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Hopslam

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I don't know why, but last year, I underestimated how hard it would be to find some of this beer and ended up missing out on its hoppy goodness. Well, not so this year. I've been keeping my eye out, and last week, I spied some at a local establishment and finally made my acquaintance with this beloved beer. I would love to get my hands on some bottles of the stuff, but things are a little rough in PA, where you mostly have to buy beer by the case and thus this stuff sells out pretty quickly. Guy at the bar mentioned that he's been on the waiting list at his local distributor for two years... and he still wasn't sure if he'd get the case this year. But I hear rumors of more stuff coming later in February, so maybe I'll snag a few bottles then... But for now, I'll just have to deal with it on tap:

Bells Hopslam

(Apologies for the craptacular picture. It was dark!)

Bell's Hopslam Ale - Nice clear golden color with about a finger of head. This might sound obvious, but it's quite hoppy. Tons of juicy citrus, a little pine, maybe some floral aromas too. Tastes fantastic - very sweet, nice citrus and pine hop flavors, with a well matched bitterness emerging in the middle, hitting full force in finsh. It's a sweet beer, but the finish is dry and bitter enough that it never feels cloying. It's apparently brewed with honey, which would help explain some of that dryness... Extremely well balanced. Mouthfeel is smooth, maybe a little heavy, but still very easy to drink. The alcohol is well hidden too, though maybe just a hint of warming if you drink quickly (unsurprising given the ). Overall, fantastic beer. I can see what all the fuss is about... and I want more! A

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV on tap (10 ounces). Drank out of a goblet on 2/1/12.

I do hope I can get me a few bottles of the stuff, but I have to admit, the stories about people stalking this beer are a bit much. If I can find some, great, but I ain't going crazy trying to get my hands on the stuff. Ditto for Pliny the Younger, which

Older Viscosity

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As I've made abundantly clear last week, I'm at a point in my beer obsession where I don't mind paying a little extra money to try something new and interesting. As a fledgling beer nerd, I had some initial hesitation on that front and I'm still a little suspicious whenever I see a single bottle going for more than $20. But for the most part, I've found those expensive beers worth the stretch. When I first pulled the trigger on a highly priced beer (The Bruery's Coton), the excuse I gave myself was that I was still relatively new to this whole good beer thing and that I was willing to spend a little extra to experiment with new and interesting beers. I suspected that I would grow out of that phase as I became a more seasoned beer nerd, but a couple years later, I'm not sure about that. I think I'm more willing to pull that trigger now than I ever have been before. It helps when the beer is as good as Coton was (I even went back and bought another bottle to age), though there have been times when I've paid through the nose for a beer I didn't particularly care for.

Now, beer pricing is apparently somewhat controversial. Some think that beer is too cheap, some think it too expensive, some think it's cheap because it's "just beer", others note how much effort goes into creating the beer, and yet others want to know more about why they have to pay a premium to get the latest super-duper beer. In the linked post, brewer Tomme Arthur (of The Lost Abby and Port Brewing) left a comment where he mentions:

It's true,our beers have become more expensive, and over the years, we have developed a reputation for beers outside the boundaries. These are what I refer to as flavor driven beers.

Are they expensive? Depends upon what value you place on them. Stephen is obviously a fan and feels compelled to say so. For me, they are not expensive, they are merely priced at a higher point than conventional beer. And I don't believe we make conventional beer.

He mentions a lot of things in his comment, including the cost of materials and ingredients and how barrel aging is a long and expensive process... but none of that really matters.

Look, we're not communists here. We don't determine value by the amount of effort that went into creating the beer. We pay what we're willing to pay to get a beer that tastes good. It's our decision. Some of us might take into account how the beer was brewed (or supporting their local brewer, etc...), but most of us are more interested in the experience of drinking the beer and not the process of brewing it. Now, doing a high gravity, barrel-aged beer represents a significant investment on the part of a brewer, and thus we're going to have to pay more to get our hands on a bottle. I'm not saying that a brewer should take a loss on selling that kind of beer. But the true value of the beer is ultimately determined by the paying customer, not by the brewery. If that value is less than it costs to brew the beer, well I'm betting that particular beer wouldn't likely be brewed again (unless the brewer's got money to burn). The market sorts these things out, and so far, I don't think we've really seen anything too excessive (with the possible exception of retailer gouging, which the brewery has little control over).

Personally, I love that world class beer is generally available to everyone. Even people on a severely limited budget can save up and buy an amazing beer for a small fraction of the cost it would take to explore the world of, say, fine wine or Scotch. And I don't want to lose that either, but if I have to pay a premium to get my bourbon-barrel beer fix, so be it. Speaking of which:

Port Brewing Older Viscosity

Port Brewing Older Viscosity - I actually reviewed the regular Old Viscosity a while back. I liked it, but was certainly not blown away. As it turns out, the regular version is a blend of 80% "young" beer with 20% bourbon barrel aged beer. That mixture clearly imparted some character to the beer, but I had noted that it seemed more about texture and body than flavor, and even then, it wasn't as full bodied as I would have liked. Well, Older Viscosity is 100% bourbon barrel aged goodness, and I'm happy to report that it was well worth the wait...

Pours a deep black color. Seriously black. Like a black hole, no light can escape it. Also, practically no head at all. Smell is full of bourbon and wood, with some caramel and chocolate aromas making an appearance. Taste is seriously boozy, lots of rich bourbon and oak flavors along with that caramel and vanilla character. Maybe just a hint of bitter roasted malts in the finish. Mouthfeel is thick and chewy, a little low on carbonation, but it works well with this. Overall, I'm enjoying this much more than I enjoyed the plain Old Viscosity... A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV bottled (375 ml mini-magnum, caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/21/12. Vintage 2011.

So there you have it. For me, definitely worth the premium, and I've got another bottle of the stuff in my cellar which I plan to check out sometime later this year. Or maybe next year. I also have a few Lost Abbey beers down there, at least one of which I plan to get to in the near future. And there's always the Mongo IPA and Shark Attack Red and probably a dozen other Lost Abbey beers I'd like to try.

Marrón Acidifié

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Collaboration beers are among the most weirdest things about the craft beer world. Rarely do you see competitors actively collaborate like this, but then I guess the fact that craft beer only really represents around 5% of the market generally means that they're not really competitors - their growth comes at the expense of the macros. Or something like that, I guess.

This one is a collaboration between The Bruery and Cigar City. If I'm not mistaken, both come from the craft beer class of 2008 and both enjoy a pretty solid reputation* amongst beer nerds. I've already sung the praises of The Bruery before, but Cigar City is new to me, and in a recent interview over at Beer Samizdat, I learn that their brewer has the awesomest name ever: Wayne Wambles. Amazing.

On The Bruery's website, they have a page for this beer that lists a lot of what I usually call the Beer Nerd Details in my reviews. Things like ABV, IBU, and SRM. But this one has an additional metric that I don't believe I've seen before. Apparently this beer has not 4, but 6 whole shizzles**.

The Bruery and Cigar City Marron Acidifie

The Bruery and Cigar City Collaboration: Marrón Acidifié - Pours a very dark red color with minimal head. Smell is filled with sour aromas, some sweet fruitiness, and funk. Packed with rich flavors with a beautifully matched tart finish. Very sweet and fruity (cherries are most prominent to me, but other tropical fruits also seem present), and extremely well balanced. Mouthfeel is nice and rich, almost chewy. Low on the carbonation, but it actually works well with this style. Overall, a fantastic beer, among my favorite sours (maybe even the best I've had). Indeed, I think it might be one of the most approachable sours I've had, which is saying something because this thing is a bit of a monster. A

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/14/12. IBU: 15, SRM: 20, Schizzles: 6.

This was released in the Spring, not making it's way to the East Coast until early Summer, though I didn't pick up my bottle until this past holiday season. It's bottle conditioned though, and the bottle sez it's suitable for aging up to 5 years. I guess what I'm saying is that I need to buy some more of these for my burgeoning beer cellar program. Also on my to-do list: get my hands on some more Cigar City beer.

* And by "pretty solid" I man astronomical.

** Apparently besting a previous beer called "Four Shizzles", though records on that one are a bit sparse.

Allies Win the War!

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Earlier this week I reviewed a beer that I think had the best designed bottle (sorry, "ceramic crock") I've ever seen, but the packaging for the recent 21st Amendment collaboration with Ninkasi gives it a run for its money. Indeed, all of 21st Amendment's beers have great packaging, making excellent use of the larger canvas provided by cans (and I love that they put their cans in boxes, even with four- or six-packs).

21st Amendment and Ninkasi Allies Win the War 4-pack box

Seriously gorgeous stuff, and the can itself is also pretty great. I will make one complaint though, which is that, well, it's hard to tell which way is up on this thing. A minor quibble and totally worth the confusion because it's just an awesome package. But let's not get to carried away, it's what's in the packaging that counts, and this time around, it seems that the beer is worthy of its packaging:

21st Amendment and Ninkasi Allies Win the War

21st Amendment & Ninkasi Allies Win the War! - Pours a dark amber color, maybe a little brown, with a couple fingers of white head that leaves tons of lacing as I drink. Aroma is full of hoppy pine resin and sweet, almost sugary citrus fruitiness. Taste starts off sweet but that's balanced very well by the hop bitterness in the finish. Those pine resin and citrus flavors are present as well, leading to a nice rich flavor profile. The mouthfeel is medium bodied, ample carbonation, and a little bit of stickiness. No real booze to be had here and it's pretty damn easy to drink. Overall, an excellent beer, not quite the equal of YuleSmith (which seems to have become my yardstick for hoppy imperial reds), but damn close. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV canned (12 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/21/12.

21st Amendment continues to impress, and even though Ninkasi doesn't really distribute here, I'm going to keep my eyes on them...


Victory Smokin' Oats

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I know, it's unfair. This beer is only available at the Victory brewpub (and maybe a few local beer bars). I promise, tomorrow I'll review a beer that's more widely available*. Anyways, Victory seems to like smoked beer. They've got their roots in German brewing, so perhaps that's not a surprise, but they do a lot of smoked beers at their brewpub (though mostly not for wide release - one exception to this is Otto, a smoked Belgian Dubbel). But if they wanted to, I think this smoked porter (presumably brewed with oats) would actually work pretty well:

Victory Smokin Oats

Victory Smokin' Oats - Pours a very dark brown color with amber highlights and finger of tan head. Smell is smoky with a solid amount of roasted malt character. Those roasted malts take on more prominence in the taste, along with some coffee flavors and a rather well matched smokiness. Mouthfeel is medium bodied with solid carbonation and a nice crisp finish. It actually went really well with the brisket taco things I was eating at the time. A very good beer! B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.8% ABV on tap. Drank out of a 0.3L glass on 1/7/11.

* Technically, the next beer on my list is Trappist Westvleteren 8, which is one of the least accessible beers in existence, but I'll skip it for a day or two, I think.

Stone 11.11.11 Vertical Epic Ale

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Back in aught two, Stone started what they call a Vertical Epic. Each year, they put out a one-time brew that is meant to be aged until December 12, 2012. Assuming you're patient enough, you can then enjoy a vertical tasting of all the brews (it's not strictly a "vertical" tasting, as each year's beer has a different recipe, but you get the idea.) Each beer is released on one of them funny numerological dates, like 2/2/02, and 3/3/03, and so on, with the culmination being on 12/12/12 later this year (after which, such numerical games are not possible). This year has the added benefit of being binary (for the last time this century!)

I've actually never had any of these beers until now, but they generally seem to be a Belgian Strong Ale with some sort of twist. This year's installment was brewed with Anaheim chiles and cinnamon. Yeah, I think we're all thinking the same thing here:

Stone Vertical Epic 11.11.11

Stone 11.11.11 Vertical Epic Ale - Pours a dark amber color with a finger of light head and some lacing as I drink. Smell is filled with bready, musty Belgian yeast and some spiciness. The taste starts out surprisingly bland, with some sweet flavors emerging in the middle and a big bang of spice (chile and cinnamon are both there, though I'm not sure how well I'd be able to pick them out if I didn't already know about it) hitting in the finish and plowing through the aftertaste. It's most unusual. The chiles are definitely there and you even get a bit of heat from them (and it seems to build as you drink), but they're nowhere near overwhelming (the way they've been in other chile beers I've had). Overall, this is an interesting beer with a unique character. It's not a beer I'll be pining after for years to come or anything, but I'm really glad I got to try some. B

Beer Nerd Details: 9.4% ABV bottled (22 oz bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/6/12.

An epic idea, for sure, but it seems I've come on board a little too late in the process! Still, I'll check out that 12/12/12 beer for sure.

Victory Ranch S IPA

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Having exhausted Victory's regular catalog of beers (and most of their seasonals...), I set about sampling their irregular catalog of beers. This one appeared out of nowhere. No fanfare, just a new Double IPA on tap at the brewery. With a cryptic name.

As it turns out, this is a 100% Cascade hopped beer. Victory sourced the hops for this beer from a family owned hop farm called the Segal Hop Ranch (i.e. Ranch S), apparently the first hop farmers to commercially grow cascade hops (starting back in the late 1960s), so these folks ain't fooling around. In an interesting Victory blog post a while back, one of the Victory brewers recounted his visit to the farm, talking about the Cascade Hops (which are apparently also used in Hop Devil) as well as Citra and then there's this intriguing tidbit: "During the visit, the Segals showed me an unnamed experimental hop they are growing that had a fruity aroma with notes of banana and vanilla." Well that sounds interesting, but I'll have to make due with this Cascade single hopped double IPA for now. I picked up a growler of the stuff a couple weeks ago and ended up drinking the whole damn thing that weekend. Incidentally, Victory's growler filler machine thingy is absolutely badass.

Victory Ranch S IPA

Victory Ranch S IPA - Pours a really striking clear golden orange color with a finger or two of fluffy white head. The smell is filled with earthy citrus hop aromas. As it warmed and/or as I drank more of it over the course of the weekend, I started to pick up more of a pine-like aroma. You know how all the descriptions of Simcoe hops say that they're like Cascade on steroids? I never understood that until now. This Cascade beer really does have the smell (and taste) profile of a Simcoe beer. The taste is sweet with some of that earthy, piney citrus, but also a more floral or even herbal character leading into the dry, bitter finish and lingering aftertaste I expect from an IPA. Again, I feel like my palate adjusted to this the more I drank, with the pine taking a more pronounced position. Mouthfeel is smooth and just a bit sticky, with a light to medium body. Quite an easy drinking beer. I even got a bit of alcohol warming out of it, though I think that's because I drank a lot of it quickly. It's a lot like a souped-up Hop Devil (and it has less in common with Hop Wallop)... Hop Devil was the beer that sold me on IPAs, so this is very good thing, and a nice surprise from Victory. Again, as I drank more of it and that Simcoe-esque quality started to shine through, it perhaps came into its own. I really like this beer. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV growler (2L), filled on 12/30/11. Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/30/11 and 12/31/11.

I have no idea if this beer will return (I went to the brewery again this past weekend and they were already out of this) or if Victory has bigger plans to bottle this or something, but I'm glad I got to try some, as I enjoyed it greatly.

January Beer Club: Hoppy New Beer!

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Tonight was beer club, a meeting of beer minded individuals from my work who get together for a meal and lots-o-beer once a month. We had an average turnout this month, with 5 folks drinking beer and one pregnant club member who actually brought some non-alcoholic beer for us to try:

January Beer Club

For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each beer we tried are below. As usual, conditions were not ideal, so take it all with a grain of salt. Or a giant hunk of salt. In order of drinking (not necessarily the order in the picture):

  • Samuel Smith Winter Welcome Ale - I already reviewed this beer last month, but this bottle seemed a lot better than the one I had before. Not sure what the deal is there, but it was a better balanced brew than I remember, and certainly not a C. Maybe an upgrade to a B- is warranted.
  • Clausthaler Premium - The first of our non-alcoholic beers, this one was actually not the worst thing I've ever had. It's not particularly great either, but it's certainly comparable to a solid macro lager, maybe even better. If you're pregnant, this would certainly hit the spot (though apparently there's an amber version that is better). I give it a C
  • Stone Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale - I've had this a few times before, but it's actually better than I remember. Very nice, lots of hop character in the nose and the taste (nice floral and pine notes), but not overwhelmingly bitter or anything. I don't get a ton of oak out of this, but it's definitely more complex than the standard Arrogant Bastard. A-
  • Rogue Voodoo Doughnut Maple Bacon Ale - Rogue's collaboration with the Voodoo Doughnut shop generated a lot of buzz when it was announced, but once it was released, it got denounced as a "foul abomination". Fortunately, it's not that bad, though it's certainly not a mainstream beer. It smells very strongly of maple syrup with a little smoke coming through. The bacon comes out a little in the taste, but I'm still getting more maple syrup than anything else. There's some smoke there too, but it's not an overpowering flavor. Mouthfeel is actually quite nice, though it's still not an easy drinkin beer. I'm not sure I'd want to drink an entire bottle, but I did seem to like it a lot more than most beer club peeps. Perhaps because I was drinking this along with the burger I had ordered? Whatever the case, it is a bit of a gimmick, but I kinda enjoyed it. B-
  • Kaliber - This is the other non-alcoholic beer we tried, and we had high hopes. It's brewed by Guinness, and when my pregnant friend asked around, this was one of the recommendations she got. But yeah, this is horrible beer. Bland and watery with some off flavors or something. The only good thing I can say about it is that it was a kinda nice palate cleanser after the strong character of the Voodoo Doughnut (but then, water would probably have done just as well or better). F
  • The Bruery Mischief - A classic. I reviewed this a while back, and it's just as good as it was the first time. Still an A and probably my favorite beer of the night.
  • Tröegs Troegenator Double Bock - Very sweet and malty beer, I rather enjoyed this, though it was far from my favorite beer of the night. Perhaps a bit too sticky sweet, though still quite solid. I actually have one of these in my fridge somewhere, so I'll have to give this some closer attention at some point. For now, I'll give it a B
  • Port Brewing Santa's Little Helper - During a beer run in early December, I actually bought one of these (along with a few others) and put it on my passenger's side seat for the trip back home. At some point, I had to brake suddenly and my beer went flying... and this one broke open. I knew what happened right away, but since I was driving I couldn't really address it until I got home. For the next week or so, my car smelled of imperial stout... which, actually, wasn't that bad. I eventually picked up another bottle, but never drank it, so I brought it to beer club. It's quite a solid imperial stout. Roasty aroma with a taste that features a lot of dark chocolate and roasted malts. It was quite good, though perhaps my taste buds were a bit shot at this point of the night, as this wasn't quite as great as I was expecting. I'll give it a B for now.
  • My Homebrewed Christmas Beer - I think this is perhaps my best crafted beer yet and other folks at beer club certainly seemed to enjoy it (it went pretty quickly, which is pretty gratifying). I keep saying this, but I should really do some reviews of my homebrewed beers at some point.
  • Dana's Homebrewed Tripel - This did not come out as Dana had planned - there was a bit of a sour flavor present in the beer - but it actually turned out ok. Very citrusy nose and the taste, while not a typical tripel, was actually pretty good.
And that covers all the beer that we drank. As always, a great time was had by all, and we're already looking forward to February.

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

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