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!