Brew Review – Old Dominion’s Monk Czech

Old Dominion's Monk Czech
Old Dominion’s Monk Czech

I’m sure many of you have experienced this musical common occurrence before.  You’re at a concert or a bar, patiently waiting for the band to hit the stage when a (usually) unassuming man with an all-access pass walks up to the mic and starts…well, god knows what.

Sometimes it’s just a simple droning of single words.  Sometimes it’s a collection of bizarre, jungle like sounds.  Amidst all of this, he continually looks towards the sound board, making thumbs-up-down type gestures until finally he’s excised whatever acoustical demons are living in the venue.

And of course, without fail, the crowd makes fun of him as he does.  After all we’ve all experienced the mike check enough to know that it’s an important part of any performance, but it’s become so cliche that it’s hard not to heckle the man as he does his job.

Old Dominion Brewery, in collaboration with the folks at Dawson Liquors have decided to release their previously keg-only beer Monk Czech, a play on the words “Mic Check”, in 22oz bottles.  The beer, billed as a Belgian-style pilsner,  has its very own website, complete with photos, beer finder and a rap video, and sports a label with a monk holding a microphone.

But after the mic check is over, what type of beer steps out on the stage to perform.  Are we talking Slipknot?  Or James Taylor?  Let’s listen.

THEM:  Monk Czech is brewed with Pilsner Malt, and utilizes Saaz, Tradition, Motueka and Nelson Sauvin Hops.  The beer is then fermented with the Chouffe yeast strain to an ABV of  5.2%.  The hops balance the beer out at 45 IBUs.

ME:  Hazy pour, coming in a notch or two above golden in the glass.  There isn’t a very substantial head, but it does end up with a nice, fine layer on the surface that leaves some very nice lacing on the sides of the glass as you drink.  The nose definitely speaks of Belgian beer with all kinds of fruity, spicy, Belgian yeasty aromas moshing around.  The first sip is …………. WHOA!!!!!  Holy…….  OK, the front has a nice touch of malt and citrus, but the back end initially is overly bitter, as dissonant as a band with an out of tune guitar.  Tracey noted the face I was making and when she took a sip she commented, “That’s the taste I hate in hoppy beers,” with a face that screamed “Never hand me a beer that tastes like this again.  EVER!”  I really thought this was going to end up being to unbalanced and totally disappointing, but thankfully after a few more sips my palette got adjusted to it and once it did, the beer became much less striking and much more enjoyable.

In the mouth, Monk Czech is light and clean, with lemon and grapefruit crowd surfing an enthusiastic audience of malt, spurned on by the beat of the Chouffe yeast influence.  The finish (once you get accustomed to it) leaves a little bite on your cheeks which is not at all unpleasant, and a light grapefruit rind sensation in your mouth that serves as a reminder of the experience like that slight ringing in your ear after a live concert.  As one would expect, aiming for a summer beer, it’s definitely not Mayhem or Slipknot (hell it’s not really even Poison) as the flavors aren’t outrageously bold like some other Belgian hybrids there, mainly because the base beer here is a pilsner, not an IPA.

All totaled, Monk Czech is a pretty decent beer.  I’m going to chalk that initial slap in the face to my mouth having had something in it that didn’t play well with the beer (I don’t know what, it wasn’t like I had just brushed my teeth), and I’ll definitely try it again to see if that was the case.  As far as anything else, it’s a pretty interesting conglomeration of a pilsner beer with Belgian influences and a sprinkling of “down under” hops.  Nothing really surprising, and pretty much on point with the target.  Maybe not for everyone (if you don’t like the taste of Belgian-style beers at all, then go see who’s playing across the street), but I’m willing to bet it makes an appearance at more than a few summer parties.  Accessible, straightforward and uncomplicated, with an underlying raw edge.  Let’s call it CCR.

CCR

Yes.  After a whole review of music analogies, I obviously meant the car.  Anyone willing to give a slightly used editor a good home?

Time for another beer.

Brew Review: Stone’s Enjoy By 04.01.13 (Breaking the Law, Breaking the Law)

Enjoy ByIt’s always interesting (whether or not it’s good is a whole nother debate) when a brewery bucks a trend in brewing.  And while many breweries are pushing out beers that are meant to be aged in dark caverns for years before being enjoyed, Stone Brewing has countered with a beer that twists this trend on its ear – a beer you have 35, and only 35, days to enjoy.

Their latest project is a series of beers produced to push the boundaries of freshness – the Enjoy By IPA series.  Well actually that sentence is a little misleading.  It should say, their latest project is a beer produced to push the boundaries of freshness – the Enjoy By IPA, because in fact, there is only one beer.

What Stone is doing is releasing each batch of Enjoy By  specifically designated by that batch’s bottling/kegging date which is  boldly presented on the label, a date that is a mere 35 days from the day it’s packaged.  Only one or two bottlings are available at any given time, and in order to make sure that each batch gets on the shelves as quickly as possible, each batch is only released into smaller select areas of Stone’s total distribution market.  And when the date on the calendar matches the one on the label of the bottle?  The beers are pulled from the shelf.

Sound like a marketing ploy to simply drive “beer frenzy”?  Well I could see how you might think that.  And it doesn’t help that charge that Stone has a page specifically designated to track which batches are available, which batches are about to be released and and to which areas these new batches will be shipped to.  Large counters ominously tick down showing you how much longer you have to enjoy each batch.  There’s even a button to cast a vote for Enjoy By to come to  your area.

So is Enjoy By IPA another fine beer in the Stone Brewing line-up, or just another gimmick intended to generated beer hysteria?  Let’s Taste.

THEM:  I couldn’t find a grain bill for Enjoy By, which is no big deal because this is not a beer to discuss grain, this is a beer to discuss hops – because there’s more than a few of them in it.  Unlike traditional beers that get all or most of their bittering from additions of hops early in the boil, Enjoy By gets a small amount of its bitterness from an initial addition of hops, but gets the lion’s share of its bitter thanks to hops that are added later to the boil for flavoring.  Flavor addition hops, that are only boiled for a short time, will add a small about of bitter to the beer but in order to get enough bitter to balance a double IPA you have to add a barrel load.  And Stone does.  Literally.  This technique is called “hop bursting”, and isn’t new to brewing, although I’m not aware of anyone doing on this scale.  The technique allows you to hump a ton of hop flavor into beer overly proportional to the amount of bitter that’s going in.  The end result?  A beer that can be as smooth as you want, with a super intense hop flavor.

They start with an extract from Super Galena early in the boil to give the beer a slight start in bitterness and then make flavoring additions of Simcoe, Delta and Amarillo.  Once the beer is in the whirlpool, it gets another dose of hops in the form of a blend of Motueka, Citra and Cascade.  The finished beer is dry hopped (one pound of each per barrel) with Nelson Sauvin and Galaxy.  Total bitterness clocks in at 88 IBUs.  Alcohol  chimes in at 9.4% ABV.

ME: I’m doing a criminal act because I’m actually drinking this after 04.01.13 because I just didn’t get to it, but that doesn’t seem to matter any because this thing is a hop monster.  Oh sure, there’s a nice touch of malt in both the nose and the flavor of this cloudy, amber beer to balance this puppy out but make no mistake this beer is all about the hops.

I’m not usually a fan of these types of beers but I have to admit this is kind of interesting, mostly because it’s a master class in hops.  This is “everybody in the pool”;  grassy tones, strong grapefruit, along with lemon and tropical fruit notes from the down under hops, a touch of pepper spice.  The aroma and taste are both excellent examples of everything this collection of hops has to offer, without one attribute over shadowing all the others.  I think the reason I’m liking this beer more than most hop bombs is easily summed up with the phrase, “it’s not boring”.

Oh, but there’s a price.  The finish isn’t overly bitter, that’s the whole idea behind brewing a beer with this technique, but after a while my mouth experienced what I call “hop burn” – that prickling coating on the tongue and roof of your mouth that tells you something in this beer has cross wired nerve endings in there.  If you’re not a fan of this type of humulus lupulus pimp handing, then walk away and buy another beer.  Heck, you might want to stay away from the beers on either side of this one just to be safe that where was no osmosis through the glass.

Over all, I don’t know how to feel about this.  On the one hand it is a fairly interesting beer, although not one that I’d drink on a regular occasion.  On the other, I don’t think this thing is going to self destruct in 35 days,

Mr Phelps

No, that was “self destruct in 5 seconds”.  But good try.

Gone in 60

Gone in 60 Seconds, I don’t think….

Beast 2

And, that’s the Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.  Look, you’re really not getting this.  Why don’t you go play in the yard for awhile and let me finish this review.

Anyway, so the whole “Enjoy By” thing smells a bit of beer frenzy marketing, which I’m not a fan of.  In fact, I think this thing might age interestingly with all the hops  in it, and I look forward to all the “aged Enjoy By” blog reviews that are forth coming because you know someone out there is squirreling this away just because they feel the need they should.

If you missed 04.01.13 don’t fret, 05.17.13 should start hitting the shelves in Delaware and the surrounding states in a day or two.

Time for another beer.

Brew Review: Old Dominion’s Cherry Lager, The Time Has Come The Walrus Said

Cherry Lager

“I know SOMETHING interesting is sure to happen whenever I eat or drink anything; so I’ll just see what this bottle does.” – Alice,  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Old Dominion Brewery has been on a tear lately.  They’ve been steadily introducing a new line of beers, their 22oz “bomber girls” series, which comprised of a Farmhouse, a double IPA and an Expresso Stout (with their pin-up inspired labels);  and these were so well received that two of them (Double D IPA, Morning Glory Expresso Stout) have made their way into regular 12oz offerings, and I hear Gigi Farmhouse may receive a similar repackaging.  So when I heard that they were also going with the previously keg-only Cherry Blossom Lager as their Spring seasonal in 12oz bottles, I was hoping this was going to be another solid, flavorful beer in line with these other recent beers that have come out of the brewery.   On the other hand it is a Cherry Lager, so how much boldness did I had a right to expect was uncertain.  Did I get what I want?  Let’s taste.

THEM:  When I initially started working on this review, there was much info on this beer.  It wasn’t even listed on their website.  But that’s changed I see.  The grain bill is specified, but the description does indicate that Perle and Tradition hops are used, and that the beer clocks in at 5.2% ABV.  What puts the “cherry” in Cherry Lager is a 48 hour conditioning on 300lbs of Michigan cherries.  The website describes it as “delightfully effervescent, blushing, and tart and resembles a cherry champagne”.

ME: Ok, first let me say I love the packaging.  The artwork and presentation are a nod to Lewis Carroll, complete with the quote “We can’t help it.  We’re all mad here.  All the best people are”, from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and the tempting directions “DRINK ME” as found on the bottle in the first chapter of the novel.  Second, if the first thing I say about a beer is about its packaging then that’s often not a good sign.  Kind of the way Paula Abdul would start one of her American Idol critiques with, “First let me say how good you look tonight”.  You just knew the “but” was coming.

“You used to be much more…”muchier.” You’ve lost your muchness.” – The Mad Hatter, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

I’ll just say it – I was hoping for more from this.  More what?  Well let’s start with more in the aroma.  The nose on this is so light to me, that I poured a second one into a different glass just hoping to pull something more out of it.  Didn’t help.  The faint aroma of malt reminds me of wort boiling on the stove, and what cherries I get aren’t exactly jumping out of the glass.  The flavor?  Again, light malt, light cherry, nothing overly complex.  The hops aren’t overly apparent, if in fact you can pull them out at all.  Tracey took a sip and said, “apple juice”.  Not exactly right, but I could kind of see where she was coming from.  The ending has an oh-so touch of tartness to it, but all in all it’s a pretty tame finish.  Not bad, but I was hoping for more.  And it didn’t even have to be “muchier”, just a couple of notches would have been nice.

“Contrariwise, if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic.” – Tweedledee, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

But in fairness (and the slight bit of logic I allow to creep into this blog) this review should be about what the beer is, not what I want it to be.  And this isn’t a bad beer.  It’s competently made and with its subtle but still apparent malt backbone, it definitely isn’t a lager in the “American Adjunct” style.  The cherries are balanced right where I think they should be with the level of malt/hops, if  you raised them up higher you’d run the risk of it turning into one of those overly cloying fruit beers.   Cherry champagne?  I suppose, but I like Brut champagne so that analogy doesn’t really work for me even though the beer does have a nice bit of carbonation to it.

“However, this bottle was not marked “poison,” so Alice ventured to taste it, and, finding it very nice (it had, in fact, a sort of mixed flavour of cherry-tart, custard, pine-apple, roast turkey, toffy, and hot buttered toast), she very soon finished it off.” – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

I’m sure a lot of Old Dominion fans will like this beer.  It may do well now that the thermometer is starting to climb into the 70’s here in Delaware and more people begin looking for the light, easy drinking beers of spring.  But it just wasn’t my bottle of choice.

Time for another beer.

Brew Review – Abita’s Turbodog Brown Ale, *BAM*

Laissez les bons temps rouler !
Laissez les bons temps rouler !

Some beers just come into your awareness from some weird direction which in all honesty, probably makes them seem better than they actually are.  Let’s look at Abita’s Turbodog, a relatively harmless brown ale style beer that more times than not, I probably wouldn’t have given a lot of notice to, that is if it hadn’t been for Emeril Lagasse.

As many of you might know, Emeril was the first breakout celebrity chef on the Food Network.  Lagasse had already made marks in the culinary world, succeeding none other than Paul Prudhomme as Commander’s Palace’s executive chef.  Cooking what he has called a “New, New Orleans” style, Lagasse quickly became known as a force in the Louisiana food scene (although local Louisiana chefs are quick to point out that he’s originally from Massachusetts).

Eventually he caught the eye of executives at the Food Network, where he first appeared on small shows like “How to Boil Water”, to finally hosting his own show “The Essence of Emeril”.  But it wasn’t until he was tapped for a new prime time live cooking show that the general populace, including myself, discovered Emeril.

One of the things I liked about the show was that he always had a table of four people in front of him with whom he would interact as he cooked.  These people would always get a sample of the dishes he prepared throughout the show and on occasion, he’d ask a guest, “Could use a beer to go with it, huh?” at which point he would walk over to the refrigerator and pull out a Turbodog.  Well of course, if it was good enough for Emeril, I had to give it a try!  Especially when he presented his technique for creating the perfect rue.  “You want to make a two beer rue,” he would say.  “Stir it for as long as it takes you to drink two beers.”  Well that never seemed to work for me, my rues never seemed to be where I wanted them until after I’d finished three beers.  But maybe I just drink faster than Emeril.  Or maybe I use less heat when making my rue.  Probably the former.  So is this beer worthy of being what I call the “unofficial official beer of Emeril Lagasse”?  Let’s Taste.

THEM: Turbodog is Abita’s take on a brown ale.   The grain bill is pretty straight forward; Pale ale (90%), Cara-90 (6%), and Dark Chocolate (4%) which is mashed in to achieve an OG of 13.5 Plato.  The bottle label and packaging make it sound like Williamette is the only hop used, but in an August 2012 interview head brewer Mark Wilson stated that the bittering hop addition is Apollo, with two additions of Williamette later in the boil for flavor and aroma.  A German Alt yeast is then used to ferment Turbodog down to 5.6%ABV.

Of interest is that Abita is only one of two breweries (New Belgian is the other) in the US to utilize a Merlin Boiling System to produce their beers.  From Abita’s webstie:

The Abita Brewing Company was the first brewery outside Europe to use a revolutionary new boiling system called the Merlin. It reduces the boiling time from 90 minutes to 35 minutes and is 70% more energy efficient. It works by moving the wort over a heated cone inside the Merlin, quickly bringing it up to the proper temperature. Have you ever seen one of those cold drink dispensers where the lemonade or fruit punch is circulated like a fountain over a cone inside a clear glass container? The chilled cone in the drink dispenser is cooling the drink and making a pretty display. Inside the Merlin, the heated cone is boosting the temperature of the wort and speeding up the brewing process.

ME:  If Turbodog was a painting then chocolate would be the canvas as it’s the dominant flavor and aroma that supports everything else that’s going on in the glass.   The nose also shows the slightest touch of touffe/coffee and I could get a hint of English hop (Williamette is a descendent of the English Fuggle hop) every now and then when I brought the glass to my nose.   As the beer warms up the chocolate definitely comes through in the flavor as the profile leans towards the malty side.  I never really found the hop addition in the flavor.  The beer looks a little darker than some other brown ales I’ve had and in a wide glass it can almost be mistaken for black, but hold it up to the light and you can see that it’s definitely not.  The carbonation level is good, the initial head recedes to a small layer of bubbles across the top and there’s some weight to the mouth feel, but not enough to get it up to what I consider to be “medium”.  Turbodog ends with enough bitter to balance, but not so much to linger on.

To me, this is just a fine drinking beer (regardless of how I “stumbled” upon it) and the best beer Abita makes.  It’s going to take something special to knock it off as my “rue making beer of choice”.  Bring on the gumbo!

Time for another beer….

Brew Review – Twin Lake’s Oktoberfest and the Beauty of Finding Beer

Twin Lakes' Oktoberfest
Twin Lakes’ Oktoberfest

If you’re a beer lover who tends to buy more beer then they can drink in a given time frame, or you like to age beer, you most likely have a “beer fridge”.  And if you’re like me, your fridge is full sized and confined to some out of the way place in you home, either the laundry room or the garage.  And again, if you’re like me, you’ve come to grips with the fact that sometimes, in the interest of domestic harmony, things other than beer must go into your beer fridge.

You’ve probably had a similar experience, you’re standing in front of your open fridge with either the Thanksgiving day turkey that must defrost, or trays of side dishes your significant other has cooked for tomorrow’s Christmas dinner at her parents house.  Your eyes have input into your brain an exact 3D rendering of not only the object in your hands, but the layout of the contents in your fridge as well, and come to the sad conclusion that yes – it just won’t fit.

So there you are moving the beer around in your fridge so that the alien item will fit, slowly cussing to yourself that this exercise is totally running the zymological feng shui that you have established.  After all, every beer in your beer fridge is precisely in the spot it should be, correct?  So at the end of this reorganization you find that you’ve made room for everything, if only you could find a space for the two bomber bottles that you have in your hands.   Quickly you decide to use the only option available to you, you pull open the crisper drawer to place the over flow into to only to find – that it’s already full with beer.  What’s this?  You ask.  Beer?  Beer you’d forgotten about?  Beer that you probably put in there the last time you had to make room for something non-beer related!  How long has it been there?  What is it?

What follows, depending on what the beer it is and how long it’s been sitting forgotten in the crisper, can be described as nothing less than the feeling of a small child on Christmas day.  Found beer!  How great is that?  Well imagine how you’d feel if you were Delaware brewers Twin Lakes, when they got a call from a local distributor saying they found three 1/2 kegs of their Oktoberfest sitting in the warehouse cooler.  Of course, Twin Lakes was more than happy to share this find with its patrons.  Found beer!  Let’s taste!

THEM: Twin Lake’s Oktoberfest is pretty straight forward (why mess around with what works), the grain bill is built on American two row, Briess Ashburne and Bolander Munich malts.  Tattnanger is the solo player here, giving the beer its slight hop touch and balancing out the beer at 40 IBUs.  The beer is then fermented to 6%ABV using a Bohemian lager yeast.  Oktoberfest was first brewed for the Delaware Saengerbund, a local area German-American club, for their annual Oktoberfest celebration.

ME: Nothing surprising here.  Twin Lake’s Oktoberfest hits the style points pretty solidly, from the malt based aroma right down to the clean, spicey finish.  It starts off with a nice white head on top a cloudy, orange body; and a good amount of supporting carbonation. The spicy/grassy elements of the Tattnanger dives playfully in an out of what is otherwise a solid malt/caramel canvas. The finish is clean with hop elements as well as a slight linger of malt.  The 6%ABV is nonexistent in the profile, it’s an easy drinking beer.  I’m glad they found it.

Time for another beer…

Sierra Nevada’s Narwhal Imperial Stout, and Why Can’t We All Just Get Along.

Sierra Nevada's Narwhal
Sierra Nevada’s Narwhal

Sometimes I get so wrapped up in all the good and fun in the craft beer world that it slips my mind for a few seconds that it is above all else, a business.  And although I would put forth that within the heart of this craft beer world sits an air of cooperation and fellowship that rivals any other profession, sometimes the realities of operating companies worth huge bucks hits you like a salt water rinse after a chainsaw shave.

When Brooklyn brewers Kevin and Basil started brewing and marketing their brand as Narwhal Brewery in 2010 with the hopes of opening a full fledged brewery in 2013, I’m sure they had the same dreams as many brewers currently out there.  And over the past two years they’ve worked hard to make that dream come true.  But one thing I’m pretty sure they never dreamed of, becoming involved in a legal dispute with one of the major players in the craft beer world – Sierra Nevada.

When Sierra Nevada announced its release of Narwhal Imperial Stout, Narwhal Brewing contacted them to inform them that they had been using the word “Narwhal” in their branding and were worried that Sierra Nevada’s pending trademark application would severally limit (if not down right halt) the use of the brand label that they’d worked so hard to build.  According to Kevin and Basil, an agreement was reached with SN, in which Narwhal Brewery agreed not to take any action against Sierra Nevada that would postpone the release of Narwhal IS, and in return Sierra Nevada would drop its trademark application allowing Narwhal Brewing to continue to use the word in their brand and file their own Trademark application.

However, according to Narwhal Brewing all that changed when SN released their beer.  From Narwhal Brewing’s website and Facebook page:

After they released their imperial stout, we received a letter from a trademark attorney hired by Sierra Nevada basically stating they were changing their minds and that they would fight us on this. We don’t fault them for taking this position or for anyone to want to protect their trademarks. However, in this case we clearly were using the name first and will explore all our options to protect our brand and identity.

Sierra Nevada has responded in kind:

In the case of Narwhal Imperial Stout—like all of the beers we’ve launched before it— we did extensive searches on the TTB labeling database, the patent & trademark office, state liquor boards, and even went as far as to search consumer-focused sites like Beeradvocate.com and RateBeer.com to see if there are any other products—beer or wine—of which we might run afoul.

In the searches for Narwhal, we found no other beers based or sold in the United States.

Hopefully the two breweries can come to an amicable solution to this issue that works for both breweries. [NOTE: Since I wrote the bulk of this a couple of weeks ago, Narwhal has stated several times on their social media sites that they’ve had very positive talks with Sierra Nevada and that SN has stated that they support small breweries]  In the meantime, is the beer that started all this who-struck-John worth it?  Let’s taste.

THEM:  Narwhal is crafted on a grain bill of Two-row Pale, Caramel & chocolate, honey, carafa & Roasted barley.  Magnum & Challenger hops are used to balance the beer out at 60IBUs, and Challenger gives the beers aroma.  The beer is fermented to 10.2% alcohol.

ME:  Narwhal pours….oh, do I really have to say it?  It’s black.  Intensely black.  Black hole black.  I was afraid my TV, my couch and my editor were going to get sucked into this thing (OK, I wasn’t really to worried about my editor).

Black Hole

The aroma is roasty grains, bitter chocolate, and a resiny pine.  The first sip caught me buy surprise.  I knew this beer was going to be big in the normal SN fashion but this was like a slap in the face.  Big grains, roast and more of those piny hops predominate.  After my palette got accustomed to all this aggressive pimp handing, it was greeted by a more subtle dose of sweet malt, coffee tones, and maybe some molasses.  The finish is a bitter mix of chocolate and sticky pine that lingers for quite a while.  Yeah, this one stays with you for a bit.

I really liked Narwhal (although North Coast’s Old Rasputin is still my favorite), it’s a pretty straight forward Imperial Stout with that expected infusion of Sierra Nevada you’ve come to know and love.

Time for another beer.

Brew Review – Weyerbacher Brewing’s Winter Ale

Weyerbacher recently had a make-over.  The Easton, PA brewery scrapped all of its diverse (and often decried) labeling in favor of a more artistically drawn look that I would say is more rustic (I guess, any artists out there?).  The change gives all the labels a common look which better unifies the brand visually on the shelf.  Probably no label captures the new style better than the one for their Winter Ale.  Not only does it have the visual similarities of all the others, but other characters from the Weyerbacher line make a festive appearance on it..

Left: The Old Winter Ale Label  Right: The Revamped Label
Left: The Old Winter Ale Label Right: The Revamped Label

As much of a fan as I am about good, creative packaging, as always it’s the beer inside that matters.  Is this the case with Winter Ale?  Let’s Taste.

THEM:  Winter Ale is brewed in the style of a brown ale using caramel and deep-roasted chocolate malt.  The beer is released at a non-threating 5.6% ABV.

Winter Ale was winner of a Silver Medal in the 1998 World Beer Championships

ME:  Winter Ale pours a deep brown color with a very quickly fading head.  The nose is full of roasted malts and something that to me comes across as a light piney/spruce type aroma, I’m suspecting something on the order of Chinook hops here.  The flavor is full of chocolate, with notes of roast and a sweetness like molasses or brown sugar.  The finish is clean with a slight hint of spiciness (more Chinook influence, maybe ).  At 5.6% it is definitely a beer you can enjoy several of while you’re wrapping presents and not be worried about them turning out like some holiday origami class gone horribly wrong.  Random note: if you miss spell origami, the spell check wants to know if you meant orgasmic.  Both useful words, but hardly interchangeable.

OSwan2

OSwan

See?

This isn’t a huge beer like some of my other Weyerbacher favorites like Blithering Idiot or Old Heathen, but it was still nice in its own way.  A welcome addition any to holiday beer fridge.

Time for another beer.

Brew Review – The Bruery’s 5 Golden Rings, and It’s Only a Little Wrong This Year

The Bruery's 5 Golden Rings
The Bruery’s 5 Golden Rings

Wow, has this year gone fast.  It only seems like yesterday that I was writing a review for The Bruery’s 4 Calling Birds, and why the name was wrong, and now here it is time to do the next in The Bruery’s Twelve Days of Christmas series, 5 Golden Rings.  I have to admit, I’ve wondered on occasion throughout this year what the next beer in the series was going to be.  Well the wait is over, time to taste.

THEM:  5GR is a golden ale (The Bruery says “the only one in the bunch”, not sure if that means up to this point, or if there won’t be another one in the whole series), along with cinnamon, allspice and ginger.  It clocks in at 11.5%ABV

ME:  5GR pours a light golden color that darkens to a light orange towards the top of my glass.  The carbonation is lively, with a steady stream of tight bubbles leading up to a continent and ring of head on the top.  When tilted back and forth, the edges display a  nice burst of bubbles, and a nice lacing on the sides of the glass.  Nice looking beer.  The nose has a nice mix of Belgian yeast, citrus and spice; of which I get more of the allspice than anything else. but the cinnamon is definitely in there as well.  The flavor is sweet, but light, with the Belgian aspects really shining through.  It starts with a touch of that Belgian and more sweetness and then the middle kicks with a touch of grapefruit and spice.  There’s an ever so hint of the ginger on the back end with a soft, light stickiness that never gets to cloying.  There’s a touch of warmth in the back due to the alcohol, after all 11.5% is hard to hide in what is supposed to be a golden ale, but it’s not harsh.  A good beer, but I remember liking 4 Calling Birds better.

The whole idea of this series is to save a bottle of each year’s release to enjoy in 2019 when 12 Drummers Drumming is released.  I’ll be interested to see how this one turns out because although there’s a good amount of sweetness, there isn’t a ton of flavors to meld and mellow over time .  We’ll see, I put a bottle in my beer fridge to save.

So what’s up with this year’s name?  Well, nothing that isn’t wrong everywhere else, but in this case it’s not the name that is the problem it’s the artistic interpretation that is usually associated with it.  Modern artwork associated with the song typically depicts five bands of gold, like rings you’d wear on your finger.  And 5GR is no exception, it’s not obvious at first, but the swirl of the label is made up of repetitive groups of interlocked five rings.  But as I somewhat alluded to last year,  the song is about preparing for a Christmas festival, with the first seven verses describing birds (game or otherwise) that were being brought to the festival as food.  In this case the five golden rings referring to five male, ring neck pheasants.

Time for another beer.

Brew Review – Evolution Craft Brewing Company’s Secret Spot (Winter Ale)

I first stumbled upon Evolution Brewing while doing a beer run in Maryland for a friend’s party.  Always wanting to try something new and local I picked up a couple of six packs to see what this new brewery had to offer, and to confess, that initial meeting wasn’t all that.  While there certainly wasn’t anything wrong with any of the beer, there wasn’t anything in those bottles that got me exciting like some things do.

dvd disk

Oh, you are sooooo funny.  I was talking about beer, fur ball.  You know what happens to naughty editors this time of year, don’t you?

sad dog with stocking

That’s right, they get nothing in their Christmas stocking.

cat-on-computer1

The cat?  Yeah, I guess you could blame the cat – if we actually owned one, couch licker.  Now if you don’t mind…

But it was when I attended a tap take over at Two Stones Pub and sampled a cross section of their other brews, some that are usually only available at the brewery’s tasting room, that I really got an appreciation for what this brewery was doing.  Their Lot #6, a draft only DIPA that you can normally find outside the brewery, is very good especially if you’re lucky enough to find it on cask.  One of their Menageries, which is a series of beers that they play around with some bourbon barrel aging techniques, was quite tasty.  And their Morning Wood, an oatmeal stout with coffee aged in bourbon barrels, I liked a lot more than I should considering I’m not a big fan of either of those flavors.  But it was about another beer, their Secret Spot, that I wrote:

From what I gathered this is a tap only winter beer.  Pity, because this malty beer with a light floral hop ending was very good!  I hope one day it will make its way into bottles, because I’d take it to some Christmas parties for sure.

Well Evolution must have read what I wrote because this year they’ve released Secret Spot in bottles.  Will I enjoy it as much now as I apparently did back then?  Let’s taste.

THEM:  The brewery has not put Secret Spot up on their website yet, so there aren’t to many specifics I can give.  I can tell you that the beer has 40IBUs and clocks in at 6.3%ABV.

Secret Spot
Evolution Brewing’s Secret Spot

ME:  Secret Spot pours clear amber with a layer of lace across the top.  The beer has a nice level of carbonation which keeps the lacing pretty stable throughout the drink.  The nose is light with slight hints of caramel  and hops.  The flavor echos the aroma with caramel, notes of biscuit, and hops, with the later coming across as an herby/spiciness which is light on the tongue.  The finish is clean, with a slight bitterness that leaves your mouth watering after each sip.  To say the finish builds up as you make your way through the bottle would be an over statement, but it does leave your mouth with a little touch of sweetness to remind you of the  experience.  As I was getting to the bottom of the glass, I as actually getting an “ice tea” vibe out of this beer, which I though was funny since it’s a “winter ale”.

I found Secret Spot to be a very nice, drinkable beer and found nothing in the bottle to change my initial assessment from when I had it on draft last year.  I’ll definitely be bringing it to some Christmas parties this year.

Time for another beer.

Brew Review – Troegs Brewing Mad Elf

The last beer I reviewed was just a straight forward beer style that the brewery was showcasing as their Winter beer.  This time we’re going to look at something that is anything but straight forward – Troegs Brewing Mad Elf.

I remember when Mad Elf was just like any other holiday offering on the shelf (it started appearing in earnest around 2003) and to be honest over the years I haven’t payed it much mind.  Then all of a suddenly, over the last couple of seasons this thing has just become a monster.  People start asking  for it before I’ve even had a chance to  purchase my Halloween candy.  Bars last year squirreled away kegs to tap during Wilmington Beer Week and Christmas in July events (to much fanfare).  And of course, when the beer does manage to hit the shelf, people start buying it – by the cases.  If this frenzy keeps growing I wouldn’t be surprised to see the beer highlighted on A&E’s Hoarders:

I DON'T HAVE A PROBLEM!
I DON’T HAVE A PROBLEM!

What’s behind all of this craziness?  Let’s taste.

THEM:  Mad Elf starts with a grain bill of Pilsner, Munich and Chocolate malts.  Saaz and Hallertau hops are used although sparingly in the case of bitterness as the beer only clocks in at 15 IBUs.  Troegs uses a “spicy” Belgian yeast to ferment it to 11.0% ABV.  But what puts the “mad” in the Mad Elf, is a combination of sweet and sour cherries, and fresh honey from Pennsylvania.

ME: Mad Elf pours clear with a nice head that fizzles down to a nice little continent of bubbles in the middle of the glass and a nice ring along the edge.  In a dim light the color could almost be confused for a light brown, but no matter what kind of light you put it in, there’s always a hint of  red around the edges.  The beer has a light nose to start (although it may be because my fridge has been getting my beers ripping cold lately) consisting of cherries, candy sugar and phenol.  It smells very much like putting your nose in a bottle of cherry cough medicine, except without the over the top fake cherry flavor they put in it that makes you (me) want to gag.  This is quiet pleasant, and not at all cloying or objectionable.  The flavor is cherries (shocking I know), and the rest of the elements found in the aroma.  The front is surprisingly clean, the flavor not really kicking in until you get to the middle when the cherries (and a creamy sweetness that I could almost talk myself into believing was the honey) hit.  The end has a little sour cherry “twang”, along with a bit of spice (from the “spicy yeast” I would imagine).  The beer leaves your mouth coated with a combination of a slight stickiness and a bite on the inside of your cheeks.  And the honey definitely becomes more pronounced as the beer warms up (is it sacrilege to say that I almost prefer this beer a little warmer than the recommended 55 degrees?)

Troegs Brewing's Mad Elf
Troegs Brewing’s Mad Elf

Where Mad Elf succeeds for me is that the first couple of sips loads you with a sweetness that if it continued to build would make it a one and done beer, but it doesn’t.  It delivers sweetness up front and leaves your palette clean on the back end, to the point that after I finished drinking my 22oz bottle I felt I could easily have had another.  Which exposes you to a little danger.  There is a little boozy warmth in this bottle, but other than that, there’s not much to warn you about the  11.0% that is lurking concealed under all that cherry.  But I’m sure you’d feel it after a couple of pints.

I’m certainly not ready to join the ranks of the hoarders, but I will definitely be enjoying more of Mad Elf throughout the rest of the Holiday season.

Time for another beer.