Author Archives: Greg Bruce

Homebrew Review: Northern Brewer – BACON! Smoked Red Ale

Stock Homebrew Review: Northern Brewer   BACON! Smoked Red Ale

Bacon doughnuts, bacon gum, bacon mints, and now… bacon beer? One of the hottest crazes to sweep the nation lately has been bacon-flavored products, and not even beer seems to be able to escape its allure. In 2011, Oregon-based Rogue Ales teamed up with Voodoo Doughnut to release its Bacon Maple Ale, but now homebrewers can join in on the swine-inspired fun. (Which I did, for your reading pleasure.)

Northern Brewer’s BACON! Smoked Red Ale homebrew kit is available in both extract and all-grain varieties, featuring cherrywood smoked malt to cement the smoky, meaty character. However, what sets the Northern Brewer kit apart from crowd is the inclusion of liquid bacon extract. At first glance, this vial is intimidating; it appears thick, smells of a combination of brine and bacon, and doesn’t shy away from potency. Keep in mind, though, that this 30ml of extract is enough for 5 gallons of beer.

Bacon 3 Homebrew Review: Northern Brewer   BACON! Smoked Red Ale

Out of the box, the extract version of the kit contains specialty grains (chocolate malt, honey malt, Caramunich, and the aforementioned cherrywood smoked malt), dry malt extract (amber and wheat), dark malt syrup, an ounce of Willamette hops, 30ml of bacon extract, and your choice of dry or liquid yeast.

While steeping the specialty grains and during the boil, a strong smoke and barbecue aroma fills the air as the cherrywood malt works its magic. When I added the bacon extract after the boil, I could sense how meaty this beer was going to turn out.

Bacon 2 525x350 Homebrew Review: Northern Brewer   BACON! Smoked Red Ale

Disclaimer: Each homebrewer has different equipment, technique, and experience. Your results may vary.

Despite the aggressive pork notes that emerge while brewing the beer, BACON! cleans up nicely within the glass after a few weeks of conditioning in bottles. While Northern Brewer’s stock photo shows a radiant ruby color, my version was a little bit darker, bordering on mahogany. In the nose, the bacon still stands in the spotlight but isn’t overpowering. In fact, there’s a pleasant balance between the meatiness and a honey, caramel sweetness. This balance continues into the body, where a mild amount of chocolate contributes to the complexity.

Overall, my version of this beer had a bold but not overwhelming bacon characteristic; I went back and forth on questioning if I would’ve liked to see a more brash beer — without compromising the drinkability of how it is now. All told, I enjoyed what I ended up with and will probably explore this kit again in the future.

B / $50 (extract version) /

Review: The Pretentious Beer Glass Company

You are pouring your beers into glasses, right?

PBGC 525x297 Review: The Pretentious Beer Glass Company

The Pretentious Beer Glass Company is the solo effort of Matthew Cummings to bring custom, homemade glassware into your home. Each glass is carefully handcrafted on a lathe and the personal individuality manifests itself within the finished products in the form of slight variations in angles, thickness, and dimensions. Matthew is quick to note that because each piece of glass is unique, final sizes can vary, but part of the appeal stems from receiving a one-of-a-kind glass.

Currently, the Pretentious Beer Glass Company manufactures six types of glasses, pictured above. From left to right: Hoppy Beer Glass, “traditional” Ale Glass, Subtle Beer Glass, Malty Beer Glass, Aromatic Beer Glass, and in the following picture, the Dual Beer Glass. While the names of the glasses clue drinkers in to what beer style works best, both the site and packaging contain recommended styles for each vessel.

PBGC Dual Glass 525x412 Review: The Pretentious Beer Glass Company

A quick breakdown of the glasses…

Hoppy Beer Glass: Similar to a snifter or tulip. This is great for IPAs and other beers within the pale ale family, as well as bigger Belgian beers and sours. Etched finger cutouts contribute both visual appeal and added grip.

Ale Glass: The jack of all trades within the set, the Ale Glass is fashioned after a pint glass, with a twist. The added moustache adds a touch of class to your favorite beer and can handle your typical American-style ales, German bocks, or whatever comes in between.

Subtle Beer Glass: Reminiscent of a stange. Perfect for those lighter, more delicate brews such as pilsners, kolsches, witbiers, and assorted lagers. It features facets and indents to distort the density within the glass in order to trick how light shines through the liquid.

Malty Beer Glass: This glass is not only pretty, but also functional! Perfect for unfiltered and bottle-conditioned beers, the Malty Beer Glasses utilizes concentric levels to separate yeast sediment from the beer.

Aromatic Beer Glass: This glass has a wide bowl and draws comparisons to a stemless wine glass or snifter. The shape helps concentrate the nose while the protruding bottom further aids nucleation to improve head longevity and intensity. Beers with a focus on esters and imperial strength work well with this glass, especially double IPAs, stouts, barleywines, tripels, and quads.

Dual Beer Glass: Do you love Black & Tans but hate tinkering with spoons to perfectly layer the beers? The Dual Beer Glass solves that problem and opens the door for more creativity: This glass is divided down the middle so that two separate beers can be poured into their own compartments, then combine while taking a sip. Outside of the traditional stout and IPA (black and tan) classic, I’ve had success with weizenbock + tripel, stout + tripel, and lambic + stout mixtures.

The Pretentious Beer Glass Company is currently a small-scale operation, but it does offer custom orders and may start expanding into wholesaling in the future. Glasses are sold individually, in sets of four within a style, or a full set of glasses which contain all of the styles except the Dual Glass.

$35 – $170 per set of four /

Review: GrOpener Bottle Opener

GrOpener 525x525 Review: GrOpener Bottle OpenerRecently we received a sample of a unique new bottle opener, dubbed the GrOpener. Despite the somewhat lewd sounding name, the GrOpener is actually a portmanteau of the words ‘grab’ and ‘opener’, both of which frame a rather straightforward description of how the product works.

Touted as a bottle opener that is swift and easy to wield, the GrOpener is proud to exclaim that is only requires one hand to operate, leaving the other free to channel surf, munch on snacks, or hold another beer. On a more serious note, it is also a useful tool for those who only have the use of a single hand due to disability, amputation, arthritis, or otherwise.

In its video promotions, GrOpener creator Mark Manger effortlessly pops bottle caps off in a single, fluid motion without fail. During my own trials, I found the GrOpener to be a little more temperamental; at times, the caps flew off, while others required a little more force and maneuvering. Also, the impact of the metal opener hitting the bottle while opening would sometimes cause more highly carbonated beers to start foaming over.

As a bottle opener alone, the GrOpener is a fine product, but I found some of the other features to be the most useful and distinguishable. For starters, while prying the caps off, it does not bend or otherwise deform the caps, which is beneficial to those who collect them or seek to recycle them for homebrewing purposes. The GrOpener also contains a small magnet near the business end to not only help it latch on to the cap, but also attracts it after removal for easy recovery. The magnet also secures the GrOpener to the refrigerator doors for convenient storage. For those pesky can tabs that never seem to lift easily, the backside of the GrOpener also doubles as a lever.

While I am clearly not as deft as Mr. Manger in opening bottles in dramatic flair, the GrOpener still performs up to expectations. Bottle openers typically serve a single, relatively simple, purpose, but the utilitarian forethought exemplified in the GrOpener is nice to see. It is light, magnetic, opens caps without distorting them, can be used single-handedly, and the index finger hole doubles as a secure attachment point to carabiners for travel.

A- / $16 /

Review: Brooklyn Brewery’s Silver Anniversary Lager & Summer Ale

This year, Brooklyn Brewery is celebrating its 25th Anniversary and to commemorate the event, it is brewing up a special treat. Silver Anniversary Lager is a twist on its normal Brooklyn Lager where the brewery instead seeks to create a doppelbock-strength version of the beer, which, when combined with the added yeast for bottle-conditioning, creates a beer that should be ripe for drinking now or even improve with age.

Brooklyn Silver Anniversary 525x391 Review: Brooklyn Brewerys Silver Anniversary Lager & Summer Ale

To aggrandize the release even further, Brooklyn Brewery worked with four local artists to collaborate on labels that will be shipped on the bottles throughout the year. Some of these works were adapted for the release, while others were specifically created for the Silver Anniversary. Keep an eye on your local shop’s shelves and try to collect them all!

Delving into the beer itself, it takes on a surprising clarity in the glass that is accentuated by the dark mahogany color. An active, bone-white head settles on top of the liquid, and due in part to the yeast added to the bottle, slowly bubbles up and grows as it sits.

The nose is crisp and refreshing, and while Brooklyn Brewery states that Silver Anniversary Lager is brewed to doppelbock specifications, it doesn’t take on an intense sweetness like the style is wont to exhibit. The aroma consists mainly of pale malt, hints of caramel, subtle notes of cocoa, and a surprisingly fruity kick of citrus and grapefruit. Mild amounts of black pepper serve as a spicy balance to the sweeter and bitter aspects of the beer.

Throughout the taste, I consistently found myself impressed by just how balanced Brooklyn Brewery was able to craft this lager. There is a flexible give-and-take that spans from delightfully sweet caramel, toffee, and chocolate to an almost bracing bitterness from Cascade hops that delve into the bitter, juicy rinds of orange and grapefruit. The Cascade and Willamette hops also couple to deliver a spicy and floral note. The finish returns almost entirely to the malt, as the caramel and pale malts resurface and linger long into the aftertaste. 8.6% abv. A- / around $14 per 25.4oz bottle

Brewed in an English Pale Ale fashion, Brooklyn Brewery Summer Ale welcomes the summer into season with crisp malts and fresh hops. When the humid weather rolls around, heavy beers usually aren’t the most refreshing option, but why sacrifice flavor to fulfill the need to quench your thirst?

Brooklyn Summer Ale Review: Brooklyn Brewerys Silver Anniversary Lager & Summer Ale

Brooklyn’s Summer Ale strikes a nice divide between the smooth malt and juicy hops from the nose to the body. The malts keep much of the bitterness at bay, instead luring the beer towards a creamier, bready tone. However, the hops eventually gain more ground and impart an earthy, fruity, and slightly spicy influence, especially in the form of orange peel and lemon zest.
In the face of heat, Summer Ale stands up to the challenge of differentiating itself with its strong English characteristics. At times, the malt does tend to become a little heavy, but the hops and high carbonation go a long way in soothing the mouthfeel. 5.0% abv. B / $9 per 6-pack

Mainstream Brewery Spotlight: Anheuser-Busch’s Budweiser Line Reviewed

Discriminating drinkers aren’t immune from the mainstream, and ultra-micro-craft brews aren’t always available when you’re looking for a six pack at your local convenience store. What then about the biggest beer of them all? Today we look at the complete lineup of Budweiser beers, which now includes six different bottlings. Thoughts follow.

As the oldest beer within Anheuser-Busch’s portfolio, Budweiser defines the very meaning of a “brand.” Not only has the Budweiser name produced off-shoots of varying flavors and target demographics, but the beer’s popularity extends beyond what is contained within the bottle. With the iconic Clydesdale mascots and extensive marketing program, even consumers who don’t necessarily like beer are drawn into the fold.

Budweiser 150x132 Mainstream Brewery Spotlight: Anheuser Buschs Budweiser Line ReviewedJust like its commercials, Budweiser lager is a classic. Anheuser-Busch brews Budweiser and its various siblings with rice, and the impact is readily apparent. The aroma and taste take on a neutral characteristic because of it, but it leans towards sweet as a result of the rest of the malt bill. In contrast to some of the lighter Bud offerings, this original Budweiser exhibits a noticeable graininess in the form of buttery cereal grains that add flavor. While not the focus by any stretch, hop influences creep in the nose and flavor by contributing a light fruitiness and earthy spice. C- / $6.99 per six-pack

Bud Light Platinum 41x150 Mainstream Brewery Spotlight: Anheuser Buschs Budweiser Line Reviewed Continue reading

Review: Stone Enjoy By 4.20.13 IPA

F549219 10151483793367432 418125689 n e1365474256368 Review: Stone Enjoy By 4.20.13 IPAor those beer drinkers who can’t get enough hops, there’s nothing worse than opening an India Pale Ale and finding out that the bottle you just bought is several months old. Unlike some beer styles that can improve and mature with age, IPAs and other hop-forward beers are notorious for dropping off quickly because the hop qualities are one of the first aspects of a beer to fade. Unfortunately, not every brewery utilizes bottle dating to inform consumers about how old the beer they are buying actually is, which is a blight that most people have been burned by.

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Review: Band of Brewers Third Shift Amber Lager (2013 Bottle)

third shift amber lager 259x300 Review: Band of Brewers Third Shift Amber Lager (2013 Bottle)MillerCoors is getting the creative juices flowing with a new brand straight out of the company think tank. The Band of Brewers, a collaborative group of brewers spanning across the MillerCoors network, have joined together to release to release Third Shift, an amber lager within the Märzen style. While February marks the first month that this beer is available for distribution and release to the masses, it has enjoyed success in the past by winning a gold medal at the Great American Beer Fest in 2010. It also has seen limited, tap-only allocations in the past year, of which Chris had the pleasure of testing last August.

Third Shift is dedicated not only to the brewers who worked throughout the nights to create this beer, but to all those who put in the effort and long hours in their pursuits and careers. And to these workers go the spoils, as their reward comes in the form of slightly buttery and toasted malt, a light honey-like sweetness, and earthy, spicy hops. An obviously German influence permeates throughout this beer, both in malt and hop selection, and everything is tied together with a crispness that leaves a smooth aftertaste in the finish.

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The Evolution of Canned Beer: Samuel Adams Joins the Can Parade

sam adams concept can 200x300 The Evolution of Canned Beer: Samuel Adams Joins the Can ParadeEarlier today, Samuel Adams announced that it would start distributing beer in cans. As of now, only the flagship Boston Lager and Summer Ale are slated to hit the market in time for beach excursions, but it would not be a surprise to see Samuel Adams’ other popular offerings roll off the canning line, especially after the Boston Beer Co. already sunk millions into strategic planning, designing, and implementing the new format. In terms of design, Samuel Adams bucks the trend of normal 12 oz. cans in favor of a brand new vessel that features a wider mouth and an hourglass shape below the lip to help facilitate smooth liquid flow and ease of drinking, changes that were received favorably during consumer testing. (See concept at right.)

There has been no indication that Samuel Adams will discontinue the normal bottling line for the brands set to be canned, but initial reaction to the news has been mixed at best and surprisingly harsh from some fronts. After announcing the plans on Facebook, followers of the brewery chimed in with opinions ranging from hesitant to enthusiastic to sadly ignorant at times.

Two specific ideas strongly resonated in regard to the canning process and the image of canned beers. Many people posted concerns that the beer inside the can would simply taste different than that which is bottled, but advances in canning technology have led to a food-grade lining within the can that does not create any flavor differences. Basically, the fear that canned beer would taste metallic is simply unfounded, since the beer never touches aluminum either during the canning process or after it is packaged.

However, the second assumption about canned beer is easily the most egregious; the notion that only inferior or “cheap” beers are canned. This is a truly bizarre statement in today’s marketplace. Look at who’s canning now. Big-name heavy hitters Sierra Nevada and Brooklyn Brewery recently started selling their signature beers in cans (as well as continuing bottle production), Oskar Blues exclusively distributes cans, Surly from Minneapolis and Sixpoint from Brooklyn specialize in 16 oz. pounders,  and even smaller, but still respected, breweries like Anderson Valley have experimented in canning.

But perhaps the most damning evidence against the shaming of cans shines from a brewery that isn’t a household name, but is widely heralded amongst the craft faithful. The Alchemist, a small, family-run brewery located in Waterbury, Vermont, rose to fame from the success of its double IPA, Heady Topper. Once a beer that was only seen on tap at the brewery, it eventually received a very limited bottle release before transitioning to year-round-available beer that is only distributed in – you guessed it – 16 oz. cans. The kicker? Heady Topper is currently the #1 beer (and best double IPA) in the world according to Beer Advocate, beating out beers such as Russian River’s Pliny the Younger (and Elder), Westvleteren’s 12, and Founders’ CBS and KBS.

As long as Samuel Adams keeps its bottling line, the addition of cans can only be lauded. Not only are cans easier to recycle and transport, they are also accepted on the beach and on camping grounds, unlike glass bottles. If you are enjoying a beer at home, it shouldn’t matter if the vessel is a can or a bottle, since the final resting place for a beer is a glass. (You are drinking your beer from a glass, right?) With the implementation of linings that don’t affect the taste of the beer, cans should receive a warm welcome in your refrigerator or cooler this summer.

Review: Pilsner Urquell (And Its New Cold-Shipped Delivery)

Pilsner Urquell is firing a new salvo in the battle for fresh beer. Light-struck, or “skunked” beer is a rampant problem for breweries, especially those overseas that need to ship product over a longer distance than domestic brewers. Pilsner Urquell is packaged in a distinctive green bottle, but, while attractive, it doesn’t do much to prevent ultraviolet and fluorescent light from penetrating it and reacting with the hops to cause those off-flavors and aromas. It’s not uncommon to hear consumers say that Pilsner Urquell and other beers in similar bottles, like Heineken and Grolsch, taste better in their native lands than what is offered on shelves in America, and light exposure is a big reason why.

But Pilsner Urquell has recognized this problem and is taking proactive steps to deliver a fresher beer to its fans. The brewery will be keeping the same green bottle, but redesigned its entire packaging to shield it from light and will use refrigerated trucks to cold-ship across the country. While expensive, the goal is to provide fresher beer that will attract a brand new segment of customers.
 Review: Pilsner Urquell (And Its New Cold Shipped Delivery)
However, faithful drinkers of Pilsner Urquell can rest easy. Besides the new shipping and packaging, what is inside the bottle has not changed. It still pours the familiar shade of light straw, clear and clean, topped by a tall, billowing ivory head. The cap has decent retention, but the lacing is somewhat meager.

Grassy, floral, and somewhat spicy hops are apparent in the nose, as well as a strong malt grain smell. The hops are fresh and crisp and really do provide a sharp contrast to bottles shipped under the old method. The aroma is also ripe with pilsner malt that ties everything together.

The overall flavor, while not overly complex, is traditional. Not much has changed within the brand from its original recipe in 1842, but there isn’t much to fix when it’s not broken. It starts with a bready flavor reminiscent of biscuits that gives it a rich texture to build off of, while the hops follow to seal the deal. The biggest notes come from these fresher hops, especially an earthy grassiness, subtle lemon, and even a somewhat bracing spiciness.

Time-tested flavors and ingredients combine to make this an easy-drinking pilsner that is a joy to drink. Pilsner Urquell is going the extra mile to make sure their beer is delivered in a cool, dark environment, so if you are new to the brand or looking for redemption from an off-bottle, seek out the new, cold-shipped packaging.

B+ / / $9 per six-pack

Review: New Belgium Lips of Faith Spotlight – Cocoa Mole and La Folie

lof cocoa beer prodshot Review: New Belgium Lips of Faith Spotlight    Cocoa Mole and La FolieOne would assume that I had learned my lesson regarding chile beers after tasting Twisted Pine’s Ghost Face Killah. One would be wrong.

While Twisted Pine touted GFK as the hottest beer in the world, New Belgium instead takes a more subtle route. Although still spiced up with ancho, guajillo, and chipotle peppers, Cocoa Mole is balanced with caramel and chocolate malts to help relieve and complement the impending burn.

In terms of appearance, Cocoa Mole actually doesn’t look too out of the ordinary. Its color borders a dark, ruby red and brown, but it’s still translucent. I was expecting a big, thick, stout-like look, but even the sandy head is light and fizzy.

The initial whiff brings a very strong cinnamon note mixed with a little brown sugar, but soon afterward there’s a lot of earthy, gritty pepper. The spicy heat mixes with the vegetal aroma to hit home the message that this is chock full of chiles. As such, the malts are a little subdued here and I only got a pinch of cocoa.

Bold, flavorful ancho and chipotle peppers pace the taste, but the heat doesn’t kick in until a few seconds later, giving the full range of flavors time to settle in. This is where the cinnamon and brown sugar return; their sweet and spiciness serving as a cooling foil to the burning sensation that is now building. This isn’t mouth-ruining hot, but it does have a pretty big kick to it. As in the nose, the cocoa isn’t as big as I was hoping, but I did have my expectations for the chocolate set high. The finish is long with heat and flecks of caramel and bready malts interspersed within.

Overall I like this beer quite a bit as it isn’t afraid to bring the heat, but doesn’t rely on it entirely. There’s a nice composition of flavors here, and my only meaningful gripe against it is that there isn’t as much chocolate as anticipated. I enjoyed the cinnamon, but I felt some more malt could go a long way in making the mouthfeel more full and thick.

B+ / $8.99 per 22oz bottle /

la beer prodshot sm1 Review: New Belgium Lips of Faith Spotlight    Cocoa Mole and La FolieStanding in stark contrast to the spice-laden Cocoa Mole, La Folie is a wood-aged, sour beer. Brewed in the Flanders style, these types of beers are typically somewhat fruity, acidic, and come with varying degrees of tartness.

In terms of this spectrum, La Folie easily approaches the extreme end. The first sip brings a huge huge amount of lactic sourness that overwhelms the palate. I have had the 2010 release of this beer and don’t remember that vintage being quite so mouth-puckering. After the tartness fades, a ripe fruit note follows to give a pinch of sweetness as condolences for how sour it was at first. Green apples and tart cherries form the bulk of the flavors, with a kiss of grape and oak that almost gives this a wine-like quality. There is some vinegar acidity, but it doesn’t detract from the overall flavor (as some red Flanders are wont to do).

Even when poured into the thick New Belgium goblet, La Folie still has an enchantingly dark mahogany tint to it and is just barely transparent. Both the head formation and lacing are solid and make it easy to fully enjoy the aromas spilling out of it; the soured fruit, wooden barrels, and pinch of vanilla enticed me the most.

A- / $8.99 per 22oz bottle /

Review: Leinenkugel’s Big Eddy Imperial IPA

Leinenkugel’s may be well-known for its popular Sunset Wheat (which some liken to Fruity Pebbles in ale form) and Berry Weiss beers, but its Big Eddy line is bringing extreme beers to serious craft lovers. The Big Eddy Imperial IPA is the third and newest release in the series, following a Russian Imperial Stout and Scotch Wee Heavy. Sitting at a whopping 9% abv, this imperial IPA strives to look the part of an authentic representation of the style and incorporates five types of hops to further distinguish itself.

Like most “bigger” beers on the market, I would recommend pouring this into a wide-bodied glass with a flared rim to both soak in the appearance and allow the hop aromas to fully develop. Immediately the visual is striking as the IPA pours a burnished copper color with a clear body. A white head slowly starts to billow before finally coming to a rest, but it doesn’t last long and when it’s gone it barely even leaves even a wisp of foam as a cap, which kind of gives this the look of a whiskey. This image is compounded further by the fact that there isn’t a whole lot of lacing either.

Leave it to the hops to steer this back on course faithfully. The nose is potent and immediately delivers a bushel of fruit, from citrus to tropical, with a focus on pineapple, mango, orange, and a bit of grapefruit. There’s a kiss of sweetness near the end, but it is mild and doesn’t draw away from the hops.

Thankfully, the taste continues where the hops left off — with a ton of fruity hoppiness. Despite the brief appearances by the malts that give a subtle brown sugar and toffee flavor, the hops are rightfully at the forefront. I want to clarify that while the hops are the predominant flavor, this isn’t a West Coast hop bomb where the bitterness rips the enamel straight from your teeth, but rather it is a showcase in hop mastery. The Citra and Cascade hops give their distinctive citrus and tropical flavors, while the Simcoe adds to this plus a touch of pine. Finally, the Amarillo adds a dash of spice and earthiness to the finish. A nice combination of sweet and bitter dance on the palate from start to finish and a sticky hop influence burdens the tongue in a pleasant way.

Big Eddy Imperial IPA debuted this June in limited quantities and should hopefully make its way to most markets that Leinenkugel’s currently services. I was pleasantly surprised with this beer and it exceeded my expectations for it. Be on the lookout for this and the next upcoming release in the Big Eddy series, a Baltic Porter, later this year.

A- / $10.99 per 4-pack /

Leinenkugels Big Eddy Imperial IPA Review: Leinenkugels Big Eddy Imperial IPA

Review: Upland Brewing Co. Gilgamesh

Upland Gilgamesh Review: Upland Brewing Co. GilgameshHailing from Bloomington, Indiana, Upland Brewing Co. is creating a stir among craft beer circles for its extensive souring program, which seeks to produce traditional lambics, gueuzes, and Flanders-style ales within the United States. This effort has notably spawned over eight different varieties of fruited lambics as well as the beer that is the subject of today’s review – Gilgamesh.

Brewed within the Flanders Red style, Gilgamesh combines traditional characteristics as well as introducing a unique twist in the form of utilizing bourbon barrels to finish the beer. After an initial struggle with the cork that left my palms a little worse for wear, this looks every bit the part of a typical Flanders Red, exhibiting a dark ruby color with deeper patches of mahogany interspersed within.

At first, the nose is acidic and has a little splash of vinegar, but not enough to be a turn-off. There is a bright fruit note as well, like tart cherries and a touch of banana. In the back-end, there is a very strong influence from the barrel, with huge oak notes and as it warms, you can start to get some of the bourbon.

Right away the cherries lead the flavor with their sour twang, which lends their tartness to the duration of the taste. It’s pretty acidic so that lingering note sort of muffles some of the other flavors. Compounding this is the alcohol heat that isn’t too shy to jump to the forefront at times. As in the aroma, the latter half of the flavor is dominated by the oak and bourbon, taking this beer to a completely new level that I’ve yet to experience in any other beer within this style.

Gilgamesh takes a typical Flanders, cuts the vinegar a bit, adds some bourbon barrel-aging, and comes out a winner in my book. Throughout my bottle this beer transformed multiple times, as first being somewhat high in vinegar, then very tart, then focused on the barrel.

A / $25 per 750ml bottle

Review: Red Brick Old Stock Ale and Wee Heavy

Brewing out of Atlanta, Georgia, Red Brick offers the Brick Mason series alongside its year-round core brands. This series focuses on higher abv beers with more unique ingredients (such as the smoked vanilla beans in Vanilla Gorilla). This week, I was able to get the chance to review two beers from this series.

Red Brick’s Old Stock Ale starts as a blend of three different ales — one that’s been oak-aged, one that’s been heavily malted, and one brewed with citrus and star anise. These beers mix together to create a transparent, albeit dark, cherry color. The nose is complex and has a lot of different components to it, but the ones that pop the most are the ones that I wasn’t expecting to see in this style of beer. Rather than the malts driving the aroma, it is more sugar-coated fruits that are the focus. Orange peel, plums, and raisins are the most noticeable, and a kick of alcohol astringency draws this into an almost Belgian-esque territory.

A bittersweet cocoa component appears on the palate that isn’t there in the nose. The fruits return here again, especially the orange, but they are kept in check and now they enlist the ranks the star anise. Encompassing all of these characteristics is a mild, toasted oak note that is more of an additional complexity rather than a full-fledged flavor, but it adds more depth to an already loaded taste. As it warms, a surprisingly potent punch of vanilla arrives which isn’t present at all at lower temperatures. The one drawback to this beer is the amount of alcohol heat in this; although I’m not a total stranger to the style, the alcohol just didn’t play well with the orange for me. But to be honest, that is some fine nitpicking, as the rest of this beer is a unique twist on an Old Stock ale. 7.9% abv. B / $3 per 12oz bottle

The newest entry into Red Brick’s Brick Mason series is its Wee Heavy. Normally, Scottish ales have a signature, strong caramel note to it and may use a specialized type of yeast, but the first thing I immediately noticed from the aroma in this is the addition of peated malt so that you really get that Scotch connection. It’s smoky, salty, and has a twinge of iodine in it, and then the caramel comes in to give it a rather robust, almost herbal, nose.

In the taste, the caramel does play a bigger role and there’s also a slightly spicy note from the hops. The peat is still the biggest factor, sweeping in about midway through and carrying the flavors to new levels. The smokiness is prominent, but there’s also an oceanic angle to this as well, with some saltwater, seaweed, and iodine, all drawing from the peated malt. The biggest and most unique advantage that Red Brick’s Wee Heavy has over its competition is the peaty smokiness. Not only does this help curb the sweetness that is usually prevalent in this style, but it helps it live up to the Scotch Ale name. 6.5% abv. A / $3 per 12oz bottle

Brewery Spotlight: Epic Brewing Company (Part II)

Continuing from our recent Brewery Spotlight, today we are rounding out the last few beers from Epic Brewing Company.

Hopulent IPA looks every much the part of an imperial IPA, with a dark amber body, snow white head, and cloudy appearance, but despite this and the name, this isn’t your run-of-the-mill hop bomb. I wasn’t sure if this was on account of it being a relatively old bottle for an IPA (this was from Release #27, brewed on August 18, 2011) or if Epic brewed it as such, but this has a balanced aroma full of caramel sweetness. That isn’t to say that the hops don’t come through completely, but they are muted and veiled.

If the nose let on that this wasn’t a hop-forward beer, the taste certainly tries its best to fight that notion. The initial sip brings a rather strong bitterness that is only accentuated as one continues to drink. It’s times like these that I am thankful that the malts are so present, as they really help to cut that bitterness. Much like in the nose, the hops fall off shortly after the strong rush, leaving the tropical fruits in favor of a sweet, rich caramel and toffee, and this comes across prominently. In fact, at the current age of this beer, this could pass as an aggressively-hopped American barleywine. I don’t really consider myself an ‘IPA-purist,’ where if an IPA is older than a month that it is past its prime, but I can’t help but feel that this would be a lot better if fresher. Right now, the malts dominate this beer outside of the first few moments, with a sweet finish. That being said, if you like a more ‘balanced’ IPA, then this may be right up your alley. C+ / $8 per 22oz bottle

Amber ales are sort of a grab bag in terms of what kind of qualities you can expect from them. Some, like Troegs’ Nugget Nectar, is essentially an IPA wrapped up in ruby wrapping paper, while others focus more on the malts and their sweetness. Epic’s Imperial Red Ale is more along the lines of the former, but exhibits a pleasant balance. The first whiff of the nose brings a slightly spicy quality mixed with a somewhat astringent alcohol smell. I lent the spiciness to the hops, but there’s also a fairly strong caramel presence here as well. As it opens up, these blend together smoother, which helps cover the alcohol.

Initial tastes are pleasant mixtures of hop and malt, with a focus on hop resin. There is a clear distinction between the spicy, and at times fruity, hops and the toffee-like sweetness of the malt, as the hops start and end the flavor with the caramel sandwiched in-between to serve as a distraction. The hops do have just a pinch of fruitiness to it, with the usual Cascade influences, but for the most part it is more earthy and spicy, which both compares and contrasts the malt in a good way. The alcohol comes in about midway through and lingers, hampering the overall taste. Overall, I would’ve liked to see some more direction. The hops and malt are in constant conflict, which keeps the mouth guessing as to where this is going, but at the same time it’s nice to have a balanced beer. The one major flaw I can find with this is the amount of alcohol presence. B / $10 per 22oz bottle

Of all the Epic Brewery beers I’ve reviewed, Spiral Jetty is probably the most ‘ordinary.’ There are no exotic ingredients or unique fermenting techniques and it is released under the Classic Series line, which Epic describes as the ‘not so basic, basic brews.’ But even with the lack of fanfare, I actually really enjoyed this beer, and at times, more so than some of the limited offerings. Despite the bare-bones approach to an Indian Pale Ale, Spiral Jetty’s aroma brings a clean hop influence which is fruity and floral, and even has some notes of resin without being overly abrasive. There’s a decent amount of malt here as well, but it’s essentially hop-forward most of the way.

The hops continue to be the focal point in the flavor, with a grassy, lemony citrus taking the stage for most of the taste. It’s overall a fairly mild flavor, with the hops giving off their fruit and floral notes without being overbearing. The malts swoop in during the finish to add a touch of sweetness. I have to admit that I really enjoyed the simple, yet flavorful view towards this beer. It’s not amazingly complex, but what it does, it does well with a no-frills type of enjoyment. B+ / $6 per 22oz bottle

Moving away from the hoppy spectrum, Epic’s Imperial Stout is an exercise in roasted malts. Straight away, the nose opens to an aroma that is more reminiscent of this morning’s coffee rather than a beer, but after letting it air out, I got a lot more dark chocolate and star anise underneath the roast. There’s even a slight waft of fruit that fleetingly comes into play, reminding me of a Terry’s Chocolate Orange, but it leaves just as swiftly as it arrives.

The pitch-black body precludes that this imperial stout is brimming with flavor and it doesn’t disappoint. Roasted malt floods the palate and if you had any doubts about it, some more comes after that. It’s almost like a burnt roastiness, like over-steeped coffee grounds mixed with real pure cocoa. The licorice comes through strongly as well. The hops and fruit are nearly completely absent here, with perhaps a very slight tint in the finish. This was my favorite Epic beer to date; its Imperial Stout is an unabashedly malty beer that doesn’t mince its bitterness and roast.   A / $12 per 22oz bottle

Although the season for pumpkin beers has come and gone, Fermentation Without Representation isn’t your typical beer for the style. Epic teamed up with D.C. Brau for this collaboration, which uses a porter as a base to help give some complementing features to the pumpkin, such as chocolate and some coffee. Speaking of the pumpkin, Epic and D.C. Brau stuff over 200 pounds of the gourd into each batch as well as adding five different spices and Madagascar vanilla beans. This is a beer that is more at home on the dessert table after Thanksgiving dinner rather than celebrating the pumpkin harvest!

The aroma is interesting and awkward at once. I was hard-pressed to find much pumpkin in this as the malts and spices dominate the nose. Ginger, vanilla, and cinnamon contribute the most, and they aren’t afraid to border on overpowering. Similarly, roasted malts and a bittersweet chocolate follow the spices to help curb their effects.

In comparison to the nose, the taste actually mellows out the spices in a way, as the chocolate plays a bigger role that helps this beer overall. The spices are still integral to the overall profile, but they flutter in the background as they should. I’m not one to invoke the purity of the Rheinheitsgebot, but I wanted to actually experience some pumpkin in a pumpkin porter and this beer finally delivers on that front in the finish. That being said, I would still file the pumpkin as a tertiary thought at best, mingling among the malts and spices. B / $10 per 22oz bottle

Brewery Spotlight: Epic Brewing Company (Part I)

This week I’m going to start a new series of entries called “Brewery Spotlight.” These posts will look at multiple beers from a brewery’s portfolio with the hope of comparing, contrasting, and pointing out characteristics that are common among different beers, either because of water, house yeast, or preferential hop strains by the brewers.

Our inaugural spotlight will focus on Epic Brewing Company out of Salt Lake City. While Utah isn’t exactly a hotbed for all things alcoholic, you wouldn’t realize that by looking at its offerings. Encompassing three different product lines titled Classic, Elevated, and Exponential, Epic Brewing’s beers cover an extremely wide style range of beers and even some unique twists!

Brainless on Peaches combines the yeasty effervescence of a Belgian with the oakiness of wine, Brainless of Peaches starts as a golden ale before receiving a dose of peach puree. After fermentation, Epic Brewing funnels the beer into French Chardonnay casks from Sawtooth Winery for aging. I could recognize most of the base notes and the beneficial qualities of the peach and barrel-aging when I smelled this, but none of it exactly jumped out at me. Sugary peaches, Belgian yeast, oak, grape, and white wine all vie for position with bit of grain and breadiness to go around as well.

Much like the nose, the flavor doesn’t have one particular note that resonates above the rest. Even before the peaches hit I got a grainy yeast flavor, probably from the champagne yeast, which helps with the body but isn’t exactly a tasty flavor. Even the peach isn’t a front-runner, as it is content to sit back, reveling in its sweetness. The barrel is pretty noticeable, though, as the oak is subtle yet distinct, along with the chardonnay grapes which combine surprisingly well with the champagne yeast and has the added benefit of imparting a wonderful body and mouthfeel to this beer. B- / $12 per 22oz bottle

Brainless on Cherries has a similar life story to Brainless on Peaches in that it uses the same base Belgian golden ale base and undergoes secondary fermentation and aging within French Chardonnay casks. Obviously, this version substitutes the peach puree for cherries. This has the additional effect of giving it a nice, ruby appearance. However, similar to Brainless on Peaches, the fruit doesn’t take over the way I wanted it to, as the cherries give a pleasant tartness, but the smell is a combination of oak, cherries, grain, and even a touch of vanilla.

Usually when you think of cherries added to a beer, you expect a somewhat sour flavor,  but don’t be surprised when this doesn’t taste like it. The cherry comes across more as earthy, as if the skin was mixed in with the puree. I actually think the Chardonnay grapes are the most distinguishable flavor in this beer, along with the barrel. As in the nose, I’m getting a fair amount of grain and malt, but unlike Peaches, not a ton of alcohol.  B- / $12 per 22oz bottle

Hop Syndrome Lager is one of Epic Brewing’s summer seasonals and is brewed with the expectations of quenching thirsts while still delivering on the promise of big flavor and bold hops (unlike some lagers out there…). While the appearance isn’t too far out of the ordinary for a lager, consisting of a pale straw body, it does build a giant, clumpy head that lasts almost as long as the beer does. Not only does this look great, it gives the beer an ample springboard to release its aromatics. Epic Brewing got the name of this beer just right, as the nose is full of pungent hops that run the gamut from floral to spicy to fruity. I got a lot of black pepper, pear, and apple, and as strange as it sounds, even a touch of cinnamon.

On the palate Hop Syndrome is a little tamer, as a floral grassiness takes over that would make this beer seem like the perfect “lawnmower” beer, but it’s also complex enough to sit down with to enjoy the flavors. The fruits tend to fall away a little here as the hops become more bitter, but a kick of lemon zest helps cut through it.  B+ / $8 per 22oz bottle

The Sour Apple Saison is a unique twist on the Saison style. Typically classified as yeasty, grassy, and dry, saisons can also bring notes of funk or spiciness. Epic Brewing crafts Sour Apple Saison in the latter fashion and loads it up with more kinds of spice than I have ever encountered within the style. The beer is officially brewed with coriander, grains of paradise, anise, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger, and nearly all of these come across on the nose. Immediately after pouring, I could smell this beer and the copious amount of spices present. Coriander and ginger are easily the most aromatic of the group, with pinches of nutmeg and clove following. In a first for a saison, I actually am not getting a whole lot of grain or yeast in the nose, as the spices carry this from start to finish.

Despite the name, the taste doesn’t really have a whole lot of sourness to it… in fact I am hard-pressed to even say it’s tart. It does have a bit of apple to it which isn’t so apparent in the nose, but again, much of the flavor is derived from the spices. Here, the cinnamon seems to relax in favor of star anise, and the ginger is just as prominent as before. I am also getting more of the typical saison notes in the form of yeast and grain breadiness. I couldn’t really discern much of the other spices, but that’s probably for the best, as too much spice would’ve derailed this beer.  A- / $12 per 22oz bottle

Smoked & Oaked is the off-spring of a Belgian beer after mating with a Colorado whiskey barrel. Even the appearance looks daunting, as a thick liquid with a small head slowly fills the glass as it’s poured. The nose brings a lot of different characteristics and it takes a few minutes to actually digest what they are. A mild yet forward smokiness comes out first, mixing with the whiskey to help cut some of the sweetness that wants to explode. This gives the effect of imparting a strong sweetness without it being cloying, so the yeast and caramel can develop without fear of overburdening the senses.

Epic hit the nail on the head by using adjectives for the name of this beer, because the flavors all relate to the smoked and oaked aspect. The initial tastes are almost exclusively smoked malts and wood which makes it enjoyable especially during the colder months as I just think of a warm, smoldering fireplace. There is a logical transition here as the whiskey brings a sweetness that leads to the more sweet malts and yeast, so you get a smoky, alcoholic, sweet fruit quality that exudes an alcohol-soaked raisin quality. All the while it is smooth and balanced so that one facet of Smoked & Oaked doesn’t define it, but rather it’s the sum of the parts.   A / $12 per 22oz bottle

Review: Avery IPA

Avery alludes to the traditional objective of IPAs (English breweries used to load their beers with hops to help preserve it during the long journey to India) with the rustic, global label on this brew, and one gets the idea that this could probably endure the journey across a few oceans. Thankfully, this Colorado brewery is close to home for many states in America.

Pouring a clear amber color, Avery’s IPA is capped with a bubbly head, which leaves behind thick clumps of white foam as it recedes. The nose on this exudes hops from the start, with a strong grapefruit and citrus beginning with traces of pine as well. I was taken aback by the potency of the malt bill in this, as you get a brown sugar-esque sweetness in the finish.

The taste brings on a two-sided attack on the palate. At once you get a strong sweetness from the malts which serves as an excellent foil to the bitterness that come sweeping in shortly after. The Cascade and Centennial hops are the most prominent, delivering a triple threat of spicy, floral, and citrus flavors, all the while piling on more and more bitterness. The finish seems to blend a nice proportion of both sweet and bitter, with a subtle alcohol heat.

This finishes pretty clean, but leaves a bitterness on the palate and the hops numb the tastebuds after a while. This is an IPA that doesn’t focus on being a hop bomb, but is still able to promise a lot of hop flavor while balancing it nicely with the malts. One of the downsides of Avery’s IPA, however, is that as you drink, the bitterness begins to pile on and take away from the drinkability.

B / $9.99 per 6-pack /

Avery IPA Review: Avery IPA

Review: Twisted Pine Ghost Face Killah

Touted as “the hottest beer this side of Hell,” Twisted Pine’s Ghost Face Killah takes a style of beer unknown to many (chile beers) and smashes any semblance of tame spice. Ghost Face Killah is brewed with six different types of peppers – including Anaheim, Fresno, Jalapeno, Serrano, and Habanero – but the calling card (and allusion to its name) is the inclusion of the Bhut Jolokia / Ghost Pepper. For those who don’t know, the Ghost pepper is about 170 times hotter than a jalapeño and 8.5 times hotter than a habanero and is more commonly used as a weapon within hand grenades and pepper spray than an actual culinary ingredient. Full disclosure: I am not much of a spice lover… When wanting to actually enjoy my food, the hottest I’ll go is probably Tabasco Habanero in terms of commonly available sauces, though I always enjoy trying spicier offerings.

Straight out of the bottle this couldn’t look less unassuming as it appears much like a mass-marketed light lager would with a pale yellow body and relatively meager head and retention. It is even surprisingly clear despite having a wheat base to it. It isn’t until you get your nose closer to the glass that you remember that this isn’t just any beer. A smorgasbord of chili and vegetal matter fills the aroma and obviously it is predominantly spicy, with the habanero and jalapeno surprisingly easy to pinpoint (although if I were more familiar with the other varieties here, it’d probably be possible to target them as well). I get maybe just the slightest notion of wheat and citrus, but I can’t say for sure if it’s my imagination or not.

This isn’t my first beer brewed with chili peppers, so I’m not exactly a stranger to heat in beers, but the first thing that comes to my mind when drinking this is “wow.” I don’t even have time to actually swallow my first sip before the heat kicks the door down. While other beers are a bit more subtle about it, the image on the label should tell you what this beer is all about. Any salvation the wheat could promise is swept away along with my tastebuds. The positive about this beer is that you can actually taste the peppers, although they sort of blend together rather than being easy to distinguish. But I hope you like heat because that and some pepper is all you’re getting here.

The impression left on the palate after this is both impressive and terrible. Impressive that such a small sip of this beer can leave such a lingering effect on the tongue and throat, and terrible because said effect is a vast amount of burning and numbing. The impression of this isn’t just a mouthfeel, but also a chestfeel and bodyfeel as even your extremities feel the power of the ghost pepper.

This is a beer in which a little goes a long, long way. I’ve had this glass in front of me for almost 30 minutes and I probably drank maybe 3 oz. The heat is intense, but after letting it mellow on the mouth, it gradually fades into a dull heat throb which isn’t so bad, actually. Honestly, I couldn’t imagine drinking a whole bottle of this solo. I am probably going to put the rest back into the bottle and either cook with it or disinfect the bathroom.

5.0% abv.

D+ (A for originality) / $3.50 per 12oz bottle /

Twisted Pine Ghost Face Killah Review: Twisted Pine Ghost Face Killah

Review: Brooklyn Winter Ale

Foregoing the path of spiced holiday ales, Brooklyn Brewery instead approaches the blustery weather as a way to promote its Scottish-styled offering, Winter Ale. This seems to fit perfectly with prototypical Scottish forecast of rain and dreary cold, so who am I to complain?

A burnished copper liquid with ruby highlights greets you in the glass which culminates in a frothy, tan head. The head retention is nice, and as it fades it leaves streaks of lacing. The aroma brings an undeniable Scottish influence, as the malts bring a caramel smell first and foremost. It is slightly fruity and bready as well, with a dried-fruit quality and hints of raisins and tobacco. Overall it’s somewhat sweet, and the breadiness comes across as shortbread.

The taste continues the sweet profile, but it’s kept in check with the earthy hops. The malts once again shine here, as caramel, brown sugar, and a little grain take over the beginning of the flavor. As it opens up and develops in the mouth, the hops add an earthy, woody, and leathery quality that seems to fit in nicely with the Scottish landscape Brooklyn Brewery is trying the paint here. The intermittent fruit in the form of apples, pears, and raisins helps the flavors pop that much more.

To be honest, I didn’t read up much on this beer before drinking it and was expecting another run-of-the-mill, overly spiced winter warmer. What I get instead is a top of the line, readily-available Scottish ale.

A- / $9 per 6-pack /

Brooklyn Winter Ale Review: Brooklyn Winter Ale

Review: He’Brew Genesis 15:15

Serving as the next installment of Shmaltz’ fifteenth anniversary series, Genesis 15:15, this robust barleywine stands at 13.4% abv and has two distinct characteristics that immediately make it pop amidst the competition: firstly, it’s aged for over 8 months in Sazerac 6 Year Old Rye whiskey barrels, and secondly, juice from pomegranates, figs, dates, and grapes are added as allusions to prominent fruits referenced in the Torah.

It looks pretty intimidating out of the bottle, as well. Genesis 15:15 shimmers a bold mahogany which fails to provide any sort of glimpse into its inner workings, but without much delay the smell slowly creeped towards me. The nose is heavy on the barrel and rye whiskey. I was expecting a lot of sweet fruits due to the juice additions to this, but it’s actually somewhat bitter and I found I was getting more roast and rye spiciness than anything. It’s pretty malty all-around, with a bit of grape in the background. In the mouth, this beer definitely explores the ingredients more comprehensively, as each fruit is clearly present, with the pomegranate and grape leading the way while the figs and dates serve more as a way to flesh out the back-end. It’s interesting to note how the barrel was so present in the nose, but seems to fall away in the body, as the oak isn’t well-defined, but the rye whiskey is still noticeable. This creates an interesting split of flavors; the fruit juices impart a tart tanginess, while malts and whiskey cut this with a bitter spiciness.

I enjoyed how the barrel-aging impacted this beer, as it adds a nice rye kick without dominating the other aspects. I thought the fruit would’ve been the main focus of this beer, but the malts seem to have the lasting appeal in flavor as well as the strong alcohol presence. A thicker, chewier body also helps accentuate these details.

B+ / $13 per 22 oz. bottle /

Hebrew Genesis 15 Review: He’Brew Genesis 15:15

Review: He’Brew Jewbelation Fifteen

Commemorating fifteen years of brewing, Shmaltz and its He’Brew line of ‘Chosen Beers’ unleashes a Frankenstein-esque monster of a beer with the latest release of Jewbelation. Jewbelation follows the significance of this anniversary by incorporating 15 different malts, 15 types of hops – which are added at 15 scheduled times – and reaches an abv of 15%.

Given the cluster of ingredients in this, it’s hard to pinpoint specifics in the aroma as many different smells come into play at varying times. I am getting more of a malty profile rather than hoppy, with a strong focus on sweet, earthy notes in the form of molasses, brown sugar, leather, and coffee grounds before transitioning into a lighter, fruitier note on the back-end. There is a surprising amount of pine in here as well which seems to serve as a nice bridge between the grittier malts and citrus.

My first sip leaves me a bit torn as to which side this beer is pulling me towards. It is certainly full of rich, hearty malts, but right when I think it’s going to lead to a crescendo of sweetness, it pulls back suddenly into a rather bitter mid-palate where the espresso, chocolate, and flaked oats take over. This actually seems to be the strongest part of the taste, forsaking the noticeable dichotomy presented in the nose in favor of a taste that hits me all at once. The finish incorporates alcohol-soaked cherries, raisins, orange, pine, and some herbal qualities with a nice amount of booze present; not overbearingly so but enough to let you know that this packs a punch.

Coming into this beer, I was expecting the ‘15’ motif to essentially be a gimmick; a brewery wanting to commemorate its anniversary by going all out, but not in hopes of creating a drinkable beer. However, I was wrong in that regard, and it uses the ambitious recipe to deliver a beer that evolves and develops constantly. So while it’s hard to track how each ingredient impacts the beer, I can certainly appreciate that the overall profile undergoes multiple changes throughout drinking the bottle.

B+ / $6 per 22 oz. bottle /

Hebrew Jewbelation 15 Review: He’Brew Jewbelation Fifteen