Review: Wild Sit Russ and Wild Docta’ Alcoholic Sodas

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Two new alco-pops (that is, alco-soda-pops) from the Wild company, which produces Wild Ginger and Wild Root. Let’s explore.

Wild Sit Russ Alcoholic Citrus Soda – Sit Russ (bad name or the worst name?) An alcoholic version of Sprite, though the color is closer to Mountain Dew. The flavor of this one is surprisingly clean, without much of that weird malt beverage overtone so common in these types of drinks. Instead, it offers a fairly clear lemon-lime character (heavier on the lime) but quite sweet through and through. Carbonation is decidedly minimal; it could definitely benefit from more, and would help to mask a slightly vegetal finish. But on the whole, the simplicity of this concoction is its strength, and it makes for one of the better installments in this series. 4.5% abv. B+

Wild Docta’ Original Rock & Rye Soda – Rock and Rye? Let’s make it clear: This is a Dr. Pepper clone, right down to the maroon shading on the can. Tastes like it too, particularly on the nose, which nails the raisiny-pruny character of Dr. Pepper, pelting it with just the right amount of vanilla. As the palate evolves, however, it loses steam, fading back into simpler notes of molasses with the characteristic plum/prune more as an afterthought. Fair enough to enjoy, though! 5% abv. B

each $9 per six-pack of cans / wgbrewing.com

Review: Thorberg Five Hop Belgian IPA

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Belgium’s Brouwerij Anders says the quest for the perfect Belgian IPA is over, and here it is: Thorberg Five Hop, which take Golding, Mosaic, Equinox, Willamette, and Citra hops and brews them up with Belgian techniques.

The results are impressive, offering aromatic layers of citrusy and lightly piney hops that meld beautifully with the heavier, relatively malt-laden body. Notes of applesauce and brown butter mingle with a hint of roasted vegetable character on the palate, offering a quick break from the bitterness of the hops. The hops however make a return appearance on the finish, which is mouth-filling and rounded, refreshing and clean but not nearly as palate-cleansing (or enamel-stripping) as a typical west coast style IPA. All in all, a nice treat as well as a break from the norm.

6.5% abv.

A- / $4.50 (11.2 oz bottle) / thorbergbeer.com

Review: Beers of Riegele, 2016 Releases

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Who is Riegele? Riegele is a 630 year old, family owned Bavarian brewery located in Augsburg, Germany which won the 2016 German Craft Beer of the Year, 2015 German Craft Brewery of the Year, World Beer Cup, and many other awards. Now imported into the U.S., Riegele is probably best known for collaborating with Sierra Nevada on its Oktoberfest release last year.

The brews below are all imports direct from Bavaria. Thoughts follow. Prices are all estimates.

Commerzienrat Riegele Privat – A biscuity, malty Dortmunder style beer, Privat drinks clean and refreshing, a stellar example of bready German lager at its best. There’s just a hint of tropical fruit here to lift up the malt, a brisk, moderate body, and a simple finish that keeps the focus squarely on the grain. Lightly creamy at times but otherwise uncomplicated. 5.2% abv. B+ / $2 (11.2 oz)

Riegele Speziator Doppelbock Hell – This Helles Bock offers a super-fruity attack that reminds one of caramel apples and syrupy, liquid malt extract. Long and sweet on the finish, it adds in notes of honey and more of that overripe fruit character. Seems innocuous, not at all like it’s… 8.5% abv. B- / $7 (50cl)

Riegele’s Augustus Weizendoppelbock – A heavy-duty doppelbock, this is my least favorite of the bunch. All the elements of the Hell are plumped up here, along with an extremely malty backbone that ventures into notes of toasted bread and wet twine. The lack of any discernible bitterness gives this both a heaviness and long-simmering, overblown sweetness that keeps this from finding true balance. 8% abv. C+ / $5 (50cl)

riegele.de

Review: Devils Backbone Bravo Four Point and Pumpkin Hunter

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Virginia’s Devils Backbone is back with two new beers, a session IPA and a seasonal pumpkin brew. Let’s dig in.

Devils Backbone Bravo Four Point Session IPA – Expectations are always low when session beers are involved, but Bravo Four Point manages to avoid hitting even those tempered hopes and dreams. This IPA starts with a restrained, moderately hoppy nose, then segues into a body that follows suit. Bitter enough at the start, the flavors are lackluster, featuring mainly muddy earth, funky pine, and some resin. Nothing undrinkable here, but it lacks inspiration. 4.4% abv. C+ / $10 per six pack of 12 oz cans

Devils Backbone Pumpkin Hunter – Our first pumpkin beer of the season, this one an amber ale brewed with pumpkin and spices. It’s restrained and very lightly sweet, with notes of pie crust, cinnamon, and gingerbread. Suitably malty but appropriately festive, it’s one of the better pumpkin beers I’ve encountered… pretty much ever. 5.1% abv. B+ / $11 per six pack of 12 oz bottles

about $17 per 12-pack / dbbrewingcompany.com

Review: Hermitage Brewing Company Sour Cherry Sour Ale

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The name doesn’t lie. This orange-pink, wine-barrel-aged, ultra-fizzy sour from San Jose’s Hermitage Brewing is overwhelming with cherry notes up front, intensely sour from start to finish. The ale takes a turn for the earthy late in the game, which isn’t a poor match for the up-front cherry character, but the monumental sourness of the entire experience is quite overpowering. The lingering sour cherry mixes with notes of graphite, dried herbs, and slate on the finish. Stylistically, you know already if this is for you.

6.5% abv. Winter 2015-16 release.

B / $30 (750ml bottle) / hermitagebrewing.com

Review: Sonoma Cider The Wimble

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This new limited edition cider from Sonoma Cider is billed as a Rhubarb Gose, a spin on the classic, slightly salty, semi-sour beer style. Sonoma’s gose-cider (gosider?) is made from organic apples, organic red rhubarb, and sea salt, coming together with a lick of sugar and salt up front, quickly fading to a light sour character. It’s hard to identify the flavor specifically as rhubarb; perhaps the sea salt mutes that specific flavor. That aside, the finish is dry and surprisingly refreshing, which is probably the only time I’ve said that about rhubarb anything.

5.5% abv.

B / $9 per 4-pack / sonomacider.com

Review: Deschutes Brewery Black Butte XVIII 28th Birthday Reserve

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Deschutes keeps having birthdays and it keeps putting out experimental porter to commemorate it. This year’s Black Butte is less outright wacky than some of the recent releases, brewed with cocoa, vanilla, peated malt, and sweet orange peel. Half of the batch, as always, is aged in barrels — this time used bourbon and Scotch barrels.

Lots of licorice on this imperial porter, along with very, very dark, bittersweet chocolate notes. The vanilla adds a slightly sweet kick to the finish (more so as it warms up), but Black Butte takes little time celebrating the sweet stuff. This my be a celebratory beer, but it’s always dark as Hades, often drinking like the last dregs in a cup of espresso, perhaps filtered through a charred, woody reed.

That may sound like a difficult time, but there’s lots to be enchanted by in BB XVIII — particularly the way the whole package comes together with relatively disparate flavors that manage to work well as a whole.

11.5% abv.

A- / $17 per 22 oz. bottle / deschutesbrewery.com

Review: Stone Enjoy By 10.31.16 Tangerine IPA

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It’s another tangerine-infused IPA in Stone’s “Enjoy By” series, this one “expiring” in just a few weeks on Halloween. Thought the bottle is festooned in appropriately ghoulish decor, the recipe doesn’t seem to be any different than the last Enjoy By we covered, including 12 different hop varieties plus pureed tangerines in the mix. This time, for me, the citrus seems more restrained, and I get a touch of coffee character. though the finish offers a nice burst of orange rind to temper the heaviness of the hops. All told, it’s a winner, again!

9.4% abv.

A / $8 per 22 oz. bottle / enjoyby.stonebrewing.com

Review: Dogfish Head Flesh & Blood IPA

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I guess the flesh is the hops. The blood is in the juice: This is an IPA flavored with orange peel, lemon flesh, and blood orange juice.

A shandy it’s not, mind you, though what it actually is is difficult to describe. Tart citrus juice tones down the piney bitterness of the IPA, without adding any real sweetness. The effect is initially a bit jarring, making the beer at firm seem like it might be some kind of hybrid sour, though ultimately the impact of the added fruit isn’t enough to completely deviate from the IPA at the core.

Bitter-sour through and through, it’s a bit grapefruit-like at times, but showcases lemon-peel at others. While it shows clearer blood orange notes toward the end, the finish is otherwise muddy and, frankly, somewhat confusing.

7.5% abv.

B / $11 per four-pack / dogfish.com

Review: Smirnoff Ice Electric Mandarin and Berry

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Leave it to Smirnoff to invent a whole new category of booze. As it did with Smirnoff Ice, now the company as it it again with Smirnoff Ice Electric. Available at first in two flavors, Ice Electric is a non-carbonated beverage that comes in a resealable, 16-ounce plastic bottle. It looks like a Gatorade because it’s supposed to look like one, the idea being that you get hydration and a little buzz in a package that you can still take to the beach and sip on from time to time. The alcohol inside is non-carbonated malt liquor, which shouldn’t come as a surprise.

As with a real Gatorade, these are beverages better identified by color rather than ingredient, designed not to dazzle an audience but to liven up outdoor festivities. Do people care whether or not their fruity malt beverages are fizzy? I’m not sure… but I’m willing to at least give Ice Electric a try.

Both are 5% abv.

Smirnoff Ice Electric Mandarin – Tastes largely as expected, like orange Kool-Aid with a slightly bitter edge from the alcohol. Only semi-sweet, it is fortunately restrained on the sugar front, letting a lemon-lime character take hold on the finish. B-

Smirnoff Ice Electric Berry – The “blue” flavor. A general raspberry/strawberry mix, slightly sweeter but more artificial tasting than the Mandarin, and a bit funkier on the finish. It’s not really offensive, but like the Mandarin, not entirely memorable, either. C-

each $8 per 15.9 oz. bottle / smirnoff.com

Review: Beers of New Belgium, Late 2016 Releases

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New Belgium just doesn’t stop, and today we take a tour through eight new releases from the Colorado/North Carolina-based brewery, including two one offs and six beers that are part of its new “Collabeeration Pack,” comprising five collaborations plus the original from which they are all spun-off.

Let’s start with the sextet…

New Belgium Fat Tire Amber Ale – This is the original Fat Tire, included as a reference point and, one presumes, because it’s a pretty good beer. Nicely honed after many years of release, this is a malty and slightly sweet beer that eschews raw cereal notes and gumminess in favor of a clean and satisfying palate that culminates in a lightly bitter, well-rounded finish. There’s nothing too complicated here but it’s a significant step above some of the mass-produced brews out there, and good enough to conceivably recommend in its own right. 5.2% abv. B+

New Belgium in Collaboration with Avery Brewing Fat Tire and Friends Fat Wild Ale – A wild and funky take on Fat Tire, with the addition of Brettanomyces yeast. Results: Big and malty, with just a hint of sour cream-‘n’-chives character. Some lightly fruity elements hit on the finish, along with a dose of balsamic and chewy forest-like notes. Interesting, for sure, and an interesting tiptoe in the direction of wild fermentation. 6.2% abv. B+

New Belgium in Collaboration with Hopworks Urban Brewery Fat Tire and Friends Fat Sour Apple Ale – A funky cross between a sour and a cider, this beer tries to thread the needle with minimal success, starting off malty and chewy, then taking an abruptly sharp turn into cidertown. The finish is sour but more akin to the kraut variety than the apple one. 5.9% abv. C+

New Belgium in Collaboration with Firestone Walker Brewing Fat Tire and Friends Fat Hoppy Ale – Definitely West Coast IPA “inspired,” this beer finds some new territory by mixing in notes of roasted nuts and a touch of coffee with a modestly bitter backbone that offers a glimpse of the forest, though it skips the juicy citrus notes you find in a typical IPA in favor of a more straightforward, earthy character. The overall impact is surprisingly drinkable, closer in the end to a British pale ale than anything else I can describe. 6.0% abv. B+

New Belgium in Collaboration with Rhinegeist Brewery Fat Tire and Friends Fat Pale Ale – This Belgian-style XPA is relatively innocuous as this series goes, offering pushy malt notes with grassy, with overtones of coffee and hazelnuts. It’s a big and chewy beer with subtle sweetness. Belgian fans will get a kick out of it. 6.0% abv. B+

New Belgium in Collaboration with Allagash Brewing Fat Tire and Friends Fat Funk Ale – A bit less funky than you might expect, considering this is a bottle-conditioned Belgian style ale that’s been treated with Brett. Lightly sour, the beer offers musty sourness, orange rind, and bubbly malt, with an earthy finish that echoes both tobacco leaf and balsamic vinegar. You’ll know from all of that whether this one is up your alley. 5.6% abv. B- 

And now, two one-offs from New Belgium…

New Belgium + Hof ten Dormaal Golden Ale – From the “Lips of Faith” series comes this collaboration with a small Belgian brewery, which has resulted in a somewhat wild, very slightly sour golden ale that offers loads of heavy, nutty malt, plus notes of fresh apple and pear, very ripe (mushy) banana, honeysuckle, and baking spices. The finish is throat-coating and a bit funky, loaded with heavy yeast notes. 7.0% abv. B

New Belgium Heavy Melon Watermelon Lime Ale – Somewhat self-explanatory, this seasonal brew shows off crisp, malty notes up front that quickly segue into fruit character — surprisingly, more lime-focused than watermelon, with overtones of honeydew and nougat. I won’t call it “girl beer” but I can’t control what other people do. (I joke, ladies, and I fully recognize you are all capable and discriminating drinkers.) 5.0% abv. B

$17 per 12-pack / newbelgium.com

Review: Stone Citrusy Wit, Go To IPA, Mocha IPA, and Scru Wit

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Four new beers have arrived from SoCal’s Stone Brewing — all ready to be sampled and sussed out. Let’s dig right in!

Stone Citrusy Wit – What’s the first thing most people do with a wheat beer? Squeeze an orange into it. Stone does that heavy lifting for you with this beer, which adds tangerine and kaffir lime leaf to the mix. That sounds better on paper than it is in the glass, where some big and funky mushroom notes blend with pungent herbs driven by the kaffir lime leaf. There’s a bare essence of a witbier somewhere in here, but it comes off as quite a bit too hoppy for a wit. 5.3% abv. C+ / $11 per six-pack

Stone Go To IPA – A sessionable, hop-heavy IPA, this is is a fruity rendition of IPA, loaded with lemons and oranges and liberally infused with a sizable amount of piney hops. You’d be hard-pressed to ID this blind as “session” anything, given its dense body, chewy palate, and the loads of authentic IPA flavor it packs. 4.8% abv. A- / $10 per six-pack of 16 oz. cans

Stone Mocha IPA – “Style-defying” is no lie: This is a double IPA with cacao and coffee added. What? Surprisingly, this isn’t a complete and utter failure. The beer offers both bracing bitterness and the classic flavors of a chocolate-spiked coffee, the former more up front, the latter more evident in the rear. How these two go together eventually starts to make sense, if you think about the bitterness of coffee, or its sometimes herbal notes (evident in a big IPA). Sure, the big piney character of a classic double gets a bit confusing in a beer meant to taste like coffee and chocolate, but as experiments go, it’s hard not to dig what Stone has come up with, at least for a pint. 9% abv. B+ / $16 per six-pack

Stone Scru Wit – This is one of Stone’s spotlight ales/pet projects, a melding of styles which probably aren’t too common in your corner store. Specifically, a Finnish sahti, a medieval European gruit, and a Belgian imperial wit, made with a recipe that includes mugwort, wormwood, and juniper berries. They call it “SahGruWit,” hence the name. The results are about what I thought they’d be: A crazy bunch of styles that probably went over better in medieval Germany than it does today. The beer finds notes of smoked grains (rauchbier-like at times), freshly turned earth, sweet malts, and a variety of canned green vegetables. It’s long on the finish, and a bit syrupy at times… but you can barely even taste the mugwort, God! 8.5% abv. B- / $8 per 22 oz. bottle

stonebrewing.com