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