Monday, December 24, 2012

Beer of the Year 2012

As we rapidly near the end of 2012, it is again time for me to declare a Beer of the Year. This year I've decided to also award winners by style category. So without any further ado, let's get to it! 

Best Stout- Founders Breakfast Stout
Best Imperial Stout- Victory Storm King
Best Barleywine- Troegs Flying Mouflan 
Best American Porter- Stone Smoked Porter
Best Scotch Ale- Founders Dirty Bastard
Best American Pale Ale- Founders 
Best I.P.A.- Dogfish Head 120 Minute I.P.A.
Best Pale Lager- Uinta Skipping Stone
Best Helles Lager- Stoudt's Gold 
Best Dark Lager- Ayinger Altbairisch Dunkel
Best Amber Lager- Samuel Adams Boston Lager
Best Fruit Beer- Dark Horse Raspberry Ale
Best English Ale- Fuller's London Pride
Best Summer Seasonal- Anderson Valley Summer Solstice
Best Winter Seasonal- Anderson Valley Winter Solstice
Best Fall Seasonal- Flying Dog The Fear Imperial Pumpkin Ale 
Best Oktoberfest- DuClaw Mad Bishop
Best Christmas Beer- Troegs Mad Elf 
Best Pilsner- Great Lakes The Wright Pils
Best Brown Ale- Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar
Best Brew Pub- Stoudt's (Adamstown, PA)
Best Brewery- Founders

Beer of the Year: Rogue Voodoo Doughnut Maple Bacon Ale
Based on all the reviews, this is a beer that people either love or completely hate. And I love it! It is what you'd expect it to be - an ale made with applewood-smoked bacon, smoked and hickory malts, and maple syrup. Essentially it's a cross between a brown ale and a rauchbier - two of my favorite beer styles. It's super smoky and a tad sweet, and I had no objection to paying $16 for a bottle. In fact, I bought three. Some people are just turned off by smoked beer, but I've always been a fan. And come on! Everything is better with bacon! A Rogue beer has won this award two years in a row (last year's honoree was Captain Sig's Northwestern Ale). Will it happen again next year? We shall see!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Samuel Adams Merry Mischief

I love Samuel Adams beer! Their Boston Lager is often the only decent beer you can get when you go out to eat, and their small batch "experimental" brews always intrigue me. One good example of the latter is Merry Mischief, a gingerbread stout now available in bomber size bottles. That's right, I said gingerbread stout! How sweet is that! For sure, this is far from another run-of-the-mill Christmas ale. It's quite a daring concoction, combining the dark malts of a stout with traditional holiday spices like cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and ginger. I'm not sure it's a complete success, but I do appreciate the attempt to think outside the Christmas beer box. For a stout, it's a little thin. And the roasty quality you'd expect from a dark beer is pretty much obliterated by all that spice. Still, as a malt-head I have to be holding my thumbs up for the way this beer basks in its own sweetness. I've seen a lot of reviews comparing it to a pumpkin ale, and I totally get that. This doesn't really taste like a stout, nor does it taste like a Christmas ale. But if you're going to get experimental with a beer, rule #1 is that it should at least taste good. And I must confess, I had no trouble finishing my bomber of Merry Mischief. I liked all that sweet, intense spice, and mixed with those dark malts, this beer went a little overboard in an entirely pleasurable way. It reminds me of those times I went crazy and ate too many Christmas cookies (Ah, memories...of two weeks ago). As is the case with all of those Sam Adams small batch offerings, the alcohol content is, uh, "hearty". I'm not saying you should buy four or five of these, but this is one of those beers that everyone's got to try once. Have a friend or two over, crank up the Christmas music, and indulge. Surely some mischief is in order this holiday season!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Stone Vertical Epic Ale 11.11.11

Like a good little boy, I waited. I sat on my bomber of Stone Vertical Epic for an entire year, just like I was supposed to. And as soon as the beer "matured" on 12/12/12, I found myself drinking it that very night. If I'd been smart, I would have bought two bottles last year and tried one of them right away. Then I'd have some kind of point of comparison. Alas, I can only tell you that after a year in the cellar, Vertical Epic 11.11.11 was pretty darn fantastic.

What happens if you add Anaheim chillies from New Mexico plus whole cinnamon sticks to an amber ale fermented with Belgian Flanders Golden Ale yeast? You get a full-flavored but not overly hoppy variant on a "big" Belgian, replete with a substantial kick of alcohol (9 percent ABV!). Sometimes I find Belgian ales a little too sweet, so I was definitely intrigued by the inclusion of chili peppers. While Anaheim chillies are pretty mild in terms of heat, they do add a supremely flavorful dimension to VE 11. Their spice, along with the cinnamon, really "completes" this beer. As is typical of a Belgian ale, notes of banana and clove mix in with a bready malt taste. And while the hops are far from overdone, there's just enough of them to bring balance to this wonderfully smooth ale. I really enjoyed this beer. It's spicy, but not "hot". It's malty, but balanced. It's boozy, yet easy to drink. Was it worth waiting a year? Well, let me put it this way: when I pick up the Stone Vertical Epic 12.12.12, I'm drinking that shit right away! Life is too short to deny yourself fine beer, and it doesn't get any finer than Stone.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Shiner Holiday Cheer

Ahhh, Christmas beers. They're so appealing in theory, but how many of them do you really like? Troegs Mad Elf and Rogue's Santa's Private Reserve are my go-to holiday beers, and I've enjoyed both this Christmas season. They remain the gold standard. But I may have found another Christmas beer that I like quite a bit. Say what you will about Shiner beer. But nobody can deny it's an American icon. And from what I've experienced, the Spoetzl Brewery makes pretty decent beers. Shiner Holiday Cheer may be my favorite of their offerings. It's not your typical Christmas beer. It's an old school Bavarian Dunkelweizen with peaches and pecans and a hint of holiday spice. The idea of taking a dark wheat beer and making it taste a little like fruitcake may seem quite odd. But truthfully, it works. This beer is fruity and malt-forward, and with its light carbonation it almost has a peach Kool-Aid type taste. Hop presence is very mild, which makes this beer potentially appealing to individuals who don't ordinarily go for craft beer. It's kind of light-bodied for a winter beer, but its maltiness is pretty classic for the season. And with its fruity and nutty notes, Holiday Cheer is "different" in a genuinely good way. The cliche about "drinkability" certainly applies, but I don't think that's a bad thing at all. It's not like all your friends are beer snobs. If you're having people over for the holidays, this would be a nice beer to have on hand to share with friends and family. And while my wife and I pride ourselves on not having people over, this is one beer I'll continue to buy every Christmas season. Very nice!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Elysian Brewing Company Blight Pumpkin Ale

Elysian's 12 Beers of the Apocalypse series answers the simple question, "If the world were coming to an end, what beer would you brew?" Replete with amazing Charles Burns artwork, these apocalyptic beers are just freaking cool. If the world's coming to an end, let's not settle for ordinary beer! I had the Torrent Pale Beet Bock last weekend, and it wasn't bad. Even better was yesterday's bomber of Blight Pumpkin Ale. Elysian knows a thing or two about brewing pumpkin ales, and clearly Blight was not going to be just another variation on a typical style. Brewed with pumpkins, brown sugar, and Vietnamese cinnamon, Blight is as in-your-face as an apocalyptic beer should be. Do you love cinnamon? I mean, do you love cinnamon to the point where you'd consider marrying it? If not, just forget about this beer. Blight is a full-on assault of cinnamon. It hits you hard with cinnamon, then pounds you with more cinnamon. But while the cinnamon does dominate, it doesn't totally obliterate the taste of pumpkin and sweet malts. Alcohol is certainly there (7.4 percent ABV), but it's well-hidden underneath all that intense spice. This is a classic fall dessert beer with a little something extra. If you like pumpkin pie and gingerbread, this might be a beer that you could get into. I probably wouldn't drink it all the time. But for a special occasion ale, Blight really hits the spot. It's bold, but it totally works. "Too much" cinnamon? Come on! We're anticipating an apocalypse! We don't have time for moderation! I wish I'd gotten two of these.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Schlafly Oktoberfest

Late this past summer, as I usually do, I bought a number of different Oktoberfests (aka Marzens) for the fall. It's not that they were bad. But it just seemed like quite a few of them were at best slightly above average. Luckily I did find one new Oktoberfest that really hit the spot. Schlafly Oktoberfest is very much a traditional Bavarian Marzen. It's nothing earth-shattering, but it's smooth and malty like a good Oktoberfest should be. Overall, notes of sweet malts (especially caramel) prevail, along with the classic bready/nutty flavors you expect from this style of lager. If there's an extra edge this particular version of the Oktoberfest has on some of its competitors, it would be that the hops (Tettnang, Mittelfruh, Marynka) are not just an afterthought. While far from a "hoppy" Marzen, this one's got a balancing bitterness that works very nicely with all those sweet malts. Here we have a perfect example of a brewer not messing with a winning formula. Maybe this won't send you into a state of bliss like some of the A-level German Marzens, but all in all this is one of the better American versions of the style that I've come across. We're running out of time to enjoy Oktoberfests (man, it's almost November!). Whether you're tackling a huge plate of brats or just chilling on the couch watching football, this beer will enhance your enjoyment of the season.

Anderson Valley Brewing Company Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout

This is the third beer I've tried from Anderson Valley, and so far they're batting .1000. Stouts, like porters, often end up tasting generic to me. I've had so many craft-brewed stouts that essentially tasted like poor man's Guinness. But Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout is one of those rare exceptional stouts like Founders Breakfast Stout and New Holland's The Poet. Of course it's full-bodied and creamy like any good oatmeal stout should be. But what sets it apart is its incredible complexity of flavor. It's got the usual notes of mocha and roasted malt, but there's also a slight sweetness and a pronounced hop presence that's often missing from this type of beer. As I drink, this is a stout that delights me in many different ways. It's definitely got a flavor to savor. And even with all of that complexity, it's smooth and completely refreshing. Easily one of the top five stouts I've ever tasted. I think I've figured out what I need to do: if I find any beer with Anderson Valley's name on it, buy it!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Yards Brewing Company General Washington's Tavern Porter

In my effort to provide continuing coverage of the Yards Ales of the Revolution series, I now turn my attention to General Washington's Tavern Porter. I previously posted on Thomas Jefferson's Tavern Ale, and for my money General Washington's Tavern Porter is even better. I am a firm believer that dark beer, with its many flavonoids, has a performance-enhancing effect when consumed in appropriate quantities. It's no wonder, then, that George Washington's troops were ultimately victorious if this is the stuff they were drinking! Washington was a huge fan of Philadelphia style porters, and this particular porter is based on his original recipe. I myself am a great lover of porters, but if I had a gripe with the style it would be that a lot of them are pretty generic. But here we have a porter with some character. It brings all kinds of flavor: nutty, roasty, sweet, and just a little bitter- with distinct notes of molasses, coffee, milk chocolate, and even some dark fruit. It has the "classic" components of an English porter, but there is lots more going on taste-wise compared to your run-of-the-mill porter. I love how the sweetness and hop bitterness complement the usual roasty porter profile, and at 7 percent ABV this bad boy will quickly provide relief after your very own battles of the day. And its ultra-creamy mouthfeel is something that all brewers of porter would be wise to emulate. If not quite on the world-class level of the porters produced by breweries such as Stone and Founders, this is nonetheless one of the finest porters on the craft beer market. Like Thomas Jefferson's Tavern Ale, it is far more than a mere novelty beer. Drink it, and you too shall be victorious.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Uinta Brewing Punk’n Harvest Ale

I had originally planned to pass on the pumpkin ales this fall. Last year I bought a few different kinds. Some were good, and a few were not so good. I figured that for fall 2012, I’d mostly focus on the Oktoberfests. But when I went to stock up on cool weather seasonals a few weeks back, I did pick up a six-pack of Uinta Punk’n. I thought, “What the heck? I like Uinta beers!” And I’m glad I did, because this ale really hits the spot. It’s not the “boldest” pumpkin ale you’ll ever taste, but perhaps that’s what I like about it. It’s not trying to kick you in the ass. It’s not competing with the imperial pumpkin ales out there. Instead it’s a classic, drinkable pumpkin ale with a malty backbone and light spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, vanilla, and honey). It’s got just enough of the seasonal spice to satisfy my craving for the “taste of fall”. Hop-heads will be unimpressed. At just ten IBUs and only four percent alcohol, this might make a great “gateway” beer for anyone who’s new to craft brews. There’s something about the mouthfeel of all Uinta beers that I really like. Maybe it’s in the water. Maybe it’s the freshness or the high quality of the product. Either way, this brewery can do no wrong in my opinion. Punk’n is one of the tastiest pumpkin ales I’ve tried in recent years, and in the future it will be a staple of my fall drinking schedule. The irony is that all of those Oktoberfests I bought were pretty mediocre. For fall 2012 so far, Punk’n is my big winner!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

DuClaw Brewing Company Euforia Toffee Nut Brown Ale

The name says it all, doesn't it? Toffee nut brown ale. Doesn't the mere sound of it make your mouth water? Well it sure makes my mouth water. Given that I do a large portion of my beer shopping in Maryland, I often get the chance to sample the wares of DuClaw. I haven't really loved any of their beers - until now. Euforia is a beer that was made for maltheads like me. It uses five varieties of malts (pale, crystal, carawheat, chocolate and rye) to achieve that perfect flavor combination of sweet and roasty. It's a simple beer, really, but boy does it go down smooth! At only 22 IBUs, it's not in any way aggressively hopped. It is exactly what its name suggests. You taste the toffee, you taste the nuttiness. After a couple of months of drinking mainly summer seasonals, I was looking for something a little different. I was perusing my beer stockpile and noticed I still had a six-pack of Euforia from a late spring shopping trip. As soon as I drank one, I kind of wished I had discovered the glories of Euforia sooner! But on the positive side, it was nice knowing that I had five more bottles of the stuff to drink! The cliche about this kind of beer is that it's "drinkable". But sometimes cliches are unavoidable. Drinkable is the word! I just love that mix of caramel sweetness and toasted grain. This is the kind of beer I could drink any day of the year. It goes well with food, and I can enjoy it equally without food. In general, I think brown ales are underrated amongst beer snobs. Unless you're talking about something like an Abita Turbodog, nobody seems to be waving the banner for brown ales. Perhaps I could take up the fight? We shall see! Euforia is one of the best browns out there!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Great Lakes The Wright Pils

You may have noticed that blog updates here at WFB have been kind of infrequent in recent months. There are probably a number of reasons for this, but a big point is that I don't really have that many beers to write about at the moment. Most of the beers I'm enjoying these days are ones I've already reviewed. And although I've tried quite a few new beers this summer, a lot of them have been really average. But I can always count on Great Lakes. This summer they introduced a new seasonal, The Wright Pils. And, boy, is it ever good! It's precisely what I hoped it would be: a slightly Americanized version of a classic Czech syle pilsner. It's clean and crisp-tasting with a nice dry finish. The flavor is floral hoppy with some spicy bite, balanced by sweet, grainy malts. Hallertau hops replicate the character of German noble hops, while Czech Saaz hops bring an earthy quality to this drinkable but full-flavored lager. For this kind of beer, I usually favor an American craft version over an "authentic" import due to issues of freshness. With a Great Lakes beer, you know it's fresh because they've got the date right there on the bottle. If my gold standard for an American pils is the Victory Prima Pils or the Stoudt's Pils, this one is every bit in the same league. I don't think I've ever had a Great Lakes beer that I didn't think was absolutely great. And The Wright Pils is no different. It's thirst-quenching and delicious at the same time. You can knock one back on a hot day, but you can just as easily enjoy it with a fine meal. It's just a freaking fantastic beer. Get some before it's gone - we've still got half a summer to get through!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Uinta Skipping Stone Summer Lager

So you always hear how American lager beers aren’t what they used to be ever since all the big corporate breweries conspired to water down their product sometime in the 1970s. I don’t know if this is true or just an urban legend. I wasn’t even born until the ‘70s. I don’t know what a Bud or a Coors tasted like in 1968. But you hear stories about how they were actually good beers back then. Well, I’m going to venture a guess that if American pale lagers really were better back in the day, they may have tasted something like a Uinta Skipping Stone. Although technically a summer beer, this is a lager that most people would drink year-round. It’s an everyman beer - clean and thirst-quenching and completely without pretension. But compared to corporate suds, it’s just better-tasting. It’s actually got flavor! You know how Schlitz advertises a “kiss of the hops”? This stuff has actually got it. At only 22 IBUs, you might expect piss water. But there’s a nice grassy hop bite that does not go unnoticed, along with a little malt sweetness and a crisp lemony finish. And I dig the foamy head! How do I explain it? It’s like your typical beer, except it tastes more, uh, “beery”. All in all, this is top-notch swill. This is up there with Victory Throwback when it comes to micro-brew versions of macro lagers. Yeah, I know you can almost buy a case of Miller High Life for what you would pay for a six-pack of this stuff. Fair enough. But at the end of the day, you get what you pay for.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Mt. Carmel Brewing Company Summer Wheat Ale

Holy hops, Batman! A wheat beer with some bite to it! Who knew? Wheat ales are always good summer beers, but rarely are they anything to write home about. If I were for some reason in holed up in Cincinnati, I would most definitely write home about Mt. Carmel's Summer Wheat Ale. This is without doubt one of the finest wheat ales out there. At a modest 34 IBUs, you would not expect much in the way of hops. But surprisingly, the flavor is hoppy in an American pale ale sort of way. I taste a good bit of citrus, and the main fruit notes are lemony. The lemon cuts the wheat but doesn't wipe it out completely. I mean, why drink a wheat beer if the wheat's going to be completely downplayed? Mt. Carmel has done a great job of doing what all craft brewers try to do at this time of the year - create a lighter "thirst quencher" beer with a genuinely fuller flavor. This is a really nice beer, made with quality ingredients and very fresh-tasting. Maybe you think of this as a wheat beer, or maybe you think of it as a wheat beer/pale ale hybrid. Either way, I've found a mainstay of my summer drinking lineup for years to come!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Great Lakes Brewing Co. Lake Erie Monster

What kind of brewery makes its summer seasonal a double IPA? An awesome one! I’m weird since I dislike American pale ales because they’re “too hoppy”, yet I like the far hoppier India pale ales. And I like double IPAs twice as much as I like regular IPAs. Perhaps it’s because double IPAs balance all those hops with tons of malts. This may be blasphemy, but I’d say the Lake Erie Monster is just about as good as the vaunted Bell’s Hopslam. At worst, it’s a nine out of ten compared to Hopslam’s ten out of ten. Not too shabby! And hey, you don’t really have to take sides since one comes out in the winter and the other comes out in the summer. I just love it that while almost every other craft brewery is bringing wheat beers and fruit ales and pale lagers for the warm months, Great Lakes goes big for the summer. Named in honor of the Lake Erie monster, South Bay Bessie, this beast of a beer weighs in at 9.1 percent ABV and 80 IBUs. Up front it’s, of course, a hop bomb. You get that big blast of Simcoe and Fuggle hops the instant the beer hits your tongue. But as you continue to drink, the malts (primarily Harrington two-row) really step up. And so you’re left with an ale that packs a punch but ultimately comes off as perfectly balanced. This is not just another hopped-up ass-kicker of a beer that’s all brawn and no finesse. It’s smooth and flavorful, buoyed by a powerful dose of citrus hops and a nice malty backbone. As imperial IPAs go, it does not get more drinkable than this. Considering the higher price point and scary percentage of alcohol, this is not quite a “typical” summer beer. You probably don’t want to slam two bottles right after you finish mowing the lawn. Or maybe you do. I’m not going to judge you. If I were going to go out on Lake Erie in hopes of catching a glimpse of Bessie, I’d take a four-pack of this stuff with me. Or maybe two four-packs. I really want to see that monster.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy

There are lawnmower beers, and then there are lawnmower beers. Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy is the lawnmower beer to end all lawnmower beers. Its rating on Beer Advocate is a paltry 71 – definite proof that a lot of craft beer connoisseurs have prejudices against “average Joe” brews. Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly well-crafted. Hell, a beer like this that could easily be terrible if it were not perfectly in balance. So hats off to the Leinenkugels for getting it right! Summer Shandy is their take on a traditional German Radler – half pale lager, half lemonade. It is, of course, brewed specifically for the summer months when something cold and refreshing is in order. And boy, does this stuff ever hit the spot! It doesn’t taste “off” or too sweet or disgusting. For what it is, it’s pretty darn perfect. It may be a lemonade beer, but it’s still a beer. The lager component is rock solid. And if you hate the idea of lemonade in beer, that’s a matter of taste and not a knock on the quality of this product. Honestly, I haven’t mowed a lawn in almost 20 years. But coming home from the gym in a non air-conditioned car is kind of similar to coming in from mowing a lawn. And I do that a lot. Both cases are fine occasions to pour a Summer Shandy! The cynic will say that the booming sales of this beer are a sign that it’s lowest common denominator swill. But conceptually, there’s nothing wrong with a beer that almost everyone can love. It’s simply a matter of whether it’s quality or garbage. If Bud or Miller tried to make a shandy (and trust me, they will sooner or later), they’d fuck it up royally. Do not underestimate the Summer Shandy!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Flying Dog Pearl Necklace Oyster Stout

Honestly, it's not as gross as it sounds! Flying Dog's Pearl Necklace Oyster Stout stout is brewed with Rappahannock River oysters. Proceeds benefit the Oyster Recovery Partnership, which works to restore the endangered Chesapeake Bay oyster population. What a cause! And what a beer! I consider myself somewhat of a connoisseur of stouts, and this is seriously one of the best stouts I've had in a long time. To use some highly technical beer terminology, I'll say it, uh, tastes real good. It's creamy, and a little on the light side for a stout. There are notes of roast, subtle chocolate, and coffee. The inclusion of oysters adds a slight mineral element, which may sound weird. But it's not weird. This is a damn good beer - one of the best Flying Dog offerings I've tried to date. If you prefer smooth, flavorful stouts to "intense" ones, you will dig. This beer has done so well that it's been graduated to year-round status. So clearly I'm not the only one who approves. When's a novelty beer not a novelty beer? When it's delicious!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Anderson Valley Brewing Company Summer Solstice

Honest to God, Anderson Valley's Summer Solstice is the best summer beer I've ever had. I don't think anything else comes close. Too often in the craft beer industry, "summer ale" is a euphemism for "overpriced swill". If that's all you're looking for, you might as well drink Miller High Life. But Anderson Valley, brewers of one of the world's best winter ales, make a summer beer that's just as good. The typical summer ale is light - both color-wise and taste-wise. Summer Solstice, on the other hand, is copper colored and majorly malty. And you know how I am about those malty beers! A little added spice brings something "extra" to the flavor, and all in all this is a sweet & creamy dream. It's the best of both worlds, really: combining the crisp thirst-quenching qualities of "lawnmower beer" with the depth of flavor and quality craftsmanship of the finest micro ales. Plus it's sweeter than your run-of-the-mill summer beer. And in the summer, I like sweet. I've seen this knocked as a "woman's" beer. What does that even mean? Women don't know good beer? Come on! Some of the highest authorities on beer I know are women! Who drinks Summer Solstice? Everyone who likes their beer to be awesome!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Uinta HooDoo Kolsch Style Ale

Since I’m on a springtime “light” craft beer kick, how about a Kolsch? I love a good Kolsch. I love saying the word “Kolsch”. And the venerable Salt Lake City microbrewery Uinta makes one of the best Kolsches I’ve had in recent years. Seriously, this is what a “light beer” should taste like! Refreshing, lightly hopped (25 IBUs), and full of grainy/bready/biscuity notes, HooDoo is nothing fancy. But that’s the point! Hardcore beer snobs will probably say stuff like, “It’s fine for what it is.” Fair enough, but it’s more than just “fine”. It’s outstanding. What I love about a Uinta beer is that it’s always top-notch and always fresh. Maybe I’m crazy, but I swear there’s something in the water out there. You couldn’t brew a beer that tastes like a Uinta in, say, Hoboken. HooDoo, amongst the Uinta roster, is one of my favorites. Forget the backhanded compliments. This is a great beer, period. One of my big “things” as a beer guy is that I like to see what breweries can do with the simpler styles. Sure, it’s nice to concoct a “big” beer. I know the double IPAs and Belgian tripels get all the glory. But in my book it takes just as much skill and sensibility to brew up a basic style and make it really good. No wonder Uinta has been in business for almost 20 years. They can do it all. Their HooDoo is an A-caliber Kolsch. It’s got a touch of sweetness, a touch of bitterness, and a crisp, dry finish. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes beer, even if you don’t ordinarily don’t go for craft beer. It’s a great lawn mowing beer, a great pizza and burgers beer, and a great bullshit with your friends all night beer. It makes my short-list of go-to light-colored beers. And trust me, that short-list is a very short list.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Tröegs DreamWeaver Wheat Ale

My first review in weeks, and I'm writing about a measly Hefeweizen? God, I'm a lousy beer geek! Call me nuts, but if we're talking Tröegs, I actually find the DreamWeaver more to my liking than the much-ballyhooed Nugget Nectar. I don't know. Perhaps I'm just in the mood for a warm weather brew. "Light" not just in color but in all the other ways that matter (15 IBUS, ABV 4.8 percent), this is a wheat ale to be quaffed. And quaff it I do! Combining four wheat types with Munich and Pils malts and noble Saaz hops, DreamWeaver is no run-of-the-mill Hefeweizen. After all, we are talking a Tröegs ale. So you know you're getting top-notch quality. The yeast strain they use adds notes of banana and clove, and this added dimension of flavor complements the usual crispness that is par for the course with a wheat ale. In short, this beer is just really, really good. The taste is clean and spicy in all the best ways. I've not managed to drink one of these without draining my glass well before I finished my meal. This is not a "sipper". It goes down easy and begs to bought and consumed in large quantities. Backyard barbeques and pool parties are just around the corner. Don't be cruel and stick your friends and family with Blue Moon. Have some class! Why settle for a wheat beer that's refreshing but average when you could drink one that's refreshing and delicious? Yes! Yes! You know I'm right! Tröegs rules as always.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar ale

On the night of my 41st birthday, at the Arooga’s in east York, I tasted Rogue’s Hazelnut Brown Nectar ale for the very first time. Had I done nothing else for my birthday, it still would have been one of the best birthdays of my life. That’s how good this beer was! It was like tasting perfection. As much as I like to tout the wares of breweries like Founders, Dogfish Head, and Victory, it’s becoming evident to me that Rogue is my overall #1. And the Hazelnut Brown Nectar is up there with anything I’ve tried off the Rogue line.

Granted, brown ales in general are not the most exciting beers. Usually they’re “okay” but hardly extraordinary. But this particular variation on the brown ale theme is truly out of this world. The concept: add hazelnut extract to a traditional English brown. The result: a rich and improbably smooth beer that’s nutty, sweet, and crazy wicked delicious. Eight different kinds of malts give this ale a pleasingly toasty flavor, and the hazelnut brings an added dimension of yum. At only 33 IBUs, there’s very little bitterness to counter all that malt sweetness. Yet by no means is it “too sweet”. Like all of Rogue’s ales, HBN is flawlessly balanced and absolutely bursting with flavor. Some may call it a “dessert” beer, but personally I’d prefer it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If I’m making my top ten beer list, this one’s getting a spot for sure. Hazelnut Brown Nectar? More like nectar of the gods!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Yards Brewing Company Thomas Jefferson's Tavern Ale

Being of British descent on my dad’s side, I often imagine that my fondness for beer has been hotwired into my DNA over many centuries. And going way back, I know my ancestors probably weren’t drinking IPAs or Belgian dubels. They were drinking various kinds of English ales. And let me tell ya, I sure do enjoy English ales! Lately I’ve really been digging Yards’ Ales of the Revolution, which are beers based on the original recipes of our (English descended) founding fathers. In particular, I’m absolutely nuts about Thomas Jefferson’s Tavern Ale. According to Yards, this is Jefferson’s very own recipe for the beer he brewed from homegrown ingredients like honey and rye. And while I’ve never traveled back in time, by all accounts this is pretty close to the sort of beer one would have imbibed in the era of the American Revolution. It’s quite delicious, complementing the usual caramel/toffee/biscuit malt profile of an English ale with a candied fruit sweetness and that classic grassy hop finish. Drinkability is probably 5/5, and no doubt I could pound these all night. But check this out: alcohol comes in at a whopping eight percent! Holy crap! Jefferson didn’t mess around! It’s quite a high ABV for a “golden” ale, but this was the 18th Century when men were men! Kudos to Yards for taking a throwback formula and brewing it up right. This bad boy is balanced, smooth, and pretty unique within the realm of English strong ales. This will become a mainstay in the Rutledge household. I’ve not tried a whole lot of offerings from Yards in the past. But rest assured I will now!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Fuller's London Pride

Every year I like to designate one beer style to explore, and I decided 2012 should be the year of the English pale ale. EPAs in general are one of my favorite beer styles, and I will forever consider Bass one of my go-to brews. But I wanted to find out what else was out there besides Bass. So I bought a six-pack each of Old Speckled Hen and Fuller’s London Pride the last time I went beer shopping. I didn’t love the Old Speckled Hen, but the Fuller’s London Pride was a full-scale jackpot hit! I’m sure I’ve had it before a couple times in my life, but it’s been a while. Damn! When I talk about the EPA being a favorite style of mine, this is exactly the kind of beer I’m talking about. It’s smooth and relatively full-bodied, with a nice malty taste highlighted by notes of bread, biscuit, caramel, and butter. It finishes clean with a mild leafy hop kickback, and all in all it’s the embodiment of a drinkable session beer. As my explorations continue, I may check in with some lesser known English breweries as well a few American interpretations of the EPA. But sometimes the “classics” are classic for a reason. If Bass sets the standard, Fuller’s is not far behind. And having had both, I’m not sure I wouldn’t give FLP the slight edge. Absolutely a world class beer. English pale ales may not be the typical beer geek’s choice of style, but I am not the typical beer geek. If you, like me, enjoy a good EPA, this one is top shelf.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Victory Brewing Company St. Boisterous Hellerbock

Yay, it's spring beer time! And is there anything better to drink in the spring than a Maibock? When you're done with the barleywines and imperial stouts but not quite ready for hefeweizens and pilsners, it's hard to beat a nice, golden bock. Victory Brewing Company makes some of the best German style beers this side of Germany, so it should be no surprise that their take on the Maibock/Helles bock is totally on point. Made with Noble German hops and decocted German malts, St. Boisterous is exactly what I crave in the early spring: clean & refreshing, yet full-bodied and hearty. It's got a lemony tang and malty sweetness that hit you up front, and then the hops take over with their crisp, grassy bitterness. Very, very nice - and overall one of Victory's most underrated brews. At seven percent alcohol, this may be a little "strong" for a session beer. So be careful if you're drinking more than one or two. The alcohol is, as they like to say, "well-hidden". They don't call it "boisterous" for nothing.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Stoudts Gold Lager

I’ve never really preferred blondes, but sometimes an exception has to be made. And it is coming up on spring! It’s time to start thinking about warm days and clean, thirst-quenching brews! Stoudts Gold Lager is pretty close to the best light-colored beer I’ve ever tasted. It’s absolutely phenomenal. A Munich style Helles lager with sweet malts and crisp hops, Stoudts Gold is a legendarily quaffable beer. I would recommend it to both the most discriminating beer snob I know and the Coors light drinker next door. It’s truly a beer for anyone who loves beer. And while a number of craft breweries like to offer up some kind of “better” version of corporate swill as a concession to the mainstream, that’s not what Stoudts Gold is. It’s A+ drinkability should not be confused for a lack of flavor or character. At Stoudts they take pride in their German heritage, and for sure their version of the Helles lager is in the classic style and of the highest quality. It’s clean and refreshing but not “watery”. And what balance! The malts blend biscuit/cracker notes with a fruity sweetness, and the floral hops cut straight through for a refreshing tinge of bitterness. This beer is great with German food - or any food for that matter! I will probably spend all spring and summer seeking out more craft-brewed “light” beers, and none of them will compare to this. It’s been years since I’ve purchased any beer by the case, but come spring I will indeed buy an entire case of Stoudts Gold. I could drink this stuff all day, any day.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Appalachian Brewing Company Pennypacker Porter

With just six weeks left until we depart for tropical vacation 2012, my wife and I have been dieting hard in preparation for the beaches of Riviera Maya. Operation Beach Body has not been fun. But one day a week, we do partake of a cheat meal. Yesterday’s cheat meal, at the Appalachian Brewing Company pub in Camp Hill, was one of our most rewarding yet. Buffalo bleu cheese balls and Canadian poutine for starters, followed by cheddar ale, burgers, and onion rings. Zeppole for dessert. We had been anticipating this meal for several days, and it did not disappoint. But perhaps the most pleasant surprise for me was my choice in beverage. I’ve been going to ABC for six or seven years, and I’m sure I’ve had the porter before. But it wasn’t until yesterday that I realized how good it was!

I like to think of myself as a connoisseur of porters. I might not be an authority on IPAs or Belgian dubels, but I know a good porter when I taste one. And while some of the more highly rated porters in the craft beer world are among my personal favorites, I tend to favor a more subtle, “classic” taste. I don’t need a porter to be unusual or daring or extraordinary. I just need it to taste good. ABC’s porter, named after one of our commonwealth’s former governors, gets it totally right. Brewed in the classic English style, this medium bodied black ale has a subtle toasted flavor with a modest hop bitterness at the finish. Compared to stouts, which are generally dryer and more bitter, porters ideally mix a roasty flavor with a touch of sweetness. ABC’s version does exactly that. The malt profile blends sweet notes of caramel with hints of chocolate and coffee, and all in all it’s as drinkable as any dark beer I’ve had in a long time. While not a year-round offering at ABC, it’s a beer I will hereon order every time it’s available. I compare it favorably to Bell’s Porter, which is my #1 favorite porter in the world. If you live in south central Pennsylvania and you haven’t had the Pennypacker Porter on draught, you definitely ought to give it a chance. I might go back and get a whole growler of the stuff. Or maybe two growlers!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Arcadia Brewing Company Big Dick’s Olde Ale

Don’t let the junior high humor of the beer name fool you – Big Dick’s Olde Ale is no joke! It’s the latest in a long line of Michigan beers to hold an honored position on my fridge’s beer shelf, and it’s exactly the kind of thing I like to drink this time of the year. An olde ale in the classic English style, but in a lot of ways reminiscent of a Belgian, Big Dick’s is impossibly smooth for a beer that’s nine percent alcohol. Like any good olde ale, it’s full-on, over-the-top malty with a nice influx of boozy flavor. But overall, it’s also one of the most nicely balanced olde ales I’ve had. Caramel, brown sugar, and dark fruit notes mix for a pleasantly prevailing sweetness, while a mild hop bitterness and a substantial alcoholic bite add nice touches of complexity. By all means, this is a big beer. But it’s not a scary kind of big. It’s an easy-drinking ale – almost too easy drinking considering the ABV! I’ve had a few olde ales in my day, and this one is in the B+/A- range for the style. If you’re not quite ready for a barleywine but want to try something like a barleywine, give Big Dick’s a chance.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Dogfish Head Chicory Stout

I’m the kind of guy who studies the calendar a couple times a week, marking the days until the winter is over. I am not a fan of the cold. I hate almost everything about the winter. The only exception is the beer. There are certain beers that you can only get this time of the year, and they tend to be some of my favorites. Case in point: Dogfish Head’s Chicory Stout. Notoriously, I’m a stout guy, and this one is in my top ten. It’s a terrific beer, and I have a sentimental attachment to it as well since it was the first true “craft” beer I ever had (Rehoboth Beach, 2005). Made from roasted chicory, organic Mexican coffee, St. John’s wort, and licorice root, this is far from your run-of-the-mill stout. It’s one of Dogfish’s oldest beers, and it’s hardly a stretch to call it a craft beer “classic”. Even with the use of Cascade and Fuggle hops, it’s not bitter at all (21 IBUs). Dogfish describes its tasting notes as “creamy, roasty, peppery, dry, and chocolatey”, and I could not agree more. The coffee component, while noticeable, is far from dominant. It mixes nicely with woody chicory notes, a bit of dark chocolate, toasted malts, and a touch of black licorice. For whatever reason, this stout doesn’t get as much love from beer geeks as a lot of Dogfish’s other beers. It’s not a “big” beer. It’s not boldly conceived or particularly high in alcohol (ABV 5.2 percent). But you know me: I like simple, balanced beers just as much or even more than “edgy” concoctions. And having consumed a ton of stouts over the years, I’m certain that Chicory Stout is one of the best out there. Like any good stout, it’s roasty with subtle flavors of coffee and chocolate. On a drinkability scale, it’s pretty much unsurpassed on the Dogfish roster. A solid, delicious stout: what’s wrong with that? Not a thing! Buy it if you can still find it!

Monday, January 30, 2012

New Belgium Cocoa Mole

It had been a while since I’d had a beer so mind-numbingly delicious that it made me jump out of my seat and do the jig out of sheer joy, but New Belgium is really onto something with their Cocoa Mole ale. Color me impressed! Part of NB’s Lips of Faith series, Coca Mole is so good it’s almost orgasmic. The concept is genius. Spice a beer with ancho, guajillo, and chipotle peppers, then balance all that heat with cocoa, cinnamon, and caramel malts. Whoever came up with that stroke of brilliance should have a statue erected in his honor. And the execution is every bit as good as the idea. The sweet and hot notes go together perfectly- making for a rich, bold brew that’ll sustain you on a cold, blustery day. At nine percent alcohol, this bad boy has serious bite – but that’s all part of the fun! I bet this would age remarkably well if you had the patience to cellar it, but if I buy any more bottles I won’t be able to resist drinking them right away. It’s just too freakin’ good! A bomber of Cocoa Mole won’t come cheap, but I guarantee it’s worth every penny you pay. Absolutely an A+ beer. Get it while the getting’s good!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Pyramid Snow Cap Winter Warmer

As January nears its end, the winter warmer season is winding down. It’s soon time to start thinking about, gasp, spring beers! But I’ve got one last winter ale post for you. Pyramid has been in the beer-making business for 28 years – practically an eternity in craft brewing terms. And the Snow Cap, with good reason, is one of their best known beers. This warmer is different from the typical winter seasonal in that it’s crafted in the English style. And I sure do love my English beers! Notes of caramel, chocolate, burnt fruit, and roasted grain provide the main thrust of flavor, but there are plenty of Nugget, Willamette, and East Kent Goldings hops for balance and a crisp finish. And at seven percent ABV, the alcohol content is just right for a “warming” effect. While a lot of winter ales come off tasting “thin”, the mouthfeel on the Snow Cap is fuller and creamier (perhaps not stout creamy, but creamy nonetheless). All in all, this is what a winter ale should be. It’s smooth, balanced, and delicious. The flavor, while on the malty side, is no slouch in the hop department (47 IBUs). If beer geeks describe it as “solid” but “not extraordinary”, that’s hardly an insult. We’re talking about winter warmers. They’re supposed to be solid but not extraordinary. This might not be a “sexy” sub-genre of craft brewing, but in my book the best microbrewers are the ones that can make tasty versions of unassuming styles. From hereon out, I’m stocking up on Snow Cap every winter. It makes my short list of essential cold weather seasonals.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Anderson Valley Brewing Company Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale

I’ve had my ups and downs with winter seasonals this year, but I may have just hit an all-time high with Anderson Valley’s Winter Solstice. Hooray! Finally we get a winter warmer that’s neither a glorified IPA nor a “mild” tasting bore! In business since 1986, AVBC is one of America’s longest tenured (and best!) craft breweries. I’ve had some of their other beers before, but Winter Solstice is by far my favorite. Although far from assertively hopped, it’s got a ton of flavor. A sprinkling of holiday spice (nutmeg, vanilla) is nice, but the sweet malt backbone suggests something more like caramel apple brown bread. Overall the taste is a delicious combination of toasty, roasty and sweet - with bitter hops cutting through on the back end for balance. I like the creamy, smooth mouthfeel, and of course every sip sends a nice “warming” sensation straight down to the belly. I could drink this all day. If you, like me, have been a little disillusioned with winter warmers, give AVBC a shot.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Heavy Seas Winter Storm Category 5 Ale

I firmly believe that winter is the best beer season of them all. But to be honest, I’ve had several winter seasonals already this year that ranged from disappointing to mediocre to just plain crappy. What is going on?! Is this Opposite Year? Hats off to Heavy Seas for getting me back on track! Winter Storm is a smooth and delicious winter warmer – and an inventive one at that. It’s an “Imperial ESB” chock full of English malts and balanced nicely with American and English hops. I tend to prefer my winter ales on the malty side, and this one surely fits the bill. At 7.5 percent ABV, it’ll warm you up on a cold night without knocking you out. Herbal and citrus hop notes are pronounced but in no way off-putting, and all in all this typifies a “rich but smooth” wintertime brew. The usual malt suspects (caramel, bread, toasted grain) are large and in charge, but the hop bitterness definitely competes for your attention in an entirely good way. It’s all topped off with a warming, fruity finish that gives way to a lingering hoppy aftertaste. Balanced, flavorful, and straight up great-tasting, Winter Storm is a first class beer in every respect. Probably when you hear the term “winter ale”, an ESB is not what comes to mind. Maybe that needs to change!