Saturday, March 28, 2015

Interview with Mark Neumann of Upstate Brewing Company

I've known Mark Neumann for a couple years now. We met at TAP New York back in 2013. I've always enjoyed their three canned beers: Common Sense Ale; IPW; and the new XPA. Mark was in town for a few events so he was nice enough to swing by my place for a short interview.

Check out Upstate Brewing on the web here:

Friday, March 27, 2015

Half Full Pursuit IPA

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 6/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 13/20
Chad9976 (1314) - Albany, New York, USA - MAR 27, 2015
I’m not sure what the deal is with Half Full Pursuit IPA. Since there’s no freshness date I have to wonder if what I’m drinking is what the brewer intended or if it’s just an old can. It doesn’t have any glaring flaws, though something about it doesn’t seem quite right. Though marketed as an IPA, this is closer to an amber ale or specialty grain as it contains rye. The result is a moderately flavorful, somewhat interesting beer that’s at least easily drinkable.

I poured a 12oz can into a goblet. There was no freshness date. It cost $2.85 ($0.25 per ounce).

Appearance: Dark amber/brownish hue; extremely cloudy. Pours to a fairly large, tan, foamy head which retains and laces fairly well.

Smell: Spicy perfume-like aroma. Slight earthy/herbal notes.

Taste: The first thing I noticed about the palette here was how it had a flavor akin to iced tea. I’ve encountered other hoppy beers with this feature but in nearly every instance it was due to the bottle or can being old. I don’t think the beer is actually made with any tea, though, as that would probably be mentioned on the can or the brewery’s website. It is, however, brewed with some rye which might account for the perfume smell and accompanying taste. It’s lightly spicy and light bitter with the malt doing most of the work. How, at only 40 IBUs, this is supposed to be an IPA I don’t know. I also detect some apple character as well. It’s actually in the realm of apple sauce with cinnamon, but again – I highly doubt this was intentional. So for a beer that probably doesn’t taste as it should, this is actually not all bad. They got lucky.

Drinkability: It’s very surprising to see the 7% ABV on the can, as Half Full Pursuit IPA drinks like a beer much lighter in weight. The body is only medium with a good amount of carbonation so as to be self-cleaning. No cloying aftertaste here; just a hint of dryness. It should have much more complexity and flavor for the weight, though. 
Grade: 6/10

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Evil Twin Molotov Lite

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1313) - Albany, New York, USA - MAR 26, 2015
Seeing a beer with the word “lite” on the label and 8.5% ABV would seem to be a contradiction in terms. Though Evil Twin Molotov Lite is actually a scaled-down version of the 13% ABV Molotov Cocktail. It also mentions “natural flavors” on the can, though I don’t taste anything in here that seems to be derived from the malts, hops or yeast (perhaps hop extract?). Whatever the case may be, this is a more than solid double IPA that will certainly please any hophead.

I poured a 16oz can into a tulip glass. It was canned on 2/24/15 and cost $3.99 ($0.25 per ounce).

Appearance: Hazy shade of orange/amber. Little visible carbonation. Pours to a large, bright white, soapy head which mostly dissipates and leaves minor lacing.

Smell: Sweet tropical fruit and citrus concentrate. Almost vanilla or candy-like scent.

Taste: For a hop-forward beer the palette here is remarkably sweet. Rich amber maltiness is present from beginning to end, with a slight vanilla or birthday cake flavor on the back end. That’s not to say the hops are diminished, as there’s plenty of fruit cocktail flavors bristling across the tongue constantly. Pineapple, peach, pear, and grapefruit are all quite prominent. They have a light sweetness to them, akin more to hard candy rather than juice. There’s an pretty intense sensation of bitterness as well; it’s slightly dry but nothing the average hophead can’t handle. Some spicy or herbal sensation that appears on the finish as well; almost like cinnamon (or maybe just Noble hops?). Overall, it’s what you want and expect in an imperial IPA and this certainly doesn’t disappoint.

Drinkability: Usually, 8.5% ABV is pretty easy to handle and Evil Twin Molotov Lite is certainly not a challenge to get down. That being said, it’s surprisingly hot with a lot of raw alcohol heat and liquor-like intensity in the mouth. A fine level of carbonation to be sure, though it is a tad cloying in the aftertaste. This would be a fun beer to pair with a really savory or spicy dinner. Works fine on its own, though. 
Grade: 8/10

A new local beer has me excited!

It’s not often that I get truly excited to try a new beer. I mean, every year around this time I’m eager to try the latest Founders KBS release (probably my all-time favorite beer), but that’s about it. However, there’s a new beer being released next month by the Capital District’s own Shmaltz Brewing Company – the first-ever SHE’brew beer!


I’ll let the press release do the talking:

SHEBREW_bottleShmaltz Brewing Co. will celebrate the first official SHE’BREW with a fundraiser at the brewery and tasting room in Clifton Park, NY, on Sunday, April 12 from 2-6pm. The event will feature SHE’BREW TRIPLE IPA on draft and for sale in 22oz bombers, a guest brew from Rushing Duck Brewing Co and the freshest available beer from the Shmaltz year round and seasonal portfolio. Female fronted alternative rock trio Candy Ambulance will crank out live music throughout the day and Slidin’ Dirty from Troy, NY will be on hand with their famous gourmet sliders and a street fare inspired menu.

Shmaltz will donate a portion of proceeds from SHE’BREW TRIPLE IPA sales to the Pink Boots Society scholarship fund, a global non-profit that aims to advance women in the beer business. Shmaltz Brewing will also donate proceeds to Girls Inc. of the Greater Capital Region (Albany, NY) whose mission is to inspire all girls to be “Strong, Smart and Bold.”
Shmaltz’ own Nick Scammacca produced a rockin’ video documenting the creation of the first She’brew.

About the beer…

(11% ABV) “The first She’brew Beer is a giant and luscious Triple IPA that pours bright apricot with a silky white head,” says Rich Saunders, the lead brewer at Shmaltz Brewing. “She’brew has a distinct and intense tropical fruit and floral aroma. The mouthfeel is medium bodied with juicy notes of pineapple, tangerine, white peach, and ripe orange all coming from nearly four pounds per barrel of Calypso, Citra, Crystal and Amarillo hops. She’brew’s bitterness is balanced with slightly sweet, bright notes coming from flaked oats, Maris Otter and Victory malt. At 11% ABV, She’brew hides her strength behind a beautifully balanced, drinkable triple IPA.”

“International Women’s Collaboration Brew Day was created to raise awareness of women working in the beer industry and to encourage women to enjoy and embrace beer,” says Denise Ratfield, IWCBD Coordinator. “Through the efforts of hundreds of women brewing together around the world, we are achieving this goal with each successive brew. In addition to the joy of camaraderie, we gain a special satisfaction in knowing that money raised funds the Pink Boots Society scholarship program and local charities.”
Me when I read the description of the beer
Me when I read the description of the beer

I’ve been a big fan of Shmaltz for many years now. They tend to make big, bold beers and more often than not they’re great (their 2014 Funky Jewbelation was the best beer I had last year). This beer certainly seems promising since it’s a massive imperial IPA (or so-called “triple” IPA). Looking at the ingredients, I already have an idea of what it will smell, taste and drink like (I’m thinking it might be akin to Stone’s R&R Coconut IPA from 2013).

Plus it’s just plain cool that the beer was made mostly by women, including two friends of mine (who are both sitting in the bottom right corner of the picture): Shelby Schneider, Shmaltz’s director of marketing and Dora Philip, the co-owner of The Hollow Bar + Kitchen (where I’ll be signing books at their “NanoFest” April 4th – plug plug).

I’ll be at their launch part on April 12th. I hope to see you there!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 16/20
Chad9976 (1312) - Albany, New York, USA - MAR 24, 2015
Most West Coast IPAs tend to have a natural citrusy aroma and taste due to the hops used in the brew. Ballast Point’s Sculpin IPA has been roundly regarded as one of the better examples of the style, so it’s not surprising they would make a variation where grapefruit is added to the brew. Whether it’s whole fruit, just the peel or some kind of flavoring extract I’m not sure. Regardless, it’s still an excellent IPA with the grapefruit being a nice addition at the end.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a tulip glass. It was bottled on 2/26/15 and cost $3.85 ($0.32 per ounce).

Appearance: Pretty shade of golden/orange with a mostly clear body. Pours to a large, off-white, frothy head which retains and laces very well.

Smell: Clean, bright citrusy hops; though I don’t detect the grapefruit distinctly.

Taste: I was expecting this beer to be all grapefruit all the time, but it’s actually quite similar to the regular base brew. In fact, it is just the base brew with “natural grapefruit flavors.” I could essentially copy and paste my description of the original, but I’m not that lazy. Anyway, it’s definitely a hop-forward beer to say the least. Intense dry bitterness right away with a citrusy flavor. It’s closer to pith than actual fruit as it’s not moist and juicy, but rather arid and astringent. The grapefruit flavor doesn’t emerge until the beer begins to go down and it’s closer to pink lemonade with a sharp tartness. I enjoyed it, but I wanted more and something more authentic-tasting (this has a candy flavor). The malt base is solid and supports the palette well, though it’s not sweet or malty per se. Definitely a tasty, enjoyable IPA with a lot of bite – if that’s your thing you’ll enjoy this.

Drinkability: At 7% ABV, Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin is a strong beer in more ways than one. Though not thick and sticky, it’s bigger than just medium-bodied as the flavor is strong from beginning to end. It’s also remarkably crisp while in the mouth and smooth going down. 
Grade: 9/10

Monday, March 23, 2015

Terrapin Liquid Bliss

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1311) - Albany, New York, USA - MAR 23, 2015
I don’t mind if a “novelty” beer becomes a trendy beer as long as it’s tasty. Terrapin’s Liquid Bliss is the second chocolate and peanut butter beer I’ve had in recent months and hopefully it won’t be the last. Though I can’t say it’s as good as the other beer I tried, it still works as a novelty brew that doesn’t grow old.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a tulip glass. It had an expiration date of 7/14/15 and was sent to me from a friend in Florida (thanks, Mike!).

Appearance: Seemingly opaque black with light brown highlights. Pours to an average size, dark tan, foamy head which laces and retains fairly well.

Smell: Almost identical to Reese’s Peanut Butter cups: chocolate and peanut butter candy. Some roasted malt.

Taste: This beer is a porter at the core and it certainly tastes as such. Up front there’s a lightly sweet sensation of dark malt, but without deeply roasted flavor or dry bitterness. I detect a mild milk chocolate flavor, but not overly sweet or of vanilla per se. The second half is the best part as the peanut butter flavor emerges and it tastes a lot like candy. It’s strong at first, but seems to weaken as I drink on. I also notice a faint tanginess right as it finishes. I’m not sure what’s accounting for that. Otherwise, the palette is rather repetitive, which is fine because the flavors present are enjoyable. Not quite the liquid indulgence I was hoping for, but a nice sweet beer that’s not cloying.

Drinkability: The first thing I noticed about Terrapin Liquid Bliss wasn’t the chocolate and peanut butter taste but the surprisingly thin and tepid mouthfeel. At 6.1% ABV, this should be approaching a full-bodied brew, but it comes across as medium-light. Perhaps it was brewed with lactose sugar, or maybe it’s a little under-carbonated. I will say that it’s smooth and very easy to throw back. It leaves no discernable aftertaste, though. 
Grade: 7/10

Two unabashedly shameless plugs

I’ve been known to insert (somewhat subtle) plugs of events at which I’ll be appearing. However, today I wanted to just flat-out promote two events I’ll be appearing at in the next two weeks because I’m really excited about them and I think they’re going to be a blast for anyone that attends. And yes, I’m just going to let the press releases do the talking for me.


Come out on Saturday, April 4th, to the Upper Hudson Valley NanoFest at The Hollow Bar + Kitchen (79 North Pearl Street in Albany). From 2pm to 5pm The Hollow will be playing host to five local “nano” breweries, and serving the best craft beer made right here in the Upper Hudson Valley!

Try roasty porters, velvety stouts, hoppy black IPAs, and a host of other brews! Meet the brewers and sample beer from Green Wolf Brewing Company (Middleburgh), Honey Hollow Brewing Company (Earlton), The Beer Diviner (Stephentown), Rare Form Brewing Company (Troy), and Argyle Brewing Company (Greenwich).

“I am passionate about craft beer,” says Dora Philip, owner of The Hollow Bar + Kitchen. “We are being recognized for our live music and food scene, and craft beer plays a significant role in that.  We cook with it, we host a variety of culinary/beer events and it is often the liquid of choice in the pints of our show-goers. The Upper Hudson Valley NanoFest is an opportunity for us to gather and showcase small, local breweries, and it’s incredibly exciting for us.”

Also on hand will be local beer authors Craig Gravina and Chad Polenz, signing copies of their respective books—Upper Hudson Valley Beer and The Handbook of Porters and Stouts. Books will be available for sale from the authors.

Tickets will available, before April 4th, at The Hollow for $20, and for $25 the day of the event. Must be 21 or older to attend. You can RSVP on Facebook, too.

NOTE: The previous content was written by Craig Gravina.

Session Beer Dinner Menu

Come out on Monday, April 6th at 6:30pm to Café Nola (617 Union Street in Schenectady) to the first beer dinner ever to be comprised exclusively of “session beers.”

This will be the third beer dinner to be hosted by local beer writer Chad Polenz at Café NOLA this year. Polenz is the co-author of The Handbook of Porters and Stouts, a 400-page hardcover compendium on all things dark beer (which he will be selling for $20 each; a discount of 1/3rd off the cover price). Polenz also blogs about beer news, events, and trends for the Times Union newspaper of Albany, NY on its “Beer Nut” blog. Additionally, he has posted over 1,300 beer reviews to his website since 2008.

“Normally, beer dinners tend to be made up of big, beefy brews. But in honor of the fourth annual Session Beer Day on Tuesday, April 7th, I wanted to go in the opposite direction and put together a menu of lighter beers. No one’s ever held a beer dinner with this type of theme in the Capital District. Also, what’s nice about doing a dinner of session beers is you won’t be overwhelmed by the alcohol when it’s over,” said Polenz who assembled the menu with Kevin Brown – Café NOLA’s co-owner and head chef.

Chef Brown insists that his traditional Cajun fare is not all about being spicy. “Louisiana cooking has the unfortunate reputation that it has to be hot and spicy. This is simply not true. The true art of Cajun cooking is the unique blend of herbs and spices that serve to enhance the flavor of vegetables, seafood, meat, poultry and wild game. In addition, the chef must know how to blend the ingredients together and how to complement fermented beverages. Though these session beers are light in alcohol, they’re not light in flavor and they’ll stand up to the food without problem.”

Chef Brown has created a menu of food with layers of flavor and added a dash of Spring produce. The pulled pork is smoked on premise with applewood. The food offerings will pair perfectly with Chad’s beer choices.

According to Lew Bryson, beer author and founder of The Session Beer Project, session beers are defined by five criteria:
  • 4.5% alcohol by volume (ABV) or less
  • Flavorful enough to be interesting
  • Balanced enough for multiple pints
  • Conducive to conversation
  • Reasonably priced

“There are indeed two beers on the menu that are just over 4.5% ABV [see attached menu]. However, we were limited to what was available, what was fresh, and what paired best with the food,” said Polenz. “That 0.1 or 0.2% difference may irk Lew and other hardliners, but I think it’s a small concession to make in order to have the best beers possible for this dinner. I’m sure the diners will be pleasantly surprised by the variety of styles represented, how widely they represent the flavor spectrum and how easy they are to drink.”

Special mention should be made to Upstate Brewing’s X.P.A. which will be making its Capital District debut at this beer dinner.

Tickets are available now at Café NOLA for $50 each (which includes tax, but not tip) or may be purchased online through Event Brite. Must be 21 or older to attend. Reservations should be made by April 3rd.

NOTE: The dinner is being held on Monday, April 6th as Café NOLA is normally closed on Mondays and this will allow Kevin and his staff to cater exclusively to beer dinner patrons.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Victory Helles Lager

   AROMA 6/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 6/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 13/20
Chad9976 (1310) - Albany, New York, USA - MAR 22, 2015
I’m not sure how it happened, but it seems like Munich Helles Lager (BJCP Style 1D) is suddenly a hip lager style among American breweries. Some brew it traditionally, others change it up a bit. Victory Helles Lager claims to be among the traditional camp – which it may very well be as far as recipe goes – however, it’s lacking a lot of the distinct qualities found in the style. This drinks more like a generic pale lager than any kind of niche style. It’s not flawed, and I can honestly recommend it, but it needs some improvement.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a pilsner glass. A six-pack cost $9.99 ($1.67 per bottle or $0.14 per ounce).

Appearance: Straw pale gold color over a crystal clear body. Carbonation is consistent. Pours to a small, bright white, soapy head that never completely dissipates but leaves no little lacing.

Smell: Pure pilsner malt. Clean, but mild. No hops.

Taste: Going by the description on the brewery’s website, it seems that this beer is brewed simply with German two-row pilsner malt. That’s fine, but there’s nothing memorable or exciting about the malt base. It definitely has the classic lager/pilsner taste of pale malt, but that’s about it. It’s clean – no DMS or diacetyl – which is also fine, but having something for the taste buds to latch onto would be nice. This is brewed with whole flower German hops, which is a vague description and an odd choice. There isn’t much in the way of perceived bitterness and just the faintest trace of Noble hop spice somewhere in the backend. That being said, there’s absolutely nothing off-putting about this palette other than its mildness.

Drinkability: When I first started drinking my glass I took a very long pull as it was remarkably refreshing and easily quaffable. At only 4.8% ABV, Victory Helles Lager has the light, sessionable body you want in a brew of this style. It’s crisp and clean with no aftertaste. There probably should be a bit more body for the weight, though. A good introductory craft lager – now only if it were available in cans instead of bottles. 
Grade: 6/10

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Upstate Brewing X.P.A. (Extra Pale Ale)

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1309) - Albany, New York, USA - MAR 21, 2015
Session IPAs are all the rage these days, but some breweries are showing that they haven’t abandoned the American Pale Ale style (re-inventing and re-imaging it yes, but not ignoring it completely). Case in point: Upstate Brewing’s X.P.A. – an “extra” pale ale. It has more body than a session IPA and opts for hop flavor instead of raw bitterness. It’s also highly drinkable, which is the icing on the cake.

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

Appearance: Dark copper hue; very cloudy. Pours to an average size, white, frothy head which retains and laces quite well.

Smell: Light tropical and stone fruit. Minor notes of grassy hops, too.

Taste: Clearly the hops are the star of the show here, and there’s quite a lot of them according to the can: Apollo, Bravo, Columbus and Comet. These are under-appreciated varietals and they can do the same job the more popular hops are known for. Up front there’s a light fruity flavor – apricot and peach especially. Through the middle I get a mild grassy/herbal character, which is a nice transition from beginning to end. Consistently bitter throughout with a drying sensation right as it finishes. The malt base is there, but doesn’t add a lot as far as distinct taste. However, the beer doesn’t come across as unbalanced; just the opposite, actually. Those tired of the Session IPA trend would do well to give this one a try.

Drinkability: At only 4.6% ABV, Upstate Brewing X.P.A. is in no way thin or lightweight. The mouthfeel is a solid medium body with perfect carbonation. It’s a little refreshing while in the mouth and goes down smooth. There’s a faint dryness in the aftertaste, but it’s easily tolerable. I’d think this would be a versatile brew: great for tailgating, sessioning, or pairing with traditional American food. I also appreciate that it comes in a can since this palette lends itself to portability (Saratoga Race Track in August, for example). 
Grade: 8/10

Friday, March 20, 2015

Einstök Icelandic Toasted Porter

   AROMA 6/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 13/20
Chad9976 (1308) - Albany, New York, USA - MAR 20, 2015
I split an 11.2oz bottle with two friends. We each poured it into a sampler glass. It was bottled on 12/9/14 and was sent to me by a friend in Florida (thanks, Mike!).

Appearance: Murky, mud-like hazy brownish/red. Pours to a fairly large, tan, frothy head which retains and laces well.

Smell: Fairly typical porter aroma, though milder than most. The toasted malt is subtle. There seems to be a slight tang to the aroma as I swear I detect a tuna-like scent.

Taste: If I didn’t know what I was drinking, I’d probably think this was someone’s homebrewed porter. It definitely has all the characteristics you look for in the style, only nothing about it really pops. Toasted dark malt is certainly the most prominent, but it’s not quite as robust as I was expecting (or hoping for). This is closer to a traditional brown ale with sweet caramel and a touch of toffee. It’s also quite hoppy as there’s genuine bitterness here and it accentuates the toasted character well. Overall, it’s still pretty mild and uncomplicated, but there’s nothing off-putting about the palette.

Drinkability: At 6% ABV, this is not exactly the thick, viscous syrup the label would seem to indicate it is. The mouthfeel is medium at best with a fairly high amount of carbonation. Still, it’s smooth and leaves little aftertaste. Probably a little too light to stand up to savory food, but would work as a tailgating beverage. 
Grade: 6/10

Einstök Icelandic Pale Ale

   AROMA 5/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 5/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 12/20
Chad9976 (1307) - Albany, New York, USA - MAR 20, 2015
I split an 11.2oz bottle with two friends, we each poured it into sampler glasses. It was bottled on 4/3/14 and was sent to me by a friend in Florida (thanks, Mike!).

Appearance: Dark copper hue with a hazy, dirty body. Pours to an average-sized, white, soapy head which mostly dissipates but does leave a little lacing.

Smell: Strong lemony lollipop aroma (usually indicative of oxidation). Slight English malt character is noticeable.

Taste: I’ll admit that this review really isn’t “fair” since the bottle is so old. However, I may never be able to try it again so I’ll document what I experienced. Judging by the label description, this seems to be an attempt at an American-style pale ale with the inclusion of Cascade and Northern Brewer hops, though the strong malty character and yeast strain seems to be British. Since it’s old, the hops have faded and the beer drinks like a rich amber ale. There’s a distinct lemony flavor with a hint of caramel or bread. It’s completely unbalanced, though. I’d imagine a fresh bottle would be much better, and I didn’t even mind the fact this was old beer (that much). Drinkable yes, but not especially enjoyable.

Drinkability: I was a little surprised to see this weighed in at 5.6% ABV as the mouthfeel was noticeably thin and slightly under carbonated (again, probably due to age). At least it wasn’t cloying and finished nearly completely clean. Not refreshing, but not a challenge to drink, either. 
Grade: 4/10

Einstök Icelandic White Ale

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1306) - Albany, New York, USA - MAR 20, 2015
I split an 11.2oz bottle with two friends. We each poured it into sampler glasses. It was bottled on 4/2/14 and was sent to me by a friend in Florida (thanks, Mike!).

Appearance: Slightly bright, banana-yellow hue. Quite clear with plenty of visible carbonation. Pours to a standard, white, foamy head which laces and retains well.

Smell: Lightly sweet lemony scent; some spices. Clean overall.

Taste: Most witbiers tend to have a strong orange flavor to them due to the use of orangepeel in the brew, though in this case it’s more of a lemon flavor. Much more of lemon pith or peel than fruit, though. A fairly sweet beer overall with a lovely spice character akin to licorice root (though probably just the coriander). Not nearly as robust or complex as some of the better examples of the style; this is a little closer to an American summer ale. Regardless, it works pretty well.

Drinkability: The mouthfeel is thin and crisp, though the beer is very refreshing while in the mouth. It finishes clean and dry. At 5.2% ABV it probably should have a little more body as it feels like a more overt session beer, though I can let it slide due to the bottle’s age. I could see this being fantastic in the summer. 
Grade: 7/10

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Shock Top Shockolate Wheat

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1305) - Albany, New York, USA - MAR 19, 2015
I picked up a can of Shock Top Shockolate Wheat on a whim since it was only a buck. I didn’t expect it to be that good, not just because of the brand but because it’s six months old and low in alcohol. How well could it have held up? Well, I’m pleasantly delighted by the quality of this beer considering everything it had going against it. Dare say I’d actually recommend it.

I poured a 16oz can into a weizen glass. It was canned on 10/10/14 and cost $1 ($0.06 per ounce).

Appearance: Opaque black in color, some carbonation is visible as it’s poured. A light brown, tall, foamy head at first but it mostly dissipates and leaves no real lacing.

Smell: Surprisingly potent aroma of chocolate and vanilla.

Taste: The description of this beer is quite interesting as it claims to be “Belgian style wheat” aged on cocoa and vanilla beans. It really doesn’t have any Belgian character to it at all, though. Perhaps “Belgian style” refers to the recipe but not the yeast strain – there are no esters here at all. This is much closer to a traditional porter with the addition of chocolate and vanilla. The wheat doesn’t do much for the palette or mouthfeel except to add some dryness on the finish. I’d assume the use of wheat in the grain bill is fairly low since it doesn’t do much for head retention, either. Still, the chocolate taste is pretty authentic and it’s sweet but not cloying. I get a bit of a cola flavor on the back end as well. Not a very complex brew, but a surprisingly tasty one.

Drinkability: Say what you want about the Shock Top line, but damn if they aren’t quaffable brews. This no exception as the mouthfeel is smooth and velvety, but without the viciousness of a stout or porter. Smooth going down with a nearly clean aftertaste. It’s amazing that at only 4.3% ABV Shockolate Wheat was able to stay fresh for so long. This is a great introductory chocolate beer for its target audience. 
Grade: 8/10

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Sixpoint Hi-Res

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1304) - Albany, New York, USA - MAR 17, 2015
Sixpoint tends to be very self-aware with their brews. They made a double IPA a few years ago, aptly titled “Resin,” and they’ve clearly cranked it up to 11 with “Hi-Res,” a so-called triple IPA. Big in body, alcohol and IBUs, this drinks more like a hop barleywine (but not a hoppy barleywine). As a beefy beer it does its job well as its tastes and smells pretty good and is surprisingly drinkable, too.

I poured a 12oz can into a goblet. It had a best before date of 7/9/15 and cost $4.59 ($0.38 per ounce).

Appearance: Gold/copper hue over a mostly clear body. Slow, steady carbonation is always visible. Pours to a one-finger, white, foamy head which laces and retains very well.

Smell: Potent piney/resiny hops with a subtle citrus concentrate scent. Alcohol is noticeable, but not distracting.

Taste: In the least surprising move ever, this beer begins with a strong piney flavor from the hops. Slightly lighter and closer to pine needles rather than dank, sticky resiny syrup (that comes in the second half). The malt base is strong, but not all that distinctive. I would not consider this to be an especially sweet brew, just a well-balanced one. The alcohol imparts significant warmth, but not much in the way of flavor except a dry, rubbing alcohol-like sensation. A faint citrus concentrate taste lurks in the background constantly and is the last thing I taste before it goes down. Big brews like this tend not to have the sharp bitter bite despite the high IBU rating of 111. Regardless, it’s still plenty flavorful and exactly what you want and expect in an IPA of this stature.

Drinkability: At 10.5% ABV, Sixpoint Hi-Res is not exactly sessionable. The mouthfeel is thick and chewy with a slight sticky sensation. Ironically enough it finishes rather clean; no starchy or cloying sensation. The alcohol makes itself known constantly; creating for a warming sensation and slightly distracts from the base palette. Still, it is not a sipper by any means and that’s pretty impressive. 
Grade: 8/10

Monday, March 16, 2015

Victory 19 Anniversary Session IPA

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1303) - Albany, New York, USA - MAR 16, 2015
Everybody is making a Session IPA these days and I don’t mind since most of them are actually pretty good. It’s interesting that Victory decided to brew one in honor of their 19th Anniversary Ale. That means it was probably a one-off, which is a bit of shame because this is a more-than-solid brew that would be great in their perennial portfolio.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a tulip glass. There was no freshness date on the bottle, but the case had an expiration date of May, 2015 (that’s lame, Victory. Date individual bottles, not cases!). It cost $2.95 ($0.25 per ounce).

Appearance: Pale yellow color with high clarity and visible carbonation. Pours to a two-finger, white, soapy head that retains and laces quite well.

Smell: Initially very grassy hops, but seems to become more citrusy (especially lemon). Aroma seems to fade quickly, though.

Taste: The malt bill is pretty simple (base malt and one specialty malt) with three trendy hops: Simcoe, Citra and Chinook. There’s a strong grassy character to the hops, especially at the beginning. A slight herbal/earthy quality too, though mild enough that it’s not abrasive. Lemon is fairly strong as well; it comes through as both the fruit and the peel. Some residual piney flavor and dry bitterness on the back end to round it out. I have had other Session IPAs with more flavor than this. That being said, what’s here is pretty enjoyable to say the least.

Drinkability: It doesn’t matter how light in alcohol (and flavor) a beer is; if it tastes bad it won’t be easy to drink. Victory Anniversary 19 Session IPA is a rare breed in that it’s both flavorful and quaffable. A thin, crisp mouthfeel that’s refreshing while on the tongue and mostly clean after it’s gone (I do get some dry starchiness, though). I found myself gulping this down and had to pace myself for the sake of this review. At only 4.5% ABV, this is indeed a session beer and the kind I would love to have a lot of in the summer (especially in cans so it’d be more portable). 
Grade: 8/10

Are there any good Spring seasonals?

Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day, which means everyone will be drinking Guinness, Killian’s, Swithwicks and other supposedly Irish style beers. But not me. I’m just not a fan of Irish Dry Stouts and Irish Red Ales. However, I do associate those styles with the Spring season so it’s nice to see them showing up on store shelves (but not Samuel Adams Summer Ale! COME ON!)

Of the four seasons, it seems like Spring has the least exciting offerings as far as seasonal beer releases go. Many breweries tend to put out a generic saison and/or some kind of pale wheat ale, but that’s as far as it goes. Saisons are, in my opinion, the new IPAs – they can be enjoyed year-round; there’s no need to relegate them to Spring only. Conversely, pale wheat ales are usually pretty boring and trite, they could fade away completely and I’d be okay with that.

And let’s not forget about bock and doppelbock. Bocks tend to be the Spring equivalent of Oktoberfest; slightly darker-colored, but just as mild-tasting as generic pale lagers (it’s one of my least favorite styles, as well). I’ve yet to find an American bock that’s truly amazing or even excellent (Genny Bock is actually one of the better examples of the style I’ve had – what does that tell you?). Same thing goes with doppelbocks. I mean, I love Ayinger Celebrator as any beer geek worth his salt should. However, trying to find fresh bottles on this side of the Atlantic is challenging. Additionally, there aren’t a lot of readily-available and reasonably-priced craft doppelbocks on the market, either. Sure, there are plenty of imperial specialty doppelbocks (Shmaltz’s Rejewvenator is a good example), but I’m talking about stuff that comes in a four or six-pack and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.
So that’s why Spring is the most boring season for beer, in my experience.

Are there a bunch of exciting spring seasonals that I’m not aware of? 

What are your favorite Spring seasonals?


Sunday, March 15, 2015

Samuel Adams Escape Route

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1302) - Albany, New York, USA - MAR 15, 2015
I don’t drink Samuel Adams beers as much as I used to because I’m not their target audience, nor are they making beers I really want to try anyway. That being said, I decided to give “Escape Route” a try because I wanted to see if they could make a palatable Kolsch style brew (one of my least favorite styles, BTW). Sure enough they did. And if I like it, I’d imagine the average Sam drinker probably will too.

I poured a 12oz bottle into the official Samuel Adams Boston Lager glass. The freshness date was notched at June, 2015 and it cost $2.50 ($0.21 per ounce).

Appearance: Golden/amber hue; perfectly clear body with consistent effervescent visible. Pours to a one-finger, white, foamy head that laces and retains rather well.

Smell: Slightly fruity esters (green pear mostly); some spicy hop character; faint pale malt.

Taste: The palette here is fairly direct and uncomplicated. Pale malt accounts for the base of the flavor with some the hops adding some spice and bitterness. Though brewed with their house yeast strain, this seems to have a slightly Belgian character to it (more so in the nose than the mouth, though). Light fruity flavor, especially the green ones: green apple, green pear and green grapes. Slightly tart but noticeable tangy on the finish (though this is acceptable for the style). Acidulated malt probably accounts for that, too. Overall, it’s not an exciting beer, but it’s nice for what it is.

Drinkability: Samuel Adams always tends to release their seasonals a full two seasons early, so it’s no surprise that Escape Route drinks like a summer beer. The mouthfeel is light, but not delicate. It has noticeable body to it. The high carbonation makes it crisp and it’s refreshing while in the mouth and leaves just a slightly dry aftertaste. At 5% ABV it’s a little too big to session, though throwing back the two bottles from the mix pack will be no challenge at all. 
Grade: 7/10

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Redhook Audible Ale

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 13/20
Chad9976 (1301) - Albany, New York, USA - MAR 14, 2015
I haven’t reviewed a Redhook beer in nearly five years (and even that was a re-review). When I first started getting into craft beer, they were a good introductory brand. Now that I’ve tried so many different brews it’s odd, almost shocking how mild their beers tend to be. I can’t say I’m surprised, though. Especially in the case of their “Audible Ale,” which was brewed in collaboration with sports personality Dan Patrick. I’d imagine their collective audience probably wants something mild and easy to drink and in that case, this beer delivers as promised.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a mug. It was bottled on 12/15/2014 and cost $2.50 ($0.21 per ounce).

Appearance: Honey amber color with an almost crystal clarity. Pours to a small, white, soapy head which laces and retains fairly well.

Smell: Surprisingly strong grassy hops (considering the brewery, that is). Not much else.

Taste: I was taken aback by how aromatic this beer was as the grassy hops really jumped out at me. I got them equally in the first swig; however, they faded quickly after that. This is definitely a pale ale base and it’s hitting on all notes, but without a lot of power. Light amber malt character but without much genuine sweetness. The hops seem more for flavor than bitterness. I like the grassy/herbal character, though I could use more bite. It seems to “wuss out” at the end. It has a slight lemony flavor as well, which is nice, but it’s also quite mild. This is definitely a drinker-friendly palette and a good pale ale for those not crazy about hops.

Drinkability: This beer has the word “crushable” right on the label, so that tells you what they’re going for. I suppose I’d agree with that. At only 4.7% ABV, Redhook Audible Ale is indeed quite sessionable. That being said, I find the thinness of the mouthfeel, the low carbonation, and the overall mild palette to be a bit distracting. I’m not sure I would consider it refreshing per se, though I think this would work well straight from a can in the summer (but Redhook does not can their beers). 
Grade: 6/10

Friday, March 13, 2015

You're boycotting a brewery over WHAT!?

You probably caught wind of the big beer news of the week: Bell’s Brewery has beef with tiny Innovation Brewing over their name (Bell’s slogan is “Brewing innovation since 1985″). Now, this issue alone is enough to merit its own blog, but a lot of people already have that covered. What I wanted to discuss, instead, was the fact I actually heard people saying they were going to boycott Bell’s over this.

To wit:


Really? That’s where you draw the line? Copyright disputes?

Alright then.

Now maybe this is entirely too small a sample size from which to draw a conclusion on this particular case. However, I’m using it to illustrate a larger example: that whenever a brewery of notoriety is involved in some kind of drama – legal, social, or otherwise -  craft beer fanboys are immediately thrown into a tizzy. I saw comments like this last year when Stone had the gall to crowd-fund their new brewery; or when it was revealed that Jim Koch went ape over the fact his beers weren’t on tap at a trendy craft beer establishment. And of course, whenever a craft brewery sells out to Budweiser the “boycott!” chants start flying (but not when Founders sells a minority share to an overseas macro brewery, oddly enough).

With a boycott here and a boycott there! Here a boycott, there a boycott! Everywhere a boycott boycott!

I agree, don't boycott.
I agree, don’t boycott.

As I’ve stated repeatedly, you can’t argue taste; so if you don’t like Bell’s beers I’m not going to say you’re wrong. However, I definitely question people that drop the B-word so easily. Back in the day, a boycott really meant something and actually affected political, social and economic change (study the Civil Rights Movement and you’ll see). These days, “boycotting” is rather meaningless. When was the last time a boycott of any product, service, or corporation lead to true, meaningful and lasting change? And in the beer world in particular?

My point is, we shouldn’t be so quick to “boycott” a brewery over what really are trivial issues. I can understand boycotting the major macro breweries since they actually have power over the industry. If you saw the Beer Wars movie, or if you just read the news, you know AB-InBev and MillerCoors routinely buy up distributors, bully the competition with litigation, and lobby at the state and national level for more ridiculous regulations that only harm small breweries. That’s certainly a legitimate reason not to buy their products. But things like intellectual property disputes between breweries, no matter how petty they may be, aren’t all that big of a deal at the end of the day. If the brewery makes great beer, why deny yourself the opportunity to try it because you disagree with them over their interpretation of IP law?

Maybe I’m just more forgiving than the average craft beer drinker. There isn’t a single brewery I actively “boycott.” I’ll still buy Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout once a year or Elysian Space Dust if there’s nothing better available. Hell, I even buy cheap adjunct lagers and malt liquors to review for my blog. Yes, I know where my money is going in those instances, but the relative pennies I toss their way (or keep in my pocket) really doesn’t affect those conglomerates’ bottom lines. It takes massive sea change in order for that to happen (and it is happening, albeit slowly).
In order for me to put my foot down and say “no more!” the brewery would have to do something that affects me personally or offends me to an extreme degree. I’m not sure where that line is, but if and when a brewery crosses it I’ll make it known.

So where do you draw the line?
  1. What does it take for you to go from simply ignoring a brewery to actually boycotting them (i.e. making a political statement with your purchase)?
  2. Are there any specific political or other issues that would make you boycott a brewery if you found out they took a position with which you vehemently disagree? And if so, would it matter if that opinion was held by the employees personally or the brewery lobbied for (or against) that issue?
  3. Do you think craft beer drinkers in general are too quick to play the boycott card, or is it just a matter of a vocal minority making the most noise?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Surly Hell

   AROMA 5/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 6/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 13/20
Chad9976 (1300) - Albany, New York, USA - MAR 10, 2015
Surly is one of those breweries I always associate with high quality across the board. Since I can’t get their stuff regularly here in NY, every beer of theirs I’ve tried has been really good. Therefore, it comes as a shock to me that Surly Hell, is rather mediocre and average. It tastes eerily like a lot of a generic pale lager; mild-tasting with a slight tang on the finish (almost as if it were old beer, but the can is quite fresh). I don’t know what happened with this one, but I’m not impressed.

I poured a 16oz can into a lager glass. It was canned on 1/22/15 and was sent to me by Matthew L. (thanks yet again!).

Appearance: Clear shade of clear gold with consistent carbonation visible. Pours to a small, white, soapy head which mostly evaporates and leaves no lacing.

Smell: Just a generic lager aroma. Nothing off-putting at least.

Taste: I’m not sure if this beer should be considered a Munich Helles Lager or a Zwickel (according the description), but either way it’s not especially German in character. It’s much closer to American pale lager with a mild, slightly grainy base flavor. I got no distinctive flavors as far as malts or hops, which is a little odd since it’s brewed with American rather than German hops. On the backend there’s a slight tang or metallic character. Cheap adjunct brews tend to have this as well, only much stronger. What’s here is more than tolerable; it’s not off-putting, but I’m struggling trying to find a quality about it I genuinely enjoy.

Drinkability: “Hell” is the German word for “light” (in color), but in the case of Surly Hell it would probably refer to the flavor and body. Light but not paper thin; crisp but not overly spastic. It’s somewhat refreshing while in the mouth and leaves a clean aftertaste. At 4.5% it’s indeed sessionable, but I’d want more flavor to do that. 
Grade: 5/10