Thursday, February 28, 2013

So You're Traveling To Chicago, Eh? (Part 1: Craft Beer Stores)

A view of Chicago from Grant Park
One of the more common and repetitive threads in the Great Lakes regional forum on BeerAdvocate are the "Hey, I am coming to Chicago, what do you suggest..." themed threads. Nearly every week, sometimes twice a week, a thread pops up from a non-Chicago beer person that is traveling to the area and seeking food and beer recommendations. Rather than repeatedly post comments such as "if you love burgers, you should absolutely hit up Kuma's Corner" or "if you are looking for an excellent selection of foreign brews, check out the Local Option," I figured it might be easier to centralize a list of some of the better "must see" options that Chicago has to offer. Here is a rundown on the best craft beer stores in Chicago.

| 3185 N. Elston Ave., Chicago, IL 60618 | (773) 754-0907
The Beer Temple is a brand-spanking new shop, having opened at the very beginning of 2013, but owners Chris and Margaret Quinn are no strangers to the craft beer scene. Chris has been running a spectacular beer blog with insightful video reviews for some time now, and is a long-time craft beer enthusiast with excellent connections. The Beer Temple staff offer excellent (and honest) beer recommendations, and the store is stocked with the highest number of quality beer per square foot in Chicago. One of the more unique things about Chris' store, and something I greatly applaud him for, is that he "bottle dates" beers without actual bottle dates with the date that the beer came in to the store so as to communicate freshness to the consumer. For us scrutinous hop heads out there, this means no longer buying $10-15 lotto tickets of Three Floyd's year-round IPA and pale ales and hoping they are still fresh. Chris has also thrown some pretty excellent events at his store in the short time it has been around as well. The one drawback of Chris' store is that it is not the most accessible by public transit. The closest stops are Wellington (Brown/Purple Line, 0.8 mile walk) and Logan Square (Blue Line, 2.4 miles), though you can use the bus to get there as well. The store is right off the Kennedy Expressway (I-90/94), however, and there is free parking behind the building (and on the street). Another bonus is that Kuma's Corner is real close by.

| Various Locations Throughout The City
Binny's is Chicago's superstore for beer, wine and spirits. Binny's is an area-wide chain with a lot of purchasing power (good distribution connections), and they offer an excellent selection of craft beer at quality prices (Binny's prices vary store-to-store, but they overall have some of the cheapest pricing for craft beer in the city). There are many locations to choose from, but my favorite are "Castle Vav" (Binny's Lincoln Park) by the Clybourn Goose Island Clybourn Brewpub (1720 N Marcey St., 312-664-4394), Binny's Grand (213 W. Grand Ave., 312-332-0012) and Binny's South Loop (1132 S. Jefferson St., 312-768-4400). Binny's South Loop has a tap room and runs some really cool events from time to time.

| 2559 W. Augusta Blvd., Chicago, IL 60622 | (773) 342-2678
Junior is the man! He does not have several aisles of craft beer, like say a Binny's does, but he still maximizes his craft beer capacity with some of the best that Chicago distribution has to offer. Junior's prices are on par with Binny's in my experience, and his store is very customer-friendly with helpful advice/tips.

| 2156 W. Addison St., Chicago, IL 60618 | (773) 525-1916  
West Lakeview is a great place to find a large variety of beer, ranging from new releases from the local Chicago craft beer scene (Pipeworks, Spiteful Brewing, Revolution) to foreign beers from far away breweries such as Drie Fonteinen (they are the local situs for Zwanze Day). They are a very good store to make friends with, just like Discounts in Milwaukee. Oh, and in case you forget to pick up beer on your trip, West Lakeview runs an online beer store that will ship all the best Chicago locals (and then some) to your door! 

| 960 W. 31st St., Chicago, IL 60608 | (773) 890-0588
Good craft beer for sale, delicious beer on tap and a deep spirits bar to die for? Have I died and gone to heaven? Nope, only Bridgeport. They do not have the city's deepest selection, but they economize their space well. They usually have the hot new releases and a great selection of regional/local craft beer too.

Greektown Walgreens | 111 S. Halsted St., Chicago, IL 60661 | (312) 463-9142
Get your flu shots and Irish flu shots at this location! The guy who runs the liquor department knows what he is doing, and stocks the store with one of the best selections of craft beer that the city has to offer at quality pricing. Next time you have a prescription to fill, drop it off here and wander around!

| 719 S. Dearborn St., Chicago IL, 60605 | (312) 663-9314Printer's Row is a smaller shop with a good selection. It is kind of "out of the way" for most Chicagoans, however, which is what makes it such a good store. Top quality "non-rare" releases tend to stick around longer than you would otherwise expect. For example, I was able to get an original release Bitter Monk there 11 months after it's release.

Grand & Western Armanetti's | 515 N. Western Ave., Chicago, IL 60612 | (312) 226-4600
Great selection in stock, average pricing, plus a nice selection of non-beer wine/spirits as well. This is a good store that is "less traveled" to try and hit up first for newer rare releases if you want a better shot at landing the latest shelf whale.

Capone's Liquor & Food | 3678 N. Elston Ave., Chicago, IL 60618 | (773) 583-0240
Capone's is a good refuge for good beer. They have all the new and hot beer selections, plus some oddities and rarities that you'll have to ask about behind the counter. Their pricing is more "premium" than most Chicago craft beer stores, however.

Lush Wine & Spirits | Various Locations Throughout The City
Lush has three locations in Chicago. There is one is Lakeview (2232 W Roscoe St., 773-281-8888), Noble Square (1412 W Chicago Ave., 312-666-6900), and University Village (1257 S Halsted St.‪ 312-738-1900). I have only personally been to the Noble Square location, which had a small, but stacked selection‬ of craft beer and top shelf bourbons. I have heard the other locations have deeper selections. Lush has pricing that tends to range between $2 and $5 above the rest of the city (for example, while the average price for 2012 50/50 Eclipse Imperial Stout variants were $30 at most locations, they were $35 at Lush), but this means that a lot of quality offerings tend to stick around longer than most other craft beer stores. True story, my friend was able to get two 2006-2011 Bourbon County Stout verticals PLUS two Bourbon County Rares for $300 (before tax) during the Summer of 2012.

Vas Foremost Liquors | 2300 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL 60647 | (773) 278-9420
Their location is one of their greatest attributes. Not only is it right off the California stop of the Blue Line and close to the Kennedy (I-90/94), but it is also across the street from the Revolution Brewpub. Vas Foremost gets a lot of the top releases (for example, the Bourbon County variants) and has a solid selection of non-rare releases as well. Their craft beer prices are pretty average by Chicago standards. I have found some of the staff is pretty knowledgeable, but others are not so useful if you do not know exactly what you are looking for.

| 4780 N. Milwauke Ave., Chicago, IL 60630 | (773) 545-0123

Bottles & Cans | 4109 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL 60618 | (773) 857-2270

If you are in the suburbs, your best option is likely a Binny's location or one of the many Cardinal Wine & Spirits scattered around the state (their various locations can be found by clicking here). The northwest suburbs have Dobby's World-Wide Liquors & Wines in Palatine (15 S. Brockway St., 847-359-0400). The south suburbs have Kenwood Liquors in Oak Lawn (10750 S. Cicero Ave., 708-424-3580) and Homer Glen (12037 W. 159th St., 708-590-8210). If you are in Central Illinois, make sure to hit up Friar Tuck's.

If in a pinch, both Whole Foods and Trader Joe's (grocery stores owned by the same parent company) tend to have a solid, but not deep, craft beer selection.

Know of a store I missed? Post about it in the comments. I will try to check it out and update my list accordingly.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Beer Review: Aún Más A Jesús (Even More Jesus)

Reviewing the Aún Más A Jesús from Evil Twin Brewing out of Denmark. Major thanks to Edgar Chavez for sending me this bottle as part of his amazing Christmas/Channukah BIF box!
Score: 93

2011 vintage bottle served in a Surly Darkness snifter and enjoyed on 01/13/13.

Appearance: Pours a jet black color with a thin layer of tan head that settles to a pencil thin ring around the glass. Some oily lacing oozes along the side, but no lacing/retention otherwise. 3.75/5

Smell: Dark chocolate, mildly "burnt" roast, non-fresh (but not "stale") hops, buttery almonds, caramelized brown sugar, oak and a light amount of something vaguely anise-like and cherry-esque that reminds me of Cuvee Delphine. Hint of soy sauce and coffee too. The aroma is big and bold; you can whiff it a foot or two away from the glass. 4/5

Taste: The first thing that strikes me about this beer is that it finishes with an intense dose of immensely dark chocolate that tastes like this chocolate bar. Upfront is dark fruit, cherry, caramelized brown sugar, burnt roast and very faint coffee. The "upfront" flavor reminds me a lot of Marshall Zhukov and Black Albert. In comparison to the nose, there is not much hops and the anise is barley detectable unless you are searching for it. Some five seconds after these flavors hit your tongue, the dark chocolate/cacao flavor washes them away and supplants them entirely with a big, thick, bold, dry and delicious pure chocolate finish. As the beer warms up, a little bitter coffee flavor sneaks into the finish and a little more of the roast and anise come through on the palate. This beer is pretty complex, and I like the way the flavors from the finish and the "upfront impression" complement each other in a non-blended way that makes this beer seem like I am drinking two separate stouts. 4.5/5

Mouthfeel: Full bodied, minimal carbonation. Slightly sweet with a modestly bitter, dry finish. 4.5/5

Overall: An excellently crafted, gypsy-made imperial stout that far surpasses everything that Mikkeller, Evin Twin's (evil) twin brother, has put out to date. Prost!

Recommendation: The beer is quite pricey, but arguably delivers. This is not a beer that I would hoard at its price point, but it's one I would recommend nonetheless trying (and maybe sharing with a friend).

Pairings: A peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Cost: $12 for a 12 oz bottle.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Beer Review: Burning Bush (4 month old can)

Reviewing Burning Bush from Golden Road Brewing out of Los Angeles, California. The can informs that this beer as a "smoked IPA."

Score: 77

Canned on 09/27/12. Served in a regular ol' glass with a tulip-style opening at the top and enjoyed on 02/21/12.

Appearance: Pours a translucent amber color with a finger of off-white head that settles to thin dusting atop the brew. Poor lacing and retention. 3/5

Smell: Smoke, caramel malt, orange peel, stale piney hops. Smells like an old IPA with a good malt backbone and a nice smokiness. 3.5/5

Taste: Tastes just like the nose, but with more of a "stale IPA" flavor and less of the "good kind" of malt. Lots of stale, orangey malt. The smokiness shines in the finish, but it's not strong enough to overpower the maltiness. There seems to be a little oakiness present too, but maybe that is just my brain playing with my associative memory. 3/5

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied, lower carbonation than expected. Very malty with a little sweetness. Nice smokey prickle on the tongue. 3/5

Overall: The uniqueness of this IPA does not save it from it's stale IPA character because the maltiness is not akin to something like Double Crooked Tree. The smokiness is a nice unique quality, and I would like to try to revisit this fresh. For now, however, I will stick to the Cedar Aged Jai Alai if I want a stale IPA with a grace-saving uniqueness.

Cost: $8.99 for a four pack of 16 oz cans.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Beer Review: Trappist Westvleteren 8 (aka Westy 8)

Reviewing the Trappist Westvleteren 8 (aka Westy 8) from the monks of Brouwerij Westvleteren (Sint-Sixtusabdij van Westvleteren) out of Belgium.
Score: 97

"Best by" 11/30/14 according to the bottle cap. Served in a Westy 12 chalice and enjoyed on 09/17/12.

Appearance: Pours a chocolate color with some yellowish-brown color atop and mild ruby highlights at the bottom. There is excellent color depth and fade to the body of this beer, which wine aficionados should appreciate.. Pours a half finger of tan head that settles to a thin layer. Good lacing and average retention. 4.5/5

Smell: Slighty "fruity" yeast, caramel, figs and apples and a little chocolate. Some spice, a "nutty" maltiness, and a hint of brown sugar. Just a hint of alcohol esters too. 4.5/5

Taste: Figs, musty caramel malt and a hint of raw cocoa bean flavor. There is a smooth weizenbock-like banana-y yeast flavor on the center of the tongue throughout, and it lightly lingers. Unlike what the nose hints, there is no "fruitiness" to the taste really -- maybe faintly as the beer warms up. Instead, there is a dried dark fruit flavor here -- primarily figs, but a little date flavor too. Westy 8 beer is not sweet at all -- instead, it is possesses a very balanced, nuanced and drinkable maltiness. There's a very faint alcohol warmth on the sides of tongue, but no boozy flavor whatsoever. What an incredibly and carefully crafted beer! I am sure there are plenty of nuances that I just cannot pick out here. 4.75/5

Mouthfeel: Just shy of full bodied, and perfectly carbonated. Very creamy, slick mouthfeel. Malty, but balanced. 5/5

Overall: Easily my favorite dubbel. Call me crazy, but, at least relatively fresh, I prefer this one to Westy 12. This is such an amazing malt-dominant beer that has so much subtle complexity. I wish I had a consistent line on this stuff, cause believe me, there would always be a few of these in my fridge.

Recommendation: Seek this one out. It is better than Westy 12 fresh, and without all the fanfare.

Pairings: The Mustard Seed Cafe's harvest panini (a turkey sandwich on zucchini bread with provolone cheese, slices of apples and cranberry sauce).

Cost: $12 for a 11.2 oz bottle.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Beer Review: Bolt Cutter

Reviewing the Bolt Cutter from Founders Brewing Company out of Grand Rapids, Michigan. This American-style barleywine was brewed in honor of Founders' 15th anniversary, and is a blend of the base beer unaged, aged in maple syrup barrels and aged in bourbon barrels. Founders' website tells the following story behind this beer's name:
“Years ago,” says Co-Founder, President & CEO Mike Stevens, “when our brewery was located on Monroe, we were defaulting on our loan. Eventually, the bank called and threatened to chain our doors shut if we didn’t come up with the money that we owed them. We had seven days to come up with half a million dollars.”

“So I bought a pair of bolt cutters,” says Co-Founder, Vice President of Brand & Education Dave Engbers. “We were determined to keep our doors open and to keep brewing beer, no matter what it took. Luckily, we never had to use them.”
Score: 40

November 2012 vintage bottle served in a Surly Darkness snifter and enjoyed on 01/11/13.

Appearance: Pours a bourbon color with a finger and a half of seafoam colored seafoam-like head that slowly settles to a thin layer. Awesome lacing ad retention. 4.5/5

Smell: Boozy caramel, an earthy spiciness, stale hops and tons of sweet, bready malt. Brown sugar, maple and light lemon too. 2/5

Taste: Tastes like a boozy, bready malt-forward stale IPA with a maple character and light spiciness. Another reviewer likened this to barrel aged Devil Dancer -- spot on! There is some caramel too. This beer is almost undrinkable, and this is only 2 months old. This beer was much tastier, albeit still disappointing, fresh, but even then it was nothing special. It has since fallen off entirely, and collapsed into a sweet malt bomb of a mess. 2/5

Mouthfeel: Full bodied, minimal carbonation. Malty sweet and juicy. 3/5

Overall: Founders beers are very rarely duds, but this one is an imperial stinker. When I had this beer fresh the night before FOBAB, it reminded me of a less-hoppy New Glarus Thumbprint Barleywine with a little maple mixed in. Tasty, but certainly not worth the hype. Just under two months later, it's fallen off a cliff, the hops have become completely stale, and the boozy malt has taken over entirely. Considering that this bottle sat in my fridge for the duration of its "shelf life," and considering it was not even "stored" for two months, I doubt my experience had anything to do with storage conditions (though if Founders' maple aging program has taught us anything, this may be the byproduct of bottle variation). If you have not opened your bottles yet, I advise you sit on them longer -- this beer cannot get much worse and time can only serve to mellow out the booziness.

Recommendation: Avoid this one, though I presume this advice comes too little too late.

Pairings: The sink drain.

Cost: $25 for a 750 ml bottle.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Beer Review: Callow Knife

Reviewing the Callow Knife from Half Acre Brewing Company out of Chicago, Illinois.
Score: 90

32 oz growler filled at the brewery on 01/11/13, served in a Surly Darkness snifter and enjoyed on 01/11/13. Review is from iPhone notes.

Appearance: Pours a murky amber color with a finger of off-white head that settles to a thin bubbly ring around the glass. Excellent lacing and retention. 4.5/5

Smell: Super fresh grapefruit, lemon, orange, mango and peach plus grassy and piney hops. Faint underlying caramel malt backbone. This brew packs a really nice, robust aroma! 4.5/5

Taste: While the nose is robust, the flavors here are "watery"/"watered-down." There are bitter, piney hops upfront followed by sweet tropical citrus. There's initially a "bitter pucker" that mellows out substantially after the citrus kicks in. Grapefruit, peach, apricot and lemon dominate the back end. Subtle caramel malt flavor too. Reminds me of their Daisy Cutter in "how" it tastes (but not in the specific hop/citrus flavors). A mildy sweet malt bill underlies the hops and citrus, and a little bready grain flavor comes through as it warms up. I realize that this is only a regular ol' pale ale with a sessionable ABV, but the watered down aspect cuts down what could have been a stellar beer to something that is merely good. 4/5

Mouthfeel: Light-plus bodied, low carbonation. Watered down on the palate, but dry on the finish. 3/5

Overall: Sessionable, tasty and refreshing. This beer is better than Daisy Cutter, but could have been something much greater and more special if the taste and mouthfeel could have been as robust as the aroma.

Recommendation: Worth trying, not worth going out of your way to seek out.

Pairings: Hot dogs.

Cost: $8 for a 32 oz growler refill or $14 for a 64 oz growler refill.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Beer Review: Bully Guppy

Reviewing the Bully Guppy from Three Floyds Brewing Company out of Munster, Indiana. This beer is barrel aged Gumball Head.
Score: 10

Fall 2012 vintage bottle served in a small snifter glass and consumed as part of a tasting held on 11/16/12.  Even 1-2 oz pours of this was way too much.

Appearance: Pours a golden apricot color. The head is a white-ish color. Too small a pour to say much about the head/lacing/retention outside of the color. 3.5/5

Smell: Vanilla cake, nail polish, wheat and window cleaner. 1.5/5

Taste: Straight up tastes like acetone and Windex with a hint of peach. Gag reflex kicked in immediately after sipping. 1/5

Mouthfeel: Light bodied, low carbonation, light alcohol. 1/5

Overall: Quite possibly the worst beer I have ever had the displeasure of consuming.

Recommendation: Avoid this beer like the plague.

Pairing: The kitchen sink.

Cost: $20 for a 750 ml bottle.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Beer Review: Zanate Mole Stout

Reviewing the Zanate Mole Stout from Revolution Brewing Company out of Chicago, Illinois. This beer is a stout brewed with guajillo chiles, cinnamon and cacao nibs in honor of the Handlebar's tenth anniversary.
Score: 95

Tap pour served in a tulip glass at the brewpub and enjoyed on 02/14/13.

Appearance: Traditional stout appearance. Black in color, served with a thin coating of tan head that dissipates to a bubbly ring around the glass. Poor lacing and retention. 4/5

Smell: Huge aromas of unsweetened bakers chocolate, cocoa nibs and dark chocolate followed by much subtler notes of cinnamon and pepper. The chocolate notes are what really shine in the nose of this beer; it smells like a pure cacao dark chocolate bar! 4.5/5

Taste: This tastes like Mexican dark chocolate! Perfect balance of bitter and sweet from the chocolate here, with a nice dryness in the finish. Cocoa nibs again shine (bakers chocolate and dark chocolate too). There's a very light pepper flavor in the finish with a residual peppery prick on the tongue after the swallow at first. The peppers layer nicely as the beer warms, but they never get intense. The peppers here are quite subtle compared to most pepper-infused stouts. I am not really tasting any cinnamon at all. The beer is not very complex like say Hunahpu's, but it is still a delectable dark chocolate bomb that is easy drinking with easy-to-enjoy flavors. 4.5/5

Mouthfeel: Zanate has a good level of viscosity that falls a little shy of "full bodied." Very low carbonation in this brew. Silky, slightly creamy on the tongue. Has a nice peppery kick and a mildly dry finish. Delightfully balanced. 4.5/5

Overall: An absolutely smashing success of a beer that is second only to Red Scare/Skull among Revolution Brewing Company's very deep line up of non-barrel aged beers. It is super chocolatey, and the pepper adds a nice, subtle complexity. I cannot get over how this tastes like a bar of Mexican dark chocolate bar! I would absolutely love to see what aging this in Rittenhouse barrels (with additional peppers added to prevent that character from falling off) would do. My best is advice is to rush over to the pub and grab a pint of this before the keg kicks!

Pairing: The Guajillo Pepper Chili that Revolution serves at the brewpub with tortilla chips, chihuahua cheese and sour cream...yum!

Cost: $6 for a 13 oz tulip glass.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Beer Review: Berry Brown

Reviewing the Berry Brown from Revolution Brewing Company out of Chicago, Illinois. This beer was brewed for New Years Eve this year.
Score: 92

Tap pour served in a 5 oz taster glass and enjoyed on 01/04/12.

Appearance: Pours a dark, murky caramel color with minimal head. Oily lacing and retention. 3.5/5

Smell: Complex! Molasses, brown sugar, bourbon, vanilla, raisins and raspberries. 4.5/5

Taste: Bourbon flavors upfront with a strong fruity raspberry finish. Mild tannic acidity too. Not as complex as the nose. Some vanilla too. 4.25/5

Mouthfeel: Medium-full bodied, minimal carbonation. Syrupy mouthfeel. Malty. 4/5

Overall: Delicious and bourbon flavor forward without the booziness! Not the world's biggest brown ale fan, but this one was delicious.

Recommendation: Fans of malty beers and bourbon-heavy brews should seek this one out.

Pairings: Chocolate cake.

Cost: $3 for a 5 oz taster glass.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Beer Review: Coffee Break Abduction

Reviewing the Coffee Break Abduction from Pipeworks Brewing Company out of Chicago, Illinois.
Score: 94

January 2013 vintage bottle served in a Half Acre snifter and enjoyed on 01/04/12.

Appearance: Ink black in color. Pours a minimal layer of tan head that settles to a thin ring around the glass. Above average lacing, excellent retention. 4/5

Smell: Roasted coffee beans, bakers chocolate, roasted malt and a little bit of brown sugar and plum. 4.5/5

Taste: Strong coffee flavor throughout, bakers chocolate backbone. Good amount of roastiness on the palate. Heavy "coffee flavor" finish. Bittersweet overall, with a nice balance. 4.5/5

Mouthfeel: Medium-full bodied, light carbonation. Dry on the palate. 4/5

Overall: A great example of a beer that makes up for it's lack of complexity with smooth, robust and appealing flavor.

Recommendation: Fans of coffee and stouts (e.g., Peche Mortel) should seek this one out immediately, before it flies off the shelves.

Pairings: Vanilla almond biscotti.

Cost: $11.99 for a 22 oz (bomber) bottle.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Beer Review: Quakerbridge

Reviewing the Quakerbridge from Half Acre Brewing Company out of Chicago, Illinois. 
Score: 90

Bottle is from the 11/19/2012 release. Served in a Half Acre snifter and enjoyed on 01/04/12.

Appearance: Pours a bourbon color with a thin layer of off-white head that settles to a ring around the glass. Average lacing, but above average retention. 4/5

Smell: Piney hops, dirt, mango, peaches and caramel malt. Tropical citrus and a mild "earthiness" too. The nose screams IPA/Barleywine hybrid. 4/5

Taste: Much maltier than the nose led on, but still decently hoppy. Lots of "dirty" and "earthy" caramel malt flavor throughout with overlays of forest-y hops. Faint onion. 4/5

Mouthfeel: Medium-plus bodied, modest carbonation. Malty-sweet with a good hoppy kick. 4.5/5

Overall: Super solid "Behemoth" wannabe of an American Barleywine that is about on par in quality with New Glarus' Barleywine (when fresh) from last year. This is an excellent effort from Half Acre, but I still prefer both Double Crooked Tree and Behemoth.

Recommendation: Fans of hoppy, IPA-esque barleywines should give this one a whirl.

Pairings: Thai food.

Cost: $11.99 for a 22 oz (bomber) bottle.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Beer Review: Abraxas

Reviewing Abraxas from Perennial Artisan Ales out of St. Louis, Missouri.
Score: 97

November 2012 vintage bottle served in a Half Acre snifter and enjoyed on 01/04/12.

Appearance: Pours a coffee color with two or three fingers of dark mocha head off the pour that slowly settles to a thin layer atop the glass. Awesome lacing and retention. Pitch perfect stout appearance. 5/5

Smell: The nose is dominated by it's three primary advertised ingredients. The cinnamon is most prominent, followed in "boldness" by the chili peppers and milk chocolate. There is some brown sugar and roast too. The chili pepper aroma grows as the beer warms up. At room temperature, there is a faint dark fruit character present in the nose as well. 4.75/5

Taste: The flavor is likewise defined by it's three primary ingredients, but with the amount of chili and cinnamon flipped (that is to say that the chili pepper flavor is more prevalent than the cinnamon on the palate). The pepper element imparts a nice amount of "life" on the tongue without being overly "spicy" courtesy of the the chocolate backbone anchor. The cinnamon flavor reminds me of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal because it is paired with malted barley/cereal grain flavor too. Cocoa, dark chocolate and faint vanilla round out the flavor profile. 4.5/5

Mouthfeel: Not quite full bodied, but approaching it. Spot on carbonation. Good liveliness on the palate from the chili peppers. 4.5/5

Overall: This brew is an absolute Hunahpu's killer without the accompanying "rarity tax." Kudos to Perennial for yet another knock out brew.

Recommendation: Fans of chili stouts and Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal NEED to seek this one out.

Pairings: A cigar.

Cost: $22.99 for a 750 ml bottle.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Beer Review: Stone Imperial Russian Stout (2012 Vintage)

Reviewing the Imperial Russian Stout (2012 vintage) from Stone Brewing Company out of Escondido, California.

Score: 82

2012 vintage bottle purchased from a new bar in the Northwest Chicago Suburbs called "The Beer Market." Served in a snifter glass and enjoyed on 06/29/12. Review is from iPhone notes.

Appearance: Color is jet black with a thin strip of caramel of highlight atop the glass. Creamy mocha-colored head off the pour settles to a ring around glass. Average lacing, average lacing. 3.5/5

Smell: Milk chocolate, light roast and anise/black licorice. Hint of fig. Touch of dark chocolate too. 4/5

Taste: A lot more anise flavor on palate than nose. The bitter, acidic black licorice flavor is prevalent throughout. Chocolate and cocoa too. A little unsweetened dark fruit, and a straight alcoholic booziness towards finish that is "metallic" in flavor when the beer is on the colder side. A hint of roasted chocolate comes out as the beer warms up. 3/5

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied, low carbonation. Oily mouthfeel. Acidic, mildly bitter and surprisingly "boozy." 3.5/5

Overall: This is the first time that I have ever had this beer, and given its reputation, I must say that I was thoroughly disappointed. I found it to be nothing special, and way too boozy and licorice-forward. Given how much licorice flavor I got from this brew, I can only imagine how much is present in the Belgo-Anise variation from 2011. Still, you can't beat the price point...

Recommendation: Skip the 2012 vintage (at least while it's fresh).

Pairing: Stilton cheese.

Cost: $7.99 for a 22 oz (bomber) bottle.