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Garde Dog

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Maryland's Flying Dog brewery has never really wowed me with a beer. On the other hand, they've rarely disappointed. Looking through my ratings, almost everything is in the B- to B range, even for well respected stuff like Raging Bitch IPA and their Gonzo Porter. They seem to make well crafted beers, so it's not like I dislike them or anything and I have to admit that their distinctive Ralph Steadman artwork always catches my eye... Also, they've been doing some interesting seasonal stuff of late, like this new Spring offering, a relatively lightweight Bière de Garde that still manages to pack a nice punch:

Flying Dog Garde Dog

Flying Dog Garde Dog - Pours a clear golden color with lots of fluffy white head. Smells of musty Belgian yeast with some spiciness. Taste is sweet and spicy, finishing quite dry. Mouthfeel is very highly carbonated and packs a bit of a wallop, medium bodied, and dry. Not something you'll gulp down, but it's an easy drinking beer and at 5.5%, you could certainly knock a few of these back at a barbecue or something without getting too sloshed. Overall, this is a solid beer and it's very well executed. It strikes me as a great gateway beer for those folks looking to expand their horizons without getting too crazy. Also a nice beer to transition from the dark, heavy beers of winter into the lighter fare of summer (i.e. a good choice for a spring seasonal). B

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 3/17/12.

So it's not a revelation, but it's towards the top of what I've had from Flying Dog. Of course, I'd love to get my hands on some of the Bourbon Barrel Aged Gonzo, and maybe some of their other limited edition stuff too...

Pliny the Younger

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Yeah, so remember how I said that I wouldn't go out of my way for Pliny the Younger, Russian River's fabled "triple" IPA? Well, I'm a weak, weak man. My favorite local bar had a rare kegs and eggs event this morning featuring, among other things, Pliny the Younger. They're just down the road, so how could I really turn this down? I got there about 45 minutes before they tapped the keg, got myself a ticket, and partook in some excellent brunch eatings and a neutral Allagash White whilst I waited.

The hype surrounding the ultra-rare but highly rated IPA (as of right now, #1 on Beer Advocate's top beers in the world list) was a bit of a turnoff, but since the hoop-jumping was at a minimum, I couldn't really complain. The Philadelphia area is one of the lucky few to receive some of this stuff, but from reading about past events (mostly in center-city), I can't say I would have been too enthused to participate. The idea of trekking into the city, paying for parking, then waiting in long lines for a couple ounces of the prized brew was not appealing. But this was right down the street, relatively uncrowded, and mostly pleasant. No waiting for 4 hours in the snow, and I didn't have to pay 10 bucks to get a few drips of the beer applied with an eyedropper. I got a whole glass!

The bar got crowded, but never really approached madness. Oh, sure, there were lots of beer dorks in attendance, including some of the more annoying variety (one porn-mustachioed fellow walked up to the bar and proclaimed "You know why I'm here" in this sniveling, condescending tone and accompanying glare that was so annoying I'm surprised the bartender didn't respond with a punch to the face), but for the most part, beer nerds are amiable folk, and a good time was had by all. I even saw one guy sharing his bounty with less prepared strangers who had arrived too late to get their own, which is just plain nice.

For my part, it was a fun experience, and I'm happy to check another white whale beer off the list. But is it the best beer in the world? Did I hear celestial choirs as the angels descended from heaven aboard boats of transcendent light, penetrating through the dank windows of the bar? Let's take a look, shall we:

Russian River Pliny the Younger

Russian River Pliny the Younger - Pours a shiny gold color with minimal head. Wonderful nose full of citrus & pine. Really fantastic aromas. I just sat there sniffing the stuff for a while, and tried to make the beer last... Taste is full of that same citrus & pine, but it's got a very well matched sweetness & bitterness. It's a hop bomb, to be sure, but it's perfectly balanced with sweet malts. Mouthfeel is very smooth, very drinkable, and again, extremely well balanced. As it warms, a pleasant boozy note emerges, but that doesn't upset the balance at all... Overall, I can see what the hype is all about and I'm really glad I got the chance to try some of this. A

Beer Nerd Details: 10.5% ABV on tap, drank out of a 6 oz mini-snifter.

So is it the best beer in the world? No. But there may have been a hint of those celestial choirs and angels there too. It's a great beer, to be sure, and I loved drinking it, but quite frankly, there are tons of excellent IPAs and DIPAs out there there are close enough, and plenty that are just as good or maybe even better. I had a few glasses of Hopslam on tap this year that were just as good if not better than Pliny the Younger. It's certainly worth the stretch for a glass of the stuff, especially if you're a hophead, but I have a feeling that if I went really far out of my way, I'd be disappointed. Fortunately, that was not necessary. I mean no disrespect, and if Russian River distributed the stuff far and wide, I'd greedily partake in as much as I could, but I think this beer's astronomical ratings are at least partly due to how rare it is. My expectations were mitigated, of course, but they were met by the beer, which is often not the case. I love this beer and I'm really happy I got to try it without having to resort to any diabolical schemes involving the sacrifice of my left shoe and firstborn son...

World Wide Stout

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When do you drink an 18% ABV beer? Special occasions? Every other Flag Day? Leap Day? For breakfast? On the second Friday of March in the year of our Lord 2012? Ah, yes, that last one will do the trick, but it was a fortuitous turn of events that got me there, and I'm still at a loss as to when to open some of my other massive face-melters. It's a delicious mystery wrapped in an alcohol soaked enigma, with a chaser of dehydration and hangover.

Fortunately, Dogfish Head packaged this one in a 12 ounce bottle, so it's at least mildly approachable (I will leave the rant about big beers in big bottles for a later date). Apparently created on a whim at the Dogfish Head brewpub during the winter off-season months (which, I imagine, is how most Dogfish Head beers are created), this beer held the strongest beer in the world title for a short time. In this day and age where crazy Scottish brewers are making 55% ABV abominations and packaging it in taxidermied squirrels, it's easy for beers like this to get lost in the shuffle, but credit where credit is due: Dogfish Head was making this beer in 1999, well before extreme beers were trendy or popular. And I do think this still stands up well today.

Anyways, events conspired to keep me sober for a while after work last Friday, which left me in need of a stiff drink (and just the right amount of time for a single serving). This would normally be a job for Scotch or Bourbon, but I thought this 18% ABV face-melter would do the job, and boy was I right:

Dogfish Head World Wide Stout

Dogfish Head World Wide Stout - Pours a deep, dark brown color with a syrupy appearance and about half a finger of tan head. Wonderful aroma filled with caramel and vanilla notes, maybe even some fruity character poking through along with a little booze. Smells more like a really big barleywine than a stout. Taste has lots of sweetness to it, that caramel malt being quite prominent, with some chocolate and maybe even some vanilla, but the big surprise is the sorta fruity booze that emerges in the middle and dominates the finish. Very little roastiness here, but tons of intricate flavors emerging as it warms up. Maybe just a touch of balancing bitterness in the sticky finish. Mouthfeel is full bodied, chewy, and hot. Carbonation isn't high, but it's not at a bad level either. The finish has just a little stickiness to it. Surprisingly well balanced and approachable for an 18% ABV monster. Tons of warming alcohol character going on in my belly after just a few small sips. This is certainly not a beer to drink quickly. Overall, I'm very impressed by this beer, a complex sipper, something that will probably age well, and quite interesting. Dogfish Head says it has a depth "in line with a fine port" which just makes me want to go to the liquor store and get me some of that stuff, as I've never had any before and I'd like to know if that's an accurate description or just Sam making stuff up. For my purposes, this makes an excellent dessert beer. Not your typical stout, and definitely worth a try. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 18% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a snifter on 3/9/11. Bottled in 2010 (bottle has a "D" after the year, which I assume is some sort of batch indicator).

Man, this thing kicked my ass. As noted above, the bottle was apparently from 2010, which was something I bought inadvertently... but I'm glad I did so because I've heard the alcohol character overwhelms "younger" bottles. I've got another one of these in the cellar, which I can perhaps crack open the next time an 18% ABV opportunity comes along (and who knows when that will be). Incidentally, I also have some 120 minute IPA in the fridge (and in my cellar) that's definitely still young, and I have no idea when I'll get to that one... not to mention the bottles of Cuir and Coton I've been sitting on (those aren't quite as strong, but they're up there and they're in 750 ml bottles too)...

Update: Tee Hee.

Ommegang Seduction

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Ready for some hot Liefmans on Ommegang action? This is a Belgian style porter brewed with chocolate and, like Ommegang's most excellent Three Philosophers, blended with a Liefmans Cuvee Brut Kriek. It's an appealing idea, though I'm not sure I was entirely seduced by the end result:

Ommegang Seduction

Ommegang Seduction - Pours a very dark brown color with a finger or two of tan head that leaves lots of lacing on the glass. Smells of roasted malts and Belgian yeast, with a hint of something else lurking in the background (perhaps those cherries?) Taste features lots of muted roasted malts (not nearly as strong or overpowering as most stouts or porters) with a hint of chocolate, but the beer sorta shifts midway through the taste, finishing with a lighter touch which calls to mind those cherries... while I'm sure I'd be able to pick out the distinct flavor blind, I don't know that I would have attributed it to cherries. As the beer warms, that flavor becomes a little more prominent. The mouthfeel is full bodied and chewy, with ample carbonation and just a bit of stickiness in the finish. Not exactly an easy drinking beer, but it's not difficult or anything. All in all, it's an interesting beer with lots of complexity and I really enjoyed it, but it feels like all the various flavors are competing for attention, rather than harmonizing into something new and great. An interesting experiment and better than most beers that I'd classify as such, but I expect more from Ommegang and it doesn't quite reach the heights it perhaps could... but it's still a lot better than their Chocolate Indulgence and again, I really had a good time with it. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.8% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 3/4/12. Bottled 12/5/11.

Ommegang was my introduction into the world of good (and Belgian style) beers, so I'm always willing to give them a shot, even on expensive gambles like this. I've actually had some old Cup O Kyndness sitting around for a while that I need get to at some point (I talked about it briefly in a beer club post a while back, but I'd like to do a full review), and I'm really looking forward to their forthcoming Belgian Strong Dark, called Art of Darkness...

Sly Fox Ichor

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The term "Ichor" has two meanings. The more recent usage is that of "a foul-smelling watery discharge from a wound or ulcer." Thankfully, I suspect that Sly Fox was going for the more classical definition when naming this beer: "an ethereal fluid flowing in the veins of the [Greek] gods." Yes, I think we've stumbled upon Sly Fox's nefarious plan to harvest the blood of long-dormant immortals and turn us all into unsuspecting vampires. Or something like that. Also of note: Apparently Greek gods had a Belgian style quadrupel for blood:

Sly Fox Ichor

Sly Fox Ichor - Pours a deep chestnut brown color with amber highlights and a finger or so of white head. Smells very spicy, tons of clove in the nose, bready Belgian yeast, and a bit of fruitiness peeking through. Maybe even a slight roasted malt aroma. Taste is also very spicy, with that clove showing up again (usually clove aromas and flavor comes from the yeast, but in this case, I suspect Sly Fox actually spiced the beer with clove in addition to using a Belgian strain of yeast...) Lots of sweetness, some brown sugar/molasses character, and some of that dark fruit peeking through too. Mouthfeel is full bodied and well carbonated, with a well balanced dry finish. You get some heat from the alcohol, but it's otherwise hidden pretty well. Overall, a very well done, complex beer. Not top tier in the style, but it's an interesting take. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 2/25/12.

Sly Fox is yet another interesting semi-local brewery that I still have not visited. I'm going to have to rectify that at some point. Apparently this beer was featured in the Rare Beer of the Month club, though obviously I have no problem getting a hold of the stuff - my guess is that Sly Fox doesn't distribute very far at this point, as they're still a tiny brewpub operation. That being said, I'm always interested in trying their beers, even if I haven't had one that's really blown me away (every one I've had has been in the "B" range)...

Weyerbacher Insanity

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Ok, enough of that wussy low ABV beer. Let's check out this bourbon barrel aged monster from Weyerbacher. I was a little underwhelmed by Heresy, their bourbon barrel aged Russian Imperial Stout - it was very good, but it just didn't represent that big of an improvement over their base RIS (called Old Heathen). This time around, Weyerbacher is giving the treatment to their evocatively named Blithering Idiot barleywine, and I'm happy to report that this one represents a big improvement over the base beer:

Weyerbacher Insanity

Weyerbacher Insanity - Pours a deep, dark amber color with just a little bit of light colored head. Smells intensely of caramel, oak and vanilla, with some bourbon and a smattering of almost fruity malt aromas. Rich flavors of caramel malt, oak and vanilla, very light on the fruit and bourbon (but both are clearly there) and a nice, boozy finish. Full bodied, rich, and chewy, plenty of warming from the alcohol. It's a sipper, but it's well balanced and very flavorful. Overall, a big improvement over the standard Blithering Idiot. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11.1% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip on 2/25/12.

I've got a few more bottles of this to put in the cellar (I feel like all the strong flavors in this would really harmonize over time), and I still have a year-old bottle of Blithering Idiot that I'll have to check on at some point as well. Weyerbacher continues to be one of the more interesting local breweries, though I feel like everything they make is just huge from an ABV standpoint.

Casco Bay Brown Ale

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So I've spent the past couple months trying to drink down my cellar and one of the things I've realized is that there's a reason I don't drink a lot of that stuff right away. They're mostly high-gravity face-melters (often barrel-aged and beyond 10%) to the point where I feel like that Nazi guy at the end of Raiders (not the fascistic part, just the part where his face melts).

As such, I've been craving something a little less rich. Something that won't make me want to go to bed at 8 pm. Something that won't obliterate my palate with rich, chewy flavors. Don't get me wrong, I love the deep, full-bodied flavors of a bourbon barrel aged beer, but you know, sometimes I want to be able to drink a second beer in one night. Usually I turn to my homebrew on such occasions, but even then, most of my stuff is around 6-7.5% range. That's not exactly face-melting territory, but it's also a bit too much (I keep saying that I need to recap those beers, and I will, but for now, I'll just say that something like my 6% stout still ends up being a pretty heavy, rather unsubtle beer). Beer nerds know what this all means: I need to drink me some British styles. I've had some really low gravity English-style beers of late, and it's been nice. This one's a brown ale that's actually a bit on the high range of what I was looking for, but it was still nice:

Casco Bay Brown

Casco Bay Brown Ale - Pours a deep brown color with a couple fingers of light tan head. Smells of caramel malt along with a nutty aroma and maybe just a hint of something along the lines of brown sugar. Taste features a lot more of that nutty flavor, along with some caramel malt and a surprisingly bitter finish. Nowhere near an IPA or a, er, Brown IPA or anything, but it's there. As it warms, it smooths itself out a bit. Medium to full bodied, lots of carbonation, not a big-gulp kinda beer, but pleasant enough. Overall, it's not lighting the world on fire, but quite frankly, that's not what what I needed right now. I suppose even in that realm, it's not a top-tier beer, but it hit the spot for me, and the world was spared a face-melting cataclysm, so there's that. B

Beer Nerd Details: 5.4% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a mug on 2/24/12.

I'm pretty sure the Portland, Maine brewery doesn't distribute much outside of the New England area (this bottle was a gift from my uncle, who frequents the region), but I'd be inclined to check out their Winter Ale if I ever got the chance... And their flagship Irish Red might tide me over the next time I get overwhelmed by the bourbon-barrel giants.

Gemini

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I don't normally just defer to a brewery's marketing department when writing an intro to a beer, but this one is actually pretty well done:

High in the winter sky, two parallel stick figures are visible & known as "the twins," or the constellation Gemini. The astronauts of the 1960s flew as teams of two in a program named after the celestial pairing. At Southern Tier, we have our own fraternal twins, Hoppe & Unearthly. Blended together & placed in this vessel, the mission of our Gemini is to travel high & take passengers on a journey far into the heavens.
Well, there you have it. I've already discussed my lack of creativity when it comes to naming my own beers, but a lot of beer names are just sorta random. But it's always nice to see a very well thought out name for a beer, like this one.

One weird thing about this beer: The bottle sez it's 10.5% ABV, but Southern Tier's Website sez 9%. RateBeer sez 10.5%, Beer Advocate sez 9%. What's going on here? Similar inconsistency exists for one of this beer's blended duo - Hoppe is sometimes listed at 8% and other times 8.5%. Given that this is a blend of Hoppe and Unearthly (which, thankfully, is consistently reported as 9.5% ABV), I would be surprised if it somehow gained a few percentage points of alcohol... lending further credence to the 9% number. This post on the RateBeer forums seems to indicate that Southern Tier adjusted a bunch of ABV values on their website, but the entire discussion is speculation (and pointless debate over why ABV matters) and the thread is from 2009. One would think that if Southern Tier adjusted their ABVs, they would have also updated their labels at some point... I smell a pedantic email session coming on.

Well, whatever the case, the important thing is how it tasted, so here we go:

Southern Tier Gemini

Pours a golden orange color with just a bit of quickly disappearing head. Smell is sugary sweet, lots of juicy hop aromas, a little pine - fantastic nose. The taste is extremely sweet, lots of those juicy hop flavors emerging in the middle, and just a hint of bitterness in the finish and aftertaste. Mouthfeel is crisp and clean, just a hint of sugary/boozy stickiness, but at the same time, it hides that alcohol very well. Overall, a fantastic DIPA. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10.5% (or maybe 9%) ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a snifter glass on 2/24/12. Bottle sez: DOB 01/26/12 (so this was less than a month old at time of consumption).

Southern Tier continues to make intriguing beers, though they tend towards being overly sweet for my palate. That being said, I may have even rated this one higher if I haven't had the opportunity to have Hopslam a few times recently... I'll most likely be checking out more Southern Tier beers at some point, though perhaps not right away...

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