Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Stone Brewing Company - Enjoy By IPA

I'll admit it- I haven't always been the biggest Stone fan. It probably stemmed from their incredibly arrogant (no pun intended) prose on many of their bottles without really having the beer to back it up. It's not that I hated their beers, but I felt that the quality of their product didn't really warrant the "My dick is miles bigger than your dick" attitude that Stone was putting forth. But recently, I've noticed a startling change over at Stone. Their beer is starting to catch up to their mouths. For me, it started with their More Brown Than Black IPA, then caught up even more with their Tenth Anniversary Ruination. And just when I thought they couldn't make a better beer, along came Enjoy By IPA.

The idea behind Enjoy By IPA is simple, if not genius: Make a beer that is impossible for the consumer NOT to consume fresh. Many breweries are starting to print "Best By" or "Bottled On" dates on their bottles, which is meant to show the consumer that the beer is fresh. By making the "Best By" date a part of the actual label, Stone has taken the beer freshness craze to a new level. A small (and often smudged) date stamp can be looked over, but a date on the actual label is absolutely impossible for the consumer to miss. And once the "Best By" date has passed, Stone releases a new batch with an entirely new label. It's genius. At #82, here's Enjoy By IPA.

Enjoy By IPA pours an absolutely beautiful deep golden color with a one finger bone white head. The smell brought loads of tropical fruit, with mango and pineapple coming out the most. I also got some candied orange, caramel and pine. The tropical fruit aromas reminded me a lot of one of my other favorite IPAs- Ballast Point's Sculpin.

The taste was a fantastic blend of tropical and pine hop flavors. A rich caramel malt held the hops in check and an almost buttery mouthfeel married the flavors seamlessly. The finish brought a huge load of pine hop resin, and really rounded out the flavors nicely. This is one of the better IPAs I've had. Stone, I stand corrected.

Final Grade: A

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 112

Monday, February 25, 2013

Bear Republic Brewing Company - Hop Rod Rye

After the initial shock of finding that's Top 100 List had ballooned to 250, I began perusing through the new list. A lot of the names were expected- beers that had hovered around the top of the original list for a while or were on the list years ago, only to be replaced by newer, more exciting beers. And then there were a few on the list that shocked me. One of the beers I was really surprised to see on the new list was Bear Republic's Hop Rod Rye.

First of all, I want to make it clear that I have absolutely nothing against Bear Republic. My surprise at seeing Hop Rod Rye on the list had everything to do with it's vast availability without much public ado. Bear Republic has been making Hop Rod Rye for a long time, and in that time I've never known anyone to say, "Hell yeah! Hop Rod Rye!" when it shows up on tap somewhere. It's just one of those beers you kind of take for granted down here. That said, I decided it was time to revisit this beer and see if there was something I was missing. At #124 - Hop Rod Rye.

Hop Rod Rye pours a dark caramel color with a fluffy white head. The nose features some rye coupled with some strong citrus hops. I also got caramel, pine and a touch of grain. The smell of the rye works really well into the rest of the smells. Not easy to do with something as strong as rye.

The taste follows the smell pretty closely, with rye and some earthy hops opening things up. The middle features a lengthy pine hop bite before a finish of charred rye and some toasted malt. Overall, this is a really solid beer that I've definitely taken for granted due to its wide availability. While I'm really digging all of the elements this beer has to offer, nothing about it makes it a Top 250 Beer for me. A great beer? Yes. An exceptional beer? I would say no.

Final Grade: B+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 110

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Alesmith Brewing Company - Alesmith My Bloody Valentine

Yes, my friends, we've reached that magical time of the year- Valentine's Day. In general (though there are definitely exceptions), I wouldn't say it's much of a beer drinking holiday. However, if you are so inclined to drink beer tomorrow, I think I have just the beer you need- Alesmith's My Bloody Valentine. Alesmith has been brewing My Bloody Valentine for a few years now, but this is the first year they've bottled it. Let's give it a try.

My Bloody Valentine pours a deep ruby color with a half-inch sandy colored head. The head appears pretty dense and it leaves thick tracks of lace down the glass. The smell had a great mix of floral and citrus hops along with a really nice caramel malt presence. I also picked up some grapefruit and just a hint of chocolate.

The taste opens with some earthy and floral hops. These are quickly replaced by a biscuity malt overtone. Toast and sticky citrus hops come next before a clean and hoppy finish that leaves a bit of an unsweetened chocolate bitterness as well. My Bloody Valentine is definitely one of the more aggressive reds out there. So if the mood strikes you this Valentine's Day, don't hesitate to crack one of these bad boys open.

Final Grade: A-

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 109

Monday, February 11, 2013

Beer Here - Kremlin Crude

While I'd like to think that I've become fairly educated when it comes to buying beer, I'm as much a sucker as the most novice craft drinker around when it comes to a snazzy label. For example, recently I started a new job out in Escondido, California. I'm not going to lie- I'm not the biggest fan of Escondido. However, it does hold one of the best beer stores in San Diego: Holiday Wine Cellars. My work is a mere five minutes away from Holiday Wine Cellars, so it seems silly NOT to stop there on the way home. Or at least that's what I keep telling myself.

On a recent trip, I was perusing their walk-in refrigerated beer cellar (yes, they have one of those) when I noticed a bottle I had never seen before. It had an oil tower spouting oil behind a serious looking guy in overalls who was raising a glass of liquid to the sky. The name on the bottle read "Kremlin Crude."

Sold! I didn't have to see which brewery made it (turns out it's made by a Danish gypsy brewery called Beer Here), I didn't have to read any specs about it (it's a 10% Russian Imperial Stout, I suppose somewhat predictably), I just needed to buy it. When a label is as good as this one, it just has to be picked up.

Kremlin Crude pours a dark brown color with an absolute toad of a khaki colored head. The head took a full ten minutes to go down to the point that I could take a sip. The smell was nice and dark, with notes of peat, dark roasted coffee, root beer, burnt wood, anise and unsweetened baking chocolate. I thought I smelled a bit of oil as well, but that may have been my imagination running with the name.

The taste opened on a note of wet earth and peat, with a good amount of smoke showing. Soon after, those tastes were replaced by notes of tootsie roll and chocolate cake. The finish brought some chocolate covered espresso bean, roasted malt, and a soft but bitter charred note. The mouthfeel was medium and slightly slick, but didn't give away any of the 10% ABV. My instinct for bottle design sometimes lead me in weird directions. In this case, I'm glad it led me to this beer.

Final Grade: B+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 109

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Gueuzerie Tilquin - Oude Gueuze Tilquin à L'Ancienne

The first gueuze I ever tried was Drie Fonteinen's Oude Gueuze. I had heard amazing things about it, but the smell caught me completely off guard. To me, it was like gym socks mixed with mildew and wet hay. It was funky as hell and I was completely unprepared. But as I eased into the beer, I started to like it. A lot. Even the smell started to win me over, and as it warmed I started to get so much more from it than that initial blast of funk. By the end of the beer, I had fallen for the style.

For those who aren't familiar with the gueuze style, it's a blend of vintage lambic beers. Most gueuze blenders take 1 year old, 2 year old, and 3 year old lambics and blend them together, creating a gueuze. Gueuzerie Tilquin is unique (to me, at least) in that they don't blend their own lambics together. Instead, they buy beer from highly established Belgian breweries like Cantillon, Lindemans, Girardin and Boon and blend different vintages of those together to create a sort of "super-gueuze." The founder of Gueuzerie Tilquin, Pierre Tilquin, has worked for both Cantillon and Drie Fonteinen, so he knows a thing or two about the gueuze business. His first gueuze to come this way, Oude Gueuze Tilquin à L'Ancienne, hit bottleshops around here a few months ago and rocketed up the Top 250 list. At #162, here's Oude Gueuze Tilquin à L'Ancienne.

Oude Gueuze Tilquin à L'Ancienne pours a slightly hazy apple cider color with a thin, bone white head. The smell was absolutely incredible, with notes of tart green apple, lemon curd, overripe d'anjou pear, apple pie filling, rhubarb, some faint cedar and some barnyard funk. This wasn't the funk bomb that Drie Fonteinen Oude Gueuze can be, but it has enough to remind you you're smelling a gueuze.

The taste opens with a great vinegary snap of tartness, followed by flavors of green apples and sour green grapes. There's a brief hint of grain in the middle before a drying and tart finish that leave you wanting a lot, lot more. The mouthfeel is nice and light and there's some lively carbonation going on without detracting from the taste. Pierre Tilquin knows what he's doing. This is a fantastic gueuze. If it's still around in shops near you, get it now.

Final Grade: A+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 109

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Barleywine Tasting!

Barleywines have never really been my favorite style. I'll enjoy one I've heard good things about from time to time, but it's rare that I find myself in the mood for a barleywine. So when I peeked into my collection a few weeks back and noticed that I had somehow accumulated a crapload of barleywines throughout the years, there was only one thing to be done- a giant barleywine tasting. Luckily I have some adventurous friends who were happy to hang out and help me down my collection. On Friday, we finally got together and tried most of them. Here's what we tasted and how I would rank them.

10. Hair of the Dog Brewing Company - Doggie Claws (2010)

Doggie Claws pours a hazy burnt orange color with a thin white head. I picked up notes of candied tangerine, orange, cedar, and some faint spearmint on the nose. Definitely different, but not at all bad.

The taste was definitely way sweeter than I'm used to in barleywines. I got big notes of dates and brown sugar with just a hint of earthy hops. I've been holding onto this beer for a few years and I was really hoping my patience would pay off. The sweetness really got to me though and the beer felt a tad under carbonated, making it syrupy.  I'm still a big Hair of the Dog fan, but this is probably the worst I've had from them.

Final Grade: C

9. Uinta Brewing Company - Cockeyed Cooper

Cockeyed Cooper pours a deep chestnut color with a thin tan head. Being bourbon barrel aged, I was expecting a lot of bourbony goodness on the nose, but I was met instead by a huge malty aroma with notes of plum skin, orange oil and some overripe mango.

The taste was pretty dry for a barleywine with a lot of sticky, earthy hops. I picked up a good amount of grapefruit pith, toasted oak and some booze. With the exception of the toasted oak, I really didn't get any bourbon barrel notes at all, which was a bit of a letdown. I liked the beer, but I was hoping for a bit more from the barrel.

Final Grade: C+

8. Marin Brewing Company - Old Dipsea Barleywine Style Ale

Old Dipsea pours a deep, dark brown color with a thin tan head. I tried for a while, but it was hard to coax much of a smell out of this one. Even after it warmed up, it was faint, at best. I got some faint plum and tootsie roll from this, but not much else.

This wasn't a bad beer at all, but it was definitely pretty straightforward. I got a ton of malt throughout, with notes of wheat bread and some dark fruit coming through. This beer was noticeably light on the hops, but it wasn't bad.

Final Grade: C+

7. Stone Brewing Company - Old Guardian (2012)

Old Guardian pours a hazy, burnt orange color with a thin white head. The nose carried a ton of citrus, with big notes of candied apricot and tangerine rind alongside a lot of malt and some wood.

Similar to Old Dipsea, I thought that Old Guardian was a pretty straightforward barleywine. But instead of being malt forward, this one focuses mainly on the hops. A sticky citrus hop presence carries through the beer. Rich malt and booze are present as well with a dry finish that brings a bit of an aspirin flavor.

Final Grade: B-

6. Alaskan Brewing Company - Alaskan Barley Wine (2009)

Alaskan Barley Wine pours a ruddy brown color with a thin tan head. This beer has been aged a few years, and the smell has definitely moved towards the malty end of the spectrum. The smell is full of rich malt, grain, barley, almond meal and some toast.

The taste was full of malt, with some big notes of Grape Nuts, fig and raisin skins. The finish brought a bit of sweetness with a hint of honey. This was my first experience with this beer and I came away pretty pleased with the experience. It wasn't a mindblowing barleywine, but it was tasty, nonetheless.

Final Grade: B

5. Hangar 24 Brewery - Barrel Roll No. 4- Hammerhead

Hammerhead pours a hazy dark brown color with a thin, off-white head. The smell had notes of burnt brown sugar, toffee, some faint sticky citrus hops and a touch of barrel.

The taste was pretty aggressive, with notes of burnt raisin skins, bourbon, burnt wood, vanilla and some oak. Clocking in at nearly 14% ABV, this is a beast of a beer, but it didn't really taste like it. It wasn't nearly as good as Hangar 24's Pugachev's Cobra, but this was definitely a solid barleywine.

Final Grade: B

4. Sierra Nevada Brewing Company - Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale (2012)

Bigfoot pours a deep copper color with a nice and fluffy cream colored head. On the nose, I got a lot of toffee, burnt caramel, brown sugar, cake batter and some faint grape skins.

The taste is full of sticky and earthy hops tamed by an enormous malty backbone. I also picked up some grapefruit pit, pine resin and some caramel before a bitter finish that was full of more pine resin. This beer was a year old and it mellowed terrifically. I can only imagine what this would taste like with a few more years under it. I'll have to find out at some point.

Final Grade: A-

3. Dogfish Head Craft Brewery - Olde School Barleywine (2006)

Olde School Barleywine pours a super cloudy orange-ish brown color with almost no head whatsoever. I picked up notes of buttery toffee, hazelnut, some faint citrus rind and smooth caramel. The smells all melded together really nicely.

After six years of aging, this 15% monster tastes absolutely fantastic. The taste is smooth and malty throughout with some notes of dark fruit and just a hint of earthy hops. A big thanks goes out to my buddy, Luke, who found this for a me a few months back. This was really a treat to try.

Final Grade: A

2. Pelican Pub & Brewery - Mother of all Storms (2011)

Mother of all Storms pours a deep brown color with a slight ruby tinge to it. On the nose I got a lot of wood and bourbon as well as some caramel, toffee and dark fruit.

The taste is full of toffee, raisin and bourbon. I also got some brown sugar, faint oak barrel and some unsweetened baking chocolate. This beer has a fantastic reputation and it's very well deserved. It was definitely one of the best we tried. A huge thanks to Beau for sending me this bottle last year.

Final Grade: A+

1. Firestone Walker Brewing Company- Sucaba (2012)

Sucaba pours a dark brown color with a very thin tan head. The nose brought notes of toasted toffee, caramel, brown sugar, bourbon and toasted marshmallow.

The taste opens with a lot of bourbon and some sticky malt notes. Some notes of maple and oak barrel follow before a finish that's sweet and warming. I don't know exactly what goes on in Firestone Walker's barrels, but everything they throw in there seems to turn into gold. Sucaba is no exception. It's a fantastic beer and, I would say, the best of the tasting.

Final Grade: A+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 110