Thursday, October 30, 2014

Lakefront Imperial Pumpkin

   AROMA 9/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 17/20
Chad9976 (1207) - Albany, New York, USA - OCT 30, 2014
You don’t tend to see too many pumpkin beers that are barrel-aged; I wonder why that is? Going by the few that I’ve had, I can saw that they can be great beers when done correctly and Lakefront Imperial Pumpkin is a good example of this. It’s essentially a barleywine or old ale with light pumpkin spices, but the result is a delicious brew.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a tulip glass. There was no freshness date. Thanks to my friend Jordan for the bottle!

Appearance: Dark orangish/brown hue, slightly translucent but mostly opaque. Pours to a small, off-white, foamy head which mostly dissipates and leave little lacing.

Smell: Rich sweetness of confectionery syrups, strong brandy presence, and a hint of pumpkin potpourri.

Taste: Pumpkin beers are usually known for being spicy, rather than sweet, and when they’re sweet it tends to taste like pumpkin pie. In the case of Lakefront Imperial Pumpkin the sweetness is derived from the huge malt character. Flavors of vanilla, butterscotch, toffee and caramel are all noticeable right away. There’s even a milk chocolate flavor at the beginning. Towards the middle it develops a dark/dried fruit character as fig, date, raisin and even pomegranate emerge. Slight cinnamon and nutmeg spices can be found in the background throughout, though they become more prominent on the finish. The brandy barrel aging has definitely enhanced this base brew as it probably accounts for the robust sweetness and subtle spice. I usually prefer my pumpkin beers to be more overtly pumpkin-flavored, which this is just shy of being outstanding.

Drinkability: There was absolutely no challenge to drinking this bottle of Lakefront Imperial Pumpkin at all. The mouthfeel was calm, thick, but smooth with a gentle warmth from the alcohol. It left a surprisingly clean aftertaste with no drying or cloying sensation. At 9.5% ABV it definitely has the body a brew of that weight should have. An ideal nightcap beer. 
Grade: 9/10

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

3 Daughters Bimini Twist IPA

   AROMA 6/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 6/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 13/20
Chad9976 (1206) - Albany, New York, USA - OCT 29, 2014
Of course every new brewery is going to make a bold IPA, why wouldn’t they? But if you’re going to make a brew of the style and sell it in cans, you need to come correct. 3 Daughters Bimini Twist IPA definitely delivers as an IPA with strong bitterness, but it doesn’t have much else going for it. It’s a simple and direct palette that’s drinkable, but not impressive.

I poured a 12oz can into a goblet. There was no freshness date. Thanks to Jesse for the can!

Appearance: Dark orange/brown hue, opaque. Pours to a small, beige, soapy head which laces and retains relatively well.

Smell: Strong hop presence, almost candy-like (especially butterscotch). Not especially appealing, though.

Taste: The first thing I notice about this beer is its raw bitterness. Since it’s an IPA, that’s to be expected. However, there’s a difference between bitterness and actual hop flavor and what it has in abundance of the former, it lacks in the latter. Intense dry bitterness with a slight Caribbean character of coconut and some kind of spice. It’s reminiscent of a Cigar City brew, but not nearly as good. There’s a strong malty presence as well; mostly caramel and butterscotch, though I wouldn’t describe this beer as sweet or balanced, exactly. I get some dank resiny character on the finish, almost twangy like a beer brewed with sorghum or malt extract. It’s not bad per se, and with some tweaking I could see this being more than just passable.

Drinkability: As a veteran IPA drinker, I didn’t have too much trouble getting through 3 Daughters Bimini Twist IPA. I will say that the intense bitterness does take some getting used to. The actual mouthfeel is fine – not sticky or chewy – with a slightly crisp body. The hops linger and dry out the palate, though. At 7% ABV it’s got the chutzpah it should have for the weight, but not the refined taste. 
Grade: 5/10

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

No more Mahar's?

If you’ve been around the Capital District beer scene for a while, no doubt you’re familiar with the name Mahar’s. This was the eponymously-named bar that opened on Madison Avenue all the way back in 1989 and ran until 2013. Beer lovers in this area tend to have at least one fond memory of the venue, since it was pretty much the only place around here that served craft beer (until recent years, that is).

In July of 2010, a second Mahar’s Public Bar opened in the sleepy village of Castleton-on-Hudson in southern Rensselear County. When the Albany location shuttered in February of 2013, most news stories and blogs on its closing mentioned the Castleton location in passing. I remember seeing so many comments on these articles to the extent of “There’s a second Mahars? How did I not know this?” Perhaps that sentiment is indicative of why this Mahar’s is now closing as well.
Back in September, Jim Mahar sent this message out to his mailing list:
According to my sources, Ravens Head has been brewing in the building that houses Mahar’s for some time. I notice people have been checking into their brews at both Mahar’s and the Allen Street Pub on Untappd for about a year and a half. It seems that Ravens Head would like to buy the building at 15 South Main Street, but who owns that property and what’s happening with it remains a mystery as of now. The Ravens Head website is poorly designed with typos galore and broken links. I could not find a Kickstarter for Ravens Head anywhere.

I’m not sure it’s a good idea to start a brewery in that location, anyway. The Stewart’s shop right across the street just closed. In fact, Castleton-on-Hudson seems to be on the verge of becoming a ghost town, according to this story by Chris Churchill. If a staple New York business like Stewarts cannot survive there, what makes Ravens Head think they can? That building would seem to be too small to house a full production brewery, and the location is not ideal if they want to do a brewpub (or even keep the bar as is). Even though Castleton is just seven miles south of Rensselear on Route 9J, there’s just nothing else in the vicinity that would attract patrons there. With the downtown Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga, and Troy scenes flourishing with craft beer bars and microbreweries, I doubt there will be much a reason for residents of those areas to trek out to Castleton just for one brewery. That’s probably why they didn’t go all the way out there for one bar, either.
What do you think:
  1. Did you ever visit the Castleton location? If so, how did you like it compared to their Albany bar?
  2. Should the Mahars try opening another bar in the Capital District? If so, where?
  3. Have you ever had any of the Ravens Head brews?
  4. Should Ravens Head open a brewery at that location?
I visited it a few times and I enjoyed it for the most part. It’s a much different vibe than the Madison Avenue bar. Whereas the Albany location was usually frequented by professionals and college students, the Castleton bar harkened back to times where the village pub was the place everyone came to socialize. I literally saw entire families with children in there (kids should not be allowed in bars, IMO).
Depending on when you visited, Castleton Mahar’s could be just as packed as a downtown bar at Happy Hour, or as empty and quiet as bar in the middle of nowhere (which is what it was, essentially).
This location actually had something of a food menu. I would almost always order a “toastie” (Panini) which would come with a side of macaroni or potato salad, potato chips, and a pickle spear for only $5.
The beer selection was not that great, though. They only had about 10 taps, with Guinness and Strongbow almost always on and the rest populated by snoozers such as Middle Ages and Davidson Brothers. They did offer their own beer “tour,” with the same rewards at the same intervals as the Madison Avenue tour. In fact, I was up to 40-something beers on my tour, which is a bummer because I only needed a few more to get the Castleton Mahar’s t-shirt.
I would usually go on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon at lunch and spend a couple hours there. I’d stick with half pint pours on all my drafts, as there was a limit of four beers per day you could add to your tour. Also, drinking 40oz over the course of a few hours means I could still drive home afterwards.

It was interesting that the Mahars themselves – Jim, Laurie, and even daughter Caitlin – would tend bar there. I was a regular at the Albany location from 2007 until its closing and I never saw them. Bill, Murph, Gene, Kirian, and Jeremy were the bartenders I knew.

When the Castleton location opened I vowed to visit it bi-monthly, which eventually become quarterly, and then became semi-annually. Craft beer bars have been popping up in the Capital District like weeds in the last few years, and established locations have been stepping up their selection as well. Between The Bier Abbey, The Ruck and Madison Pour House, there really isn’t any reason for me to take the trip out to Castleton for beer. I suspect the vast majority of craft beer drinkers in the area feel the same way, and that’s probably why Castleton Mahar’s is now folding.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Stone Smoked Porter with Chocolate & Orange Peel

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1205) - Albany, New York, USA - OCT 27, 2014
There are certain flavor combinations that would never seem to work on paper, but in practice they’re surprisingly good. Stone Smoked Porter with Chocolate & Orange Peel is a perfect example of what I mean. Each of these flavor characteristics stands out and works on its own, but all three also work as a team in conjunction with the solid porter brew at the core.

I poured a 22oz bottle into a nonic pint glass. It was bottled on 10/17/14.

Appearance: Seemingly opaque dark brown body, but actually a deep shade of ruby red; slightly translucent. Pours to a large, tan, foamy head which retains and laces excellently.

Smell: Initially just a standard porter aroma with notes of smoke; eventually becomes all orange in aroma.

Taste: Up front, this beer has a familiar porter taste to its palette, only a little smokier than most. There’s a mild, dark fruit character as well as a sweet chocolate flavor immediately present. Throughout the first half there’s a subtle orange candy taste which is interesting, but not the star of the show (not yet, at least). At the apex of the swig I get a fairly strong bitterness as well as increased smoke-like astringency. As the beer goes down the palette becomes sweet with a strong orange and citrus character akin to sherbet or soda. The only problem is, the orange quickly dominates the palette and pushes the smoke and chocolate to the background. It becomes a little repetitive, but it’s never not enjoyable.

Drinkability: I tend to associate Stone beers in 22oz bottles with being beastly, imperial brews. But Stone Smoked Porter with Chocolate & Orange Peel is quite approachable at only 5.9% ABV. The mouthfeel is slightly thin, calm, with a flat texture. Light fizziness while in the mouth, though it’s easy to gulp down. Just a mild, dry aftertaste with a hint of orange. This makes for an interesting dessert brew for sure. 
Grade: 8/10

Sunday, October 26, 2014

New Glarus Spotted Cow

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1204) - Albany, New York, USA - OCT 26, 2014
I’d always heard New Glarus Spotted Cow was supposed to be one of the best cream ales in the country, but I’ve never been able to try it since I live in New York and they don’t distribute here. Thankfully, a friend was traveling through the area and brought me back a bottle. And while I’d say it’s one of the better cream ales I’ve had, it’s not quite the best of the best.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a mug. It was bottled on 8/13/14 and was given to me by a friend (thanks, Jordan!).

Appearance: Bright yellow hue, though slight hazy. Light carbonation visible. Pours to an average sized, bright white, frothy head which retains and laces fairly well.

Smell: Mild nose with hints of lemon and light grain. No lager quality.

Taste: Cream ales tend to be rather lager-like, though the better ones tend to remind me of a kolsch (which is also a lager-like ale style). This has the lighter malt base often found in a lager, but with the more refined palette of an ale. There’s subtle fruit notes of lemon and banana in the front, with a sweet cereal taste lurking in the background throughout. That’s the corn, which also creates for a slight metallic or astringent character on the finish, though it’s clean (unlike so many macro lagers). This is a fine, satisfying palette and probably to-spec as far as style goes. It’s not amazingly delicious, but it’s definitely satisfying.

Drinkability: A beer like this is what you’d want in warmer weather or when you just want something easy to drink. The mouthfeel is thin, but calm, with a smooth, creamy texture and clean aftertaste. At only 5.1% ABV, New Glarus Spotted Cow is maybe a tad higher than it needs to be, but still light enough in body that no one’s going to have trouble putting back a few of these. 
Grade: 8/10

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Monk’s Café Flemish Sour Ale

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 18/20
Chad9976 (1203) - Albany, New York, USA - OCT 23, 2014
I’m so used to drinking American sour ales that I’d kind of forgotten the style had originated in Europe. Monk’s Café Flemish Sour Ale is an authentic, Old World style sour beer and I can see why it’s maintained such high popularity all these years. A delicious palette of fruits, tartness and sourness. That’s what I call well-balanced.

I poured an 11.2oz bottle into a tulip glass. There was no discernible freshness date. It cost $5.49 ($0.49 per ounce).

Appearance: Dark brown hue, opaque, but with maroon highlights. Pours to a large, tan, frothy head which laces and retains very well.

Smell: Sweet, fruity nose akin to sangria. Strong sour presence.

Taste: For such a popular beer, there isn’t much in the way of official description for this brew, so I’m not entirely sure what goes into it. There’s a strong fruity flavor here, especially of black cherries, currants, and raspberries. Is that from the malt, yeast, or bacteria (or is the beer made with those fruits)? There’s a light, but consistent sourness from start to finish. Slightly tart at first, but finishes quite rich and sweet with notes of chocolate and vanilla. I detect the faintest hint of a vinegar character, though it’s more like a raspberry or maple vinaigrette and it works perfectly here.

Drinkability: Sours can be rather intimidating to drink, for newbies and experienced drinkers alike. I had absolutely no trouble throwing back a glass of Monk’s Café Flemish Sour Ale since it was in no way intense or out of control. The mouthfeel is calm, with a smooth texture and finish to match. It leaves an almost completely clean aftertaste, which is a bit of a bummer considering how delicious the beer is while in the mouth (it’d be nice if it hung around a bit). I can’t believe it’s only 5.5% ABV considering how flavorful and full-bodied it is otherwise. 
Grade: 10/10

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

“Taste of New York” beer dinner at Uncle Marty’s Adirondack Grill

Last night I got do something I’d never done before – host a beer dinner. And not just host the dinner, but also select all the beers for each course. The theme was “Taste of New York,” as all the beers were brewed right here in New York State, and most of the food was locally-sourced as well. This was the first beer dinner ever held at Uncle Marty’s Adirondack Grill in Averill Park, and I have to say it went extremely well. For a casual restaurant located in rural Rensselear County, there was a surprisingly large turnout.
NOTE: All photos were taken by Dawn Vink. See her complete Shutterfly album here.1619561_693043400803340_9166334999221507651_n
I realize that this particular blog post may sound a bit narcissistic, though that’s not my intent. When I say it was one of the best beer dinners I’ve ever attended, I really mean that! Dustin Aipperspach (pictured below), the new head chef of the restaurant, put together a fantastic menu of six distinct courses, each utilizing a unique food item (or prepared in a unique way, that is).10421491_693043214136692_8448369352620343999_n
My job was to select beers that would pair with each course and would be enjoyable by the crowd – most of whom are probably not foodies (including myself). I went up to each table a few times throughout the dinner and asked how everyone enjoyed the beers and if they thought they paired well with the food. Almost everyone seemed to like the beers and their place in the lineup. Speaking of which, let’s run through the menu:
Amuse Bouche
Upstate Brewing Common Sense Ale (5.3% ABV traditional ale)
Fire Roasted Chestnuts1069836_693043694136644_5556273571906227566_n
I’ve never had chestnuts before, so this was a new experience for me. They reminded me of walnuts, only “meatier.” In fact, they seem to have a chicken flavor to them. The beer was a great liquid component to this snack as it has a slight nutty character to it, though it’s also quite malty and slightly fruity. I was amazed by how many people told me this was their favorite beer of the night.10734077_693043580803322_2741081448252304843_n
Ommegang Witte (5.2% ABV witbier)
Grilled Elk Sausage, Aged Provolone Cheese, Soft Pretzels, Whole Grain Beer Mustard1901736_693043827469964_2230991027108577753_n
Sausage is great, but any sausage made from wild game tends to be even better than pork sausage. The pretzels and dipping sauce was classic bar food and the chunks of Provolone cheese tied it together perfectly. I wasn’t sure if a witbier would pair with this type of food, but the light spiciness from the orangepeel and coriander, as well as the banana notes from the yeast esters made Ommegang Witte an ideal choice.
Brooklyn 1/2 Ale (3.4% ABV saison)
Hudson Valley Duck Breast, Baby Arugula, Toasted Almonds, Blueberries, Maple Vinaigrette10624608_693043920803288_4873943310497156512_n
Usually, salads are kind of boring. But if you throw some duck breast on it and cover in maple vinaigrette it’s a pretty amazing experience. The spicy/herbal/earthy character from the Sorachi Ace hops in this beer contrasted the sweet and savory character of the salad quite well. Many people said this was their favorite of the food courses.
Southern Tier 2XIPA (8.2% ABV double IPA)
10661787_693044440803236_3304031217378768328_oSeared Diver Scallop, Butternut Squash Risotto, Toasted Pumpkin Seeds, Parmesan
The first three beers were all pretty light, but transitioning to a big double IPA like Southern Tier’s 2XIPA was seamless (especially on the heels of the Brooklyn saison). The seared scallop was delicious, and the risotto and pumpkin seeds made for a great autumnal meal.
Chatham Porter (6% ABV)
Apple Smoked Beer Braised Hog Wings, White Bean Cassoulet
By the time this course came around, we were already well satiated by all the food and beer we had consumed by that point. Though the “hog wing” was not any bigger than the previous offerings. Reminiscent of wild boar with a fatty, tender, brisket-like composition. The porter was the only truly “dark” beer of the night, but it was the right selection for this food as the smoke from the meat and the natural roasted flavors of the beer had fantastic synergy. It also gave me an opportunity to read a selection from my book – The Handbook of Porters & Stouts – that described this beer.10765_693045470803133_5513556666642700563_n
Rushing Duck Dog’s Bollocks (9.5% ABV barleywine)
Pumpkin Cheesecake, Sea Salted Caramel Sauce
10733719_693046544136359_883731994786116095_oWith it being pumpkin season, it only made sense that the dessert course would of course utilize the big orange fruit. Except, instead of the usual pumpkin pie, this was a small cupcake-size of cheesecake coated with a delicious salty caramel syrup and dusted with powdered sugar. Pairing it with a rich, heavy barleywine like Dog’s Bollocks would seem to be overkill on paper, but in reality it was perfect. The beer seemed to cut the sweetness of the dessert and yet complement it at the same time (if that makes any sense).
Overall, this was a really fun and educational experience. I really didn’t hear any complaints about anything, though I did hear plenty of compliments. People were impressed by the food quality and quantity, and said it was a terrific value at only $58 per person (tax included). Additionally, most of the beers were served in large 8-10oz servings (5-7oz for the IPA and barleywine), which was nice since many beer dinners tend to only pour about 6oz per course. Since the evening was spread out over the course of 3.5 hours, it didn’t seem to be overwhelming. I did notice a few people drinking only a small amount of each glass, though they were driving and wanted to be responsible – kudos to them.
We’ve already started brainstorming ideas for the next beer dinner. Considering how well this one went, I can only imagine the next one will be even bigger and better. I hope to see you there :)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Stillwater Autumnal

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1202) - Albany, New York, USA - OCT 21, 2014
Stillwater is a gypsy brewery that never brews anything to style, and I respect and appreciate that. Though it does make their beers a little difficult to judge since I don’t know what to compare it to. This purports to be an amber/saison hybrid, though I might describe it as an altbier/saison hybrid. Either way, it’s got a lot of dark maltiness and a distinct saison character on the finish. Definitely apropos for the fall season.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a tulip glass. It was bottled on 8/8/14 and cost $4.75 ($0.40 per ounce).

Appearance: Murky brownish/chestnut hut, though translucent. Pours to a two-finger, ivory, foamy head which laces and retains fairly well.

Smell: Light nose of dark malts and a hint of saison yeast esters.

Taste: Brews in the amber/brown/altbier ballpark tend to have a malt-forward palette and that’s definitely true here. Lightly sweet flavors of caramel, combined with slight rustic notes of peanut, hazelnut and dry hops give it a well-balanced body. There’s a subtle spiciness throughout due to the saison yeast used for fermentation, which really comes through right as it finishes. There’s a quick burst of peppercorn, which is interesting, as well as a subtle coffee-like aftertaste. This isn’t a typical palette, and for that I’m grateful.

Drinkability: Though technically a bigger beer at 7.2% ABV, Stillwater Autumnal drinks and feels like something more sessionable. There’s not alcohol presence whatsoever, and the actual presence in the mouth is remarkably comfortable. The carbonation is light and the texture is smooth, which makes it easy to gulp down. Probably a good beer to pair with your Thanksgiving meal. 
Grade: 8/10

Monday, October 20, 2014

Bell's Third Coast Old Ale

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 16/20
Chad9976 (1201) - Albany, New York, USA - OCT 20, 2014
Bell’s Third Coast Old Ale is an old ale in name only, as it doesn’t have any of the barrel character often found in traditional brews of the style. This is more of an English-style barleywine, and it’s quite good. A complex palette that’s also perfectly balanced and highly drinkable. Impressive.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a tulip glass. It was bottled on 9/5/14 and cost $4.35 ($0.36 per ounce).

Appearance: Beautiful cherry wood hue, slightly translucent. Pours to a large, dirty white, frothy head which laces and retains very well.

Smell: Surprisingly mild nose with a general sweetness of red fruit, sangria, and a hint of alcohol.

Taste: In the glass, Bell’s Third Coast Old Ale looks a lot like a cabernet Sauvignon wine, which is interesting because it has a lot in common with that style as far as flavor notes go. Right away there’s a sweet taste of dark cherry, strawberry and pomegranate – if all were covered in milk chocolate. On the second half there’s a noticeable dry bitterness, slightly sharp, followed by a rich sweetness of toffee and butterscotch. And while all these flavors taste good, I am a little surprised that their intensity is not through the roof (especially in a fresh bottle).

Drinkability: Big heavy beers in this style that weigh in at 10.2% ABV tend to be difficult to drink, but Bell’s Third Coast Old Ale is remarkably approachable. The mouthfeel is not sticky or thick, but closer to a medium body with low carbonation. The texture is silky smooth, which makes it easy to gulp down, especially considering there’s no alcohol warmth, either. An ideal liquid dessert. 
Grade: 9/10

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Magic Hat Wilhelm Scream Pumpkin Ale

   AROMA 6/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 6/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 13/20
Chad9976 (1200) - Albany, New York, USA - OCT 19, 2014
I remember when Magic Hat used to be an innovative brewery that took chances and made a lot of experimental, eccentric brews. They’ve been bought and sold a few times in the last few years and it seems the new ownership prefers mass market appeal rather than appeasing true craft beer enthusiasts. Their new pumpkin ale – Wilhelm Scream – is proof of this. While not a bad beer, it’s just plain average.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a mug. It appeared to have an expiration date of 12/10/14 and cost $2.50 ($0.21 per ounce).

Appearance: Pretty amber hue, fairly dark but still transparent with visible carbonation. Pours to a two-finger, beige, foamy head which laces and retains fairly well.

Smell: Generic candle-like aroma with strong nutmeg scent. No pumpkin notes.

Taste: This beer might be more accurately classified as an amber ale with spices added rather than a true pumpkin beer. The malts actually seem to dominate the palette here – caramel and Victory specialty malts make for a light sweetness with two-row laying a familiar base. The cinnamon is subtle, but the nutmeg is prominent. It creates for an almost minty flavor. There doesn’t seem to be any actual pumpkin flavor, though (pie, puree, or otherwise). Light dry bitterness accentuates the spices nicely, though this isn’t a beer you drink for the hops. As a consumer product, it accomplishes what it set out to do, but as a beer it’s only okay.

Drinkability: While this beer may not be all that exciting, it is in no way a struggle to drink. The mouthfeel is thin, with a light, consistent crispness. The spices linger momentarily, but fade away after each swig so as not to be cloying. At only 5.4% ABV, Magic Hat Wilhelm Scream is a fine beer to have one on a Sunday afternoon while watching football, but still too heavy (and boring) to session. 
Grade: 6/10

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Original Flag Porter (2014 re-review)

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1199) - Albany, New York, USA - OCT 16, 2014
I should disclaim this review by pointing out that I’m not exactly sure how old this bottle is since the freshness code is not written in easy-to-read plain text. Though if this bottle is as old as I think it is, it’s still pretty impressive that this beer was able to hold up this well for over two years. Original Flag Porter is pretty much the epitome of a British porter, despite the fact the yeast used to ferment it was found in a sunken ship from 1825 and the recipe dates back to 1850.

I poured an 11.2oz bottle into a mug. I appears to have been bottled on 8/23/12 and cost $4 ($0.36 per ounce).

Appearance: Seemingly black color, but actually a deep shade of ruby chestnut with highlights to match. Pours to a small, white, foamy head which mostly dissipates but leaves some lacing.

Smell: Sweet dark malts, classic English pub style aroma, mild overall.

Taste: What separates porter from stout is the difference in roastiness and sweetness. Original Flag Porter opts for sweetness, as the dark malts create for a slightly fruity taste with notes of chocolate and dairy. In fact, it has the same character often found in milk stouts from their use of lactose sugar (it’s possible that was used in this brew, but I’m not sure). In fact, the taste reminds me a bit of cola soda, with a hint of coconut, too (but without the sickly sweetness). Just a touch of bitterness on the back end, which I can’t tell is hops or roasted malts (probably both, but mild enough to work as a background ingredient). I’m inclined to believe this beer would be much more complex and flavorful when fresh, but as it stands it’s still pretty good.

Drinkability: Pub-style brews such as this are meant to be easy to quaff and in mass quantities. Original Flag Porter has a thin, lightly carbonated mouthfeel so as to make it gentle on the palate and maybe even refreshing for a moment or two. At 5% ABV it drinks like something even more overtly sessionable, and with the clean finish I could certainly see it working in that capacity. 
Grade: 7/10
Watch my 2010 original review here:

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Dinkelacker Oktoberfestbier Marzen

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1198) - Albany, New York, USA - OCT 15, 2014
We don’t get too many authentic German Oktoberfestbiers around these parts, and those that we do get I’ve already reviewed. Dinkelacker Marzen is a new addition to my beer store, so naturally I picked it up to give it a try. As far as I can tell it’s an exactly-to-spec representation of the style, though there’s nothing especially unique or memorable about it. You want a Marzen, you got one with this.

I poured an 11.2oz bottle into a mug. It appears to have been bottled on 6/30/14 and cost $2.85 ($0.24 per ounce).

Appearance: Beautiful copper color, crystal clear with carbonation visible. Pours to a two-finger, off-white, foamy head which mostly dissipates and leaves no lacing, though.

Smell: Classic German lager aroma; lightly sweet with bready notes.

Taste: The first thing I noticed about Dinkelacker Marzen is how inoffensive the palate is. Oftentimes, old beer from overseas tends to have a tang or off-flavor to the palette, but this tastes fresh. As far as actual flavors go, there isn’t a lot in the way of distinctiveness. I do, however, get a general dark malty sensation. Light notes of bread or toast, but not caramel or toffee sweetness per se. Perhaps a hint of nuttiness and a mineral character on the finish, which is nice. Hops are extremely subtle here, providing just a background bitterness. Overall, it’s just a fine-tasting beer you don’t have to think about (which is probably the goal).

Drinkability: Beers of this style were meant to be sessioned, even though they exceed the threshold for what is generally considered sessionable as far as ABV. At 5.7% ABV, Dinkelacker Marzen is neither a lightweight nor a heavyweight, but falls right in the middle and it certainly drinks as such. Actually, it drinks like a lighter beer as far as delivery goes; the mouthfeel is thin and crisp and the beer is quite refreshing while crossing the tongue. It leaves a clean aftertaste and doesn’t fill me up, so it has the performance value you want in a Marzen. 
Grade: 7/10

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Geary's Autumn Ale

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1197) - Albany, New York, USA - OCT 14, 2014
It seems like a lot of American breweries are abandoning the traditional Brown Ale, which is a shame, because it’s a great style when done right. Geary’s Autumn Ale is, for the most part, brewed in the traditional English way (though I think that’s true of most of their beers). I do detect some American character as far as hops go, which is interesting. For a “standard” beer in more ways than one, this it as least satisfying.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a nonic pint glass. There was no freshness date and it cost $2.65 ($0.22 per ounce).

Appearance: Beautiful mahogany hue, transparent with spastic carbonation visible. Pours to an average-sized, off-white, foamy head which retains and laces well.

Smell: Sweet malty nose with significant floral component.

Taste: Brown Ales are often malt bombs, though Geary’s Autumn Ale seems to opt for balance. There is a strong malt presence here that cannot be ignored, that’s for sure. Light notes of toffee and a general nutty character are noticeable right away. There’s also some flowery hops, maybe even a bit citrusy – which isn’t a quality often found in English brown ales. Some crisp bitterness at the apex with a hint of chocolate on the finish. I also detect some kind of astringency and a tanginess in the aftertaste, which seems out of place, but is easily ignored for the most part. Regardless, it’s at the very least decent.

Drinkability: The palette to this beer may not be extremely complex and flavorful, but getting through a glass of Geary’s Autumn Ale is at least easy. The mouthfeel is rather thin, very crisp and well carbonated, and goes down smooth. At 5.8% ABV it feels like a much lighter brew than it is, though it’d probably be an ideal choice to pair with a meal so as not to overwhelm the palate (or the drinker). 
Grade: 7/10

Announcing “The Handbook of Porters & Stouts”

HandbookOfPortersAndStoutsI’ve had a lot of fun and memorable experiences since I started beer blogging six years ago. Being asked to contribute to the Times Union “Beer Nut” blog was, until now, probably my biggest accomplishment. I’m not sure if this announcement supersedes it, but it’s close: on November 11, 2014, my first book about beer will go on sale. It’s called The Handbook of Porters & Stouts, a compendium of over 400 beer reviews written by myself and co-author Josh Christie (a few other writers contributed some reviews, as well).

This was a project well over a year in the making, and it certainly shows by the quality of the finished product. I can’t take credit for the design and organization of the book, though, that’s all the work of my editor Carlo DeVito and the good people at Cider Mill Press. Whether you concur with our reviews of these beers or not, I think you will agree that this is one of the best-looking beer books you’ll ever see. That’s the feedback I’ve been getting from people who have been privy to see my advanced copy.

The sub-title of the book is “The Ultimate, Complete and Definitive Guide,” and while that may sound hyperbolic, it absolutely is true. I challenge anyone to find a more comprehensive collection of reviews, analysis, and backstory dedicated exclusively to the parents of dark beer styles.

Check out this 30-second promotional video for the book:

The book is broken up in three major sections; porters, stouts, and 30 recommended “extreme beers” that blur style lines (including some Black IPAs, “white” stouts, sour dark beers, and miscellaneous “culinary” stouts). The porter and stout sections are then sub-divided by major style groupings, such as Baltic Porter, Coffee Stouts, Chocolate Stouts, etc. I’m pretty sure we covered just about everything.

As I said, the book was co-authored by Josh Christie, a fellow beer blogger and author out of Portland, Maine. Josh previously penned Maine Beer: Brewing in Vacationland  – a guide to the Maine craft beer scene as well as the history of brewing in that state (did you know Maine’s temperance movement began nearly a half-century before the passage of the 18th Amendment?). I met Josh a few months ago when I went on my New England beercation, he’s a great guy. I’m hoping to conduct an interview with him sometime in the near future, so keep an eye out for that.
The introduction was written by Stephen Beaumont, an accomplished author who has written over a dozen books about beer. The “Special Tasting Section” was penned by Joshua M. Bernstein, who wrote The Complete Beer Course: Boot Camp for Beer Geeks: From Novice to Expert in Twelve Tasting Classes (a book which, in my opinion, rivals Randy Mosher’s “Tasting Beer”).
I’m really excited about this book, and especially about the opportunities this will likely lead to. I’ve already started setting up book signings and other promotional events, including a beer dinner I’ll be hosting at Uncle Marty’s Adirondack Grill next week. I hope people will enjoy reading this book it as much as I enjoyed writing it!Dedication

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Brown’s Cherry Raspberry Ale (aka "Cherry Razz")

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1196) - Albany, New York, USA - OCT 12, 2014
Brown’s has been making their Cherry Raspberry Ale for years, and I’ve had it on tap many times. I’ve never given it a formal review until now as it was difficult (and expensive) to buy before the recent opening of their new production brewery (everything had been bottled manually in the basement of their taproom until now). This bottle replicates the tap experience quite well, as this is indeed a fun fruit beer to drink.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a mason jar. There was no freshness date and it cost $2.60 ($0.22 per ounce).

Appearance: Pretty magenta/light brown hue, translucent. Pours to a small, off-white, soapy head which mostly dissipates and leave no lacing.

Smell: Jam-like aroma of red cherry and raspberries.

Taste: The thing about fruit beers is that they’re kind of the beer equivalent of alcopops since the fruit character tends to override the base brew (though that’s true of traditional lambics, too). In the case of Brown’s Cherry Raspberry Ale it’s a beer that delivers as the name suggests: plenty of cherry/raspberry sweetness and that’s about it. Slightly tart at first, but becomes a little richer-tasting towards the end. It’s probably made with puree rather than whole fruit, and it certainly tastes that way. There’s no soda-like quality of artificial/chemical flavoring here. The base brew appears to be something in the amber or brown ale styles, as there’s a light bready character here. The hops are faint if they are noticeable at all. While not quite as delicious as some of the better examples of the genre, this one is still pretty enjoyable.

Drinkability: Getting down a glass of Brown’s Cherry Raspberry Ale is no challenge whatsoever (not that it should be, though). The mouthfeel is thin and calm with a smooth texture and finish to match. It leaves a mostly clean aftertaste, which is a tad disappointing as these are the kinds of flavors you’d prefer to linger. At 6.5% ABV it’s seems rather inefficient as this beer drinks like something in the more overtly sessionable range. I’d expect a little more robustness and complexity to a brew this strong. Regardless, it works fine as a liquid dessert or standalone beverage (or blend it with their oatmeal stout for an interesting experience). 
Grade: 7/10

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Foster's Premium Ale

   AROMA 5/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 4/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 11/20
Chad9976 (1195) - Albany, New York, USA - OCT 11, 2014
Foster’s is one of the most popular macro beer brands in the world, though they’re known mostly for one beer (their lager). Lest we forget, they also make their “Premium Ale” that comes in a green can. This is allegedly an English-style pale ale, but it has so many similarities to that of an adjunct lager it’s actually quite impressive they were able to brew it this way. That being said, it’s most definitely not a good beer – little authentic taste, some off-flavors, and an inefficient body.

I poured a 750ml can into a mug. It had a best before date of 2/5/15 and cost $2.19 ($0.09 per ounce).

Appearance: Beautiful copper color (though this is due to added caramel coloring); completely transparent with spastic carbonation clearly visible. Pours to a small, ivory, soapy head which mostly dissipates and leaves no lacing on the glass.

Smell: Similar to an adjunct lager, though milder and slightly cleaner-smelling.

Taste: I actually made a point of drinking this beer a little warmer than I normally would in hopes of detecting all the flavor it had to offer. And indeed there’s more flavor to Foster’s Premium Ale than their usual lager. Just a faint hint of bready/biscuity malts and a touch of confectionery sweetness is apparent throughout the first half. Once it hits the apex, an astringent, tannic sensation of metal-like flavors come rushing in. The same thing happens with their lager, but to a lesser extent here. It has a slight sour tinge, and leaves a dry, starchy aftertaste. The more I drink, the less prominent it becomes, though that’s not a sign of a good beer. I can tolerate this, as much drinkers probably will, but there isn’t much to enjoy. (NOTE: I can’t help but wonder if this is brewed with a pale ale recipe and fermented with a lager yeast)

Drinkability: A beer like this is meant to be quaffable, and that’s true of Foster’s Premium Ale. However, drinkability and enjoyment are not the same thing. The mouthfeel is, not surprisingly, thin and fizzy. There’s a slickness to the texture while in the mouth, and the pasty aftertaste is not that pleasant (though it’s not that annoying). At 5.5% ABV, there should be much more flavor and body to this beer than there is, though I’d imagine the average Foster’s drinker will have no difficulty sessioning it. 
Grade: 3/10

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Jack’s Abby Copper Legend

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1194) - Albany, New York, USA - OCT 9, 2014
Jack’s Abby is a brewery that specializes in making ale styles as lagers, so you’d think they’d be able to knock a traditional lager style out of the park. Their “Copper Legend” is their take on the Oktoberfest/Marzen style, though it drinks more like some kind amber lager. It tastes and drink fine, but it’s not all that true to the style.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a mug. There was no freshness date. It cost $2.45 ($0.20 per ounce).

Appearance: Bright amber/yellow hue. Sparse carbonation visible. Pours to a small, off-white, soapy head which dissipates and leaves no lacing.

Smell: Mild nose overall with faint hints of light malty sweetness.

Taste: The first thing I notice about Jack’s Abby Copper Legend is how sweet it is. A rich, honey-like flavor jumps out right away. There’s a slight graham cracker flavor that adds another component to this sweet palette. Biscuity malts are quite present as well, giving the beer an English character rather than something German. Usually, Oktoberfest brews have toffee and caramel, but they aren’t present here. There is a distinct hop presence throughout due to the use of Noble hops. Surprisingly citrusy rather than spicy or dry. This isn’t what you expect from the style, though the uniqueness is commendable.

Drinkability: For a lager, this beer has the mouthfeel and body of an ale (though that’s true of a lot of Jack’s Abby beers). Copper Legend is only moderately carbonated, so there’s a slightly thicker viscosity to the beer than most of the style. It’s not crisp and effervescent, though it is smooth. It probably could have a little more robustness for 5.7% ABV, though it feels like a much lighter beer than it is. It’s tempting to throw back several of these on a Sunday afternoon while watching football. 
Grade: 7/10

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Sixpoint Sensi Harvest

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1193) - Albany, New York, USA - OCT 7, 2014
Yet another brewery has hopped onto the “Session IPA” bandwagon, but in the case of Sixpoint Sensi Harvest it’s a wet hop edition – that’s not something that’s been done before (as far as I know). So this beer is commendable for being something of a trailblazer, though at the end of the day it’s just another solid session IPA.

I poured a 12oz can into a tulip glass. It had a best before date of 12/17/14 and cost $3.15 ($0.26 per ounce).

Appearance: Surprisingly clear golden hue. Little carbonation visible. Pours to a small, white, soapy head that mostly dissipates and leaves little lacing.

Smell: Strong hop aroma, especially of spicy/earthy/vegetal types.

Taste: From the first sip, it’s clear that the palette to Sixpoint Sensi Harvest is pretty familiar. The hops are clearly of the zesty varieties that are en vogue these days. Right away I get notes of basil, garlic, onion, and pine needles. These all re-emerge on the finish, only stronger. There’s a nice consistent bitterness as well. It’s perfectly balanced so that the hops impart taste, but strong enough that you get the bitterness you expect (and want) in an IPA. The malt character is a little lacking, though. That’s not surprising considering the style, though I’d prefer more than just a subtle amber/honey character. This isn’t the kind of beer you buy for balance, so it’s forgivable.

Drinkability: At only 4.7% ABV, it’s no surprise that Sixpoint Sensi Harvest is overtly light-bodied. And while there’s plenty of flavor here, the actual delivery is a bit underwhelming. The mouthfeel is thin and slightly watery as it appears to be undercarbonated (this should be crisp like a pilsner). Still, it’s refreshing while in the mouth, and the aftertaste is fairly clean. It would work as a session beer, though I’d prefer this during the summer months rather than the autumn. 
Grade: 7/10

Monday, October 6, 2014

Chatham Porter

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1192) - Albany, New York, USA - OCT 6, 2014
While every brewery is trying to re-invent the wheel, Chatham Brewing tends to stick to classic styles brewed using traditional recipes. Their porter is a good example of this: a solid, to-spec, porter that has plenty of flavor and is easy to drink. That’s what I consider a good beer.

I poured a 16oz growler into a tulip glass.

Appearance: Pitch black in color with just the faintest brownish/red highlights. Pours to a two-finger, brown, frothy head which retains and laces well.

Smell: Sweet dark malts with notes of toast, milk chocolate and dairy.

Taste: Porters aren’t intended to be exploding with flavor, they’re meant to be flavorful, easy-drinking beers, and that’s what you get with Chatham Porter. Up front there’s a sweetness derived from the dark malt; notes of milk chocolate, cherry, and a sweetness akin to lactose (though this is not brewed with lactose sugar as far as I know). It has almost a cola flavor, as well (Dr. Pepper to be exact). The roasted malt comes alive on the back end, while the hops lurk in the background throughout. An interesting, classic palette anyone can enjoy.

Drinkability: Weighing in at 6% ABV, Chatham Porter is a little heavy for the style. Though it’s in no way a thick, heavy beer per se. The mouthfeel is thinner than you’d think, with a silky texture and ridiculously smooth finish. There’s a mild dry aftertaste from the dark malt, though it’s easily tolerated. A versatile palette – this beer will pair with a savory meal or dessert (or as dessert). 
Grade: 8/10

Friday, October 3, 2014

Green Wolf Abbey Gargoyle

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1191) - Albany, New York, USA - OCT 3, 2014
If you’re an American startup brewery and you’re going to make a Belgian-style beer you’d better make it exactly to spec or else do something experimental to make it interesting. Green Wolf’s “Abbey Gargoyle” is a Belgian-style dubbel, but it is not to spec. That being said, it’s still a solid beer that could be much better with a few improvements.

I poured a 22oz bottle into a tulip glass. There was no freshness date and it cost $9 ($0.41 per ounce).

Appearance: Raspberry tea complexion of a reddish/brown hue over and opaque body. Pours to a small, off-white, foamy head which laces and retains fairly well.

Smell: Mild nose but standard Belgian aroma of banana and clove.

Taste: I am genuinely impressed, and surprised, by the malt flavor that comes through in this palette. A sweetness of dark grain that’s accentuated by the Belgian yeast character. A mélange of dark fruit is noticeable throughout the first half, though no individual, distinct flavors seem to jump out other than a slight cherry note. The second half is much better, though, as the esters begin to take over. There’s a noticeably banana taste along with a general spicy/smoky character (usually this indicates yeast stress). The problem is, this all fades away quickly, which is a shame because it’s rather enjoyable. While not exactly a to-spec dubbel, this beer makes a decent effort at least.

Drinkability: When I drink an 8.5% ABV beer, I expect complexity and robustness and I hope for easy drinkability. Green Wolf Abbey Gargoyle is at least easy to drink, but lacks the body that ought to come with a beer of its size. The mouthfeel is rather thin and under carbonated, though not flat and watery per se. It’s actually rather refreshing while it crosses the tongue, though there’s a dry bitter sensation that lingers (but it’s not bothersome). For what it’s worth, I had no problem drinking the entire bottle myself. 
Grade: 6/10