, but this is right up there with The Abyss on nearly every level. It's absolutely fantastic now and I can't stop from getting myself hot and bothered wondering how this would taste with some age on it. I can't think of a better beer to carry me across the threshold into the land of 1000+ reviews. I can't wait to see what's ahead.

Final Grade: A+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 130

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Alpine Beer Company - Great

If you live in San Diego and you love beer, you've probably at least heard of Alpine Beer Company. Located about 30 minutes east of downtown, Alpine's a quaint town that definitely feels more like the towns you pass through on the way up a mountain to a ski resort than a stopping point between San Diego and El Centro that just happens to have a casino. As far as beer (especially hoppy beer) goes, I don't think you're going to find anything better in Southern California.

Alpine Beer Company is known for their IPAs and Pale Ales. And with their lineup of palate crushing beers, they should be. Nelson, Pure Hoppiness, Exponential Hoppiness, Bad Boy, Hoppy Birthday... The list of incredible hoppy beers in Alpine's lineup goes on and is mindblowing. But every once in a while, Alpine releases a beer that isn't hoppy. And, as I recently found out, that can be a very good thing. Or, should I say, a Great thing. (That was cheesy as hell. Let's just move on and forget I said that.)

As far as San Diego beers go on the Top 250 List, I've almost ticked them all. Of the ones I'm missing, I at least have hope to try them in the near future. AleSmith IPA should have been done a long time ago (I'll get to it, I promise). AleSmith barrel-aged Kopi Luwak Speedway and Stone's Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Russian Stout are both beers I hope to try over the upcoming beer week. And Lost Abbey's Duck Duck Gooze...we'll see. But the one I was really worried about was Alpine's Great- a barrel aged barleywine with barely any reviews. I joined Alpine's mailing list and kept tabs on them through social media hoping for some kind of word about it. Months passed and I had no word about Great. Then out of nowhere, Alpine released a message on Facebook saying bottles of Great were available. Luckily, I was able to land a few. At #185 (finally), Great.

Great pours a deep and dense-looking chestnut color with a thin light brown head. At 14%, I was surprised to see any head at all, and it soon disappeared, leaving only the menacing and murky barleywine behind. Any fears I had about this beer being too hot right away were tempered by the smell, which brought warm and inviting aromas of caramel, toffee, bourbon, cola, raisin skin and a bit of oak. There's a light touch of booze to it, but this beer smells absolutely amazing.

The taste opens with a rich wave of caramel, toasted brown sugar, toffee and bourbon. Booze soaked raisin and some milk chocolate show up in the middle before a finish which brings some light plum flavors and a slight woody dryness. The flavors in here meld perfectly and they're held together beautifully by a slightly oily and slick mouthfeel, which never lets the sweetness of the beer become cloying. I've had a good amount of barleywines before and I can say that this is by far the best I've ever tasted. Sucaba and Mother of All Storms put up good shows, but Great is on another level. Yet another fantastic beer out of Alpine.

Final Grade: A+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 131

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Firestone Walker Brewing Co. - Velvet Merkin

No matter how hard I try, I can't help but to associate certain words with certain things. For example: "Cantillon" would be associated with a word like "drool," and "Bruce Jenner" would be associated with words like "freaky," "plastic" and "Woman?" As for "Firestone Walker," no matter how hard I try, I can't think of them without thinking of the best beer they make (and one of the greatest beers in existence), "Parabola." So when they announced that they would be bottling a new (sort of) barrel aged stout, Velvet Merkin, I really couldn't help but wonder if it would be anywhere near the level of Parabola.

Velvet Merkin in bottles has been a long time in the making. It was actually the working name for Firestone's winter Oatmeal Stout, Velvet Merlin, but they couldn't get label approval for it, so the name was changed. They continued to use the Velvet Merkin name at the brewery as the name for the bourbon barrel-aged version of Velvet Merlin. It used to be a brewery exclusive beer, but luckily Firestone finally decided to change that. Let's check it out.

Velvet Merkin pours a deep brown color with a thin light brown head, leaving some light spots of lace down the glass with each sip. The aroma was solid, with some roasted malt and freshly ground medium roast coffee leading the way. There were some milk chocolate and vanilla notes in there as well, and everything about the smell had a light lacing of whiskey to it. It was almost like Parabola, but only if you put Parabola in a straightjacket first. Everything smelled good, but very, very restrained.

The taste opens with a nice wave of milk chocolate sweetness. Chocolate cake, roasted malt and some chocolate milkshake all follow behind. The finish brings a light touch of whiskey, vanilla and charred oak. Flavor-wise, this beer is money. But at "only" 8.5%, the mouthfeel just didn't cut it for me, and I found the flavors dropping off into a watery mess a lot. I did pick up some similarities to Parabola flavor-wise, but this beer is way tame. It's Parabola with it's nuts snipped. Overall, I did like this beer from a flavor standpoint, and if you're looking to start getting into trying barrel-aged beers, this is a great starting point. But once you've had a beer like Parabola, it's a little hard to go back to a beer like Velvet Merkin. Though it's still a good beer, I'd probably put Velvet Merkin at the bottom of the barrel-aged beers that I've had from Firestone. That's not saying a whole lot though, because every one of those beers is world class.

Final Grade: B+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Prairie Artisan Ales - 'Merica

We're getting towards the end of the year, so I think it's time to take a look at the nominees for "Label of the Year." Drumroll, please. And the nominees are...OK, there's only one. Because nothing is topping the awesomeness that is the Prairie 'Merica label. It's sheer beauty. Let's take a closer look at this bad boy.

First of all, a good label needs a good name. Check. What could be better than "'Merica"? And if you're going to make a beer called 'Merica, you better have some 'Merican things on your label. Let's check it out. 'Merican Food? Check. Steak, fries, meatloaf, fried chicken, pizza, a hamburger with eyes...it's all here. 'Merican Folk? Check. Two old dudes playing football, a chick being pushed on a rolling icebox, American Gladiators, a fat dude stuck to his lawn chair AND the founders of Prairie themselves with their red white and blue beards spelling '"Merica." Major check. 'Merican Stuff? Check. Barbeque, beer cans, cinder blocks and a juiced up cat shooting lasers out of its eyes. Is there really anything else you could want on a label? I didn't think so. Game. Set. Match. Prairie. Time to move on to the beer itself.

Prairie 'Merica pours a hazed almost grapefruit juice-looking color with a soapy, off-white head. Some awesome lace was left spattered down the glass with every sip. The smell was fantastic, with big notes of grapefruit pith, lemon, limestone, a touch of passionfruit and a good amount of barnyard. Grass, pepper and a touch of bread crust are evident as well. This beer uses a single hop, Nelson Sauvin, which may not exactly be American, but it tastes and smells so awesome you would think it was.

The taste opens with a slightly spicy hop kick, followed by a lingering grapefruit juice bitterness. Hay, barnyard and lemon all make appearances before a finish of lingering grassy bitterness and lemon meringue. The mouthfeel is lively and crisp without being overcarbonated. I absolutely loved this beer.

So, to wrap things up, Prairie has somehow crafted the best label I've seen in a very long time AND made a beer that may be just as fantastic. I don't know how they did it, but hats off to them. 'Merica is beautiful.

Oh, and one last thing...

Final Grade: A

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129