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!

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!