Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Southern Tier 2XONE

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1081) - Albany, New York, USA - APR 15, 2014
I poured a 12oz bottle into an official Southern Tier goblet. It was bottled on 1/17/14 and cost $3.15 ($0.26 per ounce).

Appearance: Beautiful orange hue. Clear with carbonation visible (until the yeast is added and murks it all up). Pours to a small, white, foamy head which retains and laces fairly well.

Smell: Pungent spicy/herbal hops, plus some “cat pee” scent and a touch of citrus.

Taste: Southern Tier 2XONE is a daring beer as it’s only brewed with one malt and one hop, yet the the finished product is a tasty and fairly complex brew. Difficult to categorize as far as style, though it’s probably best described as an imperial pale ale (but not an IPA, per se).

The Mosaic hops are the primary flavor component here. There’s a continuous one-two punch of spice and herbs from beginning to end. Notes of cannabis, garlic, onion, and earthy/rustic notes are all found in the palette here. Bitterness is strong, but not out of control. The malty backbone provides a perfect balance of sweetness with some caramel or honey flavors, though the beer is not particularly sweet. A little cleaner tasting sans yeast.

Drinkability: Weighing in at 8.1% ABV, Southern Tier 2XONE is pretty hefty to be sure. Yet, it is basically a pale ale and does drink like one despite the big body. The palette is strong, but not intense. The actual mouthfeel is medium with a consistent crispness. A hint of alcohol warmth on the finish and some residual starch-like dryness lingers, but otherwise it’s quite refreshing while in the mouth. 
Grade: 8/10

Monday, April 14, 2014

Hudson Valley Hops 2014

The third annual “Hudson Valley Hops” was held at the Albany Institute for History and Art on Saturday. This was the first topic I wrote about here on the Times Union “Beer Nut” blog, so this event has some sentimental value to me. It’s basically a little beer festival held within the AIHA, but also an educational symposium as there are several presentations held throughout the day. It’s a unique format to say the least, I mean, how often do you get to drink beer in a museum?
I’m not going to recap each presentation this year since they were essentially the same as those from 2013 (though Craig Gravina and Alan McLeod’s talk about the Albany Ale Project was the best by far). I thought I’d just do a photo gallery this time around. Enjoy!IMG_2632IMG_2637IMG_2655IMG_2653IMG_2648IMG_2631IMG_2654
IMG_2639IMG_2646 IMG_2661

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Sly Fox Phoenix Pale Ale

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1080) - Albany, New York, USA - APR 10, 2014
I poured a 12oz can into a mason jar. I was canned on 1/8/14 and cost $2.65 ($0.22 per ounce).

Appearance: Slightly hazy shade of orange/copper. Pours an average sized, off white, foamy head which laces and retains fairly well.

Smell: Sweet malty scent with orange marmalade notes.

Taste: Sly Fox Phoenix Pale Ale is not your typical American pale ale, in fact it’s probably better classified as a British pale. The British malt character seems to be the star of the show as it imparts a distinct malt character you don’t find in American offerings. Orange marmalade is the predominate flavor, coupled with light nutty character and perhaps some toasted bread. The hops impart some mild spicy/dry bitterness, though they also accentuate the orange taste. Additional sweetness on the finish, which is nice. While this palette is satisfying, it’s a little average and familiar. Perhaps the age of the can has diminished the beer a little, but it’s still more than decent.

Drinkability: This beer has exactly the mouthfeel and drinkability you expect in the style. Medium body, crisp mouthfeel, refreshing for a moment, but a little residual dryness. At 5.1% ABV it’s not particularly heavy nor robust, though not light enough to session. Sly Fox Phoenix Pale Ale works fine as a standalone beverage. 
Grade: 7/10

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Sierra Nevada Snow Wit White IPA

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 16/20
Chad9976 (1079) - Albany, New York, USA - APR 8, 2014
I poured a 12oz bottle into a tulip glass. It was bottled on 1/31/14 and came as part of a mixpack for $15.99 ($1.33 per bottle or $0.11 per ounce).

Appearance: Golden sunshine hue over a slightly hazy body. Suspended yeast creates a lavalamp-like effect. Pours to an average sized, white, foamy which laces and retains fairly well.

Smell: Clean citrusy aroma of lemon along with minor spice or herbal notes.

Taste: The trend of turning every style into an IPA style has kind of annoyed me lately. However, I find there are a few gems to be found in these weird mutant styles and Sierra Nevada Snow Wit White IPA might be one of the best of them. It really does have the best of both worlds: a fruity, spicy character from the witbier base brew, but a pleasant hop flavor and bitterness from the hops.

Belgian Whites tend to be brewed with orange peel and coriander, but this one opts for lemon peel instead. That lemony flavor is immediately recognizable – giving the beer is slight sweet and tart taste. It’s followed by a light herbal character from the “experimental dwarf hops.” These complement the coriander perfectly – creating for a dry peppery spiciness, but still mild enough to not overshadow the fruity taste at the core. The Belgian yeast is noticeable on the finish, leaving a light candy-like flavor, though there is some residual dryness from the hops. This is probably better classified as a very hoppy witbier than a true “White IPA” (if such a style exists), but it’s really delectable and that’s what matters.

Drinkability: There are certain beers that just taste like a season, and Sierra Nevada Snow Wit White IPA is definitely summer in a bottle. The mouthfeel is medium, but consistently crisp – yet never spastic. The beer is refreshing while crossing the tongue, and the spicy/hoppy finish makes it a good palate cleanser. At 5.7% ABV it’s deceptively light as it feels like a true session beer since it doesn’t overwhelm and is amazingly easy to drink. 
Grade: 9/10

Monday, April 7, 2014

Stone Go To IPA

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 16/20
Chad9976 (1078) - Albany, New York, USA - APR 7, 2014
I poured a 12oz bottle into a nonic pint glass. It had a best before date of 5/28/14 and cost $3.15 ($0.26).

Appearance: Lemon-skin yellow hue over a clear body with visible carbonation. Pours to a small, white, frothy head which laces and retains well.

Smell: Interesting combination of various hops, with notes of lemon, cat pee and cannabis.

Taste: Stone Brewing is known for their huge hoppy beers. Though they do make a light beer called “Levitation Ale,” it never really caught on. With their new “Go To IPA,” Stone seems to have re-invented the so-called “session IPA” style. This beer is exactly what it sets out to be: a light bodied brew with the hop taste and bitterness you want in an IPA.

Obviously, the hops are the stars of the show here. But this beer opts for hop flavor rather than raw bitterness. An interesting combination of hops as well. There’s notes of herbal or skunky/earthy character that gives it a saison-like spiciness. Lemon citrus comes through the middle, which is to be expecting considering which coast this comes from. Dry bitterness on the back end with a slightly starchy/pasty aftertaste, though it fades quickly. Overall, a genuinely flavorful beer that I’ll bet would fool a lot of judges in a blind tasting as it can hold its own with any other standard IPA.

Drinkability: The problem with session IPAs is they can often drink like blondes with lots of hops. Stone Go To IPA, though light in weight at only 4.5% ABV, is not a light-bodied beer. There’s genuine body to the brew. The mouthfeel is crisp, but not thin or watery. It’s refreshing for a moment as it crosses the tongue, though the bitterness does linger but it’s easily tolerable. I could see this being ideal for summer. The only problem: it’s not available in cans! 
Grade: 8/10

What lengths will you go to for beer?

Last week, the world renowned beer Founders KBS was released in a few stores in the Capital District. This is one of the most sought-after beers in the world, and for good reason – it’s absolutely fantastic! It’s nice that we are able to get this beer locally, even if the supply is extremely limited (most stores only got a case and limited sales to one bottle per customer).

Of course, whenever a must-have beer like Founders KBS goes on sale locally there’s always a small contingent who scoff at how crazy folks will go just to get a certain beer. After all, in order to get this beer, chances are pretty good you had to adjust your work schedule just to be able to get to a store on a weekday mid-morning because you know it’s going to sell out quickly. However, I would argue that simply going to a local bottle shop and paying the MSRP isn’t going all that crazy.

So what does constitute going to an extreme length for beer? I can think of some common actions that could be considered going to a lot of trouble for beer: trading for it; going on a road trip or beer vacation; and brewery-only bottle releases.

Beer Trades

Beer trades tend to be a popular method of obtaining rarities from out of town, across country, or around the world. I’ve traded with friends in Michigan, California, Quebec, Atlanta, Florida and even France. But trades can be risky for a few reasons:
  1. If you’re trading with a stranger you’re taking a major gamble that they will send you the beers you want; that they know how to properly pack a box; or that you’ll even get your beer at all.
  2. Mailing beer ain’t exactly legal (there’s supposedly legislation in the works to change that).
  3. Sending beer through a courier service is tricky since different companies have different rules, handling procedures and surcharges.
  4. Because beer is heavy, it’s expensive to ship no matter how you send it. You’re also going to have to invest in proper packing supplies.
  5. Bottles can break and cans could rupture during handling. Additionally, extreme heat in the summer can spoil the beer (winter trades are much less risky in this aspect).

I’ve traded many times over the years and I’d say almost all of them went smoothly. I’ve only had one incoming bottle break and have never had an outgoing bottle break, nor had a package go missing. By trading, I’ve been able to acquire many “white whales” such as Westvleteren 12, Three Floyds Dark Lord, Cigar City Hunahpu, Pliny The Elder (and many other Russian River brews), as well as The Bruery’s Black Tuesday and Chocolate Rain. There aren’t too many beers left on my “bucket list” after all these trades. The only problem is they didn’t come cheaply. Between the price of the beers and shipping I usually spend around $50 per trade (though that’s usually for a box of 4-6 beers). So I’m in essence paying $12-$15 per bottle – would you consider that going to an extreme length for beer?

Road Trips

What’s nice about being a beer geek in Albany is that we’re within driving distance of a lot of great breweries. I know a few people in this area that seem to spend at least one weekend a month exploring the New England states as well as the outer reaches of New York to try beer that’s not available locally. It’s one thing if you’re bringing the family along, visiting friends, and seeing other tourist attractions to make it an efficient road trip. It’s quite another to drive four hours to buy bottles and growlers and turn around and come home. That’s essentially a 400-mile-long beer run. I think that definitely qualifies as going to an extreme length for beer.

To be fair, I have bought bottles off my friends when they go on these expeditions because the beer often tends to be really good. I’ll pay a premium to be able to stay at home while they burn a tank or two of gasoline and spend most of their Saturday driving.

Beer Vacations

I’m sure a lot of us fantasize about spending a week in San Diego or Belgium or the UK because of their beer scenes. Sure, there’s plenty of other sights to see and things to do besides drink beer and tour breweries, but the beer is what makes places like these so appealing. I’d imagine it could be difficult to sell the wife [and/or the family] on the idea of going somewhere far away because you want to drink their beer. However, of all the stories I’ve heard of couples and families who have gone on beer vacations, they’ve always said it was totally worth it and would do it again. Is this going to an extreme length for beer? Possibly, but the expense might be more extreme than the effort.

Brewery-Exclusive Events

Three Floyds’ Dark Lord, Cigar City’s Hunaphu Imperial Stout, Russian River’s Pliny the Younger and Portsmouth Brewing’s Kate The Great have become rather controversial beers in the last few years because of the way they are sold. These beers, among others, are only available one day a year at the brewery or are sold in limited quantities on draught only in the brewery’s locale. I know people who have gone on road trips of hundreds (if not thousands) of miles just to attend these events.
Critics complain that these types of events do more harm than good as they place hype, hipster credibility and the event itself above the actual beer. Personally, I have mixed thoughts on this. On one hand, no one’s forced to go to these events; everyone is there by choice. If the people who are attending these events genuinely enjoy the beer, can afford to travel and have a fun and memorable experience, then it definitely is worth it for them – so who’s harmed? On the other hand, exclusivity does indeed generate hype whether it’s warranted or not. It creates a speculator market which involves hoarding, sniping and price gouging. The beer becomes more of a trophy than a crafted beverage to be enjoyed.
  1. What’s the most extreme length you’ve gone for beer? Was it worth it?
  2. Is the craft beer community helped or harmed by the occasional fanaticism?
  3. Are the beers mentioned in this blog must-haves because of hype, or are they hyped up because they’re genuinely good?
  4. How far are you willing to travel for beer? Would you go (or have you gone) on a beer-centric vacation?
  5. Do you do beer trades?

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Sierra Nevada Blindfold Black IPA

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1077) - Albany, New York, USA - APR 5, 2014
I poured a 12oz bottle into a tulip glass. It came as part of a mix pack for $15.99 ($1.33 per bottle or $0.11 per ounce).

Appearance: Jet black body with purple/indigo highlights. Pours to a large, tan, frothy head which laces and retains wonderfully.

Smell: Combination of pine and citrusy hops and a touch of roasted malt. Surprisingly light overall, though.

Taste: Sierra Nevada is a legendary West Coast brewery that makes classic West Coast styles. It’s no surprise, then, that their black IPA – “Blindfold” – would have a distinct West Coast feel to it. Going by the description on the brewery’s website, as well as the finished product itself, it seems that this beer is essentially just a standard IPA with some roasted malt thrown in. Cynics might argue that’s what ALL black IPAs are, but I’ve noticed a lot of sub-styles within the genre. This isn’t bad at all, it’s just far from great.

The hops are the first thing I noticed here; a combination of light pine and light citrus flavors. It’s quite bitter right away, though this isn’t surprising considering the beer is 70 IBUs. A distinct dry bitterness is present from beginning to end and it lingers on the tongue as well. The second half of the palette is the best part, when the roasted malt arrives. In the vein of Guinness or a similar mild stout, the roastiness is noticeable, but not intensely robust. Perhaps minor notes of coffee and chocolate, which are a nice complement to the hops, but a little too light and thus unbalanced. Overall, the palette is tasty and appealing, but I bet more could be done here.

Drinkability: Whether or not you enjoy the taste to Sierra Nevada Blindfold Black IPA, one thing’s for sure – you won’t have any trouble drinking it. The mouthfeel is on the thinner/calmer side, giving it a comfortable presence and smooth texture. There is a lingering dry bitterness, but it’s at least tolerable. At 6.8% ABV, the beer is a tad inefficient, but robust enough to pair with a hearty meal. 
Grade: 7/10

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Yuengling Bock Beer

   AROMA 6/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 6/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 13/20
Chad9976 (1076) - Albany, New York, USA - APR 3, 2014
I poured a 12oz bottle into a lager glass. It was bottled on 1/7/14 and cost $2.20 ($0.18 per ounce).

Appearance: Dark shade of copper/brown over a clear body with carbonation visible. Pours to a small, tan, foamy head which never completely dissipates and leaves trace lacing.

Smell: Surprisingly nutty for a bock. Though there seems to be some vegetal character (DMS?).

Taste: Yuengling is a brewery known for making drinker-friendly beer, not gourmet beer. While I’ve always enjoyed their flagship Traditional Lager (despite the fact it’s made with adjuncts), I’ve never really be impressed with their output otherwise. This bock is a good example of what I mean. Yes it’s a bock, yes it’s slightly flavorful, but no it’s not any better from the rest of the brewery’s portfolio.

Just like the nose, the first thing I notice about the palette is a nutty character. Faint earthy or herbal character with some dry bitterness through the middle. There is some sweetness, but it’s quite faint. I also pick up some green bean or vegetal character. I’m not sure if this is DMS or possibly just an adjunct flavor coming through, but it’s a little off-putting. Not that Yuengling Bock is bad-tasting, no, I’d characterize it as pedestrian (which is probably what it’s intended to be, so mission accomplished).

Drinkability: If there’s one thing you’re going to get out of a Yuengling beer it’s raw drinkability. This is not exception. The mouthfeel is on the thinner side with some crispness, but otherwise comfortable and goes down quite easily. There’s no aftertaste, but I wouldn’t consider it refreshing. The palette doesn’t improve as it warms, though. The ABV appears to be around 5.1%, which seems a tad high considering how mild it is. Something a less experienced drinker could session. 
Grade: 5/10

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Brooklyn Blast

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1075) - Albany, New York, USA - APR 1, 2014
I poured a 12oz bottle into a tulip glass. It was bottled on 1/17/14 and cost $4.10 ($0.34 per ounce).

Appearance: Clear dark gold/light orange hue. Some carbonation visible. Pours to a large, off-white, foamy head which mostly dissipates and leaves a little lacing on the glass.

Smell: Citrusy hops, especially orange. Minor malt character. Not very pungent though.

Taste: The idea behind Brooklyn Blast was to combine classic American and British styles of IPA and see what happens. The result is a brew that does seem to be a pleasant hybrid of the two. The Maris Otter malts and German pilsner malt create for a lightly sweet, somewhat bready foundation. A touch of honey and some cracker-like starch character can also be found. The hops are standard West Coast citrus, though not especially high in bitterness. Orange seems to be the dominate flavor with a slightly herbal or spicy component on the back end. Not quite as bitter as a double IPA should be, though the appealing taste more than makes up for it.

Drinkability: I don’t always know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing when an imperial IPA drinks like a standard one. Brooklyn Blast is a perfect example of what I mean. The mouthfeel is comfortable, smooth and there isn’t any cloying hop aftertaste. But at the same time the palette itself is not as robust as you’d expect from an 8.4% ABV brew. This makes it more drinkable, but seems to lack efficiency. 
Grade: 8/10

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Bruery Chocolate Rain (2013 vintage)

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 18/20
Chad9976 (1074) - Albany, New York, USA - MAR 30, 2014
I split a 750ml with five friends. I poured my share into a snifter. It was bottled on 12/5/13 and sent to me in a trade (thanks, Christopher!).

Appearance: Dark brown proper with blood red highlights. Pours to a tiny, tan, soapy head which fizzles away and leaves no lacing.

Smell: Not quite as aromatic as expected. Barrel character, vanilla and strong alcohol presence.

Taste: The Bruery’s “Chocolate Rain” is a variation of their “Black Tuesday” imperial stout. The difference being this brew is aged on cacao nibs and vanilla beans. I was a little apprehensive going into this beer as I found Black Tuesday to be cloyingly sweet – imagine that beer with added chocolate and vanilla notes. I was surprised to find the opposite to be true – Chocolate Rain was actually less sweet and more balanced, though the flavor wasn’t quite as appetizing (but still tasted great).

I guess it goes without saying that the palette here is pretty similar to Black Tuesday. A strong presence of vanilla, wood, grape, plum and cherry are present from start to finish. Ironically enough, I didn’t get a lot of chocolate flavor per se, though I don’t think this is intended to be taken as a chocolate-flavored beer despite its name. Bitterness is low, though the overall sweetness is low, too. The alcohol is a major component of the palette and it works quite well. A bit of nutty or earthy character on the back end, though not much roasted malt flavor. Overall, a tasty, interesting palette, and definitely one of the best extreme beers I’ve had.

Drinkability: I was surprised to see that Chocolate Rain is 18.5% ABV, just a little lighter than Black Tuesday. The alcohol makes up a bigger part of the palette here, imparting warmth throughout – not just on the finish. Regardless, it’s tame and not harsh, hot or slick. The mouthfeel itself is calm and comfortable with a smooth finish and relatively clean aftertaste (I was expecting a sticky, syrupy body). An interesting and impressive beer best enjoyed as a novelty and shared with friends on a special occasion. 
Grade: 9/10

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Bruery Black Tuesday (2013 vintage)

   AROMA 9/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 17/20
Chad9976 (1073) - Albany, New York, USA - MAR 30, 2014
I split a 750ml bottle with five friends. I poured my share into a snifter. It was bottled on 9/18/13 and sent to me in a trade (thanks, Christopher!).

Appearance: Dark brown proper hue, slightly black with ruby red highlights. Pours to a miniscule, beige, soapy head which almost completely dissipates and leaves no lacing.

Smell: Strong aroma of sweet vanilla and bourbon, though not boozy per se.

Taste: At 18.9% ABV, Black Tuesday is a big beer to say the least and its reputation definitely precedes it. I’ve had extreme beers before, but this one doesn’t seem to be as over-the-top as others of the genre. It’s sweet and robust, obviously, but it’s not all that complex. The palette is a little repetitive with a constant combination of vanilla and bourbon. That’s okay, because those flavors are quite delectable.

Right away, the vanilla from the barrel aging makes itself known. Intense, confectionery sweetness akin to vanilla extract dominates this palette. Through the middle there’s some minor notes of sour grape, dark cherry along with additional sweetness of caramel and peanut brittle (or some kind of nutty/earthy character). Since the beer is bottle well after a year it was brewed, it’s not surprising that the hops have dropped out. It’s a bit disappointing because the malt character is so rich combined with the alcohol, that it’s quite cloying an unbalanced. Still, this beer tastes great and is more than satisfying in a small pour.

Drinkability: When a beer is as heavy as 18.9% ABV you brace yourself for impact. Though I was pleasantly surprised that Black Tuesday was not a hot mess, and that the alcohol was well-masked by the base brew. There’s definite warmth throughout, but it’s not distracting. Though I found it burned my sinuses on the first swig or two. The mouthfeel itself is soft, but does not have a slick or sticky texture. It’s comfortable and smooth, and finishes relatively clean with just a slight dry sensation from the alcohol. Best enjoyed as a standalone beverage for special occasions shared with friends. 
Grade: 9/10

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Dogfish Head Piercing Pils

   AROMA 6/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1072) - Albany, New York, USA - MAR 29, 2014
I poured a 12oz bottle into the official Dogfish Head Willibecher glass. It was bottled in December of 2013 and cost $3.80 ($0.32 per ounce).

Appearance: Bright honey-like hue over a hazy body. Constant effervescence visible. Pours to a large, white, frothy head which laces and retains extremely well.

Smell: Initially quite skunky like a green bottle pilsner (though, that’s probably due to the Saaz hops). That smell eventually fades and there is a slight fruity sweetness. Otherwise, it’s rather typical pilsner aroma.

Taste: We all know Dogfish Head is known for making eccentric, experimental beers, but even when they make something rather “mainstream,” they still do it creatively. Piercing Pils seems to be a exactly-to-spec Czech-style pilsner at the core, but the incorporation of white pear tea and pear juice puts a new spin on an Old World product. It’s seemingly brand new and old hat at the same time, though I think they played this one just a touch too conservatively.

If you’re familiar with true, pure Czech pilsners, then you’re already halfway home with this beer. It has the light malty base coupled with the spicy/dry bitterness from the Saaz hops. These hops dominate the nose and the palette in the first few sips, making this reminiscent of Heineken for a moment or two. My palate quickly got used to it and I could eventually taste and appreciate the sweet fruity flavor that emerges on the back end. The pear component is more of a garnish in this case, despite the fact the brewery describes the beer as a perry/pilsner hybrid (the fruit must’ve faded fast I guess). Regardless, it’s still satisfying as a pilsner – no more, no less.

Drinkability: It should come as no surprise that since Dogfish Head Piercing Pils tastes like a pilsner, it also drinks like one. The mouthfeel is on the lighter side, but a little softer and more ale-like, though it is crisp like a lager. It goes down smooth and is a bit refreshing while in the mouth, though the Saaz hops do impart some bitterness and a hint of skunk in the aftertaste. I’m not sure why this beer has to be 6% ABV, as it doesn’t seem to support this much weight and drinks like a sub 5% brew. It’s a bit too strong and expensive to consider sessioning, though.
Grade: 7/10

Friday, March 28, 2014

Tröegs Nugget Nectar (2014 re-review)

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 16/20
Chad9976 (1071) - Albany, New York, USA - MAR 28, 2014
I poured a 12oz bottle into a goblet. The freshness date was smeared and illegible.

Appearance: Beautiful orange/flame red hue. Mostly clear with plenty of constant carbonation visible. Pours to an average sized white, frothy head which retains and laces very well.

Smell: Strong aroma of piney hops along with clean, floral overtones.

Taste: Tröegs Nugget Nectar is kind of an anomaly of a brew. Though marketed as an “imperial amber,” it drinks much more like a strong IPA as the hops dominate the palette. The malt does make itself known – providing for some general sweetness, but you wouldn’t likely describe this beer as being malty per se. It also lacks that confectionery sweetness often found in ambers.

This brew uses a variety of hops not commonly found in a lot of mainstream beers. Akin to a classic East Coast style IPA with a strong presence of pine and flowers from start to finish, though nothing earthy, herbal or resiny. The 93 IBUs are nothing to sneeze at. Strong bitterness right away, though the malt base quickly backs it up with some amber malt flavor. Continued hop bitterness at the apex, only dryer than at the beginning, followed by continued dryness on the finish. Thankfully, there’s genuine hop flavor to be found throughout, with pine at the beginning, flowers in the middle, and a bit of rich orange sherbet or grapefruit juice concentrate at the end (probably the impetus for the name). This palette is a bit repetitive, though I’m never bored by it. Consistently interesting and fun to drink.

Drinkability: For a beer that is full-bodied, rather heavy at 7.5% ABV, and aggressively bitter at 93 IBUs, Tröegs Nugget Nectar is remarkably drinkable given these parameters. The mouthfeel is calm and soft, but still crisp going down. There’s a dry aftertaste, but it’s not off-putting and easily tolerable. The alcohol never makes itself known, which makes it quite tempting to drink this en masse rather than savor it (as it probably should be). 
Grade: 9/10

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Saranac Forbidden IPA

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 13/20
Chad9976 (1071) - Albany, New York, USA - MAR 26, 2014
I poured a 12oz bottle into the official Saranac shaker glass. It has a best before date of 6/30/14 and cost $1.83 ($0.15 per ounce).

Appearance: Dark gold/amber hue with faint copper. Mostly clear with some visible carbonation. Pours to an average size, white, foamy head which laces and retains rather well.

Smell: Combination of light herbal notes and citrus pith.

Taste: I think Saranac Forbidden IPA can be summed up in five words: rather generic, but not bad. This brewery has been experimenting with their beers recently, but they also try to make recipes that have broad appeal. In the case of this beer it’s a recognizable IPA, though it does have a bit of uniqueness to it. But it’s not so bold to be appreciated for its originality.

The label describes the beer as being citrusy and having a distinctive fruity flavor. It also mentions that it’s brewed with natural flavors. If there is supposed to be some kind of fruit flavoring here I’m not picking up on it at all. Mostly, it’s a cross between a New England style herbal/spicy IPA and a West Coast style citrusy IPA. Though both flavors are quite reserved, they do complement each other. Not much in the way of malt character, though there almost seems to be some rye present here. No distinctive sweetness, but the hop flavor and bitterness is strong enough to notice and appreciate, but isn’t anything the average drinker can’t handle.

Drinkability: Saranac Forbidden IPA drinks exactly as it should. With a medium body, crisp mouthfeel and relatively clean finish, it’s the kind of IPA you’d expect to come in a mainstream brewery’s mainstream mix pack. At 5.2% ABV and 50 IBUs it’s quite light for the style, but still works as an IPA. Probably an ideal beer to pair with spicy food, though it works fine as a standalone beverage. 
Grade: 6/10

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tsjeeses (2010 vintage)

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 6/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1070) - Albany, New York, USA - MAR 25, 2014
I poured an 11.2oz bottle into a chalice. It appears to have been bottled in 2010 and cost $3 ($0.27 per ounce).

Appearance: Initially a beautiful shade of red, but is quickly obscured by massive yeast sediment. Eventually looks murky and brown. Pours to a small, yellowish, soapy head which almost completely fizzles away.

Smell: Minor cherry aroma, but overall slightly stale and smoky with a strong presence of alcohol.

Taste: Usually, a complex Belgian Christmas beer is the best kind of beer for aging, but Tsjeeses doesn’t seem to be the best example. Clearly, the bottle I’m reviewing peaked a while ago, which is a shame because I can tell deep down there’s a great brew here. This vintage is complex, but flawed.

Like any good Belgian strong dark ale, there’s subtlety to be appreciated here. Flavors of cherry, plum and fig linger in the palette (what’s left of them, at least). It’s not quite as robust or delectable as some of the better examples of the style. The alcohol is prominent, but not harsh or hot. There’s a consistent dry bitterness from start to finish with an mixture of astringent smokiness and dark chocolate on the finish. It’s an odd combination of candy and tobacco – most likely due to oxygenation and/or poor storage over the last four years. Still, I can put aside the flaws and concentrate on the genuine beer flavors and find Tsjeeses to be tasty and interesting. A fresh bottle would probably be a much better experience.

Drinkability: Big Belgian brews tend to be just that – big. Tsjeeses isn’t nearly as imposing as its 10% ABV weight would leave you to believe. While the alcohol does create for a consistent, though gentle, warming sensation, it’s not distracting. The delivery is a bit underwhelming as the mouthfeel is thin, nearly flat, and has a slickness to the texture. The astringency on the finish takes some getting used to, and there’s minor dryness on the aftertaste. Not quite a sipper, but not exactly an easy drink. 
Grade: 6/10

Monday, March 24, 2014

Saranac Prism White Ale

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1069) - Albany, New York, USA - MAR 24, 2014
I poured a 12oz bottle into an official Saranac shaker glass. It was bottled on 1/6/14 and cost $1.83 ($0.15 per ounce).

Appearance: Pale shade of light yellowish-orange. Hazy body with particulates in suspension. Pours to a one-finger, bright white, frothy head which retains and laces very well.

Smell: Sweet orange and peach scents akin to chewing gum or candy.

Taste: Saranac has really been stepping up their game lately with more experimental brews. Though they tend to make beer that will have broad appeal, rather than niche. I recently took a tour of their brewery and sampled the Prism White Ale, which was surprisingly tasty. Though they don’t mention it on the label or the website, I’m informed it’s brewed with added peach juice. This isn’t surprising considering the fact that flavor seems to dominate the palate, though it does come across as a bit simplistic. I’m not sure why the brewery doesn’t market it as such.

Much like the nose, the flavor is lightly sweet and quite similar to that of gum or candy. The peach flavor is prominent from start to finish, though it doesn’t taste sugary, rich or cloying; nor does it taste genuine. There is some genuine bitterness on the second half – a lightly dry sensation with a touch of pepper or spice right at the end. Technically a Belgian White, this beer doesn’t really drink like one and is probably better classified as a fruit beer. Personally, I enjoy the flavor and I could see it being appealing to a lot of people who aren’t expecting authenticity.

Drinkability: At only 5.2% ABV, Saranac Prism White Ale is rather light for a craft beer, though I wonder if it couldn’t be even lighter. If peach is used as a flavoring rather than a fermentable, why not cut back on the base malt to lighten the weight and the body to make it more sessionable? The mouthfeel is smooth with light carbonation to keep it crisp, but not flat or thin. The aftertaste is clean and the beer is definitely refreshing – even in the dead of winter. 
Grade: 7/10

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Cigar City Hopped on the High Seas (Kohatu)

   AROMA 6/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 6/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1068) - Albany, New York, USA - MAR 23, 2014
I poured a 12oz can into a tulip glass. It was canned on 2/20/14.

Appearance: Hazy shade of light orange/honey amber. Carbonation visible. Pours to a one-finger, white, frothy head which retains and laces fairly well.

Smell: Sweet orange juice concentrate but a spicy, peppery, cedar-like aroma as well.

Taste: Cigar City is known for making experimental, and interesting beers to say the least. They also have a strong Caribbean influence, so it’s no surprise they’d make a “Caribbean-style IPA.” This particular beer is one of several variations of a brew done in Puerto Rico and dry-hopped with a different hop, in this case – Kohatu. I’ve never heard of this hop before, but it definitely seems to fit CC’s modus operandi. The result is a peppery, cedar-like flavor with restrained bitterness. It’s interesting to be sure, though not all that appealing to me.

There’s a definite orange flavor up front. This isn’t surprising considering the style. Akin to orange juice, but not as rich. Some gradual bitterness throughout the first half, but it immediately transitions to something much more peppery and dry. Fresh ground black pepper combined with cedar wood give it a spicy sensation. It finishes with an astringent quality, almost harsh or tannic. Nothing so bad to make it a bad beer, though I am not too crazy about this flavor combination. I’m also wondering where the rest of the flavors are as I can only taste the hops – the base malt foundation is a little too subtle for its own good.

Drinkability: I was a little surprised to see that Cigar City Hopped on the High Seas (Kohatu) weighed in at 7% ABV, as it drinks and feels like something much lighter in terms of taste and weight. The mouthfeel is a little thin, though its lightly carbonated which makes it quite smooth. Though the peppery flavor takes some getting used to, I found myself drinking this in smaller sips as I went on. 
 Grade: 6/10

Friday, March 21, 2014

What’s so great about cask beer anyway?

caskbeer4Cask beer (aka “real ale”) differs from kegged beer in a number of ways – the biggest factor being that it’s not forced-carbonated like a keg, but naturally carbonated from yeast added to the firkin itself. Beer from the cask has a calmer, smoother mouthfeel and tends to be served noticeably warmer than kegged beer. This is basically how all beer was served before the invention of forced carbonation and kegging. It’s traditional and tends to be appreciated for its legacy. In fact, that’s what the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) is all about.

It’s quite rare to see cask beer in American bars and restaurants because so few breweries even make it available. Even classy beer bars might have one or two casks available at any given time. But it begs the question: is real ale rare because so few people are interested in it, or are so few people interested in it because it’s rare?

caskbeer1I think the answer, at least here in America, is due to the former. I’ve been a serious craft beer enthusiast for at least five years now. As I got more into the craft beer scene and started to learn more about the industry, the one thing that I never really picked up on was the appeal of cask beer. Quite frankly, I don’t get it, and I don’t know too many people who do. Seriously, what’s so great about it?

It’s flat

If all you’re used to is kegged and bottled/canned beer, then you will likely find real ale to be flat. In actuality it’s lightly carbonated, but nowhere near as effervescent as kegged beer. “It’s flat” tends to be the first impression of people who’ve never had cask beer before. Though, I still find myself having this reaction all these years later.

There’s a certain je na sai quoi factor to carbonation. As a homebrewer, I’ve had the same brew flat and carbonated side-by-side and it’s amazing how much better-tasting the carbonated version is. Flat, or beer as lightly carbonated as real ale, just tends to taste watery and mild no matter the recipe. Why pay a premium for this?
It’s warm
Like most craft beer drinkers, I prefer my beer not to be ice cold but rather “cellar” temperature (40-50 degrees). A good beer bar will refrigerate their kegs at slightly higher temperatures than, say, Applebee’s (or similar venues that serve mostly macro lagers). However, craft beer establishments that regularly offer real ale serve it at noticeably warmer temperatures. This is for the yeast’s benefit, as it won’t carbonate properly if it’s too cold.

Additionally, the firkin itself might be part of a special event where it sits on the bar at room temperature with bags of ice on top (you’ll see this a lot at beer festivals, too).

The warm temperature combined with the calm mouthfeel can make the beer cloying. And if it’s a hoppy beer like an IPA, the bitterness can linger – leaving a starchy or syrupy aftertaste. That just isn’t my idea of a pleasant drinking experience.

It’s a gamble

Because cask beer is naturally-carbonated by yeast, there’s no guarantee of consistency. Yeast are finicky creatures and are easily affected by extreme temperature and poor handling procedures. Kegged beer is also susceptible to damage from improper handling, but it’s much more resilient than cask. There’s no yeast in kegs, so there’s no chance of it becoming infected and going sour (and not the good kind of sour).

Real ale also has a much shorter shelf life than kegged beer. A good bar will know when to stop serving cask, but some places will make a cask available for sale until it runs dry. If it’s not a popular brew, it can sit and will eventually go flat and/or sour. So it just sucks if you’re a customer who unknowingly orders a beer from an expired cask.

Only certain styles are benefited by cask

When I see an American IPA on cask I tend to aoid it, but if I see an authentic British style, like a bitter, ESB, or English-style pale ale, I will give it a try. Beers like Old Speckled Hen, Wells Bombardier or Fuller’s London Pride actually taste better on cask than keg. The problem is, getting these beers on cask in the United States is rare even for real ale.

So when I see cask beer available, it tends to be certain styles that aren’t benefited by being on cask. There’s no reason to have a 10% ABV strong ale, or double IPA or imperial stout on cask. It’s certainly interesting to see these types of beers done as real ale, but if they’re not actually benefited by the format, then what’s the point of having it? I’d prefer the consistency of the keg, please.

Bars keep using casks as Randalls

Whenever there’s a special beer event at a bar or restaurant or even at a beer festival, you’ll often see Beer X advertised as “cask-conditioned with X ingredients!” (i.e. chocolate, coffee beans, peppers, herbs, hops, etc). This completely undermines the purpose of the cask. For all my complaints about the format, I will admit there are certain subtleties to real ale you can’t get anywhere else. However, those nuances all go out the window when the additives become the star of the show and turn the firkin into a glorified “Randall” (a device containing ingredients through which kegged beer is poured for additional flavor[s] not necessarily intended by the brewery).

If I wanted a beer poured through a Randall, I would order a beer poured through a Randall. Cask beer with added ingredients tends to taste either extremely messy or extremely simplistic. Either the beer and the additives clash, or the additive is the only thing you can taste. Once in a while they will harmonize, but that seems to be the exception rather than the rule in my experience.

What does the future hold for cask beer in America?

As the craft beer scene continues to grow I’m sure you’ll see real ale grow as well. However, I don’t think cask beer will increase in popularity and availability at the same rate as craft beer. I can’t imagine it will ever become nearly as “mainstream” as craft beer has become. If the “Randalization” of cask continues, it’s quite possible that in 5-10 years that’s all firkins will be used for. That, or cask beer will just garner the reputation as being for hipsters, snobs, weirdos, old farts, and anyone else not part of the mainstream culture.

But that’s just my guess – what’s yours?