Monday, July 6, 2015

Bell's Lager Beer ("Lager of the Lakes")

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1390) - Albany, New York, USA - JUL 6, 2015
It’s kind of funny, actually, when established, credible craft breweries put out a pale lager for no apparent reason. Some breweries make a traditional, to-spec pilsner, but beers like Bell’s Lager Beer (aka “Lager of the Lakes”) are just simple pale lagers with a nicer malt and hop variety than the adjunct macro versions. While this brew may not exactly redefine the style, it is a tasty and quaffable beer for what it is. 

I poured a 12oz bottle into a pilsner glass. It bottled on 5/11/15 and cost $2.09 ($0.17 per ounce).

Appearance: Yellowish/white gold hue with very clear body. Spastic carbonation is always visible. Pours to an average-sized, white, foamy head which retains and laces well.

Smell: Fairly generic lager aroma. Only minor flowery hop notes and pilsner malt.

Taste: You don’t have to have frills to make a good pale lager, all you really need is decent taste and that’s what you get here. There’s not a lot going on in this palette, but what’s here is pretty nice. Familiar pilsner malt base with only the faintest trace of specialty malt (not quite wheat, not quite rye). It has that familiar lager character all fizzy yellow brews tend to have, though I doubt there’s any corn or rice here – I certainly don’t taste any. The second half is nice as genuine hop flavor and minor bitterness emerges and creates for slight crackery flavor. Mostly dry with a touch of lemonpeel and perhaps a hint of black pepper – but nowhere near as strong as those of traditional Old World pils. I would not consider Bell’s Lager Beer to be bland or mild, though it’s not exactly the most robust or complex lager, either.

Drinkability: This is exactly the kind of delivery you want from a beer of this type: light, but effervescent; flavorful but clean. I enjoyed the high carbonation and appreciated its relative restraint. There’s no challenge to drinking it quickly at all. Refreshing while in the mouth and a dry, slightly pasty aftertaste. At 5% ABV I’d probably prefer just a tad more taste for the weight, though I could definitely consider this sessionable. Bell’s would be wise to put this beer in cans.

Grade: 7/10

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Victory Summer Love Ale

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1389) - Albany, New York, USA - JUL 5, 2015
Sometimes a beer can be generic for the style, but at the same time a solid example of it. That’s how I feel about Victory Summer Love Ale – which is a prototypical summer seasonal with a light body and mild palette. However, there are commendable traits to this brew that earns it a decent score from me. 

I poured a 12oz bottle into a mug. There was no freshness date and it cost $2.29 ($0.19 per ounce).

Appearance: Pale/white gold hue with a slightly cloudy body though carbonation is consistently visible. Pours to a small, white, frothy head which laces and retains amazingly well.

Smell: Simple nose of pale malt and a hint of spicy hops.

Taste: The catch-all “Golden/Blonde Ale” style is one of my least favorites in all of beerdom. It’s rare to drink a brew that has any real nuance or creativity or distinctiveness to it. Thankfully, this beer is not the boring brew so many others tend to be, though it’s not exactly re-inventing the wheel, either. Imported German 2-row seems to be the only malt (according to their website), which gives it a familiar taste of pale malt. It does have a surprising amount of hop flavor, though. Spicy Noble hops emerge quickly creating for a bit of a rye-like taste. Simcoe gives it a bit of an earthy/herbal character and Citra creates for faint trace of lemonpeel. There’s also a trait reminiscent of dill somewhere in here, which is interesting (but not necessarily good). The palette doesn’t develop beyond these repetitive flavors, which is fine considering what this beer is and what it’s trying to be.

Drinkability: Any beer with “summer” in the name better be easy to drink, sessionable, and refreshing, right? I’d say Victory Summer Love Ale meets these requirements… mostly. The body is light to be sure with the right amount of carbonation throughout. It’s not what I would consider refreshing, though, due to the spicy/earthy/herbal character and residual aftertaste. At 5.2% ABV it’s arguable sessionable, though I don’t see why they couldn’t get the same taste out of an even lighter weight. I think this is available in cans, but if it’s not it most certainly should be.

Score: 7/10

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Lone Star Beer

   AROMA 5/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 6/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 11/20
Chad9976 (1388) - Albany, New York, USA - JUL 4, 2015
There are lot of regional adjunct lagers that are beloved in their area of origin, but nowhere else since they’re all essentially the same. Pittsburgh has Iron City, Baltimore has National Bohemian and Texas has Lone Star Beer. This really doesn’t have any qualities (or demerits) that none of the other beers of its ilk don’t have. It’s a standard, familiar and rather boring lager.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a mug. It had a best before date of 9/1/15 and cost $1.39 ($0.12 per ounce).

Appearance: Pure golden color with near crystal clarity and carbonation visible. Pours to a small, white, soapy head which mostly evaporates and leaves no lacing.

Smell: Initially quite skunky like a green bottle import, but eventually becomes that of generic adjunct lager. Some cereal grain sweetness, but no distinctive traits. No noticeable flaws, either.

Taste: Not too many beers aside from Budweiser use rice as an adjunct, though I think that’s what Lone Star uses as it’s noticeably sweet up front but doesn’t have the raw corn flavor often found in beers and malt liquors of this type. No discernible hop presence in the form of flavor or bitterness. A bit of a metallic tang on the finish and a slight vegetable character in the aftertaste. Mostly, this palette is inoffensive and unexciting once you get used to it. That’s not intended to be a compliment, though.

Drinkability: You want a fizzy yellow lager? That’s what you get with this: though not so much “fizzy” as it is genuinely crisp and controlled rather than spastic. The mouthfeel is paper thin, though the texture is clean as is the aftertaste (many brews like this tend to be oily). At 4.65% ABV, Lone Star Beer is arguable sessionable; though I wouldn’t particularly recommend it considering how mild the palette is.

Score: 4/10

Friday, July 3, 2015

White Birch Berliner Weisse

   AROMA 6/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 6/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 13/20
Chad9976 (1387) - Albany, New York, USA - JUL 3, 2015
I’m not an expert on the Berliner Weisse style, but I do know what I like. White Birch’s Berliner Weisse is close to my expectations of the niche style, but doesn’t quite live up to them completely. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with it, I find it’s just a little too mild to wow me. It is nice for what it is, though.

I poured a 12oz can into a goblet. There was no freshness date and it cost $2.79 ($0.23 per ounce).

Appearance: Deep golden/maize hue with a highly cloudy body. No carbonation visible. Pours to a one-finger, white, soapy head which completely dissipates and leaves no lacing.

Smell: Lacto is prominent, but not especially strong. Some wheat and some green fruits, but otherwise mild.

Taste: This style is known and drank for its sourness and tartness, but in the case of this particular brew it’s more of a subtle component rather than a front-and-center feature. The palette is a mix of pilsner and wheat malt; not especially sweet, though. On the second half I detect faint notes of green apple and grape as well as a quick lactic bite. The sourness does not linger and is not especially strong. This is disappointing because I remember having this beer at the brewery about a year ago and it was a much stronger and more complex beer – what happened?

Drinkability: A beer like this is exactly what you want on a hot summer’s day and in that aspect, White Birch Berliner Weisse works. The mouthfeel is light and refreshing, but the carbonation level is surprisingly low with a slightly watery, tepid texture. It’s also difficult to believe it’s 5.5% ABV when it feels and drinks like something closer to 4%. I couldn’t honestly recommend this as a session beer based on this serving.

Score: 5/10

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Smuttynose Rhye IPA

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1386) - Albany, New York, USA - JUL 2, 2015
Rye, when used in combination of the right hops, can be a nice additive to an IPA. It imparts spicy, bready flavor not even found in the Noble hops. So few breweries seem to get the combination of rye, malts and hops done well, but once in a while they do. Case in point: Smuttynose Rhye IPA which is flavorful, well-balanced and highly drinkable.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a tulip glass. It had a best by date of 8/2/15 and cost $3.39 ($0.28 per ounce).

Appearance: Dark rusty copper hue with an extremely cloudy body. Pours to an average sized, off-white, foamy head that retains and laces pretty well.

Smell: Lemon lollipop and other citrusy scents, though rye is also present. A bit of an odd combination.

Taste: You probably wouldn’t eat grapefruit with toasted rye bread, yet those are flavors that seem to work well in beer form. Lemony hop flavor is noticeable immediately (though it seems closer to yellow lollipop – usually a sign of oxidation). Quickly followed by caramel sweetness and a hint of toffee. Through the middle comes significant bitterness, though it’s remarkably tame even at 89 IBUs. The rye stands out on the finish with a light spicy sensation and a bit of a bready flavor. I even detect a bit of coffee in this palette (it’s the aromatic malt). Overall, everything works quite well to make for a fun and interesting drink.

Drinkability: At 7.7% ABV, Smuttynose Rhye IPA is arguably a double version of the style, though it drinks like a traditional single edition. The mouthfeel is not too heavy; well carbonated so as to prevent it from being cloying, but still weighty enough so that it’s not exactly crushable. A bit of a dry lingering sensation on the tongue, but it’s tolerable. A good beer to pair with a savory dinner.

Score: 8/10

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

North Coast Old Stock 2013 Cellar Reserve

   AROMA 9/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 18/20
Chad9976 (1385) - Albany, New York, USA - JUL 1, 2015
Take an excellent Old Ale and age it in bourbon barrel and you’re probably going to end up with something great. That’s the premise of North Coast Old Stock 2013 Cellar Reserve, and the result is a delectable, sweet beastly brew that’s remarkably drinkable. My only complaint is that it’s merely excellent rather than world class.

I poured a 500ml corked and cage bottle into a flared snifter (thanks to Patrick at the brewery for the bottle!).

Appearance: A hazy shade of murky burgundy to brown proper. Completely opaque. Pours to a small, off-white, soapy head which fizzles away quickly and completely.

Smell: Lovely scent of dark fruit, chocolate and bourbon though not especially pungent.

Taste: There’s a lot going on in this beer and it’s all pretty tasty to say the least. The base brew has a sweet, authentic palette of dark and dried fruits: plum, raisin, fig, cherry, dates, etc. But that’s after the light milk chocolate sensation which opens each swig. On the finish the bourbon barrel appears to impart an earthy woody character, some vanilla and a hint of smoke. Alcohol grows stronger on each sip and becomes ever so slightly distracting. There’s an aftertaste of fruit and dark malt, though it’s only temporary. Hops have nearly completely receded – only the faintest bitterness is detectable. Overall, it’s what I would consider a great-tasting brew.

Drinkability: At 14.1% ABV, North Coast Old Stock 2013 Cellar Reserve is a big beer by anyone’s definition. Yet, it’s not quite the behemoth I was expecting. Yes, there’s considerable warmth from the alcohol, but never is it out of control. The mouthfeel is not quite carbonated syrup; in fact, it’s a little lighter than I was expecting. As sweet as the palette is, it doesn’t leave a sticky, cloying sensation (perhaps it should?). I was able to drink the entire bottle myself on a hot summer’s night (for whatever that’s worth).

Score: 9/10

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

St. Bernardus Extra 4

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1384) - Albany, New York, USA - JUN 30, 2015
It’s not often you see a new beer from an Abbey-style brewery release a new product. St. Bernardus Extra 4 seems to be capitalizing on the trend towards lower ABV beers but it is by no means a session IPA or in any way American-style. What is is a tasty, refined, easy and fun to drink beer.

I poured an 11.2oz bottle into a tulip glass. It was bottled on 4/16/15 and cost $5.99 ($0.53 per ounce).

Appearance: Mostly clear body with a lemon rind yellow hue with plenty of effervescence visible. Pours to a large, bright white, frothy head which laces and retains quite well.

Smell: Classic Belgian yeast esters with strong floral notes and an underlying citrus note.

Taste: For such a simple palette, this beer is remarkably enjoyable. The yeast is accounting for most of the flavor, though. Like the aroma the taste of lemon rind and a bouquet of flowers is what I taste here. Fairly light throughout the first half with a lovely zesty flavor on the finish. A bit sweet with a candy-like flavor, though I think that’s typical of the St. Bernardus house yeast. Not especially bitter – just a quick dry sensation at the apex. Otherwise the base malts dominate – presumably pilsner and wheat with a touch of specialty malt. Delectable and enjoyable for sure, this is what a Belgian light beer should be.

Drinkability: It’s weird seeing an Abbey ale with such a light alcohol content of only 4.8% ABV. St. Bernardus Extra 4 has quite a lot of character for such a sessionable body. The mouthfeel is light, but always crisp; yet the carbonation is never an impediment. Refreshing while crossing the tongue and it finishes almost completely clean. This is even strong and complex enough to stand up to the right kind of meal. I only wish the price was reasonable.

Score: 8/10

Monday, June 29, 2015

River Horse Hopalotamus

   AROMA 3/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 4/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 11/20
Chad9976 (1383) - Albany, New York, USA - JUN 29, 2015
I hate getting burned by unknowingly old beer. The only thing I can do to “get back” at the brewery for not fresh dating their bottles is to review the beer as it is. I’m inclined to believe that River Horse Hopalotamus is a decent beer when it’s fresh, but I probably won’t know as we don’t get their beers here in Albany (I got this bottle downstate). This has all the makings of an old IPA: a lack of hops, pronounced malts, tangy astringency, and general off-flavors and aromas.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a tulip glass. There was no freshness date and it cost $3.39 ($0.28 per ounce).

Appearance: Surprisingly dark rusty orange/light brown. So cloudy with sediment that it’s opaque. Pours to a small, off-white, foamy head that mostly dissipates and leaves a little lacing.

Smell: Some kind of spoiled, bacterial aroma. Malty notes can be found lurking in the background, but are not enough to salvage the nose.

Taste: There isn’t much to say about this beer because there isn’t much here. The malt base has held in rather well and creates for a peanut brittle and toffee flavor along with lemon lollipops (oxidation). Hops are pretty much gone except for light piney flavor up front and a touch of earthy resiny on the finish. Otherwise, it’s mostly a sharp, dry astringent flavor and a tangy sourness on the finish and aftertaste. I can’t imagine this is how the beer was supposed to taste.

Drinkability: Weighing in at 8.5% ABV and 93 IBUs, River Horse Hopalotamus is definitely a big beer. Though not flavorful, it’s at least drinkable. The mouthfeel is still well carbonated with noticeably viscosity. The malty sweetness lingers on the tongue for a moment, but fades and leaves a lingering starchy after flavor. This kind of mouthfeel would be fine if the palette had held up.

Score: 2/10 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Lionshead Deluxe Pilsner Beer

   AROMA 5/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 3/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 10/20
Chad9976 (1382) - Albany, New York, USA - JUN 28, 2015
It’s hard to believe that breweries other than the major macro conglomerates still put out adjunct-ridden cheap pale lagers. There’s really no reason for them anymore – everyone like craft beer now and these type of beers pretty much all taste the same. What’s the point of a product like Lionshead Deluxe Pilsner Beer? If it were actually flavorful it’d be a different story, but this is actually rather foul-tasting.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a pilsner glass. It was bottled on 11/12/15 and cost only $1.29 ($0.11 per ounce).

Appearance: Dark gold color with a clear body. Plenty of consistent carbonation visible. Pours to a small, white, foamy head which retains and laces remotely well.

Smell: Familiar cheap adjunct lager aroma of corn and stale grain. A slight sweetness, but not enough to save it.

Taste: Knowing what I do about beer, I’ve reached a point where I’m actually surprised when a beer tastes bad and not from brewing flaws like diacetyl, dimethyl sulfide or acetaldehyde. A beer like this is deliberately designed to taste this way – why? It’s just a mildly sweet malty slurry flavor with a noticeable corn water taste (maybe it is DMS after all). No metallic character, though I notice a tanginess on the finish and a bit of a bile-like flavor right as it goes down. To be fair, there is a faint amount of sweetness here, but it’s not enough to salvage the rest of the palette. Perhaps if it were fresh (and I’ll readily admit this bottle is rather old), it might make a difference; but for now this is just plain bad. Ick.

Drinkability: Despite the name, Lionshead Deluxe Pilsner Beer is most definitely not a pilsner by any standard definition due to the use (and overt nature) of corn. At least it has the body and mouthfeel of a pilsner, though. Thin, light body with a watery texture. Though always bubbly, it’s not spastic per se. There is a slight starchy flavor that lingers, but it’s easily overlooked. At only 4.5% ABV this would be a refreshing, sessionable brew if it actually had any real taste to it.

Score: 2/10

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Shmaltz Brewing’s “Double Feature” 2nd Anniversary beer festival

If you’ve been following the Capital District beer scene for the last few years, you know Shmaltz Brewing Company – the brewer of the He’Brew brand of Jewish-themed beers – celebrates the opening of their Clifton Park brewery every summer. Last year it was very cold and windy, and the grand opening celebration in 2013 was hot and muggy. This year the temperature was fairly warm but without much humidity, though it was quite cloudy with impending rain. But nevermind the weather report, let’s talk about the event itself.

The theme this year was that it would be a “Double Session” beer fest whereby every brewery would serve a session beer for the first two hours (1-3pm) and an imperial beer during the last two (3-5pm). I’m not sure how strictly this was followed as I didn’t arrive to the festival until close to 3 and it seemed like every table was serving both. Plus, there were a few guest breweries from out of state, namely Speakeasy and 21st Amendment; both of which are from San Francisco where Shmaltz owner Jeremy Cowan hails.

As per usual, every attendee received a complimentary 10oz Shmaltz snifter with the anniversary logo. While I think it’s a great glass, it’s a too big for a beer fest because most brewers tend to fill the glass to the rim, or even ¾ full. Personally, I only take a few sips per sample and end up dumping the rest no matter how good the beer is (with certain exceptions). I feel bad for the brewers who have to watch so much of their beer being dumped by so many people. I also pity the fools who don’t realize how much they’re actually drinking and down an entire glassful from each table – they’re going to be hurting later on (yikes!). Anyway, on to the beer…

Wishbone Session Double IPA by Shmaltz Brewing Company: An “old school” East Coast-style piney/resiny IPA. Beers like this seem to be an endangered species.

Shmaltz Brewing 2nd Anniversary beer fest 002

Slingshot American Craft Lager by Shmaltz Brewing Company: This was on cask with lemongrass and peppercorn. You don’t tend to see lagers on cask that often, so I was curious to see how it was taste and drink in that format. It was noticeably thin and under carbonated. The spices gave it a unique and interesting flavor – almost like Snapple or some kind of herbal tea. It wasn’t amazing, but I’m glad I tried it.

Shmaltz Brewing 2nd Anniversary beer fest 005

KUKA – Ginger Mango IPA by Andean Brewing Company, Inc.: I’m not usually a fan of ginger, though the idea of an IPA brewed with mango was appealing. Also, I know the brewer at KUKA and I’ve liked most of their beers I’ve tried. This was, unfortunately, kinda gross.

Shmaltz Brewing 2nd Anniversary beer fest 007

Bright Light DIPA by Common Roots Brewing Company: An all-Citra hop DIPA. Strong citrus flavor, but dank and sweet like orange juice concentrate. One of the better beers of the day.

Shmaltz Brewing 2nd Anniversary beer fest 008

Iron Horse Ale by Brown’s Brewing: This is a beer Brown’s only sells during the summer and is part of the “Ales for ALS” campaign. I’ve had it every summer for the last few years and always enjoyed it, but this year it seemed much different: very oniony and peppery (and not in that good New England-style IPA way). Did the beer change or did my palate?

Shmaltz Brewing 2nd Anniversary beer fest 010

Czech Yourself Pils by C.H. Evans Brewing Company: Seemed overly sweet for a pilsner and not especially hoppy. Not that it was bad, just that it wasn’t a mind-blower.

Shmaltz Brewing 2nd Anniversary beer fest 012

Beaver Overbite by Paradox Brewery: Probably the best beer I had all day thanks to its use of (I’m assuming) Mosaic hops. Huge aroma and hop flavor though not ridiculously bitter and very drinkable. Paradox is a hidden gem in the Upstate New York brewing scene. I wish I could buy a bottle of this.

Shmaltz Brewing 2nd Anniversary beer fest 014

Lawrence Strong Ale by Mad Jack Brewing Co.: One of the nicest surprises of the day. Not a lambic, just a Belgian Strong Pale Ale with the addition of raspberries. Fruity and tart with a slight jam-like taste but in no way cloying. For such a strong beer it was quite refreshing. I’d think a version fermented with Brettanomyces would be really interesting.

Shmaltz Brewing 2nd Anniversary beer fest 016

Super Kitty by Keegan Ales: I had this beer when it originally debuted a few years ago and thought it was a fantastic Imperial IPA/barleywine/American Strong Ale. This time around it was extremely sweet with a lemon lollipop taste and no discernable hop character. Normally, I enjoy everything Keegan Ales makes but this was disappointing.

Shmaltz Brewing 2nd Anniversary beer fest 018

Sabbatical Session Ale by Rare Form Brewing Company: This beer still impresses me every time I drink. At only 3.8% ABV you’d think it’d be little more than hoppy water, but it’s actually a well-rounded, complex and highly drinkable brew. Even the mouthfeel is impressive. I like the combination of rye, coriander and orangepeel. I need to homebrew something like this for summer.

Shmaltz Brewing 2nd Anniversary beer fest 019

Baby Elephant by Rushing Duck Brewing Company: I had this at TAP NY back in April and thought it was the best Session IPA I had the entire weekend. The same held true of this beer fest.

Shmaltz Brewing 2nd Anniversary beer fest 021

Bon Bon 2xTNT IIPA by SingleCut Beersmiths: This is a fairly new brewery out of Queens. The beer seems to be brewed in the New England IPA style and it’s pretty much to spec. I liked it.

Shmaltz Brewing 2nd Anniversary beer fest 023

He’Brew Death Of A Contract Brewer by Shmaltz Brewing Company: I’m not really sure what the point of barrel-aging this beer was. The hops were gone as was the carbonation. More of a bourbon-flavored dark ale. Meh.

Shmaltz Brewing 2nd Anniversary beer fest 030

Bock Bock by Shmaltz Brewing Company: Ever since Shmaltz sold the Coney Island brand to Sam Adams a few years ago I haven’t been able to find any barrel-aged Human Blockhead, but Bock Bock seems to be their way of replacing it. Super sweet, but not cloying. A bit of a brown sugar taste and a touch of spice and noticeably hop character. Also quite crisp for such a big beer. I liked it so much I bought a bottle to take home to review.

Shmaltz Brewing 2nd Anniversary beer fest 031

Manna On Rye by Shmaltz Brewing Company: This is a collaboration with the Jewish Whisky Company (who isn’t an actual distillery – the owner explained to me how it works but I couldn’t quite follow – oh well). Anyway, this is Shmaltz’s “Hop Manna IPA” aged in rye whisky barrel with mustard seeds added. Again, another interesting and unique brew, but nothing that blew my mind. It would be fun to give it a formal review on a clean palate, but 22oz bottles were $20 each – yikes!

Shmaltz Brewing 2nd Anniversary beer fest 037

Hanukkah, Chanukah (2014) by Shmaltz Brewing Company: I wasn’t too crazy about the regular, bottled version of this beer last winter, but this was a bourbon barrel-aged edition which was definitely an improvement. I think the bourbon character may have overrode the base brew, but it was still plenty tasty and didn’t have the off flavor I remember the bottle version having.

In retrospect, it’s difficult to believe I sampled so many brews in just a few hours. But like I said, I only drink an ounce or two per pour as I like to get a sense of a beer and then move on to the next one. I notice that my opinion on a beer often varies greatly when I have a sample at a beer festival and when I have a full pour or a bottle at a bar or at home (sometimes for better, sometimes for worse). One thing that disappointed me, though, was the lack of stouts, porters and barleywines. Pretty much every brewery brought just Double IPAs and session IPAs. Hey, I like hops as much as the next beer nerd, but what I like even more is variety.

Also in attendance was Saratoga’s own Death Wish Coffee Company. I wouldn’t consider myself a coffee connoisseur by any means, but trying a sample of Death Wish “neat” (no cream or sugar) was actually quite good. They were also serving a cold brewed version which I didn’t like as much, but I tried blending it with a few beers to see what happened. Just a splash of this coffee with even the strongest DIPAs was enough to override the palette. That’s not surprising considering this coffee is marketed as the “World’s Strongest”. In fact, Olde Saratoga Brewing actually made a Coffee IPA with Death Wish earlier this year that was pretty good (I was surprised they weren’t at this festival as they were the contract brewers for Shmaltz for many years).

After all that drinking I needed something to eat, so I bought a doughboy and a chimichanga from Esperanto of Saratoga. Believe it or not, this was my first time trying food from this eatery. I really enjoyed the doughboy, which reminded me of an empanada, but in burrito form. The chimichanga wasn’t quite as impressive, but I still liked it. Then again, almost all food tastes great when you’re at a beer fest.

All in all it was a great beer fest despite the relatively small size. Despite the gray sky it never did rain (hey, at least I didn’t have to worry about getting sunburned) and it wasn’t too hot or humid either. At only $25 a ticket, I think Shmaltz’s anniversary bash is one of the best-priced beer fests in the area (especially considering the brewers themselves are the ones pouring their beer – not volunteers or distributors). There’s another event coming up in August (albeit smaller); check it out if you can.

Shmaltz Brewing 2nd Anniversary beer fest 045Shmaltz Brewing 2nd Anniversary beer fest 042Shmaltz Brewing 2nd Anniversary beer fest 048

Friday, June 26, 2015

Brewpub review: Mill House Brewing Company (Poughkeepsie, NY)

Continuing with my travels around New York State, I found myself 90 miles south of Albany in Poughkeepsie and decided to check out the Mill House Brewing Company which opened in late 2013. The main dining room and bar area seem a tad small, but there is an additional dining room on the second floor as well as a second floor patio and a third floor room for private events. Construction is underway to add yet another dining area on the other side of the bar – this joint sure has a lot of space! I stopped in for a late lunch/early dinner on Friday and even though it was fairly crowded, I got a parking spot next to the front door and was seated right away.

Mill House Brewing Company 012

Much like the last brewpub I visited (Plattsburgh), the décor is very attractive and everything looks brand spankin’ new (the pictures on their website do it much better justice than mine). Naturally, I wanted to sample their complete lineup, which consists of eight beers (though only seven were available). Flights are offered as five 4.8oz pours for $12 ($0.50 per ounce). Thankfully, the waiter was cool and gave me half samples of the other two beers for free (thanks, man!). Let’s go down the list:

Mill House Brewing Company 015

Köld One (4.6% ABV): I don’t normally like the Kölsch style, but this really surprised me. Very Continental all around with spicy noble hops and a bit of a wheaty sensation in the flavor and mouthfeel. Crisp, clean and refreshing. I’d recommend a pint of this to enjoy outside on the deck in the sun.

Mill House Brewing Company 002

Queen City Cream Ale (5.2% ABV): I enjoy the occasional cream ale, but what set this apart from the pack is that it’s made with cucumbers! It’s not the first cucumber beer I’ve had, but it’s probably the best (for what it’s worth). Definitely a salad-like flavor, or perhaps some kind of trendy flavored water palette. I could see this contrasting with tart fruit like watermelon. A few sips was satisfying enough for me, but I couldn’t imagine getting through an entire pint. Veggie lovers might like it, though. Not bad, just not for me.

Mill House Brewing Company 003

PK Pale (4.7% ABV): I enjoyed the “old school” nature of this brew as it truly is a pale ale and not any kind of IPA. Well balanced and highly drinkable with a relatively light body. Very versatile, too – this would pair with pretty much anything on the menu.

Mill House Brewing Company 004

Old Steady Rye IPA (6.3% ABV): A classic IPA with both piney and citrusy flavors as well as a touch of spice and breadiness from the rye. It was also quite crisp and highly quaffable. One of their better beers.

Mill House Brewing Company 005

Kilt Spinner (7.7% ABV): Rarely do I find a brewpub with a Scotch Ale on tap (especially in the summer) and even rarer do I find one that’s actually this good. Huge malty palette that’s sweet, but not cloying. Reminiscent of an English-style barleywine, but a touch of smoke makes it a true Scotch Ale. This would be excellent with dessert.

Mill House Brewing Company 006

Velvet Panda (5.1% ABV): I notice a lot of brewpubs tend to make simple, relatively “light” stouts,
but most aren’t as good as this. A pleasant taste of chocolate, coffee and roasted malt. The mouthfeel was a little thin and tepid, though. I’ll bet they make a good imperial stout in the winter.

Mill House Brewing Company 007

PineTar (9.3% ABV): They saved the best for last. Though billed as a classic East Coast-style IPA with piney aromas and flavors (it’s even brewed with Spruce tips), I’d probably consider this more of a New England sub-style IPA with tropical fruit aroma and herbal/grassy hoppy flavors and high bitterness. Definitely the kind of beer I’d buy a growler of.

Mill House Brewing Company 008

As good as these beers were across the board, what really surprised me was their description on the menu. As you can see, Mill House Brewing makes a point of mentioning which malts and hops are used in nearly all of their beers. I’m surprised they don’t take a more pedestrian approach; the fact they don’t makes me think they’re not “dumbing down” the recipes in order to please that demographic. Kudos to them for that!

Mill House Brewing Company 020

By the time I arrived I was extremely hungry as I had to work through lunch that day in order to meet my deadline. I decided to go with one of their personal pizzas – BBQ pulled pork ($16). It’s probably enough to serve two people at 16 inches, though the crust is thin so it’s not especially filling. It tasted good, though it did have a slight flavor of tomato paste or puree, akin to something from a can of Chef Boyardee and the faintest trace of a bile-like flavor in the aftertaste. I’m not trying to say it was gross or disgusting – far from it. I actually really enjoyed the pizza – so much so that I was able to eat the entire pie myself and I had no gastrointestinal distress either, wow!

Mill House Brewing Company 017

The service was as good as the food and the beer. I was seated right away and waited on pretty quickly as well. I was genuinely surprised by how fast the waiter returned with my beer and even more surprised that the pizza was brought out after what seemed like only five minutes (it was probably closer to 10-12). Every time a server walked by my table they asked if I wanted to wrap up the rest of my food. I appreciated their concern, but they seemed a little too quick to ask me this (overly-attentive service is always preferred to under-attentive service).

I was even impressed by how nice the men’s room looked. It was clean, stylish and well lit. I even found this funny sign next to the sink:

Mill House Brewing Company 023

Mill House Brewing Company 018My bill came to about $30 and I left a $5 tip. While I think the prices may have been just a tad high, I would still say it’s a good value and totally worth the trip. I’d probably recommend a couple split a pizza and a flight as the 4.8oz pour sizes are enough to share between two people.

Unlike some other brewpubs, I would recommend going out of your way to eat and drink at the Mill House Brewing Company. I will try to visit it again later this year.