Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Westbrook One Claw

   AROMA 9/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 16/20
Chad9976 (1178) - Albany, New York, USA - SEP 17, 2014
I’m not 100% sure what hops and malts went into Westbrook One Claw (except for rye), though I bet I could take an educated guess. All the local beer nerds in my area have been raving about this beer all summer so I finally decided to give it a try. I’m definitely kicking myself for not having done so sooner since it definitely lives up to the hype. A hop bomb for a pale ale, but with plenty of malt presence to give it balance and remain a true pale ale.

I poured a 12oz can into a goblet. The freshness date was unreadable; it cost $3.19 ($0.27 per ounce).

Appearance: Pale orange/golden hue over an extremely hazy body though some carbonation can be seen rushing up the edge of the glass. Pours to a small, white, soapy head which retains and laces fairly well.

Smell: Strong hoppy aroma with distinct herbal and citrus juicy notes.

Taste: From beginning to end there’s a strong hop flavor here; a combination of herbal/earthy notes (probably Mosaic or a similar hop) followed by a tropical fruit juice/citrusy flavor (probably Citra and/or Simcoe hops). A solid malt base supports these hops quite well, though they’re not especially bitter. There’s a spicy bitterness throughout this palette, balanced out well by the use of rye in the malt foundation. Light on the sweetness, but there are faint notes of lemon. I like how the hops re-emerge at the end and create for additional juicy flavor. This is a pale ale I could drink often without becoming bored.

Drinkability: What’s really nice about Westbrook One Claw is the fact the beer is just so easily drinkable. Technically a fairly “light” beer at only 5.5% ABV, it has the body of something much stronger. It’s quite robust compared to so many other brews of the style of comparable weights. It’s also a pleasure to drink as the mouthfeel is well carbonated, but still quite comfortable as it’s not spastic and goes down super smooth. It’s refreshing while in the mouth; though it does leave a slightly pasty aftertaste, which is easily tolerated. 
Grade: 9/10

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Beer Diviner Fresh Hops Pale Ale

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1177) - Albany, New York, USA - SEP 16, 2014
A lot of breweries use wet hops in IPAs, but you don’t tend to see them in pale ales that often. That makes The Beer Diviner Fresh Hops Pale Ale rather unique in a way. And while it certainly is an enjoyable beer, the fact remains it’s a familiar palette of Centennial and Cascade hops – only more dank than you’re used to.

I poured a 16oz growler into a tulip glass. It cost $5 ($0.31 per ounce).

Appearance: Dark orange color over a translucent body. Pours to a small, white, soapy head which retains and laces fairly well.

Smell: Hop-forward nose of orange and tea notes. Mild overall.

Taste: For a pale ale, there’s a lot of hop presence in this beer. Right away I get strong orange flavors, though sweet, such as orange sherbet or orange juice concentrate. Some more earthy/piney notes towards the middle and distinct tea flavor on the back end (Centennial always has a black tea flavor). Note that I said hop flavor and not bitterness. I’m sure the IBUs on The Beer Diviner Fresh Hops Pale Ale are pretty high for a pale ale, the fact remains it’s not an especially bitter beer. I would like to see more malt presence here, though. It’s a strong foundation for sure, but isn’t making for much distinct characteristics. Mild notes of honey, and a general sweetness, which is fine. The hops do linger in the aftertaste, leaving a dank and astringent flavor. This is enjoyable.

Drinkability: At 7% ABV, I was expecting to have to brace myself as I started on The Beer Diviner Fresh Hops Pale Ale. The body is surprisingly light for the weight, though. The mouthfeel is a bit thin, but with a smooth texture and easy finish. There’s a lingering aftertaste of resin and herbs, but it’s easily tolerable. 
Grade: 7/10

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Beer Diviner Rudy's Hammer Pale Ale

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1176) - Albany, New York, USA - SEP 15, 2014
I’m not usually a fan of any beer that claims to be “English-style” since that tends to be code for “fermented with Ringwood yeast and tastes like butter.” Thankfully, The Beer Diviner Rudy’s Hammer Pale Ale is nothing like that. This is definitely an American take on the classic British style with plenty of biscuity malt and mild fruit presence, though the hops are still noticeable.

I poured a 16oz growler into a tulip glass. It cost $5 ($0.31 per ounce).

Appearance: Flame orange hue over a mostly transparent body. Pours to a small, off-white, foamy head which retains and laces fairly well.

Smell: Biscuity malt and light fruity/marmalade notes.

Taste: There’s a certain malt character that some English and English-style beers have that are quite reminiscent of biscuits; not bread, not muffins, but biscuits. That flavor is present right away in Rudy’s Hammer. And thankfully, these biscuits haven not been buttered by Ringwood yeast. There’s also some mild marmalade-like sweetness of orange and banana here (not a flavor combination I often find in the style). The hops are reserved, but noticeable. Just a touch of crisp bitterness on the back end and perhaps a hint of black pepper. It finishes lightly sweet and leaves no aftertaste. This is quite enjoyable.

Drinkability: This beer definitely has the makings of an English-style brew in both flavor and delivery. The mouthfeel here is a bit thin (perhaps my growler started going flat), though it’s comfortable in the mouth and goes down with the greatest of east. Rudy’s Hammer is actually rather refreshing while in the mouth. If only it weren’t 5.5% ABV; as this is definitely something I could session (but at a lower alcohol percentage). 
Grade: 7/10

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Beer Diviner Flemish Red

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1175) - Albany, New York, USA - SEP 14, 2014
Would you believe The Beer Diviner’s Flemish Red is the second beer of the style I’ve had in as many months from a small brewery? It’s a very rare, niche style, though it’s nice to see it catching on as sour beers in general become more popular. I haven’t had enough of this style to say how this represents it as far accepted style characteristics, but as a beer in general it’s pretty good. Not quite as sour as I’d prefer, though it is still plenty flavorful and easily drinkable.

I poured a 16oz growler into a tulip glass. It cost $6 ($0.38 per ounce).

Appearance: Ruby red/burgundy hue. Translucent, but nothing visible inside the beer. Pours to a surprisingly large, off white, frothy head which retains and laces tremendously.

Smell: Standard sour aroma at first with notes of black cherry, though there’s a distinct vinegar-like presence and something slightly acrid.

Taste: This is an ideal starter sour beer as it’s not quite the pucker-bomb that you’d find in Belgium (or by certain American breweries). It’s more a reddish/brown brew that happens to be slightly tart and sour than a straight up sour beer per se. The brewery’s website says that it’s brewed with coriander, orange peel and ginger root and uses two English hops and is fermented with wheat Belgian ale yeast. It doesn’t list the malts, though. That certainly is an interesting, if not flat-out strange combination.

Anyway, the flavor here is familiar as there’s a gentle maltiness throughout the palette. Slightly sweet with flavors akin to those commonly found in a red or brown ale, but without nearly the hop presence. The sourness is also noticeably immediately in the form of a tang and astringency on the front end, with candy-like sourness, and slight vinegar flavor on the backend. The aforementioned spices are quite subtle, though they could account for a medicinal-like taste. Overall, it’s not bad, but it could definitely be improved. A significant barrel or wood-aging treatment would probably help.

Drinkability: The first thing I noticed about The Beer Diviner’s Flemish Red is how thin the mouthfeel was. The texture itself is smooth, but the lack of in-your-face sour flavor makes it seem a little weak. It is remarkably smooth, though, which makes it highly drinkable for a sour. It probably could use a little more body and robustness considering it’s a decent weight at 6% ABV, though one pint is definitely a satisfying serving size. 
Grade: 7/10

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Beer Diviner Farmhouse Ale

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 16/20
Chad9976 (1174) - Albany, New York, USA - SEP 13, 2014
The Beer Diviner Farmhouse Ale is a good example of the new generation of American saisons. Not very traditional compared to its European brethren, it’s an overtly modern example of the style and it works well because of its uniqueness, not in spite of it. A tasty combination of citrus flavors and spicy yeast character, while still functioning as the refresher it should be. That’s something to like.

I poured a 16oz growler into a tulip glass. It cost $5 ($0.31 per ounce).

Appearance: Glowing orange pumpkin-skin hue. Hazy. Pours to a large, eggshell, frothy head which retains and laces very well.

Smell: Sweet orange sherbet with a touch of banana and bubblegum.

Taste: At first, The Beer Diviner Farmhouse Ale doesn’t seem like a saison. There’s a strong presence of orange in various incarnations: orange peel, orange sherbet, and even some orange juice. Sweet to be sure, but in no way cloying or chewy. There’s additional malt presence through the middle, coupled with some dry spiciness and bitterness. The classic farmhouse/black pepper qualities are present here, but they’re quite tame (which is fine by me). I also detect some flavors of banana and bubblegum – akin to those you find in a hefeweizen, but it doesn’t have the overt wheat character of beers of those styles. There’s a touch of acidity on the finish, but otherwise this is a really enjoyable and unique palette.

Drinkability: Saisons tend to be highly effervescent (to say the least), but this beer is a bit tamer – and for good measure. Medium to full bodied with a soft, comfortable mouthfeel and easy finish. Refreshing while in the mouth and only a mild aftertaste so as not to linger uncomfortably. The Beer Diviner Farmhouse Ale is one of the better brews by the Bly Hollow Brewery – they should sell this in bottles instead of draught-only. 
Grade: 9/10

Friday, September 12, 2014

Southern Tier Cuvée Series 3

   AROMA 9/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 16/20
Chad9976 (1173) - Albany, New York, USA - SEP 12, 2014
Way back in February of 2011 I reviewed Southern Tier Cuvée Series 2 with a friend and it had been sitting in my fridge for six months at that point. This bottle of Southern Tier Cuvée Series 3 I fished out of my basement, but I can’t remember when or where I bought it or how much it cost. I remember the Series 2 being a huge beast, but this bottle of Series 3, though big, is quite tame. A complete malt bomb at this point as the hops have faded into obscurity (and the alcohol, but to a lesser extent). I’m sure there are still a few vintages lurking in the cellars of hoarders and if so I’d recommend breaking them out now because it’s drinking pretty well and I don’t see anything to be gained by waiting any longer.

I poured a 22oz bottle into an official Southern Tier goblet.

Appearance: Pretty burgundy/garnet color. Body is a little hazy and there’s no visible carbonation. Initially pours to a small, yellow layer of suds, but it fizzles away quickly and completely.

Smell: Very strong and sweet aroma with notes of dark fruits and confectionery flavors. Some mustiness present as well.

Taste: Southern Tier Cuvée Series 3 is actually a blend of Series 1 and 2 and is not actually an original brew. Both of those beers were gigantic barleywine-style brews aged in American and French oak barrels (what the barrels previously housed – I’m not sure). You could consider this an Old Ale or an American Strong Ale, but one thing you can’t consider it is a generic beer. It’s clear from the first sip that this is a beast of a beer. Mammoth sweetness right from the get-go; notes of dates, figs, rum-soaked raisins at the forefront. On the backend it turns into something less natural and more man-made with huge notes of toffee, caramel and butterscotch. Nothing noticeable in the way of hops, though, which I suppose is to be expected considering how old this bottle is. Alcohol also plays a part in the palette and creates for a dry astringency. There also seems to be some oxidation as I detect cardboard and maybe some metallic character as well. Regardless, the good flavors outshine the bad and make for a delectable beverage. Unbalanced and slightly flawed to be sure, but a tasty beer nevertheless.

Drinkability: After several years of aging, Southern Tier Cuvée Series 3 has mellowed nicely. There’s still significant warmth from the 11% ABV body, but it’s not exactly fire water. The carbonation has died down, but the beer is not completely flat. The mouthfeel is rather thin and slightly slick with a dry, pasty aftertaste. Still, I had no problem drinking an entire 22oz bottle solo, which is really saying something since I could barely finish only 8oz of a fresh vintage when it was first released. 
Grade: 8/10

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Fuller's Bengal Lancer

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 13/20
Chad9976 (1172) - Albany, New York, USA - SEP 11, 2014
For some odd reason, there are American breweries that make IPAs in the English style. Perhaps that due to the fact so few authentic English IPAs are actually available here, so it’s always nice to give one a try when I can find it. Fuller’s Bengal Lancer is probably an IPA in name only, even for an English-style entry. This is much closer to an amber ale as it’s remarkably sweet and the hops are quite tame. One of the few malt-forward IPAs I’ve had.

I poured a 500ml bottle into a tulip glass. It had a best before date of 11/19/14 and cost $4.99 ($0.30 per ounce).

Appearance: Golden/amber/orange color. Body is fairly clear with a bit of haze, but carbonation is visible. Pours to a small, off-white, foamy head which retains and laces fairly well.

Smell: Sweet scent of orange sherbet and caramel candy.

Taste: This is one of the sweetest non-imperial IPAs I’ve ever had. Right away there’s a sweet malty taste of honey, caramel and butterscotch. Some orange fruit as well, but this doesn’t seem to be a hop flavor. In fact, the hops are not very pronounced here at all. Some mild bitterness through the middle imparting just a touch of dryness. There’s additional confectionery-like sweetness and flavor on the finish with a touch of butter and astringency. Perhaps this is an old bottle and the hops faded (which wouldn’t surprise me), but I don’t think I’d consider this an IPA even if it were fresh. Bengal Lancer works well as an amber ale – too bad it’s not marketed as such.

Drinkability: Another overtly English character to this beer is its relatively light body. At only 5.3% ABV, Bengal Lancer is closer in size to a pale ale than an IPA. On the plus side, it’s easily quaffable. The mouthfeel is thin and crisp and leaves little aftertaste. I might even consider it refreshing at times. It could use more body and more flavor to truly be considered an IPA. 
Grade: 6/10

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

White Birch Belgian Pale Ale

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1171) - Albany, New York, USA - SEP 9, 2014
Judging by the description on the brewery’s website, White Birch Belgian Pale Ale is a Belgian pale ale in name only. I can see that, since there isn’t anything about this beer that makes it stand out a Belgian-y. It does work as a pale ale in and of itself, which is commendable. A good balance of a solid malt base and hops that give it some spice, but don’t go overboard.

I poured a 22oz bottle into a tulip glass. It was bottled in July, 2014 and cost $6 ($0.27).

Appearance: Despite the brewery’s description, it’s actually more of a pure orange color over a very hazy body. Some carbonation is visible. Pours to an average-sized, white, frothy head which laces and retains quite well.

Smell: Fruity aroma of tangerine, apple and a hint of something herbal. Mild overall, though.

Taste: Since this beer may not be as Belgian-ish as its name implies, I can cut it some slack. There’s a pretty strong presence of American-style hop character going on here. West Coast-style citrus notes in the form on orange and maybe guava or papaya are present right away. But there’s also a slight peppery note, maybe basil or coriander or clove (though the beer is not actually brewed with any of these herbs as far as I can tell). An interesting flavor and spice combination; I’d be interested to see the hop schedule. As for the malty base, it’s definitely solid. Nothing in particular stands out, but at least there’s enough body here to keep this balanced. I really don’t get much Belgian character (e.g. banana, clove, etc.) though there is a bit of saison-like dryness here, but it’s not a dry beer per se. Overall, it’s plenty flavorful and interesting and that’s what makes for a good beer.

Drinkability: Though a tad “big” at 6.5% ABV, White Birch Belgian Pale Ale works well as summer brew. There’s an inherently refreshing quality to this palette – juicy notes while in the mouth, but nothing cloying or lingering in the aftertaste. The mouthfeel itself is perfectly medium-bodied; plenty of carbonation to keep it interesting, but not to the point of being difficult to drink. It’s remarkably smooth, actually. I had no trouble drinking the entire bomber myself. 
Grade: 7/10

Monday, September 8, 2014

Spaten Optimator

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1170) - Albany, New York, USA - SEP 8, 2014
Reviewing a doppelbock at the end of summer might not be a completely fair review. However, I have had Spaten Optimator many times in the past and it’s only been slightly better than the bottle I’m reviewing now. This is definitely a German doppelbock personified – plenty of sweet malty notes, slightly nutty, but some bitterness to balance it out. Not bad for an InBev product.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a mug. It was bottled on 2/2/14 and cost $2.50 ($0.21 per ounce).

Appearance: Beautiful chestnut/mahogany hue. Translucent with carbonation visible. Pours to a two-finger, tan, foamy head which laces and retains somewhat well.

Smell: Slight skunkiness from the green bottle; otherwise very malty with an overt lager character.

Taste: The first thing I notice here is the classic macro lager character. While I’m quite sure Spaten Optimator is an all-malt brew, there’s something to it that screams “lager!” as soon as it touches the tongue. It’s actually quite tangy at first, maybe even a little sour (I’m chalking that up to green bottle and lightstrike), but it’s easily overlooked. Once I get invested in the palette I start to notice flavors of roasted peanuts, a touch of caramel, maybe toffee. The doppelbock style is actually not too far off from the brown ale style in terms of flavor characteristics and this beer is a good example of that. There’s still some bitterness here, but actual hop flavor is mild. Slightly dry, maybe even a bit metallic. Again, this is a fairly old bottle, so I’ll bet a fresh serving would be more complex and less flawed, but as it stands it’s still pretty good for a relatively inexpensive import made by a macro brewery.

Drinkability: Spaten Optimator may taste like and ale, but it drinks like the lager it is. The mouthfeel is thin and crisp, but not overly fizzy. There’s a slightly slick or sour aftertaste, but I don’t mind it. At 7.6% ABV there is mild warmth from the alcohol, and it does play a factor in the taste as well. It doesn’t feel as heavy as those numbers would indicate, but one serving is satisfactory to be sure. 
Grade: 7/10

World Of Beer revisited

worldofbeer (7)Back in June I attended the opening of World Of Beer at Crossgates Mall.

It did not go well.

I vowed to come back after a few months and give it a proper review under “normal” circumstances. My parents always take me out for a nice dinner on my birthday, so I thought we should go to World Of Beer and see how it goes.
It went much better this time.

worldofbeer (2)We all arrived around 4:30pm on Sunday. One thing I don’t understand about this place (or maybe I’m just oblivious to it) is that there doesn’t seem to be a hostess podium at either entrance. I guess you’re supposed to just walk in and seat yourself? I saw no signs, so I assumed that’s how it worked.  Also, there were five of us, but it seems like every table holds a maximum of four people. We grabbed a four-person table and my brother used an extra stool to sit at the end. It was a little tight, but we still had enough room.

It took a little while for our waitress to come over, but that was fine since by the time she did we had already perused the menu and decided what we wanted for food and drinks. I noticed the beer menu had changed pretty significantly since the last time I was there, which is to be expected. There was plenty of good stuff on tap; not quite as good as Madison Pour House or Bier Abbey, but certainly better than any chain restaurant you’d find in a mall. I believe WOB offers short pours in 4 or 5oz glasses, but I didn’t see it on the menu.

worldofbeer (6)
worldofbeer (5)I got a glass of Dieu du Ciel’s Péché Mortel imperial coffee stout. I haven’t had this beer in years and I remember it being amazing the first time I had it. It was still excellent, but not quite the mind-blower it once was. Dad got a mug of Samuel Adams Octoberfest. I don’t know what it is about that beer, but for some reason it seems to have massive mainstream appeal. So many people who aren’t craft beer drinkers (or even beer drinkers for that matter) have told me how much they like Sam Adams Octoberfest. Personally, I’m not a fan of it or the Marzen style, though I can see why it’s so popular since it has genuine character, but it’s not intensely-flavored , and it’s easy to drink. My brother got a glass of “C’est la Vie” Belgian-style tripel. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it’s actually a beer brewed for WOB by Bavik. He’s not the craft beer enthusiast that I am, but the fact he not only ordered that beer, but really enjoyed it, I found surprising. I also got a pint of Brown’s Whiskey Barrel Porter [pictured above] at the end of the meal – another beer I haven’t had in years – but it tasted nothing like what I remember. I really didn’t like it, so I only drank about half of the glass.

For my meal, I decided to take a chance on the chicken and waffles. I’ve had this dish at Belgian-style restaurants and it’s always been good (especially at Ommegang’s café). My order came with four generic deep-fried chicken fingers and a Belgian waffle cut into quarters, plus a cup of real maple syrup for dipping. While it tasted good, it seemed like something you’d get at Denny’s or IHOP. I’d expect something remotely fancy at a place like this.

worldofbeer (3)Everyone said they really enjoyed their meals, almost surprisingly so. My parents both ordered burgers with tater tots and my brother and my girlfriend each ordered a flatbread pizza. I noticed the tater tots crumbled if you tried to eat them with a fork (I had that problem last time). While they were plenty tasty and no one complained, I don’t think a restaurant like this should be serving tater tots that fall apart so easily. Both of my parents asked for their burgers to be medium/well and sure enough they were. My brother and my girlfriend really enjoyed their flatbread pizza; it was easy to eat, didn’t singe their mouths, and they didn’t feel stuffed afterwards.
I should also mention that we ordered deep fried pickles as a starter. It’s probably an appetizer meant for two, but splitting it five ways meant no one filled up on it.

worldofbeer (4)I noticed the restaurant seemed to be just under half capacity when we arrived and there were a lot of young people watching the various NFL games that were on every TV in the place. Last time, I described this place as “Buffalo Wild Wings with a better beer selection,” though I’m not quite sure that’s accurate. Sure, there were plenty of brahs wearing football jerseys and backwards hats, but no one was being obnoxious or disorderly. By the time we left around 6pm, the capacity had definitely grown to about 2/3rds full, but it was nowhere near the madhouse I’ve seen this place on Friday and Saturday nights. In fact, it makes me wonder if coming here during downtime is an accurate portrayal of the venue. Any restaurant worth its salt (no pun intended) should be able to handle the early bird crowd, but the truly good ones handle peak times just as well.

worldofbeer (1)The service was much better this time, albeit a tad slow. I didn’t try to quiz the waitress on beer, and she didn’t seem all thst interested in talking about it (no suggestions, no compliments, etc.) I will say that I saw her pouring beer out of bottles into various glassware at the table next to us, and she nailed a perfect pour every time (that’s impressive, actually).

Thankfully there was no live music, though the volume on the 49ers/Cowboys game was plenty loud. They raffled off a Dez Bryant jersey and sure enough my dad won. He’s a Giants fan, though, but they said we could exchange it for something else at the Stadium store just a few doors down. He got a Michael Strahan jersey instead.

Overall, I have to say I was pleased by how much better this experience was compared to last time. The service was faster, the food was fresher, and the atmosphere was calmer. I still find the beer prices to be rather high, but this isn’t the type of venue I’d think most craft beer drinkers would become a regular at (loyalty program or not). Also, the fact my parents enjoyed it is definitely saying something. They likened it to any other mainstream chain like Applebee’s or T.G.I. Friday’s or Olive Garden. I would agree with that.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Mendocino Talon Smoked Double Porter

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1169) - Albany, New York, USA - SEP 7, 2014
Smoked porter seems to be a legitimate subgenre within the porter style. It’s not something you see often because it’s difficult to pull off (then again, all smoked beers are challenging to do well). Mendocino Talon Smoked Double Porter is more of an imperial porter than happens to have a smoke character to it than a smoked porter per se. Nevertheless, it’s still a flavorful, robust, well-balanced brew and that’s what’s important.

I poured a 22oz bottle into a nonic pint glass. There was no freshness date. A friend gave me this bottle (thanks, Ben!).

Appearance: Opaque black body with no visible carbonation or sediment. Pours to a very large, tan, frothy head which laces and retains very well.

Smell: Chocolate and dark roasted malt. Light smoky notes.

Taste: This beer has the usual porter traits and they’re recognizable right away: milk chocolate, roasted malt and a consistent dry bitterness. For a beer not brewed with chocolate, Mendocino Talon Smoked Double Porter has a lot of that character going for it. More a lighter, sweeter, milk chocolate flavor than intense dark chocolate. Slight dairy-ish notes towards the middle and back end, though the actual smoked malt comes through prominently right as it finishes and leaves a lingering, astringent aftertaste. For a big beer, there’s no alcohol presence here, though I got a touch of toffee which might be the booze in disguise. Either way, it’s still pretty interesting, though the smoke fades into the background eventually and the beer drinks and tastes like a solid imperial porter. I know Mendocino pasteurizes all their beers, and I can’t help but wonder how much better this would be if that were not the case.

Drinkability: You’d never know Mendocino Talon Smoked Double Porter was 10% ABV if you didn’t see that on the label (or read it online somewhere). Big in body for sure, though it’s not intense and aggressive. The mouthfeel is thinner than I was expecting, with no sticky or chewy sensation. It does leave a dry aftertaste, though that’s likely do to the smoked malt. A fine dessert beer, though drinking the entire bomber solo would be challenging. 
Grade: 8/10

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Caldera Mogli

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 16/20
Chad9976 (1168) - Albany, New York, USA - SEP 6, 2014
Caldera Mogli is a beer that should be a masterpiece, at least for me. It’s an imperial chocolate porter aged on bourbon-soaked oak spirals – that’s an impressive brew from the description alone. And while it’s a plenty tasty and enjoyable beer, it’s also a bit of a challenging beer because it’s so intense in pretty much every aspect.

I poured a 22oz bottle into a tulip glass. There was no freshness date, but there was white wax on the cap. I received this bottle from a friend as a gift (thanks, Ben!).

Appearance: Deep dark brown/black color, no visible carbonation. Pours to a three-finger, tan, foamy head which retains but does not lace very well.

Smell: Cocoa nibs and roasted malt with distinct bourbon character.

Taste: There’s a lot going on with this palette: dark chocolate, vanilla, bourbon and woody/earthy characters are all quite prominent. The chocolate is present right away, tasting akin to cocoa nibs – more on the bittersweet side than anything rich and silk like milk chocolate. Plenty of bitterness from the get-go as well. Deeply roasted malt creates for dryness towards the beginning, though it’s quickly obscured by the intense bourbon flavor that appears at the apex of the swig and sticks around long after the swallow is complete. There’s a slight tanginess or astringency on the backend, though this might be the actual alcohol as there is a rum-like character here as well. More bitterness on the finish with an aftertaste of burnt malt and dark chocolate. Delectable and enjoyable, but mostly it’s just interesting. This beer probably didn’t need the oak-aging as it distracts from the base brew, but it’s still fun to drink anyway.

Drinkability: Though obviously not the biggest beer in the world at only 8.5% ABV, Caldera Mogli certainly drinks something you’d call ginormous. This is a robust, full-bodied beer with a strong presence in the mouth. It’s comfortable, and smooth going down, though the alcohol does impart minor warmth. A great dessert beer, especially when shared with friends rather than Bogarted. 
Grade: 8/10

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Great Divide Yeti

   AROMA 9/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 17/20
Chad9976 (1167) - Albany, New York, USA - SEP 3, 2014
Great Divide Yeti is one of those Hall of Fame-type beers I’ve always heard about for years, but have never been able to try until recently (unless you count the chocolate version I reviewed back in 2010). Anyway, this is a beer with a great reputation and it’s well-deserved. This is the embodiment of an imperial stout done not only correctly, but pretty much perfectly.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a tulip glass. It was bottled on 4/23/14 and cost $5.75 ($0.48 per ounce).

Appearance: Black as the Devil’s heart. Even the head appears black at first, but eventually settles out to a dark shade of brown in a frothy texture. Leaves plenty of lacing on the glass and never dissipates.

Smell: Pungent aroma of dark malt, black licorice and chocolate syrup. Some citrusy hops as well.

Taste: Sweet confectionery flavors right from the get-go. Dark chocolate concentrate, iced coffee, black licorice and a hint of spice rum are all present immediately. They’re sweet, but not ridiculously so. Through the middle comes a more rustic palette of roasted malt and French Roast coffee. However, there bitterness comes from the strong hop presence, which also makes for a surprisingly citrusy taste with some pine character as well (especially on the finish). There’s a lingering dry, slightly pasty aftertaste, but it’s actually quite pleasant. This is a well-balance, highly robust, and delectable brew all around. Exactly what an imperial stout should be.

Drinkability: Sometimes big beers like this can be intimidating, but I was pleasantly surprised by the ease with which Great Divide Yeti went down. The mouthfeel is thick, slightly chewy, but in no way cloying. There’s a strong carbonation to it so as to prevent it from sticking to the teeth. The 9.5% ABV potency is just barely noticeable in a gentle warming sensation as it goes down. Otherwise, it’s in no way distracting and surprisingly smooth and easy to drink in larger gulps. You don’t have to just sip this. 
Grade: 10/10

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Fiddlehead Mastermind

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1166) - Albany, New York, USA - SEP 2, 2014
I don’t know if anyone other than me considers the “New England-style IPA” to be a thing (i.e. strong IPAs that are reminiscent of Heady Topper), but I keep finding so many of them. Fiddlehead Mastermind is yet another entry into the genre, and while it’s more than solid for a beer, it’s a tad generic for the regional style.

I poured a 12oz can into a goblet. It was canned on 8/21/14 and given to me from a friend (thanks, Jon!).

Appearance: Pale lemony yellow hue. Unfiltered and completely opaque. Pours to a small, white, foamy head which laces and retains fairly well.

Smell: Strong herbal nose of spice rack seasonings; citrus juice concentrate.

Taste: Though billed as a double IPA, Fiddlehead Mastermind drinks almost like a pale ale. It’s more about the hop flavor than sheer bitterness, here. Lemon and orange juices seem to be quite prominent immediately. It turns on a dime into a spicy, herbal concoction of onion and garlic powders. These remain well into the finish and in the aftertaste, though it’s quite pleasant-tasting. The malty backbone seems rather muted; creating for just enough sweetness to offset the hops but not much in the way of complexity or distinct grain character (probably just two-row?). Overall, this is a satisfying palette for sure, but I think even more could be done with it.

Drinkability: For an 8.1% ABV brew, Fiddlehead Mastermind drinks like something half its size. This is due to the very comfortable, well-carbonated mouthfeel. It’s soft and smooth, though it does leave a drying, slightly spicy aftertaste. There’s also some alcohol presence in the taste and some lingering warmth on the throat. Nothing that’s not easily tolerable, though. You probably want to drink this at fridge temp. 
Grade: 8/10

Monday, September 1, 2014

Saranac High Peaks Clouded Dream

   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

   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

   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

   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