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!