Friday, February 28, 2014

Beer Review: Bourbon Barrel Aged Beer Geek Vanilla Shake

Reviewing the Bourbon Barrel Aged Beer Geek Vanilla Shake from Mikkeller out of Copenhagen, Denmark. This is their delectable Beer Geek Vanilla Shake aged for eight months in a second-use bourbon barrel. Same label as the regular version, distinguished only by the dull golden/dijon mustard colored wax.

Score: 100

2014 vintage bottle served in a stemmed Mikkeller taster glass and enjoyed on 02/16/14. Review is from iPhone notes

Appearance: Pours a deep brown coffee color that is practically black. Not much head or retention lacing/froth-wise, but swirling this beer browns the side of the glass more than Bourbon County Brand Stout and leaves behind big oily legs and a mysterious milled oats-like residue on the sides of the glass. 5/5

Smell: HUGE vanilla here, with ample fudge/chocolate brownie notes too. Molassses undertones, and only a light amount of "straight bourbon" in the aroma. There is a good roastiness present, and a little bit of spent coffee grounds too. The fudge and vanilla and roast are quite bold, and in perfect harmony. This smells like a roasty Bourbon Barrel Aged Vanilla Bean Dark Lord! 5/5

Taste: This beer is best described as a roasty Bourbon Barrel Aged Vanilla Bean Dark Lord with a lovely underlying bitterness rather than decadent sweetness. Dark chocolate and roast upfront, followed by a huge wave of mashmallowy vanilla flavor and then finishing with a strong cocoa and light coffee bitterness that linger with the vanilla and add great balance. As with the nose, there is a subtle and complementary molasses and bourbon flavored backbone that accentuates the chocolate and vanilla here. Hints of coconut too. As the beer warms up, a little oak flavor develops towards the finish and a big fudge flavor comes out of the woodwork. So much going on, so balanced, so well integrated. 5/5

Mouthfeel: Full bodied, low carbonation. Sweetness and roastiness upfront, with a strong and delectable balancing bitterness towards the finish. Creamy, viscous mouthfeel. 5/5

Overall: Ungodly expensive, but worth every penny. This is Bourbon Barrel Aged Vanilla Bean Dark Lord (BVDL) junior, with a great underlying bitterness that makes the bottle dangerously (and selfishly) drinkable. The non-barrel aged version of this beer was great, but the barrel aging takes this beer to a whole 'nother level. This is easily a top five overall stout, quality-wise capable of going punch-for-punch in a blind tasting with the likes of BVDL, Kentucky Breakfast Brunch Stout (KBBS), Rare Bourbon County Stout, and Barrel Aged Abraxas. Although the price is hefty, I justified buying several after sampling this bottle because (1) most people who would seek out a bottle of BVDL, myself included, would jump at a $70 bottle of BVDL in a heartbeat considering that its a $50 bottle retail, and (2) I am happy to pay a premium to have two 12 oz bottles that can be consumed at separate points in time rather than one 750 ml or 22 oz bottle that is a one-and-done. Mikkeller (allegedly) only bottled a couple hundred bottles from this batch, but there are still a handful available for sale on their website. Order one now, while you still can, and do not look at the billing receipt after placing your order -- you'll thank me later, even if your wife monitors your credit card statements.

Cost: $35 (shipped) for a 12 oz bottle.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Beer Review: Vanilla Bean Abraxas

Reviewing the Vanilla Abraxas from Perennial Artisan Ales out of St. Louis, Missouri. This is Abraxas with substantially more vanilla beans added.

Score: 91

Tap pour served in a snifter glass and enjoyed on 11/15/13. Review is from iPhone notes

Appearance: Inky black body with a thin layer of tan/khaki head that was lighter in color than the Coffee Abraxas was side-by-side. Great lacing and retention. 5/5

Smell: Very fresh vanilla bean and marshmallow forward aroma. Also present are chocolate and cinnamon/spice in substantially lesser quantum than the vanilla notes. The cinnamon/spice is muted in comparison to Coffee Abraxas, and virtually nonexistent relative to the base beer. This is beer does not scream "hey, I am a variation of Abraxas" but nonetheless features an enticing aroma. Notes of caramel and brown sugar too. Very nice. 4.5/5

Taste: Like the nose, the vanilla character dominates the taste. Cinnamon flavor is present in greater quantity than the nose led on, but no pepper spiciness to be found. Chocolate and brown sugar notes too. The taste is quite solid, but it's less integrated than the nose. Further, I found the beer to be bit overpoweringly sweet and a touch boozy relative to the base beer and coffee variant. Although tasty, I admittedly struggled to finish my 8 oz pour without feeling full. 3.75/5

Mouthfeel: Full bodied, spot on carbonation. Creamy and slick mouthfeel, though seemingly less creamy than Coffee Abraxas. Sweet, but not quite "Dark Lord sweet." 4/5

Overall: Good, not great, and a far cry from Abraxas/Barrel Aged Abraxas/Coffee Abraxas in quality. In fact, there is very little "Abraxas" about this beer outside the cinnamon. One of the best qualities about regular Abraxas is how balanced it is, and here the added vanilla comes at the expense, for the worst, of the other ingredients and is just too dominant in my opinion. What's left by the tinkering of this variant is a solid vanilla stout with a cinnamon twist, but certainly not an improvement upon one of the best stouts out there.

Cost: $10 for an 8 oz glass.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Beer Review: Vanilla Baume (Firkin Version)

Reviewing the Vanilla Baume from Half Acre Brewing Company out of Chicago, Illinois.

Score: 92

Firkin Friday release! Served in a pint glass and enjoyed on 02/21/14. Review is from iPhone notes.

Appearance: Pours a deep brown chocolate bar color that is "muddy" and mostly opaque. Served with a thin layer of khaki head that slowly settles to a ring around the glass. Average lacing and retention. 4/5

Smell: Vanilla cupcakes, milk chocolate and marshmallows! There is a nice light roastiness and a hint of coffee grounds present too. Mild spice/grain. Lots of vanilla and chocolate present in the nose, with everything in an enticing balance with each other. 4.5/5

Taste: The taste is a lot more malt/grain flavor forward than the nose, and the chocolate and vanilla notes are substantially dialed down relative to aroma as well. This brew has a nice, but not overpowering, rye spice sharpness and mild hop flavor towards the finish with a good bitterness. The vanilla character on the palate is very muted. Finishes with a lingering bitterness and residual bakers chocolate flavor. 4/5

Mouthfeel: Medium/medium-light bodied, minimal carbonation. Surprisingly creamy and velvety smooth mouthfeel for a thinner bodied beer. I like the bitterness, which greatly adds to this brew's drinkability in my opinion. Most vanilla beers tend to be quite sweet -- layering in a filling way and becoming difficult to drink past the 12 oz mark. 4.25/5

Overall: Smells fantastic, tastes good, and has a great mouthfeel despite being a firkin beer with a thinner body. With a little tweaking to get the quality of the taste to approach the quality of the nose, Half Acre would have a true home run with this one. Nonetheless enjoyed thoroughly, and I ordered a second glass when finished.

Cost: $5 for a 13 oz pint.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Beer Review: Double BBA 6 Pairs of Legs Maple Porter

Reviewing the Double BBA 6 Pairs of Legs Maple Porter from Dark Horse Brewing Company out of Marshall, Michigan. This beer is billed on the label as a "maple porter made with Dark Horse Syrup Co. maple syrup and aged in a bourbon barrel and then aged in a bourbon barrel that had maple syrup aged in it."

Score: 85

December 2013 release. Served in an O'so snifter and enjoyed on 02/12/14.

Appearance: Deep brown, almost black in color. Pours a thin coating of light khaki head that quickly settles to a ring around the glass. Poor lacing, okay retention, average oily legs. 3.75/5

Smell: Maple, brown sugar, bourbon, light alcohol esters and subtle notes of vanilla and oak. Chocolate pudding towards the end of the whiff too. The oak and vanilla characters develop a slightly vegetal twang as this beer warms up. 3.5/5

Taste: Boozy, no vegetal flavor. Brown sugar forward bourbon, lots of oak, chocolate, and vanilla. Has a very mild sweet maple backbone. The maple is not nearly as prominent as you would expect from a maple porter finished in maple bourbon barrels. Very fiery out of the gate. Integration is mediocre, though there are some delicious pieces present. Maybe time will mellow this out into something more seamless? Finishes with a nice residual mix of chocolate and maple. 3.5/5

Mouthfeel: Not quite full bodied, low carbonation. Dry, sticky finish. Has a sweetness that is balanced by an underlying bitterness and booziness. 4.25/5

Overall: This bottle tasted much better than the pour I had at FOBAB, but it ultimately does not live up to its appetizing description. The maple flavor is nice, but way too subtle for a beer made with maple and finished in maple-bourbon barrels. I could see this one getting better with time given how rough-around-the-edges it is.

Cost: $8 for a 12 oz bottle.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Beer Review: Bourbon Barrel Aged Mayan Mocha Stout

Reviewing the Bourbon Barrel Aged Mayan Mocha Stout from from Odd Side Ales out of Grand Haven, Michigan. This beer is a stout with coffee, cinnamon, nutmeg and habanero peppers that is aged in bourbon barrels.

Score: 80

2014 vintage bottle served in a Surly Darkness chalice and enjoyed on 02/10/14.

Appearance: Black bodied, opaque. Pours a finger-plus of khaki head that settles to a ring around the glass. Decent lacing and retention. 4/5

Smell: Huge on the cinnamon and nutmeg spice character, plus brown sugar and an accent of vanilla. There is also cocoa, habanero pepper and a hint of pineapple creeping in the background, but the nose is mostly about the spice. If you added some peppermint to the mix, then this beer would smell like Christmastime in the kitchen. No coffee character whatsoever. 4.25/5

Taste: The taste is a lot more mellow than the nose led on. My first impression is "nutmeg hot cocoa made with too much hot water (instead of milk) and allowed to sit out until fully cooled", followed by a touch of habanero flavor mixed with a dash of cinnamon towards the finish and a very mild warming sensation thereafter. No coffee in the taste either. The habanero pepper flavor and "warmth" (there is no prickly heat with this beer, like there is with Space Ghost or Mexican Cake, but it does have a little consistent liveliness on the top of the tongue) mildly layers, but as this happens the flavor profile disjoints somewhat -- which is to say the integration on this beer starts off mediocre and only gets worse from there. No bourbon barrel character to speak of whatsoever. 3/5

Mouthfeel: Thin bodied, minimal carbonation. Has a light creaminess to the mouthfeel, but it's mostly just watery. Decent pepper warmth, but no real kick or spiciness here. 2/5

Overall: I love barrel aged stouts where the stout is not overwhelmed by the barrel aging process (e.g., 1414 and the latest batch of Damon), but the bourbon barrel character on this beer is so practically non-existant that it might as well not be barrel aged at all. The nose led off with a lot of promise, but the taste is relatively bland, poorly integrated and the mouthfeel would make Satin Solstice feel like Bourbon County Brand Stout. Odd Side Ales makes some interesting beers that have caught my interest and intrigue, but they still need to do some serous tinkering on the recipe/cellaring process for this one in my opinion so that the taste and mouthfeel are worthy of the inviting aroma.

Cost: $12.99 for a four pack.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Beer Review: Norm (2013 vintage)

Reviewing Norm from Wormtown Brewing Company out of Worcester, Massachusetts. Norm is an oatmeal stout brewed with cacao nibs and toasted coconut.

Score: 84

Fall 2013 vintage bottle served in a Hopslam snifter and enjoyed on 02/06/14.

Appearance: Pours a dark chocolate color with less than a finger of tan head off the pour. Solid, but unspectacular lacing and retention. 3.75/5

Smell: On the colder side, the aroma is very milky. Coconut milk with a hint of chocolate is the best characterization. As it warms up, however, the milkiness fades substantially and a roastiness comes through as the chocolate character also amplifies. By room temperature, the beer exudes the aroma of a freshly baked chocolate covered toasted coconut macaroon. At no point in the nose complex, but it's quite effective in its simplicity as it warms up. 4.75/5

Taste: The taste, unfortunately, has an opposite development as the aroma. At first, right out of the fridge, its a nice and creamy blend of toasted coconut and milk chocolate. However, as it warms up, it starts to taste a bit blander, with a 2% milk flavor upfront and a distinct metallic flavor in the finish. Like the nose, the taste is not very complex. 3/5

Mouthfeel: Super creamy mouthfeel, with a good viscosity. The carbonation level here is nice, although maybe a touch overdone. Nice balance overall on the flavor profile. 4.25/5

Overall: A nice beer that smells downright amazing as it sits out for a little bit, but falls apart taste-wise the more that it breathes and warms. I like the concept of this beer, and the nose and initial flavor are proof that it has a lot of potential, but the execution was lackluster and the metallic finish was a real turn off. My other bottle, which may have been from a different batch, was much worse and tasted like 2% milk and metal right out of the gate. Even at the nice price point I likely will not seek this one out again unless they can fix whatever is making this bottle have a metallic flavor.

Cost: $6 for a 22 oz (bomber) bottle.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Beer Review: Space Ghost

Reviewing Space Ghost from Central Waters Brewing Company out of Amherst, Wisconsin.

Score: 95

November 2013 vintage bottle. Served in a Hopslam snifter and enjoyed on 02/03/13.

Appearance: Black body. Pours a finger and a half of khaki head that settles down to a nice ring around the glass. Awesome lacing and retention. Really gorgeous stout. 5/5

Smell: Huge milk chocolate notes here. I could smell lots of chocolate from the moment I removed the bottle cap. Mild roast, a little bit of what can only be described as a vanilla cake like aroma, and spicy pepper notes too. Some dark fruit comes out as it warms up. Dark chocolate and burnt brown sugar too. Everything melds so wonderfully here. 4.75/5

Taste: Loads of milk chocolate and notes of dark chocolate, followed by the ghost pepper. This beer has a nice and bold spicy kick that dances on the tongue and lingers, either gradually fading or layering in intensity depending on how you space your sips. More dark fruit is present in the taste than it was in the nose, but the dark fruit character is still pretty muted overall. A touch of roast too. As the beer warms up, it gains a little more complexity - notes of caramel, coffee, and more dark chocolate come through towards the finish. No vanilla or vanilla cake flavor, which is a little bit of a let down after being teased a promise of such by the nose. All the complexities mix nicely. I particularly like how the dark chocolate comes through and plays with the spiciness in the finish as it warms; it reminds me of the high percentage cacao chocolates with chili peppers that I enjoy eating. There is also a touch of alcohol heat that is well-masked by the chili heat. 4.75/5

Mouthfeel: Sadly, like many Central Waters stouts other than 1414 (which is bizarre, considering that 1414 is barrel aged Satin Solstice), the body on this one lacks the heft it demands and deserves. Medium-light bodied, good carbonation. A little creamy, a little slick. Lightly dry towards the finish. Excellent spiciness. 3.5/5

Overall: But for the fact that this beer lacks a mouthfeel that is as substantial as its aroma and taste, it would be better than Hunahpu's. While I thought the tap version was marginally better than the bottle due to a seemingly better mouthfeel, I did not think that the bottle fell substantially short of the tap version of this beer unlike others claimed. Maybe there is some bottle variation at play? Either way, at $7 for a 22 oz bottle, you can't go wrong. If you like chocolate with peppers or are seeking a chili stout with more spiciness than Hunahpu's or Mexican Cake, then this is your beer. I really hope Central Waters brews this one again (and again and again and again)!

Cost: $7 for a 22 oz (bomber) bottle.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Beer Review: Elisa5beth

Reviewing the Elisa5beth from Prairie Artisan Ales out of Krebs, Oklahoma.

Score: 92

Fall 2013 release. Served in an O'so snifter and enjoyed on 01/28/13.

Appearance: Pours a murky golden lemon color with just under a finger of white head that settles to a perpetual quarter finger layer. Very good lacing and retention. 4/5

Smell: Big, ripe peaches. Behind that is restrained brett and a little straw flavor. A hint of floral hops, lemon and white grapes. A touch of spice too. Quite effervescent on the nose. Nice mix of aromatics here, and the restrained brett character really helps the peach shine here. 4.25/5

Taste: Ripe peach boldly comes across, unlike beers like Fantasia or Peach 'N Brett. Nice stone fruit flavor with a light tartness. Just like the nose, the straw and brett is very restrained. A little fruitiness too. A touch of white wine-like character comes across as well. This is what I expected Saison Brett to taste like, but with a big peach twist. Quite refreshing. 4/5

Mouthfeel: Light bodied, very highly carbonated. Light tartness accentuated by the carbonation. Juicy mouthfeel with a nicely mildly dry finish. Very modest tartness. 4/5

Overall: Prairie makes a lot of tasty high carbonation saisons with a restrained brett character, and this one is one of my favorites of that group thanks to a deliciously bold peach flavor. If only more beers in this style tasted like this...Skip Fantasia and Peach 'N Brett and seek this one out if you're looking for lots of peach flavor in your saison.

Cost: $10 for a 500 ml bottle.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Beer Review: On The Wings Of Armageddon

Reviewing the On The Wings Of Armageddon from DC Brau Brewing Company from Washington D.C.

Score: 96

Unknown vintage can, though it is presumably the freshest release knowing the generous gentlemen who sent me the brew (thank you Edgar!). Served in an O'so snifter and enjoyed on 01/28/14. Review is from iPhone notes.

Appearance: Orange color body that is not see through. Pours a finger of cream color head that settles to a thin coating and thick ring around the glass. Amazing lacing and retention. 4.5/5

Smell: Muted citrus, big, resinous hops, pine sap, orange, and earthy spice. Dank. A big dose of grassy pine and tropical citrus comes through much more as the beer warms up. 4.75/5

Taste: Resinous, slightly dank, and bitter, with a big malt backbone that does not overwhelm. Orange rind, tangerine, earthy spice, grassiness and pine. A little lemon and a touch of wood-like flavor too, though that may be the piney hops. Has a thick, honey-like sweetness on the midpalate and then a big, scorchingly bitter finish. Hugely resinous. Gets a little more citrusy when its warms up, and a little less bitter on the finish. 4.5/5

Mouthfeel:  Medium-full bodied, spot on carbonation. Oily moutheel. Malty, bitter with a little sweetness in the middle. 4.5/5

Overall: This one is tasty, but it scorches the palate a bit and is not the most sessionable due to its viscosity and malty sweet backbone. This one is quite the delicious drink in single servings, however. From a bitter hop kick standpoint, this beer reminds me of what Hopslam used to taste like several years back (at least based on my imperfect recollection), albeit with a different hop profile. This is one of the more must-try IPA out there.

Cost: $20 for a six pack of 12 oz cans.