Review: Pyramid Ditto Session IPA

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Seattle-based Pyramid’s newest brew is Ditto, a session IPA “dry-hopped with two Pacific Northwest hop varieties, Amarillo and Calypso, and includes three kettle hops, Nugget, Delta and Chinook.” It also includes a blend of pale, caramel, and wheat malts in the mash.

The brew is light on its feet, offering fresh bread notes studded with a touch of orange peel. Moderately bitter at first, a growing, brooding bitterness emerges the longer it lingers on the tongue. The finish is rather earthy, with notes of slate and evergreen bark hanging in until the end. All told, it’s a great example of a session IPA — I would have guessed it to be of considerably higher alcohol level than a mere 4 1/2 percent.

Available in 12 oz and 22 oz bottles… though the latter sort of defeats the purpose of a session beer, no?

4.5% abv.

B+ / $NA / pyramidbrew.com

Review: Starr Hill Last Leaf and Basketcase

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These seasonals are part of Starr Hill’s 2016 Fall Tour Pack along with Whiter Shade of Pale Ale and Northern Lights. Let’s sample the new brews.

Starr Hill Last Leaf Maple Brown Ale – A brown ale brewed with real maple syrup. Definitely the best of both worlds here, a light brown sugary sweetness giving the malt a fresher lift and an appropriately festive feeling, without being overtly heavy on the baking spices and chewy malt. A light bitterness on the back end adds balance, with hints of maple syrup making quiet appearances throughout the experience. 6.1% abv. B+

Starr Hill Basketcase American Helles – This bready brew drinks as an otherwise unremarkable lager, mild on the hops while offering a fairly heavy effervescence, more so than you’d find in a traditional German Helles (perhaps making it particularly “American” in this case). It’s a clean and inviting, though nothing that makes me think especially of the fall. 5.4% abv. B+

about $15 per 12-pack / starrhill.com

Review: Deschutes Brewery Jubelale Winter Ale 2016, The Dissident 2016, and Conflux Collage #2

Deschutes Brewery Jubelale Winter Ale 2016 – Jubelale is always the first taste of Christmas for me each year, and for 2016 the brewery’s winter ale seems particularly pleasing, a warming experience that builds on a malty base with gentle notes of raisin and fig, mulling spices, and vanilla. What Jubelale has in spades this year is balance, and the beer manages to ride the line between malt, fruit, and light bitterness with aplomb. One of the best versions in recent memory. 6.7% abv. A- / $8 per six-pack

Deschutes Brewery The Dissident 2016 – Now an annual release, this beloved sour, a Flanders-style sour brown brewed with Oregon cherries, strikes with a vengeance. I’m never big on sours, but The Dissident is one I can happily sip on, its tart cherry notes surprisingly restrained against a backdrop of Madeirized wine, almond and walnut notes, chocolate malt, and stone fruit pits. The key to the beer’s success is that the sourness here isn’t the slap-yer-mama affair as it can so often be in big sours, but rather a refined and elevated experience that shows that sours can have a surprising elegance. 10.9% abv. A- / $16 per 22 oz. bottle

Deschutes Brewery Conflux Series Collage #2 – This is a wacky, wacky thing, the second beer in Deschutes’ Conflux Series, which blends up a bunch of rare, barrel-aged beers from both Deschutes and Hair of the Dog brewery to make one insanely, super-rare, barrel-aged beer. I never saw Collage #1, but Collage #2 is a different blend, which incorporates Deschutes’ The Abyss (only the portion from Pinot barrels) and The Stoic (100% aged in Pinot barrels) plus Hair of the Dog’s Fred (aged in American oak and rye whiskey barrels) and Doggie Claws (100% aged in cognac barrels). That’s four barrel-aged beers, all aiming squarely at your gullet with an alcohol level that’s over 14 whopping percent. It’s definitely interesting as a sipper, but decidedly not an everyday experience. Notes of intense raisin, fig, and prune mix with overwhelming, syrupy caramel, thick molasses, and grainy malt extract. The beer is uncommonly sweet with dark sugar and dried fruit notes, with a finish that will linger for hours if you let it, eventually devolving into a pungent, mushroom-and-molasses character. Beers like this are rarified air, something fun to sample while you’re bloated after Christmas dinner, but nothing I need to experience more than a few ounces of. 14.3% abv. B / $25 per 22 oz. bottle

deschutesbrewery.com

Review: Zumbida Mango Aguas Frescas

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Looks like we now have not one but two “hard” Mexican frescas available in bottled form. Following in the footsteps of Hard Frescos comes Zumbida, which is not the same as Zumba, but will make your body move just the same.

Zumbida is made by MillerCoors, not in Mexico but in Milwaukee. It’s a malt beverage with flavoring added — mango, in this case. (No other flavors are available so far.) As such, I’m not clear what distinguishes this from a “hard soda” or any other fruity malt beverage. There is some Spanish on the label, at least.

Anyway, the taste is fine — fruity, a little funky with that vegetal malt liquorness, and quite effervescent. Imagine an Orange Crush with a lightly tropical spin and you’ve got the flavor down — it’s not quite mango, but not straight citrus, either. Could I drink one of these on the beach in Cozumel? I could. But would I drink one on the beach in Cozumel? I would not.

4.2% abv.

B- / $9 per six-pack / zumbida.com

Review: Magic Hat Belgo Sutra Quadrupel (2016)

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Magic Hat’s latest limited/seasonal is the latest installment of its monster of a Belgian-style dark ale, a quadrupel that is brewed with figs and dates to really pump up the intensity of the brew. The results are fascinating, if not entirely approachable at first. The beer drinks with sweet and bitter in relative balance, but the gummy body tends to overwhelm the palate. The eastern fruit character comes through clearly, but the finish sticks to the mouth and refuses to let go. Those looking for a Port-like dessert experience have found it here; for me, it can often run too far afield.

Belgo Sutra sales benefit the Vermont non-profit and HIV testing center Vermont CARES.

8.2% abv. Now available in bottles.

B / $NA per 22 oz. bottle / magichat.net

Review: Strongbow Hard Apple Ciders

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Heineken-owned Strongbow is a staple of the apple cider scene, particularly in England, where the brand originated some 54 years ago. Most production of the beverage still takes place in England, but the samples we’re reviewing today were actually produced in Belgium. (The company also makes cider in Australia.)

Strongbow comes in numerous varieties; today we look at four.

Strongbow Hard Apple Cider Gold Apple – This is an iconic cider, and probably what a lot of people think of when they think of cider. Fresh apple notes, a moderate level of sweetness, no vegetal undertones, and a crisp and lightly bubble finish are all on point — but it’s the little hint of cinnamon, just barely there on the finish, that makes this cider such an easy-drinking standout. Nothing fancy, but that’s often how cider is at its best. 5% abv. A-

Strongbow Hard Apple Cider Honey – This is very similar to the Gold Apple, but slightly sweeter and with less of a clear apple character to it. (It doesn’t taste of honey at all, by the way.) With very little in the way of fruit going on, it’s harder to recommend, but those looking for a simply sweet and fizzy refreshment may find it up their alley. 5% abv. B

Strongbow Hard Apple Cider Ginger – Something akin to a cider and a ginger ale, mixed. It’s not particularly heavy on the ginger component, and apple notes are the most enduring element in the mix, particularly on the finish. Nothing at all off-putting here, however — it works as a nice change of pace vs. the original flavor. 4.5% abv. B

Strongbow Hard Apple Cider Red Berries – This is the most wine-coolerish of the bunch, a quite sweet and strawberry-scented sipper than oozes, as the name suggests, red berry notes. The finish is exceptionally long, with sweet-and-sour notes… and wholly harmless. 4.5% abv. B-

$14 per 12-pack / theheinekencompany.com

Review: Easy Tea Co. Hard Iced Tea

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The alcoholization of everything continues with the world of iced tea, courtesy of MillerCoors-owned Easy Tea Co. and its new Hard Iced Tea (Crisp Citrus Flavor) product. That’s a bold name for whatever is in this monster-sized can. Whatever it is, it isn’t tea, which doesn’t appear anywhere in the list of ingredients (water, corn syrup (dextrose), barley malt, yeast, hop extract, sucrose, citric acid, natural flavors, caramel color, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate (added for freshness)), though perhaps that gets folded in under the “natural flavors” rubric. What it does taste like, rather, is orange soda, though lightly funky and mildly off-putting in that vegetally-flavored malt beverage way. On the whole it’s harmless, but it simply isn’t describable — in any way — as tea.

Sweet and fizzy, with candylike overtones to tamp down the malt liquor character, I don’t know who could polish off a full 24 oz. of this stuff — that’s almost the quantity that’s in a wine bottle — but if you can, you’re not invited into my house.

5% abv.

D+ / $3 per 24 oz. can / millercoors.com

Review: Troegs Nimble Giant

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Nimble Giant is a once-a-year seasonal from Hershey, Pennsylvania’s Troegs, and it presents itself as decidedly gigantic from the start. Nimble? That’s perhaps up to the consumer. This is a double IPA crafted with Mosaic, Azacca, and Simcoe hops, brash and punchy from the start with a surfeit of fruit — grapefruit, orange, and some lemon — atop a dense, sometimes syrupy core. Floral notes emerge with some time in glass, the finish ending squarely on a properly hoppy, piney, resinous note. While Nimble Giant is huge, it is indeed fairly nimble, letting its fruity notes do the heavy lifting as it fades out. A lovely, chewy DIPA. 9% abv.

A / $13 per four-pack of 16 oz cans / troegs.com

Review: Deschutes Brewery Hopzeit Autumn IPA, Hop Trip (2016), Chasin’ Freshies (2016), and Sagefight Imperial IPA

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A trio of fall releases from Deschutes, starting now!

Deschutes Brewery Hopzeit Autumn IPA – Deschutes’ newest seasonal is fit for fall, an IPA inspired by German Märzenbier, made with loads of German hops instead of the usual fare found in American IPAs. Results are appropriately Teutonic. Rich and malty, with overtones of coffee and cocoa, it starts off slightly sweet before the hops kick in. Though well short of overpowering, the beer drinks with plenty of bitterness but also showcases notes of cherry fruit and some baking spice, particularly on the back end. Seems perfectly autumnal, indeed. 7% abv. B+

Deschutes Brewery Hop Trip Pale Ale (2016) – Notably maltier this usual, this year’s Hop Trip has a surprising caramel character that tempers the bitterness in this otherwise racy, pine-heavy pale ale. Some lemon peel notes and some gingerbread spice add a touch of intrigue to a beer that otherwise comes across as a bit British (and quite unusual) in style this year. 6.1% abv. B+

Deschutes Brewery Chasin’ Freshies (2016) – Chasin’ Freshies features a different hop strain each year. This year, this annual release includes Centennial hops, a classic option (the strain dates back to 1974) that gives the beer an iconic profile. Big pine needles and tarry resin give this a huge bitter profile, but a touch of maple syrup adds a hint of malty sweetness. Some hints of tropical fruit and biscuity cereal round out the brew. 7.4% abv. A-

Deschutes Brewery Sagefight Imperial IPA – This special edition sees a bunch of hops finding companions in the form of added sage and juniper berries. It’s not quite a fight, but it does make for a somewhat strange combination, surprisingly coming across as slightly sweet, with the finish showcasing more herbal elements. The finish is only lightly scented with sage; otherwise the combination becomes heavily earthy on the back end. I’d try it again. 8% abv. B+

each $8 per six-pack / deschutesbrewery.com

Review: Virtue Cider Lapinette Cidre Brut

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Virtue Cider’s Lapinette is a “Norman-style cidre brut fermented with French yeast and patiently aged for months in French oak.”

This Michigan-born cider is lightly sparkling but bone dry, which can be a bit surprising and even challenging at first but which eventually wins you over. On the tongue it offers an earthiness at first, mushroomy and yeasty, before stronger apple notes eventually emerge. It’s cut with balsamic notes, particularly on the high-test finish, which mercifully offers some acidity to cut that extremely dry character early on.

6.8% abv.

B / $10 (765ml) / virtuecider.com

Review: Wild Sit Russ and Wild Docta’ Alcoholic Sodas

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Two new alco-pops (that is, alco-soda-pops) from the Wild company, which produces Wild Ginger and Wild Root. Let’s explore.

Wild Sit Russ Alcoholic Citrus Soda – Sit Russ (bad name or the worst name?) An alcoholic version of Sprite, though the color is closer to Mountain Dew. The flavor of this one is surprisingly clean, without much of that weird malt beverage overtone so common in these types of drinks. Instead, it offers a fairly clear lemon-lime character (heavier on the lime) but quite sweet through and through. Carbonation is decidedly minimal; it could definitely benefit from more, and would help to mask a slightly vegetal finish. But on the whole, the simplicity of this concoction is its strength, and it makes for one of the better installments in this series. 4.5% abv. B+

Wild Docta’ Original Rock & Rye Soda – Rock and Rye? Let’s make it clear: This is a Dr. Pepper clone, right down to the maroon shading on the can. Tastes like it too, particularly on the nose, which nails the raisiny-pruny character of Dr. Pepper, pelting it with just the right amount of vanilla. As the palate evolves, however, it loses steam, fading back into simpler notes of molasses with the characteristic plum/prune more as an afterthought. Fair enough to enjoy, though! 5% abv. B

each $9 per six-pack of cans / wgbrewing.com

Review: Thorberg Five Hop Belgian IPA

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Belgium’s Brouwerij Anders says the quest for the perfect Belgian IPA is over, and here it is: Thorberg Five Hop, which take Golding, Mosaic, Equinox, Willamette, and Citra hops and brews them up with Belgian techniques.

The results are impressive, offering aromatic layers of citrusy and lightly piney hops that meld beautifully with the heavier, relatively malt-laden body. Notes of applesauce and brown butter mingle with a hint of roasted vegetable character on the palate, offering a quick break from the bitterness of the hops. The hops however make a return appearance on the finish, which is mouth-filling and rounded, refreshing and clean but not nearly as palate-cleansing (or enamel-stripping) as a typical west coast style IPA. All in all, a nice treat as well as a break from the norm.

6.5% abv.

A- / $4.50 (11.2 oz bottle) / thorbergbeer.com