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Southampton Pumpkin Ale

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In continuation of my seasonal, mostly-pumpkin beer binge, we've got another of the more (though not quite) sessionable versions of the style here:

Southampton Pumpkin Ale

Southampton Pumpkin Ale - Pours a dark amberish orange color with a finger of head that quickly disappears. The smell seems to be more focused on the pumpkin itself than the spices, though they're also there. The taste has a very nice balance to it. Sweet malts with just a little in the way of spice. But the real hero is the mouthfeel, which is very smooth, making for a very quaffable beer. Light bodied, but very flavorful, I really enjoyed this much more than I was expecting (and much more than the Dock Street beer I mentioned yesterday, which I described similarly, but which is distinctly inferior to this beer). When it comes to pumpkin beers, I don't generally drink more than one in a session, but this would certainly work. Well played, Southampton. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank from a tulip on 10/16/11.

Though I haven't really gone crazy with it, I'm quite enjoying this fall season. I don't know that it's really my favorite season in terms of beer, but the beers made now certainly fit with the season very well, and I like how it's almost a warm-up for my favorite seasonal beers, the winter and Christmas ales. I've got a few more seasonals, including at least one more Octoberfest/Marzen style (something I've been lacking this year), and we'll see what the Beer Club peeps bring tomorrow night as well.

The Whip

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Back in March, we had a beer club outing at The Whip Tavern, an English style pub. At the time, it was a bit cold and pouring rain, so we resolved to come back later in the year and sit outside. Well, a few weeks ago, we did just that. England doesn't really have a reputation for great cuisine, but both meals I've had here have been really great. The first was Bangers and Mash, and it was perfect. This time around I had some delicious duck contraption. For whatever reason, it seemed like the taplist was a bit more limited this time around, but I still managed to get my hands on a few seasonals and interesting beers nonetheless. I'm going from my sparse Untappd notes and memory here, so take the following with a grain of salt (also no pictures - sorry):

  • Dock Street The Great Pumpkin - Another pumpkin ale, this one somewhat more subdued in the alcohol and spice departments, which isn't really a bad thing, but which also doesn't really set this apart from any other pumpkin ale. Pretty standard stuff, though certainly something I could drink a few of... B- (Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV on tap. Drank out of a half-pint glass.)
  • Weyerbacher Harvest Ale - It's the time of year when hops are harvested and breweries grab a portion of fresh "wet hops" (normally hops are dried in order to preserve them) to make various hoppy styles (a practice that deserves a closer look on the blog at some point). This beer gave off a really fantastic hoppy aroma. It's a little on the earthy/grassy side, with just a little citrus peeking through. The taste was nice and bitter, with an almost spicy hop character to it. Perhaps this is just me buying into the hype, but it tasted fresh. It's not a face melter or a revelation or anything, but a well executed IPA. B (Beer Nerd Details: 6.2% ABV on tap. Drank out of a half-pint glass.)
  • Leavenworth Boulder Bend Dunkelweizen - Not terribly familiar with the style, but it was kinda like a stout mixed with delicate wheat flavors. I have to say, I didn't really care for it. No off flavors or anything, it just wasn't working for me. Perhaps the roasty flavors were the cause of my issue, but whatever. I didn't have a problem drinking or finishing it, and it was certainly more interesting than a macro, but still not particularly inspiring. C (Beer Nerd Details: 4.7% ABV on tap. Drank out of a half-pint glass.)
  • Theakston Old Peculier - I've always heard good things about this beer, but I must have gotten a bad bottle because I didn't care much for it and the flavors I got out of it don't seem to match up with much of the BA nerds' thoughts... I got a distinct apple aroma out of this, which is typically a sign of problems. I also got some raisins in both the aroma and taste. It wasn't undrinkable, but it wasn't particularly good either. D (though I may revisit it at some point). (Beer Nerd Details: 5.7% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a pint glass.)
  • Innis And Gunn Oak Aged Beer - I had this the last time I went to the Whip as well, perhaps because it goes really well with one of the desserts. This time around, I got a better feel for the oak and caramel/toffee flavors in the beer and was quite pleased that I got another. So I will up this to a B+ (Beer Nerd Details: 6.6% ABV bottled (11.9 oz). Drank out of a half-pint glass.)
  • Spaten Oktoberfestbier - I was going for a German Octoberfest beer; what I got was a skunked bottle of dishwater. Yes, it was in a green bottle, and it was bad. I couldn't get much out of this beer at all, and didn't finish it. This does kinda bring up the question of how to rate beers that are clearly defective, but in this case, it's all due to the green bottle choice, so I have no problem giving it an F. (Beer Nerd Details: 5.9% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a pint glass.)
Well, there you have it. Even considering that the drafts were mostly half-pints, I probably drank too much, but it was still a fun night out (we even stayed long enough to play a couple rounds of quizzo). I'm sure I'll be returning to this place at some point soon.

Pumking

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When Europeans made their way to the New World, one of the things they found was that many of the domesticated crops they relied on in the old world did not have native counterparts in the Americas. Because this is about beer, you can bet that one of these non-native crops was barley. It being in short supply, early American brewers, desperate for fermentable sugars, turned to other crops to make up the difference. Hard-up colonists used all sorts of gnarly stuff in place of malts, including molasses, corn, parsnips, spruce, and, of course, pumpkin. These early brews probably tasted nothing like today's pumpkin beers, as they used no malt at all and probably didn't feature the same sort of spicing we use these days.

Once barley and malt became more prevalent, pumpkin disappeared from breweries. It experienced a bit of a revival in the 19th century, but as a flavoring agent (as opposed to a full blown pumpkin beer). The conventional wisdom is that modern pumpkin beers began with Buffalo Bill's Brewery in 1980, but I'm sure there are earlier examples that would approximate the style. In any case, Southern Tier's Pumking is probably the best regarded of the pumpkin ales. Even those crotchety pumpkin-beer-haters I mentioned yesterday seem to enjoy this particular beer, so let's see what's got them so worked up:

Southern Tier Pumking

Southern Tier Pumking - Pouts a slightly cloudy golden orange color. Not much head at all, and it quickly dissapates. The nose is filled with a bready aroma (very familiar aroma, like pie crust) along with the typical pumpkin and spice characteristics that usually dominate. The taste is extremely well balanced. Sweet, pumpkiny, spicy, bready and it nails the finish. Mouthfeel is smooth and velvety. It's not assertively carbonated, but it's got enough body to work well. Overall, it's certainly vying for the top of my Pumpkin beer rankings (not that I'm an expert). B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.6% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/7/11. Hops: Magnum (bittering) and Sterling (aroma)

More pumpkin and octoberfest beer posts are on their way, though they probably won't start showing up until next week...

Rise of the Devious Pumpkin

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Pumpkin beers are an interesting and apparently divisive breed. Many folks seem to really dislike the style, or to at least think it's a bit on the repetitive side. And it certainly can be repetitive: most make liberal use of standard pumpkin pie spicing like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger. Of course, one of the big challenges with this type of beer is that brewing with any kind of spice is really, really difficult. When it comes to hops, it's easy. If you know the alpha acid content of the hops, there are simple measurements and calculations you can make, thus making it easy to balance the rest of the brew to match. Spices don't have any such easy calculations and their potency varies greatly. This isn't an excuse, but it also represents a big challenge to brewers and when done right, it adds subtle flavors and complexity without overwhelming. For pumpkin beers, though, subtlety is rarely the order of the day. Pumpkin itself doesn't have a particularly strong flavor, but the typical spices are quite potent and can be overpowering. Which, I suppose, is why some folks are leery of the style. Personally, I like it, though I'm glad it's confined to a seasonal exercise.

Fegleys Brew Works Devious

Fegley's Brew Works Devious Imperial Pumpkin - Pours a mostly clear amber color with a finger of white head. Smell is pure pumpkin pie. Lots of spices - cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, etc... Taste is very sweet and spicy along with some bracing booziness. The mouthfeel is well carbonated but still smooth and velvety. It leaves a nice sticky feeling in the finish too. Folks who dislike the tendency to over-spice pumpkin beers will certainly not enjoy this, but I'm having a good time with it. B

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/30/11.

I'm many reviews behind at this point, but in the interest of seasonality, I'm skipping ahead to some of the more recent things I've drank (hopefully I'll get back to the older ones later). I've got a few more seasonals lined up, and the blog is approaching its one year anniversary as well. I don't have anything special planned, but, hey, maybe I'll have a beer.

Russian River Supplication

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Russian River's head brewer, Vinnie Cilurzo, is an interesting guy. He started out in the winemaking world, but was apparently so taken with the fact that you could start drinking beer within a few weeks of brewing that he switched over to beer (ok, it probably wasn't that simple, but it sez so on this bottle of Supplication, so I'm sticking with that story). Perhaps to further taunt his winemaking brethren, Cilurzo started playing around with weird wild yeasts and bacterias when making his beers. Take Supplication, which is a brown ale aged in pinot noir barrels with cherries, brettanomyces, lactobacillus, and pediococcus. Those critters certainly add a nice, complex sourness to a beer that would already be pretty flavorful. They're also an anathema to winemakers, who apparently think Cilurzo is a nutbag for using stuff like Brett. It's rumored that those folks won't even enter Russian River's brewpubs for fear of picking up some sort of bug that they'll inadvertently bring back to their winery, infecting their wine (apparently these are hearty little creatures that are difficult to get rid of).

The irony here is that this beer was aged for well over a year before being bottled, so it looks like Cilurzo hasn't completely escaped his winemaking roots. But this series of beers that he's created (all aged in old wine barrels of various styles) is quite interesting, and I have to wonder if we'll see more coordinated wine and beer collaborations in the future (another brewery that mixes expertise from both the wine and beer worlds is apparently Firestone Walker, a brewery I need to become more acquainted with). Ok, enough babble, onto the beer:

Russian River Supplication

Russian River Supplication - The cork for this was really jammed in there. I normally don't have any issues opening corked bottles of beer, but this one took some coaxing. Pours a really gorgeous clear amber brown (copper?) color with a finger of quickly disappearing white head. The smell is filled with sweetness and funk. You get some of that wine and cherry character along with the typical funky Brett aromas. Sourness hits immediately in the taste, followed by cherries and a dry, red-wine-like finish. The sourness is really the most prominent element here, but it's well balanced with the other elements. Mouthfeel features the characteristic twang of sour beers, but it's compulsively drinkable. A wonderful beer, probably favorite of Russian River's sours (that I've tasted so far). A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked mini-magnum). Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/4/11. According to the label, this bottle was from batch 006X2, brewed on 11/7/2009 and bottled on 1/5/2011 (so it was not quite 2 years old when I drank it).

Well, I'm either getting the hang of this sour thing, or Supplication really is just that good. I will no doubt continue to dabble in the world of sour beers, though it doesn't look like I have any in the pipeline right now, so it may be a while.

Texas Beer Dispatch

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As previously mentioned, I spent the last week watching horror, SF, action and just plain weird movies, not to mention hobbits beating the crap out of each other (see my other blog for thoughts on the movies and other events of Fantastic Fest). Of course, nearly all of this was accompanied by beer. I must say, the Alamo Drafthouse is one awesome venue for a number of reasons, but right now, I'll just say that it represents a melding of two passions: beer and movies. They've got some common offerings, but most of their beer menu is local craft stuff, and I spent most of the week sampling beers I've never heard of and can't really get up here in PA. As I mentioned in an update to my previous post, I was tracking my beers via Untappd all week, but then, I was also watching movies and talking a lot, so take the below thoughts with a grain of salt. Alright, here goes (in roughly the order in which they were drank):

  • Live Oak Oaktoberfest - So not only local beers, but local seasonals - and this is a pretty damn good one. I wouldn't say it's a spectacular beer, but it was exactly what I was looking for out of an Octoberfest beer, and one of the better examples I've ever head of that style. B+
  • Shiner Bock - You can't got to Texas and not have at least one of these, right? And Shiner happened to be a sponsor of the festival, so these were available in abundance, sometimes even being handed out for free. I've talked about this beer before, though that was on another trip so I didn't actually rate it. It's certainly nothing special, but it's a solid beer and it's hard to argue with free pints, right? B
  • New Belgium Hoptober - Ok, so this isn't a local Texas beer, but New Belgium doesn't really distribute here (though they have started in Maryland) so I always try some of their stuff whenever I can. I would have described this as a very good IPA, but BA calls it an "American Blonde Ale"? Strange because, as the name suggests, it's massively hoppy. A really nice piney hop aroma. Well matched sweetness and hop bitterness in the taste. Overall, a really good brew, one of my favorites of the week. B+
  • Lagunitas Mystery Red Ale - So on Friday, my local Austin friends took me out and I ended up getting some sort of Lagunitas seasonal beer which I can't recall, but it was a red ale of some sort, very hoppy and tasty. I actually enjoyed this one immensely, so I wish I remembered what it was called. I think it may have been the Lucky 13, but who knows. B+
  • Independence Brewluminati Braggot - Well, braggot has gone from a style I'd never heard of to a style I've had two examples of in the past few weeks or so (the other being Weyerbacher's Sixteen). Go figure. I don't know that this one was as good as Weyerbacher's offering, but it was still a nice change of pace and worthy beer. It was lighter in color, so honey flavors dominated the taste more, but I still really enjoyed it. B
  • Real Ale Fireman's #4 - Another blonde ale and apparently another of Austin's typical session beers, as it was available all over. It's not a mind-blowing beer or anything, but pretty good for a simple blonde ale. It's got some subtle bready caramel notes, but is otherwise pretty straightforward. I only had one, but it's certainly a worthy session beer and I'd try it again. B-
  • North by Northwest Black Jack (Bourbon Barrel Aged) - Local friends took me out to dinner at this most excellent brewpub, where I had their bourbon barrel aged black ale (BA calls it a Belgian dark ale, but I don't think that's right). It's quite fantastic. I didn't detect a ton in the nose, but damn, that taste is fantastic (and once I had some headroom in the glass to swirl the beer around, the nose came out more). Rich flavors of caramel malts, bourbon, vanilla, a light oakiness, and maybe even some chocolate. Just a hint of toasted malts, but nothing like a stout. Very well balanced - no flavor dominates, making for a very complex brew. Appropriately carbonated, but a smooth and creamy mouthfeel. Not too heavy and not too boozy, but it's certainly not a lightweight either. Probably my favorite beer of the week. A-
  • Thirsty Planet Buckethead IPA - This is the sort of beer that makes me feel like IPAs are kinda... samey. It's hoppy in the nose and the taste, and it's bitter, but it's kinda one-note. Not much going on here. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it, but there wasn't really anything special about it. C+
  • (512) IPA - Now this IPA, on the other hand, was maybe the best I'd had all week. Great citrus/pine nose, well balanced sweet/bitter combo in the taste (with some of that citrus/pine shining through). Nice and complex, a very well made beer. And damn, I didn't try any other (512) beers. Given this one, I probably should have sought them out! B+
  • Left Hand Milk Stout - Another non-TX beer that isn't super common in PA, so I gave this one a shot too. It's very good, roasty, coffee and chocolate flavors and that milk stout chalkiness (probably the wrong way to describe it, but it seems common to the milk stouts I've had recently). Well done, but nothing super special either. B
  • Stone Arrogant Bastard - So this one's really not local, nor is it something hard to come by, but I'd had a bunch of drinks that night, and was settling in for the Fantastic Feud, so I gots me a comfort beer. If you're reading this blog and need me to describe Arrogant Bastard... I'm sorry. Actually, I wouldn't call it a favorite, but it's of course very good. B+
  • Independence Bootlegger Brown - I have to admit that I'm no expert on brown ales, but this one didn't really do the trick for me. It was fine for what it was - a dark, roasty, almost stout-like ale, but there wasn't really much complexity to it. I had no problems putting one down, but it doesn't really stick out for me at all either. B-
  • Live Oak Hefeweizen - I enjoy a good Hefe as much as the next guy, but they do tend to get pretty boring... but not this one! Wow, what a fantastic (pun intended) brew. If I had this earlier in the week, I'd have certainly had more of them. Really wonderful aroma of bananas and clove. Typical wheat and yeasty flavors mixed with a surprising fruitiness. Well balanced, complex, and a joy to drink. A-
  • Avery White Rascal - Another non-TX beer, but since I was rockin the wheat beers, I gave this one a shot. It's... not as good as the Live Oak, but it is pretty tasty all the same. Perhaps if I didn't have these two wheat beers back to back, I would have rated this higher. B
  • Bear Republic Racer 5 - Yeah, I've had this before and of course it's very good. I don't really have much to say about it - hoppy and bitter! - but if you like a good IPA, it hits the spot. B+
Well, there you have it, a successful outing and quite a variety of new beers I'd never heard of before. If you're ever in Austin, I recommend anything by Live Oak, as they seemed to have put together the best lineup (yeah, I only had 2 of their beers, but BA seems to rate the others pretty highly too). Before I left, I did stop off at a grocery store and picked up a big beer to bring home: Jester King's Wytchmaker Rye IPA in a fancy 750 ml bottle. Look for a review... uh, in the next month or so! Overall, I'm pretty jealous of Austinites. Not only do they have the best movie theater I've ever been too, but they can drink beer there too. We really need to get us some Alamo Drafthouse style places up here.

Weyerbacher Sixteen

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Every year, Weyberbacher brews an anniversary batch, often choosing a relatively obscure style. Past styles include a Wheatwine, a Smoked Imperial Stout, and a beer that utilizes a Calagione level of obscure spices. This year's installment describes itself as a Dark Braggot Ale. Right, so what the hell is that? Apparently Braggot is a Welsh variety of mead, one which is brewed with a mixture of honey and malts along with hops. Well, don't mind if I do:

Weyerbacher Sixteen

Weyerbacher Sixteen - Pours a very dark amber color, almost brown with a finger of light colored head. The nose is filled with the sweetness of fruity malts and honey. The taste has a very sweet pop in the middle and a really clean finish. Lots of fruity notes detected. No real aftertaste either, which is interesting. Well carbonated and medium bodied, you get a bit of alcohol burn, but it doesn't overwhelm, instead giving the beer some additional character. Overall it's a complex, unique and welcome change of pace for me. If I were a bigger fan of honey, I'd probably love this beer even more. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10.5% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/3/11.

Given the dark color and high alcohol, I'd be interested in seeing how this stands up over time. It's probably all gone by now, but if I see more, I'll probably pick some up. Weyerbacher continues to be one of the more interesting local breweries. I don't know that I've had anything revelatory from them, but they're always interesting. That brand redesign they mentioned a few months ago needs to come soon. I mean, their logo is the woefully overused comic sans* text (with an underline). Comic Sans! Word on the street is that Greg at the Pour Curator interviewed them about the redesign a while back, but he has not posted it just yet. Will be curious to read it though.

* Incidentally, Russian River uses comic sans as well, though not in their branding. They should probably stop that too, though it's not as distracting there.

Old Viscosity

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So apparently, back in the day, there was a place called Pizza Port. They served, naturally enough, pizza. Later, they added a small brewery on the premises and became a brewpub. In 2006, they bought a brewery formerly owned by Stone, and started up Port Brewing and The Lost Abbey as independent brewing ventures. The big name brewer at all these locations is a guy named Tomme Arthur, and he seems to be wracking up the kudos ever since. Seriously, they make comics out of him and everything. I'm not all that familiar with his beers, so I've been angling to get my hands on some of late, including this one:

Port Brewing Old Viscosity

Port Brewing Old Viscosity - While certainly not the first beer to use old engine oil as a metaphor, I do have to wonder how appetizing that association really is. Well whatever, I still say if you're going to make that distinction, you should just go whole-hog and package your beer in an old-timey oil can, complete with that funky spout that you have to jam into the can in order to open it. Uh, yeah, so onto this beer: Pours a very dark brown/black color with a finger of light tan head. The aroma has a lot of roastiness, but also some of those oak notes and even some booziness. The taste is sweet, roasty, and very boozy. You get a lot of heat from the alcohol and there's also a nice dry dark chocolate bitterness that emerges in the finish. The oak aging has clearly imparted some character here, but it's more about texture and body than flavor. It's not as full bodied or rich as I'd expect though, perhaps because of that strong alcohol presence, but it's very bold and aggressive stuff. It's certainly good and very complex, but something about this just isn't gelling for me. I like it and had no problem polishing off a bottle, but it's not something I'd go out of my way to try again. B

Beer Nerd Details: 10.5% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/2/11.

I'm still looking forward to trying their Mongo IPA, which has a great reputation, and of course, the entire Lost Abbey line holds interest for me. Nothing in the cellar as of yet. I'm sure you're worried about that, and I thank you for your concern, but I assure you I'll get there. Really. Scout's honor (A cub scout still counts as a scout, right?)

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Hi, my name is Mark, and I like beer.

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