try not to get caught up in the hype of beers like Cigar City Hunahpu’s
Imperial Stout that are only released once a year on a special day at
the brewery for which you need to buy tickets in advance (i.e. Dark
Lord, Kate the Great, etc.). But since two friends of mine in Florida
were generous enough to send me a bottle of the last two editions, I
figured it was okay to get a little excited. And now that I’ve tried the
beer I can definitely see why it receives the praise it does. This is a
very unique and impression imperial stout brew as it utilizes a variety
of spices and flavorings to give it a taste you’re not going to find in
any other beer of the style. It’s not quite world class, but it is damn
NOTE: The scores are indicative of the 2014 vintage.
The 2013 vintage was given to me by Christopher G. and the 2014 vintage
was given to me by Matt S. Thanks to both of my friends for sending me
these beers! I split each bottle with four friends. We poured them into
various stemmed tulip glasses and goblets.
Appearance: Both vintages are, not surprisingly, completely opaque black
and a very dark shade of black at that. Both had a dark brown, frothy
head, though the 2013’s was slightly lighter. Both heads faded
relatively quickly and only left a little bit of lacing.
Taste: My friends and I started out with the 2014 edition, which at the
time of drinking was an 11-month-old bottle. Right away there was a huge
sensation of dark baking chocolate – intensely bitter, but also rich
with chocolaty sweetness. Dark cherry and other fruit flavors are
prominent as well, probably likely derived from the use of massive
amount of malt in the brew (a lot of imperial stouts tend to have
similar characteristics). On the second half, a strong surge of cinnamon
spice sweeps across the palate – creating for a Christmas cookie-like
taste. As it goes down, there’s a warmth from the peppers, though I
would not consider it spicy in a peppery way. All in all it’s quite
delicious, though a bit repetitive. I’d probably prefer a touch more
sweetness, but what’s here is extremely pleasant.
The 2013 edition was noticeably different. The pepper character had
faded, though the chocolate component had not only strengthened, but
gone from bitter dark chocolate to sweet milk chocolate. The alcohol was
also a bit more pronounced, ironically enough, though it did create for
a slightly smokey, bourbon-like flavor. Cinnamon was still quite potent
on the finish, though it was more a sweetness than a spice. It left a
residual cloying/sticky sensation which is common for many imperial
stouts. I don’t think anything was gained by aging this vintage, in
fact, it was probably hindered a bit since the spicy character was
weakened (though if you don’t like spice, cellaring a bottle is the way
Drinkability: It was clear right away that both of these beers were
pretty beefy. I believe the 2013 edition was 11% ABV and the 2014 was
11.5%, though neither had any kind of “extreme” quality to their weight.
The mouthfeels were, of course, full-bodied, but with a soft texture
and smoothness as it went down. Not much in the way of alcohol warmth,
though the fresher vintage definitely had some noticeable heat from the
peppers (but again, nothing too extreme). The 2013 vintage traded
Scoville heat for alcohol heat and it was actually rather cloying in the
aftertaste whereas the 2014 was remarkably dry. I’m glad I split these
bottles with friends, though I was certainly feeling the weight of the
brew bearing down on me afterwards. Splitting a bottle with friends and
family is definitely the way to go.
what I can tell, Rare Form doesn’t seem to be a fan of traditional beer
styles, which is fine with me. Their “Sabbatical Session Ale” could be
considered a Session IPA, a pale ale, a specialty grain or – most
accurately – “other.” Plenty of hop bitterness and actual flavor, but
has a bit more body than your average highly-hopped/low gravity brew.
It’s quite enjoyable.
I poured a 16oz growler filled at the tap room into a tulip glass. It cost $6 ($0.38 per ounce).
Appearance: Hazy, grapefruit juice-like complexion of pale orange. Pours
to a thin, white, soapy head which mostly dissipates and leaves little
Smell: Sweet candy and citrus aroma, especially orange.
Taste: The palette to Sabbatical Session Ale is rather direct, as the
most dominate flavors are the hops. Fairly intense dry bitterness
crackles across the tongue right from the get-go, though the addition of
rye and spices probably has a bit to do with that as well (they don’t
say what spices are used in the brew). The rye definitely creates for
its trademark spice, though it doesn’t seem to be accounting for much in
the way of body as it does not taste like liquid rye bread. In fact,
the malt composition is a silent partner here. There’s enough of it to
give the beer true body, but not to the point of creating for distinct
sweetness. I suspect the beer is brewed with Sorachi Ace hops as it has
that distinct pink peppercorn/grapefruit taste on the finish (this would
be a great beer to pair with seafood, by the way).
Drinkability: At only 3.8% ABV, Sabbatical Session Ale definitely lives
up to its name. There’s a lot of flavor here for such a low gravity
brew, though the actual mouthfeel is noticeably thin. It is crisp and
even refreshing while in the mouth, and it’s easy going down. The hops
linger and leave a slightly dry/spicy aftertaste, but it’s easily
beers don’t tend to be black and you rarely see a Belgian stout – it’s
just not their thing, apparently. Additionally the “black ale” style is
also quite rare as it’s not quite a stout or porter and definitely not a
Black IPA – it’s just a black beer. That makes Rare Form L’homme Chat
Belgian Black Ale quite unique to say the least.
I poured a 16oz growler into a tulip glass. It cost $6 at the tap room ($0.38 per ounce).
Appearance: Opaque black body (though hints of ruby red can be seen
through light). Pours to a fairly small, surprisingly pale, foamy head
which laces and retains quite well.
Smell: Fairly substantial nose of roasted malt, slight coffee and a hint of smoke.
Taste: I have a hunch “L’homme Chat” may actually be an Irish Dry Stout
recipe that has been fermented with Belgian yeast. At least that’s how
it seems to me, and it works quite well. It begins with the classic
roasted malt character; lightly bitter, with a touch of iced coffee
flavor. There’s a significant hop character and it’s much stronger than
in any dry stout. Just a faint touch of dank resin, though nowhere near
that found in a true Black IPA. On the second half the bitterness gives
way to sweetness and there’s notes of milk chocolate and some dark
fruit. I really don’t get any classic “Belgian” character out of this
beer, which is fine since the final product works well.
Drinkability: Probably what’s most impressive about this beer is the
fact it’s only 3.7% ABV and it in no way feels weak or watery. In fact,
the first thing I noticed wasn’t the taste, but the texture: it’s soft,
but has real weight to it. There’s more mouthfeel here than in some
macro light lagers. The brewery occasionally offers L’homme Chat on
nitro, and it works even better. I wouldn’t say it’s refreshing, though
it’s plenty tasty for such a light body and still sturdy enough it could
stand up to a meal.
“Double IPA” has been a thing for a while now, but why not a “double
stout”? Surely there’s a difference between a truly imperial stout and
one that’s just bigger than usual. I suppose that’s the question Green
Flash is asking with their “Double Stout,” which is pretty hefty at 8.8%
ABV, though it drinks like something fairly nominal.
I poured a 12oz bottle into a goblet. It had a best before date of 2/20/15 and cost $3.99 ($0.33 per ounce).
Appearance: Inky opaque black body. Pours to a dark tan, two-finger layer of frothy foam which laces and retains extremely well.
Smell: Strong black licorice notes; black grape; some mocha.
Taste: Like all good heavy stouts, Green Flash Double Stout opens with a
rich sweetness. Chocolate syrup, roasted malt, sour grape and licorice
spice are all prominent throughout the first half. Through the middle I
detect a surprisingly strong presence of hops, even though the brewery’s
website indicates this beer is only 45 IBUs. A biting sensation of dry
bitterness with perhaps a hint of pine as it finishes. There’s a slight
tanginess in the aftertaste, though I also detect notes of toffee and
peanut brittle. All in all, this is what is you expect to find in an
imperial stout palette, though it’s missing a certain something to make
it stand out. In the end it’s just a very good example of the style,
though that’s good enough for me.
Drinkability: There’s a certain mouthfeel I expect in a beer of this
style and I’d say Green Flash Double Stout nails it almost perfectly. A
definite viscosity to the makeup – thicker than most, but without the
cloying, sticky sensation of some. In fact, it might even be a little
too crisp. There’s a bitter tang in the aftertaste, which is tolerable
but a little distracting. At 8.8% ABV it seems a tad inefficient, though
there’s no alcohol warmth or annoyance whatsoever.
used to be a big fan of pumpkin beers, but lately I’ve been having a
difficult time finding one I like. I’ll often give a new brewery a try
if they make a pumpkin beer since they tend to be generally likable, but
in the case of Great South Bay’s “Splashing Pumpkin” it was most
definitely not a good first impression. This drinks like a bad batch; if
this is what they were going for I just don’t get it.
I poured a 12oz bottle into a tulip glass. There was no freshness date and it cost $2.75 ($0.23 per ounce).
Appearance: Pretty copper/orange hue; crystal clear body; no visible
carbonation. Pours to a one-finger, beige, foamy head which mostly
dissipates and leaves little lacing.
Smell: Smells of cooked vegetables with a slight acrid component. I can
tell it’s supposed to be pumpkin beer, but it’s not nearly as pleasant
as it should be.
Taste: This beer is the type of pumpkin ale that’s of the
squashy/spicy/potpourri variety rather than the sweet pumpkin pie type
of brew. Right away there’s an odd off-flavor of canned green beans or
some kind of raw vegetal character (possibly DMS). The label indicates
it’s brewed with roasted pumpkin, which is definitely interesting, and
perhaps that accounts for this strange flavor. However, it doesn’t taste
like toasted squash, nor is it smokey in any particular way. I do get
some distinct piney hop flavor and bitterness through the middle, and
just a subtle spice character on the finish – mostly of clove. There’s a
tang on the backend that becomes more acidic and harsh as the beer
warms. I tried really hard to focus on the good characteristics of this
palette, but the flaws are just too distracting.
Drinkability: There isn’t a lot to enjoy about the taste of Great South
Bay Splashing Pumpkin, but at least it’s not a challenge to get down.
The mouthfeel is a little thin and noticeably calm, but it finishes
clean with just a hint of spice in the aftertaste. For a 5% ABV beer it
probably could have a little more flavor to it, though it’s light enough
in body that it’s a breeze to throw back quickly.
like it when a beer states its mission right in the name, and with a
name like “Sticky Toffee Pudding Ale,” you definitely have some
expectations going into it. I’m not sure this beer lives up to its name
perfectly, but it does a good job in trying to do so. Yes there’s a
sweet toffee taste to it, but there’s also a slightly generic palette
lingering underneath as well. It’s good but not great.
I poured an 11.2oz bottle into a mason jar. It had an expiration date of 4/28/15 and cost $3.99 ($0.36 per ounce).
Appearance: Dark chestnut/maroon hue, but still transparent. Pours to a small, white, foamy head which laces and retains well.
Smell: Candy-like toffee aroma, though it seems a bit faux. A standard pub ale scent is noticeable in the background.
Taste: As soon as the beer hit my tongue I immediately started looking
for the toffee pudding flavor, but it didn’t emerge until the back of
the swig. The beginning is a rather familiar British pub-style ESB brew.
Darker malts such as Maris Otter and some specialty malt character, but
just a mild dessert-like flavor. I even get some bitterness at the
apex; it’s mild but it’s noticeable (I’m actually impressed a novelty
beer like this would even bother with hops). On the backend the
confectionery sweetness of toffee and caramel suddenly emerges and it’s
quite tasty… at first. My palate grew accustomed to the flavor rather
quickly, so instead of sip after sip of liquid dessert it become an ESB
with toffee flavoring implied. I also noticed a bit of a tangy
astringency which is something usually found in old bottles, but this
seems to be relatively fresh. While not off-putting in any way, it has a
ways to go to be as delicious as the label makes it look.
Drinkability: I usually describe a beer as being “sticky” when it’s a
high-gravity brew (from all the natural sugars). In the case of Wells
Sticky Toffee Pudding Ale it’s actually quite light in body since it’s
only 5% ABV. The mouthfeel is crisp, maybe even a little too thin. It
finishes mostly clean with just a slightly dry and tangy sensation in
the aftertaste. It works as a liquid dessert, but might be better if
paired with a rich, heavy dessert.
The good folks at Uncle Marty’s Adirondack Grill
in Averill Park have been offering a fine craft beer selection for
quite a while. They’ve been taking it a step further by recently
bringing in Dustin Aipperspach as their new head chef as well as hosting
a series of monthly beer dinners. Last month was the “Taste of New
York” beer dinner (which I hosted), and this month was an evening with Brown’s Brewing Company.
I’ve been a fan of Brown’s brewpub
for many years. I’ve had pretty much everything on the menu and it’s
all pretty excellent. Though I can’t say I’ve ever been to a Brown’s
beer dinner until now. Since last month’s dining experience went so
well, I had high hopes for this event – which did not disappoint.
Marty Balga, the owner, said everyone who attended the “Taste of New
York” beer dinner really enjoyed themselves. However, the only
“complaint” was that there was actually a bit too much food and
beer (though, as a consumer, that’s not a bad problem to have). So they
scaled back the menu to five courses and the portions seemed a little
smaller and less calorific (as someone trying to lose weight, I
appreciated this). Each beer was served in an 8oz-10oz pour.
Here’s what was on the menu:
Appetizer Food: Smoked oyster and wild mushroom ragout with a Parmesan crisp Beer: Brown’s Oatmeal Stout (5.25% ABV)
This was nothing like what I was expecting as it did not have a
“fishy” taste at all. It actually reminded me of a pizza flavor as it
was quite saucy with Italian-like spices and the Parmesan was like a
pizza crust. Pairing it with the oatmeal stout was an interesting
choice, if not a bit daring, since beers of this type tend to be
associated with the main course or dessert. However, it offered an
interesting contrast of sweetness and slight roasted malt bitterness
that complemented the dish quite well.
Soup Food: Butternut squash bisque with toasted pumpkin seeds Beer: Brown’s Dunder & Blixem Strong Ale on cask (8.5% ABV)
The only time I ever eat squash is at Thanksgiving and Christmas
meals; it’s never occurred to me that it could be prepared fancily. This
bisque has the same consistency you might get from frozen squash, but
obviously with a vastly superior taste. It was squashy, but not mealy or
earthy, with a distinct sweetness. The texture was creamy and soft; it
was almost like eating hot ice cream. The toasted pumpkin seeds added a
nice contrast with their crunchiness.
As for the beer, it was another curious choice, but an appropriate
one. This was my first time trying Brown’s annual Christmas beer, which
is brewed in the Winter Warmer tradition with dark malts and ginger,
star anise and cinnamon spices. It was sweet, but not cloying, and the
spices made it reminiscent of a pumpkin beer. The fact it was on cask
gave it a soft mouthfeel and extremely smooth finish which matched the
Salad Food: Baby arugula with beets, pears, candied pecans, toasted goat cheese and pomegranate vinaigrette Beer: Brown’s India Pale Ale (6.5% ABV)
The salad course took everyone by surprise last month and I’d say
that was true this time around, too. Arugula is probably the best green
to use in a salad, and the use of beets and pink pears was perhaps
unusual, but tasty. It made for an interesting dynamic between the
earthy vegetables and the tartness from the pear as well as the lightly
sweet dressing and the candied pecans. The toasted goat cheese on top
was the main attraction; with its rich taste and an interesting texture
of being toasted on the outside and creamy on the inside.
Pairing this dish with the IPA was, yet again, an odd, but
interesting choice. Brown’s IPA is more of an English-style brew with
emphasis on balance rather than intense hoppy bitterness. There was a
strong piney/resin flavor as well as a slight butterscotch flavor
(possibly diacetyl, but it was tolerable). Next time you have a salad,
try pairing it with an IPA to make the experience more interesting.
At the onset of the night, Chef Dustin said there was a Thanksgiving
theme to the food selections. This was obviously the most traditional
Thanksgiving food of the evening, though it wasn’t just a Butterball
cooked in the oven. The turkey was brined with bourbon and the beer
itself, and was smoked all day. These flavors all came through as the
turkey was tender and moist with a strong smokey astringency to it.
There was also a distinct candy-like taste as well, probably from the
brine. The stuffing was a perfect accompaniment as the sausage also had a
smokey flavor and the sprouts tasted of bacon to create for a meaty
garnish (Dustin said he loves pork and will include it in every dinner
Brown’s Whiskey Barrel-Aged Porter tends to be a finicky beer; I’ve noticed
major variations between batches (though I suspect it’s an issue caused
by the individual barrels rather than the brew itself). Dylan Neary,
Brown’s representative, said he just picked up the keg from their new
brewery in Hoosick Falls and delivered it to the restaurant shortly
before the dinner began. He clearly picked a winner as this brew had a
huge sweet whiskey flavor. It was by far the most complimentary (and, in
my opinion, best) pairing of the evening. I may pick up a bottle to try this at my own Thanksgiving dinner next week.
Dessert courses can sometimes be too indulgent at the end of a big
dinner like this. But in this case, the “Apple Delight” was a nice
alternative to a rich piece of pie or cake. It was essentially an apple
muffin as it had a fluffy texture and yet was still plenty moist. The
whipped cream and confectionery syrup drizzled across it was sweet and
Opting for the Cherry Raspberry Ale was definitely the way to go, as
the beer itself tasted of real, authentic fruit. The three fruit flavors
between the dessert and the beer all played nicely off each other, and
the beer was at the perfect temperature as well (beers like this
shouldn’t be served too cold).
All in all it was another highly satisfying dinner as well as a fun
and memorable experience. Uncle Marty’s is definitely on the right track
with these beer dinners as the food is gourmet, but still accessible to
the non-foodie. And at only $58 (which includes tax) they’re pretty
affordable as well (I’ve seen other beer dinners run as much as $80 per
person – yikes!). I’ll be hosting a holiday/winter-themed beer dinner
here on December 16. I hope to see you then, cheers!
only had a few coffee IPAs and those that I’ve had have been wonderful.
You wouldn’t think those flavors would work together, but they actually
do when balanced right. In the case of Captain Lawrence Hopsomniac IPA
it’s more of a standard, almost trendy, American IPA with some coffee
added rather than a “Coffee IPA” outright. It works well as the former,
though I would’ve preferred the latter.
I poured a 12oz bottle into a goblet. It was bottled on 10/27/14 and was given to me by friends (thanks, Alex and Marissa!).
Appearance: Pretty copper hue, nearly crystal clear with plainly visible
carbonation. Pours to a two-finger, off-white, foamy head which retains
and laces very well.
Smell: Earthy/herbal hops with sweet iced coffee lingering in the background.
Taste: This beer is almost a victim of its own success. It’s brewed with
two of the hottest (i.e. fashionable) hops of the moment: Mosaic and
Sorachi Ace. Both have unique characteristics and both are quite
prominent. The Mosaic creates for a rustic earthy, almost salty
character while the Sorachi Ace imparts a lemony, almost “fishy” quality
(beers brewed with that hop are fantastic with seafood and sushi). The
coffee character only shows up briefly at the beginning, coupled with
some amber specialty malt to give it a sweetness and toasted character.
Maybe even a touch of caramel can be found, which harkens of iced
coffee. But through the middle the bitterness increases rapidly as the
Mosaic flavor overtakes the coffee, which then gives way to the
spicy/herbal flavor of Sorachi Ace. Altogether, the palate works well as
an American IPA, but it probably could be even better had the hops not
been so prominent.
Drinkability: I’m not entirely sure of the ABV of Captain Lawrence
Hopsomniac IPA as it’s not listed on the bottle, nor on the brewery’s
website. There is an original gravity listing of 16.5 Plato, which
should create for a 7.6% ABV final potency, though it drinks and feels
like something closer to 6%. There’s a full flavor to the mouthfeel,
though it’s not sticky or particularly viscous. Crisp on the tongue, but
the bitterness chomps down on the palate even at only 65 IBUs and
leaves a lingering dry bitterness.
Funky Jewbelation is an impressive accomplishment in brewing. It’s a
blend of seven beers that have been aged in two different types of
barrels. And on top of that, it’s soured, which makes it even more
amazing since souring a beer and making it not only drinkable, but
delicious, is quite difficult.
I poured a 22oz bottle into a Shmaltz snifter glass. It was bottled on 2/18/14 and cost $12.49 ($0.57 per ounce).
Appearance: Seemingly black but actually deep mahogany hue; translucent.
Pours to a small, tan, foamy head which retains well. Alcohol legs are
Smell: Classic sour scent of bacteria, but dark fruits (especially black currants) are noticeable.
Taste: To say there’s a lot going on with He’Brew Funky Jewbelation is
an understatement. There are seven beers in this brew and each imparts
its own unique flavor characteristics to the final product. Up front I
get sweet milk chocolate, coconut, toffee and caramel. Towards the
middle there’s dank, resiny hop flavor and mild bitterness. On the
finish there’s a strong sour/tart sensation coupled with the taste of
fruit juice and flavors of pomegranate and black currants. There’s a
tartness that lingers in the background from beginning to end, but it
never distracts from the main palette. It all adds up to an absolutely
delicious and consistently engaging brew as each swig has something
unique to it. I don’t get much in the way of barrel character, per se,
aside from a mild earthy/woody/vanilla flavor; but that’s okay since the
final product is so enjoyable.
Drinkability: Sours can be an acquired taste as their acidity takes some
getting used to. Since He’Brew Funky Jewbelation isn’t a traditional
sour, its edginess is much more approachable than a traditional European
offering. The mouthfeel is definitely thick, but not sticky and
viscous. A consistent crisp texture throughout with a pleasant tartness
in the aftertaste. The 9.4% ABV weight shows in the robustness and
complexity of the palette, but doesn’t account for boozy heat or a
sloppy weight. I would’ve had no problem drinking the entire bottle
myself (I split it with my girlfriend).
“Lukcy Bastartd Ale” is a blend of their famous (and seminal) Arrogant
Bastard Ale, as well as its two variations: Double Bastard Ale and Oaked
Arrogant Bastard Ale (my favorite of the series). This is an
aggressive, full-bodied, and unapologetic brew and it’s quite wonderful.
Huge hop bitterness, but actual hop flavor as well, coupled with a
sturdy malt backbone and plenty of subtle notes. This is the craft beer
I poured a 22oz bottle into a tulip glass. It was bottled on 10/3/14.
Appearance: Gorgeous maroon/cherry red hue, transparent. Pours to a
two-finger, off-white, soapy/foamy head which retains and laces very
Smell: Classic Chinook hop aroma with intense pine needles and slight orange peel zest.
Taste: Hops are definitely the stars of the show here. From the first
moment there’s a strong, assertive and dry bitterness. It’s piney and
astringent with a slight smoky character to it as well (almost
deliberately phenolic, but without any off-putting traits). I taste pine
needles, tree bark, and sticky resin throughout the first half. Once it
crests and begins its descent, the sweet malty side emerges; toffee,
caramel, maraschino cherry, blood orange, and vanilla are flavors I
distinctly notice. There’s a mild woody/earthy character here from the
oak chips part of the beer is aged on, but is not as in-your-face as a
beer actually aged in barrels. There’s a dankness to the aftertaste, but
it’s quite pleasant. This isn’t the kind of palette you encounter often
and should be appreciated for its uniqueness.
Drinkability: Considering which beers go into this brew, it’s actually a
bit miraculous that Lucky Bastard Ale is not only drinkable, but highly
drinkable at that. The mouthfeel is full, but not to the point of being
sticky or chewy. It’s not spastically carbonated, in fact, it’s
actually a tad thinner than I’d prefer. At 8.5% ABV the alcohol is
well-masked, accounting only for the strength of the palette and not the
density of the weight.
never been a fan of using Belgian yeast to ferment porters and stouts.
But if there’s any brewery than can do it right, it’s probably Allagash.
The 2013 edition of Fluxus was a robust porter brewed with blood
oranges and then fermented with their classic Belgian yeast strain. I do
enjoy the solid porter base and the unique flavors here, but it’s not
I poured a 750ml bottle into the official Allagash tulip glass. It was a
2013 vintage (no specific bottling date) and cost $18.99 ($0.75 per
ounce). Thanks to my girlfriend Renee for picking up this bottle ;)
Appearance: Seemingly black, but actually a deep shade of ruby red which
is visible at the edge. Pours to a dark tan, foamy head which retains
well but doesn’t leave much lacing.
Smell: Fairly strong aroma of coffee and chocolate and a general Belgian yeast ester.
Taste: Right away, the palate is quite familiar of a classic robust
porter. A rich sweetness of chocolate emerges immediately, followed by
roasted malt and light coffee notes. The Belgian yeast character doesn’t
appear until the second half and creates for a slightly smoky and
astringent flavor (maybe even a little phenolic). It’s not fruity like
you often get in most Belgian beers, so it’s a little awkward. The
orange flavor is subtle and shows up right as the beer finishes and
lingers momentarily in the aftertaste. Perhaps a fresh bottle would be
much more robust, so perhaps it’s not fair to review an older bottle
(not that this bottle was seriously harmed by a year’s worth of aging).
As it warms, all the flavors grow stronger creating for an interesting
palette of chocolate and Belgian yeast esters. In fact, this 2013 Fluxus
is probably best describe not as good or bad, but “interesting.” Take
that for what it’s worth.
Drinkability: It’s weird drinking the 2013 Allagash Fluxus, since the
yeast gives the body a slightly spastic level of carbonation and thus
makes it much less smooth than it would normally be. The mouthfeel is
thin, with a slight carbonation bite to it. It’s smooth once it calms
down, and it leaves a fairly clean aftertaste with no cloying sweetness.
was a time when I couldn’t stand pilsners. I could really differentiate
between authentic, classically-brewed beers and modern American macro
adjunct lagers. Now that I’ve honed my palate over the years I can
definitely taste the difference and I find I’m really enjoying Old World
styles brewed by Old World breweries and König Pilsener is a good
example of that. It’s a no frills/by-the-book German pilsner and while
it may not set the world on fire, it’s still a solid, drinkable and
I poured a 500ml can into a footed pilsner glass. It had an expiration date of 5/14/15 and cost $2.49 ($0.15 per ounce).
Appearance: Crystal clear body with a pale gold hue, nearly white.
Carbonation visible, but not spastic. Pours to a large, white, frothy
head which retains well but does not lace the glass (odd).
Smell: Strong pilsner malt aroma with subtle spicy hops. Overall a fairly generic lager aroma.
Taste: A lot of people may think pilsners are bland, but there’s
actually a lot going on if you really pay attention. At first impression
I get notes of pilsner malt, tea, spicy Noble hops and a light mineral
character as well. The light malt dominates the palette (not
surprisingly) and imparts a light lemonpeel flavor as well. A touch of
earthy character reminiscent of tea, though that could be from the Noble
hops. There’s a cracker taste to be found here as well, and it really
bridges the gap between the malty front and the spicy, dry bitter
finish. It’s quite tasty and satisfying if savored.
Drinkability: Before there was Bud Light (and others of its ilk), there
were German pilsners (and others of its ilk). This is definitely a
refreshing, quaffable, sessionable beer. The mouthfeel is, of course,
light and crisp with consistent carbonation. There’s a slightly watery
character to this brew that’s not quite as prominent as in others of the
style, but it’s not all that detrimental. König Pilsener finishes
smooth and clean and at only 4.9% ABV it’s quite tempting to session.
stouts and porters have been around for years, which chocolate and
coffee usually being the most popular flavors. But why hasn’t anyone
tried making one with peanut butter flavoring? After all, the natural
chocolate flavors from a dark beer would seem to be a perfect complement
for peanut butter. If it has been done before I’m not aware of any
other than DuClaw’s “Sweet Baby Jesus!” It delivers exactly as promised,
and is exactly what I want a dessert beer to be.
I poured a 12oz bottle into a tulip glass. It was bottled on 6/10/14 and was given to me by friends (thanks, Alex and Marissa!).
Appearance: Dark shade of mahogany/brown, mostly opaque. Pours to an
average-sized, tan, foamy head which never dissipates and leaves plenty
of lacing on the glass.
Smell: Almost exactly the aroma of chocolate and peanut butter candy. Very enticing.
Taste: This beer is a robust porter at the core, and it definitely shows
immediately with strong notes of dark malt, roasted barley, a hint of
coffee and perhaps burnt toast. There’s a dry bitterness through the
middle, but transitions to a sweetness on a hairpin turn with strong
milk chocolate flavors. The finish is the best part as an authentic
peanut butter flavor emerges to make for a delicious candy-like palette.
The label indicates the beer is brewed with “artificial flavors,” which
probably means that peanut butter character is simply a flavoring
concentrate, but it’s still impressive since it tastes like the real
deal and nothing faux (like so many fruit-flavored beers, I might add).
Perhaps it’s a bit unbalanced since the peanut butter component
distracts from the robust porter base, but that’s a flaw I can tolerate.
Drinkability: While I would describe the overall palette of DuClaw Sweet
Baby Jesus! as potent, I would not describe it as sickly sweet or
cloying (unlike some of those gigantic imperial stouts). At only 6.5%
ABV, this is much more approachable and easy-drinking than you’d think.
The mouthfeel is a bit thinner and calmer than I’d prefer, though it is
remarkably smooth. So much so that it’s difficult to not gulp it all
down quickly. It leaves a slightly dry, bitter aftertaste, but it fades
clean eventually. A perfect liquid dessert in a bottle.
The Knickerbocker Battle of the Brews
is a popular homebrewing competition held every November at the Albany
Pump Station. This is an event sanctioned by the American Homebrewers
Association and entries are judged according to guidelines established
by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP). In other words, this is a
traditional homebrewing contest for traditional homebrewers making
traditional beer styles. If you’re the type of homebrewer who makes no
frills/by-the-book beers, then this is the competition to enter.
I judged at this event for the first time last year and it was an
educational experience. It wasn’t my first time judging homebrews,
though, as I’d judged at The Ruck’s semi-annual contests (wherein they
make up their own eccentric categories). In 2013 I was paired with a
highly-ranked BJCP judge, and the two of us tried all the wheat beer
styles. Up until that point, I had been used to reviewing beer and
judging homebrew to my own personal preferences. I figured, since I was a
fan of hefeweizens, dunkelweizens, and weizenbocks in general (and had
even homebrewed a few myself), that I knew how beers of the type should
smell, look, taste and drink. However, when you’re judging at a BJCP
event, you’re not supposed to go by personal preference alone, but
rather by the detailed descriptions in the guidelines. What you might
not find acceptable, may indeed by acceptable by BJCP standards (or vice
versa), so you can’t penalize a homebrew for that.
Not surprisingly, the BJCP judge and I initially clashed over our
scores – I tended to be quite generous, whereas he was rather stingy. As
someone who had been used to “hedonistic” beer reviewing, I found the
structure a little too constrictive. But I realized that people enter
their beers into these types of competitions because they want honest
feedback about their beers, especially as it pertains to the technical
aspects of brewing. Anyone can tell you whether or not they enjoy your
beer, but it takes experience in brewing, tasting, and judging to
provide insight about what’s right or wrong correct or incorrect with a homebrew and how well it conforms to style guidelines.
A lot has changed in the last year for me as a brewer and a reviewer
of beer. I bought an all-grain homebrew setup and I’ve even brewed at a
commercial brewery twice (once with a friend at Ommegang, and once with
my homebrew club at Rare Form).
It’s a different world for the all-grain brewer, since there are so
many more variables at stake (extract kits tend to be rather foolproof).
In order to do it well, you absolutely must educate yourself on
brewing science and techniques, so I’ve picked up quite a few books on
homebrewing which have really helped. Also, when I review beers for my website,
I’ll look up the BJCP guidelines to see how well it represents the
style (but only for beers that claim to be of a traditional style). I
still review beer hedonistically, but I’ll recognize the subtleties
between styles that I hadn’t before (e.g. the difference between a Czech
and German pilsner).
This year I was assigned to judge at the “strong beer” table, which
included entries of a variety of higher ABV styles, including: Belgian
Blond; Belgian Dubbel; Belgian Tripel; Belgian Dark Strong Ale; Old Ale;
Barleywine; and Imperial IPA. As someone who prefers variety to
monotony, this was an ideal judging situation for me.
I was teamed up a woman named Jes who has a BJCP certification, and Dustin Mitchell, the president of the Albany Brew Crafters
homebrew club. This time around I made a conscious effort to score the
beers more conservatively. I also read the guidelines for each
individual style line-by-line as I judged the beer. We would each score
the beer on our own silently and then discuss it afterwards. I found
myself pointing out specific descriptors and words in the guidelines
that I used to justify my grades. Though, Jes and Dustin did this as
well and pointed out to me that even though a beer may not have tasted
great, it still would meet the criteria in the BJCP guidelines.
We reviewed about 20 beers over the course of four to five hours
(with a lunch break around the halfway point). No beer received a final
score from the three of us that was the same, though the higher-scoring
samples seemed to have a closer consensus than the average and bad
beers. In fact, I was a little disappointed by the number of beers that
scored below a 30. However, these are all difficult styles to brew as
they require a lot of attention to detail, not just in the brewing
process, but in the fermenting process. Yeast esters play a major role
in the aroma and taste of Belgian beers, and those esters are affected
by temperature. If you just ferment your beer in your basement at the
whim of the ambient temperature, you might end up with a lousy-tasting
beer (I know, I’ve done it). However, if you really want strict control
over the fermentation temperatures, you’ll need to invest in chest
freezers and other equipment of the sort, and that stuff isn’t cheap.
There was an English-style barleywine that all three of us ranked as
our highest score of the day (averaging 41, I believe). It was a
delicious blend of milk chocolate, toffee, dark fruit and alcohol. In my
opinion, it was commercial-grade quality. It took the gold at our table
and went on to place second in the Best in Show round.
I myself won a silver medal for my “Chocolate Cherry Chile Porter”
from the table that judged sours, spice/herb/vegetable beers, fruit
beers, and meads. It was my third time brewing that beer (or a variation
of it); though this was the first year I brewed it with all grain
instead of extract. It was a robust porter base recipe that was taken
verbatim from John Palmer’s Brewing Classic Styles book. I did
add some cocoa nibs to the boil, though. I also added three pounds of
cherry puree to the fermenter, along with vanilla beans and cayenne
peppers. It tastes of chocolate-covered cherry at first and finishes
with a warming (but not spicy) sensation. It’s a recipe I want to
continue to refine.
Congratulations to Kerry Walker on winning “Best in Show” for his cherry lambic! (photo courtesy of Kerry Walker)
Oh, and the beer that beat my porter for the gold at the table? It went on win Best in Show. Now that’s a beer worth losing to!
not into the whole gluten-free lifestyle (neither by genetic handicap
nor hipster trendiness), so I don’t tend to drink a lot of gluten-free
beers since they’re not made with malt and tend not to taste very good.
However, Steadfast is a fairly new beer company dedicated to making
sorghum-based brews that taste like traditional beers and they’ve done a
good job in living up to their mission statement since Day 1. Their
latest offering is somewhat surprising: a 9% ABV Belgian-style Biere de
Garde brewed with plenty of confectionery syrups and spices. It’s not
cloying or spicy, but a well-balanced, very flavorful, and highly
I poured a 22oz bottle into the official Steadfast pint glass. There was no freshness date (thanks to Jeremy for this bottle!).
Appearance: Beautiful copper hue, nearly crystal clear with plenty of
vibrant carbonation visible. Pours to a small, white, foamy head which
dissipates somewhat, but never completely. Doesn’t lace, though.
Smell: Mild nose, but sweet with notes of honey, syrup and a hint of spice.
Taste: I don’t think I’ve ever actually had a Biere de Garde before.
They seem to be the Belgian equivalent of a barleywine or an old ale,
though in the case of Steadfast Biere de Garde it’s akin to a strong
amber ale with spices added. There’s a prominent presence of (what would
otherwise be) darker/amber-ish malts. Caramel and honey seem to be
prominently featured, especially throughout the first half. Some
molasses can also be detected, but it’s rather subtle. It does
transition the palette from the sweet first half to the
spicy/earthy/twangy second half. Rose hips, star anise, orange peel and
grains of paradise were all used in the brew and come together to create
for a mélange of fruit and subtle spice rack character. I was hoping
for something more complex and lively, but what’s here is plenty
Drinkability: For a 9% ABV brew, Steadfast Biere de Garde drinks like
something nearly half its size. The mouthfeel is rather thin and crisp,
not unlike a cider. It goes down smoothly and is remarkably refreshing
while on the tongue. There is absolutely no alcohol presence in either
the palette or the weight, which makes it almost dangerously drinkable.
I’m not sure this beer needs to be this strong, but I don’t think the
strength is going to intimidate many drinkers.
see so many so-called Session IPAs these days, but it seems like the
American pale ale is becoming a lost art. When you can find one that not
only exemplifies the style, but is also a great beer – it’s a winning
combination and New Glarus Moon Man is a perfect example of that. This
is a tasty, highly drinkable pale ale the way a pale ale should be.
I poured a 12oz bottle into a tulip glass. It was bottled on 7/16/14 and was given to me by a friend (thanks, Jordan!).
Appearance: Golden/peach hue with a clear body. Pours to a two-finger, white, frothy head which retains and laces very well.
Smell: Hop-forward aroma with notes of stone fruit, citrus and pine. Clean and bright.
Taste: Stone fruit right away with notes of peach, melon and citrus.
Though it’s not especially bitter nor, is it cereal-like sweetness.
Plenty of pale malt creates for a relatively strong base that gives the
beer a light, but genuine, malt character. Continued, but restrained,
bitterness through the apex of the swig which becomes quite dry, but
then is immediately followed by a juicy taste sensation. This is a pale
ale done right, by which the hops create for the right amount of
bitterness and flavor, without being crass. Not to mention the fact the
combination of flavors is downright delicious.
Drinkability: New Glarus seems to market this beer as a session beer,
according to the hyperbole on their website. At 5% ABV it’s a tad big
for a classic session beer, though I could definitely see it working as
such, especially during warmer months. The mouthfeel is light and thin
and crisp with a clean aftertaste. It’s also remarkably refreshing while
on the palate. I definitely drank mine a little too quickly.
often said I don’t like to review old beer, but if the beer’s not bad
I’ll usually make an exception. This bottle of Saucony Creek Kutztown
Lager is nearly six months old by the time I got to it (assuming I’m
reading the bottling code correctly), but it doesn’t seem to have any
significant flaws other than the large chunks of sediment floating
around. It’s an amber lager with a bit of a smoke character, which makes
it at the very least interesting.
I poured a 12oz bottle into a lager glass. It appears to have been
bottled on 5/10/14 and was given to me by friends (thanks, Alex and
Appearance: Clear shade of amber with plenty of visible carbonation.
Huge chunks of sediment float in suspension (eww). Pours to a small,
white, foamy head which retains and laces relatively well.
Smell: Mild, lightly sweet, generic amber lager aroma with a hint of smoke.
Taste: There’s not a lot happening in the palette of Saucony Creek
Kutztown Lager that can’t be found in other amber and Vienna-style
lagers. I get a significant dark malt character, light sweetness, faint
hints of honey and caramel, and a smoke flavor right on the back end. It
starts out rather strong, but I become accustomed to it quickly. It has
a bit of a tang and astringent quality, which is a bit off-putting
(would a fresh bottle have this, too?). Mild dry bitterness through the
middle bridges the beginning and end quite well. Overall, it’s a fine
lager, but not a great one.
Drinkability: At only 5% ABV, Saucony Creek Kutztown Lager is exactly
what you want in a beer of the style. Judging by the bottle label, I
assume they’re going for some kind of Oktoberfest-type brew and in that
respect it works as a beer to wash down food that you don’t really have
to think about. The mouthfeel is thin and crisp, with a smooth finish.
It does leave a tangy, bitter aftertaste, but I can tolerate it easily.
If they could get the weight down a little more it’d be a true session
Chocolate Porter is essentially a standard brown porter (BJCP style
12A) that has some chocolate in it rather than being a
chocolate-first/porter-second kind of beer. Normally, that would annoy
me to no end, but in this case the base brew is so enjoyable that the
chocolate component does indeed work as a background feature.
I poured a 22oz bottle into a nonic pint glass. There was no freshness date and it cost $7.99 ($0.36 per ounce).
Appearance: Opaque black hue, with little to no translucency. Pours to a
two-finger, brown, frothy head which retains and laces extremely well.
Smell: Typical porter aroma with general notes of dark malt, some fruit, and a light chocolate scent.
Taste: The brewery’s website mentions that this beer is their
“Valentine’s special,” which leads me to believe it’s a seasonal brew.
Since there’s not freshness date I don’t know how old this bottle is. If
it’s old, it’s stood the test of time quite well. It meets pretty much
all the criteria of a standard porter with its sweet, dark malty taste.
Perhaps a hint of cherry can be found in there, and I also detect slight
cola notes. What I don’t get is any kind of coffee or burnt toast
flavors of deeply roasted malt. Only minor bitterness through the middle
with a sweet chocolate candy taste on the back end. It’s quite
delectable, but doesn’t have the liquid dessert deliciousness found in
some imperial chocolate brews. Still, the chocolate is still a major
component of the palette and it’s quite enjoyable and for that I give it
Drinkability: Oftentimes, chocolaty beers tend to be viscous, chewy,
sticky and cloying. In the case of Horseheads Chocolate Porter it drinks
like a pub-style porter with a calm body, medium mouthfeel, and
relatively clean finish. I’d probably expect more complexity and body
out of a 7% ABV brew, but its easy drinkability means a single bomber is
essentially a single serving.
said it before and I’ll say it again: blonde/golden ales might just be
the most boring beers on the planet. It’s not that they’re inherently
bad, they’re just deliberately bland. Considering St. Pete Beach Blonde
Ale is made by a Florida brewery and is clearly targeting beach-goers
and tourists, I can see the appeal. But I need more than a beer I can
simply tolerate in my littoral libations.
I poured a 12oz can into a small lager glass. There was no freshness date (thanks to Jesse for the can!).
Appearance: Bright pale yellow color, crystal clear with some
carbonation visible. Pours to a very small, bright white, soapy head
which mostly evaporates and leaves only slight lacing on the glass.
Smell: Slightly sweet with light malt notes, though mostly mild and neutral.
Taste: There isn’t much to describe about this beer because there
literally isn’t much to it. Just four ingredients: two-row malt; crystal
malt; and Hallertau and Saaz hops. There is a bit of a “beachy” quality
to this palette, though, as is often the case in beers made in and for
tropical regions. The hops create for a slight coconut taste, though
it’s mostly dry bitterness. I do get a touch of lemony lollipop
sweetness in the malt, as well. There’s absolutely nothing to dislike
about the flavor here, but there isn’t much to genuinely enjoy, either. I
can see it appealing to its target audience, though.
Drinkability: 3 Daughters St. Pete Beach Blonde Ale is only 5% ABV and
has a light, crisp mouthfeel not unlike a lager. It’s refreshing while
in the mouth and finishes mostly clean with just a slightly starchy
aftertaste. No one is going to have difficulty getting through a can of
this (or several of them, for that matter).
a beer’s ABV is in double digits it can be a little intimidating to
drink, especially when that beer comes in a 22oz bottle. Shmaltz Brewing
is known for making huge beers for their anniversary every fall and
they always play a numbers game, so it’s not surprising that their 16th
Anniversary ale would be made from 16 different malts, 16 different hops
and weigh in at 16% ABV. I’m just glad I waited until their 18th
anniversary to try it.
I split a 22oz bottle with three friends. We each poured it into tulip
glasses. (I cannot remember how, where or when I got this bottle,
Appearance: Opaque, stout-like black. Pours to an amazingly large, dark brown, frothy head which retains and laces pretty well.
Smell: Pungent aroma of black licorice, chocolate syrup, sour grape, and some alcohol.
Taste: A beer this strong blurs the styles lines for sure. He’Brew
Jewbelation Sweet Sixteen could be considered an imperial stout as it
has most of the qualities usually found in the style: almost sickly
sweet amount of black licorice and chocolate, along with confectionery
notes of raw toffee and caramel syrups. There’s a distinct sour grape as
well, which is often found in many of my favorite imperial stouts. What
it lacks, however, is a presence of roasted malt and coffee. Perhaps
that’s due to the fact this bottle was two years old at the time and
they had faded. The hops have also faded a bit as this beer is not
especially bitter, though there is subtle dryness at the crest of the
swig. The finish is equally sweet, almost sickly sweet with a slightly
cloying aftertaste. Personally, I think it’s delicious, but then again I
have a predilection towards sweet brews. The alcohol is quite mellow,
which is nice, though there’s just a faint hint of vanilla character
akin to bourbon or rum. I don’t see much more to be gained by aging this
any longer, so if you have one stashed now would be a good time to
break it out.
Drinkability: I was fully expecting He’Brew Jewbelation Sweet Sixteen to
be flavored rubbing alcohol, but it drinks like any other imperial
stout. The mouthfeel is, not surprisingly, thick and viscous, though
calm with a smooth texture. It definitely leaves a sticky sensation on
the tongue that’s a little cloying. However, there’s no raw booziness
for a 16% ABV brew, which is nice. An experienced drinker could probably
handle an entire bottle himself, though I’d recommend sharing with
friends since a short pour is satisfying enough.