San Francisco’s Speakeasy launched its limited-edition, barrel-aged Syndicate beer series in 2013. Today it’s an annually released series, “united by barrels and graceful age,” with Syndicate No. 03 now hitting the shelves and kegs.
Here’s what’s inside:
Syndicate No. 03 is a blend of seven different strong beers matured between 13-37 months in bourbon barrels. Every barrel in Speakeasy’s collection was sampled and carefully considered to create the final blend. Together they form an elegant, delicious, and complex brew, that won’t be repeated.
Scarface Imperial Stout, aged 13 months (46%)
Imperial Black Hand, aged 37 months (18%)
Experimental Stout II, aged 20 months (12%)
Experimental Stout III, aged 19 months (11%)
Imperial Payback Porter, aged 19 months (10%)
Scarface Imperial Stout with Philz Coffee, aged 13 months (2%)
Joe’s Ale of Strength, aged 18 months (1%)
Fans of barrel-aged beers will absolutely love what Speakeasy has done here. The nose is loaded with coffee and toffee notes, both lightly sweet and bitter in near-perfect balance. Loaded up with dark brown sugar, raisins, and a touch of fresh cigar notes, it’s a sultry after-dinner sipper that is amazingly compelling without being overwhelming — watch for a hint of mint on the very end, even.
Barrel aged beers aren’t for everyone, but Speakeasy Syndicate No. 03 is one that I can heartily recommend to nearly anyone.
A / $17 per 22 oz. bottle / goodbeer.com
Deschutes’ Hop Henge continues its run of being “just OK,” with this year’s special edition — well, late 2015’s special edition — of its “experimental IPA” incorporating Mandarin Bavaria and Centennial hops (among others). Bitterness is ratcheted quite a bit down from last year to just 66 IBUs, the overall impact of all this being, well, not all that much.
There’s a citrus note here that west coast IPA fans will find familiar, but a burlier character forest floor character quickly takes hold. Notes of mushroom and licorice persevere, then a familiar piney character becomes evident. Here, though, it has more of a solvent note than I’d like. The finish is clean but, unfortunately, just a bit watery.
As always, this is a fun beer to try, but it just doesn’t add much to the IPAverse.
B / $6 per 22 oz. bottle / deschutesbrewery.com
A 50:50 blend of Warsteiner Pilsener and “grapefruit flavored drink” is what makes up this special edition concoction — marketed, oddly, as a special edition for winter drinking.
The results are largely as expected: lightly sweetened but largely sour citrus notes come in up front, followed by malty, somewhat musty, German beer character. Both manage to endure on the finish, giving the brew a strange schizophrenia, albeit one that isn’t wholly unpleasant. Sweet, sour, earthy… it’s got everything. For better or worse.
Update: Now arriving on shelves in April 2016.
C / $9 per six-pack / warsteiner.us
“The Unofficial Beer of Montana” is actually made in Wisconsin, but I doubt anyone’s checking the fine print in the Great White North.
What we have here is a lager as pale as the folks for whom it’s made, sold in 16 oz. cans emblazoned with a white horse and pastel mountains. Inside the can is nothing particularly noteworthy, though on a hot day or after sufficient exertion it will offer sufficient refreshment to pull you through til dinnertime. Both lightly sweet and malty, it’s a breakfast cereal in beer form, just chewy enough to come across as a touch heavier than a light beer.
The finish is fairly clean but unmemorable, though a beer like this clearly doesn’t have designs on overthrowing your favorite IPA or stout in your refrigerator. It’s picnic and party beer, built for summers by the pool or lake or what-have-you, the kind of places where beer in 16 oz. cans work really well.
B- / $8 per six-pack of 16 oz. cans / montuckycoldsnacks.com
Two major winter seasonals from Bend, Oregon-based Deschutes are here, including the new Abyss aged Imperial Stout and Red Chair, Deschutes’ northwestern spin on an IPA.
Deschutes Brewery The Abyss Aged Stout 2015 Edition – For the 10th installment of The Abyss, there are no major recipe changes — although the beer has seen some additional aging. This special release is brewed with blackstrap molasses, licorice, cherry bark, and vanilla as always, then 21% is aged in oak bourbon barrels, 6% aged in oak barrels, and 21% aged in oak wine barrels. (Altogether 50% of the beer is aged for 2015, but last year only 28% of the total brew saw barrel time.) Note that to commemorate the 10th anniversary of The Abyss, two additional versions were created — one aged in rye casks, one in Cognac casks — though we did not receive these for review. The “regular” version of Abyss, however, is a real standout. As always, pungent licorice hits the nose first, but the treacle-and-fig-jam notes that often follow close behind are tamped down here, replaced instead with bracingly bitter hops, very bitter chocolate, and wood barrel notes. The Abyss is always a beer that sticks around for ages, but this year that finish is seemingly unending. Fans of this style — and just about anyone else — should seek out a couple of bottles. One for now, one to keep in the cellar for next year. 12.2% abv. A / $15 per 22 oz. bottle
Deschutes Brewery Red Chair NWPA (2015) – A December-released seasonal, this year’s Red Chair “Northwest” Pale Ale doesn’t seem to have rocked the boat when it comes to its recipe — but nonetheless the beer seems more fully-realized than some of its forebears. Bitter but not aggressively piney, Red Chair uses citrus notes and some late-arriving florals to punctuate its malty base with style and structure. Quite a pleasure. 6.2% abv. A- / $8 per six-pack
A late December arrival makes for a late February review, but you can still find this holiday release on shelves if you look for a bit. This is a light saison designed for winter consumption — an unusual combination in the world of holiday brews. It offers a malty and fruity combo up front that slowly segues into notes of baking spice. Things wrap up with notes of nutmeg, coriander, and lemon peel, plus a light slug of hops. On the light side for a winter brew, it’s a pleasant enough Christmastime sipper for those who prefer a little restraint in their “holiday” beer spices.
B / $10 per six-pack / peakbrewing.com
Our first foray into alcoholic root beers met with mixed results — but now we have a third option to add to the mix. The company behind Wild Root makes an alcoholic ginger beer that we’ve previously reviewed. This is their foray into a more soda-like concoction.
The flavor of this beverage is heavy on the sweetness to the point where it initially comes across more like a cola. It isn’t until a flick of malty alcohol hits and begins to fade that the more traditional bittersweet sarsaparilla notes of root beer really arrive in earnest. They remain relatively muted — but give the beverage some time in the glass and they’ll start to percolate into the aroma, courtesy of that carbonation bubbling up.
This is a solid product, but it’s one that could use a somewhat punchier level of flavor to really seal the deal.
B / $9 per six-pack of cans / wgbrewing.com