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 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'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

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Deschutes Brewery - Green Monster

As anyone who has ever brewed, cooked or pretty much done anything else in life knows, things don't always go the way you planned. In brewing especially, there are so many factors that can screw the final product up that it's surprising that more sub-par batches don't make their way into society. But here's the weird thing with beer: Sometimes when beer goes "bad," it turns into something good. Case in point- Deschutes' new beer- Green Monster.

Green Monster was originally brewed for some other purpose in the Deschutes brewery over three years ago. But at some point in the process, the brewers realized it had turned. Rather than spoiling the batch, they decided to see what would happen if they threw it into Pinot Noir barrels with some Brettanomyces for a while. Three years later, they decided it was time to release the monster to the public.

Green Monster pours a deep and muddy brown color with a half-finger sandy colored head. Each sip left some prolonged tracks of lace down the glass. The smell is reminiscent of an Oud Bruin (think New Belgium's La Folie) with a rich sour cherry aroma leading off. Beneath it are layers of raisin, pinot noir, leather and some light oak.

The taste is very wine-like with a great lingering sourness. Pinot noir, sour black cherry, underripe red apple all show up in the middle with some leather and creamy vanilla flavors showing on the finish. This beer delivers tons of ripe fruit flavor while also giving a nice punch of sourness. This was my first sour from Deschutes and you can definitely consider me impressed. Deschutes should screw up more often if beers like this are the result.

Final Grade: A

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Stone Brewing Company - Suede Imperial Porter

Stone got off to kind of a slow start with their collaborations this year, only releasing one between January and mid-year (though their Dayman Coffee IPA was a very good "one"). Then the mid-year point hit and Stone dropped not one, not two, but THREE collaboration beers within a pretty short period of time. I've been a pretty big fan of Stone's past collaborations, so I was relieved to see that they were still happening. But I suppose the bigger question was: Are they any good? To me, both the Woot Stout and the R&R IPA were misses (not horrible beers, but not as good as they could have been). Let's check out the newest one, Suede, and see if it can get things back on track.

Suede is a collaboration with Washington D.C.'s soon-to-be-open Bluejacket Brewing and Bend, Oregon's 10 Barrel Brewing (both of which have female head brewers, which is cool to see). For Suede, the brewers decided to make an imperial porter brewed with local avocado honey, jasmine and calendula flowers (AKA Marigolds). Sounds promising. On to the beer!

Suede Imperial Porter pours a thinnish-looking medium brown color that turns nearly black once it settles in the glass. A one finger light brown head forms immediately, but fades pretty fast. I was looking forward to getting a lot of floral aromas out of this one, but I let this beer sit for nearly an hour and could still barely coax any kind of smell out of it. Strange... What I could pick out was a lightly sweet aroma reminiscent of honey alongside some lightly toasted wheat bread, toasted malt and a distant floral note. Definitely a bit underwhelming.

The flavor opens with some lightly roasted malt alongside some honey-soaked rye bread. It stays like that for a while, never really veering into other flavors, until a finish that gets...weird. All of a sudden, the flavor tails off into a creamy, lingering bitter flavor that I can only describe as "straight flower petal." If you've ever eaten a rose petal, the sensation is really similar to what I was getting from this beer. It's velvety and sticky at the same time, and there's a slightly oily bitterness that clings to your tongue like crazy. It's definitely different and kind of a cool sensation, but the flavor never really gets better, which is a shame. On the positive side, the mouthfeel is spot on. You would never suspect this beer of being close to 10%. But making it through the entire bottle may be difficult for other reasons. I just couldn't do it. Unfortunately, I'm going to have to say that this is my least favorite of this year's collaborations. It's in no way a "bad" beer, but it left a lot to be desired. Let's hope the next collaboration is a little better.

Final Grade:C+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Mikkeller ApS - Beer Geek Brunch Weasel

By now, I think most people have heard of Kopi Luwak coffee. In case you haven't, here's the scoop: It's coffee made from weasel poo. More specifically, it's coffee that is made from beans harvested from the droppings of the Asian Palm Civet. The idea behind it (theoretically) is that the civets instinctively choose the choicest coffee beans to eat and the digestive tracts of the animals imparts a unique flavor on the beans and removes unwelcome impurities. Because of the obviously difficult (and I'm sure unpleasant) extraction, scarcity of Asian Palm Civets, rarity of the product (sound familiar, beer fans?), and flat out weirdness of it all, Kopi Luwak coffee can fetch up to $30 for a single cup.

While I'd love to try an actual cup of Kopi Luwak (or it's Vietnamese counterpart, ca phe chon, which I actually prefer because the name literally translates to "Civet Feces Coffee"), I'm not sure that I've reached the point where spending $30 for a cup of coffee is really feasible. However, there's another way to try the coffee and it might just be more enjoyable than the real thing: beer. A number of breweries have experimented with Kopi Luwak coffee in beer. One of the first was the Danish gypsy brewery, Mikkeller. Their Beer Geek Brunch Weasel beer is currently sitting at #141 on the Top 250 List, so let's see what all the fuss is about.

Beer Geek Brunch Weasel pours a viscous black color with an intensely thick chestnut colored head. The retention was solid and each sip left some nice tracks of lace down my glass. I was expecting loads of tasty coffee in this beer and the smell was just that. Right away, I was met with loads of rich espresso and dark roasted coffee notes. Dark chocolate, fudge and some leafy hops lingered in the background.

The coffee hit with full force again in the flavor, with a rich and creamy hit of espresso leading the charge. The coffee really overpowers everything else in this beer. And normally that would be a problem, but when the coffee flavor is this good, it's a very, very good thing. This coffee is far from one dimensional, with mingling notes of dark chocolate, blackberry and a touch of char. I couldn't get enough of it. The finish mixed things up a bit, with some burnt coffee grounds and a touch of earthy hops. Overall, this was a fantastic beer. Maybe someday I'll get to try actual Kopi Luwak, but for now, I'm completely content with drinking this. Keep doing your thing, civets. You make some damn tasty beer.

Final Grade: A

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129

Thursday, October 3, 2013

DC Brau Brewing Company - On the Wings of Armageddon

There's been a lot of bad news coming out of the nation's capital over the last few days: The government can't get the whole "running the country" thing together, thousands of workers are wondering when they're going to get their next paycheck AND the freaking panda cam at the National Zoo has been shut down. Things are obviously far worse than any of us could have imagined. DC has gotten a lot wrong lately and has taken a beating (and rightly so). But maybe it's time to mention one of the bright spots of DC- beer.

When I went to DC a few months ago, there was one beer I had to try there- DC Brau's On the Wings of Armageddon. Since its inception, it's been constantly thrown into the "Best IPA in Existence" conversation on beeradvocate. If something starts getting labeled "Pliny Killer," I have to see what it's about. Unfortunately, DC Brau was between batches of OTWOA when we were in the city, so there was none to be found. Luckily, my friend Brian does a good amount of business in DC and was able to get some from a coworker out there. Good guy that he is, he shared some with me this past weekend. At #136, On the Wings of Armageddon.

On the Wings of Armageddon pours a hazed golden color with a one finger cream colored head. The smell was right up my alley, with tons of mango, pine and grapefruit. A slightly bready backbone was evident behind the hops, but didn't detract from the amazing smell at all. On the Wings of Armageddon uses one hop variety- Falconer's Flight. I'm not sure I've ever had this varietal before, but if it tends to smell like this, I'm gonna have to get to know it a lot better.

The taste opens big, with a huge pine resin jolt right away. But it never becomes too bitter as some leafy hops, mint, grapefruit pith and mango soon join the party and level out all the pine. The finish is drawn out, resiny and pretty much the stuff of any hop head's dreams. It's a big beer at just over 9%, but it never starts to feel heavy. I really enjoyed every sip of it. A huge thanks to Brian for snagging this beer and a big high five to DC Brau for this one. You guys definitely have your act together over there, even if the government doesn't.

Final Grade: A

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 128

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Hair of the Dog Brewing Company - Fred From the Wood

It's been a while since I reviewed a Hair of the Dog beer, which is a shame because I really enjoy their beers. The problem is that only 5 of their beers make it down here on a consistent basis (Blue Dot, Adam, Fred, Ruth and Doggie Claws) so I was pretty much maxed out. However, Beverages 4 Less recently received a shipment of one of Hair of the Dog's smaller release beers, Fred From the Wood, and I was able to pick one up. I wanted to do this review as a side by side with regular Fred, but unfortunately Fred had some carbonation/oxidation issues so I won't be reviewing that one today. Luckily, Fred From the Wood greeted me with a nice fizz when I popped the cap and we were off.

Fred From the Wood pours a hazed chestnut color with a pretty beefy one-finger tan head that shows good retention. This beer is a version of regular Fred that's been aged for over half a year in new medium toast oak barrels and you really get that the second your nose gets close to the glass. I've had a good amount of beers that were aged in barrels and I've never found anything close to the intensity of the smell of oak in this beer. It smells fresh cut, spicy and toasty and I loved it. As the beer warmed a bit, the oak faded, giving way to some caramel, toffee, banana bread and toasted brown sugar.

The taste opens with a nice, spicy hit of oak that lingers over the palate for a while, letting other flavors join it without really giving up the spotlight. Cinnamon, toffee, light leather and tobacco all mingled with the oak nicely before a finish that showed a bit of cocoa. I never really considered myself to be a fan of oak aged beers that didn't involve a spirit of some sort, but this beer is phenomenal. Hats off to Hair of the Dog for this one.

Final Grade- A

Top 250 Beers Tasted: