Posts tagged review
Posts tagged review
Highland Brewing Co.
Razor Wit Belgian Style Whit Ale
According to a friend of mine, Highland is the third-largest brewery in the Southeast, behind only Abita and Sweetwater in terms of production. If that’s true, it wouldn’t surprise me, as the Asheville-based brewery cranks out one awesome brew after another.
Highland’s year-round staples - Gaelic Ale, Kashmir IPA - are solid beers, but where the brewery really shines is in its seasonal releases. Little Hump is the epitome of a light, effervescent spring beer, and Cold Mountain, with its hints of marshmallow, vanilla and hazelnut, is one of the best winter seasonals out there. Their newest summer release, Razor Wit, continues that trend of unique yet wholly enjoyable brews.
Razor Wit follows the classic brewing style for a wit - wheat, noble hops, coriander and orange peel - but the brewers added a secret blend of spices that gives the beer this amazing spicy and herbal note. It’s one of the more unique - and, to be quite honest, one of the best - witbiers I’ve had.
The pour is a lush, hazy orange. About three fingers of head top it off, but that’s gone pretty quickly. The lacing is gorgeous, gripping the side of the glass and refusing to let go. But since it’s a session beer, there aren’t any alcohol legs on it.
Those spices I mentioned pop on the nose. There’s a strong black pepper note to it, but also a big herbal note to it, too. That’s backed up with a sweetness from the wheat and those characteristic orange peel and coriander notes.
The taste on Razor Wit is superb. There’s a medium body mouthfeel and sweet flavors of orange and tangerine that coat your mouth. But on the back, that gives way to a wet spice character. There’s juniper, caraway and black pepper, as well as the very prevalent coriander. The strength of the spice and herbal notes is balanced with the sweetness from the malt and thickened a bit by the yeast.
Herbal beers can be a bit of a shock to the palate, but Razor Wit balances the stronger notes with a sweetness and robustness that makes it incredibly easy to drink. I can envision sitting on the porch with a peppered steak fresh off the grill and pairing it with this, or sitting poolside with the setting sun in the distance. It’s a nice jolt to the summer seasonals, and if you’re in Highland’s distribution area, definitely one to not miss.
Bell’s Brewery, Inc.
Oberon Wheat Ale
Bell’s makes some of my favorite beer and is one of the handful of breweries I’ve tried that has yet to make a beer that disappoints. One of the first beers of theirs I tried was Oberon, their summer seasonal that is the epitome of what you’d want in a warm-weather beer.
Coming in at just more than 5%, Oberon is a wheat ale fermented with Bell’s house yeast, giving the beer that rich smoothness of a wheat beer with a slight hoppy and spicy note to it. With a heavy focus on the citrus notes and smooth grain qualities, Oberon is one of those gateway beers that newbies and seasoned beer geeks alike enjoy.
Oberon has a dank hazy deep yellow/light orange color to it. There’s a massive pillow of head on top that lingers for quite a while, imparting some really nice lacing, but no alcohol legs.
The wheat is strong on the nose. There’s a really nice bready sweetness and juicy orange notes with a very slight hint of other citrus fruits. It’s unmistakably a wheat beer.
I’ve always loved the taste of Oberon. A sweet subtle citrus taste and maltiness washes over your palate. There’s very present carbonation, but not in a biting way. It does a great job of cleansing the palate. There’s a very smooth and full mouthfeel with a sweeter juicy finish.
While there’s no one thing stands out about this beer, that’s what I like about it. It’s easy to drink, very well balanced and so well rounded. It just works so well together, and that’s what makes it one of my favorite warm weather brews.
Westbrook Brewing Co.
Mt. Pleasant, SC
Single Hop: Pacific Jade Rye Pale Ale
I’ve talked before about my less-than-enjoyable visits to Westbrook Brewing down on South Carolina’s coast. But whatever reservations I have about the facility itself, the same can’t be said about the products they put out. With a little more than a year under their belt, the brewery has continued to put out an increasingly-impressive line beers. One of their latest releases is (I believe) the first in a series that will explore single hopping, starting with Pacific Jade.
A sessionable rye pale ale, the beer uses a new hop strain from New Zealand, which is becoming a mecca of new hop strains lately. The hop is marketed as having a spicy and citrusy flavor to it, which seems smart considering it’s used with a rye pale ale.
The beer has a hazy orange color to it with two fingers of a pillowy head on top. Nice lacing and a bit of alcohol legs as well.
There’s a really great smell to it which, to me, resembled ripe, rich starfruit. There’s a bit of an orange juice smell and other juicy citrus, with a very slight astringency and a slight black pepper note. There’s a slight bite from the rye, but not much.
The starfruit really pops on the tastebuds, and the carbonation pinches the insides of your cheeks. Really rich orange juice and grapefruit notes are very present as well. It’s got a very smooth mouthfeel and a bite from the rye, which is much more prevalent than on the nose. The rye is balanced out really well by the citrus in the hops. There’s a slight bready malt note on the back. Overall, extremely easy drinking.
Westbrook seems to be always trying something new. There’s usually one or two new releases hitting the shelves every couple of months, with each seeming better than the previous. I love single hop beers and being able to deconstruct the specific ins and outs of each hop on its own. If Westbrook keeps up with this series, I’ll keep coming back for more.
Shmaltz Brewing Co.
Saratoga Springs, NY/San Francisco, CA
He’Brew Hop Manna IPA
I’m sorry to say, but Shmaltz Brewing - the makers of the He’Brew and Coney Island lines of beer - is one of those breweries that generally falls into the “miss” category for me. Among my beer geek friends, Coney Island is regarded with a resounding “meh” and He’Brew has never had much fanfare either. But lately, He’Brew has been on a roll with me.
To give credit where it’s due, the guys behind He’Brew make some ridiculous - and ridiculously good - beers, both in alcohol content and creativity. It’s as if they’re constantly trying to find new ways to barrel age and blend their catalog and one-up their last batch. For example, Genesis 15:15, their insane new anniversary barleywine, is brewed with a variety of fruit juices and then aged in rye whiskey barrels; Jewbelation Fifteen is a blend of 15 different malts and 15 different hops; and Funky Jewbelation blends six different beers, all aged in different barrels for different amounts of time.
And then, there’s Hop Manna, their new year-round single IPA. It’s a break from the extreme, coming in at just 65 IBUs and 6.8% ABV, making it a fairly sessionable beer. It’s brewed with 2-Row, Munich, Wheat and Vienna malts and Warrior, Cascade, Citra, Amarillo Crystal and Centennial hops, then dry hopped again with Centennial, Cascade and Citra. So, yeah, sounds hoppy as hell. I had previously grabbed a 12 oz. of Hop Manna a few months back and - as with most prior He’Brew offerings - was really underwhelmed. But as is the case as of late, the newest and freshest release really surprised me.
It pours a golden sunset orange and swells to a huge bubbly head on top. There are big fluffy bubbles throughout which lend to some really nice lacing.
This thing is a major hop bomb on the nose. It’s a big East Coast-smelling IPA, with grassy notes coming through most prominently. There are hints of tropical fruits, mainly pineapple and peach, but also a definite malt presence. It’s sort of a biscuit smell. There’s a hint of grapefruit on the back, but overall a really great showcase of the hop profile.
While it’s a hop monster on the nose, it’s a much more subdued taste, which was a nice surprise. The grassiness and spice notes come through first on the tongue. That dries out a bit mis palate and toward the back of the throat, where the maltiness comes back in. The citrus pops in the middle, with big grapefruit and orange juice notes being the most prevalent. It’s got a real nice dry finish to it and isn’t overpowering in one way or another.
With Shmaltz/He’Brew being a “bigger is better” kind of brewery and single and double IPAs trying to out-hop each other lately, it’s surprising to see Shmaltz not only buck their own trend, but that of the market as well. Hop Manna is a nice break from the monstrous hop bombs being produced today. It’s very well balanced, though clearly a hop-forward beer, but not overly so. And it’s definitely wiped away previous doubts about their products.
L’chaim to them.
As an aspiring homebrewer, I like the idea of having big and nationally-known breweries give the little guys a chance to have their homemade brews get noticed on a much larger scale. I know that some of the best beer and biggest breweries started with some guy tinkering in his kitchen or garage for a day, and while my stuff isn’t quite up to par with a lot of homebrewers I know, it’s encouraging to see that such great stuff can come out of someone’s home.
Samuel Adams’ Longshot series is one of those opportunities. Each year, the brewery holds a competition for homebrewers, with the winners having their recipes cooked up by the brewery and distributed nationally. Each year features three different styles from three separate winners. I spent this past Saturday sampling each of the 2012 winners - the first time I’ve picked up the series six-pack - to see what each was like.
A Dark Night in Munich - 5.9% ABV Munich Dunkel
Chances are you’ve had a Munich Dunkel before, but you may not have known it. Negra Modelo, while a Mexican beer, is one of the more common beers of the style. But Corey Martin’s take on it is nothing like Modelo.
The beer lives up to its name: It pours a dark but clear murky brown color. It may have been because of the glass, but there was a huge three-finger off-white head on top, although it disappeared pretty quickly. There was some really nice lacing but not much alcohol legs.
There’s a very doughy malt smell on the nose. A big sweet bread not to it with a little hint of spice. I also picked up some wisps of sweet and dark fruits, caramel, molasses and nuts.
That sweet maltiness comes through in the taste. It’s very smooth throughout the mouth with a nice amount of carbonation to it. That bread character blends well with the plum, fig and nutty characteristics. Not too rich, which makes it very drinkable.
Derf’s Secret Alt - 9.3% ABV Altbier
Altbier, another form of German lager, is a style I’m not too familiar with, so I can’t really compare Sam Adams employee Fred Hessler’s entry with others in the style, except to say that it’s pretty good.
There’s a really nice deep mahogany color to it that looks more ruby colored when held up to the light. There’s maybe a finger worth of head on top that disappears quickly. Not much lacing or alcohol legs to it either.
There’s a strong smell of dark fruits and caramel on the nose. A slight astringency comes through as well, but the sweeter notes are what really shine through.
The first thing on the tongue is a nice hop bite. Mid palate, those rich dark fruit flavors - plums, figs, etc. - really come through. I got a hint of oak to it as well on the back that kind of stings the cheeks. Well balanced, but more sweet than hoppy.
Five Crown Imperial Stout - 8.9% ABV American Imperial Stout
When I’m not going for something hoppy and crisp, I’m generally drinking a rich, dark imperial stout. To me, IPAs and imperial stouts, whether American or Russian, are two styles that are the most versatile and different. You can have dry or rich stouts, coffee, chocolate, oatmeal, etc., really opening the possibilities. While Joe Formanek’s take on the style isn’t one of the best I’ve had, it was still pretty solid and easily my favorite of this year’s LongShot winners.
As with any good stout, it’s as black as night without even a hint of light getting through the glass. There was a huge head on top of about three fingers with that gorgeous brownish color. Great lacing and alcohol legs as well.
On the nose is a strong punch of dark chocolate with an equally strong note of burnt coffee. A slight nuttiness comes through as well, giving it a nice toasty quality.
That dark chocolate is what comes through first on the mouth. There’s a pinch of bitterness on the tip of the tongue from the wealth of hops in it, but the burnt coffee notes come though on the back. It’s got a medium body mouthfeel to it with a tint of caramel sweetness. The finish is surprisingly dry for an imperial stout, but adds a nice touch to the roasted notes.
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
Burton Baton Imperial IPA
One of the earlier Dogfish Head beers I remember having was the Burton Baton, an imperial IPA blended with an English-style old ale and then aged in oak tanks for around a month. Before my palate really developed, I was turned off by the oakiness and sweeter notes from the beer. But as I grew to appreciate it more, Burton Baton has become one of my favor offerings from DFH.
The beer has a very hazy appearance to it. There are hints of amber, orange and brown coming through the glass and a huge head on top. It’s about three fingers worth and lingers for a good time. I wouldn’t expect that from a 10% beer. Of course there’s nice lacing and some strong alcohol legs, too.
On the nose: oak, oak and more oak. This bottle had been in my fridge for a few months and the sweeter old ale characteristics - sweet caramel, toffee, dark fruits - were coming through a lot stronger than the hops. There’s a bit of a toasted vanilla note to it too from the oak barrels. The hop profile is a bit muted, but it’s still got a slight bite to it.
The taste is very smooth on the front of the tongue. The hops come through a bit more in the middle and back of the palate. It’s topped off with a crisp hop bite. The old ale definitely comes through more with age. I got big toffee and vanilla notes and definitely a woody character from the oak aging. It really shines through after a couple months. There’s kind of a cloying sweetness on the back as well.
Burton Baton is one of those beers you can have now, later and way down the line. The hops are much more prevalent when it’s fresher, but the mellow in flavor of a richer flavor after a couple months. I have one in my cellar, so I’m interested to see what a year or two of age will do to it if it’s this good after only a couple months in the fridge.
Three Floyds Brewing Co.
Alpha King Pale Ale
Back again with another Three Floyds review, this time with an offering in one of my favorite styles: the pale ale.
I love IPAs, but there are times when the richness of the beer can be a little too much, especially when you want to enjoy something on the porch during the blazing South Carolina summers. Pale ales can still deliver the hoppiness I’m looking for, but in a drier, crisper package. While it’s not as good as Zombie Dust - one of the best pale ales I’ve tried - Alpha King is still pretty good.
Alpha King is brewed with Cascade, Warrior and Centennial hops, which give it a really grassy and citrus-forward hop character. It’s a bit darker for a pale ale, pouring a hazy brown shade of orange. There’s two fingers of a tight-bubbled head on top. The lacing is absolutely gorgeous. It grabs hold to the sides of the glass and doesn’t let go.
There’s a great punch of grapefruit on the nose. I got a slight resinous hop character to it with a bit of a pine note on the back. It’s a very floral nose, with hints of lemon, a little pineapple and other citrus.
On the front of the tongue is a sort of muted bitterness and some nice carbonation throughout the mouth. The citrus definitely shines through on this one, with some nice grass and pine notes throughout the mouth. There’s a surprising amount of malt on the back end. A really strong caramel note with a kind of bready character sticks to the back of your tongue. Yet there’s still that drier crispness you’d expect from a pale ale.
Smuttynose Brewing Co.
There are a handful of breweries out there that I never seem to give enough credit to, even though whenever I have one of their beers I’m extremely impressed. Smuttynose is one of those breweries. I’ve never had a bad beer from them, but they’ve never been one of my go-to breweries. But I’ll be damned if that’s not going to change after trying Ry(e)an.
Having never heard of this one, I was surprised to see it when it showed up in a recent trade. I was even more surprised when some of my friends in the Northeast freaked when they heard I got my hands on a bottle. Now that I know the backstory, I can understand the excitement.
Ry(e)an is a rye ale brewed exclusively for Julio’s Liquors in Westboro, MA, and is aged in Sazarec rye whiskey, Buffalo Trace bourbon and Four Roses bourbon barrels hand-picked by the store’s whiskey club. You can’t get it anywhere else except at the store, so it’s insanely exclusive. Also, it’s an absolutely freaking amazing beer.
The bourbon wafts out of the bottle as soon as it’s opened. The pour is a deep amber verging on a brown. It’s topped off with a razor-thin head that’s there and gone. Some light lacing and nice alcohol legs, too.
You can tell this is a big, big beer from the nose alone. Huge notes of cherries, toffee, caramel, figs, plums and vanilla. There’s a nice slight spiciness from the rye that tingles in your nose. And it’s all coated with a thick layer of bourbon and oak. An absolutely gorgeous smelling beer.
What’s most surprising about this, especially since it’s a rye beer, is that there’s no bite on the tongue. Instead, it’s this amazingly robust and velvety-smooth flavor that coats your entire mouth. The sweeter cherry, fig and vanilla notes come through first, and the caramel and toffee notes come out on the end. The bourbon is very present throughout. There are definite hints of oakiness and vanilla from the barrels there, too. The rye comes through most noticeably on the back as there’s a great dry finish that’s a nice contrast to the smoothness of the rest of the beer.
I love rye beers. The bitter bite that the rye imparts in the brewing process gives the beers a really great punch. But Ry(e)an was like no rye beer - hell, no bourbon barrel-aged beer - I’ve had before. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was as smooth as velvet. Contrast that with that rye bite on the back, and this is definitely one to put on your “to-drink” list.
Three Floyds Brewing Co.
Dreadnaught Imperial IPA
Saturday was Three Floyds’ annual Dark Lord Day, the day beer geek and imperial stout fans from across the country (and world?) descend on Munster, IN, for one of the country’s most sought-after beers.
But with me being hundreds of miles away and with no desire to brave the crowds, I decided to enjoy some of the brewery’s other offerings I obtained through a recent trade. On top of the bottle of Zombie Dust I recently had, I’ve continued making my way through FFF’s hoppier offerings, starting with Dreadnaught.
The hops off this thing hit your nostrils as soon as you pop the cap. There’s a slight haziness to the sunset orange color and about a finger of a tight bubbly head. Little lacing, but the alcohol legs are crazy for only a 9% beer.
Great peach and mango notes on the nose. A slight pine from the hops and a touch of grass. There’s definitely a malt note present, and I got a slight woodiness off it as well.
There’s little to no hop bite on the front, but a wave of crazy rich flavors come bursting through in the middle of the palate. Pineapple, mango, peach are all in there. I got a slight hop burn with a really strong malt backbone, but it doesn’t damped the IPA-ness of it. Grapefruit and pine come through more on the back, as does a really dry finish.
Damn, you guys in the Midwest can make some good beer.