Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Knee Deep Brewing Company - Simtra

It's recently come to my attention that I've been reviewing a lot of stouts lately. Stouts may be my favorite style, but devoting something like 47 of the past 50 posts to them may be going a bit overboard. My bad. Since I live in San Diego, let's take a look at a style that just screams "San Diego." In fact, it's also known as the San Diego IPA. That's right, today we're trying a new Double IPA. And a good one at that.

I'm still not sure why, but for a long time, I just didn't take Knee Deep Brewing Company seriously. I don't know if it was their name, their labels, their price range, etc. For whatever reason, I've been avoiding Knee Deep's beers like the plague. Then I started hearing things that were hard to ignore.

"Have you tried Hop Shortage? It's the best Double IPA I've ever had!" 

"Have you tried Simtra? It's as good as Pliny!"

I don't take beers being compared to Pliny lightly, and when Knee Deep's Simtra made an appearance on the Top 250 List, I knew the time had come. Let's see if these Knee Deep brewers know what they're doing. 

Simtra pours a light copper color with a fluffy, bone white head. Tons of carbonation is visible rising from the bottom of the glass and the head leaves smears of lace down the glass with each sip. Visually, this beer has it all. The smell isn't too shabby either. As soon as the beer is poured, it smells like a tropical hop bomb blew up in the glass. Huge notes of mango, tangerine, candied grapefruit and pine practically billow from the glass. There's a touch of caramel and bready malt in there was well, but it's pretty safe to call this one a hop forward Double IPA.

Every sip of Simtra brings a drawl of piney hops across the palate and they just keep going and going. There's a good amount of grapefruit pith as well, along with a blanket of caramel malt that struggles to keep the boatloads of hops in check. As far as the Pliny comparisons go, you can leave those at the door. It is very, very hard to come near Pliny and (for me) Simtra doesn't touch it. However, it IS a fantastic Double IPA. Consider me impressed. I will definitely be seeking out more of Knee Deep's beers in the future.

Final Grade: A-

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 126

Monday, June 24, 2013

Anchorage Brewing Company - Darkest Hour

I know they've only sent a handful of beers down to San Diego in their short existence, but I'm not afraid to call Anchorage Brewing Company one of my favorite breweries. Up until a few weeks ago, only five of their beers had made it to San Diego. However, of those five, there wasn't one that I didn't fall in love with. And one of them, Bitter Monk, was one of the best beers I had all year last year. So what would happen when they attempted the style that I love the most? I finally found out when their stout, Darkest Hour hit shelves this month.

Before we get into the actual review, it's important to point out that Darkest Hour (just like the other beers from Anchorage) isn't just any stout. It's a Belgian-style stout that is aged in both Pinot Noir and Rye Whiskey barrels and then aged in the bottle with wine yeast. Like everything else Anchorage has put into the market so far, the process is anything but simple. Let's see how this one turned out.

I broke in my new Lost Abbey stemware with this beer and, I've gotta say, it looked damn good in there. Darkest Hour pours a black color that's just a shade short of being jet black. A light brown head foams up initially, but disappears quickly, almost like the head of a soda. Right after the pour, I didn't smell much besides a lot of brandy-soaked raisin skins. The smell is intense, maybe even a little overpowering at first. But as it warms, the raisin notes fade and notes of molasses, a heavy, almost zinfandel-like wine aroma, some spicy oak, burnt brown sugar and leather creep into the picture. The booziness in the aroma is a bit overwhelming at first, but as this beer warms (and as the added elements in the smell enhance it), it becomes downright inviting.

The taste opens on a sweet, burnt creme brulee note, then moves towards flavors of molasses, dense, sour-tasting wine and toffee. The middle of the beer brings some dark chocolate covered raisins, whiskey and some new oak. Finally, the finish kicks in and shows some charred oak, burnt raisin, and just a hint of booze. The mouthfeel shows nothing of the 13%, but has a bit of a slickness to it, reminding you that pacing yourself with this one might be a good idea.

I thought Darkest Hour was a really interesting beer. It's a strange experiment, falling somewhere in between a great traditional barrel-aged stout (think Goose Island's Bourbon County Stout) and a sour stout (think Jolly Pumpkin's Madrugada Obscura). The elements of both these styles are present, and the beer seems torn on which it wants to identify with. By not really choosing one, I think it falls a bit short of what it could be. Still, this is another fantastic beer from Anchorage. If you see anything from them on a shelf near you, do not hesitate.

Final Grade: B+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 127

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Jack's Abby Brewing - Barrel Aged Framinghammer Baltic Porter

When I went to Boston a few weeks ago, I had a mental list going of breweries I absolutely had to try. While the list was packed near the top, the brewery I most wanted to try was Jack's Abby. I had heard a lot about them from people in the Boston area and absolutely none of it was negative. So before I left (and after trying their fantastic Hoponius Union) I made sure to grab a bottle of their Barrel Aged Framinghammer to bring back to San Diego. At #172- Barrel Aged Framinghammer.

Barrel Aged Framinghammer pours a rich, black color with a half finger khaki colored head. The head didn't look like much, but it left some pretty substantial soapy lace down the sides of the glass with each sip. The smell was a bit faint off the pour, but I could pick up a light bourbon note mingling with vanilla, cocoa and some charred wood. There was a faint espresso note in there as well.

The beer opens on a great sweet note with vanilla, brownies, bourbon and dark chocolate hitting the palate initially. The middle pulls the sweetness back a bit as notes of charred wood, burnt coffee grounds and a faint touch of booze hit next. The finish comes in with just a touch of astringency and brings some dark chocolate and just a touch of anise. As far as mouthfeels go, you're going to be hard pressed to find a beer with a better one than this. The beer has a lush, velvety texture that really complements all of the sweeter flavors in here. This is a fantastic beer and Jack's Abby has used the barrel here to near perfection. The bourbon is definitely an element here, but you would never call it the star. And to me, that's how a barrel aged beer should be. Now I just have to figure out how to get more of this.

Final Grade: A

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 127

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Maine Beer Company - Mean Old Tom

                Puppies and new carpets. Ohio State and Michigan State fans. Kardashians and intelligence. Some things unquestionably just don’t belong together. But stouts and the summertime? Maybe that pair deserves another look.

                My “Aha!” moment in craft beer (you know, the moment that makes you say, “Aha! I get it now!”) came three years ago when my friend brought over a bottle of Deschutes’ The Abyss for us to try. Tasting that beer began a love affair not just with craft beer, but with stouts. In the three years since then, I’ve had the opportunity to try some of the greatest stouts in the world and my relationship with them grows stronger all the time. But like any relationship, we have times of trouble, stress and conflict. And those times usually come during the summer.

Every year when the weather gets hot, I find my mind begins to entertain thoughts of more “refreshing” styles. Stouts are my love, but when it’s 90 degrees outside, my mind can’t help but to wander. I just need a little break, I whisper to my beer cellar full of stouts, As soon as the weather cools down, we’ll be together again. I promise. I turn away from them, tears in my eyes, and go to be with my mistresses- the saisons, IPAs and the occasional lambic. But as soon as the temperature drops, I realize the magnitude of my errors and crawl back to my cellar. For three years, things have gone like this. But there may just be hope. I may have just found a summer stout.

I’ve been a fan of Maine Beer Company since I laid eyes on their exceptional amber ale, Zoe, a year ago on a trip to Boston. A lot of beer labels today feel overproduced, and it can get tiring looking at one doomsday themed label after another sometimes. So it was refreshing to see the label for Zoe- a simple smiley face on a plain white backdrop. A few weeks ago, I went back to Boston for my sister’s graduation and I came home with another beer from Maine Beer Company, Mean Old Tom. Just like Zoe, Mean Old Tom’s label is simple- a crudely scrawled frowning face on a plain white label. Even better, the label listed this beer as a “stout aged on natural vanilla beans.”

Mean Old Tom, named after owners David and Daniel Kleban’s beer can-collecting uncle Tom, pours a medium-bodied deep brown color with a sizeable khaki colored head. After first pour, I found the smell to be a bit on the subtle side, but I was able to coax out aromas of roasted malt, dark roasted coffee, powdery cocoa, brownies, oats, a hint of char and some light vanilla. As the beer warmed, the smell opened nicely and I began to pick up some Cocoa Puffs and a bit more of the coffee.

The taste opens with some classic stout flavor- dark roasted coffee and roasted malt. Then the flavor progresses to notes of burnt brownies, milk chocolate and charred wood held together by a strong thread of vanilla. The finish brings some cola, a hint of smoke and dark chocolate. The vanilla flavor in here is out of this world. It creeps among the other flavors in this beer, never really rearing its head and, more importantly, never coming close to feeling artificial.

So now here’s the real test: Is this a summer stout? Well, to me, a summer stout should be a few things

       1.  Relatively low in alcohol

       2.  Good with summer food

       3.  Drinkable no matter what the weather’s like

At a fairly modest 6.5% ABV, I would say Mean Old Tom easily has #1 covered. Sure, that’s not exactly a session beer, but it’s low enough that you can quaff a few of these before truly regretting it. I’d call this category a pass. As far as food pairings for this beer go, I can easily see this beer pairing with just about any kind of grilled red meat (like steak, burgers, kangaroo steaks, etc.).  I can definitely see this being a great barbeque beer. And lastly, how is this beer going to hold up once the weather gets warmer? I say pretty well. There are heavier flavors present in Mean Old Tom, but they are held in check really nicely by a lighter mouthfeel and just a touch of prickly carbonation.  Overall, this may not be the most exciting stout out there, but it’s really well crafted and a beer I can definitely see being a tasty summer beverage. So maybe there is hope for stouts and the summertime after all, even if there isn’t for Kardashians and intelligence. 

Final Grade: A

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 124

Monday, June 10, 2013

Midnight Sun Brewing Company - Moscow

It's June in San Diego (I suppose it probably is wherever you are, too) and that means kind of a mixed bag of things for me. First of all, the San Diego Fair is here. As a lover of all food things battered, fried and of irresponsible size, the fair is pretty awesome for me. For example, last year I tried to tackle something called the Caveman Turkey Club (a two pound turkey leg wrapped in a full pound of bacon). And while I wouldn't exactly say my attempt at finishing the Caveman Turkey Club went well (I finished maybe a quarter of it and it left me wanting to punch anyone who said the words "turkey leg" in the throat for a solid 2 months), I still absolutely love seeing the new culinary creations that turn up at the fair each year. On the not so awesome side, summer is mere days away and that means we're reaching the time of the year that I (and other stout lovers) dread. Warm weather isn't exactly conducive to drinking heavy stouts, so (more often than not) I'm forced to bypass the many stouts in my collection for something more weather suitable. So before we reach the point of no return, lets delve into the world of stouts once more and check out a beer that I'm pretty excited about- Midnight Sun's Moscow.

Moscow is a Russian Imperial Stout that Midnight Sun Originally brewed in 2011 as part of their World Tour series. Apparently, it was received pretty well because they decided to make another batch of it. Moscow clocks in at a healthy 11% and uses rye malt. I didn't expect this beer to make it this far south, but I was glad to find it in a local bottleshop a few weeks ago. Let's check this puppy out.

Even at only 11% (I know, it's not that low), Moscow pours like old motor oil. It's black as a Kardashian heart and a dense milk chocolate-colored head wells up immediately. I overpoured this by accident, but instead of making a rapid jailbreak out of the glass, the head begrudgingly lurched out and down the sides of the glass like Elmer's glue. It looked almost gravity defying. The smell is an explosion of roastiness, bringing notes of wet earth, charred wood, peat, espresso and just a hint of milk chocolate sweetness.

The taste opens with a big pop of roasted and charred malt. This progresses to flavors of burnt oak, a bit of smoke and some espresso. Right before the finish, there's a touch of milk chocolate, molasses and blackberry sweetness before the beer plunges into a finish of dark coffee grounds and burnt rye. The mouthfeel of this beer is amazing. It almost feels more like a beer milkshake than a regular beer. The carbonation is minimal, leaving a mouth-coating velvety monster to wreak havoc on your palate. Midnight Sun beers are a rare treat down here, and I'm glad I was able to catch this one. I highly recommend that you do the same. Just be sure to enjoy it before the summer comes.

Final Grade: A

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 125

Monday, June 3, 2013

Berkshire Brewing Company - Rapberry Barleywine Style Ale

A few weeks ago, I was perusing the shelves in a Boston beer shop when I found myself faced with a problem I don't find myself faced with very often (anymore)- I was staring at a lot of beers from breweries that I knew absolutely nothing about. And, before it gets twisted, that is NOT a complaint. It was actually kind of nice to go into the beer buying process on kind of a blank slate. There have been many times where I bypassed beers I didn't know much about because I wasn't a fan of the breweries and then regretted not buying them later. So this time, I was just going to go with my gut. After struggling for a while (alright, a really long time), I decided to try a raspberry barleywine from Berkshire Brewing Company.

I didn't know much about Berkshire Brewing Company before my trip, but as it turns out, they're one of the bigger and more established breweries in the New England area. They've been in business since 1994 and have been growing ever since. They make a pretty impressive lineup of beers, including the seasonal raspberry barleywine that I came home with. Let's give this puppy a try.

Raspberry Barleywine Style Ale pours a slightly hazy reddish amber color with a really nice two-finger foamy beige head. I picked up a lot of raspberries in the smell immediately, and they came off with an almost candy-like sweetness. There were also some caramel and marshmallow notes mixed in. To me, the smell was a bit too sweet, as the raspberry smell began to smell a bit rotten the more I smelled it. Still, this beer was off to a solid start.

The taste opens with a lot of pureed raspberry sweetness mixed with some chocolate that made the beer taste like a raspberry truffle. There's a touch of tartness in the middle before a lingering finish of unripe red cherry, some caramel malt and cherry pit. Despite all the sweetness, this beer manages to finish a touch dry, which was really nice. The mouthfeel is slightly undercarbonated, which actually works here because it lets all of the raspberry sweetness shine. There's no doubt about it, this is a total dessert beer. But it's a really tasty one at that. I didn't ever really get any barleywine elements out of this one, but I definitely enjoyed it, nonetheless. Glad I chose this one.

Final Grade: B+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 125