Utilizing three different types of hops and a dry-hop cycle, New Belgium’s Ranger is an affordable and readily available IPA that promises to satiate any hop-head’s appetite.
Pouring a pale straw goldenrod color with a surprising clarity, Ranger looks the part of a solid IPA. The clear body is what really intrigues me given the dry-hopping schedule, which normally tends to impart cloudiness. A ton of carbonation can be seen in the body, with multiple streams of bubbles creating a torrent. The lacing is great as well, with thick, generous foam covering nearly every inch of glass.
The aroma brings a vivid, fresh hop burst, which focuses mainly on the grapefruit and citrus, but also brings pineapple and a dank pine smell as well. It’s almost entirely hoppy, with only the slightest bit of caramel malt in the finish. However, given the amount of hops in the nose, I was expecting an equal amount of contribution to the flavor, but was left with a little less than what was promised. It is pretty bitter, taking a page from the hops, but the flavor seems to fall beyond the wayside. If the aroma gave the impression of a citrus-forward beer, the taste essentially discards that, instead leaving a touch of fruit and pine, replaced with malts and a strong, floral bitterness.
The body and nose on this are nice and enjoyable, but the flavor falls a bit short. Rather than extracting the rich, juicy flavor of the hops, New Belgium brings a bitterness that is not faithful to the nose.
B / $4 per 22 oz. bottle / newbelgium.com
While some breweries use the holiday season as an excuse to release heavily spiced or cloying sweet beers, Bell’s deviates from this track with its Winter White Ale. Styled as a Belgian-yeast fermented witbier, Winter White pours cloudy and straw-colored before being capped by snowy head.
The yeast imparts the strongest aspect to this beer as the banana and distinct grape bubblegum are at the forefront of the aroma and taste. There is a surprisingly potent wheat characteristic to this as well that complement the bready malts. In the finish, lemon zest and cloves battle it out and for all intents and purposes it ends up as a draw. Although it is a little spicy, despite what Bell’s set out to do with this beer, the style inherently comes with some bite, so it gets a pass on that front.
A more phenolic take on the style, this isn’t going to blow any minds, but it’s definitely solid. I’m not sure how I’d feel drinking this in the dead of winter, especially given how light-bodied, crisp, and dry it is on the palate, as I seem to enjoy these beers more in the warmer months, but this serves as a nice alternative for those who can’t stand the cinnamon- and nutmeg-laced styles during the winter.
B / $2.50 per 12 oz. bottle / bellsbeer.com
Drawing allusions to the Stock Market Crash of 1929, The Bruery experienced its own “Black Tuesday,” which eventually led to the naming of this massive imperial stout. While brewing, one of the assistant brewers left a mash paddle in the tank, causing scalding water and grain to slowly flood the brewery and burn those trying to contain it. Like the stock market, though, The Bruery was able to recover and salvage the remains of Black Tuesday.
Living up to its name, Black Tuesday is a glossy, foreboding black. A surprising amount of carbonation and bubbles can be seen slowly rising up the sides of the glass, continuously feeding and resupplying the tan head. Black Tuesday comes across as bold and brash in the aroma, as dark chocolate, anise, roasted malts, and alcohol all battle for top marks. For being aged in bourbon barrels for fifteen months, Black Tuesday doesn’t display as much as the barrel as I would’ve expected. The bourbon is buried underneath most of the sweetness and alcohol heat, but there is a noticeable amount of vanilla that helps cut through some more of the abrasive flavors. As it settles on the palate, it continues to develop and evolve, and the sugary sweetness of the malts lends it an alcohol-soaked fruit flavor.
It is no surprise that at 18.3% abv, this beer is pretty hot in terms of alcohol presence, but I have to say that the flavors go a long way in covering it. However, that aspect coupled with a sweet profile makes this a sipper and I would highly recommend splitting this at least two ways!
A / $30 per 750ml bottle / thebruery.com
Nothing quite signifies the change of seasons so strikingly as the tendency for breweries to release thicker and heavier beers in the colder months. It therefore seems fitting that Michigan-based Founders chose this time to release its Canadian Breakfast Stout, or CBS as it is affectionately abbreviated on the bottle. Formerly a draft-only offering, this release marks the first time CBS has been commercially bottled and is the third entry into the “Breakfast Stout” line, alongside Founders Breakfast Stout and Kentucky Breakfast Stout, which is aged in bourbon barrels. CBS takes this progression even further by filling these bourbon casks with maple syrup, and after letting it impart its flavor to the wood, drains them and fills them with the beer. What we are left with is a 10.6% abv imperial stout which is brewed with chocolate and coffee and absorbs the bourbon and maple notes from the barrels in which it was aged.
Straight out of the bottle, the liquid looks exactly as I was expecting; thick, ebony, almost sticky. A mocha-colored and frothy head helps open the bouquet, which delivers that same bold espresso note that is so prominently featured in the other Breakfast Stout beers. Likewise, the bourbon is rich and sweet to help cut this roast and is aided by the chocolate. The biggest surprise is the apparent lack of maple syrup, which should be the calling card for this beer. I’m not sure if it’s the more robust characteristics of the beer overshadowing the maple, but it’s faint and only comes in around the finish. In the taste, the maple shines more so than in the nose, but I can’t help but say I would’ve wanted more. The full body is spot on for the style and huge flavors, with active carbonation to keep it from getting too heavy.
I haven’t tried this on tap, so this is my first exposure to the famed CBS, and I have to say it has lived up to my expectations. The adjectives that immediately come to mind are ones of high praise, from decadent to gourmet. The only fault I can levy against it is the somewhat muffled maple syrup characteristic, but it improves in the flavor. These bottles sold out quickly, so it may be difficult to come across one, but definitely seek one out if you can!
A / $25 per 750ml bottle / foundersbrewing.com
How can a brewery improve on its already successful barleywine? Weyerbacher suggests throwing it in some bourbon barrels. Weighing in at 11.10% abv, Insanity is Weyerbacher’s twist on the English Barleywine style, letting its normal Blithering Idiot age in oak casks to pick up a slew of new, complex characteristics.
Upon first sniff, Insanity seems to struggle as if it wants to come across as an actual beer or whiskey. Strong aromas of bourbon, vanilla, slightly charred oak, and dark cocoa fill the air to complement the caramel and malts from the base beer. Insanity doesn’t fail to deliver on the palate, either, delivering a range of flavors balanced between sweet and boozy. The bourbon continues to play a prominent role, but doesn’t dominate, allowing the rest of the notes to develop and evolve. Expect the vanilla to be the focus with burnt sugar, toffee, and chocolate rounding out the taste.
While bourbon barrel-aged beers are quickly gaining popularity within the craft beer scene, being able to keep the beer balanced and drinkable is a difficult exercise that Weyerbacher seems to have figured out. Despite bursting with bourbon qualities, Insanity fails to take on the alcohol heat from it. What we are left with is an amazingly smooth ale that drinks much easier and more enjoyably than the 11.10% abv would have us believe.
A / $4.50 per 12 oz. bottle / weyerbacher.com