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: