Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Great Divide Hibernation Ale

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1242) - Albany, New York, USA - DEC 17, 2014
Old Ale is not a style many breweries are doing as they were traditionally made (i.e. actually aging beer for a significant period of time). Most breweries just brew a barleywine ad call it an old ale, but in the case of Great Divide Hibernation Ale, it appears to be a traditional brew (according to BJCP guidelines, that is). It’s a good beer to drink to appreciate that dedication to classic brewing techniques, and it’s also a good beer to drink because it’s a good beer.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a tulip glass. It was bottled on 8/27/14 and cost $2.99 ($0.25 per ounce).

Appearance: Dark reddish/brown hue with sediment particles in suspension. Pours to a two-finger, off-white, foamy head which laces and retains well.

Smell: Sweet confectionary aromas, especially chocolate and toffee, but with a strong dark malt base. Some dark fruit notes as well.

Taste: It’s no surprise that the malts are the stars of the show here. Rich sweetness right away in the form of dark fruit notes, similar to that of a barleywine. A general mélange of cherry, fig and raisin as well as distinct syrupy flavors of toffee and chocolate-covered burnt toast. What’s curious is there’s actually quite a strong hop presence in the form of flavor and bitterness. I get light citrus flavors, but a fairly strong dry bitterness. There’s also some tanginess most likely due to oxidation (though this is normal). The alcohol imparts a warming sensation and accentuates the confectionery flavors but creating a slight vanilla character. Overall, it’s a tasty brew and a great example of how this style can be done today.

Drinkability: With a soft mouthfeel and smooth texture, Great Divide Hibernation Ale is quite pleasing to drink. Plenty of body and raw weight at 8.7% ABV, though there’s no abrasive heat from the alcohol. A slight lingering dryness on the tongue. It works well as a sipper. 
Grade: 8/10

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

He’Brew Hanukkah, Chanukah: Pass the Beer

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 6/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 13/20
Chad9976 (1241) - Albany, New York, USA - DEC 16, 2014
It’s quite surprising that no brewery (to my knowledge) has released a Hanukkah-themed beer before. Though it’s NOT surprising that Shmaltz Brewing, which makes all Jewish-themed beers, would be the first to do so. Hanukkah, Chanukah: Pass The Beer is a funny name for a beer, and despite it having eight malts, eight hops, and an ABV to match, it is only an okay brew since the flavors are mild and don’t seem all that well matched.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a tulip glass. It was bottled on 10/24/14.

Appearance: A pretty shade of deep ruby red/light brown; translucent. Pours to a two-finger, off-white, foamy head which laces and retains fairly well.

Smell: Dark fruits, slight confectionery sweetness, some grassy hops; mild overall.

Taste: Whether this is a brown ale or a generic strong ale is rather irrelevant. It does contain characteristics of both styles, but conforms to neither. There’s a lot of dark fruit flavors which are immediately noticeable; figs, dates, cherries, etc. However, they’re not quite the same as you’d find in a Belgian brew and are a bit mild. A subtle underlying sweetness of caramel and an even more faint nutty character are also present. What’s surprising is how hoppy this beer is. Brewed with American and European hops, there’s a strong piney/resiny flavor through the middle, with a dry, grassy, spicy bitterness on the finish. I also pick up a strong astringency and tanginess right on the finish. It’s not that it’s bad, just that it’s distracting. These flavors are all fine individually, but they don’t work as a cohesive team. I really want to love this palette, but I’m finding it’s only alright.

Drinkability: I would not consider He’Brew Hanukkah, Chanukah: Pass The Beer to be massively robust, nor does it have the body of such a beer. The mouthfeel is soft, calm, and smooth with only a medium body and no alcohol presence despite the 8% ABV weight. It’s easy to drink as it leaves little aftertaste, and it’s actually quite crisp as it crosses the tongue. For such a complex recipe it’s a little disappointing there’s not more of everything. 
Grade: 6/10

Monday, December 15, 2014

Bell's Winter White Ale

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1240) - Albany, New York, USA - DEC 15, 2014
I tend to associate the witbier style with the warmer months, but I’ve noticed a lot of breweries offering witbiers as winter seasonals (mostly as play on the white=snow metaphor). Bell’s Winter White Ale isn’t particularly wintery nor Christmasy, but it works as a traditional, to-spec witbier and I enjoy it as such.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a tulip glass. It was bottled on 11/6/14 and cost $2.65 ($0.22 per ounce).

Appearance: Pale orange hue over a mostly cloudy body. Pours to a small, white, foamy head which mostly dissipates and leaves little lacing on the glass.

Smell: Strong aroma of orange and banana – almost like an Orange Julius.

Taste: As soon as it hits my lips I’m immediately brought back to summer, as this has the classic Belgian yeast esters of banana and citrus. I assume there’s orangepeel and coriander in the brew in addition to the wheat and pale malt used as the base malt. Orange seems to be the predominate flavor – it’s sweet, almost candy-like in flavor, but not tart. The spicy character is light, but complementary and its noticeable from beginning to end. I even detect some distinct bitterness – slightly dry and a hint citrusy. Overall, it’s a fine, enjoyable palette.

Drinkability: Bell’s Winter White Ale is a beer I’d rather drink this in summer than winter. The mouthfeel is thin, crisp, but not overly carbonated. It’s refreshing for sure and finishes clean. At only 5% ABV it’s not surprising it doesn’t have a lot of body, though it’s quite tempting to session this (if you live in Florida). 
Grade: 8/10

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Southern Tier Rum Barrel Aged Pumking

   AROMA 9/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 10/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 18/20
Chad9976 (1239) - Albany, New York, USA - DEC 14, 2014
Southern Tier’s “Pumking” has always been my favorite pumpkin beer, as well as one of my favorite beers in general. I didn’t think they could improve upon it, but somehow they managed to do so by aging it in rum barrels. If any spirit would complement this type of brew, rum is definitely it - the natural spices and sweetness work to accentuate the authentic pumpkin pie flavor of this brew.

I poured a 22oz bottle into the official Southern Tier Pumking goblet. It was bottled on 11/6/14 and cost $15.99 ($0.73 per ounce).

Appearance: Clear orange hue, little carbonation visible. Pours to a small, white, soapy head which fizzles away quickly and leaves no lacing. Alcohol legs are easily visible, though.

Smell: Sweet pumpkin pie aroma, especially of cinnamon and nutmeg. Distinct rum alcohol presence as well, but it’s subtle and complementary – not distracting.

Taste: What has always set Pumking apart from other pumpkin beers is that it tastes like graham cracker crust, as well as actual pumpkin puree. That taste component is found here as well, though somehow it seems even stronger. Huge cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and clove spiciness are all prominent throughout the palette. There’s also a constant sweet pumpkin pie flavor from the pumpkin puree, which is enhanced due to the rum barrel aging. Vanilla is quite strong as is the taste of rum, though it lacks to aggressive booziness of an actual spirit. Little in the way of true bitterness, though the natural spice and alcohol character do offer balance (not that the sweetness is cloying, anyway). Delicious all around for sure.

Drinkability: The 10.7% ABV on the label was a bit intimidating, though I pleasantly surprised by how easily drinkable Southern Tier Rum Barrel Aged Pumking is. The mouthfeel is a little thin, slightly crisp and a tad slick. However, it is absolutely no challenge to get down despite the robustness of the palette and the warmth from the alcohol (which is rather gentle). It finishes almost completely clean, which makes it easy to go from sip to sip. No need to pair this with anything as it’s a dessert in and of itself. 
Grade: 10/10

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Prairie Christmas Bomb!

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 16/20
Chad9976 (1238) - Albany, New York, USA - DEC 13, 2014
I don’t usually factor in a beer’s price, rarity and current trendiness when I grade it, but it certain instances it’s a defacto baseline. Case in point: Prairie Christmas Bomb!, which is one of the must-have bottles of the moment in my area and also runs $10 a bottle. Needless to say I went in with high expectations, and while this is indeed an excellent beer, it doesn’t quite live up to the hype or justify the price tag.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a goblet. It was bottled on 10/16/14 and cost $9.99 ($0.83 per ounce).

Appearance: Dark, opaque black in color. Pours to a small, brown, frothy head which laces and retains extremely well.

Smell: Strong coffee notes, though that might actually be spices and/or peppers. Distinct chocolate. Nice but not amazing.

Taste: There are three major flavor components to this palette: chocolate, coffee and spices – in that order. Up front there’s a slightly sweet chocolate sensation, though not quite to the rich sweetness of a milk chocolate candy. More in the vein of dark Belgian chocolate, but without the abrasive bitterness. Through the middle a strong coffee flavor emerges, which complements the chocolate well and makes for a tasty mocha sensation. On the finish is a mild spice character; part cinnamon and ginger and part chile pepper of some sort. There’s a warming sensation right as it goes down, which is the logical conclusion. All these flavors flow in the proper order and taste quite good, though I’ve drank brews with similar palettes that were superior (e.g. Cigar City Hunahpu), so it’s quite impressive to be sure, but isn’t quite the mind-blower I was expecting.

Drinkability: A heavily spiced beer that weighs in at 11.5% ABV, Prairie Christmas Bomb! Is surprisingly drinkable. In fact, it’s amazingly drinkable! The mouthfeel is soft and comfortable with a smooth texture and finish to match. There’s a gentle warming sensation from the alcohol, but at no point does this ever come across as a boozy or obese beer. It leaves a slightly dry lingering aftertaste, but it’s easily tolerable. 
Grade: 9/10

Friday, December 12, 2014

Horseheads IPA

   AROMA 6/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 6/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1237) - Albany, New York, USA - DEC 12, 2014
A lot of people think the IPA is an idiot-proof recipe since it’s easy to hide imperfections behind all the hop character. To some extent that may true, however, if you’ve got a boring or even standard IPA recipe, it’s still going to come across as boring or standard. I guess that’s how I’d describe Horseheads IPA – a pretty typical East Coast-style brew that’s in no way “off,” and does have some redeeming qualities, but is far from great.

I poured a 22oz bottle into a tulip glass. There was no freshness date. I bought it at the brewery for $5.75 ($0.26 per ounce).

Appearance: Mostly clear copper/orange hue. Pours to a two-finger, off-white, foamy head which retains and laces quite well.

Smell: Flowery hops with some earthy/piney character. Quite mild overall, though.

Taste: For a beer claiming 91 IBUs, Horseheads IPA is surprisingly malt-forward. Some caramel malt and even brown sugar sweetness are present right away. Mild toasted character can be found as well. Through the middle and finish come the hops, and they’re of the earthy/piney variety. I do notice some orange flavor as well, mostly in the aftertaste. There’s bitterness here for sure, though the actual hop bite seems rather tame. This is a brew I’ve had dozens of times before and while it’s not bad, it’s just not that interesting – at least not to me… anymore. This would probably be a good introduction to the style for newcomers.

Drinkability: This is a beer that should be pretty hefty, but doesn’t feel like it. On one hand it’s nice to be able to quaff down an 8.6% ABV brew - what with its thin, crisp mouthfeel and smooth finish. However, I think there should be more complexity and more overall body than this. 
Grade: 6/10

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Long Trail Sick Day IPA

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1236) - Albany, New York, USA - DEC 11, 2014
I’ve always said I don’t really care about styles, but when a brewery slaps “IPA” on the label of a beer – you have an expectation. Long Trail Sick Day IPA isn’t really an IPA in the classic sense, other than it’s a significantly hoppy beer. It’s probably better described as an amber or brown ale with a lot of hops – and in that aspect it works quite well.

I poured a 12oz bottle into an official Long Trail tumbler glass. It was bottled on 9/18/14 and cost $2.35 ($0.20 per ounce).

Appearance: Deep copper/burgundy color, but still transparent. Pours to a large, off white, foamy head which laces and retains excellently.

Smell: Lightly sweet confectionery notes, plus piney hops.

Taste: The first thing I notice is how overtly malty this beer is. A mild sweetness of toast, bread, caramel and slight peanut brittle character is present immediately. At the same time there’s also plenty of piney, earthy bitterness. It’s a little astringent, and complements the malty flavors of toast and peanut brittle quite well. I even detect some milk chocolate on the finish. The beer seems to be trying to have it all, though. Plenty of hop character and bitterness as well as genuine malty sweetness. But the two major taste components seem to almost cancel each other out as they confuse the palate. This would work better as a more traditional brown or amber ale, or as an IPA with less overt malt character. As it stands, it’s still a decent brew.

Drinkability: Before the tastes really registered on my brain, the way I knew Long Trail Sick Day IPA wasn’t a true IPA was from the mouthfeel. It’s remarkably soft and smooth in the texture without the usual carbonation crispness. It doesn’t seem to take full advantage of 6.8% ABV weight, though it is sturdy enough that it would be an ideal dinner pairing. 
Grade: 7/10

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Victory Storm King Imperial Stout

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1235) - Albany, New York, USA - DEC 10, 2014
I expect imperial stouts to have a significant hop character to them in order to balance out the sometimes ridiculously cloying malty sweetness. However, I don’t expect the hops to be the centerpiece outside of a Black IPA, yet that seems to be the case with Victory Storm King. It’s not so much hoppy in terms of hop flavor as it is hoppy in terms of bitterness. Though the overall palette is enjoyable, it seems unbalanced to me.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a goblet. It had an enjoy by date of 4/28/19 (which I assume is five years from the bottling date). It cost $3.65 ($0.30 per ounce).

Appearance: Ink black color; completely opaque. Pours to a two-finger, tan, frothy head which laces and retains extremely well.

Smell: Familiar nose of dark malt with light notes of confectionery flavors. Has a surprisingly strong hop presence as well, especially of flowers.

Taste: The first thing I notice about this beer is the assertive, dry bitterness. Akin to the aftertaste of coffee, or maybe even French Roast coffee flavor. Burnt toast, dark chocolate and some other bittersweet characteristics are noticeable as well. I keep waiting for a rich sweetness, but it only seems to show up in passing. Hints of caramel or toffee on the second half, but they’re upstaged by more dry, astringent bitterness which lingers in the aftertaste. All complaints aside, I have to say I do enjoy this palette as a whole and I do appreciate its uniqueness.

Drinkability: Imperial stouts with weighty bodies like Victory Storm King’s 9.1% ABV tend to be thick, tepid and cloying. Though the mouthfeel is definitely full-bodied and smooth, I also detect a noticeable crispness as well. Some alcohol warmth as it goes down, though it is not harsh. I’m not too crazy about the aftertaste, but it’s no challenge to drink this beer at all. 
Grade: 7/10

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Abita Grapefruit Harvest IPA

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 13/20
Chad9976 (1234) - Albany, New York, USA - DEC 9, 2014
Many IPAs tend to have a citrusy taste due to the hops used in their brewing, so it would seem to make sense to brew an IPA with grapefruit. Ironically enough, Abita Grapefruit Harvest IPA isn’t particularly grapefruit-y nor IPA-y (yeah I know those terms don’t exist – so sue me). It’s more of a pale ale with some fruit essence to it and in that respect it works.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a goblet. It had a best by date of 4/15/15 and cost $2.50 ($0.21 per ounce).

Appearance: Hazy orange hue, though some carbonation is visible. Pours to a small, white, foamy head which laces and retains pretty well.

Smell: Typical citrusy IPA aroma with some flower notes, though a bit milder than most. No noticeable grapefruit aroma, though.

Taste: The palette here is what I would consider a very pedestrian, or mainstream, or even “starter” IPA. Coming in at only 40 IBUs, Abita Grapefruit Harvest IPA is not exactly a hop bomb. And despite the name, it’s not exactly a fruity bomb, either. There’s a solid pale malt foundation which accounts for mild sweetness, but there’s also distinct Cascade hop presence as well. A light citrus and floral flavor combination is noticeable from beginning to end of each swig. The actual grapefruit character is more of an implication than an overt flavor component. Some tartness and a hint of zesty spice, but not much in the way of authentic fruit or juiciness. It actually emerges more in the aftertaste than at any other time in the palette.

Drinkability: A mild palette delivered via a crisp mouthfeel is usually a winning combination, and Abita Grapefruit Harvest IPA is no exception. It’s even refreshing for a moment while in the mouth, and it finishes quite clean, as well. At 6% ABV it could (and should) be a little bigger in body and taste, but at least it doesn’t come across as a session beer. 
Grade: 6/10

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Elysian Oddland Spiced Pear Ale

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1233) - Albany, New York, USA - DEC 7, 2014
I appreciate it when breweries make beers that don’t conform to any particular style and make that clear right in the name and label. Elysian Oddland Spiced Pear Ale could be considered a fruit beer, perhaps a saison, or under the umbrella term of spice/herb/vegetable. Wherever it lies is inconsequential, what does matter is that it’s a tasty, original, and interesting brew to say the least.

I poured a 22oz bottle into a mason jar. It had no freshness date. I won this in a raffle (thanks to Eric for donating it!).

Appearance: Hazy shade of dark orange; some sediment can be seen floating in suspension. Pours to a large, white, frothy head which retains and laces wonderfully.

Smell: Strong aroma of spices, especially ginger. Slightly fruity, though has a scent reminiscent of antiseptic cleaners.

Taste: This beer is properly named as the “spice” reference proceeds the pear reference. In other words, yes, this beer is spicy as hell. As soon as it hits the tongue, the palate lights up with an array of spice rack seasonings: ginger, cinnamon, cumin, cardamom, coriander and allspice all seem to be present (though, according the brewery’s website, only cumin and cardamom are actually used in the brew). The pear component definitely takes a backseat to the spice, though it does work as a continuous fruity counterbalance. It imparts a hint of cider-like tartness, but there is little in the way of overt fruit juiciness and sweetness (I do get a slight lemon/lime soda flavor, though). The use of Saaz hops really complements the spice palette in the way of strong dry bitterness, especially on the finish. That “antiseptic” character from the nose does carry over to the taste, though that might be an off-character if this bottle is old.

Drinkability: At only 6.3% ABV, Elysian Oddland Spiced Pear Ale isn’t all that hefty of a brew. However, it’s not exactly a guzzler, as those spices really make their presence known in the mouth. It doesn’t have the heat of a pepper beer, but there definitely is an intense element here that leads it more into the sipping territory. The mouthfeel itself is medium-bodied and crisp, though the combination of spices and bitterness from the hops does leave a lingering, drying sensation. This would be fun to pair (no pun intended) with a fruit salad. 
Grade: 8/10

Friday, December 5, 2014

Horseheads Black Horse Ale

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1232) - Albany, New York, USA - DEC 5, 2014
The best Black IPAs are a marriage of both IPA and stout or porter brews. It’s amazing how well hops can complement flavors of chocolate, coffee, and roasted malt. In the case of Horseheads Black Horse Ale it’s more a hop-forward brew with incidental porter/stout characteristics (if any at all, really). That’s okay, because the palette is actually really enjoyable because of its delectable hop selection.

I poured a 22oz bottle into a tulip glass. There was no freshness date. I bought this at the brewery tasting room for $5.75 ($0.26 per ounce).

Appearance: Completely opaque black body with faint brown highlights. Pours to a large, tan, frothy head which laces and retains with excellence.

Smell: Pungent bouquet of orange and grapefruit, as well as a clean, floral scent.

Taste: It seems like most Black IPAs tend to incorporate hops of the “East Coast” variety; i.e. those with pine and resin flavors. In the case of Horseheads Black Horse Ale, it’s all “West Coast” hop character: huge orange and ruby red grapefruit flavors. They’re present immediately, creating for a candy-like flavor. Maybe even a bit sweet. The bitterness doesn’t kick in until the apex of the swig, which is rather dry and a little biting, but it finishes exactly as it starts with an almost juicy flavor and refreshing quality. I didn’t get much of the dark malt character, unfortunately. There is a faint coffee sensation underlying here, but no chocolate nor roasted malt flavors. I’d actually say this kind of fails as a Black IPA, but since that’s still a style that’s yet to be cataloged, it still works as an original, delectable, and enjoyable brew.

Drinkability: As far as taste goes, Horseheads Black Horse Ale could be mistaken for a regular IPA if drank blind. However, when it comes to palate, it definitely has the body of something else. There’s a noticeably smoothness to the texture here; softer, smoother, and lest overtly crisp than a normal IPA and something more akin to a porter. It does seem a little inefficient at 7.4% ABV, though. Yes, there’s plenty of body and flavor, but not much complexity or raw energy. It is highly drinkable; I was able to gulp down the entire bottle quickly and easily and without any complaints. 
Grade: 8/10

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

St. Ambroise Oak Aged Pale Ale

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1231) - Albany, New York, USA - DEC 3, 2014
St. Ambroise Oak Aged Pale Ale is another one of those beers that no one can decide what category it belongs to. It could be a pale ale, an amber ale, an old ale or an English strong ale. It is probably best described as a wood-aged strong English pale/amber ale as it has qualities of all these styles. I really enjoy the sweetness and the fact the woody character enhances the base brew rather than upstages it. I don’t encounter brews like this too often.

I poured an 11.5oz bottle into a tulip glass. It had an expiration date of 7/31/15. This was given to me by friends who brought it back from a trip to Canada (thanks, Alex & Marissa!).

Appearance: Deep shade of amber, not quite opaque but definitely not clear. Pours to a large, off-white, foamy head which retains and laces extremely well.

Smell: Sweet, British-style pale ale maltiness full of bread, brown sugar and light caramel/toffee notes.

Taste: Immediate sweetness of confectionery flavors as soon as the beer hits the tongue. Caramel, toffee, caramelized sugar (Turbinado sugar, especially) and what might be Ringwood yeast esters all envelope the palate right away. There’s a distinct, slightly sharp bitterness through the middle, but it’s reserved. Strong enough to balance the maltiness, but in no way would I describe this as a particularly hoppy brew. I don’t get much in the way of traditional wood or barrel character other than a slight vanilla note. I think it works well this way since stouts and porters tend to do better with oak-aging rather than pale and amber ales. There is perhaps a bit of a tang right on the finish that might be caused by the oak. Overall, it’s a tasty, slight complex, but well-made brew.

Drinkability: Sometimes, beers like St. Ambroise Oak Aged Pale Ale can be a challenge to drink. Though sweet, it is not cloying or sticky in any way. The mouthfeel is not quite full-bodied and sticky; there’s distinct crispness here. A slightly dry aftertaste, but it’s fine. Quite efficient for only 6% ABV – it’s quite tempting to put back a few of these in a row. 
Grade: 8/10

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Tröegs Blizzard of Hops

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1230) - Albany, New York, USA - DEC 2, 2014
There was a time when every IPA was either a pine bomb or a citrus bomb, but in recent years we’re seeing a new trend: the spice bomb. Many modern hops have a versatile character that simultaneously imparts flavors of earth, herbs, and dry spice and brewers seem to be using them a lot these days. That’s certainly the case with Tröegs Blizzard of Hops. It works well as an IPA, though it’s not particularly benefited from its hop choices.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a tulip glass. It was bottled on 10/30/14 and cost $2.60 ($0.22 per ounce).

Appearance: Pilsner-like complexion with a crystal clear golden body topped by a white, frothy head which retains and laces well.

Smell: Spicy/herbal/piney hops on the nose, though a bit mild overall. Has a slight musty character.

Taste: An interesting selection of hops were used in the brewing of this beer (Centennial, Chinook, El Dorado, and Galaxy). Each creates for a distinct flavor character: light citrus peel, some pine needles, but a strong finish of garlic/onion and general earthiness. The base malt is simply pilsner malt and wheat; the latter of which accounts for a slight tartness on the finish. Otherwise the malt is a light, cracker-like flavor, which is a bit of a moot point since the hops are the stars here. I find the overall palette to be enjoyable, but it’s not especially delicious. I appreciate the originality, though.

Drinkability: It’s interesting that this beer looks like a pilsner, as it also drinks like a pilsner. The mouthfeel is noticeably thin for an IPA, but remarkably crisp and well-carbonated. It goes down smooth, though the spicy hops definitely linger on the palate. It doesn’t seem to quite fulfill its 6.4% ABV potential, but there is no “light” quality to this brew whatsoever. 
Grade: 7/10

Monday, December 1, 2014

Erdinger Oktoberfest (2014 re-review)

   AROMA 5/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 6/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 12/20
Chad9976 (1229) - Albany, New York, USA - DEC 1, 2014
I’m not entirely sure what the deal with this beer is. I originally reviewed this (or a similar beer by this brewery) way back in 2008 and I haven’t had it since. It states very plainly on the label that this is Erdinger Oktoberfest, but previous editions were known as Erdinger Oktoberfest-Weizen, and some websites list it as Erdinger Festweiße. Judging by the way it looks and tastes, it appears to be more of a wheat beer of some sort than a true Oktoberfestbier or Marzen. And though I’m not a stickler for styles at all, I find the beer to be just above mediocre. There’s nothing off-putting about it, but there’s little to truly enjoy.

I poured an 11.2oz bottle into a mug. It had an expiration date of 5/2015 and cost $2.85 ($0.25 per ounce).

Appearance: Banana-skin yellow hue over an extremely hazy body. Carbonation can be seen streaming up the side of the glass. Pours to a large, bright white, foamy head which retains well but doesn’t leave much lacing.

Smell: Not much of anything. Just the faintest trace of banana and lemon peel. Nothing off-putting, but far from aromatically enticing.

Taste: This almost seems to be the German version of an American “pale wheat ale.” Wheat is definitely the dominate flavor characteristic here, though it’s not surprising considering this brewery makes all their beers with a ton of wheat. There’s a slight tartness that’s recognizable immediately, with hints of lemon peel or some kind of citrus zest. It’s missing the classic yeast esters often found in Bavarian hefeweizens – no clove, no banana, no bubblegum. I even detect a slight tanginess and astringency on the finish. It’s not repulsive, but I can’t imagine it’s intended to be there (buying imported beer in America is such a gamble – it rarely arrives fresh and is likely mistreated by all the hands it passes through). This definitely falls to be an Oktoberfest as well as a hefeweizen, but as a beer in general it’s okay I guess.

Drinkability: While the palette to Erdinger Oktoberfest may not be all that exciting, at least it’s easy to get it down. The mouthfeel is soft, but with a consistent presence of fine carbonation. It does down smooth and finishes almost completely clean save for a slightly oily residue. At 5.7% ABV it should have a lot more going on, as this has the body of a much lighter brew. Though it’s actually a little refreshing while in the mouth, but I see little reason to binge on this. 
Grade: 5/10

Brewpub review: Galaxy Brewing Company (Binghamton, NY)

I had never considered Binghamton much of a beer destination, as it’s not an area I hear a lot of beer nerds clamoring over. However, in recent years quite a few breweries have been sprouting up in the vicinity: Water Street Brewing, The North Brewery, Binghamton Brewing, and Galaxy Brewing.

Galaxy Brewing (1)

I was first introduced to Galaxy back in April at the TAP NY Beer Fest. I tried a few samples of their beers and they were all pretty good. I told them I would stop by their brewpub sometime as I have family in Binghamton and I’m sure they’d like to check it out as well. So, on Saturday, my girlfriend and I drove down to Binghamton and went to Galaxy for lunch along with my sister and her husband. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I had a feeling we were in for a good time as soon as we walked in the door.

Galaxy Brewing (3)

It’s clear that Galaxy’s brewpub is brand spanking new. It has an extremely modern atmosphere to it: everything is sleek, shiny, organized and clean, with the tables spaced pretty far apart. The bar itself is pretty lengthy with two big-screen HDTVs and another TV serving as a menu display. They also have a well-stocked bar with liquor and wine selections.

Galaxy Brewing (5)

As you can probably tell by now, whenever I visit a brewpub for the first time (or for the sake of a review), I like to order a sampler flight of every beer available on tap. Galaxy had 13 in-house brews available on tap (a few were on nitro and one was on cask). That selection alone is quite impressive for a brewpub. A flight of four 4oz samples is $7 ($0.44 per ounce), and in order to try all 13 brews, I of course had to order three flights for $21 plus another $1.75 for the thirteenth sample. But it wasn’t just me trying the beer, my girlfriend and sister helped out – which was a good idea considering there was 52 total ounces of beer (that’s the equivalent of 3 ¼ pints). And I’m happy to say that all the beers we tried were good, with several of them being really excellent. Let’s go down the list:

Galaxy Brewing (7)

Kopernik Kolsch (4.7% ABV): I’m not usually a fan of this style, but this was pretty interesting. It seemed slightly Americanized , but was otherwise a classic example. No complaints.

St. Stusan (6.5% ABV Belgian ale): This is an award-winning brew and I can see why. Huge Belgian character with plenty of Banana and other fruity notes and a hint of spice. Everyone at the table agreed this was the best beer of the flight.

#42 ESB (6.7% ABV): I’m rarely impressed when smalltown brewpubs attempt authentic British-style beer, but Galaxy got this one right. Exactly to spec in every way.

Galactic Silk (6.1% ABV amber ale): On nitro, which was interesting because I don’t recall ever having an amber ale on nitro before. Seemed overtly mild, but the smoothness was nice. Not bad, but probably the most unimpressive beer on the menu.

Galaxy Brewing (8)

NY Attitude (7.4% ABV Belgian ale): Another Belgian pale-ish ale, though this had a lot of spiciness not unlike a Saison. Pretty sure I detected Sorachi Ace hops. Did not drink like a big beer, though.

Andromeda IPA (6.7% ABV): I completely agree with the brewery’s description: “Hoppy, citrusy, with notes of passion fruit and other tropical fruits. An East Coast style India Pale Ale that is smooth and well balanced, with an intense hop aroma and an emphasis on hop taste, combined with a moderate bitterness.” Very good IPA. My girlfriend ordered a full pint ($6.50) of this to go with her meal.

Omega Dubbel (9.7% ABV): This one took me by surprise, as I find that breweries that don’t specialize in Belgian-style beers don’t tend to pull of an authentic dubbel very well. Yet again, Galaxy impressed me by making a beer that was not only exactly-to-spec, but a great example of the style as well. This could compare to an Allagash or Ommegang brew. One of the best beers of the day for me.

Pulsar Porter (4.7% ABV): Pretty standard pub-style porter. No frills. No mistakes. I believe this was on nitro as well.

Galaxy Brewing (9)

The Void (7.6% ABV Belgian stout): It’s extremely rare that I find a supposed “Belgian-style” stout that really works, yet this one did – and pretty well at that. While not as good as their other Belgians, this was still a solid and interesting offering.

Sour Cherry Stout (7% ABV): I was eager to try this beer, since the name alone is quite enticing. I was a little disappointed that the beer wasn’t quite as sour or cherry-tasting as I’d prefer. It was more of a standard stout with some cherry flavor and sourness on the finish. Not bad, but could be great with some improvements. This was on cask, by the way.

Smoked Honey Stout (7.5% ABV): A similar experience as the previous beer, though the smoke and honey were a little more pronounced this time. Good, but could be better.

PANIC! (8.8% Russian Imperial Stout): Big and bold with huge chocolate, coffee and sour grape notes. A big improvement over the previous few beers. This would make a great dessert brew.

Ghost of Christmas Ale (9% ABV winter warmer): This was a unique twist on the classic “winter warmer” style. It appears to be an imperial porter at the base with raisin, orange peel, chocolate and Ghost Chile Peppers added to it. Strong notes of dark chocolate and spiciness with a pleasant warming sensation on the finish. It was surprisingly good, but just 1/3rd of a sample was enough to satisfy.

Overall, I’d have to say I was quite impressed by the quality, quantity, and variety of the Galaxy lineup. They seem to prefer big beers in their portfolio, as the average weight of this flight came in at 7.1% ABV. It’s no wonder I had a pretty healthy buzz going only halfway through the flight (I tend to drink quickly).

Galaxy Brewing (14)
As for the food, it was just as good as the beer. We ordered a dozen chicken wings ($11) as an appetizer and they were some of the biggest wings I’ve seen in a place like this. We were all surprised by the amount of seasoning for a supposedly mild sauce, which was fine by me since I like to actually be able to taste and appreciate the flavor rather than battle the Capsaicin.

For our meals, everyone but me ordered a burger (though they all ordered different burgers). They were quite beefy with plenty of toppings ($12-$13). I ordered a pulled pork sandwich ($11), which was quite sweet and savory with a touch of crunch to it from the citrus kale slaw topping. All entrees come with a variety of sides, though three of us opted for the mac & cheese while my girlfriend got the seasoned fries. The mac & cheese was better described as shells and cheese, not traditional elbow macaroni. And while tasty with a nice seasoning, it was more “saucy” than it was cheesy per se. We all enjoyed it, though.

Galaxy Brewing (19)The four of us took over 90 minutes to get through the flights as well as our meals, which is a bit longer than I prefer to spend in a restaurant for one meal (especially lunch), but at no point did it seem like time was lagging. Our server was nice and knew the food and beer menus inside and out. Though we were seated quickly, it did take a while before we placed our orders, though he deliberately waited until we had finished the appetizers and most of the flight before our entrees came out. I probably could have gone for dessert, but everyone else was stuffed by the time they finished their meals.

After all was said and done the check came to $102.69, which really isn’t too bad since that averages out to about $25 per person, which is what I tend to spend when dining out at similar venues. I paid the tab and my sister and her husband left a $20 tip.

I’d say it was definitely worth the trip to Binghamton to check out Galaxy Brewing Company. On a return trip, I’d probably stick to one pint (of the St. Stusan or Andromeda IPA) and try a different appetizer. I would definitely recommend a group of three or four people try a sampler flight of all the beers on tap, as they were all enjoyable.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Port City Oktoberfest

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1229) - Albany, New York, USA - NOV 30, 2014
When breweries make exactly-to-specification Oktoberfest/Marzen brews, they tend to still be pretty boring. I would say Port City Oktoberfest is definitely to-spec all the way, however, it is not boring. That’s not to say it’s exciting, either. I do get genuine characteristics of the style, which I appreciate, and no off-flavors, which is also quite nice.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a mug. It was bottled on 8/26/14 and cost $2.80 ($0.23 per ounce).

Appearance: Pretty shade of copper, nearly crystal clear with visible carbonation. Pours to a two-finger, white, foamy head which retains and laces fairly well.

Smell: Mild overall, though there is distinct maltiness in the nose. Slightly sweet and a hint of spice.

Taste: This beer is made with all-German ingredients and they’re definitely noticeable. Vienna, Munich, Pilsner and Caramunich malts are noticeable – if you’ve got a discerning palate. Probably not as sweet and complex as I’d prefer, though it definitely has an authentic taste all around. Less toffee and caramel and more biscuits and toast. Dry, slightly spicy bitterness through the middle due to the Noble hops with a clean aftertaste. For a 3-month-old bottle, Port City Oktoberfest has held up pretty well since most brews of this caliber would be quite tangy by now.

Drinkability: The mouthfeel is exactly what I expect (and want) in an Oktoberfest. Crisp for sure, but in no way watery or thin. Smooth going down with just a slightly residual hop aftertaste (otherwise it’s pretty much completely clean). Pretty efficient at 5.5% ABV, which is the ideal weight for the style. An even lighter body would be nice, but I’m not complaining. 
Grade: 7/10

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thirsty Dog Barktoberfest

   AROMA 6/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 6/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1228) - Albany, New York, USA - NOV 28, 2014
When it comes to an Oktoberfest beer I pretty much expect mediocrity, since so few brewers do anything exciting or original with the style. Thirsty Dog Barktoberfest is a good example of what I mean. Sure, it’s a by-the-book Marzen, but it’s not particularly memorable. You want an Oktoberfest, you get one here.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a mug. There was no freshness date and it cost $2.49 ($0.21 per ounce).

Appearance: Pretty shade of copper; crystal clear though not much carbonation is visible. Pours to a one-finger, white, soapy head which mostly dissipates and leaves minor amount of lacing.

Smell: Virtually non-aromatic. A faint trace of amber malt, but otherwise has a standard lager smell.

Taste: The palette here has all the standard makings of an amber European lager. A light sweetness of dark malt with a mild caramel and toffee flavor on the finish and light, dry spiciness through the middle (probably due to Noble hop varieties). I also detect a slight peanut brittle-like astringency in the aftertaste as well as a slight tanginess. It’s not bad, it’s not off-putting, but does it serve any purpose? Overall, this is a fine-tasting beer, but nothing more.

Drinkability: I was surprised to see that Thirsty Dog Barktoberfest weighs in at 6% ABV, since it drinks like something much lighter and sessionable. The mouthfeel is rather light and short-lived. Crisp with a dry finish and some tang on the aftertaste. It goes down smooth and it’s refreshing while in the mouth, but it’s quite inefficient for its weight. One bottle is all you need. 
Grade: 6/10

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Westmalle Tripel

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1227) - Albany, New York, USA - NOV 27, 2014
The Belgian-style Tripel Ale is one of my favorite beer styles, and believe it or not, I actually have never had Westmalle Tripel before now. It receives rave reviews and many consider it the best of the style. I wouldn’t go that far, though I can definitely see how people would come to that consensus. It’s classic Trappist all the way and definitely epitomizes the style. It is not quite the best-ever example of it, however.

I poured an 11.2oz bottle into a Trappist chalice. It had a best before date of 12/12/15 and cost $6.29 ($0.56 per ounce).

Appearance: Pale orange/golden hue over a hazy body. Spastic carbonation is visible and it never settles down. Pours to a two-finger, white, soapy head which never dissipates and leaves plenty of lacing.

Smell: Potent aroma of white grape, or even white wine per se. Not much in the way of spice or banana, though.

Taste: You know you’re drinking an authentic Trappist brew when the beer lights up your tongue with a spicy sensation immediately. Though it smells of white grape, Westmalle Tripel tastes more of pepper, flaked maize, and a hint of banana (though none of those ingredients are actually in there – it’s all yeast esters). A slight juicy sensation through the middle, followed by candy-like sensation of butterscotch and caramel (and no, it’s not diacetyl). I was hoping for banana and citrus flavors, but they didn’t seem to appear. It’s not so much bitter per se as it is spicy, though it’s a pleasant despite being rather intense. I’d be curious to try a fresher vintage since this style doesn’t usually improve with age. An older bottle, at the very least, is still going to deliver for the style, though.

Drinkability: If you want a beer with a truly intense carbonation mouthfeel, you’ll find it in a Trappist brew. Westmalle Tripel doesn’t have a viscous mouthfeel, though it has enough intense micro carbonation to really give it some presence on the tongue. At 9.5% ABV there’s some mild warming sensation, though it’s easily tolerable. It’s one of the driest beers I can recall, as the peppery character seems to suck all the moisture out of the mouth as it goes down. Some carbonation tends to get caught in the throat, but that’s to be expected. 
Grade: 8/10

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Leinenkugel's Snowdrift Vanilla Porter

   AROMA 6/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 6/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 12/20
Chad9976 (1226) - Albany, New York, USA - NOV 26, 2014
There are certain brewing techniques I always thought could be used to make any beer taste good (for example: adding a ton of hops, or adding a lot of sweet flavors). Though once in a great while I encounter one that shows that it’s still possible to screw up what should be an idiot-proof recipe. Leinenkugel’s Snowdrift Vanilla Porter is a good example of this. What should be a standard porter with vanilla added, it drinks like an amateurish homebrew. It’s not horrible, but it’s nowhere near as good as it should be.

I poured a 64oz growler into a nonic pint glass. My girlfriend picked this up for $12.99 ($0.20 per ounce).

Appearance: Opaque black hue. Pours to a small, tan, foamy head which dissipates quickly and leaves only a little lacing.

Smell: Quite faint aroma of mineral water and a hint of chocolate.

Taste: There’s a certain quality of faux craft (or “crafty”) beers like Leinenkugel’s that’s noticeable right away. I’m not sure how to describe it other than it’s simply not an authentic taste. Right away, I notice there’s a porter-like composition to this palate, but it’s not as genuine-tasting at it should be. There’s an essence of dark malt, but it’s not especially roasty or toasty. It actually kind of reminds me of a cola gone flat. There’s a consistent sweetness here, but it’s almost as though it’s from aspartame. There is a vanilla taste on the back end, though it’s mild and short-lived. All these complaints aside I have to admit there is nothing particularly off about this brew as far as brewing flaws. There is a noticeable mineral taste, but it’s tolerable.

Drinkability: Leinenkugel’s Snowdrift Vanilla Porter is most definitely not a fizzy yellow beer, yet the mouthfeel feels like that of one, only less carbonated. It’s definitely thin, but not slick; and at least there’s no cloying aftertaste (or any aftertaste for that matter). For a 6% ABV brew, it’s amazing easy to gulp down, but it should have more body and be the kind of beer that’s savored, not chugged. 
Grade: 5/10

Monday, November 24, 2014

My take on beer certifications

Here's my responses to the recent survey of beer writers' opinion on beer certifications:

Do you have a BJCP or Cicerone certification?
If you do, when did you receive it and why did you choose to pursue that certification?

I have the Cicerone Beer Server cert – does that count? I got it mostly as way to test my knowledge, and also out of curiosity. At the time, a lot of my fellow beer bloggers were picking this up so I thought I should too, and it was fairly cheap ($69), so it didn’t seem like too much of a gamble if I didn’t pass the test. I’m happy to say I only missed two or three questions and scored something like 94%. Though there are literally tens of thousands of people* with that particular certification so it definitely seems like less of an accomplishment.
*45,000 according to Cicerone’s Twitter.

If you don't, is there any particular reason why not? How would you respond to someone who asks why they should trust your opinion since you don't have ___ certification?

If that CBS cert doesn’t count, then consider me certless. I am an avid homebrewer and I have judged quite a few homebrew competitions, both BJCP-sanctioned, and non-BJCP sanctioned. I would like to get a BJCP cert for exactly the reasons Craig Gravina stated: to see if I can get it. I suppose it’s the same reason why people enter marathons or mud runs: to prove to themselves that they can do it. I would like to know how much I’ve learned on my own is enough to garner me some professional recognition. And the BJCP test isn’t too expensive, it’s just a major PITA trying to find a seat at a testing site that’s within a reasonable driving distance.

As for the full Cicerone certification, it’s something I would pursue if it were cheaper. It’s a whopping $395 just to take the exam! I do not understand how they justify that high of a pricetag. If I worked in the beer industry for a living and my reputation was hinged on having that title then I could see the benefit, but as a blogger I just don’t see the need. If they lowered the price to something much more reasonable I’d be more inclined to take it.

People have been questioning my reviews since Day 1. And when I first started out, I absolutely was naïve and starry-eyed. I’m not saying I’m an expert now, but I definitely know much more today than I did even a year ago. I’m able to articulate my thoughts and arguments clearly, and I can describe and critique beer using technical/brewing terms in the proper context now. So I notice that first-time visitors to my site as well as regular readers/viewers don’t scoff at my reviews now like they did back in 2008. If someone wants to argue taste, I just roll my eyes because you cannot debate taste as if it were empirical or academic. Though there are still a few psychotic trolls who would never in a million years take me seriously if I had the highest BJCP and Cicerone ranking in the world as well as the blessing of the ghost of Michael Jackson. I know I’m never going to earn their respect or even silence them no matter piece of paper I have, so I’m not going to let it bother me.

Do you think having either of these certifications is necessary in order for a professional [or even an amateur] beer writer/blogger to be taken seriously? 

I don’t think you have to have one of those certifications to be taken seriously as a writer, though it might help attract readers. If I come across someone who has something other than the Beer Server cert, well, that at least piques my interest because I’m inclined to believe they know what they’re talking about and that they’re not just some random shmuck or a troll. 

Of course, having a cert and being a proficient, entertaining, and professional writer, blogger or vlogger are two completely different things. Just because you’re an expert in something doesn’t mean you’re the best person to discuss it publicly. 

And, as I said above, you can have all the qualifications in the world, but there will always be that small – but extremely vocal- minority of dissenters that will give you grief for no apparent reason.

Are either of those certification programs, in your opinion, just for people who work in the industry, or can they be beneficial to regular drinkers as well? If so, how?

The Cicerone program is definitely for people who work in the industry in some capacity. In fact, they pretty much say exactly that on their website. So if you’re not a bartender, waiter or a waitress, wholesaler, or brewery rep, then there really isn’t much reason for you to go the Cicerone route unless you have money to spend and an ego to feed. 

As for BJCP, I suppose the most cynical way of looking at it is that you’re learning something in a confined context; namely – judging homebrew competitions. You’re learning how to judge beer relative to a fairly arbitrary set of conditions. It’s constrictive and it’s supposed to be. Those that apply BJCP standards to the real world I think are a bit delusional. Some of the most exciting and delicious beer is that which doesn’t fit into any one style category. You don’t have to be a Grand Master BJCP to realize that.

Overall, I don’t think there’s much benefit to even the average craft beer enthusiast to pursue either certification unless they really want to learn about traditional styles and traditional brewing techniques. Of course, you can learn all that on your own, too. I have through buying and trying thousands of beers over the years.

When someone has one of the higher echelon versions of those certifications (for example; a Grand Master BJCP or a Master Cicerone), does that impress you?

Yes, because I know those titles aren’t quick and easy to achieve. It shows they really have dedication, drive, and endurance. Being former Navy myself, it’s kind of like seeing a Master Chief (E9) with ribbons going up to his shoulder. Good for you. Just realize that it probably isn’t impressing laymen and outsiders.

Do those certifications do anything to make the craft beer industry a better place? Or do they just give people a de facto "license" to be a snob?

I’m not sure that certifications alone make the craft beer industry a better place by themselves. I mean, really, how and why would they? Craft beer still has a 10% share of the entire beer market. The macro breweries spill more beer than most craft breweries produce. We’re getting respected as the artisans we are, but we’ve got a loooooong way to go before we break the hegemony and overthrow the oligarchy. To think that simply having a couple professional certification programs will somehow radically alter the Zeitgeist is bit absurd. 

Perhaps a more optimistic way of looking at is that having these certifications is, as Gandhi said, becoming the change your want to see in the world. 

And I agree with the people who said snobs tend to be the uneducated and the pig-headed. You don’t get these certifications by only drinking the hot brewery of the moment or the flavor of the month, and crapping on those that aren’t trendy. If you were truly as seasoned a beer drinker as you need to be to get these certs, you’ll naturally come to appreciate a variety of styles and the consistency and professionalism of even the macro breweries.