Monday, September 1, 2014

Saranac High Peaks Clouded Dream


3.6
   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1165) - Albany, New York, USA - SEP 1, 2014
Saranac describes Clouded Dream as a “Hybrid IPA/Belgian Style White Ale,” which is fairly accurate. It does have a lot of makings of a witbier, only stronger; though it’s not quite hoppy enough for a White IPA (is “White pale ale” a thing?). What it is, however, is an interesting brew.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a tulip glass. It appears to have been bottled on 5/10/14.

Appearance: IPA-like look of glowing orange hue with an opaque body from all the sediment. Pours to a two-finger, white, frothy head which laces and retains pretty well.

Smell: Sweet confectionery aroma of butterscotch, orange marmalade, and a touch of spice.

Taste: The first thing I notice about this beer is how sweet it is. Much like nose, the palette has a sweet confectionery taste of butterscotch and orange marmalade. There seems to be an herbal presence here, similar to that of an all-natural cough drop. Lemon peel is also noticeable, though that could be due to the Citra hops. The coriander is subtle and shows up right at the end and leaves a slightly dry, peppery aftertaste. It’s not an especially bitter brew, or perhaps the hops have faded by the time I got to this bottle. I’m not sure what yeast strain was used, though it doesn’t have much of an obvious Belgian character. I did enjoy the traditional witbier spices, but I could use a little less malt presence and more hop bitterness.

Drinkability: For a 7.3% ABV brew, Clouded Dream is surprisingly full-bodied. The mouthfeel is soft and calm with a smooth texture, though the alcohol does make itself known in form of both flavor and warmth. I would not considering this refreshing, though I would say it’s easy to drink. 
Grade: 7/10

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Finch's Hardcore Chimera


4.2
   AROMA 9/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 16/20
Chad9976 (1164) - Albany, New York, USA - AUG 31, 2014
I poured a 16oz can into a tulip glass. There was no freshness date. It was gift from a friend (thanks, Jon!). Appearance: Bright glowing orange hue over an extremely hazy body. Pours to a large, white, frothy head which retains and laces fairly well.

Smell: Strong hop aroma of all major characters, especially citrus. Some alcohol is noticeable, as is the malt.

Taste: If you’re going to make an imperial IPA, you’d better go all-out, and Finch’s Hardcore Chimera is a good example of what I mean. Brewed with five different hops and heavily dry hopped, this is a really well-rounded brew. It’s not simply just arbitrary hops over arbitrary malts, there’s a distinct balancing of both malt and hops here. It’s sweet, citrusy and bitter – that’s what makes for a great IPA.

It’d be easy to describe this palette as a West Coast-style IPA, but that doesn’t seem entirely accurate. There’s notes of candy, stone fruit, pine needles and flowers here thanks to the varied hop selection (the Mid-Western breweries tend to be the best at blending so many different hops). Peach, passion fruit and grapefruit all are noticeable right away. There’s also a strong pale malt base which creates for a full body and a sweetness to offset the hops. Though I wouldn’t describe this beer as being extremely bitter per se. Alcohol imparts some rum-like spice and leaves a slightly vanilla-ish aftertaste. This is a complex palette for sure and all the flavors are mighty enjoyable; but not quite to the point of being mind-blowing.

Drinkability: IPAs of this caliber tend to be difficult to drink as they might be sticky and cloying, but Finch’s Hardcore Chimera is much more drinker-friendly. Sure it’s a full-bodied palette, but it’s comfortable in the mouth with a soft presence and smooth texture. The 9% ABV does make itself known in the form of a gentle warmth in both taste and sensation, but it’s nothing too intense. Great to pair with a big meal, or enjoy a single serving on its own merit. 
Grade: 9/10

Friday, August 29, 2014

Brewpub review: The Gilded Otter

Gilded Otter (1)Back in November of 2013 I won $50 in gift certificates to The Gilded Otter in a raffle. I put them in a drawer and just kind of forgot about them. I found them recently, so I took my girlfriend Renee down to New Paltz where we met my friends Gary and Melissa for lunch on a Saturday. I have to say the whole experience was a pleasantly surprising.
Gilded Otter (7)I always thought New Paltz was much further away from Albany than it is, but it’s a little over an hour drive to Exit 18. The brewpub is located only a couple miles off the Thruway, however, traffic was backed up all the way to the toll plaza. It took us another 20 minutes just to go the last two miles! Chalk it up to tourist season I guess.

Anyway, the parking lot was nearly full when we arrived and I was worried we were going to have a long wait for a table, but when we walked in I noticed there were plenty of tables available (the restaurant may have been at about 50% capacity at that point). The building appears to be brand new, and has an overtly “modern” look to it. There’s seating in the main dining room; on the second floor; in the bar area; and on the patio outside. Not quite as big as Brown’s here in Troy, but close to it.
Gilded Otter (5)

Gilded Otter (12)Our friends were waiting at the bar, which is also quite large. The brewing equipment is located behind the bar with some fermenting tanks located in the dining room. The four of us grabbed a table adjacent to the bar. Renee and I ordered the sampler flight, which included eight 3oz samples for only $8 ($0.33 per ounce). That’s quite a bargain compared to some other brewpubs. I must admit that I did not have high expectations for the beer as I cannot recall any trusted sources complimenting this brewery. So I was actually shocked (yes, shocked) by the quality of the beers, especially considering they’re all relatively light.

Katzenjammer Kölsch (4.5% ABV): I’m just not a fan of the Kölsch style, so the fact this beer was a genuinely tasty, refreshing brew, really impressed me. In fact, that’s a sign of a quality brewery – when they make a good beer in a style you don’t usually enjoy.
Dusseldorf Altbier (5.2% ABV): Hmm… back-to-back niche German styles? That’s odd for a brewpub. Yet, just like the Kölsch, this Altbier was equally impressive as it exemplifies the style perfectly. Renee liked this so much she got a full pint with her meal.
Three Pines IPA (5.7% ABV): I was a little skeptical about this one since the alcohol is rather low for an IPA, yet one sip and I was sold. It has a delicious orange flavor, almost juicy. Some pine on the finish. Technically that’s a generic palette, but for whatever reason this was more than just an ordinary IPA. Melissa got a full pint of this brew.
Gilded Otter (24)Hefeweizen (5% ABV): Another German style beer that’s brewed exactly to spec. It has huge banana and bubblegum flavors and aromas. This is exactly how I like my hefes. I liked it so much I ordered a full pint with my lunch.
Stone House Oatmeal Stout (5.5% ABV): It seems like every brewpub makes a little stout like this, though few are memorable. This was a surprisingly robust and complex brew with notes of chocolate, coffee and tobacco. It’s probably the best beer on the menu and would make an excellent liquid dessert. Gary chose this for his full pour.
Back Porch Summer Lager (3.9% ABV): This is the token fruit beer you see at every brewpub, but done as an amber lager instead of an ale. It didn’t feel like a super light or watery lager, this actually had body to it and tasted like real fruit, not “natural flavors.” They even threw a few blueberries right into the tasting glass (I could’ve done without that, though).
Black & Blue: A blend of the oatmeal stout and blueberry lager. The fruit flavor completely dominates the palette, so it doesn’t really taste like a blend – just a really dark fruit lager. Not bad, though.
Gilded Otter (21)They also had Doc’s Draft Hard Apple Cider as a guest tap, which was included in the flight. It was okay I guess, but I’m not much of a cider drinker. May I recommend bringing in Albany’s own Ninepin Cider as a guest tap?

As for the food, it was really good. The menu is pretty typical fare for a venue of the kind: an assortment of appetizers; burgers; salads; sandwiches; personal pizzas; and steaks, pasta, and seafood on the dinner entrée menu.

I ordered the Philly cheese steak pizza, which is exactly what it sounds like: a pizza with shredded steak, onions, mushrooms, and peppers. There was plenty of cheese, and the pizza was nice and soft, but not dripping with grease. Definitely one of the better personal pizzas I can remember having. Renee got the Cuban sandwich that came with a hefty side of fries (half of which I ate and they were very good). Gary and Melissa each ordered chicken Caesar salads, and they both enjoyed it immensely.

Gilded Otter (25)What’s interesting is that the menu specifically states NO SEPARATE CHECKS at the bottom of nearly every page. That’s odd, and kind of annoying. However, when the waitress brought the menus to the table, she said she would have no trouble splitting the check if we wanted separate bills. That was nice of her, especially considering it wouldn’t have been a problem for us (she split the checks anyway – yaye!).

As for the service, it was friendly and accurate, albeit a tad slow. This might have been due to the fact we were technically sitting in the bar area and the waitress was actually one of the barmaids who worked both the bar and the adjacent dining area. I’ll let that slide even though slow service is usually a major grievance for me when it comes to dining out (see my World of Beer review for example).

The four of us had an absolutely great time over lunch and drinks for about 90 minutes. The atmosphere was great in pretty much all aspects: good-looking décor; ample lighting; not too loud; pleasant patrons; and good food and drinks. Our tab came to about $48 after tax, and I left a $10 tip. Gary and Melissa’s was about the same. We all agreed it was totally worth the money and we would definitely return anytime. I think I’d like to go back in the winter, because if their summer offerings were this good, I’d imagine their winter seasonals will be even better.

Gilded Otter (26)Quick bonus review: Bacchus Restaurant
It was still early in the day and we didn’t have anywhere to be, so the four of us walked a couple blocks over to Bacchus Restaurant, which also brews their own beer (not to be confused with Bacchus Brewing Company near Ithaca). This is an old school pub, reminiscent of something you’d see in a trendy downtown area. There’s nothing modern about the look at all, everything’s vintage.

They had a pretty impressive tap selection, though they only had two beers of their own: “Kamehameha,” an 8% ABV IPA brewed with Brettanomyces and real pineapple; and “Uncle Ron,” a 9% ABV American Strong Ale. I was hoping for a short pour of the IPA, but the shallowest glass was 10oz, which I wound up splitting with Renee.

Gilded Otter (28)This was an interesting beer to say the least. More of a pale ale in that it wasn’t especially bitter, though the pineapple definitely carried the bulk of the palette. The Brett character was tame, imparting just slight tartness to complement the pineapple. It was good, but with a few tweaks I could see it being great.

Gary got a full pour of “Uncle Ron” and I tried a few sips. It was sweet and nutty with plenty of hops, but nothing aggressive or cloying. It reminded me of Stone’s “Double Bastard Ale,” but much more approachable.

I could definitely go all the way back to New Paltz just for dinner and drinks at this restaurant, especially considering they have a classy pool hall in the adjacent room.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Shmaltz/Terrapin Reunion Ale '14


4.4
   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 17/20
Chad9976 (1163) - Albany, New York, USA - AUG 28, 2014
I poured a 22oz bottle into a tulip glass. There was no freshness date. It cost $8 at the brewery ($0.36 per ounce).

Appearance: Deep reddish/mahogany hue. Pours to a three-finger, ivory, frothy head which laces and retains extremely well.

Smell: Candy bar-like aromas of coconut and chocolate, with subtle coffee notes.

Taste: I’m not sure if the annual “Reunion Ale” brewed by Shmaltz in collaboration with Terrapin is the same recipe every year or if it’s tweaked a little. The 2014 edition seems to be quite close to the 2013 version judging by both taste and the label description. I didn’t drink the 2013 edition until recently, so the hops had faded a bit and it was remarkably sweet. This fresh bottle is also quite sweet, but has plenty of coconut spice and hoppy bitterness, yet it’s still just as good.

There’s a lot going on with this beer. As it’s plainly stated, it’s brewed with toasted coconut, coffee, vanilla, cinnamon, chocolate and cocoa nibs and each definitely makes their presence known in the palette. It’s a liquid candy bar to be sure, yet it’s not sickly sweet or gimmicky in any way. All of these ingredients are noticeable individually if you look for them, but the brew also work as a mélange. The coconut and coffee seem to be the most prominent, with the chocolate character coming across as bittersweet rather than milky. The cinnamon shows up in the aftertaste, as does the vanilla. There’s bitterness to be found here; on the dry side, but nothing too intense. This is an impressive brew to be sure, but then again I do have a soft spot for beers that taste like candy.

Drinkability: Like most Shmaltz beers, Reunion Ale ’14 is a big brew, but keeps its ABV well masked, even a 8%. The body is certainly full, but not too intense in the mouth. It’s crisp and never cloying or sticky, which is impressive considering all the sweet ingredients it contains. No alcohol warmth nor taste, so it glides down smooth. A great dessert brew, or maybe with braised ribs or something smoky. 
Grade: 9/10

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Otter Creek Overgrown


4
   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1162) - Albany, New York, USA - AUG 27, 2014
I poured a 12oz bottle into a tulip glass. It was bottled on 7/18/14 and cost $2.30 ($0.19 per ounce).

Appearance: Beautiful glowing maize hue. Nearly opaque due to all the sediment (the beer is unfiltered). Pours to a large, white, frothy head which laces and retains very well.

Smell: Mild mixture of herbal/earthy hop character.

Taste: Seems like everyone’s making a session IPA these days, but few are making true pale ales anymore. Otter Creek Overgrown seems to be a response to that trend as it truly does drink like a pale ale with pronounced hop character, but with a body that’s still strong enough to support it and remain in balance.

The hop selection here is interesting. More on the literally garden-variety hops that create for herbal flavors of garlic or onion on the first half. Followed by more earthy/piney hops with a hint of dank resin flavor on the second half. Bitter to be sure, but still fairly restrained. The malt base isn’t arbitrary here. Mild notes of honey and lemon, but mostly standard two-row (or other pale malt) character. “Balanced” is not a term I like to use when it comes to beers of this style, but in this case it’s not only accurate, but what makes the beer succeed.

Drinkability: What makes Otter Creek Overgrown so enjoyable isn’t just the taste, but also the delivery process. The mouthfeel here is slightly thin, but still full enough to conform to the pale ale style. It’s not just carbonated hop water like so many session IPAs. The texture is smooth and the bitterness is noticeable, but easily tolerable with just a slightly dry aftertaste. At 5.5% ABV it’s got a lot of body, but is still light enough to work as the pale ale it is. A versatile brew that can stand up to a meal or work on its own. 
Grade: 8/10

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin (2014 re-review)


3.7
   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1161) - Albany, New York, USA - AUG 26, 2014
I poured a 22oz bottle into a tulip glass. There was no freshness date and it cost $9.99 ($0.45 per ounce).

Appearance: Beautiful, glowing orange hue over a clear body. Plenty of visible carbonation. Pours to a large, eggshell, foamy head which retains and laces somewhat well.

Smell: Typical pumpkin beer aroma, though on the spicier side. Notes of cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg dominate.

Taste: Shipyard is well known for their regular pumpkin brew “Pumpkinhead,” a beer which I’ve always said tastes more like pumpkin soda. While it’s not bad, it’s not great; but the same can be said for “Smashed Pumpkin,” which is essentially just a scaled-up version of that beer (in my opinion, at least).

The palette is pretty typical of a pumpkin brew: strong notes of nutmeg, cinnamon and especially ginger. There’s no distinct malt character and certainly nothing in the way of hops. A consistent sweetness from start to finish, with a soda-like taste on the back end. I could definitely do with less ginger and more of a pumpkin pie taste (this straddles the border between pumpkin potpourri and pumpkin pie). When you pay $10 for a bottle of 9% ABV beer, you have expectations of robustness and complexity. And while perfectly satisfying as far as taste goes, it doesn’t quite deliver on a bang-for-the-buck level.

Drinkability: For such a heady brew, Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin is remarkably light on its toes. The mouthfeel is thin, but well-carbonated with a consistent crispness to the last drop. It’s comfortable in the mouth and going down without any discernible alcohol taste or warmth considering its 9% ABV potency. A slightly dry and spicy aftertaste lingers momentarily, which is fine. I had no trouble drinking the entire bottle myself. This definitely could be paired with autumn meals without issue. 
Grade: 7/10
Watch my 2014 video review here:
Watch me and Henry's review from 2009 here:

Monday, August 25, 2014

Allagash Dubbel Ale


3.8
   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1160) - Albany, New York, USA - AUG 25, 2014
I poured a 12oz bottle into an official Allagash tulip glass. It was bottled on 4/3/14 and cost $3.99 ($0.33 per ounce).

Appearance: Pretty chestnut red/mahogany hue. Pours to a two-finger, off white, foamy head which retains and laces fairly well.

Smell: Estery and fruity, though surprisingly mild.

Taste: Allagash is one of my favorite American breweries when it comes to making Belgian-style beers. Ironically enough, I’ve never actually had their Dubbel Ale out of the bottle until now (I had it on tap at the brewery and it was excellent). The palette is fruity, sweet and slightly smoky. It reminds me a homebrew dubbel I made, actually. Anyway, the taste is fine – I get a distinct cherry flavor, some plum or other stone fruit, and maybe some fig. There’s a slightly soapy character from the yeast, as well as some smoke or dry astringency on the finish. I was hoping for something more robust, but this is fine.

Drinkability: While Allagash Dubbel meets the criteria for a “big beer” at 7% ABV, it definitely doesn’t drink like something big at all. The mouthfeel is calm, though far from flat. The texture and finish is smooth with no alcohol warmth whatsoever. There’s not much in the way of aftertaste, which is nice since there’s no cloying or drying sensation – but some residual flavor would be nice. 
Grade: 8/10

Brewing a barley wine at Rare Form Brewing Company (8/24/14 in Troy, NY)

rareformbrewday (3)Yesterday, my homebrew club – Albany Brew Crafters – got to do something really cool: we brewed a barley wine at Rare Form Brewing Company in Troy. I’ve watched professional brewers make beer on their giant systems (“giant” compared to a 5-gallon homebrew setup, that is), but I’ve never actually partaken in the commercial brewing process myself. This was definitely a fun and educational experience, not just for me, but for the nine other members of the homebrew club that participated in the brew day.RareFormBrewDay (45)
Kevin Mullen, the owner of Rare Form, has been a supporter of Albany Brew Crafters well before his brewery opened for business. He attended a few of our meetings at The Ruck (which is literally right around the corner from his brewery), and we discussed the idea of brewing a beer for ourselves using his “Psycho Brew” system. We paid for all the ingredients; about 270 total pounds of grain and about a pound of hops. The yeast was graciously donated by Shmaltz Brewing Company: White Labs 1056 “American Ale” strain, which is good for high gravity brews (if you know Shmaltz, you know they love to make big beers). The recipe was based on an English-style barley wine homebrew concocted by the club’s current president, Dustin Mitchell. He brought a keg of it to the Shmaltz first anniversary bash back in May, and it was a hit with the crowd.rareformbrewday (8)
The club also has its own bourbon barrel, which we got from a distillery downstate a few years ago. In fact, this isn’t the first time we’ve brewed a big batch to age in the barrel. Back in 2012, several club members gathered together and each brewed a 10-gallon batch of the same Russian Imperial Stout recipe. After fermentation, it was transferred to the barrel and aged about six to nine months. I wasn’t part of that project, though I’ve tasted a few bottles from that batch and they were delicious; on par with something you’d get from a high end commercial brewery.rareformbrewday (4)
Anyway, it’s been a while since our last barrel project and we wanted to do another brew, but this time we’d step it up a bit. Rare Form’s system is relatively small at 5BBL, but it’s the perfect size for homebrewers that want to make a batch big enough to fill a 53-gallon bourbon barrel. Kevin acquired all the grain in advance, all we had to do was come in and do the brewing.rareformbrewday (9)
Members arrived around 8am on Sunday morning. We wasted no time as we got the mash-in process completed by 8:30am (154 degrees for an hour). Then we lautered for another hour, and transferred the liquid to the adjacent boil kettle. It took a while to get going, but once we did, it was a nice rolling boil which we let go for another hour (hop additions at 60 and 30 minutes until flameout). While waiting on the boil we had to clean out the mash tun, to which we transferred the wort once the boil was complete. That took a while, as did the process of manually filling up about 15 carboys and fermenting buckets. Then it was another hour of cleaning, followed by a tasty beer at the bar around 2:30pm. If you watch the video below you probably won’t be able to tell that it was a six-hour process from start to finish. There is quite a lot of waiting around when it comes to brewing.rareformbrewday (6)
We’re leaving our fermenters in the back of the brewery at room temperature for a few weeks, then we’ll siphon all the beer into the barrel and let it age for several months. I can’t wait to see how it turns out.rareformbrewday (5)
If you’re a homebrewer with aspirations of going pro someday, I highly recommend participating in a brew day like this. I’m sure there’s just as much manual labor to be done at a brewery this small as there is at a major commercial enterprise. It’s a lot of sanitizing, mopping, sweeping, hosing, organizing parts, and connecting/disconnecting equipment. The experience gave me flashbacks to my active duty Navy days. Some of the other guys seemed surprised and impressed by how well I could swab the deck.rareformbrewday (2)
Thanks again to Kevin Mullen and Jamie Caligure of Rare Form for letting us use their equipment and facilities. Also thanks to Shelby Schneider at Shmaltz Brewing for hooking us up with their yeast. We hope to collaborate with Shmaltz and other local breweries on small batch brews in the future.RareFormBrewDay (56)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Green Wolf Dire Wolf


3.7
   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1159) - Albany, New York, USA - AUG 24, 2014
I poured a 22oz bottle into a goblet. There was no freshness date.

Appearance: Opaque black color. Pours to a small, tan, foamy head which mostly dissipates and leaves little lacing.

Smell: Strong whiskey aroma. Hints of chocolate. A touch of butter.

Taste: Green Wolf is the first (and so far only) microbrewery in all of Schoharie County. They finally opened their doors recently and began selling several beers in bottles. A friend of mine who brews there part-time gave me this bottle. It was certainly intriguing considering it’s a hefty 9.5% ABV imperial porter aged in whiskey barrels. And while it is indeed a good beer, it’s not a great one. The palette is rather simplistic, though the flavors that are here are pretty nice.

Up front I get a rather sweet flavor cocoa powder and coffee, followed by roasted malt. It’s not especially rich or cloying, though there’s plenty of sweetness here. The whiskey barrel character is quite prominent as it definitely upstages the base brew. Not much in the way of hoppy bitterness nor flavor, though the beer doesn’t strike me as unbalanced. I do enjoy this whiskey flavor as it adds some smoky astringency, plus a touch of pepper or spice. There’s also some butter lurking on the finish, but it’s easily overlooked.

Drinkability: For a big brew weighing in at 9.5% ABV, Green Wolf Dire Wolf drinks and tastes like something much lighter. There’s no alcohol taste nor heat, so it doesn’t distract the drinking process at all. The mouthfeel is a tad thin, but it’s comfortable and smooth. It finishes fairly clean, with just a slightly dry aftertaste from the whiskey. For a startup brewery, this is a commendable brew and I definitely foresee it improving over time. 
Grade: 7/10

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Anderson Valley Pinchy Jeek Barl


4.2
   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 17/20
Chad9976 (1158) - Albany, New York, USA - AUG 23, 2014
I poured a 22oz bottle into a tulip glass. It appears to have been bottled on 4/1/14.

Appearance: Deep ruby red to black hue. Opaque. No carbonation visible. Pours to a large, off-white, foamy head which retains and laces well.

Smell: Sweet and spicy nose of vanilla, wood, bourbon, pumpkin, cinnamon and alcohol.

Taste: Everybody’s aging everything in bourbon barrels these days, so why not a big pumpkin beer? Though Anderson Valley Pinchy Jeek Barl is not the first barrel-aged pumpkin beer I’ve had (that distinction would go to Southern Tier’s Pumking), it’s the first I’ve seen readily available in bottles. This is definitely a winning combination as the barrel character really complements the spicy pumpkin brew quite well.

The first thing I notice about this palette is how rich and sweet it is. There’s a sweet taste of vanilla and cinnamon, not unlike pie crust, right away. Though it not overtly pumpkin pie-tasting, it’s almost crème brulee or apple pie. Through the middle comes the traditional pumpkin taste of nutmeg and brown sugar. There’s a touch of rum-like alcohol character on the finish, though that’s likely the bourbon flavor from the barrel. Overall, this is a very interesting combination of confectionery/bakery sweetness and potpourri spiciness. It’s not cloying at all, which is nice, and it’s well-balanced to boot. Pumpkin beer lovers will definitely want to check this one out.

Drinkability: Big, barrel-aged brews tend to be challenging to drink. Not so with Anderson Valley Pinchy Jeek Barl. The mouthfeel is calm and soft with a smooth texture and easy finish. It doesn’t leave much of an aftertaste, which is actually kind of a bummer. Minor alcohol warmth from the 8.5% ABV as it goes down, but it fades quickly. It doesn’t feel or drink like a heavy, boozy beer at all. An experienced drinker should have no problem handling an entire bottle by themselves. 
Grade: 9/10

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Lagunitas DayTime


4.2
   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 16/20
Chad9976 (1157) - Albany, New York, USA - AUG 20, 2014
I poured a 12oz bottle into a goblet. It was bottled on 7/23/14 and cost $3.20 ($0.27 per ounce).

Appearance: Pale lager-like white gold hue over a mostly clear body. Spastic effervescence clearly visible. Pours to a three-finger, white, fluffy head that retains and laces extremely well.

Smell: Huge dank resin and tropical fruit juice concentrate. Very sweet and inviting.

Taste: There seems to be a formula to the “Session IPA,” yet some breweries hit it out of the park and others strike out. Lagunitas DayTime is definitely is one of the former as it has both great taste and complexity – qualities you don’t tend to get in a small brew like this.

Many session IPAs tend to taste like hoppy water, but this one has a genuine malt foundation to it. Light, pilsner-like malts with just a hint of smokiness or bready character. The hops are quite prominent to say the least. A strong spicy sensation at first with herbal characteristics. They transition to something earthier, like pine needles through the middle and finish with a classic lemony citrusy flavor on the finish. Usually, this type of palette would grow old quick, but in this case it works perfectly.

Drinkability: This beer does exactly what it’s supposed to do: deliver big flavor while still being refreshing and sessionable. The mouthfeel is thin and crisp, but always smooth going down and leaves nary an aftertaste (maybe a hint of lemon peel). At 4.65% ABV it’s definitely in the session-able range for most people, though considering how good it tastes and easy it drinks, I doubt many people will have a problem throwing back a few of these (if only it came in cans!). 
Grade: 9/10

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

White Birch Small Batch Ale: Sour Brown


4.5
   AROMA 9/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 10/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 17/20
Chad9976 (1156) - Albany, New York, USA - AUG 19, 2014
I poured a 12oz bottle into a tulip glass. It was bottled on 4/17/14 and cost $5 ($0.42 per ounce).

Appearance: Dark blood red/brownish hue. Initially pours to a two-finger, tan, foamy head, but it mostly evaporates and leaves little lacing on the glass.

Smell: Classic sour nose from the bacteria, but with distinct brown ale sweetness.

Taste: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m more impressed when new breweries can make an awesome sour than by their imperial IPA or stout. I’ve tried most of White Birch’s lineup and found it to be pretty good across the board, but their sours have been nothing short of fantastic. I think the Small Batch Sour Brown might be the best of them. It’s a robust brown ale at the core and it really comes through in the taste. It’s a delicious combination of genuine brown ale and the allure of sour.

The sour flavor is, not surprisingly, the first thing I notice about the palette. It’s not quite as intense as some others, though it is far from being described as mildly sour. Slight vinegar notes, though the acidity really comes through. The rich brown ale brew is in no way obscured. I get notes of chocolate, brown sugar, vanilla and maybe a hint of coffee all through the middle. Additional sourness on the backend with a slight berry or fruity-like addition to the palette. Adding black currants to this would make it a masterpiece.

Drinkability: Sours are like a cold swimming pool: abrasive at first but once you get used to it you’re fine. That’s especially true here. White Birch Small Batch Ale Sour Brown starts out as sipper, but halfway through the glass I was able to drink it in bigger gulps. The mouthfeel is calm and smooth, though it finishes almost a little too clean. The 6% ABV is perfect: light enough to keep it tame, but strong enough so as not to slug it down like juice. 
Grade: 10/10

Monday, August 18, 2014

Saranac High Peaks Single Malt Scotch Ale


4
   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1155) - Albany, New York, USA - AUG 18, 2014
I poured a 12oz bottle into a goblet. It was bottled on 4/20/14.

Appearance: Beautiful copper/amber hue over a clear body with plenty of carbonation visible. Pours to a small, off-white, soapy head which retains and laces fairly well.

Smell: Sweet nose of berries, stone fruit and confectionery toppings.

Taste: I first tried Saranac High Peaks Single Malt Scotch Ale at the 2014 TAP New York beer fest and thought it was one of the best I had tried all weekend. That was about four months ago, so I was eager to sit down at home and try it from the bottle on a clean palate. Though it’s not a bad beer at all, it’s nearly as impressive as I remember it being. It doesn’t seem to have any Scotch whisky and/or barrel character, but rather drinks as a solid Scotch Ale or maybe even a “barleywine lite.”

Right away the palette of this beer introduces a refined sweetness. Caramel and toffee seem to be the prominent flavors with subtle notes of cherry, strawberry and fig lurking in the background. Not much in the way of smokiness as found in most Scotch Ales, though there is just the faintest hint of vanilla or wood from the barrel. The alcohol is also quite tame, imparting just a slight rum-like flavor. Overall, it’s a delectable brew to be sure, albeit not an outstanding one.

Drinkability: I drank this beer quite warm and was surprised by how comfortable it was in the mouth. Despite the 9% ABV weight, there’s little to no heat; nor does Saranac High Peaks Single Malt Scotch Ale have any kind of hefty, obese character to it. The mouthfeel is calm, soft and smooth with a relatively clean finish – not sticky/cloying aftertaste. 
Grade: 8/10

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale (2014 re-review)


3.6
   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1154) - Albany, New York, USA - AUG 17, 2014
I poured an 11.2oz bottle into a goblet. It appears to have been bottled in September of 2013 and cost $5.04 ($0.45 per ounce).

Appearance: A washed out pinkish-red hue over an opaque body. Pours to an average-sized, white, foamy head which retains and laces fairly well.

Smell: Light fruit notes, especially berries. Nothing particularly distinctive.

Taste: Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale is a rather unique brew by the Kiuchi Brewery of Japan. It seems to have a simple recipe of just two-row with red rice and flaked barley used as adjuncts. The only hop is Chinook. This of course makes it difficult to classify, style-wise, though it’s also a challenge to describe and critique the flavor since it’s not something I or more beer drinkers are used to. I do enjoy the originality for sure. There’s a light fruit flavor throughout this palette, similar to strawberry or pomegranate, though I would not consider it “juicy” per se. I’ve no idea what red rice tastes like, and my only frame of reference for rice in beer would be Budweiser. Thankfully, this tastes nothing like that. It’s an interesting brew to say the least, and I find absolutely no off-flavors nor technical flaws even though this bottle may be about a year old. The hops are nowhere to be found, but since the overall palette is still plenty delectable, it’s forgivable.

Drinkability: I was rather surprised to see the 7% ABV on the bottle label, as this beer doesn’t have the robustness nor the body of such a strong brew (seems more like 5% to me). However, the deliver is pleasant: the mouthfeel is well-carbonated, but not fizzy, with a smooth texture and easy quaffability. Not much in the aftertaste, either, which is also fine by me. 
Grade: 7/10

Here's me and Henry's video review from 2010:

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Stone Double Bastard Ale (2010 vintage)


4.3
   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 17/20
Chad9976 (1153) - Albany, New York, USA - AUG 16, 2014
I poured a 22oz bottle into a tulip glass. It was dated as a 2010 release and cost $6.99 ($0.32 per ounce).

Appearance: An ugly rusty brown/brick red hue over a completely opaque body. Pours to a three-finger, ivory, frothy head which laces and retains very well.

Smell: Extremely sweet aroma of confectionery flavors and some alcohol.

Taste: I’ve never been a big fan of Stone’s “Bastard” series, as I tend to find them too abrasive for their own good (except Oaked Arrogant Bastard, which is perfectly balanced). Double Bastard tends to be the beefiest of them all, not surprisingly. I set this bottle aside in the basement nearly four years ago and had forgotten about until recently. With some age on it, this beer has become quite different from the hop bomb I remember. It’s very sweet, but not cloying, and is now well-balanced since the hops have faded.

If I were drinking this blind I could confuse it for a strong English-style barleywine. Huge confectionery notes are present right off the rip: toffee, caramel, peanut brittle, and butterscotch. Additional complexity through the middle with notes of red and black cherries. The hops still maintain some bitterness, but are not nearly as dry and astringent as they are fresh. Slight earthy/smoky/piney flavors through the middle with just a touch of bitterness. It finishes as it starts, but with some warming (and complementary) alcohol flavor and sensation. Overall, it’s a delectable beer, though not quite a mind-blower.

Drinkability: One of the reasons I’m not a fan of fresh Double Bastard is because it’s difficult to drink it in anything bigger than a tiny sip. With four years of age under its belt, it’s a different world. The mouthfeel is thick, calm, soft and smooth. The alcohol is subtle and leaves a gentle warming sensation. There’s a residual aftertaste of malty sweetness and minor dry bitterness, but it’s easily tolerable. Even at 11.2% ABV, this is no longer a beastly brew and I can handle the entire 22oz bomber myself. 
Grade: 9/10
Check out my 2010 review here:

Friday, August 15, 2014

Lawson's Finest Liquids Knockout Blonde Ale


3.7
   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1152) - Albany, New York, USA - AUG 15, 2014
I poured a 22oz bottle into a tulip glass. There was no freshness date and it cost $8.04 ($0.37 per ounce).

Appearance: Bright, lemon yellow hue over a hazy body. Large sediment particles can be seen floating in suspension. Pours to a large, white, foamy head which retains and laces well.

Smell: Clean lemony scent plus some spicy/herbal character as well.

Taste: The golden ale/blonde ale style is probably my least favorite in all of Beerdom. It’s a deliberately bland style, so it’s difficult to find one that’s interesting and flavorful. And while Lawson’s Finest Liquids Knockout Blonde Ale isn’t exactly a masterpiece, I will say it’s probably the best blonde ale I’ve ever had.

This doesn’t truly seem to conform to the “blonde ale” style, anyway. There’s a strong hop presence here (“copious amounts” of Columbus and Centennial hops, according to the label). Much like the appearance and aroma, there’s a lemony citrus zestiness to be found. Not juicy or tart like lemon fruit, but drier and spicier like lemon peel. There’s an underlying herbal flavor as well (green tea), not quite as intense as Mosaic hops, but strong enough to notice. The malt component is, not surprisingly, mild and nondescript. Reminds me of a pale wheat ale (another boring style I dislike). Still, there’s nothing off-putting about this palette whatsoever. The hops definitely make it an interesting brew.

Drinkability: At 5% ABV, Lawson’s Finest Liquids Knockout Blonde Ale is caught in the middle of two worlds. It’s got plenty of body and flavor for a relatively “strong” beer, but at the same time it’s just a bit too heavy for what it’s going for. A tad too bitter to be truly refreshing, even though it finishes clean. I could see this recipe being reworked well as a session IPA or a true pale ale. But as an easy-drinking blonde it’s perfect for the summer. 
Grade: 7/10

Thursday, August 14, 2014

White Birch Small Batch: Ned the Red


4.2
   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 17/20
Chad9976 (1151) - Albany, New York, USA - AUG 14, 2014
I poured a 12oz bottle into a goblet. It was bottled on 5/1/14 and cost $5 ($0.42 per ounce).

Appearance: Beautiful shade of ruby red or maroon. Pours to a thin layer of yellowish, soapy foam which fizzles away quickly like a soda and leaves no lacing.

Smell: Strong aroma of wild yeast and a general funky/earthy character.

Taste: When a new brewery makes an awesome stout or IPA that’s impressive, but what’s even more impressive is when they make a great sour ale. Working with wild yeast and bacteria is a science and an art, which shouldn’t be trifled with by amateurs. Fortunately, White Birch’s “Ned the Red” – part of their Small Batch Ale series – drinks like a sour made by seasoned veterans.

Despite the red color, this beer is not actually made with any fruit. It’s probably brewed in the Flanders Red style, though it might be more accurately classified as an American wild ale. The flavor components are classic for the style: intense tartness right away with candy-like sourness immediately thereafter. In fact, those are pretty much the only two flavors here, but damn if they aren’t delicious. A closer inspection reveals hints of vinegar, red wine, and wood from the barrel. Was this aged in red wine barrels? Neither the bottle nor the website provides that information. Regardless, it’s a tasty sour done right.

Drinkability: Sours tend to be pretty big beers, and at 6.5% ABV, Ned the Red is somewhere between light and medium-bodied (for a sour). The mouthfeel is a bit tepid, calm, and smooth. I would not describe it as flat or slick, though. The sour and tart components to the palette are quite intense, so drinking this in more than a sip at a time is challenging. Though in this case I think sipping and savoring it is the right way to approach it. 
Grade: 9/10

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Sebago Hop Swap


4.4
   AROMA 9/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 17/20
Chad9976 (1150) - Albany, New York, USA - AUG 13, 2014
I poured a 12oz bottle into a goblet. It appears to have been bottled on 5/11/14 and cost $3 ($0.25 per ounce).

Appearance: Golden/light orange hue over a hazy body. Pours to a small, white, soapy head which mostly dissipates, but does leave plenty of lacing on the glass.

Smell: Dank resiny earthy character, plus some herbs and a touch of orange citrus.

Taste: There’s definitely a “je na sais quois” character to a lot of IPAs coming out of the New England states. They’ve got a little of everything: tropical fruit; spices; and pine. Though there’s still sub-genres even within this niche style. Sebago Brewing Company’s 2014 Hop Swap is a good example of what I mean since it tends to lean more toward the traditional “East Coast style” IPA with a rustic, earthy approach, but still has that New England-style character.

The malt bill to this beer is quite interesting as it uses two English specialty malts in addition to “flaked barley” (Two-row is the base malt). It’s not particularly sweet, but there’s enough malty backbone to give the palette a consistency instead of being simply carbonated hop water. As for the hops, well, there’s plenty of those. Dank, resiny pine flavor is prominent from start to finish as well as a strong - but not overbearing – bitterness. A crisp hop bite at the crest of the swig followed by slight herbal/earthy (green tea, tree bark) flavor on the back end. Slightly dry in the aftertaste, but it fades quickly. Overall, a very delicious taste that’s consistently fun and enjoyable to drink.

Drinkability: Sebago Hop Swap has the robustness of a hefty brew, but the body itself does not. The mouthfeel is a little thin, but always crisp and leaves no cloying aftertaste. It’s got a ton of flavor for 6.7% ABV, maybe even a little more than you’d expect. 
Grade: 9/10