Monday, April 20, 2015

He'Brew Slingshot American Craft Lager

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1330) - Albany, New York, USA - APR 20, 2015
Shmaltz is a brewery known for making beers that defy style categories, but usually those are big, multifaceted brews. In the case of their newly re-branded “Slingshot American Craft Lager” (formerly known as “David’s Slingshot”), they’re blurring the line between premium lager and IPL. I suppose if there were a lager equivalent of a pale ale that’s how you’d classify this. Disirregardless, this is a more-than-solid lager with a fairly complex palette, a good dosing of hops, and easy drinkability.

I poured a 12oz bottle into the official Shmaltz tasting room sampler glass. It was bottled on 3/30/15 and a six-pack cost $10 ($1.67 per bottle or $0.14 per ounce).

Appearance: Pure golden color, slightly pale. Near crystal clarity with visible carbonation. Pours to a small, white, soapy head which laces and retains fairly well.

Smell: Clean, light citrusy aroma (especially lemon); slightly spicy or herbal. No lager scent; all hops.

Taste: If you were drinking this blind it’d be easy to mistake it for a session IPA or a pale ale. Hops are at the center of attention here: citrusy and fruity at first (lemon, grapefruit, and tangerine) but quickly take on a spicy/herbal sensation. It’s reminiscent of an Old World-style pilsner. There’s mild malty sweetness but it’s not a malty lager by any means. I do enjoy the spicy flavor imparted by the rye and Noble hops with the wheat giving it a slightly starchy, cracker-like character. A faint bitter bite as it goes down, but it’s also accompanied by even more genuine hop flavor. A well-balanced brew to be sure and impressive palette for a lager. Probably an ideal transition beer for craft beer newbies, too.

Drinkability: The thing about lagers is that they should be crisp and quaffable and that’s what He’Brew Slingshot American Craft Lager is. The body is light-to-medium with a refreshing quality while in the mouth. It finishes quite clean with just a slightly dry aftertaste. At 5.3% ABV (formerly 5.5%) it’s certainly tempting to session this brew (especially in the summer). Now if only this beer were available in cans! 
Score: 8/10

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Stone Old Guardian Barleywine (2015 Classic Release)

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 16/20
Chad9976 (1329) - Albany, New York, USA - APR 19, 2015
Stone is a brewery I always associate with hop-forward beers and one imperial stout, though they’ve been making their Old Guardian Barleywine for years – I’ve just never tried it until now. This is probably the embodiment of the American-style barleywine in that the hops are prominent and give the beer balance, but not to the point of being an outright hoppy beer. It’s weird drinking a beer from this brewery that’s genuinely malty, but also a nice change of pace.

I split a 22oz bottle with a friend. We each poured it into tulip glasses. There was no specific bottling date, but it was clearly marked as the “2015 Classic Release”.

Appearance: Kind of an ugly shade of rusty orange/brown. It’s actually a pretty reddish color from a distance, though. Opaque. Pours to a large, yellowish, frothy head which retains and laces quite well.

Smell: Strong dark fruits and berries: cherry, strawberry and plum especially. Floral hops, but not as overtly hoppy as most Stone brews.

Taste: Slightly aggressive, dry bitterness immediately. Mild floral/herbal hop flavor up front, which is in turn followed by rich fruity notes of cherry, mixed berries and some stone fruit (no pun intended). The second half – and the finish especially – is rich with a caramel and toffee sweetness, but not to the point of being cloying. The alcohol is surprisingly tame, imparting just a subtle woody/vanilla note but doesn’t really define the palette. I might even say this beer is a little too well balanced as more malt character and complexity would’ve been nice, but what’s here is much more than simply passable. A vintage would be interesting to try as the hops would fade and the sweetness could come out more.

Drinkability: Going into this beer I expected it to be a beast. At 11.2% ABV, I figured Stone Old Guardian Barleywine would essentially be carbonated syrup. Though sweet and full-bodied, it’s surprisingly clean on the palate. In fact, the malts don’t linger on the tongue, the hops do (so few barleywines can make that claim). It’s extremely comfortable in the mouth and smooth going down with just a gentle warmth from the alcohol. Probably the only barleywine I’d recommend pairing with an entrée course rather than a dessert. 
Score: 9/10

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Saranac Immortality

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1328) - Albany, New York, USA - APR 18, 2015
Saranac is one of the brands that introduced me to craft beer. They have a reputation for being, shall we say, weaksauce craft beer. I think that’s unfair, though, since they make pretty good products across the line. Though what they consider part of their top shelf offerings are a lot of brewery’s core releases, like the new Saranac Immortality – an imperial amber ale that drinks exactly like what it claims to be. Maybe not quite top-of-the-line in terms of impressiveness, but a solid, tasty, and well-balanced brew I’d say.

I poured a 12oz bottle into my official Saranac shaker glass. It was bottled on 1/14/15 and cost $3.65 ($0.30 per ounce).

Appearance: Beautiful copper/amber color; nearly crystal clear with plenty of carbonation visible. Pours to a small, off-white, soapy head that retains and laces fairly well.

Smell: Piney and flowery hops; sweet dark malts (the Vienna really comes through).

Taste: Amber ales tend to be close to IPAs in flavor, though they accentuate their maltiness much more so. Traditional brews tend not to go overboard on the hops, but if you make a big brew you certainly can justify upping the bitterness. This beer is a good example of what I mean. There’s a strong malt character here, even though it’s only brewed with three malts (two-row, Vienna and Carastan). The latter two accounting for the darker color and sweet flavor. Definite notes of caramel and a touch of toffee are found here. Additionally, the hops are quite prominent. There’s a strong piney/resin flavor at the beginning, but it becomes a little more dry and floral-like on the backend. Those 75 IBUs are impossible to ignore, but neither is the sweet malt base. All in all it’s an interesting, well-balanced beer. A nice change of pace from the typical IPA.

Drinkability: At 7.5% ABV, Saranac Immortality is much bigger than the average brew in their portfolio so they put it with their limited edition “High Peaks” series. Personally, I don’t find it to be anything monstrous or weighty. It’s a full-bodied beer, yes, but the mouthfeel is consistently crisp and well-carbonated to prevent it from being cloying or feeling like carbonated oil. The hops do linger a bit on the tongue, but it’s a faint and fairly pleasurable sensation. This would definitely stand up to a savory meal. 
Score: 8/10

Friday, April 17, 2015

Horny Goat Tango Delta

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1327) - Albany, New York, USA - APR 17, 2015
Adding fruit to beer is nothing new, though adding fruit to hoppy beers seems to be a new trend among breweries. Citrus and IPAs would seem to be a natural combination, so it’s no surprise that Horny Goat Tango Delta is an IPA with tangerine juice added. Don’t be mistaken: this is not a fruit beer, this is a true IPA with significant citrus flavor. Though due to the age of the can it’s not really juicy per se; more of an IPA that’s more overtly citrusy than others.

I poured a 16oz can into a tulip glass. It was canned on 11/4/14.

Appearance: Pale orange hue, slightly hazy. Pours to a fairly large, off-white, soapy head which retains and laces fairly well.

Smell: Orange fruit with a slight spicy/herbal scent. An interesting combination of aromas.

Taste: Sharp, biting bitterness is the first thing I notice about this beer. Orange pith and peel flavors are evident immediately; the hops don’t wait around in this palette. Slight orange juice or orange-flavoring follow; they create for a slight sweetness but not to the point of giving the palette genuine balance. The hops re-group and bite down on the palate as they finish; it’s more a dry, spicy sensation than any kind of dank or juicy character. The tangerine juice seems to be used simply to enhance the nature citrusy flavor of the hops, which is fine. I’d probably say this beer might actually be a little too bitter for its own good, but what’s here is fine and enjoyable.

Drinkability: For a 6.8% ABV, 69 IBU brew, Horny Goat Tango Delta is actually rather light in the body. It has a rather high amount of carbonation and a relatively light body for the potency. It’s crisp on the tongue and might even be genuinely refreshing for a moment or two. The hops do linger and leave a mild drying/spicy sensation but it’s quite easy to overlook. Pair it with spicy Asian cuisine with oranges.
 Score: 7/10

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Upstate Brewing I.P.W. (2015 re-review)

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1326) - Albany, New York, USA - APR 16, 2015
This is a re-review of a beer I thought was solid when I first had it back in 2013. Upstate Brewing’s I.P.W. is a hybrid IPA/pale wheat ale brew. In its original incarnation is leaned more toward the wheat side, but this time it’s more of a traditional IPA with focus on the hop aroma and flavor and less on the raw bitterness and wheaty body. It’s sweet this time as well, making it more well-balanced and more of a complete beer overall.

I poured a 16oz can into a weizen glass. It was canned on 3/4/15 and a 4-pack cost $9.99 ($2.50 per can or $0.16 per ounce).

Appearance: Slightly darker than last time; more of a true orange/copper color rather than a golden/maize. Mostly clear with slight haziness and some sediment and carbonation visible. Pours to an average-size, white, frothy head which laces and retains very well.

Smell: Clean, bright, floral and citrus aroma. Some underlying wheat scent is noticeable, albeit subtle.

Taste: This is the kind of palette you want and expect out of an American IPA. More in the West Coast style with citrusy hops; plenty of ruby red grapefruit raw bitterness but a slightly juicy flavor underneath. I detect a caramel malty sweetness, but not so strong that I would consider this a sweet beer per se. The base palette is actually quite dry due to the wheat, which is mild but impossible to completely overlook. It has a bit of a cracker flavor, actually. Biting bitterness at the apex with continued hoppy flavor on the finish with a touch of orangepeel. It might still be a little strong in the IBUs, but this is still a solid IPA-ish beer.

Drinkability: You can throw wheat into pretty much any style of beer to thicken up the mouthfeel and create for better head retention. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with that when done right, and Upstate Brewing I.P.W. is a good example of this. Medium-bodied at most, though still consistently crisp with a bit of a bite on every swig between the hops and the wheat. It doesn’t seem to be quite as big as its 6.5% ABV weight, though. I would say it’s strong enough to stand up to a flavorful meal, but too big to session. A standalone 16oz can is an ideal serving size. 
Score: 8/10

NOTE: Read my 2013 original review here:

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Stone Chai-Spiced Imperial Russian Stout

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 16/20
Chad9976 (1326) - Albany, New York, USA - APR 15, 2015
Stone Brewing Company is known for making some eccentric and experimental beers, especially during odd-numbered years. They haven’t been afraid to tinker with some of their classics, like the Imperial Russian Stout, and for 2015 they’ve essentially turned it into a pumpkin beer. Now, obviously there’s no actual pumpkin in this beer, but the spices used in it are the same as those used in many pumpkin brews. Personally, I enjoyed these flavors, but I preferred traditional, unfettered Stone IRS more.

I poured a 22oz bottle into a goblet. It was bottled on 2/25/15.

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

Smell: Akin to a pumpkin beer with a similar spice palette and accompanying aroma. Enjoyable, but no imperial stout scent.

Taste: If I were drinking this blind, I might not even be able to tell it’s a stout, let alone a Russian imperial stout. There is a “dark” flavor sensation at the beginning of the swig: mostly black patent malt with a touch of roasted barley. It’s actually not particularly sweet or even bittersweet. The spices come rushing in rather quickly, and there’s a lot of them: cinnamon, cardamom, clove, ginger, black pepper, and black tea. To me it tastes like a pumpkin stout without the pumpkin (not that you can really taste pumpkin in pumpkin beers anyway since it’s a bitter, squashy flavor). Not being a tea drinker I have no frame of reference as far as what Chai Tea tastes like, so who knows how close this comes to emulating that taste. All that being said, these spices are at worst interesting and at best pretty enjoyable. It’s almost minty at first with a slight capsaicin warming sensation at the finish which clears out the sinuses.

I do find it a little disappointing that the base recipe isn’t more prominent. I’m not sure why Stone decided to release this as an IRS variation since it bears so little resemblance to that great brew. Marketing it as a spicy dark ale, or an imperial pumpkin stout would seem to be a smarter way to go (but far be it for me to tell a brewery how to run their business).

Drinkability: One of the reasons Stone IRS is so great is due to its huge body. The Chai-Spiced variation seems like a different beer in its delivery. The mouthfeel is a little thinner, more carbonated and much cleaner-finishing. Instead of carbonated motor oil, this is closer to just a strong stout rather than the 10.6% ABV beast it should be. At least there’s no alcohol distraction whatsoever; which actually makes it almost dangerously drinkable. I’d love to pair this with dessert on Halloween, Thanksgiving or Christmas 
Grade: 8/10

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Horny Goat Watermelon Wheat

   AROMA 6/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 6/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 12/20
Chad9976 (1325) - Albany, New York, USA - APR 14, 2015
I don’t mind the occasional fruity wheat beer as long as it’s done right. In fact, I’ve even homebrewed a few. Watermelon seems to be the fruit du jour for beers of the style, though I’m not sure why since it creates for more of a tartness than a genuine fruit flavor. Horny Goat Watermelon Wheat is a perfect example of this: decent flavor but not much more than that.

I poured a 12oz can into a shaker glass. It was canned on 2/15/15.

Appearance: Pretty amber hue; nearly crystal clear with plenty of carbonation visible. Pours to a small, white, soapy head – but it retains well and leaves a surprising amount of lacing.

Smell: Rather generic fruity wheat brew scent. Doesn’t smell of watermelon per se, just a general fruity aroma. Slightly tangy.

Taste: There isn’t a lot of distinguishing qualities to this beer – in comparison to others of its ilk, that is. Lightly flavored from beginning to end, though the wheat content is rather prominent. Fairly dry, not much in the way of malt complexity or other notable characteristics. The watermelon is initially tart and faint, but emerges much stronger on the second half for a true juicy flavor. There’s also an underlying tang to the palette – similar to that found in an old unpasteurized beer. I think the natural citric acid from the watermelon may be either accentuating this character or making for a placebo effect. Any way you slice it, this is not a bad-tasting beer but it has a ways to go in order to be a truly good-tasting one.

Drinkability: Outside of malt liquors and “economy” pale adjunct lagers, it’s rare I encounter a craft beer that is a little too effervescent. Horny Goat Watermelon Wheat was light in body for sure, but a little more than simply “crisp.” Champagne-like bubbliness make it a little difficult to drink as I feel the carbonation literally getting stuck in my throat. Be prepared to belch with this beer. I will say that it was refreshing while in the mouth, with a mostly clean finish. Fix the carbonation and this would be a fine beach brew.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Shmaltz She'Brew Triple IPA

   AROMA 9/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 18/20
Chad9976 (1324) - Albany, New York, USA - APR 13, 2015
Shmaltz Brewing has been making Jewish-themed beers under the “He’Brew” moniker for nearly two decades. It makes sense that they would eventually change it up a bit and do a “She’Brew” beer. Though I was surprised that a huge 11% ABV 110 IBU “Triple” IPA would be the first brew to bear that name. There’s certainly nothing girly about this beer, though. It’s big and bold with a taste that’s bitter as hell and yet very sweet (insert metaphor for women here).

I poured a 22oz bottle into an official Shmaltz snifter. It was bottled on 3/30/15 and cost $12 ($0.55 per ounce).

Appearance: Copper/amber hue with a very clear body and visible carbonation. Pours to a large, off-white, frothy head which retains and laces tremendously well.

Smell: Lush tropical fruit juice aroma; some sappy pine resin as well. Minor alcohol presence.

Taste: This is one of those beers that’s simultaneously sweet and hoppy to both extremes. Clearly, a lot of malt went into this brew. But it’s not of the darky fruit variety like a barleywine or old ale; this is the lighter amber-style malt of an imperial IPA. According the label, two-row, victory, Marris Otter, acidulated malt and flaked oats make up the malt bill with Calypso, Citra, Crystal and Amarillo hops accounting for bitterness and aroma. Though juicy-smelling, the hops create for sticky, piney/resin flavor and accompanying bitterness. Slightly grassy as well with a touch of funk or spice. It’s constantly sweet as well, with alcohol also playing a key role as it acts as a desiccant for the dank hops and cloying maltiness. Overall, this is a very interesting and impressive recipe and hopefully the first of many future incarnations.

Drinkability: I usually approach beers over 9% ABV with hesitation. Originally, friends were supposed to help me get through the 22oz bottle of this 11% ABV beer, but they couldn’t make it. I decided to do it myself and was pleasantly surprised (shocked, really) by how quickly and easily I was able to down an entire bottle. The mouthfeel is indeed thick and chewy with a sticky/bitter aftertaste. Yet, it’s refreshing while in the mouth. The alcohol creates for noticeable warmth, but it’s not distracting. I recommend drinking Shmaltz She’Brew Triple IPA at fridge temp. 
Grade: 10/10

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Horny Goat Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 16/20
Chad9976 (1323) - Albany, New York, USA - APR 12, 2015
This is the third porter with chocolate and peanut butter I’ve had in the last few months. It’s amazing how beers of this niche style run the gamut from meh to outstanding. Horny Goat Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter is definitely one of the better examples of what is, essentially a novelty brew. It does live up to its name, and it’s quite satisfying.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a mug. It was bottled on 1/15/15.

Appearance: Dark nearly opaque shade of brown with slightly red highlights. Pours to a two-finger, brown, frothy head that laces and retains very well.

Smell: Nearly identical to peanut butter and chocolate candy. Seems a little faux, though. Not much authentic porter aroma.

Taste: There’s pretty much only two main flavor characteristics to the palette of this beer: mild milk chocolate porter base and a sweet candy-like peanut butter flavor on the finish. That being said, the flavor combinations are delectable to say the least. I’d probably prefer more authentic porter character up front; as it stands it’s a little mild. Dark malts to be sure, but not a malt beer per se. Plenty of bitterness through the middle. It’s dry with a flavor of roasted nuts and significantly bitter. The peanut butter flavor emerges at the last second, tasting of peanut butter flavored-candy instead of peanut butter per se. I do notice a little tanginess as well, but it seems to fade quickly. I never get tired of these flavors, though (as repetitive as they may be).

Drinkability: At 6.5% ABV, Horny Goat Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter is pretty big in the body. It’s not exactly carbonated motor oil, yet it’s beefier than your average porter. It’s comfortable in the mouth with some crispness on the finish. The bitterness and peanut butter flavor does linger and is a little cloying, but easily tolerable. This is a fine liquid dessert. 
Grade: 9/10

Saturday, April 11, 2015

He'Brew Funky Jewbelation (2015 edition)

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 17/20
Chad9976 (1322) - Albany, New York, USA - APR 11, 2015
Blending is an artform to be sure, though most breweries only blend two beers together. In the case of He’Brew Funky Jewbelation, it’s a blend of six ales and lagers which are then aged in bourbon and rye whiskey barrels. Somewhere along the way they pick up a sourness as well (I’m not sure if that’s natural or man-made). It’s a feat in brewing innovation to be sure and the result is always a delicious beer.

I poured a 22oz bottle into a tulip glass. It was bottled on 2/18/15 and cost $12.49 ($0.57 per ounce).

Appearance: Seemingly black in color, but actually a deep shade of maroon. Pours to a fairly large, eggshell, frothy head that laces and retains rather well.

Smell: Lovely aroma of dark fruit, especially berries: raspberry, blackberry and black currant. Distinct sour scent, but nothing abrasive.

Taste: Trying to describe the palette of a beer made from six distinct brews is a challenge to be sure as no one flavor dominates. It’s an ever-changing, constantly evolving taste profile. I will say that it begins with a sweetness; dark malt but no roasty flavor along with dark fruits but no tartness. Mild bitterness through the middle finishing with a lovely sour tang on the finish reminiscent of black currants or any kind of tart, acidic fruit. Unlike previous vintages, the sourness is a tad light in this 2015 edition.

I notice that each swig is different. If I concentrate on one of the individual brews in the blend I can almost taste it. The “Death of a Contract Brewer” Black IPA is quite prominent with a resiny/piney hoppy character, as is “Rejewvenator” which is made with actual grape juice. The barrel character doesn’t seem to create for a lot of distinctiveness other than a light smokey/woody flavor. I’d imagine this is a beer that will definitely improve and involve with age, but as of this sampling it’s merely excellent instead of outstanding.

Drinkability: For a big beer, He’Brew Funky Jewbelation is surprisingly easy on the constitution. The mouthfeel is fairly light, crisp and bubbly but in no way thin or watery. Full-bodied as far as taste goes, but medium in actual presentation. There’s no cloying or sticky sensation to be found here despite the 9.4% ABV weight. The sourness, unfortunately, finishes a little too clean; dry bitter hops do linger, though. The alcohol does account for minor warmth in the throat, but this is still a remarkably drinkable brew (I was able to down the entire bottle without any trouble). 
Grade: 9/10

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Chatham Spike Devil Porter

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1321) - Albany, New York, USA - APR 9, 2015
According to a brewery’s tweet to me, Chatham Spike Devil Porter is simply their regular porter with a new name in packaged canned form. Odd, because it seems like a different beer than I remember. This is more of a traditional stout as the bitter roasty malt character is the dominating flavor rather than sweet fruitiness often found in porter. It also seems to lose something from draught to cans, though it’s still a sold brew overall.

I poured a 16oz can into a nonic pint glass. There was no freshness date. It cost $3.90 ($0.24 per ounce).

Appearance: Opaque black body with minimal highlights. Pours to a small, brown, foamy head that laces and retains well enough.

Smell: Moderate aroma of dark fruit and roasted malt. A hint of tang.

Taste: Sweet dark fruity flavor up front; subtle notes of prune and cherry, maybe even root beer. I detect a subtle tanginess as well – the first sign of infection or oxidation. A less refined palate probably wouldn’t notice it. The second half is quite pleasing, though. Strong, almost aggressive roasted malt bitterness coupled with dark, unsweetened coffee or dark chocolate. The bitterness is dry, but restrained. The initial fruity character emerges for a moment just before it washes away. Overall, it’s an enjoyable beverage to say the least and with a few tweaks it could be truly excellent.

Drinkability: Chatham Spike Devil Porter definitely has the body and mouthfeel you expect in a 6% ABV porter. It’s not quite full-bodied like an imperial brew, but more than simply medium-bodied. The carbonation might actually be a tad too high; a brew like this should be thicker and stickier – it finishes almost a little too clean. Additionally, for the weight there should be a bit more complexity and robustness. That being said, it’s an easy beer to drink as it’s quite light on its toes. It’s tempting to throw back multiple cans (maybe one with dinner and one with or for dessert). 
Grade: 7/10

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Horny Goat Brownie Porter

   AROMA 6/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 6/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 13/20
Chad9976 (1320) - Albany, New York, USA - APR 8, 2015
If you know me you know I love sweets and sweet beer, so Horny Goat Brownie Porter would seem to be ideal for me. Brewed with brown sugar, cinnamon, vanilla beans and cocoa nibs - this would seem to be a delicious beer based on the recipe. And while it’s not bad, it’s just too mild for my expectations and standards. Chalk it up to the fact the can was over four months old, I suppose.

I poured a 16oz can into a tulip pint glass. It was canned on 11/20/14.

Appearance: Deep mahogany hue; plenty of carbonation visible. Pours to a large, beige, foamy head which never dissipates but doesn’t leave much lacing.

Smell: Fairly mild nose with faint dark malt and a touch of cinnamon. No chocolate scent.

Taste: There’s a sweetness to this palette that’s always prominent, yet it’s not a sickly cloying beer outright. Light notes of cinnamon and brown sugar to start along with dark malty flavor. Nothing in the way of deeply roasted malts or any kind of toasty taste, though; certainly no fruits, either. Only mild bitterness on the second half with a discernible tanginess on the finish (probably due to the age of the can). There’s only the slightest trace of vanilla and cocoa nibs, but I would not describe this as being a brownie-tasting beer at all. As a novelty brew it’s fine, but forgettable.

Drinkability: At 5.6% ABV, Horny Goat Brownie Porter is much too big to be even under consideration for “sessionable,” yet much too light to be a liquid dessert. The mouthfeel is noticeable thin, slightly watery in texture, and crisp for a porter. It does go down smoothly, though; and leaves a minor cinnamon aftertaste, which is alright. I had no trouble getting down a full pint can serving. 
Grade: 6/10

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Smuttynose Durty

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1319) - Albany, New York, USA - APR 7, 2015
For a while there it seemed like everyone was making a Brown IPA or a really hoppy brown ale. Then everyone just seemed to stop. This is actually a pretty rare style these days and when done right it’s a nice treat. Such is the case with Smuttynose Durty – a “mud season hoppy brown ale” according to the label. Big and bold at 8.4% ABV and 97 IBUs; it definitely has a lot going for it.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a tulip glass. It had a best by date of 6/29/2015 and cost $2.60 ($0.22 per ounce).

Appearance: Odd reddish/brown tint (though more red in the light). Pours to a two-finger, ivory, frothy head that laces and retains very well.

Smell: Strong floral hop aroma; a hint of citrus. Sweet dark malt is noticeable as well.

Taste: The brown ale style is unique in that it has a darker malt character to it, though it’s not as overtly sweet or roasty or fruity like a stout or porter. Some can have confectionery syrup flavors, but this one is more about the dark malt (North American 2-Row, Munich 10L, Chocolate, C-60, and Brown Malt according the brewery’s website). Light sweetness with a touch of candy flavor throughout the first half. It turns on a dime into a hop bomb with intense dry/flowery bitterness thanks to the Nugget and Bravo hops. It reminds me more of an intense hoppy red ale or American Strong Ale (a la Stone Arrogant Bastard) but without the astringency. Milk chocolate emerges right as it finishes, but then the hops leave a bitter, starchy aftertaste.

Drinkability: There’s no question Smuttynose Durty is a big beer considering its stats: 8.4% ABV and 97 IBUs. Though it is lighter on its feet than you’d think. The mouthfeel is only medium in body with plenty of carbonation to keep it self-cleaning. No cloying or sticky sensation on the tongue, thankfully. The alcohol definitely imparts warmth which lingers in the throat. A bold palette like this would probably work best with a savory dinner. It’s not nearly sweet enough to work as a liquid dessert. 
Grade: 8/10

Monday, April 6, 2015

Horny Goat Laka Laka Pineapple Hefeweizen

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1318) - Albany, New York, USA - APR 6, 2015
Wheat beers tend to be the best base styles to complement the addition of fruit, especially summer seasonals. Usually these types of beers contain berries, but in the case of Horny Goat Laka Laka it’s pineapple. What’s ironic is that the fruity addition is subtle and the base hefeweizen brew is pretty solid. So it works despite itself.

I poured a 12oz can into a shaker glass. It was canned on 2/15/2015.

Appearance: An ugly shade of extremely cloudy maize/yellow. Pours to a small, white, foamy head which mostly dissipates and leaves little lacing.

Smell: Potent authentic Bavarian yeast esters. Prominent banana and clove notes.

Taste: This beer reminds me of every hefeweizen I’ve ever had a brewpub. It’s sweeter than to-spec German examples – bubblegum and banana are quite dominate in the palate here, especially up front. There’s some lemony flavor as well, which is nice. Not much in the way of hop flavor or bitterness. It takes a while, but I eventually do notice the pineapple on the finish, though it’s easy to mistake it for the natural clove flavor of the yeast. This beer probably doesn’t need the pineapple juice added as it’s flavorful enough on its own. But at least it doesn’t come across as cloying or gimmicky.

Drinkability: I could see this being a really refreshing beer in the summer, and the fact it comes in a can certainly helps to make the case. At only 5.1% ABV, Horny Goat Laka Laka Pineapple Hefeweizen is arguably a sessionable beer. It’s refreshing while in the mouth and finishes fairly clean. The mouthfeel is a bit thin and light, though. A little more body presence on the palate would be nice. 
Grade: 7/10

A nano beerfest for nano breweries

Usually, when you think of beer festivals you think of huge outdoor gatherings where dozens of breweries are pouring samples of their suds for hundreds of people. But last Saturday, I participated in a much more intimate sort of festival, the first-annual “Upper Hudson Valley NanoFest” at The Hollow Bar + Kitchen in downtown Albany.

nanofest (2)

This was an event I personally helped organize along with fellow Albany beer writer Craig Gravina (author of Upper Hudson Valley Beer – the history of Albany Ale) and Dora Philip, the owner of The Hollow Bar. We thought it would be a lot of fun to combine the themes of our two books along with promoting several local small breweries. In fact, all the breweries that participated are legally considered to be nano breweries: Green Wolf Brewing of Middleburgh; Honey Hollow Brewing of Earlton; Argyle Brewing of Greenwich; Rare Form Brewing of Troy; and The Beer Diviner of Stephentown. Not surprisingly, every brewery brought either a porter or a stout to match the theme of my book The Handbook of Porters & Stouts (NOTE: Green Wolf brought a Black IPA, which is close enough in my opinion).


Of course I tried every beer from every brewery, let’s go down the list shall we:

Nanofest 004Green Wolf

The first and only modern brewery in Schoharie County. Justin Behan runs the operation nearly single-handedly. Not only does he brew a variety of styles, he even makes a good portion of his suds available in bottles. I know Craig Gravina is a fan of his taproom.

Ravens Black IPA: It’s pretty daring for a tiny brewery to make a niche style like this as part of their regular portfolio. I think it’s probably his best beer.

Abbey Gargoyle: The only Belgian style beer at the event. Another interesting choice for a nanobrewery; it’s a solid example of the Abbey Dubbel style.

Honey Hollow

This was my first time trying beers from this tiny new brewery located about a half hour south of Albany. I will try to swing by their taproom sometime and get a few growlers filled for a proper review. I did try the two beers they were pouring here, though:

Ruby Red Ale: Centennial and Cascade hops give this a nice flowery aroma and accompanying taste. It’s nice to have a red ale instead of an amber ale for a change.

Black Jack Porter: There was something wrong with this beer. It tasted like wasabi – very sour and phenolic. A few other patrons told me they noticed this as well. I didn’t have the heart to tell them the beer tasted spoiled (NOTE: This raises an important question of ethics, protocol, and etiquette which I’ll cover in a future blog post).


Another local nanobrewery whose offerings I had never had the chance to try until now. Unfortunately, none of Argyle’s representatives were able to attend the event, though they did have plenty of promotional material for their two brews (which were poured by an employee of The Hollow Bar).

Woodland Ale: Described as a harvest ale, it’s similar to many hoppy amber ales you tend to see released in the fall. Well balanced and plenty flavorful.

Coffee Porter: Probably better considered an amber ale with coffee than a true porter. Maybe it was just being served too cold but I found the coffee flavor quite mild. I let it warm up for a while and it emerged much stronger.

Rare Form

If you’re a regular reader of this blog you know I have been a fan of Kevin Mullen’s new nanobrewery in downtown Troy pretty much since Day 1. My homebrew club was able to brew a barrel-aged barleywine there and Brendan Palfreyman’s “Les Verts Monts” pale ale was a scaled-up homebrew that was fantastic. I have tried most of their core beers, and I’d like to eventually do in-depth reviews of these two:

Karass Porter: Named after a Kurt Vonnegut reference, this is a robust porter that’s exactly to spec. Seriously, any BJCP judge should try this beer as a shining example of Style Category 12B.
Wee Plaid Scotch Ale: Ditto, except for Style Category 9E.

iphone 261The Beer Diviner

You’ve probably heard of New York’s “Farm Brewery” law by now, right? Well, did you know the Capital Region’s own Beer Diviner was the first such licensed brewery in the state? Retired UAlbany English professor Dr. Jonathon Post has been making some unique and delectable brews way out in on the Massachusetts border for a few years now.

Got Your Back (imperial coffee oatmeal stout): Let’s just say I liked this beer so much I insisted my publisher include it in my book –>

The Divinator (imperial IPA): This particular keg was filled from the bottom of the bright tank, so it was extremely hazy. I described it as a “hop shake,” though I meant that as a compliment. Huge hop aroma and flavor; remarkably drinkable for 11% ABV.

As I did at the Craft New York Brewers Festival in February, I brought along several bottles of my “Café Latte” homebrew. It’s a “breakfast stout” made with oatmeal, lactose sugar, grapefruit peel, French Roast coffee and vanilla beans. It was brewed using unfiltered, untreated Troy Spring water which I entered in The Ruck’s most recent homebrewing competition for the “Free Range Water” category.

Of all the homebrews I’ve ever made (and that’s a lot), this one has been the most well-received, even by people who don’t tend to like “dark beer.” I think it’s because the lactose sugar, coffee and vanilla give it an ice cream-like flavor (in retrospect, I should’ve called it “Coffee Ice Cream: The Beer”). It’s always a great feeling hearing compliments about my homebrews, but whenever a professional brewer or someone within the industry tells me my beer is actually one of the best they’ve had all day, that’s really meaningful to me.

Thanks to everyone that came out to this festival. I hope you all got a souvenir shaker glass to remember the event. I’m quite sure we can make this an annual event.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Paulaner Salvator (2015 re-review)

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1317) - Albany, New York, USA - APR 5, 2015
The doppelbock style was one that took me a long time to grow accustomed to, but now that I “get” the style I really enjoy it and the best examples are a nice treat. Paulaner Salvator was one of the first authentic German examples of the style I ever had. I thought it was good when I first tried it, but six years later I realize it’s more than just good - it’s a classic.

I poured a 500ml bottle into a mug. It had a best before date of 5/2015 and cost $2.79 ($0.17 per ounce).

Appearance: Hazy/foggy appearance. Rusty burgundy hue. Pours to a one-finger, tan, soapy head which mostly dissipates and leaves no lacing.

Smell: Strong rich malty aroma with plenty of confectionery notes. A hint of alcohol and slight cider-like character (probably an old bottle).

Taste: If there’s any style known for being a “malt bomb,” Paulaner Salvator is it. From the first impression of the first sip it’s all malt-dominate. Strong, sweet, delicious flavors of toffee and caramel right away with milder notes of toast and milk chocolate towards the back. Bitterness is dry and perhaps a tad spicy (most likely Noble hops are used in this brew). I detect a hint of mulled cider-like character towards the finish. This might be due to the bottle being old or it might just be natural melanoidins. Alcohol gives the palette some intensity, but adds little as far as flavor or distraction. Overall, a very tasty beer that would be fantastic when fresh.

Drinkability: At 7.9% ABV, Paulaner Salvator is a big beer to be sure. The mouthfeel is surprisingly comfortable, though. Soft in weight and smooth in texture with intense flavor that’s not abrasive. There is significant warmth from the alcohol, but this is by no means an obese or obtuse brew. A liquid meal in and of itself, though it would pair with Easter dinner for sure. 
Grade: 8/10

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Founders KBS: my all-time favorite beer

Founders KBS 003I always consider the last week of March and the first week of April to be "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year," for many reasons. Firstly, both the college hockey and basketball playoffs are happening. Secondly, Founders Brewing Company traditionally releases their world renown "KBS" (a.k.a. "Kentucky Breakfast Stout") or or around April 1st.

I first got to try this beer in the summer of 2011 when a friend from Michigan sent me a bottle in a trade. I reviewed it for my 500th episode of my YouTube series Chad'z Beer Reviews. I loved it at the time and I knew it was among the best beers I'd ever had. You can read my text review of that 2011 bottle here.

(NOTE: I'm aware that I look like Egon from Ghostbusters in this video - why did I comb my hair like that? I also weighed about 40lbs more at the time.)

About a year later I was able to procure another bottle, but waited until September of 2012 to review it. I still enjoyed it immensely, but it seemed to taste different from what I'd remembered:

In 2013, Founders KBS finally made its way to the Capital District in both bottles and kegs, but in short supply. The Factory Eatery in Ballston Spa was the first venue to have a keg of it, which they were selling for $10 a glass. As soon as I heard it was available I brought my friend Shaun with me to try it with lunch:

I enjoyed it so much that I went back a week later with a bottle to do a blind tasting of the bottled version versus the draught version. This time I went with my friend Don from Albany Brew Crafters:

In 2014 I managed to score four bottles from three different stores, but I didn't do a video or text review. This year, I managed to acquire eight bottles from three stores (I was shocked that Albany Beverage Corp. was willing to sell me an entire four-pack! Wow, thanks!). I decided to give it yet another re-review last night in the form of both video and text (which you can read here).

It was still outstanding as always, but there's always a slightly disappointing feeling drinking this every year because it never seems to be absolutely mind-blowing like it was the first time in 2011. Perhaps certain years' brews are better than others, or maybe I just tend to romanticize my memories. Either way, I think Founders KBS probably is the best beer I've ever had and I'll gladly pay $24.99 for a four-pack once a year for it, but that's the only "Whale Hunting" I'll do anymore. I probably could've gotten even more, but eight bottles is more than enough for me. I'll certainly consider trading my extras if anyone would like to make an offer.

I should also point out that Founders KBS is not a beer that ages well. It's brewed with coffee and chocolate and both of these ingredients will fade. In fact, coffee tends to be quite perishable and will begin to develop a jalapeno-like flavor after a few months. Chocolate will simply fade away completely. In fact, if you watch my review of the 2012 bottle (which was shot in September of that year) I mentioned that these flavors had faded and the beer had begun to taste more like a traditional imperial stout with that classic black/sour grape flavor (Stone IRS thrives on that flavor component). It baffles me whenever I see people offering vintage bottles of this for trade, or whenever a "vertical tasting" of various years' vintages is held - of course the freshest bottle is always the best - its flavors haven't faded yet! But I suppose if you don't like chocolate and/or coffee in your beer, then by all means cellar away.
  1. Would you recommend aging Founders KBS?
  2. How does a vintage bottle compare to a fresh bottle?
  3. To what lengths will you go (or have you gone) to get it?
  4. What's your all-time favorite beer?

P.S. Here's a fun way to make any stout seem like a bourbon barrel-aged stout. Take some bourbon and swirl it around a snifter or other stemmed glassware for a minute or so. Then pour the bourbon back in the bottle (or pour it into another glass and drink it later). Now, pour a bottle of stout (or any style of beer, really) into the glass that held the bourbon. You'll notice it'll still have a pungent bourbon aroma and it should have a subtle bourbon flavor as well. I've tried different blends of bourbon to beer such as one tablespoon, teaspoon or even half a teaspoon but they tend to be too over-powering. This method, in my experience, works the best. Try it yourself.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Founders KBS (2015 edition)

   AROMA 9/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 10/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 19/20
Chad9976 (1317) - Albany, New York, USA - APR 1, 2015
When people ask me my all-time favorite beer I usually say Founders KBS and for good reason – it’s pretty much a perfect beer. It’s big and robust, complex, delicious, great-smelling and a pleasure to drink. That’s what makes for a World Class beer in my book.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a tulip glass. It was bottled on 2/17/15 and cost $5.99 ($0.50 per ounce).

Appearance: Inky black in color but faint brown highlights. Pours to a two-finger, tan, frothy head which laces and retains extremely well.

Smell: Huge coffee and bourbon notes. Sweet but not sugary.

Taste: I’ve had this beer every year since 2011 and it does have minor variations from year to year. The 2015 edition seems to be the most overtly balanced of all the brews I can remember. Up front there’s a strong sweet sensation of vanilla and chocolate with sweet dark maltiness. On the second half the coffee emerges with an intensity that’s pretty amazing; akin to gourmet French Roast black coffee rather than sugary iced coffee. Right as it finishes the bourbon and the natural alcohol completely dominate. It’s not quite as intense as taking a shot of bourbon straight up, but it’s awfully close. These flavor patterns repeat and grow a little more nuanced each sip. I don’t detect much in the way of specific hops or malts, though I will say it’s amazing how well-balanced the palette is since there’s plenty of bitterness and at no point does it taste like a malt bomb. Another outstanding brew from an outstanding brewery.

Drinkability: At 11.2% ABV and 70 IBUs, Founders KBS is a big beer to say the least. But it’s not a behemoth by any means; in fact, this is one of the softest, smoothest beers I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking. The moment it hit my palate the first thing I noticed was the soft, smooth texture – almost like melted marshmallow. And yet, for such a flavorful brew, it’s surprisingly not cloying or sticky at all. It finishes rather dry, but it’s easily tolerable. The first few swigs have significant alcohol warmth, but I grew accustomed to them quickly. This is a liquid dessert in and of itself – do not pair it with anything and enjoy it on its own. 
Grade: 10/10

Founders KBS (2013 edition): Bottle vs. Draught:
Chad Tries.... Founders KBS (2013 edition) ON TAP!!:
Founders KBS (2012 edition):
Founders KBS (2011 edition):

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Kuka Coffee + Cream Stout

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1317) - Albany, New York, USA - MAR 31, 2015
I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of coffee, chocolate, milk, or just sweet stouts in general. You’d think those would be difficult styles to not get right but I’ve had plenty of duds over the year. Thankfully, Kuka Coffee + Cream Stout is not one of them. This is exactly what you want in a sweet coffee stout: roasted coffee bitterness balanced with sweet lactose goodness. Some chocolate or vanilla would be nice, but this is solid as is.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a nonic pint glass. There was no decipherable freshness date. It cost $3.15 ($0.26 per ounce).

Appearance: Jet black hue; slight brownish highlights. Pours to a small, tan, frothy head which retains well but doesn’t lace the glass.

Smell: Fresh brewed French Roast coffee. Lactose sugar sweetness.

Taste: There’s two basic flavors happening here: a general dark malty sweetness combined with lactose sugar and bitter deeply roasted coffee on the finish. That’s pretty much it, but both of these flavor components work pretty well. The lactose sugar is certainly noticeable, but not distracting from the base stout palette. This recipe might’ve worked just as well without it, but its addition is a nice pleasantry. The second half is all coffee. Initially, it’s bitter like black coffee, but it finishes with a significant sweetness like iced coffee with cream and sugar. There might be a hint of milk chocolate that emerges from the dark malts, but there’s no chocolate taste per se (though I wouldn’t have minded some). A solid coffee stout at a nice price I must say.

Drinkability: No matter the ABV, stouts brewed with lactose tend to have a thin mouthfeel. Kuka Coffee + Cream Stout would seem to be rather heady at 6% ABV, yet it’s as smooth as a sessionable, pub-style stout. Low carbonation and lactose create for silky smooth texture and easy finish. Some residual coffee bitterness in the aftertaste, but it’s tolerable. An ideal beer to pair with any kind of chocolate or vanilla confection or as a dessert in and of itself. 
Grade: 8/10

Yuengling is bigger than Samuel Adams?

It’s that time of the year again, when the Brewers Association releases their list of the Top 50 Biggest Craft Breweries and Top 50 Overall Breweries.

Normally, these lists don’t surprise me. It’s always interesting to see who’s in the Top 10 and Top 20 and how certain breweries I like rank. What is interesting this year is the new #1 craft brewery: Yuengling. For whatever reason, in 2014 the Brewers Association decided to drop the proverbial scarlet letter of “macro” from this company and seat them at the cool kids’ table (they were always exiled for their use of adjunct in their lager – much too macro-ish for the BA’s tastes, apparently). I’ve tried most of Yuengling’s products and they’re usually anywhere from “meh” to “okay,” so I’m not sure I consider them to be a true craft brewery.

Anyway, now that Yuengling is a legitimate craft brewery, they’ve vaulted to the top of the list. I’m not sure how this makes sense considering their beer is only available on the East Coast whereas the Samuel Adams brands are available in all 50 states, as well as in several foreign countries. How could Yuengling be putting out more product given these circumstances?

Though I’m not much of a Samuel Adams fan in general, I will say I prefer their wares to that of Yuengling’s and I’ll bet the vast majority of craft beer enthusiasts feel the same way. Heck, even the average fizzy yellow drinker is much more likely to stick with what they know and buy a Bud, Miller or Coors brand beer than Yuengling. So who and where are all these people buying all this Yuengling?

But I digress. Now on to some other reactions:
  • No New York-based craft breweries cracked the Top 10 Craft list, though Brooklyn comes in at #11 (#17 overall) and Ommegang (under the “Duvel Moortgat” umbrella) comes in at #12 (#18 overall). NOTE: This also raises the question of whether Ommegang and Boulevard can truly be considered “craft” since they are wholly-owned by a foreign conglomerate. I guess since their owner isn’t making adjunct lager it’s okay?
  • New York State’s own North American Breweries, better known as Genesee, rank sixth overall (but that’s counting all the brands in their portfolio, including Magic Hat).
  • Matt Brewing, better know as “Saranac,” came in at #14 on the craft chart. This is ironic since they actually contract brew the majority of Brooklyn’s products and have been for years. Clearly, the metrics are by distinct brands and not volume of output by individual breweries.
  • Southern Tier Brewing Company – the best brewery in New York State in my opinion – comes in at #35. I am a little surprised they weren’t higher up, but they’ve been steadily climbing the charts the last few years. They’ll be in the Top 20 within five years I’m sure.
  • The Capital District’s own Brown’s Brewing Company and Shmaltz Brewing Company did not, unfortunately, make either list.
  • Pabst is considered the third largest brewing company in the United States despite the fact they do not actually own a single brewery. All of their beer is contract-brewed by Miller.
  • The Brewers Association does not consider the Craft Brew Alliance (the Kona, Omission,
    Red Hook, and Widmer Brothers brands) to be craft beer because Anheuser-Busch/InBev owns 32% of the company. Yet they consider Founders to be craft beer even though a foreign macro brewery owns 30% of the company now. I guess 31% ownership is the dividing line?

What are your reactions to this year’s lists?

NOTE: If the text below is too small to read, you can download a PDF here.

top50 craftTop 50 overall