Review: Draftmark Beer Tap System

 

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Having beer on tap at home is a killer move, but kegerators are enormous, costly, and frankly, a bit frat-house juvenile. Draftmark has an answer: A mini keg that fits in your fridge.

The Draftmark system includes a battery-powered base and replaceable, one-gallon growlers that fit inside it. Just charge up the battery, install a plastic jug of one of the half-dozen beer varieties available (I chose Goose Island IPA), and you’ve got enough fresh draft for about ten 12 oz. servings. When it’s dry, pop it out, recharge the battery (which powers an air compressor that keeps the mini-keg pressurized), and you’re ready to go again.

The Draftmark system is a pretty cool idea, but I had one major issue with it: It was too big for my ’80s-era fridge. The only way I could get the door to shut was to put it in diagonally on the shelf, which pretty much ate up the entire thing. I expect more modern kitchens won’t have this problem, but for me it’s a deal killer that means I can’t use it regularly… at least until I commit to a second fridge for the garage. Also: Refills are cheap, but the selection is limited and — more importantly — tough to find, for now. (Pro tip: Look for free shipping deals.)

Otherwise, it’s a pretty cool idea, and the beer it pours (albeit slowly) does come out fresh and pub-worthy. (Make sure you give it plenty of time to chill down or you’ll end up with a ton of foam.) Those of you with those enormous Sub-Zeros and lots of space for novelties might clear out that Chinese takeout and give it a try.

B+ / $70 (1 gallon refills about $15) / draftmark.com [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Ecliptic/Wicked Weed/Stone Points Unknown IPA

pointsunknown_bottle_4webIt’s time for another three-way collaboration from Stone, bringing in Portland, Oregon’s Ecliptic Brewing and Asheville, North Carolina’s Wicked Weed. As if three breweries wasn’t tough enough to pull together, what Stone has done with Points Unknown is take two divergent beers and blend them together.

Three-quarters of the beer is a west coast-style double IPA. The other quarter is a Belgian tripel, barrel aged for four months in casks that first held red wine and then held tequila. It may say “IPA” on the label, but what’s inside is much more than that.

If this all sounds complicated, try tasting it. Both elements of the brew are well represented here, with the tripel starting things off with a malty, slightly spicy character featuring notes of cloves, coffee beans, and just a touch of sour cherry. The IPA element ultimately takes over, though, offering bracing bitterness, much more citrus-focused than it is piney. Some bitter root notes emerge with time, but it’s those sour cherries that stick with me the most. It’s a complicated — and not entirely cohesive — beer, but it’s easily worth a try while you can still nab it.

9.5% abv.

B+ / $9 per 22 oz. bottle / stonebrewing.com

Review: Newcastle Collaboration Edition British Pale Ale and Session IPA

Newcastle Best of Britain Variety Pack bottles

Newcastle is back and continuing its Collaboration Edition series of limited releases with two new brews made in collaboration with Edinburgh’s Caledonian Brewery — updates on the pale ale/IPA recipe.

Newcastle Collaboration Edition British Pale Ale – Had I not read the label I would have assumed this was a standard brown ale, quite malty and nutty, with a touch of baking chocolate on the back end. I get very little hops here — though it is dry hopped to 39 IBUs, according to Newcastle. B-

Newcastle Collaboration Edition British Session India Pale Ale – A slight pine element up front and a hint of bitterness (though it’s rated at 45 IBUs) doesn’t exactly make this into a real IPA. Newcastle’s signature chocolate maltiness is spread thick on this brew, which washes away the crispness and ultimately gives its citrus notes a bit of orange-flavored chocolate character. Just so-so. At 5.1% abv, it’s just barely below the 5.8% of the standard edition. B-

each about $8 per six-pack / newcastlebrown.com

Review: Deschutes Pinedrops, Foray, Twilight 2015, and The Stoic 2015

foray deschutes

We’ve been falling behind on Deschutes’ beer releases, so here’s a look at four new/seasonal/reissued bottlings hitting in time for summer sipping!

Deschutes Brewery Pinedrops IPA – Formerly an experimental brew served only on tap (and amde with Chinook, Centennial, and Equinox hops), this year Pinedrops goes into year-round rotation in bottles. A burly IPA with resin a plenty and ample, earthy undertones. More forest floor than canopy, there’s some mushroomy notes and a bit of stewed prune character to balance the gentler citrus peel and pine needle elements. A more brooding, less cleansing (but plenty bitter) expression of IPA. 6.5% abv. B+ / $10 (six-pack of 12 oz. bottles)

Deschutes Brewery Foray IPA – This new addition to the Deschutes Bond Street series of seasonals takes classic IPA hops (Nugget, Amarillo, Mosiac, CTZ, and Galaxy), and pairs them up with a Belgian yeast strain for the fermentation. The results: A bitter beer with more fruit, including some tart apple notes, some lemon, and slightly sour apricots. It’s a fun little change of pace from the usual pine and citrus focus, though not necessarily “better.” 6.5% abv. A- / $6 (22 oz. bottle)

Deschutes Brewery Twilight Summer Ale (2015) – This season’s Twilight offers a nice balance of piney bitterness and some dried citrus peel notes along with a little baked apple character. On the finish, notes of clove and nutmeg. It’s never been an overwhelmingly complex beer, but it’s a nice distraction from other blonde ales that are often a bit more biscuity. 5% abv. B+ / $10 (six-pack of 12 oz. bottles)

Deschutes Brewery The Stoic (2015) – Deschutes launched the original Stoic in 2011, and it generated a surprising backlash because drinkers felt it “didn’t taste like a Belgian Quad” — which the bear is styled after. Deschutes basically said it didn’t care and released a darker version called Not The Stoic in 20114. Now The Stoic is back with the original’s recipe, which balances Pilsner malt with Hallertauer Mittelfruh, Czech Saaz, and Northern Brewer hops plus Belgian candi sugars and pomegranate molasses. Pinot noir and rye whiskey barrels are used to gently age the finished beer. I don’t get much barrel influence here; instead the malt and molasses do most of the talking, giving this a very sweet approach and a powerful, juicy impact on the palate. The alcohol level (significant) isn’t readily noticeable, as the fruitier elements — figs, apricots, peaches, and a lacing of molasses — tend to mask it. The finish is clean but sticky with caramel notes making for a decadent — but a bit gooey — finish. 10.9% abv. B+ / $16 (22 oz. bottle)

deschutesbrewery.com

Review: Steel Reserve Alloy Series Margarita and Hard Pineapple

steel reserveI won’t belabor the introduction of these two new flavored malt beverages from Steel Reserve with a lot of bloviating. So here we go … with Steel Reserve Margarita and Steel Reserve Hard Pineapple.

Steel Reserve Alloy Series Margarita – Kryptonite green in color and, I have to presume, in flavor. Vaguely lime flavored, then blended with crushed up cough drops and topped off with rubbing alcohol. The slight fizz helps to mask some of its roughness, but that’s only marginally effective. D+

Steel Reserve Alloy Series Hard Pineapple – Gatorade yellow in color and every bit as horrifying as you’re expecting. I actually did a spit take on my first sip, and subsequent attempts to consume this monstrosity weren’t much better. Pineapple candy is the character at the start, sure, but from there it’s a combination of lemon-lime zest and what I can only describe as the flavor expired, off-brand mouthwash. No me gusta! F

8% abv.

about $2 per 24 oz. can / steelreserve.com

Review: Beers of Mavericks (Half Moon Bay Brewing Co.)

mavericks rye pale ale

Mavericks is a famous surf spot off the coast of Half Moon Bay, California, where these three beers — available exclusively in cans — are made. We tried them all. Thoughts follow.

Mavericks Rye Pale Ale – Mavericks sent two cans of this beer, an American pale ale with west coast hops plus rye malt, and I managed to polish off the first can before I remembered I was supposed to be writing about it. A huge crowd pleaser, this combines the best of both worlds: a chewy, bready base that leads to a modestly hoppy conclusion. Notes of citrus and hints of dark chocolate add some mystique. Somehow, all of this is just 3.75% abv, making for an amazing session brew. Hard not to love. A / $NA (12 oz cans)

Mavericks Belgian Style Wit – Quite spicy on the nose, with dried orange peel and coriander notes. The body punches first with the spice, then ventures into the malt, which is substantial — bready and toasty, and quite lasting. More spice on the finish, but it doesn’t ever shake hands completely with the malt. Fairly average and unremarkable. 3.75% abv. B- / $NA (12 oz cans)

Mavericks Tunnel Vision IPA – The big dog, a monster beer that “blurs the line between single and double IPA” (though it’s 100+ IBUs). It’s a beer that pushes things awfully far, with an intense resinous character and notes of tar, forest floor, and a heavy, lasting, bitter finish. Fruit and piney notes are sorely needed here. 6.8% abv. B- / $NA (16 oz cans)

mavericksbeer.com

Review: 21st Amendment Down to Earth Session IPA

21st am down to earth21A’s session IPA clocks in at a mere 4.4% abv, with 42 IBUs noted on the can. Made with Cascade, Mosaic, and Warrior hops, it’s a fine enough example of the sessionable IPA trend, though it doesn’t entirely lift itself above the crowd. On the nose, tons of grapefruit and piney undertones offer promise, and on first blush the body is filled with classic IPA notes.

But as the body develops, a wateriness comes along, dulling and diluting the promising opening act. Ultimately those fruity/piney notes turn a little muddy and a little sour, lending Down to Earth a dull and somewhat less satisfying finish.

B / $9 per 6-pack of cans / 21st-amendment.com

Canned Margarita “Showdown” – Bud Light Lime-A-Rita vs. Parrot Bay Margarita with Coconut Water

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I’m a firm believer that a cocktail should decidedly not come out of a can, but even I can accept that in desperate circumstances — venues where hard alcohol or glass isn’t allowed, namely — drinkers are forced into solutions that are less than ideal.

Such is the case with the margarita, which has seen a massive uptick in ready-to-drink renditions in recent years. Today, these concoctions (which are technically “malt beverages,” not tequila-based drinks) are now waging a quality war. Which of these is best? Or rather, which is least bad? Parrot Bay recently attempted to sway us by putting on its own Pepsi Challenge, sending us a blind-tasting kit consisting of Parrot Bay Margarita with Coconut Water and Bud Light’s Lime-A-Rita. Complete with little plastic margarita glasses, salt, and a lime… which one would we say was best? There is no irony in the name emblazoned on this kit: The Ultimate Margarita Challenge.

Well, I took the challenge and am pleased to report that Parrot Bay’s Margarita with Coconut Water is a considerably better product. How much better? Read on. (These were tasted and reviewed blind but considering one has coconut water in it and one does not, telling them apart wasn’t exactly difficult.)

Bud Light Lime-A-Rita – Put a little tequila flavoring in a Sprite and you’ve nailed this fizzy, lemon-limey concoction. Saccharine finish. Better with salt. 8% abv. D / $11 per 12-pack of 8 oz. cans

Parrot Bay Margarita with Coconut Water – Put a little lime flavor in some coconut water and you’ve nailed this less fizzy, pina colada-like concoction. A bit less sweet, with heavily tropical overtones. 5.8% abv. C- / $11 per 12-pack of 8 oz. cans

As you can see, Parrot Bay is the clear winner!

Review: Redd’s Green Apple Ale and Wicked Mango

Redd's Wicked Mango CanDon’t call it cider.

Redd’s is beer flavored with apples (and other fruits), not fermented from apples directly.

The company (part of MillerCoors now) just put out two new versions: Green Apple and Wicked Mango

Redd’s Green Apple Ale – It tastes just like sparkling apple juice with the tiniest of kicks, a clear nod toward the ladies (and guys, OK) who want to tipple on something but don’t like the taste of beer. I get a slight hint of orange and pineapple… but mostly it’s straightforward — and authentic — fresh apple notes (though not distinctly green apple). Keep it away from your kids, though. They’ll just think it’s their afternoon juice. After your first one, so will you. 5% abv. B / $9 per six-pack

Redd’s Wicked Mango – Apple and mango-flavored beer — or technically, malt liquor. It’s called “Wicked” because it’s higher in alcohol content. Aromas are hard to peg on the nose but come across more akin to guava than mango. The body is both tropical and a bit earthy, with a distinct alcoholic aftertaste. Not as purely refreshing as the Green Apple Ale, but some drinkers may prefer its significant kick. 8% abv. C+ / $11 per 12-pack of 10 oz. cans

reddswickedapple.com

Review: Sapporo Premium Beer and Light Beer

sapporoSapporo is a venerable beer brand that’s been in production in Japan since 1876 — which has earned it a hallowed place in Asian restaurants around the world. While it seems like half the Sapporo consumed in these parts is done only with a shot of sake in it, let’s take a look at a few bottles of this classic Japanese lager.

Sapporo Premium Beer – Tastes just like your favorite sushi bar. Malty and bready on the nose. Lightly sweet on the tongue, with plenty of bread-driven notes on the palate. The finish is rounded and mouth-filling — again, with more bread — which makes it work better with food than it does on its own. Nothing special or particularly complicated here, but it does get the job done that it’s built for. 5% abv. B / $9 per six-pack

Sapporo Premium Light Beer – Slightly sweet, but largely devoid of character. Here, the bready, malty character is dialed back in favor of more gentle, almost innocuous, basic “lite beer” flavors. 3.9% abv. C+ / $8 per six-pack

sapporobeer.com