Friday, February 25, 2011

$30 Giveaway from CSN Stores!

Yesterday I was contacted by CSN Stores, an online retailer of over 200+ stores that provide name-brand products at significant mark-downs. They were responding to my search for beer-related merchandisers that I could review or offer their products as a giveaway on the site.

CSN agreed to allow me to offer a $30 gift certificate in support of the site (and of course for a little promotion of their own!). The awesome bonus of this offer is that the certificate can be used at ANY of their online stores, so it can be unrelated to beer if there is something else you need - maybe like one of these awesome flat panel tv stands? (They do offer beer memorabilia and merchandise as well)

Most of the products on their sites also offer free shipping, which will help extend the value of this giveaway even further! What are you waiting for!?

Oh yeah, the details...

GIVEAWAY: In order to enter to win this awesome prize the rules are simple:
1). You need to follow me on Twitter
2). "Like" the Stay Thirsty Page on Facebook
3). Follow the site through Google Connect or Networked Blogs (linked from site)

Comment on this post, and please include your Twitter name or follow name. Let me know if you just followed or have already been checking out the site!

All entries are due by Monday, February 28th at 11:59 PM, and the winner will be randomly selected and posted on the site sometime on Tuesday, March 1st. Good luck!

Stone Cali-Belgie IPA

When trying to determine what style of beer to brew for our first batch, the choice was surprisingly easy - albeit a somewhat brazen pick.

The choice was basically made for us when a couple of weeks ago, Dick and I split a bomber of a brew he had picked up from one of my favorite breweries, Stone. The label was a little more extravagant than some of their others, and the name intrigued me.

Stone Cali-Belgie IPA is a 6.9% ABV, clear, lemon-colored brew with a three-finger, rocky, cream head of foam. The painted on label features what appears to be a chipped-marble background with script writing and the gargoyle logo.

The beer smells of spicy and grassy hops, not dissimilar to most other Stone offerings, but the big difference is the evidence of Belgian yeast. The melding of aggressively bitter and aromatic American Columbus, Chinook and Centennial hops with this sweet, spicy and savory yeast is nothing short of a masterpiece. Citrusy and spicy with essences of clove and cinnamon, this brew is intensely flavorful but still delicate. The finish is slightly warming and very dry with lingering piney hops. Incredible!

There is a reason we chose this brew to emulate...


About three years ago now, I had a bunch of people over for a Super Bowl party and after partaking in several brews I announced my intentions to one day brew my own beer. Of course that was followed by comments explaining dreams of starting a brewery, becoming filthy rich and taking over the world...You know, kinda like Sam Calagione or Jim Koch!

It seems like it has been an eternity since that day, but the first part of that dream is finally being realized. Last night marked Day One in the homebrew adventure, and who better to have alongside than Tom and Dick!

Part of the reason it has taken so long to see this through is that the idea of brewing/storing equipment in the house has been a sore subject for my wife. I don't blame her...she is currently 7 months pregnant and has a superhuman sense of smell, and she has also heard the worse-case stories of exploding bottles and wallpaper peeling off the walls. Fortunately, Dick volunteered to host our exploits at his house, thus bypassing the final hindrance from beginning our endeavor!

Looking back at last night, I could not have asked for a better first experience. We picked up all of the equipment at a local supply shop, Pints O'Plenty, where the owner will actually come out and help you brew your first batch. I am not ignorant to the brewing process, but last night Doug gave us a four hour Chemistry lesson the likes of which could not be rivaled if the instructor were Louis Pasteur!

Lets talk about Doug John for a minute - This guy is not your run-of-the-mill shop owner. Doug has been brewing beer for over 21 years, and in 1999 won a National Championship from the American Homebrewers Association. He is also a very down-to-earth guy with a great sense of humor and a passion for homebrewing that is unmatched. How lucky are we that this guy lives here in Central Virginia and owns a homebrew shop about 5 minutes from Dick's house!

The actual brewing itself was awesome. Doug walked us through every step: sanitation, "mashing in" by steeping the grains and hop addition, cooling the wort, yeast, and talked us through the primary and secondary phases of fermentation through to bottling.

We had decided on a lofty beer to emulate, one of our favorites - Stone Cali-Belgie IPA (review coming soon). Doug's experience truly came out when, in the midst of adding the hops, he changed the pre-set recipe for addition to spaced out intervals. It immediately occurred to me what he was doing - many IPAs continuously add hops, it is what makes Dogfish Head's 60, 90 and 120 minute IPA so great - but by simply following the recipe this would have been lost.

Overall, this was an incredible evening which will now be repeated approximately every month! I will keep you all updated as things progress, and we welcome comments, suggestions and personal stories as we journey into this new territory.

P.S. - If you have any ideas for a name for this brew we would love to hear them!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Guinness Foreign Extra Stout

Just one more day of work this week...and I could not be more excited! Tomorrow marks a day I have been waiting over 3 years for - the day my buddies and I start making our first homebrew! I honestly might not be able to sleep tonight. But more on that adventure later...

I am also extremely excited to try this beer! After tasting, and being very disappointed with, the 250th Anniversary brew I was slightly worried about being let down again.

Guiness Foreign Extra Stout is a 7.5% ABV, deep, dark brown color with a large, rocky, three-finger tan head of foam. The bottle features a yellow label that looks like a cross between the anniversary logo and their traditional Extra Stout.

The beer smell a bit musty, and primarily of dark chocolate. The first sip is prominently roasted barley and a bitter hoppiness I wasn't expecting. My faith is immediately restored in ole' Arthur's brewery in Dublin, and I am wondering what took so damn long to get this beer out of Europe and into the good old U.S. of A!

This brew has the lighter, more carbonated mouthfeel of the 250, but the flavoring is much more in line with the Extra Stout - my personal favorite of the bunch. The creaminess is back, and the dark malts are rich and sweet. I glad it finally made it to the States and Europe stopped hogging it!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tom's Two Cents - Woodchuck Limited Release Spring Cider

It is my Mom's birthday today, so we are heading over to hang out with the fam and enjoy this newfound warmer weather! As such, I am not going to have the time or energy to put together anything to review tonight...

Fortunately, Tom stepped up to the plate to give us his opinion of an alcoholic beverage I am not normally particularly fond of. Let's see what his take is...

My love for cider is no secret. However, that doesn’t mean that I enjoy all cider… I present to you Exhibit A: Woodchuck Limited Release Spring Cider.

Woodchuck Cidery of Vermont is the poster child for mass produced cider in the US. They offer a wide variety of cider styles, including several seasonal and limited release varieties. I do enjoy some of their ciders. Granny Smith and the 802 are interesting and satisfying, but overall, most Woodchuck styles tend to be overly sweet and lacking the complexity of good craft ciders.

In my experience, the worst offender is Woodchuck’s Limited Release Spring Cider. When sampling this cider, you are immediately enveloped by the incredibly distinct smell of honey. Any apple aromas are indiscernible. The first sip is almost shocking. It’s like overly carbonated honey. There is a slight tartness from the apples in the middle, but each sip begins with honey and finishes with honey. It also leaves a sweet, honey aftertaste that sent me scrambling for an IPA to erase any taste-evidence of this ridiculously terrible cider. If it didn't say 5% ABV on the label, I wouldn't have known that this was an alcoholic beverage. Trying different varieties of cider or beer is clearly a great thing, but sometimes you strike out. With Woodchuck Limited Release Spring Cider, I struck out… Big time.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Stone Pale Ale

Mondays suck. Unless this beer is what you have to come home to...Stone is far-and-away my favorite brewery, consistently pumping out remarkable beers and maintaining a sense of humor in their marketing. Their tongue-in-cheek references, brazen attitude, and chapter-book label descriptions have helped to build their brand into something truly special.

All it took was two words to stop me in my tracks to pick up this beer: Pale Ale

Stone Pale Ale is a 5.4% ABV, orangish-amber colored brew with a one-finger head of off-white foam. The painted-on label features their trademark gargoyle posing on one knee grimacing at the drinker. The back gives a dictionary description of a gargoyle, and explains at length that this beer is one of the first produced at their new brewery and challenges you to come visit.

Their flagship beer smells of spicy, piney hops, and at first sip you get exactly what you expect. There is lots of bitter hop flavor punching the back of your throat, but yet it remains tamed by a quality malt presence. Let it be known, however, that the nutty, biscuity malt is there ONLY to keep the aggressive American hops from dominating your palate into surrender. Some citrus plays into the leafy hop taste of the finish, and this brew will linger for a while...Awesome!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bear Republic Ricardo's Red Rocket Ale

A week ago I reviewed Bear Republic's Hop Rod Rye and explained how impressed I was with such a young brewery. Fortunately, I had another beer from them lined up in the fridge for tonight!

I do have to point out that when I first decided to pick up this brew I was a little hesitant based on the name. I really hope the Ricardo they are referring to isn't the brew master's dog...

Bear Republic Ricardo's Red Rocket Ale is a 6.8% ABV, dark mahogany colored brew (I can only see through it when held to light) with a two-finger head of rocky, off-white lace. The label features - surprise! - a hand-drawn red rocket-ship on the front.

The beers smells strongly of floral, American hops and rich, heavy smoked malt. This is technically a Scotch Ale, but is packed with hoppy goodness! Unfilitered and bottle-conditioned, the smoked peat and heavy alcohol are there, but this is different than any other of the style as the spicy hops add a new dimension to the brew. I'm a few swallows in at this point and I feel like I have just smoked a cigar! There is a thick, lingering taste of smoke and bitter hops in the finish. I LOVED this beer!

Clipper City Heavy Seas Marzen Beer

Got home pretty late last night, but my daughter still woke up at the exact same time she always does - great way to start the week! Today was relatively uneventful...Watched some TV, did a couple things around the house I had been putting off and continued the potty training routine.

Highlight of the day? Watched Family Guy and drank a couple cold ones. Here was the first...

Clipper City Heavy Seas Marzen Beer is a 5.75% ABV, very light amber - almost orange - brew with a one-finger head of small off-white bubbles that fade to nothing quickly. The label features a treasure map-esque parchment paper background with the Heavy Seas logo on it, nothing fancy.

The beer smells biscuity and sweet, and the first taste is of buttered toast. This brew actually won 5 consecutive medals at the Great American Beer Festival from '04-'09 under the name Clipper City MarzHon, so it had to be good. There is very little carbonation to this beer, but it actually packs a pretty good punch when it comes to flavor. The buttery, sweet and toasty flavor is a little one-dimensional, but that is not a bad thing considering how consistently good it tastes!

Legend Brown Ale

Yesterday I took my wife and daughter to Richmond, Virginia to meet up with some of my extended family. We went shopping at Short Pump, checked out the campus of VCU where my cousin's fiance goes to school, and then headed out to grab some grub for dinner.

The restaurant came highly recommended by the younger couple, and I was on-board as soon as I heard the name of the place!

Bottoms Up Pizza is a hoppin' place on a Saturday night! Located in the historic Shockoe Bottom area of Downtown Richmond, this place has quite a cult following from the locals. Word is the dough used for their remarkable crust takes 12 hours to be ready for baking, and they only use the best ingredients. I can attest to second part of that statement. It also goes a long way that they had about a 20-pint tap list not including the bottles!

The beer I was drinking most of the night was one I have sampled before, but not yet reviewed - Richmond's own Legend Brown Ale. This is a 6% ABV, light brown brew with reddish highlights, and arrived (several times) with a thick, off-white head of rocky lace.

The beer smells nutty with some caramel and toffee aroma. The first sip is rich, roasted malts with that caramel/toffee sweetness. The mouthfeel is a little heavier than I remembered, but I always appreciate that! The middle consists of some brown sugar, followed by hazelnut and even a little chocolate. Nice, clean, lingering roast malt finish begs for another. Thanks, Legend, for a good night great!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Coopers Original Pale Ale

Last beer of the night...I am always happy to find a beer I haven't sampled before from Australia. Partly because their country reminds me of the best and most prosperous times of the US, before our country started going to crap...

When I look at the political structure of Oz and their take-no-crap approach to foreign affairs/immigration it makes me jealous. I long for a return to the values that our country once held that made us all proud to be Americans. I wish we could go back to the 1950's...

The patriotism that we felt after the 2nd World War was earned, and believe-it-or-not this beer helped our GI's that fought in the Pacific theater celebrate their hard fought victories!

Coopers Original Pale Ale is a 4.5% ABV brew that has been in production since 1862! My current beer comes in a 12.7 oz bottle (it seems like Aussie's do everything bigger when it comes to brews - just look at the Foster's Oil Can...), which the beer is fermented in. The label is a simple green ring (each of their beers has a different color) with the beer's description, and a neck ring with a green kangaroo on it.

The result of bottle-conditioning, this beer is an oily, golden color with a one-finger, white head of small bubbles and lace. It smells of light hops with some lemon zest and ginger or coriander. It is intensely flavorful from the first sip, and it shocks me how much punch is coming from such a light-bodied beer!

Buttered toast, dry, bittering hops and lots of carbonation are all features of this great beer. The low alcohol content would allow you drink it by the case, and the light consistency helps as well. Plenty of character in the front and middle, and the finish has a little grapefruit and other citrus. Really awesome brew!

Belhaven Scottish Ale

As I mentioned in my last post I got off work early today, and couldn't have picked a better day! Its Friday, and the weather is perfect outside! 76° and sunny as compared to the low 40's it has been for the past few weeks...

So I'm contemplating what to do with this beautiful weather: Should I try to get in the front nine at a local course, should I bust out the bike or go for a run, take my daughter to the park...endless possibilities!

On the way home I stop by my local craft brew store and pick up some new stuff to sample after/with whatever activity I decide on. I pull into the driveway at home and the first thing my wife says is, "Its finally a nice enough day for you to wash the cars!" CRAP.

So after writing the last review I proceeded to spend the next two hours washing and waxing both of our vehicles and detailing the interior of her Honda...I need another beer!

Belhaven Scottish Ale is a 5.2% ABV, dull copper colored brew with a two-finger head of off-white foamy lace. The clear glass bottle features a cream label with a painted picture of the old brewery on the front, and a neck ring proudly displaying that the beer was made in Scotland.

I have reviewed a couple of other brews from Belhaven, but this is their flagship, the beer that they have been producing since 1719!

The beer smells slightly skunky with some fruit and biscuity malt. The first sip is buttery and that biscuit smell carries over to the taste. Salty and dry, the beer has a light-medium body with some hop bitterness and nutty sweetness punching through in the finish. I could drink these one after another!

Ommegang Hennepin

I got off of work a little early today, and all I could think of was this beer!

After reviewing their Abbey Ale yesterday I couldn't wait to crack this baby open!

While I am waiting for the beer to warm a little, the bottle explains a brief backstory into where the brew got its name...It looks like Father Hennepin was the Belgian missionary that first discovered Niagra Falls! Thank goodness Ommegang decided to put their barrels to better use than going over those falls!

Ommegang Hennepin is a 7.7% ABV Saison ale that is a clear, straw-yellow color with champagne-like small, fizzy bubbles. The glass honestly looks like a fish tank right now! The label features a split yellow and red background with a depiction of Father Hennepin and blue wording for the namepiece.

The beer smells of lemon zest and doughy yeast, and at first sip is very light and crisp but alcohol heavy. I taste citrus and cloves with a strong presence of ginger. The mouthfeel is airy and bright with some spicy flavors coming into the middle. The finish is a bit dry with a little bubblegum aftertaste.

WOW. Ommegang continues to impress!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ommegang Abbey Ale

Think of all the best American beers you have ever sampled...When I do it conjures up names like Stone, Founders, Sierra Nevada, Dogfish Head, Samuel Adams - All hugely successful breweries that share multiple Great American Beer Festival medals between them.

But if you ask people overseas what their favorite American beer is, it is from a little brewery in Cooperstown, New York that was built to mimic the great abbeys of Belgium - Brewery Ommegang.

This brewery, now a U.S. arm of the Duvel Moortgat group, produces the finest Belgian beers outside of Bruxelles (Brussels) - and is the only US brewery to make all bottle-conditioned Belgian specialty ales.

This beer is the finest example of their commitment to authentic Belgian brewing.

Ommegang Abbey Ale is an 8.5% ABV, dark mahogany colored brew with a two-finger head of off-white lace. The label is simple, and features a red background with two yellow rampant lions holding the Ommegang "O" and cross logo.  

The beer smells of sourdough Belgian yeast, with raisins and chocolate notes. I wanted make sure I hit the appropriate serving temperature for this brew (50*) so I have let it warm for a good ten minutes. This has really allowed the flavors to come out, and the complexity of the palate is insane!

I taste dark specialty malts, spices like coriander and allspice, and light hops all blending together to produce a masterpiece! The flavors swirl in-and-out and then you will pick up a taste that wasn't there before. All of this is topped off with a dry, spicy finish like a burgundy wine. Great beer!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dogfish Head Bitches Brew

Picture from
Not gonna' make it a three beer night tonight, but I do want to post a review that is long overdue!

By now everyone has heard of this beer...It was featured on the craft brew community cult-followed show, Brew Masters, which caused a never-before-seen rise of demand for one particular beer. Well, I happened to pick this bottle up before I had ever even heard of the show and left it to sit in my fridge for a special occasion. Then the uproar started so I decided, what better occasion than the premiere episode? Only trouble is, I forgot to write up the review that night! Better late than never...

Dogfish Head Bitches Brew was brewed as a request by Sony Records to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the album of the same name by Jazz musician Miles Davis. The beer was developed by the crazy mind of Sam Calagione as 3 parts Imperial Stout, 1 part honey beer (made with raw honey) with gesho root. This is otherwise known as an American Tej beer, mixed with the stout.

The beer itself is a deep, dark brown with ruby tints, and pours to a three-finger, rocky brown head of large bubbles. The label on this giant bottle features the original album artwork as designed by the late Mati Klarwein, a painting as far ahead of its time as this beer!

The brew smells primarily of milk chocolate. Its first sample is dry and roasty, with notes of dark chocolate, creamy, nutty and sweet Ethiopian honey and rich, earthy flavors from the stout. This is definitely one of the most complex beers I have ever sampled! The 9% ABV is hardly noticeable, but its not really surprising considering I feel like I have eaten a meal after one glass! The full bodied flavor gives way to sweet honey in the finish - a taste that is completely unique to a dark stout.

Overall, the experience of everything coming together at once incredible. Sampling the beer while I watched it being brewed and presented by its creator on the national stage was something that can't be replicated. Many craft beer lovers can tell you where they were the first time they sampled Bitches Brew...Its that good!

New Holland Cabin Fever

What is with all the awesome breweries around the Lake Superior!? Obviously, history shows Milwaukee was once a Mecca for Brewing USA - heck they even named a MLB baseball team the Brewers!. Then you have Shoreline, Crown, Goose Island, Bell's, 3 Floyds, and Lakefront just to name a few.

However, perhaps one of the most underrated of the bunch is New Holland. I have now sampled 5 of their offerings, and despite not hearing much about these brews I have been impressed every time!

New Holland Cabin Fever is a 6% ABV, mahogany colored Brown Ale with ruby accents and a one-finger head of light, off-white foam. The label features a snowy cabin that looks like it just got dumped on by a severe blizzard with wisps of smoke pouring from the chimney.

The beer smells of dark, rich smoked peat and chocolate, and the first taste follows. The bottle describes the flavors of this brew as, "rye, roast and raisin with caramel sweetness", and they really hit the nail on the head. Dark fruit, dark rye malt and smoky, roasty goodness emanate from this beer. I get a bit more of a cocoa taste than caramel, but 3-out-of-4 ain't bad!

This is another really great beer from these guys - they keep me coming back for more!

Geary's Winter Ale

I'm still trying to get to the back of my fridge, so it will be a couple more winter beers tonight.

I have only had one other brew so far from Geary's in Portland, Maine, and it was their Summer Ale, so this should be at opposite end of the spectrum...

Geary's Winter Ale is a brown ale with crimson hues, and pours to a one-finger head of small, off-white bubbles. The beer's label is silver with a red ribbon announcing the maker over a faint white snowflake.

This ale smells of brown sugar and roasted malts, and the first sip is molasses and sweet roasted malt. This beer goes from sweet to somewhat bitter and earthy in the finish as a result of dry-hopping - a unique characteristic that is a little backwards of most winter brews. Typically if a very malty beer is dry-hopped it will start with a strong hoppy nose and taste up front and end on a sweet note.

The thick mouthfeel is pleasant and leads me to believe it carries a somewhat heavier ABV (none is listed on the label or website). This is a good beer, just a little sweet for my taste - a little like Lagunitas Brown Shugga' - but I prefer this one over the brew from CA. I'm gonna have to keep looking for more from D.L. Geary's!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Boulder Mojo IPA

Only about 30 miles Northwest of Great Divide's brewery in Denver, Colorado you will find Boulder - both the city and the brewery. I have reviewed a few of their other offerings, but I have a particular fondness for this beer before I have even tasted it...

You see, Mojo has been my nickname since I was about 2 years old...The handle was given to me by my great-grandfather who played professional baseball (as a catcher) with a pitcher - also named Matt - who picked up the name based on the way his slider would drop as if he had placed a spell on the ball.

Once I saw the name of this brew I knew I MUST have it - and it certainly helps that it is an IPA!

Boulder Mojo IPA is a 7.2% ABV, pale and cloudy apricot colored brew with a two-finger white head of big, lacy bubbles. The label features a psychedelic-colored hurricane spiral in front of a multi-colored trippy background (Boulder is known for its population of Hippies!).

The beer smells pungently of piney hops with lots of grapefruit aroma. The first sip is a wallop of Amarillo hops and the higher alcohol is noticeable in the middle. More hop flavors at the end burst in with spicy and citrus notes to finish the brew. This is everything I hoped it would be to represent my namesake!

Now I just need to go out and find their Mojo Risin' - the double IPA!

SIDE NOTE:  I just realized this is my 500th post! Kinda fitting, right? Here's to the next 500...Cheers, and thanks for reading!

Great Divide Hibernation Ale

My third Great Divide brew in four days! This particular one has served as their winter seasonal since their second year after opening in 1994. It has also earned 3 Great American Beer Festival medals in that short time!

Great Divide Hibernation Ale is an 8.7% ABV, dark copper colored brew with a two-finger head of small, off-white bubbles. The beer's label features a cross-country skier heading through a forest of fir trees at twilight.

The brew smells of chocolate malt and vanilla from being aged on oak, as well as some booze and piney hops. The first sip is roasted caramel malt and brown sugar. This is followed by a wave of warmth from the heavy alcohol. The dry-hopping also adds incredible depth in flavoring and complexity just in time for the finish. This was an awesome beer!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Great Divide Rumble IPA

Sitting back down to the second half of this game nil-nil and starting to get thirsty again...Guess I'll continue to take steps backward in this weight loss program with another India Pale Ale! I've loved almost everything from Great Divide, but lets hope this IPA is better than their Belgica...

Great Divide Rumble IPA is a 7.1% ABV, hazy, copper colored brew with a three-finger white creamy head. The label features a long-horned bull standing defiantly facing the drinker, in front of desert scenery.

This beer smells of grassy hops and steamed vegetables. The details of the label point out that this brew was aged on French and American oak. The first taste is delightfully bitter piney and citrusy hops, and some vanilla bean from the oak. I believe this is my first aged IPA, and I am enjoying it immensely! It is a great contrast to the more toned down, less bitter Yards beer I just sampled. The lingering grapefruit in the finish is great to wash away the bad taste in my mouth left by the way Chelsea played today in their draw with Fulham...

Yards IPA

Sitting down to watch the Chelsea vs. Fulham Premier League match from earlier today...A little late for me considering I'm up early in the morning for a workout. But, since I've got 90 minutes ahead of me, I might as well review a beer!

This beer is from one of my favorite patriotic breweries, the makers of Thomas Jefferson's Tavern Ale, General Washington's Tavern Porter and Poor Richard's Tavern Spruce - all brews that were original recipes produced by our Founding Fathers!

Yards IPA is a 7% ABV, hazy amber colored brew with a two-finger head of rocky, off-white lace. The label incorporates a Union Jack flag with crossed swords above it, in front of which is the Yards logo and bold IPA lettering. 

The beer smells intensely of piney hops, and the first sip is nice and spicy. The fluffy head continues to release awesome aroma and helps to pronounce the flavor - you almost have to chew through the head to get to the beer! The medium-bodied mouthfeel is very drinkable, a a sweet caramel malt background with some rich brown sugar flavor balances the hops. Another great beer from these guys!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Weyerbacher Harvest Ale

Enough about Saturday, today is a new day! So time for a new beer...

Thankfully, it seems that the weather here in Central Virginia is starting to warm up - its supposed to be in the upper 50's to low 60's all this week. But before all that Spring sunshine and warmth makes its appearance I still have a few Fall/Winter brews to review.

Weyerbacher Harvest Ale is a 6.2% ABV, cloudy, copper-penny colored brew with a three-finger head of large, off-white lacy bubbles. The label showcases a flowering hop vine over an orange backdrop. The beer smells of grass and citrus from the fresh hops that the ale is brewed with, harvested from their own local hop farm in Easton, Pennsylvania.

A hop farm...I want one of those! Can you imagine waking up to the beautiful, floral and spicy smells wafting into your window from those hop plants?

The first sip of this beer is grapefruit from all of those "wet-hop" additions. This is followed by a slightly off-putting metallic note - not quite sure where it is coming from. The brew has an oily consistency with a good malt backbone that adds some sweetness and body. The metal taste has faded, and it is now left with some nuttiness in the finish. This beer is pretty good!

Trader Joe's (Unibroue) 2010 Vintage Ale

Despite such a fun-filled day, my Brother-in-law, Nate, and I were anxious to get home to see our wives and little girls before it got too late. When we arrived home we all decided to hang out at their house for a little while to unwind and let the girls play.

We talked and joked around for a while, and then Nate surprised me by pulling a giant beer bottle out of the refrigerator. He told me he had picked it up on a whim at a Trader Joe's in Richmond while visiting his family. I have heard of these stores, and seen people wearing their T-shirts, but have never been in one personally. It seemed a little sketchy to me that they had their own brand of beer, but next time I won't be so quick to cast judgement until I have sampled the beer first!

Trader Joe's 2010 Vintage Ale is a 9% ABV, bottle-conditioned Dark Ale. The label has painted-on flowers and filigree with the Trader Joe's logo. When I turned the bottle over, I was shocked to read that this beer was produced specifically for TJ's by UNIBROUE in Quebec, Canada (you know, the makers of La Fin du Monde?!).

Once opened, the beer pours as a dark mahogany color with a two-finger head of small, beige bubbles. It gives off the aroma of Belgian yeast and roasted malts with some lemony citrus.

The first taste is almost overwhelming in its complexity...Raisins and plums, vanilla, and spices like cracked pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. All of these flavors are built around a sweet, chocolate malt and tangy citrus base. This is a truly special beer - the perfect ending to a great day!

I simply HAVE TO find another bottle of this to squirrel away and let age properly. I suggest you do the same!

Awful Arthur's and Big Daddy's Brewing Company

After visiting the Railhouse, we had some time to kill before catching the movie so we decided to head up to what is perhaps Roanoke's most famous location, the Mill Mountain Star. The reason that Roanoke is called the Star City, the MM Star was constructed in 1949 and serves as the unofficial "Hollywood" sign of Southwest Virginia.

The view from the overlook in front of the Star is remarkable, a perch where you can see the entire city spread out before you. Unfortunately, it was too early in the day for the Star to be lit, but it is still an impressive sight so close up.

After a few minutes of checking out the sights from up on the mountain it was time to get going to catch the movie. 127 Hours was an awesome film, definitely intense, but I was pleasantly surprised how closely it followed Aron Ralston's book Between a Rock and a Hard Place.

Following the film we were getting hungry again, so figured we would hit up another Roanoke landmark for dinner, Awful Arthur's Seafood Company. They are primarily known for their oysters and shellfish, which we took full advantage of!

The other reason we decided to stop at this particular restaurant is their extensive tap list. I was excited to see another local Roanoke brewery on draught, Big Daddy's Brewing Company. This was actually the first time I had heard of them, but we will be making the trip back soon to visit them too! Unfortunately, my camera died shortly after the food came, so I am borrowing the pictures of the beer from shyzaboy, another Virginian and beer lover.

From shyzaboy's Flickr Photostream
The first brew I sampled was the Virginia Creeper American Pale Ale. This 5.5% ABV, copper-colored beer was an easy-drinking, slightly more hoppy than sweet treat that paired well with the salty oysters. The hops were VERY noticeable in the finish. YUM!

From shyzaboy's Flickr Photostream
Next was the Trail Head Nut Brown, a 6% ABV, dark brown ale that is sweet and chocolatey with hints of pecans or hazelnut.This beer was well balanced with some bittering hops, and paired well with the spicier steamed shrimp and cocktail sauce.

From shyzaboy's Flickr Photostream
The last beer I sampled, I guess you could call it dessert, was the Hop Dog India Pale Ale. Definitely my favorite of the bunch as I let my hop head preferences show...This 6.5% ABV, 84 IBU beauty is a hazy amber color as a result of obvious dry-hopping. This single-hopped brew washes over you with dry and crisp hop flavor and left me with the perfect lingering aftertaste for the drive home.

Roanoke Railhouse Loose Caboose

Check out their website:
Yesterday was a good day. My brother-in-law and I were able to both get out of the house and get together for the first time in a while for some time away from the girls (we are both married and have small daughters - just two months apart!).

As we both tend to get a little cabin fever in the Winter months, it was time to get out of Dodge...We decided to hit up Roanoke, Virginia, about an hour from where we live, to grab a few drinks, eat some good food and catch the flick 127 Hours (you know, the one where the guy chops his own arm off!).

The homemade sea-salted chips were great!
First, we stopped by Annie Moore's Irish Pub for lunch where I enjoyed the Bookmaker's Sandwich and a Roanoke Railhouse Track 1. You may remember my post of this brew from a couple weeks ago...A great lower ABV brew, perfect for matching with food or to simply session all day!

In fact, the beer was so good on tap that I decided we had to go check out where these awesome suds were made. We called the brewery only to be told that tours were given on an appointment basis only...Fortunately, the gentleman on the other end agreed to meet us there with only a 10 minute notice!

This man has something good going!
Enter Steve Davidson, the founder and proprietor of Roanoke Railhouse, and a genuinely great guy! He took 45 minutes out of his Saturday afternoon to show us around the brewery and allowed us to sample their newest creation, and a brew I had heard tons of good things about, Loose Caboose.

Simple yet highly effective!
In contrast to Track 1, a light but flavorful Dunkel Lager, Loose Caboose is a much heavier ABV (7.76% Steve informed us) Imperial Lager with full-on flavor and body.

The beer is a brilliant copper color with a one-finger head of small, off-white bubbles. The aroma of this brew is light hops and sweet, rich brown sugar.

At first sip, the beer is actually short on hop flavor compared to its nose. The combination of malts add an abundance of earthy, smokey notes and provides a medium-to-full-bodied mouthfeel. The brew is also triple-hopped to provide that fresh grassy aroma and to balance the malt base. A single Noble hop blend (Hallertau) adds bitterness and some grapefruit flavoring.

It was really an experience to have Mr. Davidson show us around and to hear his enthusiasm for the direction his brewery is headed.

It is obvious the man loves what he does, and it is reflected in his willingness to promote his beer one person at a time!

Thanks again, Steve, for taking time out of your weekend to share your local treasure with two guys hopefully taking a glimpse into their own future!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Tom's Two Cents - Echt Kriekenbier

Had an awesome, much-needed, day out with my brother-in-law today. We made the approximately hour-long drive West to Roanoke, Virginia to check out a pub, a brewery, and a semi-famous restaurant/watering hole downtown. More to come on that tomorrow...

Tonight, however, is another review from Tom and his abstract tastebuds...Enjoy!

For those of you not familiar with the Kriek style, it is basically Belgian cherry beer. It is usually a Belgian Lambic or Ale brewed with cherries.

I was looking for a Kriek at my local craft brew store and decided to pick up some Echt Kriekenbier, largely because there was no English on the front label (strange, but true). Before I continue with this review, I want to make one thing very clear: Kriek is not beer with the essence of cherries, or beer with a slight cherry flavor - it is CHERRY beer. It is first cherry, then beer. If the thought of drinking cherry beer doesn't appeal to you, you may leave this review and move on to something else - this is not the brew for you. However, if you enjoy Krieks or would be interested in trying one, read on!

Echt Kriekenbier pours a dark ruby-red with a small head of faintly pink bubbles. You will be immediately hit with the aroma of cherries. Likewise, the first sip punches you with the sweet and slightly sour flavor of cherries. Any flavors from the malts are lost in the overpowering cherry sweetness. There is, however, a very slight spice from the hops which does help to break the sweetness and add some complexity. Despite the sweetness, Echt Kriekenbier weighs in at 6.8% ABV. I wouldn't mind trying this one again, but because of the sweetness, I would classify this as a "change of pace" beer. It is also important to note that this beer is widely considered to be an excellent representation of the Kriek style. Give it a try...if you can handle the sweetness and appreciate the other subtle flavors. If not...this will probably taste like a cherry Four Loko to you, so stay away if you hate fruit beers.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Great Divide Belgica Belgian-Style IPA

The final non-Dogfish Head beer of the night on Sunday was also a bit of a disappointment - not because it was bad, but because of my expectation of what I thought it would taste like. The beer was good, but you must keep in mind the last Belgian IPA I sampled was Stone's Cali-Belgie...At this point what I consider to be the best beer I have ever sampled (write-up to follow soon!).

Just like in my last post, I want to be careful how I word this because this is not what I would consider a "bad beer". On the contrary, I would drink this any day of the week and thoroughly enjoy it, but the memory of something truly special is still too fresh in my mind...

Great Divide Belgica Belgian-style IPA is a 7.2% ABV, hazy, unfiltered apricot color with a two-finger white head of lacy bubbles. The yellow label features two mirror-image Griffins poised to strike at each other, and the description, "perfect for Spring in the Rockies, or the Ardennes."

The beer smells of sourdough bread and tree fruit, and the first taste is Belgian yeast but it is not heavy. The more prevalent flavoring stems from light malts, very similar to a wheat beer. There is NOT the heavy hop IPA taste that I was expecting, which is what I attribute to the let down I felt. I was really looking forward to that punchy, bitter flavor...Still, this is a good brew that finishes with a slightly spicy aftertaste.

Stone Levitation Ale

This is going to come across worse than I mean it to sound, because there is no such thing as a bad brew from Stone, but this is my least favorite of the beers I have sampled from this brewery in Escondido, California. That being said, it was still one of my favorite brews of the night on Sunday!

Hopefully you can tell my fondness for Stone by reading what I have to say about their other beers I have sampled.

There is no other word to describe the amount of flavor that emanates from this pesky 4% brew than INCREDIBLE!

Stone Levitation Ale was the 2007 Great American Beer Festival gold medal winner, and probably the best session beer I have ever had. The beer is a hazy copper color with a huge, rocky, 3+ inch head of off-white lace. The label is a bottle-painted gargoyle sitting cross-legged and sipping a brew hovering in the air (AKA "levitating").

This beer smells only of the most incredible floral and spicy hops known to man - Stone's specialty. The first taste is dark, smoked malts with dry hoppy bitterness. The presence of citrus comes into play somewhere in the middle. There is great balance to this beer, but it really is crazy how much flavor pours off of this low ABV brew. Go get some!

Bell's Lager of the Lakes

I posted my reviews of the three Dogfish brews that we sampled during the Super Bowl, but there were three other beers we had as well.

Unfortunately, only one of them lived up to the bar that had been set by the trio from Milton, and this beer was not it.

Bell's Lager of the Lakes is a 5% ABV, clear straw colored brew with a two-finger white head of foam. The label showcases an old-timey map depicting the Great Lakes outlined by expedition themed logos like crossed oars, a compass, a fir tree and trout.

The beer smells slightly skunky at first, and the nose is primarily pale malts. The flavor is very light throughout with only a hint of herbal hops. To me, this tastes much more like light pilsner than a lager, but I can taste that this beer is slightly more smooth as a result of the long aging process.

Bell's website suggests that this beer should be kept refrigerated at all times in order to preserve its flavor. Perhaps that is why I was underwhelmed with its taste...I have nothing bad to say about anything else I have sampled from this brewery, especially their darker stuff. Bell's truly makes amazing beer!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Dogfish Head Theobroma

We definitely saved the best for last with this one! I mean, the name of this beer translates to "Food of the Gods"...Can you really go wrong with something like that?

This brew is another one of the DH Ancient Ales batches, and is created from the chemical analysis of pottery fragments found in Honduras that date back to around 1100 BC..Talk about the definition of Beer Geek!

Dogfish Head Theobroma is a 9% ABV ale brewed with honey, cocoa nibs, cocoa powder, Ancho chilies and ground Annato seeds. The label features a nude native girl with dripped chocolate on her (risque!) standing in front of a decorative Aztec circle. The incredible artwork for this beer, Sah'Tea and several other DH brews were produced by painter/graphic artist Marq Spusta. Check out his awesome work!

All that chocolate led me to expect this brew to be approximately the same color as their Bitches Brew - not so. This beer was light! A beautiful, light apricot color that poured to a one-finger white head of small bubbles. The beer also smells of apricot - not unlike a Magic Hat #9

First sip and another surprise - it does NOT taste like cocoa! I actually taste the spice of the chilies first, followed by a sweet middle. The chocolatey sweetness and richness FINALLY shows up in the finish and lingers pleasantly on the tongue for a while. Great beer!

Dogfish Head Sah'Tea

Our second Sam Calagione masterpiece of the night was one of the Ancient Ales series. The brew is based on a 9th Century Finnish recipe called Sahti, which although uses unique ingredients is more famous for the way it is brewed.

Dogfish Head Sah'Tea is a 9% ABV, hazy, unfiltered, light-amber colored brew with particulates floating in it. It pours to a two-finger white head of small bubbles, and smells of rye, sweet and dark black tea and citrus. The label features what appears to be an Indian/Hindu princess of some sort riding a reindeer on a blue background.

According to the wrapper and website, this beer is brewed with rye, juniper berries, black tea, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and black pepper. What is crazy about this brew though, is that the wort is heated by the addition of hot river river rocks rather than a traditional boil.

The aroma that this brew gives off is like an incredibly complex mix of tea, sweet honey, lemon zest and a mass of different spices. The first taste is peppery and spicy with sweet characteristics. The juniper berries add a serious twist - it gives the beer some body and earthy notes like a sweet gin. I was much more pleased with this brew and would probably pick it up again if I ever came across it again!

Dogfish Head My Antonia

What an epic night of beer Sunday during the Big Game! Dick and his wife came over to enjoy the festivities, so we cracked open several amazing libations - some new, and others that we had been holding onto for such a night as this!

Three of these brews were big-bottle specialties from that magical brewery in Milton, Delaware - Dogfish Head. It was a unique and wonderful experience to be able to watch these beers being made, and hear the incredible backstories from Sam Calagione on Brew Masters this year.

Dogfish Head My Antonia was originally a collaboration beer with a brewery near Rome, Italy. It has now made it into production back here in the States, all the better for us to sample!

This "Continuously-hopped Imperial Pilsner" weighs in at 7.5% ABV, and pours a goldenrod color with a two-finger lacy white head. The label features an old Italian building (basilica?) in front of the skeleton outline of the New York City landscape, and has an awesome swirling script that depicts the brew's name.

From the pour the beer releases sweet and citrusy hop aromas that flutter out of the glass. There is very warm alcohol in the first sip, followed by lots of herbal and citrus flavors without much hop bitterness. The brew is very crisp, with a clean, consistent taste throughout. There is a somewhat off-putting sterile, rubbing alcohol flavor in the finish, but the lemon and spice aftertaste brings it back around.

Unfortunately, this beer does not fall into the normal, mind-blowing category of what I expect from a DH brew, but it is still a very unique interpretation of a pilsner. It may also say something that pilsners are not traditionally my favorite style to begin with...Not bad, but not remarkable!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye

This one might be a bit heavy for the middle of the day, and I have a lot more drinking to do. I'll suck it up and take one for the team though, because this beer smells AMAZING!

This brew is from another young brewery, just 15 years old. Bear Republic was founded in 1995 in Healdsburg, California, only about 30 miles from the Lagunitas brewery in Petaluma. I really need to make a trip to the Bay Area!

Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye is an 8% ABV, hazy, dark mahogany colored brew with a rocky, two-finger head of off-white lace. The label features a Z-Z-Top styled hot rod on the front with flames and the Bear Republic Golden Bear logo. The beer's aroma is bunches of spicy, and floral hops, with lots of grapefruit with the rye.

There is warm alcohol and bready malt in the first sip with a slam of hops right up front. It is not unlike the Gubna from Oscar Blues, but I actually prefer this beer with the dark rye to balance the bitterness. The beer is dry all the way through to the finish with lingering herbal/citrus flavors after. This beer was realllly good!