Review: Deschutes Brewery Black Butte XVIII 28th Birthday Reserve


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 /

Review: Stone Enjoy By 10.31.16 Tangerine IPA


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 /

Review: Dogfish Head Flesh & Blood IPA

dogfish flesh and blood ipa

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 /

Review: Smirnoff Ice Electric Mandarin and Berry

smirnoff ice electric berry

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 /

Review: Beers of New Belgium, Late 2016 Releases

new belgium Heavy_Melon_12oz_Bottle

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 /

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

stone scru wit

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

Review: BridgePort Brewing Cream Ale


This is Portland-based BridgePort’s first cream ale, a lighter style of beer that’s brewed with ale yeasts plus sees the addition of Nugget, Meridian, and Mosaic hops. Cut with malted wheat and flake oats, it is designed to have a creamy body (hence the name) and quite low, lager-like bitterness. Previously available only at the company’s Portland-located brewpub, the beer now enters year-round availability in bottles.

It’s a delightful summer quencher, creamy and mouth-filling as the name suggests, with lots of tropical fruit character to smooth out the trio of hops. The finish sees some bitterness muscling its way to the fore, a by-product of which is that it takes those fruit notes a bit closer to the overripe side of things.

4.8% abv.

B+ / $8 per six-pack /