Review: Allagash Curieux and Hibernal Fluxus 2016

It’s time for something old and something new from Allagash, the Portland, Maine-based producer of some of the country’s most coveted craft brews.

Allagash Curieux – This was Allagash’s first barrel-aged beer, which starts with its Tripel Ale and goes from there for eight weeks into bourbon barrels. The aged beer is then blended back with a portion of fresh Tripel to form Curieux. Results: The nose is beautiful, wine-like with notes of figs, dates, and dried fruits. The body is malty and rounded, loaded with all of the above fruit notes, and rounded off with vanilla and burnt caramel. Slightly effervescent on the finish, the finale is cleaner and less cloying than expected, despite the whopping 11 percent alcohol. Altogether it’s a great entry to barrel-aged beers. 11% abv. A- / $18 per 750ml bottle

Allagash Hibernal Fluxus 2016 – This is the first of a new annual release from Allagash, a Belgian-style stout brewed with figs, inspired by a recipe devised in 2008 by a member of the Allagash bottling line. It’s a coffee-dark brew that offers aromas of coffee beans, dark chocolate, and spices. The body is where it kicks in with light fig notes, lacing them with malty molasses, hazelnuts, and some maple syrup notes. That all sounds really heavy, but Hibernal Fluxus is surprisingly well-balanced, thanks to a relatively low alcohol level and a deft interplay between it’s various components. All told it’s one of the best beers of the year. Grab it while you can. 8% abv. A / $17 per 750ml bottle

allagash.com

Review: Firemans Brew IPA

L.A.-based Firemans Brew is back with its first new beer in over a decade. Being that this is a California brewery, it’s only fitting that it’s an IPA, made with Cascade, Columbus, Chinook and Galena hops.

A touch maltier than many IPAs, it has a distinct but mild mushroom note on the nose, tempered with a bit of brown sugar, odd notes of dried fruits, and some green vegetable character. The body however is all hops, as expected, lacing in resinous pine with more of those out-of-place dried fruit notes. The finish is lasting and heavily bitter, with a touch of residual molasses.

6.5% abv.

B / $9 per four-pack of 16 oz. cans / firemansbrew.com

Review: Stone Enjoy By 12.25.16 Unfiltered IPA and Xocoveza

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More new stuff from Stone, just in time for Christmas.

Stone Enjoy By 12.25.16 Unfiltered IPA – Like Stone’s other “Enjoy By” IPAs, this beer has a limited shelf life of a matter of weeks. For Christmas, Stone’s limited edition bottling is stuffed full of a whopping 12 different varieties of hops and is bottled unfiltered. The hazy double IPA takes on a distinct pineapple note up front, but the overall level of bitterness is surprisingly restrained. The finish offers some cereal character but is balanced by a ton of fruit, helping it to drink at a much more reasonable abv than its actual 9.4% would suggest. A / $8 per 22 oz. bottle

Stone Xocoveza – This oddity is a winter-spiced mocha stout, built around cocoa, Mostra coffee, pasilla peppers, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and milk sugar. It’s a boozy, beery take on Mexican hot chocolate, which turns out both quite pleasing and holiday-appropriate. A powerhouse of a beer, Xocoveza is heavy with raw coffee ground notes, smoky cigar tobacco, and bitter chocolate shavings, making for an appropriately wintry, fireside experience. Something like may sound like it is probably best enjoyed in small quantities, though the overall experience, smoothed out by that lightly sweet milk sugar, is easier going than you would expect. 8.1% abv. B+ / $16 per six-pack

stonebrewing.com

Review: Breckenridge Brewery Chocolate Orange Stout and Christmas Ale

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Colorado’s Breckenridge Brewery is out with two new seasonals, a nitro chocolate orange stout, and a classic Christmas ale. Let’s give both a try!

Breckenridge Brewery Chocolate Orange Stout – You might expect a nitrogen-charged stout flavored with chocolate and orange zest to be heavy, even overwhelming — but Breckenridge’s nitro choc-orange stout is anything but. Light on its feet but velvety without being overpowering, the brew lets the bittersweet cocoa notes shine the most brightly, with just a hint of citrus on the back end. The main event is nutty and malty, but could benefit from more spice to liven up an otherwise somewhat muddy middle. 6% abv. B / $12 per four-pack of 15.2 oz cans

Breckenridge Brewery Christmas Ale – Christmas ales can often be overloaded with baking spices, brown sugar, and evergreen notes to the point of undrinkability, but Breckenridge’s version plays things a bit cooler. Yes, all of the above are present in the mix, but the caramel and spice notes are tempered. The likely reason: “Unlike other holiday and winter beers on the market, Breckenridge Brewery does not add any spice to Christmas Ale, rather the spicy characteristics come from the Chinook and Mt. Hood hops.” Relatively bold on the tongue — enough to stand up to the cold weather outside — it’s got enough bitterness on the finish to counterbalance the festive notes that come before. 7.1% abv. A- / $9 per six-pack of 12 oz bottles

breckbrew.com

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

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