Review: Samuel Adams Late 2015 Seasonals – Octoberfest, Hoppy Red, Rebel Grapefruit IPA, Winter Lager, and Pumpkin Batch

SAM_HopRed_12oz_Bottle (1)Nearly a half-dozen new offerings from Sam Adams, mostly winter/fall seasonals designed to make the most of the cold weather. Let’s bundle up and dig in!

Samuel Adams Octoberfest (2015) – Very old world, with plenty of spice and some citrus to be a companion to loads of caramel-soaked malt. The finish is on the sweet side, maybe a bit too far for my tastes. It only takes one whiff and an oompa band starts playing somewhere. 5.3% abv. B

Samuel Adams Hoppy Red – A red ale with added Australian hops, moderately malty but with a big slug of piney bitterness bringing up the rear. The up-front character is almost toffee-like in its sweetness, with a healthy dosing of walnuts, but the moderately hoppy back end provides near-immediate respite and balance. A nice diversion. 5.7% abv. B+

Samuel Adams Rebel Grapefruit IPA – An extension of the Rebel IPA line, this beer adds grapefruit (peel and juice) — grapefruit being the “it” additive in beermaking this year — to kick up the bitter/sour element. This is a fine IPA, but the one thing I don’t get… is grapefruit. Piney and resinous, it has a slightly sweet element to it — a bit fruity but also almost chocolaty at times, with overtones of spiced nuts. Not common flavors for either IPA or anything that’s been near a grapefruit, but pleasurable nonetheless. 6.3% abv. A-

Samuel Adams Winter Lager (2015) – A spiced wheat bock made with orange peel, cinnamon, and ginger. Mainly what you’re expecting, a winter warmer with a touch of spice. I find it more palatable this year than 2014’s release, though perhaps that’s just the suddenly cold weather talking. Though it can be a little strange, the spice isn’t overdone — and it pairs well with food, particularly sweets. I’m not a fanatic, but it’s more pleasant than I remembered. 5.6% abv. B

Samuel Adams Pumpkin Batch – Ale brewed with pumpkin and spices, of course. Lots of vegetal character here — nothing distinctly pumpkin (or pumpkin spice) — with a heavily malty body to keep pushing those flavors around. Eventually some cinnamon/nutmeg notes come to the forefront, but it’s cold comfort for a pumpkin brew that is pushed too far into the realm of wet earth and mushrooms for easy consumption. 5.6% abv. C-

each about $9 per six-pack /

Review: Deschutes Brewery Hop Trip (2015), Chasin’ Freshies (2015), and Black Butte XXVII

deschutes BBXXVII 22oz (2)Three classic seasonal releases from Deschutes — all highly anticipated fall/winter offerings — are here. Let’s dive in!

Deschutes Brewery Hop Trip Pale Ale (2015) – Juicy and quaffable, a nicely hoppy nuber with ample citrus backing it up. Piney notes here are more evocative of the forest rather than dense and resinous, with a light lemon/orange character growing stronger as the finish develops. Ends clean and crisp. One of the best Hop Trips in recent years — though watch that alcohol now creeping up over 6 percent. 6.1% abv. A- / $8 per six-pack

Deschutes Brewery Chasin’ Freshies (2015) – Each year this beer features a different hop variety, and for 2015 its lemondrop hops from Washington, a strain I’m not really familiar with. While the beer doesn’t offer a distinctly lemon character, it does pack lots of citrus into an IPA adding some candied notes — think fruity Chuckles? — to the mix. The bitterness is dialed back at first while the sugary stuff has its way with your palate. Only then, after you’re just about sick of it, do the bitter hops finally take over. Sweet relief. No pun intended. 7.4% abv. B / $6 per 22 oz. bottle

Deschutes Brewery Black Butte XXVII 27th Birthday Reserve – This always-experimental celebration beer, honoring 27 years in business, includes some real oddball ingredients: rosewater, apricot puree, pomegranate molasses, Chinese five spice, and cocoa nibs from Theo Chocolate. 50% is aged in barrels. Lots of this you can taste — the cinnamon/nutmeg-heavy spices, sweet molasses, and the cocoa nibs, but it’s all blended into this typically dark and unctuous core of a porter. Massive in its mouthfeel and loaded with tangy, syrupy malt overtones, it’s a powderkeg of figs and coffee. Super fun for a half a glass, then too much to keep pushing on. The finish lasts essentially forever, give or take. 11.6% abv. B / $17 per 22 oz. bottle

Review: Deschutes Brewery Jubelale Winter Ale 2015

Jubelale 12ozIt’s the time of the season for Jubelale, Deschutes’ highly regarded winter sipper. This year’s Jubelale has a familiar profile, with notes of Mexican coffee, baking spices, fresh hops, and a mildly earthy and woodsy core. 2015’s installment has a nice balance among its constituent components, playing up the coffee the most this year while tempering it with hops and a modest slug of sweetness. It drinks more like a coffee stout than a traditional winter warmer — I expect some will still be sipping it well after the jubelizing is well over.

6.7% abv.

B+ / $8 per six-pack /

Review: Wild Ginger Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer

Can RenderingNashville-brewed Wild Ginger isn’t the first alcoholic ginger beer on the market, but it’s a solid selection nonetheless if you’re looking for a Dark & Stormy with a bigger kick — or simply (and more likely) a pre-mixed ginger cocktail of sorts straight from the can.

Wild Ginger is on the sweet side from the start, offering some marshmallow character that mixes with the gingery bite to offer a character that starts off like a standard ginger ale but quickly elevates into a proper ginger beer experience. The finish isn’t racy hot, though. Rather, it fades away quickly, leaving behind something of an oatmeal-like “malt beverage” overtone. It’s not offensive, but it does put a modest damper on things when they should be hitting their highest high.

4% abv.

B / $9 per six-pack of cans /

Review: Cerveza Modelo Especial

Modelo Especial_ Bottle with GlassQuick: What’s the best-selling imported beer in the U.S.?

Too easy. What’s the #2 best-selling import?

No, not Heineken. Not any more. Now it’s Modelo Especial.

Celebrating its recent rise to the second from the top, Modelo sent out samples to see what all the fuss is about. I have to say, I don’t much see it. This is a classic, lower-end Mexican bottling, light as gold and loaded with malty notes up front. The body then turns somewhat skunky and mushroomy, with light citrus fruit and vegetal overtones. The finish is at first clean but ultimately turns a bit gummy and not entirely satisfying.

4.4% abv.

D+ / $15 per 12 pack /

Review: The Traveler Beer Co. Seasonal Shandies

illusive traveler grapefruit aleThree crafty shandies from Burlington, Vermont-based Traveler Beer Co., each using a wheat ale for a base and with a variety of fruity/sweet additives for spin. Each is fairly low alcohol and, of course, a bit different than your typical suds.

Thoughts follow.

The Traveler Beer Co. Curious Traveler Lemon Shandy – Slightly sweet, with juicy lemonade notes up front. The beer itself is rather innocuous, just a hint of malt and caramel, but it does pair fairly well with the citrus, at least at the start. 4.4% abv. B-

The Traveler Beer Co. Illusive Traveler Grapefruit Shandy – Considerably more bitter/sour than the lemon shandy, this bottling provides a somewhat muddy attack, but it does offer a better balance of fruit and malt. The finish is quite bitter, playing off both the grapefruit and the wheat ale elements. While the lemon shandy becomes a bit overwhelming, this one tends to grow on you. 4.4% abv. B

The Traveler Beer Co. Jack-o Traveler Pumpkin Shandy – Take your gingerbread/pumpkin spice latte and dunk it into your hefeweizen and you’ve got this concoction, which is better than you think it will be but not much. Quite sweet and overwhelming with ginger, cinnamon, and cloves, this is a true seasonal in every sense of the word. 4.4% abv. C-

each $7 per six-pack /

Head to Head: Alcoholic Root Beer! Not Your Father’s vs. Rowdy

nyfTwo makes a trend for us today, with a duo of alcoholic root beers hitting the market at the same time, one from La Crosse, Wisconsin-based Small Town Brewery, the other from Stevens Point, Wisconsin-based Berghoff. Both are not root beer soda with alcohol added but rather flavored beers/malt liquors with the spices integrated into the production process. Here’s how they stack up!

Small Town Brewery Not Your Father’s Root Beer – Per the label, a flavored beer. My father doesn’t drink root beer, but he would probably find this concoction palatable. The palate offers a classic root beer structure, but with a muddier, earthier body that tends to linger on the finish. On the whole, tastes like a glass of root beer should, just with a kick! 5.9% abv.  B+ / $11 per six pack of 12 oz. bottles /

rowdy-root-beer-canBerghoff Rowdy Root Beer – Per the label, a malt beverage with artificial flavor added. Doesn’t immediately come across like a root beer, including some bitter, traditional beer-like elements on the nose, with some herbal notes dusted on top, particularly cloves and burnt sugar. These flavors integrate relatively poorly on the palate, which is a bit too sweet and a bit too thin, again letting some of those raw beer notes seep through. The finish loads up indistinct caramel and a sharp, saccharine conclusion. A major letdown next to Small Town’s rendition. 6.6% abv. C- / $10 per six pack of 12 oz. cans /

Review: Alaskan Brewing Company Imperial India Pale Ale and Pumpkin Ale

alaskan imperial ipa pilot seriesTwo new brews from Alaskan — another large format IPA in the Pilot Series and, of course, a new, seasonal Pumpkin Ale. Thoughts follow.

Alaskan Brewing Company Imperial India Pale Ale – This new Pilot Series offering pours a dusky light brown. Crisp and plenty bitter, it’s got loads of freshly baked bread plus a backing of light citrus and spice notes. These are washed away by the piney overtones that quickly come to the fore, but the breadier elements linger — something you don’t often get with IPAs. It’s a nice combination, and one that tempers the hops well enough to make it accessible to non-IPA fans. 8.5% abv. A- / $9 per 22 oz. bottle

Alaskan Brewing Company Pumpkin Ale – This is not the same beer as Alaskan’s Pumpkin Porter. Indeed, it’s a far different experience, made in a sweeter style that features rich malt laced with cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. Brown sugar sweetness sticks with you, along with some hoppy, almost leathery notes that emerge on the finish. A better style of beer to pair with pumpkin spices. 6% abv. B / $8 per six pack

Review: Starr Hill Boxcarr Pumpkin Porter

Boxcarr_BottleAs pumpkin beers go, Starr Hill’s Boxcarr Pumpkin Porter is a pretty good rendition. Or, at least, it’s a non-awful rendition that manages to shy away from an over-sweetened, gloppy mess while also not attempting to do something insane like actually brew pumpkin pulp and turn that into beer.

Rather, Boxcarr is a lightly spiced porter, and the holiday spices pair nicely with the malty, bready brown brew. Some clove/allspice notes hit first — then are rapidly replaced by the main event, which is quite a bit more bitter than the 20 IBUs would indicate. On the finish, some (very) dark chocolate notes emerge, evoking an amaro at times.

Smells like Halloween to me!

4.7% abv.

B / $10 per six-pack

Oh… and also out now again as a seasonal is Starr Hill’s Whiter Shade of Pale, which is just as awesome as it was last year.

Review: Sonoma Cider The Crowbar, The Washboard, and Dry Zider

sonoma dry ziderTwo limited edition ciders and one very limited reserve release from Sonoma Cider. These ones aren’t exactly my favorites, but maybe the descriptions will entice your palate…

Sonoma Cider The Crowbar – Dry cider, flavored with lime and habanero. Surprisingly spicy, with intense lime notes and quite a peppery punch behind it. It’s altogether a bit much for this otherwise simple beverage, but for the novelty factor it might be worth a look if you’re a heat-seeker. 6% abv. C / $9 per 4-pack

Sonoma Cider The Washboard – Dry, flavored with sarsaparilla and vanilla. This sounds — root beer cider!? — a lot better than it actually is. More sweetness would help to balance out the intense herbal character, and the vanilla is quite extracted. If you’ve ever tried to consume vanilla extract on its own, without some form of sugar to temper things, you can fathom where this cider is headed. 5.5% abv. C / $9 per 4-pack

Sonoma Cider Dry Zider – An organic, bone-dry cider that’s aged for three months in oak barrels that previously held Sonoma County zinfandel wine. A true oddity, with notes of dry red wine that pair with a crisp and clearly dry, tart apple character. Not a combination that I would have imagined — try blending your zinfandel and sauvignon blanc together and you’re on the right path — but it works better than expected. Again I can’t help but think stylistically it would be improved by some sweetness, but that’s just me. 6.9% abv B- / $NA per 22 oz. bottle