Friday, November 29, 2013

Beer Review: SurlyFest

Reviewing the SurlyFest from Surly Brewing Company, out of Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. This beer, one of the few Surly beers that I have not previously gotten around too, is a dry hopped rye lager; Surly's take on the Oktoberfest style.

Score: 89

September 2013 release. 16 oz can served in a Goose Island Chicago flag snifter and enjoyed on 10/03/13. Thank you for the can Brandon!

Appearance: Pours a caramel bourbon color that is clean in appearance, but not quite transparent, with a thin layer of head that quickly settles to a pencil thin ring around the glass. Good lacing, average retention. 3.75/5

Smell: Hops, spice (presumably the rye), caramel malt, grains and distinctive Oktoberfest-like lager yeast. Faint alcohol esters too. 4/5

Taste: For a Surly beer with a hoppy nose, the taste is pretty hop-devoid. Malt sweetness upfront, followed by whole/creamy grain flavor and a light spice character. Clean finish with a little residual malt flavor. There is only a minimal amount of that distinctive "yeah, you're drinking a lager, wanna fight about it?" yeast flavor that you get in other Oktoberfest brews, and it does not layer or linger which I really enjoy about this brew. 4/5

Mouthfeel: Thin bodied, but not watery. Good carbonation level. Very oily. Starts out with a light spice kick, but as the beer layers the rye/spice gains a more life on the front-sides of the tongue. 4/5

Overall: A very solid beer, and nice twist on the Oktoberfest style. I like the rye character here, and although I would have enjoyed more hops in the taste, I do like that the lager flavors I am not personally partial to are dialed down here. Definitely a beer I would drink again, but this is not one I would seek out specially.

Cost: $8.99 for a 4 pack of 16 oz cans.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Beer Review: R&D Very Sour Blackberry

Reviewing the R&D Very Sour Blackberry from New Glarus Brewing Company out of New Glarus, Wisconsin.

Score: 100

Bottled August 2013. Served in a Perennial snifter and enjoyed on 08/23/13 while traveling on the Metra. Review is from iPhone notes.

Appearance: Pours a gorgeous dark murky purple-ish blackberry puree color with three fingers of light purple/pink colored foamy/soda froth head that settles to a thin layer of fizzy head that coats the brew. Good lacing and retention. Excellent color. 5/5

Smell: Huge, bold notes of fresh blackberries and dark berry jam. Very fresh and jammy, with a hint of lemony lacto and a dash of raisin. The nose is almost exclusively blackberry, but the blackberry dimension is so damn appetizing. 5/5

Taste: Not very complex, but darn delicious! Tart and fresh blackberry flavor hits the front of the tongue, but subsides to more of a jammy-sweet blackberry fruit flavor towards the finish. Not very acidic overall. Finishes with a briefly lingering tart berry-fruit flavor on back center of tongue and a little earthy lacto and straw hay residual character on the front of the tongue. The blackberry flavor here is ineffably delicious, and the 500 ml of liquid bliss contained in this bottled disappeared all too quickly. 5/5

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied, good carbonation level for the flavor profile and mouthfeel, dry finish. Very tart upfront, but not cringingly sour because the tartness smoothes out and subsides to jammy sweetness towards the finish. Foams up on the palate if you swish, which increases the dryness of the finish. 5/5

Overall: This beer is the blackberry sour king. It is easy drinking and requires no stretch of the imagination to love unless you despise blackberries, in which case more for me! Dan Carey recommended sitting on this beer for a few months, allowing for the secondary fermentation to take. Honestly, though, this beer is drinking perfectly right now so why wait. This is New Glarus' best beer to date. Prost!

Cost: $8 for a 500 ml bottle.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Beer Review: Crianza Helena

Reviewing Crianza Helena from Brasserie Cantillon out of Belgium.

Score: 99

Bottle is dated October 23, 2008. Served in a Goose Island taster glass and enjoyed on 08/25/13. Thank you Paul for sharing this treat! Review is from iPhone notes.

Appearance: Orange body with a murky yellow-orange layer on top and bottom; has a nice color fade. Pours less than a finger of head that settles to a thin, whispy coating. Average lacing and retention. 4/5

Smell: Huge notes of lemon zest, orange citrus, straw, and just a hint of earthy musty funk. Really excellent balance between these qualities. 5/5

Taste: Very tart, not overy funky. Orange and lemon citrus plus oak, followed by earthy/musty/bretty flavor in the finish. A little vinegar too (but it is very understated here). Light grain flavor. There is a delicate and complex balance between the citrus, tart and funk characters here. A light cognac finish comes through as it warms up. 5/5

Mouthfeel: Light bodied, spot on low carbonation for the delicateness of the flavor. Has a zest tartness, that is juicy and savory. Really lovely mouthfeel. Has a lively electricity on gums. 5/5

Overall: This beer has a lovely tart citrus character with just a little bit of funk for complexity. Reminds me of a "softer" tasting, more complexly flavored Drie Fonteinene Oude Gueuze Vintage 2008. This one is not overrated in the least. Seek out with confidence!

Cost: Approximately 40 euro for 750 ml.

Class Of '88 Imperial Smoked Porter

Reviewing the Class Of '88 Imperial Smoked Porter from Deschutes Brewery out of Bend, Oregon.

Score: 90

2013 vintage bottle served in a Doom glass and enjoyed on 06/12/13.

Appearance: Pours a dark soda color with nice ruby tones and a thin layer of off-white/tan head. Good lacing and retention. 4/5

Smell: Sweet chocolate, hint of smoke, caramel and brown sugar. A little roast. Real nice mix, not intense. The chocolate stands out most. Touch of "fizzy cola" in nose too as it hits room temp. 4/5

Taste: More roast and smoke in nose, which hits you up front, but it is not "smoke intense" (especially not side by side with La Muerta). Then comes the chocolate, fizzy caramel and brown sugar flavors. A little hoppiness mixed in well in the finish. Nothing overly complex or earth shattering, but really appealing and nice. 4/5

Mouthfeel: Medium-minus bodied, medium-light bodied. Dry finish. Par for the course for a porter. 3.75/5

Overall: A really nice roasty porter with a light smokiness and lots of chocolate. Definitely one I would order again if I saw it. Thanks for the chance to tick Mike.

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

Friday, November 22, 2013

Beer Review: Kentucky Brunch Brand Stout (2013 release)

Reviewing the highly sought after Kentucky Brunch Brand Stout (KBBS) from my friends at the Toppling Goliath Brewery out of Decorah, Iowa. This beer is billed as a "beer aged in whiskey barrels with coffee" on the label.

Score: 100

2013 vintage bottle served in a Upland snifter and enjoyed on 09/22/13.

Appearance: Slick and shiny motor oil black in color. Pours a thin layer of dark khaki head that settles to a thick ring around the glass. Excellent lacing, amazing retention. The lacing slowly cascades back in to the glass like a viscous oil. 5/5

Smell: Like Morning Delight, the nose is bold and well integrated. Notes of maple/molasses syrup, bourbon, coffee and vanilla. Smells a lot like Bliss, the bourbon aged maple syrup, blended with coffee. Light notes of chocolate chip cookies. A dash of doughy cake batter too. Smells like Morning Delight plus vanilla, but with dialed down chocolate notes. As the beer warms up, the maple/molasses syrup-like aroma becomes more prominent. 5/5

Taste: Sweet maple and molasses flavor upfront, then vanilla. Roasty coffee flavors and faint, but detectable, chocolate on the back half. Underlying coffee backbone really helps balance the upfront sweetness. No booziness, but there is a little alcohol warming effect on the palate as the beer warms up. The vanilla and maple/molasses syrup flavors shine through more as this beer warms up too. This is truly delectable. 5/5

Mouthfeel: Fully bodied, spot on carbonation. Creamy, oily mouthfeel. Shares the same umami character I got from Morning Delight (no soy sauce flavor). Balanced, though sweet leaning. Has a nice bitterness to the finish that imparts easy drinkability to cut through what would otherwise be a layering sweetness. 5/5

Overall: I am not sure if this is a barrel aged version of Morning Delight, but it shares many of the same characteristics. Both this and Morning Delight are incredible, but I thought that KBBS was the superior brew of the two. The vanilla notes from the barrel aging here are lovely. This beer is, for all intents and purposes, perfect. Among the many stouts I have consumed, there are only a couple out there that I would rather have if forced to choose. With luck, Toppling Goliath will rebrew this and our paths will cross again one day. If not, I am truly glad to have had the opportunity to tick this. Even at its hefty cost, I recommend seeking out a bottle; this is probably going to be the best beer released in 2013.

Cost: $12 for a 12 oz bottle.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Beer Review: Morning Delight (2013 release)

Reviewing the highly sought after Morning Delight from my friends at the Toppling Goliath Brewery out of Decorah, Iowa. This mega-delicious imperial stout drinks like an imperial Canadian Breakfast Stout, and its bottle release quickly put Toppling Goliath on the radar for those who had not yet heard of them. I have had this brew a few times prior, but I felt it was time to finally write this one up now that I had a bottle of my own to sit back and enjoy

Score: 99

2013 vintage bottle served in a Toppling Goliath snifter and enjoyed on 08/31/13 while on vacation in the Wisconsin Dells for Labor Day weekend.

Appearance: Pours an inky black color with a thin later of khaki head that settles to a thin ring around the glass. Below average lacing, but excellent retention. Very nice looking stout. 4.5/5

Smell: Bold notes of roasted coffee, chocolate chip pancakes and maple syrup! This smells like a hearty breakfast in a bottle. Love the interplay of the sweetness from the maple character and the roastiness of the coffee.  I could smell this beer allllllllllll dayyyyyyy longgggggg. 5/5

Taste: Taste is less coffee forward, but still pretty roasty. Excellent bittersweet balance here between the chocolate flavors, maple and coffee characters. Tastes exactly like it smells, but with less coffee and more chocolate pancake flavor. The flavors linger long on the palate, with residual maple and coffee. No alcohol booziness whatsoever; are we sure this is even 6% let alone 12%?!? Not too sweet at all, which aids the drinkability wonderfully. The maple flavor layers quite nicely as well. 5/5

Mouthfeel: Not quit full bodied, low carbonation. Super slick, oily mouthfeel with a slight umami feeling at room temperature (but no soy sauce flavor). Nice bittersweet balance leaning towards slightly sweet. 4.75/5

Overall: This beer is fresh CBS on steroids; it smells and tastes wonderful. I have to give a big shout out to my friend Matt for insisting that I check out this then-unknown brewery at the Great Taste of the Midwest in 2012, as Toppling Goliath consistently produces some of my favorite stouts and IPA's (my two favorite styles). Morning Delight is one of my all time favorite beers, and probably the best non-barrel aged stout out there. I think just a touch more body is all the more I could ask for, but this beer is by no means thin bodied like Last Snow. Seek out a bottle. You will not be disappointed. Cheers!

Cost: $10 for a 12 oz bottle.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Beer Review: Prairie Bomb! (Batch 1)

Reviewing the Prairie Bomb! from Prairie Artisan Ales out of Krebs, Oklahoma. This beer is an imperial stout with coffee, cacao nibs, vanilla beans, and chili peppers added.

Score: 96

Spring 2013 vintage bottle (gold wax, batch 1) served in an Upland snifter glass and enjoyed on 08/24/13 to celebrate the end of this year's wedding season.

Appearance: Ink black in color. No light penetrates through when held up to light. Pours just under a finger of brownish tan head that settles to a thin coating layer. Excellent lacing and retention. 4.75/5

Smell: Tons of roast and coffee. Then chocolate and doughy vanilla cake batter. Subtle notes of peppers, but the pepper character is not very prominent at all. Really lovely integration of the coffee/chocolate/vanilla characters here. Smells like an awesome cake batter mixed with roasted coffee. 4.75/5

Taste: Bitter, roasty coffee hit the tongue first, then cacao, tongue-pricking peppers and a hint of vanilla, followed by residual chocolate bitterness, a little roast and residual peppery liveliness. The flavor is not cake-like at all, and the degrees of chocolate, coffee, vanilla and pepper are in different proportion than in the nose. The peppers are substantially more prominent, and the vanilla is really dialed down. There is also less roasty coffee on the palate than I expected given how forward this character was in the nose. There is a little vegetal pepper flavor in the finish at first, but this disappears as the beer warms up and breathes. 4.5/5

Mouthfeel: Full bodied, low carbonation. Has a nice pepper spiciness without being a mouth/throat burner; even Scott Nicholas could handle this one (hi Scott). Well balanced between the bitter/sweet/spicy, lending itself to a high degree of drinkability here. 4.5/5

Overall: An excellent brew from an up-and-coming craft brewery located in a state you would not a expect a beer of this quality to originate from. I love how the nose and taste feature the same qualities, but each is different and enticing in their own way. Highly recommend this one.

Cost: $7.99 for a 12 oz bottle.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Beer Review: Barrel-Aged Rise

Reviewing the Barrel-Aged Rise from Revolution Brewing Company out of Chicago, Illinois.

Score: 87

Tap pour served in a 5 oz taster glass. Enjoyed on 08/21/13.

Appearance: Slick black color, shiny. Served with virtually no head save for a mechanical pencil thin, tan colored ring around the glass. Poor lacing and retention. My friend's full pour in 10 oz snifter did not feature better lacing. 3.5/5

Smell: Heavy on the sweet barrel and caramel-bourbon character. Faint notes of piney hops, cocoa and vanilla. Residual mintiness and oak too. Mostly just bourbon barrel on the nose. 3.75/5

Taste: Sweet, but not cloying, barrel flavors take the center stage on the palate. Smooth bourbon, caramel, vanilla and some roast/oak too. The barrel flavors dominate the finish and linger. Complementary, but not prominent or dominant, mint flavor without the menthol coldness on the midpalate. Virtually no hops here, which probably is for the better. As the beer warms up, the finish gets much more complex. I get added notes of chocolate, cherry and a little tobacco flavor in the finish. The long-lasting, lingering flavors here mingle and integrate pleasantly on the tongue. 4/5

Mouthfeel: Thin bodied, minimal carbonation. Has a watery-slickness to it. Sweet, but not cloying. 3/5

Overall: Although this is an above average beer with good flavor, it is very nondescript for a Rev Brew's barrel aged project. I enjoyed this brew more as it warmed up and had a chance to breath. Barrel-Aged Rise shares many of the bourbon-forward flavor qualities that most of Rev Brew's Woodford Reserve-aged dark beers have, and I doubt that I would be able to pick this out blind from say Mean Gene. Rev Brew has pretty much mastered getting bourbon-forward flavors into their beers through barrel aging without picking up any harsh booziness in the process; I just wish they would start using better quality barrels and experimenting a bit more.

Cost: $5 for a 5 oz taster, $8 for a 10 oz snifter.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Beer Review: Leopold Bros Peach Whiskey Barrel-Aged Surette Reserva

Reviewing the Leopold Bros Peach Whiskey Barrel-Aged Surette Reserva from the Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project out of Denver, Colorado.

Score: 96

April 30, 2013 vintage bottle served in a Only Void snifter and enjoyed on 08/22/13.

Appearance: Pours a lovely orange color honey color with less than a finger of white head that settles to a nice layer atop the glass. Spectacular lacing and retention. A wall of froth sticks to the side of the glass like a suction cup. 4.75/5

Smell: Juicy peaches, vanilla-y oak and hay/straw, rounded out by a dash of lacto and young, musty funk. The funk is very very subtle, and acts as a nice, soft accent to the aroma. The citrus juiciness is quite enticing, and practically triggers a salivating response. Notes of lemon zest too. 4.75/5

Taste: Really lovely and flavorful tart and juicy citrus upfront rounded out by barrel character and subtle funk. The lemon zest is more pronounced on the palate than it was in the nose. The peach/lemon combo hits you nice on the front of the tongue with a tartness that is lively, but not pucker-inducing. Then hay/straw on the midpalate, followed by oak and earthy lacto/brett in the finish. Has a nice lemony-peach brett flavored linger that is not intense, but sticks around nicely. The lingering flavor reminds me of a much more subtle and less tart, peach-infused L'Brett D'or. I really like how flavorful and juicy this brew is without being overly "intense" or wrecking the palate with harsh or extreme flavors. The complexities here are masterfully integrated, and the light funky character works well. 4.75/5

Mouthfeel: Light-medium bodied, low carbonation. Has a little zesty kick for being a saison, but it is not remotely pucker-inducingly tart. Juicy mouthfeel. This drinks like a delicious, fermented lemonade. 4/5

Overall: Another knock out sour from Crooked Stave, who is absolutely on fire right now. I enjoyed the base beer thoroughly, but this barrel treatment is a truly remarkable improvement. Seek this one out while you still can.

Cost: $10 for a 375 ml bottle.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Beer Review: Closer Encounter

Reviewing the Closer Encounter from Pipeworks Brewing Company out of Chicago, Illinois. The bottle bills itself as a "hopped up imperial stout."

Score: 94

Batch "190-1." I have no clue how a beer can be batch 190-1. Either you are batch 190, or you are batch 191. Served in a Perennial snifter and enjoyed on 08/20/13.

Appearance: Dark chocolate color in appearance. Pours less than half a finger of khaki head that settles to a ring around the glass. Poor lacing, average retention. 3.75/5

Smell: The aromatics are of a black ale done extremely well. Milk chocolate covered pineapples, piney hops, a little muddles citrus and pretzel-like doughiness. Notes of cake batter too. The hops come through very clean on the nose, and are not dirty/earthy/spicy/floral/oniony at all. This a really lovely smelling beer. 4.5/5

Taste: Bitter bakers chocolate and cocoa followed by bitter piney hops. Juicy pineapple and nondescript and muted tropical citrus backbone with a little maltiness too. Unsalted pretzel flavor in the finish too. Really unique tasting, and I love the bready flavors here. No booziness. This brew hides the double digit ABV very well, though a little palate warmth occurs around room temperature. Really nice mix of stout and clean IPA flavors here. 4.25/5

Mouthfeel: Medium-plus bodied, low carbonation. Very creamy. Bitter on the palate with a little backbone sweetness for counterbalance and added drinkability. 4.25/5

Overall: Shockingly excellent. Not because of who makes it (Pipeworks makes some great beers), but because of the style. Few black IPA/hoppy stouts are this good. Cheers to another excellent brew in Pipeworks' portfolio!

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

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Beer Review: Aww Jeah

Reviewing the Aww Jeah from Short's Brewing Company out of Bellaire, Michigan.

Score: 90

Bottle code "1193C21658." Served in a generic snifter glass and enjoyed on 08/19/13.

Appearance: Pours an orange copper with a half finger of off-white head that settles to a thin ring around the glass. Good lacing and retention. 4/5

Smell: Caramel malt, honey and fruity/grassy hops. A little spiciness too. As it warms, some tropical citrus comes through, but it is not juicy-fresh. 4/5

Taste: Bready malt, caramel malt, grapefruit, and floral hop flavor. Bitter grassiness towards the finish with a residual bitterness that lingers nicely. The hoppiness has a little dirty spiciness to it too, but this character is not very prominent. As this beer warms and layers, it becomes palate wreckingly bitter/hoppy. 4/5

Mouthfeel: Very light in body for an imperial IPA, low carbonation. The bitterness really sits and layers on the tongue, slightly singeing while the brew sits on the palate. 4/5

Overall: A total hop bomb palate killer. Nothing special, but well done. Cheers.

Cost: $15 for a six pack.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Beer Review: Unplugged Bourbon Barrel Bock

Reviewing the Unplugged Bourbon Barrel Bock from New Glarus Brewing out of New Glarus, Wisconsin. I was lucky enough to win this 2007 release, a New Glarus tick I long ago gave up on, in a raffle recently.

Score: 88

June 2007 vintage bottle served in a Perennial snifter/tulip hybrid glass and enjoyed on 08/15/13.

Appearance: Pours a clean, but translucent copper color that is free of floaties or haze. Has a wisp of head off the pour that totally settles, resulting in a liquor-like appearance. Minimal head or retention. 3.25/5

Smell: Primarily vanilla and caramel in the nose. There's a little bit of oak and even less dark fruit too, but it is really just malty/sweet vanilla and caramel interacting pleasantly here. Unknown ABV, but not a whiff of booze. 4/5

Taste: Taste follows the nose, but with a little fizziness in the finish. Caramel upfront, followed by vanilla. Mild cherry and tobacco flavors in the finish. Dark fruit undertones. The flavor components here meld almost seamlessly. Some sherry-like fruitiness comes through towards the finish as this beer warms up. No negative oxidization character is present, which is surprisingly given the age of this brew. This bottle was clearly stored well. 4/5

Mouthfeel: On the lighter side of medium bodied with very very low carbonation. This beer is not flat, though it is closer to undercarbonated than appropriately carbonated. That said, there is a little fizzy life in the finish that I did not expected given its headless, non-effervescent appearance. Malty sweet, but not cloying. 3.75/5

Overall: Acquiring older bottles often scares me due to the unknown factor and exponential importance of proper storage over time. I was surprised how well this beer was holding up given how over-the-hill the Unplugged Iced Barleywine was. While this beer is nothing overly complex, unique or epic in flavor, it is easy drinking and quite smooth. The sweetness here does not layer on the palate in a way that inhibits drinkability, and there is no booziness to speak of whatsoever. I am certainly glad to have finally ticked this one, but it is a not a must-try brew.

Cost: $5 for a 12 oz bottle. If you manage to find one these days, I doubt it will be that cheap.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Beer Review: Flying Jenny Extra Pale Ale

Reviewing the Flying Jenny Extra Pale Ale from Grey Sail Brewing Of Rhode Island out of Westerly, Rhode Island. Major thanks to Michael Y. for the hookup!

Score: 89

Unknown vintage can served in a Goose Island Chicago flag snifter and enjoyed on 08/01/13.

Appearance: Body is a nice dull orange color with a golden tint. Quite murky. Pours two fingers of frothy off-white head that settles to a thin layer with a nice lacing on the side of the glass. Excellent lacing, very good retention. 4.25/5

Smell: Cereal grain, dull orange citrus, grapefruit and mild piney hops. The grain aroma is more forward than I would like in a pale ale, but it is not offensive in the least -- just unexpected and not traditional for the style. A little floral-ness too. Very light on the nose. 3.5/5

Taste: The grain character here is substantially more mellow on the palate than the nose led on, and it is mostly contained towards the finish. Starts off with a nice bitter hop bite that is a little piney, a little grassy, but more “non-descriptly hoppy” bitter than either. Then orange rind and grapefruit. A light amount of grainy malt in the finish for balance, with a lingering bitterness. Quite refreshing, yet surprisingly bitter for a pale ale -- I guess that is why this one is an "extra" pale ale... 4/5

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied, maybe a little lighter than that. Feels a little spritzier on the palate than most pale ales, but in a good way here as this helps the bitter hoppiness pop on the palate. Dry finish. 4/5

Overall: Had low expectations for this given the grain-forward nose, but the flavor is where it counts most and this one delivers. Appetizingly bitter and flavorful for the style, even though it is not complex. Give this "something different" brew a whirl if you get the chance.

Cost: $9.49 for a six pack of 12 oz cans.