Monday, August 4, 2014

Midnight Sun Brewing Company - Bar Fly

Let's say you have the good fortune of being a ridiculously talented brewery. But there's one curve life throws your way- you have to live in Anchorage, Alaska, a place where the average daytime temperature in the winter is somewhere between 5-30 degrees Fahrenheit. How would that setting affect the beers you put out? You think you might get pretty good at making really big imperial stouts?

Midnight Sun has been located in Anchorage for nearly 20 years and in that time, they've crafted quite the lineup of imperial stouts. From an imperial pumpkin porter that changed pumpkin beers for me forever (T.R.E.A.T.) to the closest thing to an Abyss clone I've ever come across (Berserker), Midnight Sun has making big stouts down. Luckily for me, they finally decided to remake the one stout in their lineup that had been evading me for years, Bar Fly. This imperial stout is brewed with smoked malt, molasses and brown sugar and then aged in bourbon barrels. Let's check this one out.

Bar Fly pours like molasses syrup, slowly chugging out of the bottle and plopping into the glass. The pitch black liquid slowly churns out a muddy brown head that sluggishly peaks at about a half finger and then draws back down into the muck. A rich curtain of milk chocolate colored lace is left behind with each sip. This beer may be "only" 11.6%, but it looks about 30%. I love it. A deep aroma of molasses, charred barrel, light raisin and prune, dark chocolate covered cherries, milk chocolate, chocolate covered malt balls and just a touch of smoke and ash meets you as soon as you muster up the courage to get near this one.

I wouldn't say this beer tastes quite as good as it smells or looks, but this beer is still pretty special. The taste opens with some milk chocolate and some plum and dark cherry. Molasses, burnt raisin skin and some mocha creep in around the middle. The finish brings kind of a strange dark cherry skin sourness, which I was not expecting at all, alongside just a touch of smokiness and bittersweet chocolate.

Trying this beer after so many years of wanting to try this beer left me wanting to know what the original version tasted. This version was aged in bourbon barrels while the original was aged in red wine barrels, but other than that, these beers should have been the same. For me, this beer was a touch strange in that the two things I was expecting to dominate the beer, smoked malt and bourbon, never really showed up at all. Instead, this beer tasted very similar to another great Midnight Sun beer, Moscow, but with a sort of off-tasting sour dark fruit flavor lingering on the finish that brought it down a notch for me. Overall, though, this is yet another stout from Midnight Sun that is very worth the attention. I can't wait to see what bone these guys throw my way next.

Final Grade: A-

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 126

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Founders Brewing Company - Backwoods Bastard

I'm not really what you would call the biggest Scotch Ale fan. This isn't to say the style has no redeeming qualities and that there aren't examples out there that I enjoy (Dieu du Ciel's Équinoxe Du Printemps being my favorite so far), but, for the most part at least, the style just tends to not do it for me. And looking at beeradvocate's Top 250, where Scotch Ales make up less than 1% of the list, I would say I'm not alone. Having tried 0% of the Scotch Ales on the list, I decided to give the style another shot. Next up is #158 on the list, Founders' Backwoods Bastard.

Backwoods Bastard is a Scotch Ale with the added twist of being aged in bourbon barrels- a first for me when it comes to Scotch Ales. The beer pours a muddy brown color with just a hint of red to it. A thin, sandy-colored head simmers down quickly, leaving just a thin swathe above the beer. The bourbon in here really jumps out at you the second you get close for a smell. Sweet aromas of toasted coconut, vanilla, burnt caramel, oak, brown sugar and marshmallow envelop the more familiar malty Scotch Ale smells in here.

Whereas the smell strays away from the traditional Scotch Ale elements, the taste leaves no doubt as to the style you're drinking. Tons of rich maltiness with a touch of caramel are the first things I get here. Then the bourbon starts to take over, with notes of heavy oak, mild cinnamon and charred wood. The mouthfeel is slick and a little oily, giving the sweet caramel flavors in here a bit of a buttery feel. The finish rounds things off with some brown sugar, caramel and a lingering charred oak note. This beer may not have turned me into a Scotch Ale fan, but I'll definitely be a bit more receptive to them after seeing how good this was.

Final Grade: A-

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Toppling Goliath - PseudoSue

I'll admit it- I don't know a whole lot about the state of Iowa. I know they have one of those caucus things; I know the band Slipknot is from there; I would imagine there are a lot of fans of the band Slipknot there (reason enough not to visit in my book); and I know that...well, that's about it. And I would imagine I'm not alone there. But a tiny town in Iowa with a population just a shade over 8,000 peaked the interest of a lot of people recently, when a beers from a brewery called Toppling Goliath started to march up the Top 250 List. In numbers. I finally got my first chance to try one of their offerings last week, when I was able to land a bottle of their famed Pale Ale, PseudoSue. So let's check this one out. At #18, PseudoSue.

PseudoSue pours a clear, glowing golden color with a rich and tightly carbonated one finger bone white head. The retention is pretty impressive and each sip yields a curtain of sticky lace. This beer is named after one of the largest T-Rex skeletons ever unearthed. Fittingly, the smell of this beer is monstrous. Tons and tons of tropical fruit here, led by notes of ripe mango, pineapple, jackfruit and some apricot preserves. There's just a hint of honey malt in the background and zero trace of bitterness to be found. Incredible stuff here.

Taste-wise, it does not get much better than this. A ridiculous amount of pineapple and mango absolutely assault your palate, tamed just a touch by a smooth, sweet malt blanket. Pink grapefruit flesh and just a flash of pine and resin show before a lingering and Barry White smooth finish of pine and mango. This beer uses only Citra hops (my favorite hop, conveniently) and I've never seen them showcased this well. This is by far the best Pale Ale I've ever come across and one of the best beers I've ever had the good fortune to try. Get thee to Iowa, beer lovers.

Final Grade: A+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 128

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Klosterbrauerei Andechs - Doppelbock Dunkel

Doppelbocks aren't exactly the most glamorous style in the beer world. They're kind of like the Rob Kardashian of the beer world. Consistently overlooked, clowned on for being (or tasting, in the case of Doppelbocks) heavier than people feel like they should be... Alright, maybe that's not the best comparison. But my point is that dopplebocks are pretty underrated (probably due to the fact that pretty much all of the good ones stay in Germany and most American brewers won't touch the style). This is evidenced by the fact that as of today, there is not one in's Top 250 Beers list. There was one on the list, but by the time I was able to track it down, it had been booted. So let's review it anyways and give this style a little bit of the credit it deserves.

Andechs Doppelbock Dunkel pours a deep chestnut brown color with a thin, eggshell-colored head. Similar to a lot of doppelbocks, you get a big hit of rye bread right away when you smell this. But in this beer, there's a whole lot going on behind the rye. Caramel, toasted bread crust, light powdered cocoa, earthy malt and some dark fruit all show up. Already, I could see where the hype (by doppelbock standards) for this beer came from. Smell-wise, it's unparallelled.

The taste opens with a ton of rye bread and a rich, nutty flavor that's almost like a walnut bread. The middle shows mostly dark fruit notes, with raisin skin and banana being the biggest things that stuck out for me. Cocoa, molasses and a touch of rye bread crust round things out, coupled with just a touch of dry heat on the finish. Andechs Doppelbock Dunkel is "only" 7.1%, but it would never trick you into believing you were drinking something light. Whereas most doppelbocks blow people away with tons of rye bread notes, this beer is able to harmonize that flavor with things I've never seen before in a doppelbock. I've got a long way to go before I'm an expert in the style, but it's definitely going to be pretty hard to top this one.

Final Grade: A

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Founders Brewing Company - Founders Imperial Stout

If you're looking to get in on the non barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout game, you have some pretty stiff competition. As of last week, my favorite was Bell's Expedition Stout, but you also have to consider the classics like North Coast's Old Rasputin, Stone's Imperial Russian Stout, Great Divide's Yeti and Oskar Blues' Ten FIDY. And that's without considering a huge one that I have yet to try, Surly's Darkness (soon, my friends, soon). Even with all of those beers to compete with, one name I constantly hear in the greatest Russian Imperial Stout discussion is Founders' Imperial Stout. I was skeptical it could be better than any of the others, but I grabbed the first bottle I could get hold of to give it a shot. At #110, Founders Imperial Stout.

Founders Imperial Stout pours a dense and pitch black color with a heavy, one-finger mocha colored head. Each sip leaves some pretty intense, sticky lace spackled on the glass. This beer is a babe. No way around it. I can't think of a better looking Russian Imperial Stout I've come across. True to the style, the nose is rich and roasty. Mocha, heavily roasted malt, char and light roasted coffee are the first things that I thought of when I smelled it. As it warmed, it started to sweeten up and I started to get toffee and some Hershey's Chocolate Syrup. I hadn't even taken a sip yet and it was obvious the hype around this beer was not misplaced.

Every once in a while, you come across a beer where the smell is so good, there's no possible way the taste can compete. I thought that would be the case here. It wasn't. The beer opens with a ton of espresso and dark chocolate-covered espresso beans. The middle sweetens up a touch, with some sweeter toffee, milk chocolate and dark fruit notes. Then the finish hammers you with a sharp kick of anise, tobacco and heavily roasted malt. The mouthfeel is full and lush and offers just a touch of carbonation to break up the heaviness lurking in here. No way around it, this is an incredible beer. It's easily the best Russian Imperial Stout I've come across and maybe the best stout I've tasted, period. Bell's finally made their way to San Diego and I'm seriously hoping Founders is close behind. I must get more of this beer.

Final Grade: A+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 130

Monday, June 9, 2014

Pipeworks Brewing Company - Citra

Oh, hello there! It's been a while! In a brief and normally unfamiliar flash of reason, I decided it was in my best interest to take a short break from the blog whilst studying for a CPA Exam. Now that the exam is over, though, it's time to get back to business. And we're starting things off with a good one... Pipeworks' Citra (AKA- Citra Ninja)!

Citra is part of Pipeworks' ever-growing series of IPAs showcasing single hop varieties. I've noticed a lot of breweries doing this recently, but Pipeworks' series has been generating far more hype than most, especially with the Citra addition to the series. Coincidentally, Citra happens to be my favorite hop. Let's check this bad boy out. At #110, Citra.

Citra pours a dark caramel color with a fluffy one-finger cream-colored head that shows awesome retention before settling down on the surface. The smell doesn't disappoint, with mango, pineapple and guava leaping from the glass as soon as the beer is poured. A big blanket of pine and some spicy malt aromas lurk in the background.

The taste opens with a wallop of sticky pine resin, coupled with some nice pineapple and mango notes. The pine is intense, but the tropical flavors to well to tame it. The middle shows some caramel before a lasting finish of more pine resin. The mouthfeel is medium with near perfect carbonation. This beer showcases Citra hops very, very well. This is definitely a keeper.

Final Grade: A

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 132

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Westbrook Brewing Company - Gozu

One of the best things about having so many breweries in the market today is that it's forced brewers to really think outside of the box. Few beer drinkers today are going to saunter up to the bar at your new brewery and go straight for a beer called "Standard Blonde Ale." They're going to walk in, check out what's different on your beer list and try that. And if your offerings look bland (especially here in San Diego), they're probably going to walk 30 feet down the street to the next brewery. To combat this, there's been an influx of what I like to call "WTF is THAT style?" beers. Many styles that were near extinction have been dredged up and brought back to life, often with a modern twist. This can definitely be said for the Gose style.

A gose is a German style of beer that's pretty similar to a Berliner Weisse. There is, however, one very major addition- salt. A gose is a tart wheat ale brewed with coriander and (strange as it may sound) salt. When done right, this style can be insanely refreshing and it's low ABV makes it a perfect hot weather beer that you can crush like nobody's business.

The most prominent American example of a Gose is made by a brewery in South Carolina called Westbrook Brewing Company. If that name sounds familiar, it's likely because you've seen it on Evil Twin's bottles. They rent out a ton of their brewing space (80% by Evil Twin's founder, Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø's, estimate) for Evil Twin's use. But what Westbrook does with their own space has been quietly gaining steam, led by their Gose. While I'm still on the hunt for their standard Gose, I was able to come across a version of it brewed with an East Asian fruit called Yuzu. Let's check it out. 

Gozu pours a hazed and dull-looking apricot color with a half-finger white head that disappears pretty quickly. I wouldn't exactly call the appearance overwhelming, but luckily the smell more than made up for it. Gozu is definitely one of the craziest smelling beers I've ever come across. Right away, you get blasted in the face by a huge amount of citrus and salt. There's a ton of sweet lemons, salt, limestone, margarita mix, lime syrup and umami. Some of those things might sound a little strange. They're not. Everything in here works together really well. This beer smells incredible. 

The initial taste you get with this beer is like licking a Meyer lemon that's been dipped in salt. Cocktail sauce, light crackery malt, citrus peel, tangerine and some sour pink grapefruit all show up in the middle. The finish gives you the barest touch of wheat and finishes with a lingering lemony saltiness. I've had a decent amount of beers in the Gose style, but none of them pulled it off quite like this. It would be very, very dangerous for my bank account if this was distributed here. It's so good. Easily one of the best beers I've tasted all year. Amazing work, Westbrook.

Final Grade: A+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 132

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Logsdon Farmhouse Ales - Peche 'n Brett

Let's say there's this beer you really want to try. It's from a brewer you love, it's brewed with one of your favorite fruits, it has a sweet looking label. You're in. Only you can't find it anywhere and everytime someone you follow on social media tries it, they're hashtagging #whalezbro. So what are your chances of of ever trying that beer? Unless you're an avid trader or live right next to the brewery, your chances are probably not too great.

This is how it went for me with Logsdon's Peche 'n Brett for a few years. It was released in 2012 and bottled again in early 2013. But I never saw a bottle, never heard of anyone in San Diego finding a bottle, and on the rare occasion I did see it on untappd... you guessed it: #whalezbro. Then, by sheer chance, a shop nearby got it in and I was able to snag one in time. Sometimes you just get lucky. At #133, Peche 'n Brett.

Peche 'n Brett pours a hazed apricot color with a tightly carbonated two finger bone white head. I've had issues with Logsdon beers practically exploding out of the bottles in the past, but this one seemed pretty tame, which was nice. I didn't want any of this one to go to waste. When you smell the beer, the first thing you pick up is peach. But it's not the sweet peach puree-like smell I was expecting. It's a tart, underripe white peach aroma blanketed by a dusty layer of barnyard funk. Hints of sweetness creep into the smell periodically, but the brett in here really keeps everything in check. Deeper in, you get some great spicy oak notes. This beer smells incredible.

The beer opens on the tart side, with some peach and peach skin coming through first alongside a trace of underripe raspberry. A huge wave of barnyard funk follows, leaving a dry and tannic feel on the tongue. Soft oak notes, brett, peach pit and chalky malt all take their turns peeking out from under the blanket of funk. Everything in here just works. Each element works together seamlessly and the peaches really take this beer to another level while never becoming overly sweet and beer-soda like. The mouthfeel is medium and just a touch creamy, with the slightest hint of warmth on the swallow the only trace of the 10% ABV. This beer is really incredible. Definitely worth hunting down.

Final Grade: A

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 134

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Dark Horse Brewing Company - Bourbon Barrel Aged Plead the 5th

For the past few weeks, I've been brewing my first stout. I tasted it for the first time yesterday, and I can say (with relief) that it's tasting pretty solid. But the process has also gave me a ton of respect for breweries who have really nailed this style. Coincidentally, I also tried another stout for the first time yesterday: A pretty highly regarded little number from a brewery in Michigan called Dark Horse.

When I first got into beer, I remember seeing a beer called Bourbon Barrel Plead the 5th on I had never heard of the brewery and I had never seen the beer, but the review scores on it were insanely high. Almost four years later, Bourbon Barrel Plead the 5th is in the same place. Even with over 1500 reviews now and the coming and going of a ton of beer fads and trends, it's remained way up the list. Thanks to my friend, Tyler, I finally got the chance to see what the hype on this one was about. At #32, Bourbon Barrel Aged Plead the 5th.

Bourbon Barrel Aged Plead the 5th pours a viscous black color with a thin mocha colored head. The head doesn't last long, disappearing into the beer quickly, like it just told an inappropriate joke at a party. The smell didn't blow me away with intensity, but the depth was pretty amazing. Upfront, you get some rich dark chocolate, espresso and coconut. Behind that, there's some toffee, marzipan, chocolate covered cherry and just a trace of bourbon.

The bourbon's pretty minimal in the smell, but it's one of the first things you're met with on your first sip. Dark chocolate cozies up with the bourbon upfront, then those flavors fade into some roasted malt, espresso, toffee, light barrel char and fudge. The finish brings a touch of milk chocolate sweetness before a final push of bourbon rounds things out. There are a lot of aggressive flavors here, but somehow they are all getting along really nicely. Everything just kind of melds together seamlessly. It's one of the best executed barrel aged stouts I've ever had.  A huge thanks to Tyler for giving me the chance to finally try this one.

Final Grade: A

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 135

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Olde Hickory Brewery - The Event Horizon

As most people who know me can attest, I like sweet things. And it probably goes beyond what most people would consider to be a "reasonable" level. For example, pretty much every day after high school, I used to hang out with my best friend, Alex. Our after school activities pretty much always started at the same two places- the Palisades Recreation Center tennis courts or at a basketball court in the Palisades. But first, we had to load up on the good stuff-sugar. If we were playing tennis that day, the routine was usually to go with ice cream. A pint of Ben and Jerry's Phish Food ice cream each and we were good to go. If we were playing basketball that day, it was chocolate milk time. But, naturally, chocolate milk isn't sweet enough on it's own, so we would get a big Nesquik, drink about a quarter of it, and then fill the rest with sugary cereal (usually Golden Crisp, AKA- Brown Sugar in a Box) and make a ludicrously sugary cocktail out of the two. It was like a Ghetto Smoothie for white kids who hadn't discovered alcohol yet. How we're not both in the clutches of advanced diabetes is beyond me. Knowing that about me now, you would think that there pretty much wouldn't be a beer that I would consider too sweet. I mean, if Golden Crisp Ghetto Smoothies weren't too much sugar, what could be? At #149, The Event Horizon.

The Event Horizon pours pitch black (hence the name, which is a fantastic name, by the way) with a milk chocolate head that wells up in the glass and finally settles at about half a finger above the surface. Each sip yields some nice tracks of lace. The smell was where things started to get a little strange. Barrel-aged stouts can often smell a little sweet. But after one sniff of The Event Horizon, I knew it was on another level. A huge blast of molasses and brandy soaked raisins Ndamukong Suh's your face the second you get near the glass. When this beer is cold, it's almost sickeningly sweet. I just tried not to smell it as I was drinking it. But as it warmed up, it started to pick up a lot more depth and I could start to see where the hype for this beer was coming from. Once you free yourself from the grasp of the molasses and raisin notes, you start to pick up marshmallow, wet earth, charcoal, oak and ash. Much better.

The taste opens with a sweet and syrupy wave of chocolate and raisin. The middle gives a touch of milk chocolate along with some fudge and just a touch of bourbon. The finish shows just a touch of charred malt and light oak before diving back into the chocolate and raisin sweetness it opened with. For a barrel-aged beer, this tastes surprisingly non barrel-aged. The sweetness, coupled with the syrupy mouthfeel definitely catches up to you in a hurry. And as the beer warms, the smells in here get better, but it becomes increasingly harder to drink because of the sweetness. I'm really glad I got to try this one, but I wouldn't recommend jumping through too many hoops to try it. Unless, somehow, you like sweetness even more than I do. Then this beer was pretty much made for you.

Final Grade: B

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 134

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Unsystematic Brewing - Poppin A Quat Kumquat IPA

About a year ago, I brewed my first beer- Tilda Swinton Pale Ale. I wouldn't say it turned out fantastic, but I absolutely loved the brewing process. However, due to living in a miniscule one bedroom apartment, the room that I needed to brew just wasn't there. Fast forward to January, when my girlfriend and I moved into a house. As soon as we had finished unpacking, it was time to plan out the next brew.

I've loved kumquats for a long time. I don't eat them very often, but I grew up gorging myself on kumquats from my grandmother's tree, so I've always had good memories. Over the past few years as I've schemed about the kind of beers I would brew once I had the space, a kumquat beer was always something I wanted to try. Now that I had the room to do it, I settled on a kumquat IPA and dug up a recipe online. After an overly long brewday (sorry again to my friends who showed up to what I promised would be a "quick and fun" brewday) and a five week wait while the beer fermented and conditioned, Poppin A Quat was ready.

Poppin A Quat Kumquat IPA pours a murky, dark golden color with a good amount of floaties lurking in the body. I didn't notice them so much right after the beer was conditioned, but after a few weeks, there seem to be a lot of them. A thin, off white head caps the beer off. I used an absolute boatload of kumquats in this beer (2.5 pounds near the end of the boil and 2.5 more pounds about a week into fermentation), and they came out pretty nicely in the smell. Upfront, you get some floral hops, mingling with a good amount of bright kumquat flesh, jasmine and candied citrus. There's just a hint of malt breadiness in the smell as well, but it's pretty faint.

While I love how much the kumquats came through in the aroma of this beer, the taste makes me think I may have overcooked the kumquat thing a bit. Kumquat zest and thick tangerine syrup open things up. Then comes some spicy kumquat zest and a hard hit of grapefruit pith. The finish is super dry and almost tannic with a lingering kumquat peel note. The bitterness from the kumquat zest definitely gets a touch off-putting after about half a pint. The mouthfeel is prickly and just a touch sticky from all of the citrus.

Overall, I'm calling Poppin A Quat a success. I probably wouldn't win any homebrewing competitions with this one, but I'm pretty happy with the way it turned out. Smell-wise, I couldn't be happier with the way this turned out. The taste is where it could use a bit of work. But, hey, that's what the following homebrews are for. And speaking of the next homebrew, I may just have another fermenting as we speak. More on that in a month or so...

Final Grade: ...yeah, I'm not gonna grade my own beer.

Top 250 Beers Taste: 135

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Three Floyds Brewing Co. & Brewpub - Zombie Dust

A few weeks ago, I did an in person trade with an awesome guy named Tyler. As a late addition to the trade, I ran up to Alpine for a few things for him, the condition being that he would give me a bottle of Surly's Darkness for doing so. When I met up with him, he said he was meeting with a friend who had never tried Darkness, and wondered if I would be cool with him sending me a bottle later, plus a few extras. This isn't the kind of guy that sends a few Coronas as extras, so I agreed. About a week later, I was talking to him and happened to mention how much I wanted to try Zombie Dust, the Three Floyds beer that's been perched firmly in beeradvocate's Top 10 for a while now. Immediately, Tyler said he could get me one. In fact, he had a trade coming through for some as we were talking and he'd be sure to throw one in the box he was sending me. It took me a while before I could be certain I hadn't just crapped my pants and, sure enough, a short time later a box arrived at my door containing Darkness (another huge want that I'll get to shortly), Zombie Dust and a few other goodies you may see soon. Tyler, you're the greatest! At #7, Zombie Dust.

Zombie Dust pours a slightly hazed orange color with a one-finger foamy cream colored head. Each sip yields a pretty nice sheath of lace down the glass. The smell is a pretty incredible blend of tropical hop notes alongside some spicy pine. Immediately after the pour, I started to smell notes of ripe mango, peach and some pineapple with a musty blanket of pine in the background. There's just a hint of caramel sweetness tucked in there as well. This is definitely one of the better smelling beers I've come across.

The taste opens on the drier side with a big dose of pine tempered by just a hint of overripe mango. The middle shows grapefruit, tangerine and some drying grapefruit pith. The finish brings pine resin balanced by some caramel malt and some lingering pink grapefruit pith. This beer has better balance than most Olympic gymnasts. It's intensely loaded with hops without subjecting the imbiber to massive amounts of bitterness. If this was available here, it's hard to imagine I would be drinking many other Pale Ales. A huge thanks to Tyler for giving me the chance to finally try this.

Final Grade: A

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 134

Friday, March 28, 2014

Stone Brewing Company - Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Russian Stout, 2 Ways

Stone's a bit of an odd brewery in that, for as long as I've been a fan, they've never really had a big barrel-aging program OR a sour program. I say this is odd because it seems like the majority of trending breweries out there have at least one of the two. If you're not a brewery that does barrel aging or sours, you'd better be pretty good at something else to stay popular. And Stone is good at something: Hops. But even as they keep cranking out great IPA after great IPA, they've been experimenting with barrels.

Stone began the Quingenti Millilitre series last year and released nine beers in the series in 2013 alone. Each beer was barrel aged, with the majority spending time in bourbon barrels. Which raised the logical Stone fanboy question: "So the Imperial Russian Stout is part of the program, right?" But last year passed with no sign of a barrel aged Imperial Russian Stout. Were they content with letting the mystique of the remaining barrel aged Imperial Russian Stout that's still out there linger? Or were they still haunted by the debacle that occurred 2 years ago when they released the beer, only to have to recall it immediately for quality issues? Turns out (luckily for yours truly) neither. Stone finally decided to re-release the Barrel Aged Imperial Russian Stout again this year, and it brought a friend- Barrel-Aged Espresso Imperial Russian Stout. Ummmm, boing! Let's dig in.

Stone Brewing Company - Fyodor's Classic (AKA Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Russian Stout)

Fyodor's Classic pours a used motor oil colored black and consistency, with a half-finger tan head that disappears back into the black pretty quickly. The bourbon shy need not apply here. The second you stick your nose near this beer, you get smashed in the face by huge notes of bourbon, charred oak and heavily roasted malt. If there's any sweetness to be found in here, it shows in the barest trace of vanilla and toffee, but they're quickly chased off by an angry mob of bourbon, anise and wet earth.

The taste opens with a wave of roasted malt and bourbon that absolutely bulldoze your sorry palate. The assault continues in the middle, where you're met with burnt coffee, charred wood and unsweetened baking chocolate. The finish rounds things out with some burnt fudge and a final dose of pure bourbon that's dry and lingering. This beer is unashamedly brash, undeniably huge and unquestionably awesome. 100% worth the wait.

Final Grade: A

Stone Brewing Company - Mikhail's Odd (AKA Bourbon Barrel-Aged Espresso Imperial 
 Russian Stout)

There was an approximate 0% chance of this beer sucking. How could it? The words "bourbon," "espresso," and "stout" just feel like they're supposed to be together. Oh, and they put a cat on the bottle. Like I said, 0% chance this was going to suck.

Mikhail's Odd pours black with a one finger khaki colored head that drops pretty quickly. The smell of bourbon was toned down a touch here, but the espresso was not. Even with almost a year in a barrel, the smell of espresso was remarkably strong. Under the espresso and bourbon notes were some vanilla, caramel, toffee, bourbon-laced oak, char and tobacco.

Similar to the standard version, Mikhail's Odd hits you right away with a pretty huge hit of bourbon. The bourbon carries through the middle of the beer, where it's matched by an equally impressive amount of espresso. The finish brings the barest touch of sweetness with some burnt espresso, fudge and burnt brownies. Even with that, the beer stays pretty dry throughout and the bourbon and espresso together are (as Salad Fingers would say) practically orgasmic. Stone absolutely killed it with Fyodor's Classic, but the espresso really takes it to another level. Awesome work, Stone.

Final Grade: A+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 134

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Terrapin Beer Company - Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout (AKA: Wake-n-Bake)

When it comes to Georgia (and most southern states, for that matter), I'll admit that I don't know a whole lot. I know they have some crazy housewives. I know that the laws could be better for you if you happen to be a homebrewer. I know they don't do things like "winter" well. And I know that they make some apparently great beer that never seems to come this way. Thanks to the trade with my friend, Tyler, I finally got the chance to try some of the great beer Georgia has to offer.  At #179, Terrapin's Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout (better known as Wake-n-Bake).

Wake-n-Bake pours a thick looking black color with a thin, light brown head. It's not the beefiest looking beer out there, but some subtle wisps of lace after each sip let you know that there's some body to it. The aroma explodes out of the glass with a huge blast of freshly ground dark roast coffee. Its rich, earthy and nutty and makes you feel like pretty much every other coffee beer you've smelled is far inferior. As the beer warms, sweeter notes of cream, chocolate and freshly baked sugar cookie start to come out a bit more. This thing smells awesome.

The dark roasted coffee doesn't let up when it comes to the beer's taste. It absolutely mauls your palate and it's nothing short of awesome. Every sip sends an explosion of amazing coffee flavors all over your mouth. Beneath the coffee are notes of burnt fudge, brownie brittle, hazelnut, vanilla and brown sugar. The finish brings in some espresso and a big bittersweet chocolate note. As far as equals in the Non-Barrel Aged Coffee Stout department, I'm not sure this beer has one that I've tasted. The most obvious competition would be Founders Breakfast Stout, but (to me, at least) Wake-n-Bake blows it away. I may need some more southern beer in my life soon. This stuff is amazing.

Final Grade: A+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 132

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Bruery - The Wanderer

I'm kind of a big fan (read: the biggest homer ever) for The Bruery's sours. As far as quantity AND quality go, I don't know if any American brewery can match what these guys do. And if you don't believe me, take a look at the scores of their sours on beeradvocate. Ridiculous. One of their highest regarded sours is one that got re-released to the Reserve Society last year (to my girlish screams of excitement when I heard the news). It's called The Wanderer and it's a dark sour ale aged on blackberries and cherries. It was a collaboration with City Beer Store in San Francisco a few years ago and it took silver at the Great American Beer Festival in 2011. Oh, and did I mention there's a platypus on the label? Awesome. Luckily, The Bruery decided it was time to make another batch. At #200, The Wanderer.

The Wanderer pours a dark amber color with a purplish tinge similar to Welch's Grape Juice to it. A one finger tan head drops away pretty quickly. As soon as you pour it, the room seems to be filled with the smell of tart mixed berries. As you get closer to the beer, you start to get more of a sweeter mixed berry and cream note along with some blackberry, juicy red cherry, oak, leather and some vanilla. I was excited enough to try this before opening the bottle and after smelling it, I couldn't wait to dive in.

The taste opens with a slightly lactic (and almost Greek yogurt-like) and sharply tart underripe blackberry and red cherry skin note. The Greek yogurt character isn't like anything I've ever come across in a sour, but it works really really well. Then the flavors smooth out and you get a long push of red cherry, vanilla and caramel. The finish brings things all together with an absolute explosion of new flavors. A light brown bread note, dates, underripe mixed berries, cherry skin tannins and a hint of wood round things out really nicely. This is a fantastic sour. I really hope they continue to make this.

Final Grade: A

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Pipeworks Brewing Company - Ninja vs. Unicorn

We don't get nearly enough beer from Chicago here in San Diego, which is a bummer because there are some amazing beers coming out of Chicago right now. So instead of trying these beers, I'm usually reduced to reading about them on blogs like the extremely entertaining Down The Hatch. I finally got my first taste of the Chicago craft scene a few days ago, when I tried a beer from one of the breweries at the forefront of the Chicago craft beer movement, Pipeworks Brewing Company. Again, a huge thanks to Tyler for giving me the chance to try this.

Pipeworks hasn't been around for long, but they've made a huge splash in their short existence. The names and labels they give their beers are as unique as the beers themselves. I mean, a Big Lebowski-themed White Russian beer called "Hey, Careful Man, There's a Beverage Here!"? Awesome. And we'll get to that beer at a later date. For now, let's take a look at one of their most renowned beers, Ninja vs. Unicorn. Before we get to the beer itself, I just want to commend whoever did this label. Making a unicorn look fierce cannot be easy. Well done!

Ninja vs. Unicorn is a Double IPA that clocks in at a modest (by today's DIPA standards) 8.5%. It pours a glowing orange color with just a touch of chill haze off the pour. A beautiful, creamy one finger cream-colored head shows good retention and leaves a nice sheet of lace with each sip. The smell isn't overpowering, but it yields some mango, peach and caramel with just a touch of pine in the background. Somewhere in the distance, I get the barest hint of grapefruit.

The taste opens with sweet citrusy hops and some smooth biscuity malt. Pink grapefruit, tangerine and peach flavors start things off, slowly turning to peppery pine and hop resin by the middle of the beer. The finish brings some cracked black pepper and some grapefruit pith without ever falling off into straight biting-into-an-aspirin-like bitterness. The malt in here balanced the flavors perfectly and it lends just a bit of caramel sweetness with goes great all the citrus flavors in here. The mouthfeel is lush and full without ever becoming too heavy and the prickly carbonation keeps the sweetness here from becoming cloying. I would love to have this beer on a regular basis. It's one of the most drinkable Double IPAs I've ever come across. Nice work, Chicago. Now get your beer to San Diego.

Final Grade: A

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 128

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Fat Head's Brewery & Saloon - Hop JuJu Imperial IPA

 I've been into beer for over three years now, and I've been really fortunate to try some amazing and crazy beers in that time. Most of those beers just happened because I got lucky- I was in the right shop or right bar at the right time. Pretty much every Cantillon I've ever tried can be attributed to that luck. But I don't know that I've ever gotten as lucky as I did this past weekend, and I'd be perfectly content if this is the luckiest I ever get.

Through my friend, Eddie (Eddie strikes again!), I met a guy who was coming down for the release of Churchill's Finest Hour in San Marcos this past weekend. He wanted a few beers that I had, so I talked to him and we started working out a trade. Turns out, this guy is a really big beer trader, and his collection was bedwetting-ly good. Through his generosity, I ended up with 7 Top 250 Beers that I never thought I'd see in my lifetime, along with some other huge non-Top 250 wants. One of these was a beer called Hop JuJu from an Ohio brewery called Fat Head's. This beer won gold at the Great American Beer Festival last year in the Imperial IPA category and has gained a huge following in the Midwest. Let's check it out. At #177, Hop JuJu Imperial IPA. And, Tyler, if you're reading this- You're the greatest.

Hop JuJu Imperial IPA pours a glowing, hazy ochre color with a radiant orange core and a thick, one finger cream colored head. Each sip yields a thick sheet of lace down the glass. This beer is definitely a looker. The smell doesn't blow you away with its intensity, like a lot of hop heavy beers, but it really draws you in with its complexity. Sweet notes of candied grapefruit, pineapple and mango reel you right in, with just a hint of pine and musty hop resin lurking forebodingly in the background.

Similar to the smell, the first thing you taste in here are some of the sweeter elements- bright tropical hop notes with a smooth layer of caramel malt. And right when you get comfortable, the beer sucker punches you with a ton of pine hop resin. It's sticky and dank and it claws across your palate like a cat trying to get out of a grocery bag. But unlike most beers that have this amount of hops (not that there are many), the malt keeps pace the entire way. Every time the bitterness of the hops tries to push you back, the malt cushions the bitterness and never lets the hops gain full control. The pine resin comes through a bit more on the finish, but it really just leaves you wanting a lot more of this beer rather than being a turn off. This beer is really incredible. It's big and intensely hoppy, but the balance is still near perfect. I can definitely see how this walked away with the gold at GABF. It's one of the best Imperial IPAs I've ever had.

Final Grade: A+

Top 250 Beers Tasted:

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Coronado Brewing Company - Barrel Aged Stupid Stout

The last time I checked, San Diego had over 80 breweries. And I'm pretty sure in the time it took me to type that last sentence, another one opened up. Reviewing beer from all of these new breweries isn't going to be an easy task, but someone's gonna have to do it. So if you have a new brewery in San Diego, don't worry- I'm coming to check out your stuff soon enough. But sometimes, lost in the excitement of new breweries, we lose sight of the breweries that helped lay the path for what the San Diego beer scene has become today. One of these breweries is a brewery that I've sort of unintentionally neglected for far too long, Coronado Brewing Company. They've been doing this brewing thing since 1996 and they're pretty good at it. I hadn't had much from them in a while, so when a barrel aged version of their Stupid Stout was released, I had to try it.

Barrel Aged Stupid Stout pours black with a tightly bubbled half-finger light brown head. Each sip leaves a nice swathe of lace down the glass. The second you get close to the beer, you feel like you're inside a bourbon barrel. I don't know that I've ever gotten so many barrel notes out of a beer's smell before. There's a good deal of bourbon, without knocking you back with heat, but the oak is really the star of the show here. It's big and intense, pushing spicy wood notes out at you. If you go beneath that (if you really want to...) the stout itself begins to emerge, with some cocoa powder, dark chocolate and some light notes of dark cherries.

If you're a fan of the barrel notes that you smell in this beer, wait till you get to the taste. Holy moly. Tons and tons of oak here, with a slightly boozy kick of straight bourbon that is sure to put some hair on your chest. The barrel notes eventually give way to the base beer, which shows up midway through the taste in the form of some dark and baking chocolate notes with a touch of anise. The finish brings some drying bourbon, just a touch of booze and some more dark chocolate. The mouthfeel is medium- just rich enough to stand up to the heaviness of the oak and bourbon. Consider me a fan of this.

On a side note, I'm also a pretty big fan of the people at Coronado Brewing Company as well. The first bottle I got of this had a naturally occurring protein buildup in it, which kind of had me grossed out. When I emailed them about it, the head brewer emailed me back, explained what it was and then had me come down to the brewery so he could give me another bottle himself. Their new tasting room down in Bay Park looks fantastic, and it's just about as central as you can be in San Diego. The distance excuse no longer works. Go check them out!

Final Grade: A

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 130

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Goose Island Beer Co. - Bourbon County Brand Barleywine Ale

Goose Island's expansion has been good to us here in California. Beers that were nearly impossible to come across before (The Four Sisters series and the Bourbon County Brand series, specifically) showed up in numbers on our shelves late last year. Bourbon County Brand Stout and its ever changing offspring are in pretty high demand in places that see regular distribution of it, so factor in that California hadn't seen distribution of the stuff for three years and you pretty much have the beer world equivalent of throwing a bunch of One Direction tickets into a mob of teenage girls. Fittingly, these beers hit shelves on Black Friday, so people were already in the mood to taze anything standing in the way of what they wanted to buy. This year brought three new beers in the series (Proprietor's, Backyard Rye and Bourbon County Barleywine), so that didn't really help. Somehow, it's a few months since the fracas and I've emerged un-shanked and with a few bottles of the three versions that were semi-attainable in San Diego, Bourbon County Brand Stout, Coffee and Barleywine. Time to check out the barleywine. At #28, Bourbon County Brand Barleywine.

Bourbon County Brand Barleywine pours a rich chestnut color that pretty much becomes black once it all settles into the glass. The head is a moderate 1/2 finger khaki colored cap and leaves pretty minimal lace. The smell is where things pick up, with a nice barrel character coming through immediately. There's a bit of a mustiness in here with some nice bourbon notes, toffee, caramel, dark chocolate covered cherries, light ash, some coconut and a touch of brown sugar. Not bad, Goose Island. Not bad at all.

The first thing I noticed when I took a sip of this beer was how silky smooth it was. The mouthfeel is just incredible. Flavors of toffee, vanilla and milk chocolate slide over the palate first. The middle brings a pretty hearty oak backbone with some burnt raisin skins and a bit of smooth caramel. Things dry out a touch on the finish, and you get that slight prickle of bourbony heat on your tongue, along with some bittersweet cocoa notes. I loved this beer, but I think the hype train took it a little deeper in the Top 250 than it probably deserves to be. Is it a Top 200 beer? Definitely. Is it a Top 30 beer? Ehhhhh. It just doesn't have that harmony in the flavors that top notch barleywines like Sucaba and Mother of All Storms have. It does, however, show pretty nice aging potential, so I'll lay another one down for a while and see where it's at later.

Final Grade: A

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Goose Island Beer Co. - Lolita

I had never tried any of Goose Island's sour beers until recently, when I tried their excellent peach saison, Halia. I loved it so much, that I made sure to pick up the other three beers in the series before they left shelves. A few weeks ago, I tried Juliet, a blackberry sour that was pretty incredible. And last night, I went for Lolita, a raspberry sour aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels. Let's give this puppy a try.

Lolita pours a hazed amber color with a reddish tinge to it. Barely any head formed initially, and what did for crackeled away into nothing almost immediately. I wouldn't really call this beer a looker, but the smell more than made up for it. Tons of underripe raspberry, sweeter raspberry jam notes and cranberry tartness practically billow from the glass. As the beer warms a touch, I started to get more barrel notes out of it. A musty oak note started to emerge, bringing with it a vinous character, some vanilla and a touch of spice.

Similar to the smell, the first thing you taste in here is a big underripe raspberry tartness. In fact, every flavor in here seems pretty dialed up. After the raspberry, I got a meaty sour cherry note and some Pinot Noir flavors. (Note: I'm far from being a wine person. What I smelled reminded me of Pinot Noir, but after seeing this beer was aged in Cab barrels, it could have easily been that, too. If you are a wine person, give this a try and let me know what you think.) A lighter white wine flavor emerges right towards the end and then cascades down to a lemony tart and slightly acetic finish. This beer isn't overly sweet by any means, but I still enjoyed the light tannic dryness that the finish brought. Because this beer seems to be very dialed up (both in flavor and in alcohol), I feel like it loses a few points for not having the depth that a lot of lighter beers in this style have. However, any complaints I have on this beer are pretty minor. It's a pretty great beer and definitely worth a try.

Final Grade: A-

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Brouwerij Rodenbach N.V. - Caractère Rouge

Flanders Reds are a fantastic style. Because they're not too sour, too hoppy, or too high in alcohol, they're a fantastic starter beer for pretty much anyone. Hand a Cuvee de Jacobins to someone who says they've never had a beer the liked and you're pretty much guaranteed to get a positive reaction.

Rodenbach is a name that's pretty much synonymous with Flanders Red. It's all they do and they do them insanely well. They may not make a wide variety of beers, but the ones they do make are world class. So when a beer from them that I had never seen called Caractère Rouge hit stores a few months back, I knew it was going to be something special. Rodenbach decided to mix things up a bit with this one, adding sour cherries (typical for a Flanders Red), raspberries (not typical for a Flanders Red) and cranberries (What?!?!?) to a beer that has been aged in oak vats for 2 years. After a 6 month aging with the fruit, the beer was ready to go. At #145, Caractère Rouge.

Caractère Rouge pours a crimson-tinted apple cider color with a nice amount of haze to it. It's capped off by a tightly bubbled cream-colored head that held up nicely through the beer. From a distance, the first smell you get is a spicy oak barrel note. But the second you get closer, that fades and you're pulled in by huge amounts of ripe, jammy fruit. Overripe raspberry and tart cranberry notes lead, with just a kiss of vinegar and some syrup soaked black cherry notes. Vanilla, lemon meringue and a touch of spicy oak round things out. This beer smells fantastic.

It's not easy to do when a beer smells this good, but somehow Rodenbach got the taste of this one to match the smell. A sweet cranberry note opens things up with just a tug of tartness to it. This slowly fades into a sweet raspberry jam note. Ripe blueberry, cherry skin tannins and some silky malt notes appear before the finish. The beer closes out a touch dry with some oak and lingering dried cranberry and black cherry skin notes. There is a ton of sweetness in this beer, but the prickly carbonation and the slightly tannic finish keep things in check perfectly. This beer is a masterpiece and probably the best Flanders Red I've come across. Well done, Rodenbach.

 Final Grade: A+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129