Friday, February 8, 2013

Smuttynose Winter Ale

Passing on the typical gimmicks of winter ales (such as super high alcohol content and exotic spicing), the always steady Smuttynose gives us a different kind of cold weather brew. The use of a Trappist ale yeast, along with predominantly fruity notes, makes this beer somewhat similar to a Belgian double. Yet it's not quite a Belgian double. It might be closer to a brown ale, actually. And to be honest, I think I'd take a brown ale over a Belgian double at least six days a week. Either way, this is a damn fine beer. It's less in-your-face than a lot of winter ales (sometimes with winter beers, "warming" just means it'll knock you out if you drink more than one). The flavors are quite nice: lots of dark fruit and brown bread notes with some caramel, and it's got a good solid Crystal hop bitterness to even things out. So it's a little sweet, but by no means a lot sweet. And at 5.83 ABV, this is way more sessionable than your typical winter ale. It's great to drink one or two with dinner on a cold night. Although I generally consider myself a huge fan of winter ales, there are a lot of them that I don't like. This one, while not anything that's going to wow the palate, is wicked smooth and enjoyable to the last drop. I'd give it a B+.

Sixpoint The Crisp

I generally don't go for blondes. I'm more a full-bodied brunette sort of guy. Give me a stout, porter, or even a brown ale, and I'm a happy camper. But there are times when a man does desire a crisp, golden beer that's not bland corporate swill. You rarely hear about craft breweries making blonde lagers. I guess a lot of them figure that beer snobs like me don't bother with that sort of thing. But really, we do. It just has to be delicious. If you've ever had a Stoudt's Gold, you understand that plain old lagers don't have to be plain old lagers. I put Sixpoint's The Crisp in the same category. Barring imports, it's the best blonde beer I've ever had. A beer like this goes against a lot of trends in craft brewing. You can't just hop it to death or fill it with exotic ingredients and call it a day. You actually have to know how to make a great-tasting beer! Sixpoint totally nailed this one. If I had to guess, it's their interpretation of an old world German pilsner. Living up to its name, it's a crisp lager with a nice mix of grassy and herbal hops. It's just a tad bitter and lightly malty, with biscuit notes mixing nicely with lemon and mint as it finishes. It's nothing fancy, but for the style it's perfectly executed and beautifully balanced. There are times when I'm drinking beer with a meal that I've got to have something crisp and refreshing in my glass. And The Crisp really hits the spot on those occasions. It's probably a notch too elevated to qualify as a "lawnmower" beer, but it's definitely along those same lines. It quenches the thirst and goes down smooth. Indeed: great beers don't always have to be sophisticated beers. This one is simple but extraordinary, and a brilliant twist on a classic style. Highest recommendation!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Flying Dog K-9 Winter Ale

It's the dead of winter, which means it's already spring on the beer calendar. The winter warmers have already started disappearing from the shelves. So I'm only going to review a couple winter warmers this year. And I want to start with one I've enjoyed tremendously. If you believe all the reviews, then Flying Dog's K-9 Winter Ale isn't anything special. It has a pretty bad score on Beer Advocate (76), and even amongst winter ales it's not particularly highly regarded. Well, I'm not saying that all the reviews are wrong. I'm just saying that I don't at all agree. I'm a huge fan of winter warmers, and K-9 (formerly known as K-9 Cruiser) is one of the very best I've had. While not exactly a daring concoction, K-9 is very tasty and pretty much a classic winter warmer. It's sweet and malty, with a touch of bittering hops and the usual roasty, nutty notes you'd expect from a darker beer. It actually has a bit of an English Pale Ale feel to it, which works for me since I could drink Bass any day of the year. And of course, this ale is quite warming at 7.4 percent ABV. The recipe changes slightly every year, and perhaps this year's batch is an improved product. All I know is that I really love this beer. All those caramel malts hit me in just the right way, and I always enjoy an English ale yeast. I'm not saying this is one of Flying Dog's best beers, but it sure isn't one of their worst. It's perfect for a cold night (we've had a lot of those lately!), yet it's not as "heavy" as some other winter beers. If you're a winter ale fan like me, ignore the snobs and give this one a chance!