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

Review: Magic Hat Ale, Electric Peel, Miss Bliss, and Belgo Sutra

magic hat Electric Peel Bottle JPGA quartet of brews from Vermont’s Magic Hat, including two seasonals, a new full-time release, and limited edition available only on draft. Let’s go!

Magic Hat Ale – Seasonal for fall. A simple name for a simple beer, an Irish-style red ale with ample malt and a slightly fruity, caramel-heavy palate. Magic Hat Ale serves up some chocolate notes and a bit of caramel apple on the finish, but it’s nothing too get too excited about in the end. 4.6% abv. B- / $8 per six-pack

Magic Hat Electric Peel Grapefruit IPA – Year-round. Grapefruit is rapidly becoming the “it” beer ingredient, but it gets a bit lost in this chewy, resinous, and otherwise standard-bearing IPA. Lots of piney notes mixed with a strong but less distinct citrus character give this a pleasant balance without blowing you off your barstool with the hops. A slightly sour tang on the finish nods in the direction of the Ruby Red, but if you didn’t know what was in the bottle in advance, you’d probably never realize it was there. All in all, quite enjoyable on its merits. 6% abv. A- / $8 per six-pack

Magic Hat Miss Bliss – Seasonal for fall. This is a lightly spiced ale made with malted rye and dusted with coriander and orange peel. I’m normally not a fan of spiced beers, but Miss Bliss really surprised me. It’s delicate on the tongue with lightly floral notes, then kicks up ample caramel as the body picks up steam. As it develops, the sweetness remains in check while the herbal notes take over. The finish is soothing and nostalgic, reminding the drinker of dry autumn leaves, Halloween, and Thanksgiving baked goods all at once. Refreshing as hell, too. 4.5% abv. A / $8 per six-pack

Magic Hat Belgo Sutra – Very limited. A Belgian dark ale, available on tap only, made with six different malts and fermented over figs and dates. This could be a sugar bomb, but Magic Hat keeps it in check with a bit of Apollo hops to balance things out with some bitterness. That said, it’s still strong, dark, and teetering on the edge of being syrupy, but the malt is big and bold, silky with caramel notes, while the figgy fruity element manages to shine through. Drink one with your fez on. 8.2% abv. B+ / $NA (tap only)

Review: Gordon Biersch SommerBrau and Zwickel Pils

gb-zwickel-pils-limitedTwo new summery brews from our friends at Gordon Biersch — one ready to go in six-pack form, the other an oversized bottle designed for sipping and sharing.

Gordon Biersch SommerBrau – A delightfully refreshing Kolsch (made with 80% malted barley and 20% malted wheat), this German-style beers balances its malty beginnings with a touch of citrus — almost reminiscent of a witbier. Soothing, bread-heavy notes dominate the finish, but the overall impact is light and, indeed, summery. 4.6% abv. A- / $8 per six-pack

Gordon Biersch Zwickel Pils – This one’s a limited edition, bottom-fermented unfiltered pilsner “made by tapping directly into an aging tank of pilsner via the Zwickel — German for ‘sample valve.'” Previously only available at the GB brewery, it’s a fresh and fizzy brew that’s part of the Uberbier Series at Gordon Biersch. Pilsner fans will love this bottling, which seems extra-carbonated and celebratory in the way Champagne does. The character otherwise runs to simple grains, with gentle barley notes, easygoing bitterness, and just a touch of herbal character to give it a hint of spice. Note: It will continue to age and mellow out in the bottle. 5% abv. A- / $7 (750ml bottle)

Review: Woodchuck Lazy Hazy Lemon Crazy, Summer Time, and Pink Cider


Three new seasonal, rare, and “reserve” ciders from Woodchuck, all built with the summer in mind. Thoughts follow.

Woodchuck Lazy Hazy Lemon Crazy Summer Shandy Hard Cider – Not like any shandy I’ve ever had. The apple is quite sour and overbearing, not really letting any lemon character shine through at all. The initial palate is off-putting and it never really elevates beyond to anything more refined from there. 4.2% abv. C-

Woodchuck Summer Time Hint of Blueberry Hard Cider – The addition of blueberry gives this cider some obvious and welcome sweetness, and the overall impact is fresh, fruity, and — indeed — summery. A lovely little pairing in one of the better ciders you’ll find out there. 5% abv. B+

Woodchuck Pink Hard Cider – A breast cancer-themed bottling. Straight apple cider, but with a pink hue to it. Quite dry, with clear and tart apple notes, but otherwise a fairly straightforward cider. 5.5% abv. B

each $9 per six-pack /

Review: 5 Beers from Good People

good people brewing

Now celebrating seven years making beer, Birmingham, Alabama-based Good People was keg-only for several years. Now its beers can be obtained in an increasingly wide area, but only in cans, not bottles. (Of note, those cans are made from the thinnest aluminum I’ve ever encountered.)

We tried five of Good People’s offerings. Thoughts follow.

Good People IPA – Somewhat syrupy, malty and citrus-focused. The hops start off gentle, then push into a heavier, more earthy and woody character as the palate builds, leading to a boldly bitter — but slightly mushy — finish. 7.2% abv. B+ 

Good People Pale Ale – A cloudy rendition of pale ale that drinks a bit like a lager, with rounded caramel notes, modest hops, and a touch of vegetation on the back end. A dazzlingly good ball park beer, but a little underwhelming as a craft brew. 5.6% abv. 

Good People Brown Ale – Quite dark in color, with dense molasses and some root beer notes. As it builds, the beer takes on some port-like character, imbuing the sweetness at the beginning with some winey, woody notes on the back end. 5.8% abv. 

Good People The Bearded Lady American Wheat Ale – A surprisingly pale yellow in color, this wheat ale features mild granary notes, and a bit of a weedy finish. Very slight coriander and orange peel spice echoes after the finish fades. Refreshing, but relatively thin and unremarkable. 4.2% abv. B- 

Good People Coffee Oatmeal Stout – Completely opaque, with bracing coffee and chocolate notes that fade as lots of hoppiness comes to the fore. Chewy, sweet-and-savory, with a finish that melds the best of both worlds. A really fun stout, yet one that’s complex and exciting to dig into. 6% abv. A- 

all prices NA /

Review: Starr Hill Northern Lights IPA (2015)

It’s not every day a brewer updates the recipe to one of their top-selling beers. But a few weeks ago, Starr Hill made some “enhancements” to Northern Lights IPA, its top-selling product since its introduction in 2007.

What’s been changed? Starr Hill explains: “New hop varieties — including Falconer’s Flight, Simcoe and Centennial — have been added to the mix with Columbus and Cascade. Following in the footsteps of recent IPA releases like Reviver and King of Hop, a greater emphasis was placed on dry hopping and the process of hop bursting. This gives Northern Lights fantastic levels of hop flavor and aroma without adding large amounts of bitterness. A simplified malt bill has also created a more harmonious balance for the base while coarser filtration allows for more flavor and aroma throughout.”

That’s actually a lot of change. (And not mentioned in all that is a slight reduction in alcohol from 6.5% abv to 6.2% abv.)

How confident is the company that this was the right move? Starr Hill actually sent me both the old Northern Lights and the new one to taste, side by side. Which I did. I have to say, I like them both, but they are surprisingly different beers.

The 2007 Northern Lights is an IPA, but it’s an earthier example of the style, with notes of coffee, tree bark, and mushroom against a backdrop of piney hops. The 2015 Northern Lights ejects those earth tones in favor of a more clear, west coast style: Big citrus (especially grapefruit), pine needle, and bright acidity meeting bracing, hoppy bitterness. Which you actively prefer is a matter of personal opinion, to be sure, but I like them each on their merits. Hey, why can’t we just rename one and have them both?

A- / $9 per six-pack /

Review: West Sixth Heller Heaven Double IPA

lHellerHeavenCanWest Sixth brewing (aka: the guys that fought with Magic Hat over their logo) have been on a winning streak with seasonal offerings (I’m already counting the days until this year’s Christmas ale), and Heller Heaven is pleasantly no exception.

Lots of summer on the nose with an abundance of citrus, a little bit of pine and freshly cut grass. As expected. it is definitely sweet and floral on the taste, with tangerine and mango mixing around an aggressive kick of caramel at the end and a whole mess of hops throughout. Surprisingly easy drinking for a double IPA, this one easily bests the traditional IPA the brewery offers in its permanent rotation. Worth checking out before summer’s over, especially if you can get it straight off the tap.

9% abv.

A- / $10 per 4-pack /

Review: Paulaner Hefe-Weizen Natural Wheat and Weissbier-Radler NA

HefeWeizen 0.33 Liter (11.2 Oz) Bottle (TIF)What, has Drinkhacker gone soft? Another non-alcoholic beer review? I promise, we review what we get. We even review water from time to time, after all. Here’s a look at two newly available ones from Munich-based Paulaner, a bold hefeweizen and a non-alcoholic “weissbier-radler.”

Paulaner Hefe-Weizen Natural Wheat – Aka “Naturtrüb” if you want to get your Deutsch on. This isn’t your girlfriend’s hefeweizen but rather a burlier, chewier, and more hoppy style of the classic wheat brew. As the light bitter elements fade the beer evokes notes of lemon, grapefruit, and tropical notes. The finish offers more cereal, with a bit of almond character to it. Hefeweizen is never my go-to beer style, but Paulaner really does a stand-up job with this “natural” expression. 5.5% abv. B+ / $2 per 16.9 oz. bottle

Paulaner Weissbier-Radler Non-Alcoholic – “With lemon juice.” This is basically a shandy in a bottle, but in lieu of lemonade it tastes like something akin to lemon marmalade has been added to the mix. Incredibly sweet, there’s no beer character here at all, but rather a sticky, sweet-and-sour combination of flavors that come across like something your kids would probably enjoy. I understand when folks can’t drink, but there’s no reason to punish them for it. D- / $9 per six-pack

Drinking in Dublin: Guinness Storehouse and Teeling Whiskey

Howdy, everyone. Just back from the British Isles, where I spent nearly two weeks exploring Ireland and Scotland, two of the lands whose names are inexorably linked with the world of whiskey. This is the second of two travel pieces on major drinking attractions across the pond — this one focusing specifically on the city of Dublin.

Ireland boasts a handful of distilleries, but they are spread all around the island and visiting them takes quite a bit of doing. We devoted our time in Ireland largely to Dublin (with one day trip to the countryside by bus), but you can do a lot of boozy exploration without having to venture far from the city center.

In addition to a wealth of pubs and whiskey bars, Dublin boasts at least three attractions dedicated to drink. I skipped one of them, the “Old Jameson Distillery,” which is really just a museum and not a working still. Locals regard it as a tourist trap, so I focused on these two spots, both of which I heartily recommend visiting.

Guinness Storehouse

Dublin is the home of Guinness, and the Guinness Storehouse is the mecca for all fans of this archetypal stout. Yes it is chock full of tourists. Yes it is still well worth visiting.

The Storehouse is part museum, part experience, located adjacent to the brewery itself, which is a massive sprawling area that spans a couple of city blocks. Inside the Storehouse you’ll access a multi-story tour about how Guinness is made, and your ticket will also get you at least a pint or two of Guinness to enjoy while you’re making the rounds. The top floor, called the Gravity Bar, boasts panoramic views of all of Dublin. It’s extremely crowded, though; better to spend your time in the bar two stories below, where you are taught how to pour the perfect pint — and get to pull one for yourself to test your skills.

True enthusiasts will want to upgrade to the Connoisseur VIP experience, which comprises a 90-minute tasting of all of Guinness’s major versions worldwide, including a history lesson and a deep dive into the company that you won’t get from the standard tour. After the tasting, you’re set loose behind the bar — and when it’s all over you get to pick your favorite bottling to take with you on the road. Feel free to take it up to one of the three restaurants and enjoy it with your lunch — the Beef and Guinness Stew was one of the best I had during my time there.

Bottom line: Whether you like Guinness or not, don’t miss this experience.

Teeling Whiskey Company

Jack Teeling is an official Friend of Drinkhacker, and his distillery — the first to operate in Dublin since 1976 — just opened for visitors in May. Teeling Whiskey Company is still building out its tourist experience, but visitors are welcome to take a brief tour and taste some of the company’s products. At present, everything Teeling is bottling is sourced from other distilleries, but you can watch new-make spirit being produced now. Eventually this juice running from these stills will comprise the core of the Teeling product line.

We had a private tour with Jack and master distiller Alex Chasko, where we tasted Teeling’s standard lineup — widely available in every bar in Dublin — and some of its very rare limited edition releases. My hands-down favorite: The 26 Year Old Single Malt, which is finished in white burgundy casks for three years, an elegant whiskey that showcases the delicacy of Irish by infusing it with florals, gentle heather, and light citrus fruit notes. The fragrant, white flower finish almost makes you forget about the €450 price tag.

Also on hand at the tasting was one of the first bottlings of Teeling’s new Single Malt Single Cask offering. Seven different casks are being bottled — with different wood types and different age statements — and I managed to bring one home for a formal review. Stay tuned — and make sure you tell Teeling I sent you if you drop by.

Don’t miss the first part of this travelogue… Scotland!

Review: Innis & Gunn Rare Oak Pale Ale and Highland Ale

I&G Highland Ale Bottle with Box 660ml 2015 LO

It’s our second look at Scotland-based Innis & Gunn‘s beers, with two new oak-aged offerings (as all I&G beers are made) hitting the shelves now. The first is a seasonal brew, the second is a special edition that comes in a large-sized bottle and its own wooden carton.

Innis & Gunn Rare Oak Pale – Aged over Scottish oak, with the addition of elderflower and sweet gale (a medieval hops alternative) during the maturation. Sweet, but not aggressively so as in some Innis & Gunn bottlings, it offers distinctly floral and fruity notes — almost like juicy apple meets fresh violets. The vanilla-fueled oak plays out over all of that, with just the lightest touch of bitterness to even things out. 5.8% abv. B / $11 per four-pack

Innis & Gunn Highland Ale – This is an oversized, special edition brew, made from “Scotch Ale matured over oak chips infused with 18 Year Old Highland Scotch Whisky in Innis & Gunn’s patented Oakerators (think coffee percolator).” As with most Innis & Gunn bottlings, it’s very malty and quite sweet, pushy candylike notes with caramel sauce and cream soda notes. The whisky element comes through, a bit, on the somewhat racy nose and through a raisiny note on the body, but what this ale really needs is some bitterness to help cut through the sugar and add a little balance. 7.4% abv. B / $7 per 22 oz. bottle