Friday, October 29, 2010

Bell's Special Double Cream Stout

Bell's Brewery in Kalamazoo, Michigan really knows how to make a stout...They have several famous dark brews in their offerings, including: Cherry Stout, Java Stout, Rye Stout, Smoked Stout, Kalamazoo Stout and Expedition Stout. But even with all of these different choices the smoothest beer of them all is this one...

Bell's Special Double Cream Stout is a Winter Seasonal brewed with a blend of 10 different malts. The beer is a dark brown with shimmers of ruby around the edges. The three-finger tan head of thick foam gives off an aroma of milk and chocolate.

The first taste of this beer is incredibly smooth - you would think this is a milk stout but there is no lactose in the ingredient list. The flavors build with roasty chocolate malt and some toffee. Rich, dark tastes give way to sweet malts and a creamy, velvety finish. I don't know how they get the flavors all in there, but this is a great beer!

Weihenstephaner Festbier

Wow...I can't believe it has been almost 10 day since I have posted! It feels kind of like I fell off the grid for a while...The good news is that I have still been sampling!

Part of the reason I disappeared for a while is a crazy bout of Bronchitis. The doc said I was about another day or two from Pneumonia - scary stuff! Unfortunately, feeling like you are trying to breathe through a snorkel doesn't translate to good reviews or much energy to do anything. I guess I will have to dig into the archives for this post.

Weihenstephaner Festbier is a clear, oily straw-yellow brew with a three-finger white head of large bubbles. The beer smells of pale and crystal malts and at first taste is crisp and a bit salty. It is very good and refreshing with slight bitterness in the finish. This brew is dangerously easy to drink at a deceiving 5.8% ABV - On a side note, there is SUCH a difference to an American-made fest beer and one from Germany...it really is kinda sad!

Weihenstephan is such a well renowned brewery I am sure to buy up everything they make. Did I mention there is a rumor that Sam Adams is collaborating with them on something coming out soon? Talk about a Super Beer!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Stoudts Oktober Fest

From the maker of the New York Times' #3 rated pale ale in the country, here is yet another Festival beer...and a good one at that! This brew has won 5 GABF awards and a World Beer Cup!

Stoudts Oktober Fest pours a yellow-orange color with a two-finger white head of small bubbles that fade quickly. The beer smells of pale and caramel malts and at first sip has a very bready taste - I can almost taste the flour!

There is very low bitterness to this brew and it has a nice, light mouthfeel - definitely one you could quaff for hours. A touch of sweetness gives way to a buttery, biscuity flavor with a slightly dry finish and no lingering aftertaste to speak of. This is a good beer, but probably not one that will stand out in the memory banks. Nothing wrong with downing 6-12 of them though!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Varities of Beer Chart

For those of you new to craft beer...here is a chart detailing the many varieties of brew out there. Looking at the blue tabs, you can find out what the technical description is of some of your favorite beer. If you get lost, don't feel too bad - I haven't even heard of some of these before!

Click to enlarge the chart. Courtesy of www.beer-universe.com

Great Divide Espresso Oak-Aged Yeti Imperial Stout

Two amazing breakfast stouts in two weeks! This incredible brew is made with Denver's own Pablo's Espresso, is aged over oak chips and was made specifically to go with your morning meal (pairing suggestion: Eggs Benedict and hash browns)!

I popped this bottle open late one Friday night and immediately thought how stupid I was to drink this before going to bed - it is a 22 oz.  bomber bottle of 9.5% ABV stout with espresso mixed in! I should have waited to crack it open in the morning!

Great Divide Espresso Oak-Aged Yeti Imperial Stout is a black stout with NO accent colors. It pours to a big, three-finger head of dense, dark brown foam. The brew smells like a dark chocolate cappuccino, and has the consistency of a melted Hershey bar - I could probably replace my 10w-30 with this stuff!

Each of the flavors in this beer are prominent; I can pick out the strong java and feel the caffeine coursing through my veins, taste the earthy oak influence and vanilla bean, and catch the roasted chocolate malt as it leaves an ashen, smoky flavor on my tongue in the finish. This is a complex and beautiful brew!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Dogfish Head Burton Baton

Another great, unique IPA - this time a "two-thread blend of young and oak-aged Imperial IPA," weighing in at 10% ABV and 70 IBUs. That sounds awfully similar to the way they blend Scotch Whiskey!

Dogfish Head Burton Baton is a dark, hazy, golden-orange colored brew that pours to a two-finger off-white head of foam. The beer smells of floral and citrusy hops, and at first taste there is a LOT of grapefruit.

After a bit of warming alcohol you can definitely taste the oak - it adds a very unique flavor from the cask that can't be mimicked. This full-bodied beer is made up of a good base of roasted malts and finishes with some crisp bitterness and is a bit dry. Great beer!

Flying Dog 20th Anniversary Raging Bitch (2010)

I am not usually much of a wine drinker, but having missed all three of our local beer festivals this summer I figured a day out with some sun, music and vino would be a welcomed Saturday out. So, my wife, daughter and I packed up the car yesterday and headed out to the 20th Anniversary of the Virginia Garlic & Wine Festival at Rebec Vineyards in Amherst County.

Turns out, after a straight week of perfect high 60s-to-low 70s weather, Saturday had to be a glaring 87 degrees! Not to mention having to fight the nearly 12,000 people in constant lines for sub-par tastings and over-priced food vendors...

Needless to say, after roughly 8 hours of uncomfortable heat, cold food, a non-existent buzz and dealing with stinky (it is a GARLIC festival), irritating strangers I was ready to get home and crack open a beer!

And what beer would be more fitting than to celebrate with another celbrating its 20th Anniversary!

Flying Dog 20th Anniversary Raging Bitch is a 8.3% ABV Belgian-style IPA. This is a golden-amber colored brew with a two-finger off-white head of big lacy bubbles. The beer smells of spicy Belgian yeast and floral hops with some fruity esters.

This medium-bodied beer is full on flavor, with bready malts making up the texture. At first sip you can taste warming, spicy character from the yeast and hops with a biting, bitter finish. I was completely surprised that I was able to find this brew for less than $2 at my local craft beer shop! This is Flying Dog's best brew by far!!!

The description on the bottle's label says it all, "It's cruel to keep a wild animal locked up. Uncap it!"

Victory Saison du BUFF

I am noticing a trend in brewing that has really picked up over the past year and has got me very excited - collaboration beers! US craft brewers are pairing up with each other, and with brewers overseas for fun in effort to promote non-traditional styles, or to come up with the next big unique brew.

This beer is the third and final release from a threesome of America's best-known craft brewers: Stone Brewing, Dogfish Head and Victory. These guys teamed up to create the Brewers United for Freedom of Flavor (much cooler than the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or the SuperFriends...) and developed plans for a single brew, created with the same recipe and ingredients to be released from each brewery independently.

Victory Saison du BUFF is a 6.8% ABV brew that is hazy gold in color and pours to a two-finger head of small white bubbles. The beer certainly appears to be based on wheat malt, judging by look and smell. There are also aromas of citrus and heavy earthy and herbal notes.

This beer is brewed with sage, pickled rosemary and other herbs, which is easily noticeable in the first sip. There is an oily texture to the brew that is derived from the hops, which also provide some flavor of grapefruit and spicy character.

Having now tried several different beers brewed with flora and fauna, I wonder why they are not incorporated more often! The right herbal content really can produce some wonderful flavors and this beer is a prime example...I loved it!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Founders Breakfast Stout

Oh. My. God.

I'm Speechless.

Give me a minute...

If God rained down mana from heaven, this would be the beer to pair with it! I mean it - this might be the best beer I have ever sampled, out of over 550+ other brews to compare it against. Remember my post on Guinness Extra Stout? Forgetaboutit...

Founders Breakfast Stout is a self-proclaimed, "double chocolate coffee oatmeal stout." This brew is black as night - I can't see through it AT ALL - with a three-finger dark tan (almost purple) head of small bubbles. The beer smells of java and chocolate, but has some spicy aroma as if hot sauce was mixed in while brewing...

This stout weighs in at a staggering 8.3% ABV - a bit high compared to most stouts - but the real surprise is the knockout 60 IBU rating. Could there be anything more perfect than a hoppy, bitter stout?

At first taste I am convinced this is the king of all dark beer...I love EVERYTHING about it: the heavy taste of espresso from the Kona and Sumatra coffees, the sweet chocolate accents, the spice, the creamy texture and of course the intense hop bitterness in the finish. We might joke about this being called a "Breakfast Stout", but I could literally imagine this beer pairing beautifully with a nice spiced-up omelette!

If I could get my hands on more of this stuff I would buy it by the case...Do yourself a favor and find some - Now!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Schloss-Eggenberg Hopfenkonig Pils

This was a first for me...I sampled this import from Austria in the same month it was bottled!

The brew also had a very unique feature that I had never come across before, its own bottle opener built into the cap! Why haven't any other breweries figured this out in the 2,000 plus years beer has been bottled?!

Schloss-Eggenberg Hopfenkonig Pils is a clear, straw colored brew with a three-finger white head of lace. This pilsner has been produced in a twelth-century castle since 1681, and it is from one of the oldest breweries in Austria. The beer smells a bit skunky and of steamed vegetables, but there is a bit of floral hoppiness as well.

The flavor of this beer is light but delicious. The malt and hops are well balanced, and there is some biscuit in the finish. This type of beer is not normally my cup of tea - especially in a green bottle - but it came highly recommended and was definitely worth the try!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Firestone-Walker Union Jack IPA

A 7.5% ABV IPA from a brewer whose motto is, "Passion for the Pale"...I must be in heaven! I previously reviewed F-W's Double Barrel Ale, their flagship, but this beer has definitely stolen my heart!

Firestone-Walker Union Jack IPA is an apricot colored brew with a two-finger off-white head of dense foam. The beer has perhaps one of the most intensely smelling hop (grassy & floral) aromas I have ever come across!

At first taste this brew is incredibly bitter and citrusy, a real man's IPA! It punches you in the throat with dry-hopped flavor and aroma and is just plain delicious. I feel like I am eating hop flowers that still have the fresh resin on them! The bitter is followed by some truly unique flavors; there are complex malts and a bit of nuttiness, some spicy hops and a bit of tropical fruit in the finish (is that pineapple and papaya?) - To me this is the IPA to beat!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Samuel Smith's India Ale

The third, and last, of the SS brews I picked up...What a great IPA from the country that introduced them to the world!

Also feels kind of fitting that I sampled this beer watching Simon Pegg's hilarious movie, "How to Lose Friends and Alienate People"...Funny how I can always find a stereotype!

Samuel Smith's India Ale is a deep bronze colored brew with a two-finger off-white head of lace. The beer smells of caramel malt and citrusy hops and at first sample is very well balanced for an IPA.

Of course it still leans heavily towards the bitter side, but the malts add a ton of texture and darker flavor. A nice, bready finish with some lingering bitterness caps off a fine example of UK craftsmanship!

Samuel Smith's Yorkshire Stingo

This brew was a cool pick-up...I was completely surprised that the small little craft beer store in my town was able to get a few bottles of this stuff, but I guess it just speaks to the commitment and knowledge of the staff at Ned's Beer & Wine!

Samuel Smith's Yorkshire Stingo is a bottle-conditioned strong ale (9% ABV) aged in an oak ale cask for over a year. It is limited to only 2,000 cases a year, released on August 1 annually - this is a 2009 edition.

The beer is a dark caramel color with a two-finger off-white head of dense foam. It smells like the dried dates that I used to get at the Farmer's Market in Southern California - a very sweet, fruity aroma similar to raisins.

This brew at first taste has a very malty, full body with flavors of sweet toffee and some boozy warmth. The addition that the oak casks give the beer is outstanding - it provides an earthy base to the complexity of fruit, sweet malts and spicy notes.

This beer is incredible! I am kicking myself that I didn't buy a second bottle to let age appropriately...

Samuel Smith's Taddy Porter

How can you NOT love a brewery as old and well known as Samuel Smith's? They ferment their yeast in open stone Yorkshire squares, and this particular beer is brewed using well water from a well that was sunk in 1758!

Samuel Smith's Taddy Porter is a dark brown ale with crimson accents and a thick, foamy three-finger head of tiny bubbles that rise up almost an inch out of the glass. The beer smells of chocolate and toffee and the roasted malts are AMAZING from the first sip to the last.

Full-bodied and smooth, the beer's flavor contains chocolate, smoked peat and bitter espresso in the very dry finish. So glad I picked up all three offerings from Samuel Smith's that were in stock at the store!

Mendocino Brewing Black Hawk Stout

The weather is getting colder and for me that means an increase in the amount of dark brews that will be on rotation in my fridge. In the past few weeks I have had the opportunity to sample some of the best stouts, porters and strong ales since I started drinking craft beer (previous post excluded)! I will focus on getting the reviews out on these beers this week, and welcome your thoughts on them and suggestions on what to try next!

Mendocino Brewing Black Hawk Stout is a black brew with a one-finger tan head of small bubbles. This beer smells strongly of milk chocolate and is a bit light in mouthfeel for a stout. However, the beer is flavorful and crisp with great roasted smoky flavor and semi-sweet chocolate, and some hop bitterness for complexity.

This stout is very easy drinking for a traditionally fuller-bodied beer style - I could drink this all night long! The finish and aftertaste are a little bitter, but not too harsh to where it makes me shy away from the next sip. Good brew!

Cape Ann Brewing Fisherman's Pumpkin Stout

If you follow this blog at all, you can tell that I am a big fan of stouts and porters...and with my most recent posts you can gather that I enjoy a good pumpkin beer as well, so this should pair the best of both worlds - right? Definitely NOT.

Cape Ann Brewing Fisherman's Pumpkin Stout is a black colored brew with ruby tinges, and pours like a flat cola - straight pour and there is literally no head. The aroma is also far from appetizing - call me crazy but the way the ingredients blended make this beer smell a little fishy...

The lack of carbonation in this brew lends to an odd mouthfeel, it tastes flat but is still flavorful. I wish I could say the flavor was enjoyable...There is obviously some pumpkin and nutmeg in there, but I feel like they completely missed the mark. The flavors and textures just don't seem to meld well together; the dark roasted chocolate malt doesn't go with the spices, and the flat mouthfeel that is usually good with a pumpkin beer is too thin for a stout.

Unfortunately, this is strike 2 for Cape Ann with me...but don't just take my word for it - try it yourself and let me know if you disagree!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale

The most intense of the pumpkin brews I have tried, this beer should step up the game of seasonal brewers everywhere!

Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale is a ruby colored brew with a two-finger, off-white head of foam and weighs in at 8% ABV. The head pours like a nitro, with the telltale "swirling clouds" that take a minute to settle.

This brew has an aroma mysteriously like bubble gum - no kidding, it seriously smells like Bazooka or Double Bubble! However, that changes after the first sip...This beer is spicy!

I read the label and pick up the spices: cinnamon - check, nutmeg - check...but there's more. Cardamom and cloves? I have never ever heard of cardamom before - but these herbs and spices add some serious complexity to a brew that already has a lot going on. Good pumpkin flavor, but then sweet malt and these amzazing spices make for a truly unique and wonderful beer!

New Holland Ichabod Pumpkin Ale

Now that October is finally here, it means that another set of Fall-themed brews are getting pumped into circulation - Pumpkin ales. I previously sampled Brooklyn's Post Road Pumpkin Ale, but now I have access to several more from this season.

I am a big fan of these beers because they usually include some good spicy character, but I have found that they can be pretty easy to screw up. Brewers need to carefully balance the pumpkin, malt and spice ingredients to avoid going to far in any one direction. Fortunately, this turned out to be one of the better samples of the season!

New Holland Ichabod Pumpkin Ale is a clear, copper colored brew with a two-finger head of off-white fizz that fades to a small ring. The beer smells VERY heavily of the spices involved, noticeably cinnamon and nutmeg.  At first sip, the cinnamon is the most prevalent characteristic - it makes the brew a little spicy which I enjoy tremendously!

This brew is medium-bodied with some awesome malt and biscuity flavoring, and light hop bitterness. You can actually taste the pumpkin meat in the beer, which is normally hit-or-miss...A lot of times the pumpkin tastes fake from artificial flavoring or late addition. This one tastes just like pumpkin pie - I wish I had some cool whip!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Oktoberfest Battle Royale!

As Munich just celebrated the 200th Anniversary of the World's Greatest Beer Gathering, Oktoberfest, I thought it would be fitting to sample a few of these Autumn themed brews from some of my favorite breweries.

These were not all sampled in one day, so I believe I can adequately portray the qualities of each in their own unique experience...

First on the list was Victory Festbier, a clear amber colored brew with a one-finger, white head of small bubbles that settle into a ring. The brew smells like a buttered biscuit with fruit jam, and at first taste is full of rich, roasted malts.

I sampled this brew on Sunday afternoon watching NFL football games and eating fried chicken from Bojangles...yeah, I know - makings of a GREAT day! I settled in with this smoky, sweet craft beer that is full-flavored but only medium-bodied and thoroughly enjoyed it all the way to the kiss of hops in the finish!

Next is Brooklyn Brewery's Oktoberfest, a clear, bronze-amber colored brew with a two-finger head of off-white small bubbles. The beer smells of lightly roasted malt, and it has been aged since March in the traditional Marzen style making it incredibly smooth!

I am in love with the Fall where I live in Virginia, with the weather finally cooling down and the leaves beginning to change color on the Blue Ridge Mountains...it makes me want to go hiking and camping - and drink maltier beers! These brews are just perfect for the time of year and Brooklyn has been one of my go-to brewers for several years now. This beer is a bit lighter than the Victory, but is just as full of delicious malt flavor! Hey Brooklyn - I'm still on the lookout for your Local 2, Black Ops and Buzz Bomb!

Then we have Shmaltz' Coney Island Freaktoberfest, by far the wildest of the brews in this category. This beer is blood red in color with a two-finger, fizzy strawberry colored head of small bubbles. The concoction smells malty, but I was expecting a more fruity aroma based on the color.

I picture this brew being more of a Halloween-inspired beer than Oktoberfest...For example, the beer is brewed with 6 different malts, 6 different hops, and bears a 6.66% ABV weight (it takes some serious science to be able to carefully craft it to hit that exactly!). The Alstrom brothers at BeerAdvocate.com had this to say - "Gimmicky or good? Both! This is a fun, offbeat and tasty lager". Who am I to disagree?

This beer is smooth and creamy, but the alcohol content tastes a bit heavier than it is. The maltiness is very different in this one - its not really sweet, but not a traditional roasted flavor either...I can't quite put my finger on it. Still a very good beer!

Last, but not least, we have a more traditional approach to a fest bier...Spaten Oktoberfest. I had a feeling that after sampling this brew the others from the US would seem a bit subpar - I was right! This beer comes straight from Munich, and is one of the ACTUAL brews served in the huge brew halls and tents. It has been produced in Germany since 1397! I feel like I should have been drinking it out a a giant Krug glass (dimpled mug), personally delivered by a busty fest hall fraulein!

The beer is a deep, burnt gold color with a three-finger, foamy white head of lace. It smells a little skunky - but not unpleasant - and mainly of pale and crystal malts with some light hopping. First sip and I could drink this beer all day...straight from the tap. Great flavors that are not too heavy, not outstanding with any specific ingredients dominating the palate, but just right!