Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Big Storm Arcus IPA

   AROMA 6/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1501) - Albany, New York, USA - NOV 25, 2015
When an IPA boasts big stats on the label, it definitely builds up an expectation in your mind. Going into Big Storm Arcus IPA I was prepared for something amazing considering it’s 6.9% ABV, 81 IBUs and honey is added to it. What I got was a fairly nominal IPA in all aspects – not that it was bad at all, just underwhelming. 

I poured a 12oz can into a tumbler glass. There was no freshness date and it cost $2.19 ($0.18 per ounce). Thanks to Mike for this can!

Appearance: The can didn’t gush when I opened it, but when I poured it into the glass it immediately foamed up massively. This is usually indicative of infection. It slowly dissipated and I topped it off, though I lost a few ounces to the foam-over spill. The body is a dark, murky, opaque shade of copper. The foam did linger and lace very well.

Smell: Perhaps the faintest trace of sour or tang, but otherwise there’s a typical assortment of pine and citrusy hops – though they’re actually muted by all the foam. Malt sweetness is present, too.

Taste: I was worried this can might be infected, but despite the appearance and smell, there was nothing in the taste that pointed to that being the case. This is a remarkably sweet beer for the style, though that might be due to the fact honey is added “at the end of the brewing process.” Usually, beers claiming to be brewed with honey have little actual honey flavor since the yeast eats it all up, though the malt bill might account for the flavor here. As for hops, there’s a general bitterness present, but it doesn’t seem nearly as intense as the 81 IBUs mentioned on the label. Some orange juice concentrate is noticeable as well as some sticky pine and resin. Overall, it’s a fine-tasting beer, but not nearly as good as it could or should be.

Drinkability: It didn’t surprise me that the mouthfeel to Big Storm Arcus IPA was thick and chewy. This is one of the few hop-forward brews that might actual benefit from being nitrogenated. The hops linger a bit and leave a dry, citrusy, almost medicinal aftertaste. The alcohol is subtle in both flavor and warmth, but in no way distracting. I could see this pairing well with dessert rather than any kind of savory dinner.

RATING: 6/10

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Super Bock

   AROMA 4/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 5/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 11/20Chad9976 (1500) - Albany, New York, USA - NOV 24, 2015
It continues to amaze me how adjunct lager is the most popular style of beer in the world. Every country makes a brand that’s mild and brewed with corn; though some are better than others. I’m sure Portugal has better beer than Super Bock – at least I’d like to think so. 

I poured a mini 200ml (6.8oz) bottle into a drinking glass. It had an expiration date of 4/2016 and cost $0.99 ($0.15 per ounce). Thanks to Mike for this bottle!

Appearance: Surprisingly dark golden hue with consistent carbonation visible. Body is completely clear. Pours to a small, white, soapy head which mostly evaporates and leaves no lacing.

Smell: Typical light strike skunk despite the amber bottle. Otherwise a light sweetness; some creamed corn; no hop presence but I’ve smelled much worse.

Taste: There’s not much to describe about the palette of this brew. It’s quite similar to every other adjunct lager. Flavor isn’t feather-light, but there’s definitely not a lot to speak of. Slight corn taste, but not especially sweet. The skunky aroma does not translate to the palette. The corn taste seems a bit syrupy, but is in no way cloying. Some spicy hops would be nice. The only attribute this beer really has going for it is the fact it could have been much worse. This is tolerable but not enjoyable.

Drinkability: Super Bock weighs in at 5.2% ABV, which is typical for the general style. The mouthfeel is light, but not paper thin. Crisp at first, but the carbonation dies down quickly. Though not refreshing while in the mouth, I appreciate the fact it finishes almost completely clean.

RATING: 3/10

Monday, November 23, 2015

My beer experience down south thus far

Big Top Trapeze Monk 013
Enjoying a Florida-brewed witbier by the pool.

I’ve been out of Albany for three weeks, so I thought it might be fun to regale you all with some tales of my beer experiences from somewhere other than The Empire State.

iphone 023I departed Albany on November 3rd and stayed with family in Binghamton for the night. On the 4th I drove to Roanoke, Virginia as my first stop on the southward tour. I did a search for craft beer places in the area and was surprised to see that there were quite a few production breweries of various sizes, as well as beer-centrics bars and restaurants, though I didn’t see any actual brewpubs. I decided to check out Blue 5 Restaurant which is in downtown Roanoke.

This place was pretty nice; dark but well-designed and not pretentious (well, maybe a little). Like any good beer bar, they offer everything on tap in 4oz pours. You can get a flight of four 4oz pours for $10. The selection was pretty good – not exactly Bier Abbey or Beer Belly good – but good nevertheless. One thing that stood out to me was the actual beer menu: it was brightly-colored with all the official brewery logos and icons and the beers were listed by style instead of tap number (I wish other beer venues would sort their menu like this!). They also made a point of stamping “TAPPED OUT” on the menu if a keg had kicked (again, that’s so helpful).

Here’s a quick rundown of what I had:

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Overall, this place was very nice and impressed me. If you’re ever in Roanoke, I recommend stopping by.

iphone 036The next day I drove down to Savannah, Georgia. I decided to go to Moon River Brewing Company, which is a brewpub in the downtown area. Though I’ve obviously never been here before, I do have a slight connection to this place. There was a web show I used to watch several years ago called Beer America TV which was shot at this brewpub and hosted by Moon River’s brewmaster John Pinkerton and Paul Leone – who is now the director of the New York State Craft Brewers Association (small world, eh?).

Of course I ordered a flight of everything they had available on tap. Once again, here’s a quick rundown:
The first three beers were all very good, but the last four were only okay. They were interesting to be sure, and certainly not bad at all, but none of them impressed me that much. However, I appreciated the fact they were fairly experimental in style – which is quite daring for a brewpub who likely has a mainstream audience when it comes to beer. If you’re in Savannah, Moon River is worth visiting.


I’m currently staying with family in the Haines City area of central Florida. Where they live is quite remote and everything is a long drive away. Not surprisingly, this is a total desert as far as craft beer goes. Though I was surprised to see the local Walmart offers a mix-a-six of certain beers for $10. There wasn’t much good stuff to chose from other than New Belgium. I picked up a 12-pack of Samuel Adams Boston Lager in cans so I can have something to drink when I’m not doing a review.

My Walmart beers.
My Walmart beers. See reviews of them all at

One of the reasons I moved to Florida (among many) is due to the fact I already have some friends and acquaintances down here. I’ve been able to go to both Tampa and Orlando and meet up with some fellow beer bloggers as well as other New York expats and other friends I’ve known over the years. I’ve managed to check out three more brewpubs with them:

BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse

 iphone 084

I never really understand chain brewpubs. The entire point of a brewpub is that it’s one location making their own unique recipes. Are all the beers for this chain mass-brewed at one big production facility and then shipped to all their locations? Considering that I didn’t see any brewing equipment at the Kissimme location, that might be case. Anyway, I had never heard of this place before and didn’t even realize it was a chain until I got there. I was impressed by the size and the design. It looks brand new, though the menu is pretty standard in every way.
All four beers were alright, but none of them were that memorable (though that brown ale was pretty good). This is the kind of place you could take your non-beer friends for a night out as it’s similar to Applebee’s or Buffalo Wild Wings or other such chains. However, I’d say there’s really no reason to go out of you way to try this place.

Cigar City Brewpub

If you’re a true craft beer aficionado, no doubt you’re familiar with Cigar City Brewery out of Tampa. Their regular offerings have been known to show up in Albany occasionally, though you’ll have better luck finding them downstate and in The City. Their brewpub is a “spinoff” of their main production brewery – it’s not the original location at all (the bartender told me it used to be a TGIFridays, actually). I do plan on visiting the brewery proper someday, but I was in Tampa for a job interview and wanted to grab dinner and some drinks before I headed home and this place was on the way. How could I not stop here?

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Unlike the previous venue, all the beer is actually brewed exclusively for the brewpub. Here’s what I tried:
I will say that of all the venues I’ve visited so far, Cigar City Brewpub was definitely the best. If you’re ever in Tampa, this is a good restaurant to hit up.

Davenport’s Ale House

Pretty ironic that this place is called “ale house” when nearly everything on the menu is adjunct macro lager. I will say the food and service were pretty good, but the beer selection leaves much to be desired. See for yourself:

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I only stopped here to meet my buddy Mike that I had met on Twitter a while ago. He works for a beer distributor and had a bunch of single bottles he wanted to give me to review. Thankfully, the beers he gave me all look pretty promising:
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The Cask & Larder

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From what I’ve been told, Orlando is slowing starting to experience a beer and food renaissance. Smaller districts outside of the city are a bit Brooklyn-like in their organization and have plenty of trendy bars and restaurants. This venue was very impressive as soon as I entered it. Fancy to be sure, but still casual enough to appeal to the acolyte. It seems to be marketed not as a brewpub, but as a gastropub that happens to brew their own beer. There were plenty of beers on tap to choose from, but if you want a sampler flight of five 4oz pours for $12 you’ll get an arrangement they want you to try:
I was pleasantly surprised by the high quality of all these beers. The first two were especially good; so much so that I wished I had had a growler in my car at the time to get some to take home. I was also surprised to see a pumpkin ale on the menu as well as a Baltic Porter (both of which were very good, by the way).

What I didn’t particularly like about this restaurant was the fact none of the food we received was hot. In fact, nearly every dish was just kind of warm. I mean, it’s nice to be able to eat something as soon as the waitress brings it to the table without it destroying your tongue because it’s piping hot. Still, why is a high end place like this serving food that’s noticeably low in temperature?
I will say that all the food was quite delectable, though – so I’m not complaining about the taste. If you’re ever in Orlando and want to go to a place nicer than the average chain restaurant, Cask & Larder is probably a good choice.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Big Top Trapeze Monk

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1499) - Albany, New York, USA - NOV 22, 2015
Now that I’m living in Florida, I have a feeling I’m going to be drinking a lot of witbiers since it’s a style that pairs well with this climate. So first up is “Trapeze Monk” by Big Top Brewing out of Sarasota. It’s definitely true to the style for the most part, though it’s a little sweeter and almost soda-like in its presentation. 

I poured a 12oz can into a red wine glass. There was no freshness date and it cost $2.49 ($0.21 per ounce). Thanks to Mike for this can!

Appearance: Clear, glowing, flame-like hue of light orange/gold. Effervescence is always visible. Pours to a thumb-width, white, soapy head which evaporates quickly and completely.

Smell: Strong coriander and orangepeel aroma. Some banana and other classic esters. Almost flowery or perfumey.

Taste: I like beers that are sweet, as long as it’s appropriate for the style. Witbiers tend to be sweet and spicy, though this brew seems especially sweet for the style. It’s almost like an orange-flavored soda. From start to finish there’s a strong orange presence; though it’s probably from orangepeel added to the brew and possibly from the use of hops; it does seem a little faux. The coriander imparts light spice towards the middle and on the backend. Actual hop bitterness is fairly low. Overall, it’s plenty tasty and fun to drink.

Drinkability: If this beer tastes like a soda, it also drinks as such. The body is thin and spastic in its effervescence. Carbonation actually gets stuck in my throat. Not that it’s a challenge to drink, but it’s not as smooth as I’d prefer. Big Top Trapeze Monk is only 5.1% ABV which is relatively light, and has the palette for it. Refreshing while in the mouth with a clean aftertaste, which makes this tempting to session in the Florida heat.

RATING: 7/10

Friday, November 20, 2015

Shock Top Twisted Pretzel Wheat

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 6/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 13/20Chad9976 (1498) - Albany, New York, USA - NOV 20, 2015
I’m all for novelty beers as long as they taste good. The problem is, the novelty beers that are genuinely delectable are few and far between. The idea behind Shock Top Twisted Pretzel Wheat is a beer that’s supposed to taste like a soft pretzel. I’d say this beer does indeed smell like a pretzel, but not so much in taste. It’s more of a mild dunkelweizen. 

I poured a 12oz bottle into a tumbler glass. It was bottled on 10/9/15 and cost $1.79 ($0.15 per ounce). Thanks to both Mike and Shock Top for giving me bottles!

Appearance: Dark brown proper hue. Body is slightly hazy, but otherwise translucent with carbonation visible. Pours to a two-finger, off-white, foamy head which retains and laces reasonably well.

Smell: Definitely the best aspect of the beer as it does smell a lot like a warm soft pretzel. Plenty of wheat and a general “baked goods” scent. Akin to that of a sports arena or movie theater.

Taste: Since this beer smelled like the product it was claiming to be, I was hoping it would taste the same. Unfortunately, this is more of a generic dunkelweizen. There’s a presence of light roasted malt and wheat and perhaps a bit of chocolate. There isn’t much in the way of esters or spices or any kind of novelty flavors despite the label claiming there are artificial flavors added. I’ll bet a pinch of salt might have made it more pretzel-like. Though it doesn’t completely surprise me that the palette is so mild considering the brewery and their target audience.

Drinkability: While Shock Top Twisted Pretzel Wheat is a little underwhelming in the taste department, it’s no challenge to drink whatsoever. The mouthfeel is light but not paper thin. I would not even consider it crisp, per se. There’s a fullness to it and the texture is soft and smooth. At 5.1% ABV it’s not surprisingly mild, though a little more flavor isn’t an unreasonable expectation. Not a refreshing beer, but a palatable one that any pedestrian drinker should have no problem enduring.

RATING: 5/10

Sunday, November 15, 2015

New Belgium Slow Ride

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 15/20Chad9976 (1497) - Albany, New York, USA - NOV 15, 2015
There seems to be a formula for making a quality session IPA. It should citrusy, but also kind of spicy or grassy; low in alcohol, but still have enough body to satisfy. New Belgium Slow Ride hits all those points quite well, and might be the best beer I’ve had from this brewery. 

I poured a 12oz bottle into a tumbler glass. It had an enjoy by date of 1/10/16 and cost $1.66 ($0.14 per ounce).

Appearance: Stand IPA shade of flame orange/shiny copper. Body is mostly clear with consistent carbonation visible. Pours to an average-sized, white, foamy head which laces and retains well.

Smell: Very citrusy with notable orange scent as well as a bit of spicy/grassy notes.

Taste: Session IPAs tend to be a bit simplistic, but New Belgium Slow Ride is brewed with eight different hops – that’s pretty amazing, actually. Though you can’t taste all eight individually, they all work together to create for some general tastes that are quite nice. Orange and grapefruit seem to be the most noticeable and most prominent flavors. They appear right away and stay on the palate consistently. On the apex comes some grassy spiciness; strong enough to give it some bite, but mild enough not to overwhelm. This lasts until the finish, at which point there’s a slight dry bitterness, though the sensation does not linger. Overall, this is very tasty for the style, or for any kind of beer for that matter.

Drinkability: It’s nice to see a session IPA that actually is sessionable at 4.5% ABV. Though drinking this glass of New Belgium Slow Ride, it seems to have the body of something stronger since it doesn’t have the thin, watery mouthfeel of other brews of the style. It’s crisp and effervescent to be sure, but at no point does it seem overtly light. Refreshing while in the mouth with a fairly clean aftertaste. This would be great in the summer, but it’s versatile enough to stand up to food or session whenever you want.

RATING: 8/10

Friday, November 13, 2015

Goose Island Honkers Ale

   AROMA 6/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 13/20
Chad9976 (1496) - Albany, New York, USA - NOV 13, 2015
Plain ol’ “Bitter” might be the epitome of British-style brews. Despite the name, beers of the style tend to be rather sweet and only mildly bitter. Any American brewery that makes one that’s decent is worthy of commendation; such is the case with Goose Island Honkers Ale. This is one of their original brews and I can see why it’s maintained appeal all these years. It’s a very drinker-friendly beer in all aspects (but not an amazing one). 

I poured a 12oz bottle into a tumbler glass. It was bottled on 7/27/15 and cost $1.66 ($0.14 per ounce).

Appearance: A pretty shade of copper/magenta with a clear body and carbonation visible. Pours to an average-sized, off-white, foamy head which retains and laces well.

Smell: Lightly fruity, though I detect some signs of oxidation. Slightly floral; though mild overall.

Taste: There seems to be a lot going on in this beer… and yet, not much at all. I do taste a genuine malt flavor – quite grainy and slightly biscuity. This creates for sweetness, but it’s mild. Lurking in the background is a dry bitterness with just a hint of resin. Faint caramel or treacle flavor on the backend which creates for additional sweetness, and then it finishes almost completely clean. All these characteristics are enjoyable to be sure. Perhaps I shouldn’t penalize it for being mild since that’s the point of the style. Still, a little more pizzazz would be nice.

Drinkability: At 4.3% ABV, Goose Island Honkers Ale is a sessionable beer to be sure. The mouthfeel is crisp with a consistent moistness to it as well. Though there is noticeable hop presence, there’s no lingering bitterness. I would consider it refreshing while in the mouth. I could see this working well in the summer, especially from a can, though it’s got the palette to work as a year-round brew, too.

RATING: 6/10

Thursday, November 12, 2015


   AROMA 5/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 6/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 12/20Chad9976 (1495) - Albany, New York, USA - NOV 12, 2015
One of the small pleasures of beer reviewing is trying a beer you were told is horrible and it turns out to be not all that bad. The Mexican-brewed “Sol” by a Heineken-owned conglomerate definitely had one of the worst reputations for macro lagers I can recall. Now that I’ve actually tried it, I’m surprised it’s not actually a bit acclaimed since it’s slightly sweet, not skunky, and very quaffable. That being said, it’s still mild and pretty boring overall.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a tumbler glass. It was bottled on 7/4/15 and cost $1.66 ($0.14 per ounce).

Appearance: Clear shade of amber proper with effervescence visible. Pours to a small, white, foamy head which retains and laces about as well as a macro lager might.

Smell: Typical lager aroma in every way, though there is no distracting or annoying corn or rice smell. Additionally, there is no skunky scent despite the clear bottle (perhaps they use GMO hops?).

Taste: I’ve drank enough macro lagers to discern the difference between the bad ones and the not-so-bad ones. I wouldn’t consider “Sol” to be a truly good lager, but it’s definitely not bad. It just tastes like a generic lager in all aspects. I will say that it’s noticeably sweeter than most and there is no cornwater taste (DMS), though I do detect some apple character and a bit of a tartness on the end. That might be acetaldehyde, though it is subtle compared to some other brands. Nothing in the way of hop bitterness or flavor, but that’s expected. Overall, this is decent for the style and tolerable for a beer in general.

Drinkability: Beers like Sol tend to be a challenge to drink. Either they taste disgusting or they’re overly-fizzy or leave a bad aftertaste. Surprisingly, none of those factors are present here. Though the mouthfeel is thin and crisp, it never feels like water despite the light 4.5% ABV body. Sessionable to be sure, this is the kind of beer I could drink straight from the bottle, though it’d probably be better presented in cans.

RATING: 5/10

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

New Belgium Snapshot

   AROMA 6/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 14/20Chad9976 (1494) - Albany, New York, USA - NOV 11, 2015
One of the best ways to tell if a summer beer really is good is whether it’s as enjoyable when it’s not hot and sunny out at the time. New Belgium Snapshot is a fairly simple pale wheat ale brew with a touch of spices and even a bit of lacto tartness to make it interesting. And I can see this being ideal in the summer sun, but in any other setting it’s only okay.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a large tumbler glass. It had an expiration date of 1/3/16 and cost $1.66 ($0.14 per ounce).

Appearance: Surprisingly clear body for an unfiltered wheat beer. Light orange/yellow hue with carbonation visible. Pours to a large, white, fluffy head which retains and laces quite well.

Smell: Slight lemon zest scent along with typical wheat aroma. Spices and lacto are barely present.

Taste: There isn’t a lot going on with this palette, though I think that’s the point and thus I won’t penalize it as such. The base flavor is classic wheat beer – very light malt with some wheat presence. The Coriander and Grains Of Paradise emerge on the back end to impart a slightly spicy sensation; otherwise there’s an undercurrent of lemonpeel throughout (which is interesting, since there’s no actual lemonpeel in the beer). The lactobacillus is mild; it does create for the tartness as promised, but it’s mild. There’s no intense sour sensation, either. The flavor combinations here are nice – had they been more intense this would be a pretty impressive beer.

Drinkability: Upon my first sip of New Belgium Snapshot I could tell this is intended to be a summer/warm weather climate brew. The mouthfeel is light, crisp and watery. Thirst-quenching for sure, and the tartness and spice makes it self-cleaning on the palate. Though I’m surprised there isn’t much body for a 5% ABV brew; this feels more like an overtly sessionable beer in the sub 4.5% range. I’m sure you could session it if you want, though.

RATING: 6/10

Monday, November 9, 2015

Full Sail Amber Ale

   AROMA 6/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 6/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 13/20
Chad9976 (1493) - Albany, New York, USA - NOV 9, 2015
There are certain styles that I am rarely impressed by. There are also a few breweries who seldom impress me as well. I guess Full Sail Amber Ale was doomed from the start with me since it’s a style I rarely enjoy by a brewery I rarely enjoy. And it’s not that this is a terrible beer by any means, just that it’s not nearly the good one it should be.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a tumbler. It had an enjoy by date of 1/19/16 and cost $1.66 ($0.14 per ounce).

Appearance: Definitely a beautiful deep amber/magenta red hue. Body is mostly clear with plenty of visible carbonation. Pours to a thumb-width, white foamy head which retains well but doesn’t lace the glass.

Smell: Amber malts for sure, though they are mild. A bit of a floral scent, but equally mild. Seems to smell a little buttery, too.

Taste: If you go over a list of amber ale characteristics, this beer would seem to live up to every check point on the list. Yes, there’s light malty sweetness and a bit of floral or piney hop flavor and bitterness – but again, it’s quite mild. This bottle probably has some age on it, but it’s still well within its freshness window. Additionally, there does seem to be a faint buttery flavor or maybe even yellow lollipop. It’s not bad, in fact, both are in line with the base palette so as not to be distracting (or even discernable by less nuanced palates). There’s even some nutty flavor as well, which is nice. Still, this beer could use a little more of pretty much everything.

Drinkability: I always get frustrated when a beer doesn’t live up to its potential. At 6% ABV, Full Sail Amber Ale should be a fairly big-bodied and complex brew; yet it drinks like something lighter and more simplistic. The mouthfeel is a bit thin, wet, and flat. The hops do linger, but leave a dry, pasty sensation. This would be fine with a meal that’s not too intensely flavored.

RATING: 5/10

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Blue Moon White IPA

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 14/20Chad9976 (1492) - Albany, New York, USA - NOV 8, 2015
We all know Blue Moon as the brand that put “crafty” beer on the map (or was that Michelob?). I find most of what they make is drinkable, though few is genuinely good. I think Blue Moon White IPA might be the first beer of the brand that I can legitimately call “good.” 

I poured a 12oz bottle into a red wine glass. It had an expiration date of 2/29/16 and cost $1.66 ($0.14 per ounce).

Appearance: Bright orange shade, but hazy and murky. Pours to an average-sized, white, foamy head which retains and laces pretty well.

Smell: Slight grassy/spicy hops with orange and other spices present. Mild but nice.

Taste: I once asked a professional brewer how major crafty brands like Blue Moon manage to make such authentically-tasting but overtly mild beers. His one-word answer: water. I could see that being true of this beer and the entire Blue Moon brand across the board. I do taste a solid, flavorful, and surprisingly hoppy and bitter white IPA. There’s plenty of orange presence as well as minor grassy/spicy hops. Not much in the way of coriander per se, though. Wheat seems to be here for body and doesn’t do much for flavor. Still, I don’t taste anything I dislike. I could see this as being way too strong for the average Blue Moon drinker, though it’s far from being the weakest beer in their portfolio. Not bad at all.

Drinkability: I was rather surprised to see such a high alcohol volume on the bottle of Blue Moon White IPA at 5.9%. That’s a bit hefty for such a mainstream brew. Though its much bigger in body and flavor than most of the Blue Moon line, it doesn’t seem to be completely efficient. It drinks more like a 5% brew. Still, I will say there’s no challenge in getting it down. The mouthfeel is consistently crisp with a smooth finish. Even the hops linger a bit, so that’s impressive.

RATING: 7/10

Monday, November 2, 2015

Dogfish Head Postive Contact (2013 vintage)

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 17/20
Chad9976 (1491) - Albany, New York, USA - NOV 2, 2015
One of the things that I love about craft beer is when brewers are able to make a great beer from a combination of ingredients that you’d never think would go together. Dogfish Head Positive Contact is an excellent example of what I mean as it’s brewed with cider, spices, wheat, and peppers. That sounds like an odd recipe – and indeed it is – but in this case “odd” equates to high quality. 

I poured a 750ml bottle into a tulip glass. It was bottled in 2013 and cost $3.99 [marked down from $13.99] ($0.16 per ounce).

Appearance: A near glowing shade of flame orange. Body starts out relatively clear but becomes cloudier as more particulates and sediment can be seen floating. Pours to a large, white, foamy head which laces and retains very well. Alcohol legs are visible.

Smell: Mostly apple cider and apple sauce, though the spices are evident as well. Faint Belgian-esque yeast esters seem present as well.

Taste: I always enjoy trying a bizarre brew, and even more so when it tastes good. When I took my first sip, my palate was inundated with a mélange of flavors and my brain wasn’t quite sure how to process it. I will say that apple cider/sauce was the most prominent characteristic. There seems to be a touch of cinnamon or brown sugar present, though that’s probably the Cayenne pepper. Towards the middle the cilantro and roasted farro begin to emerge and impart a light, slightly zesty taste. It follows up the apple surprisingly well. The backend incorporates mild bitterness and additional apple and pear flavors (some of that probably due to the use of Calypso hops). I detect a subtle warming sensation in the throat from the peppers. I’ve never had this beer fresh, so I’m wondering how intense it was at the time. Two years in the bottle do not seem to have harmed it all. There is a faint butterscotch flavor probably due to oxidation, but it works with the apple flavor so no harm no foul.

Drinkability: Considering that Dogfish Head Positive Contact is both a big beer at 9% ABV and also brewed with peppers, you’re inclined to believe that it might be a challenge to drink. Perhaps two years in the cellar has tamed what might otherwise be a beast because this is a pleasant drinking experience in every way. There’s definitely viscosity to the mouthfeel, and yet there’s plenty of carbonation still present. It’s super smooth going down with just a faint warmth from the alcohol and/or pepper. There’s not much aftertaste, for better or for worse. This would be an ideal brew to pair with Thanksgiving dinner.

RATING: 9/10

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Great Divide Claymore Scotch Ale

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20Chad9976 (1490) - Albany, New York, USA - NOV 1, 2015
Scotch Ales seem to have a reputation that precedes them. It’s rare you find a bad brew of the style, though there’s no guarantee that an assumedly traditional brew from a traditional brewery is going to be great. That’s how I thought of Great Divide Claymore Scotch Ale; which is a fine beer all around, though not a shining example of the style. I was hoping for greatness but settled for goodness. 

I poured a 12oz bottle into a flared snifter. It was bottled on 8/24/15 and cost $2.95 ($0.25 per ounce).

Appearance: Seemingly opaque black, though actually an extremely dark violet/ruby shade. Pours to a tiny, beige, soapy head which evaporates quickly and completely.

Smell: Similar to a porter with dark malts and some roastiness. Rather mild considering how strong the beer is.

Taste: I’ve always associated Scotch Ales with complexity, though the last few I have reviewed have been rather simple. This beer is no exception. While the palette is sweet and tasty, it only has a few flavors going for it. Plenty of caramel or butterscotch notes up front with a touch of milk chocolate in the middle and dark fruit on the finish. Only mild bitterness to be found, though alcohol is fairly prominent as well. No smoky sensation, though that’s actually typical for the style. This beer is mostly just sweetness and not much else; which is fine by me because I have a sweet tooth. Drinkers that don’t may find it cloying.

Drinkability: At 7.7% ABV, Great Divide Claymore Scotch Ale is a big beer no doubt. Though it drinks like something much lighter. The mouthfeel is a bit flat and not quite as viscous as I’d prefer. On the other hand it is extremely smooth going down and very comfortable with a remarkably clean aftertaste. Alcohol imparts mild warmth, but it complements the palette. A good liquid dessert.

RATING: 7/10

Friday, October 30, 2015

Victory Vital IPA

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20Chad9976 (1489) - Albany, New York, USA - OCT 30, 2015
Now that the “New England-style IPA” is an established sub-genre, we’re starting to see deviations from that style. Victory Vital IPA has similar qualities to those northeastern brews, but isn’t of the same familiar as it ops almost entirely for grassy spiciness with almost no pine or tropical/citrus components whatsoever. The result is a plenty flavorful and fun single IPA. 

I poured a 12oz can into a flared snifter. It had an enjoy by date of 3/6/16 and was sent to me by the brewery.

Appearance: Surprisingly bright gold/amber color with near crystal clarity. Slow and sparse carbonation bubbles are evident. Pours to a large, white, foamy head which laces and retains extremely well.

Smell: Huge zesty nose with prominent grass and spice rack seasonings. Deep down I detect a pineapple scent or maybe some lemon peel.

Taste: I find that the NEIPAs tend to smell tropical and taste grassy. In the case of this beer is both smells and tastes grassy. Brewed with German pilsner and Carapils malt, it does have a base palette vaguely similar to a traditional pilsner. The hop presence is noticeable immediately in the form of both dry, assertive bitterness and spicy flavor. A touch of rye bread or maybe black peppercorn can be found. No pine, resiny, citrus or tropical fruit flavors, though. Definitely the kind of IPA to wake up your palate.

Drinkability: At 6.5% ABV, Victory Vital IPA is right in that zone where it’s too light to be considered a big or heavy beer and much too strong to be considered anything in the sessionable range. The body is medium to full and the mouthfeel is a bit thick, and yet still crisp. The hops do linger on the tongue with a bit of a starchy/spicy aftertaste but it’s easily tolerable. No alcohol presence whatsoever, though it seems like a slightly lighter beer than it actually is. Ideal brew for dinner pairing.

RATING: 8/10

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Peak Organic Super Fresh

   AROMA 9/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 17/20Chad9976 (1488) - Albany, New York, USA - OCT 29, 2015
There’s definitely a similarity to hoppy brews being made by New England breweries. Whether it’s IPA, DIPA, IPL, or in the case of Peak Organic Super Fresh – a pilsner – there’s a common thread amongst them. I’m not sure this beer truly qualifies as a pilsner per se, but as a beer it’s quite excellent. Smells great, looks great, tastes great and is easy to drink. That’s what I call an excellent beer. 

I poured a 16oz can into a pilsner glass. It was canned on 9/17/15 and cost $4.10 ($0.26 per ounce).

Appearance: A hazy shade of mustard/maize yellow. Spastic effervescence is clearly visible at first, though the more beer I pour into the glass, the hazier the body becomes. Pours to a large, white, foamy head which laces and retains extremely well.

Smell: Huge hop presence of fresh-cut grass as well as tropical fruit juice concentrate. No alcohol presence, though no malt presence, either.

Taste: I don’t get too hung up on styles unless I’m judging a BJCP-sanctioned event (in which case it’s mandatory). I’m not sure this beer really qualifies as a “pilsner” considering how it’s a big beer at 7.6% ABV and also a hop bomb. It’s probably better considered an IPL or DIPL; though I’ll let the style nerds debate that. What it is, is a highly-hopped, extremely tasty and delectable brew. Slight grassy notes to open the palette with a subtle juicy flavor lurking underneath. At the peak of the swig there’s a spicy/herbal note with mild flavors of oregano or basil. The back end is remarkably sweet with a taste akin to an energy drink. The aftertaste is all the spice rack flavors: grassy, spicy, herbal and a dry bitterness that lingers. Obviously, the hops are the star here, and I don’t get much in the way of malt distinctiveness. I’ll bet some rye would complement the palette perfectly.

Drinkability: I normally associate pilsner with being light in body and alcohol. Peak Organic Super Fresh does have the high carbonation and consistent crispness of a pilsner, though the 7.6% ABV potency is far too heavy to really be true to the style. The mouthfeel is noticeably thicker than most lagers, though the high carbonation makes it vibrate across the tongue. Refreshing while in the mouth, though the aftertaste of spicy hops is a tad cloying. Of course that can be resolved by taking another swig. This is a versatile brew to be sure; strong enough to stand up to all kinds of savory meals, or just enjoy whenever you need a strong hop dosage.

RATING: 10/10

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Bell’s Hell Hath No Fury Ale

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20Chad9976 (1487) - Albany, New York, USA - OCT 28, 2015
There’s no recognized style of “Belgian Stout,” though if there was I suppose Bell’s Hell Hath No Fury Ale might be a good example of one. It appears to be a rather typical strong stout that’s fermented with traditional Abbey yeast. The net result is a beer that’s at worst “good,” and at best “interesting.”

I poured a 12oz bottle into a tulip glass. It was bottled on 8/28/15 and cost $4.35 ($0.36 per ounce).

Appearance: Dark black body all around. Initially pours to a large, brown, foamy head, but it evaporates quickly and leaves no lacing on the glass.

Smell: Familiar stout scent with notes of roasted malt, but a noticeable fruity presence as well from the yeast esters.

Taste: Since this beer is rather experimental in style, it’s a little difficult to wrap my head around it. On one hand it tastes like a classic American stout: plenty of sweet dark maltiness along with some roasted notes. On the other hand, it’s a bit more continental with the presence of rum-soaked raisins, plum, and treacle. I even detect a smokey astringency on the finish. There’s a bit of alcohol in here as well, though it’s not entirely distracting. I enjoy the sweet and stout-like characteristics here, but that finish is rather odd. All in all, it’s a fine beer but nothing amazing.

Drinkability: The palette to Bell’s Hell Hath No Fury Ale is an odd duck to be sure, though the palate itself is not. The mouthfeel is fairly thick, but in no way viscous or sticky. Not quite velvety smooth like a pub stout on nitro; though it is still smooth going down. I do notice the 7.5% ABV in the form of flavor and warmth. It finishes surprisingly clean. I’d enjoy this as a dessert.

RATING: 7/10

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Pilsner Urquell

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 17/20Chad9976 (1486) - Albany, New York, USA - OCT 27, 2015
It took me a long time to come around to pilsners, but now that I’ve come to appreciate them I’m finding I can’t get enough of them. Ironically enough, I have never reviewed the Mother of All Pilsners: Pilsner Urquell. This brew single-handedly started the style and after 173 years it still holds up as a great lager and a great beer. 

I poured a 500ml can into a pilsner glass. It had an expiration date of 10/28/15 (that’s tomorrow!) and cost $3.49 ($0.21 per ounce).

Appearance: A beautiful dark gold/amber hue with crystal clarity. Plenty of visible carbonation which never diminishes. Pours to a fairly large, white, fluffy head which retains and laces very well.

Smell: A bit of skunky scent was noticeable as soon as I popped the top, but since it’s a can it can’t be light strike. Scent is likely Saaz and/or other Noble hops. Spicy and grassy with a fairly prominent malt sweetness as well.

Taste: Though this is my first time reviewing Pilsner Urquell it is not my first time drinking it. Having had it before on tap, this was my first time trying it at home and I’m glad I found it in a can instead of a green bottle. The palette deScription could be taken straight from the BJCP specs since it invented the Czech Pilsner (or “Czech Premium Pale Lager” as they’re calling it now) style. Spicy/grassy hops throughout with a subtle flavor of rye. Since this can is rather old it appears to have oxidized a bit and the hops have faded. That probably accounts for the noticeable presence of honey and lemon. Bitterness is assertive, and yet gentle. A dry spicy sensation with a lingering taste of pretzel bread. It’s not often I use the word delicious to describe a pale lager such as this, but I would say this beer is indeed delicious.

Drinkability: I was a little nervous to drink this beer considering it’s only 4.4% ABV and just about to reach the expiration date. Yet, the palette held up well and the drinkability did not suffer at all. Though light in weight, Pilsner Urquell still has plenty of body and energy to its mouthfeel. Plenty effervescent to the last drop; it seems to scrub the tongue on each swig. The aftertaste is a lovely mixture of honey and spice, though it dries out eventually. Now that it comes in cans this makes for a fantastic beach/camping/hiking beer. Or just session the hell out of it whenever.

RATING: 9/10

Monday, October 26, 2015

Captain Lawrence Palate Shifter Imperial IPA

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20Chad9976 (1485) - Albany, New York, USA - OCT 26, 2015
Captain Lawrence is one of New York State’s most well-respected breweries. Their Captain’s Reserve IPA blew my mind when I first tried it a few years ago. With Palate Shifter, they seem to be trying to improve upon their original claim to fame, though I don’t see what the hook is. Plenty of citrusy and tropical notes, but plenty of heavy boozy quality as well.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a tulip glass. It was bottled on 5/26/15 (why is my beer store just getting this now?) and cost $3.60 ($0.30 per ounce).

Appearance: Bright shade of orange with golden highlights. Very hazy body but some carbonation is visible. Pours to a fairly large, white, frothy head which retains and laces quite well.

Smell: Alcohol is the first thing I notice and it’s a bit distracting, but there’s also plenty of citrus and tropical fruit aroma as well. It’s quite sweet, akin to juice concentrate. Good, but not great.

Taste: There’s certain things I expect in a true imperial IPA and this beer delivers on all accounts. The palette is big and bold in all aspects. Lots of hops, lots of malt and plenty of alcohol, too. Flavor is predominantly juicy with characteristics of orange, grapefruit, peach, passion fruit and pineapple. There’s a lemony sweetness as well due to the malt, though some of that might have to do with oxidation. The bitterness hits the tongue with a thud as the brew finishes; it’s pretty dry with a minor astringency. Alcohol comes through in the form of a vanilla character which is quite strong in the aftertaste. This is an interesting, and frankly – unusual – choice of hops for an East Coast brewery’s IIPA. But the final product is a tasty and interesting brew, so that’s always commendable.

Drinkability: At 9% ABV and 90 IBUs, Captain Lawrence Palate Shifter Imperial IPA is a big brew by any measurement. Full-bodied as the day is long; the mouthfeel is thick, soft and slightly sticky. The alcohol is pretty warm on the throat, but not completely distracting. I’d enjoy this beer solo for the best experience.

RATING: 8/10

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Saranac Single Malt Bourbon Barrel-Aged Scotch Ale

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 16/20Chad9976 (1484) - Albany, New York, USA - OCT 25, 2015
Saranac is technically one of the biggest craft breweries in the country, but most of what they make is rather pedestrian. Every once in a while they put out something special, rare, and unique like their new Saranac Single Malt Bourbon Barrel-Aged Scotch Ale. This is apparently their Single Malt Scotch Ale aged in bourbon barrels (for how long and in whose barrels I do not know). The result is an extremely sweet drink with a palette akin to Crème Brûlée. As a sweet beer goes, it’s pretty nice; as a Scotch Ale goes it’s pretty far deviated from the style. 

I poured a 12oz bottle into a flared snifter. It was bottled on 10/28/15 and cost $3.65 ($0.30 per ounce).

Appearance: Beautiful maroon/burgundy hue. Dark but the body is clear. Pours to a two-finger, off-white, foamy head which fades quickly but never completely dissipates and does leave a bit of lacing.

Smell: Strong vanilla aroma; almost as if vanilla extract were added to it. A bit of a medicinal alcohol scent. Sweet maltiness is apparent, too.

Taste: You tend to see strong porters and stouts aged in bourbon barrels, but why not Scotch Ales? That’s a style that would seem to lend itself to the process, eh? In the case of this beer the barrel character seems to override the base brew as it’s remarkably sweet with an unmistakable Crème Brûlée flavor. Underneath the sweetness I do notice the malty character with notes of dark fruit. Hops impart some resiny flavor, but the actual bitterness is tame. No smoky or peaty characters to speak of. The alcohol is part of the palette, though it blends extremely well so as not to be distracting. Overall, I think it’s tasty beer, though not a particularly amazing feat in barrel-aging.

Drinkability: Seeing a double-digit potency number on a Saranac bottle is rare and shocking. This weighs in at 10% ABV, though it doesn’t seem quite that intense. The body is, of course, full and the mouthfeel is thick, soft and a bit sticky. Still, Saranac Single Malt Bourbon Barrel-Aged Scotch Ale is smooth with a gentle alcoholic warmth. Not quite a special occasion brew, but a fine dessert beer.

RATING: 8/10

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Anchor BigLeaf Maple Autumn Red

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 14/20Chad9976 (1483) - Albany, New York, USA - OCT 24, 2015
Anchor BigLeaf Maple Autumn Red is a beer I should love. It’s got a lot of hops, plenty of malt, a palette that’s pretty well-balanced; and it looks beautiful. Yet, I find myself rating it as merely “good” as a whole because its taste is just that: good, not great. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, just that it doesn’t wow me. 

I poured a 12oz bottle into a flared snifter. It was bottled on 7/1/15 and cost $2.95 ($0.25 per ounce).

Appearance: Absolutely gorgeous magenta red color. Fairly dark hue but the body is pretty clear. Pours to a large, off-white, frothy head which laces and retains extremely well.

Smell: A dark malty sweetness with some confectionery notes combined with dank and piney hops. An interesting combination to be sure, though it does seem a tad mild.

Taste: I actually hate it when breweries include the word “maple” in a beer’s name and/or mention that it’s brewed with maple syrup because it leads you to believe it will taste as such. Maple syrup is merely an adjunct since the yeast eat up nearly all the sugar and what’s leftover contributes to the body. So, no; there isn’t much – if any – maple taste here. What I do get is notes of caramel, toffee and maybe treacle. Sweet to be sure, though not to the point of being cloying. The hops complement the palette with an East Coast-style flair. Instead of citrus and tropical fruit it’s of the pine and resin variety. There’s a subtle grassy/spicy sensation that emerges on the finish and lingers after each sip. For such a relatively light brew, there’s noticeable alcohol taste as well. Overall, this is a fine-tasting beer, and if that’s what you expect in an Anchor product you won’t be disappointed here.

Drinkability: At 6% ABV, Anchor BigLeaf Maple Autumn Red is neither a light nor heavy brew. However, it’s not something you’d expect to have alcohol presence in the taste and delivery. I do notice a bit of a warming sensation here, which seems to be in line with the flavors so it’s no entirely distracting. Still, I could do without it. Otherwise the body is pretty big for the potency; the mouthfeel is soft and chewy. I found myself drinking it in rather small sips. I’ll bet this would work well with the right food pairing – but what that is, I’m not sure.

RATING: 7/10