Review: Deschutes Brewery Jubel 2015

Jubel_2015 bottleDeschutes Brewery originally intended Jubel as a once-a-decade release. (The second ever release came out in 2010 and the original was bottled in 2000.) But Deschutes said it couldn’t wait another five years, so it’s putting out Jubel 2015 now. This imperial take on the brewery’s annual Jubelale winter brew is 50 percent barrel aged in pinot noir and new Oregon oak barrels. Hops include Millennium, Nugget, Cascade, Willamette, US Tettnang, and East Kent Goldings, plus five kinds of malts, too.

As it was in 2010, Jubel 2015 is a knockout. There’s huge malt up front, then a wave of dried fruits comes to the forefront. Dates and figs are the main components, then a nutty character evolves as the sweetness starts to fade a bit. Over time (particularly as the beer warms up) notes of cocoa nibs and Port wine notes emerge. As with 2010, though, I liked it a bit better on the cold side, but it shows plenty of charm either way.

10.4% abv.

A / only available at Deschutes tasting rooms and pubs / deschutesbrewery.com

Review: Samuel Adams Escape Route, Crystal Pale Ale, Double Bock, and Rebel Rider IPA Series

EscapeRoute_12oz_Bottle_(1)Sam Adams is positively pouring out the new releases this season for springtime, including three seasonals — Escape Route, Crystal Pale Ale, and Double Bock — and a new series of “west coast style” IPAs called Rebel Rider. Rebel Rider is available at three different strengths, from a low-alcohol session version to a thick and rich double. We reviewed the lot! Thoughts follow.

Samuel Adams Escape Route – An unfiltered, hybrid Kolsch designed for springtime, I heartily enjoyed this concoction, a mix of ale and lager styles that starts off bready, with just a touch of citrus, before fading gently into notes of bitter, dried spices, citrus peel, and easy malt notes. Quite refreshing and very well balanced, with a crisp and quenching finish. 5% abv. A

Samuel Adams Crystal Pale Ale – A piney American pale ale made with, of course, Crystal hops (plus East Kent Goldings and Fuggles) being the primary bittering agent. It’s got a standard, evergreen-oriented pale ale profile, but its on the distinctly muddy side, which makes the final product come across as a bit weedy, with some canned vegetable notes on the finish. Acceptable, but not a standout in a world where you can throw your shoe and hit a dozen superior IPAs. 5.3% abv. B-

Samuel Adams Double Bock – A big double bock, almost syrupy at times. Chocolate, licorice, and coffee notes mix to combine a somewhat muddy experience that I can best describe as filling. The finish is long and heavy on maple syrup notes, but there’s no way I could power through a full 22 oz. bottle (this is the only oversized bottling in this roundup) of this stuff without breaking my palate. 9.5% abv. B-

sam adams Rebel_12oz_BOTTLESamuel Adams Rebel Rider Session IPA (blue label) – One of the best “session” IPAs I’ve experienced in recent years. A brisk and fragrant west coast style IPA, it’s stuffed with piney notes, citrus peel, and plenty of bitter root and tree bark notes, but it manages to offer a lush body, avoiding that thin wateriness that comes with so many session IPAs on the market. Clean, simple, and easy to enjoy. 4.5% abv. A-

Samuel Adams Rebel Rider IPA (red label) – Surprisingly less well-realized, this IPA is herbal up front, with a more mild, bitter core. It’s creamier and with a distinctly rounder body than the Session IPA thanks to the higher alcohol level, but there’s just less overall character here — either west coast IPA oriented or otherwise. 6.5% abv. B

Samuel Adams Rebel Rider Double IPA (green label) – Back in action, this rich IPA offers big pine needle notes up front and a luxurious, resinous body to back them up. The long finish offers notes of root beer, grapefruit, licorice, and baking spice. Lots going on, and IPA fans should eat it up. 8.4% abv. A-

pricing NA / samueladams.com

Review: Adelbert’s Brewery The Traveler, Tripel B, and Philsophizer

adelbert's philosophizer

Austin, Texas-based Adelbert’s Brewery specializes in Belgian-style, bottle-conditioned ales in Big Boy, 25.4 oz. bottles. To a T, these are all big, burly beers that you should probably have a beard to drink properly, but I did my clean-shaven best nonetheless. Thoughts on three of the brewery’s current lineup follow.

Adelbert’s Brewery The Traveler Belgian-Style India Pale Ale – Bready and full of malt, this is not your father’s IPA. Bitter up front but subtly sweet with notes of canned peaches and applesauce. The finish returns to that chewy malt, adding in some mushroomy, forest floor notes for good measure. It’s a very different IPA than you’re probably used to. 7% abv. B+ / $10

Adelbert’s Brewery Tripel B Belgian-Style Tripel – As the name suggests, this is a Belgian tripel, hugely malty from the start and punched up with notes of applesauce, apple cider, and orange peel. Honeyed in both flavor and body, this almost-syrupy brew bubbles up some notes of baking spices as it evolves in the glass before finishing on a chewy note that recalls banana and bubble gum. 9.3% abv. Reviewed: Batch #25. B+ / $14

Adelbert’s Brewery Philosophizer Belgian-Style Saison – This beautiful, farmhouse-style ale really surprised me. The malty aroma is punchy and full of fresh-cut grain notes, backed with touches of citrus peel, white pepper, and cloves. As the beer warms, a gentle earthiness develops in the glass. There’s plenty of all of the above on the palate, with even more fruit and a chewy, body rich with malt. That spice lives a lingering impression on the finish, with just enough juicy orange and backing spice to beg for another sip. 7.8% abv. Reviewed: Batch #16. A / $11

adelbertsbeer.com

Review: Founders Brewing Dirty Bastard, Porter, and Imperial Stout

founders porterGrand Rapids, Michigan is home to Founders Brewing, the company behind these three chilly-weather brews, all excellent choices for knocking back while you’re sucking out the last of the heat from those fireplace embers.

Founders Brewing Dirty Bastard – A Scotch style ale, loaded with malt, dried figs, sawdust notes, and heavy chocolate overtones. Filling but wintry, soothing but with a bitter edge, almost like a very dark chocolate. Initially a bit overwhelming, Dirty Bastard manages to settle down eventually — particularly with food — to finish its tenure as a welcome, bittersweet companion. 8.5% abv. B+

Founders Brewing Porter – A silky, chocolate-heavy porter, this is a sexy little number with substantial length and depth. Roasted chocolate notes and just a hint of coffee help balance a chewy, malty body, but it’s the solid, well-curated hops selection that brings on the bitter finish, and turns this brew from a curious dessert concoction into a more thoughtful beer. 6.5% abv. A-

Founders Brewing Imperial Stout – Chewy, chocolatey and rich, this is a classic imperial stout, loaded with notes of dried fruit, prunes, and figs, lending some unctuous sweetness to a lightly bitter, heavily malty, unmistakably stouty brew. Very rich and filling, this heavy hitter is a bit like trudging through molasses in every sense of the word. In a good way. 10.5% abv. B+

each about $10 per six- or four-pack / foundersbrewing.com

Review: Deschutes Brewery The Abyss Aged Stout 2014 Edition

The Abyss 2014The 9th annual installment of Bend, Oregon-based Deschutes Brewery’s The Abyss is here.

The recipe for The Abyss doesn’t vary much from year to year. If you aren’t familiar with the formula, here’s what goes into it. (That’s three different types of barrels, into which 28% of the brew is aged… a bit going into each barrel type.)

Malt: Pale, Black, Chocolate, Black Barley, Roasted Barley, Wheat
Hops: Millennium, Nugget, Styrian, German Northern Brewer
Other: Blackstrap Molasses, Brewer’s Licorice, Vanilla Beans, Cherry Bark
Barrel-Aging: (28%) 6 Months in Bourbon, Oregon Oak, Pinot Noir

As always, it’s hard to complain about the beer. The nose is seductive with alternating notes of cherries, cocoa powder, coffee bean, and brown sugar. There’s lots of licorice on the body; initially the beer starts off quite bitter (it’s got a bit higher IBU rating than last year) before settling into a bittersweet groove, where cocoa bean, molasses, and a sizable hop character keep things lively.

On the whole, The Abyss 2014 is an outstanding example of this unique brew, still at the top of its game. If you can still find a bottle, snap a few up… some for drinking now, some for cellaring to drink later.

11% abv. 86 IBUs.

2014 Edition: A / $12 per 22-oz. bottle / deschutesbrewery.com

Review: Alaskan Big Mountain Pale Ale

Alaska Big Mountain bottleDo you like fruit? Do you like pale ales? Have I got a brew for you: Alaskan’s new spring seasonal, Big Mountain Pale Ale.

Alaskan explains:

Big Mountain is a flavor departure for us, with a very new combination of hops that we have never used in our bottled beers before,” said David Wilson, Alaskan’s head of Quality Assurance. “The most distinct flavors and aroma come from Simcoe and Mosaic hops, which bring a stone fruit and berry taste and aroma, but also have a very complex nose and a flavor of tropical fruit and herbs.

That’s no flowery overstatement: Big Mountain starts off with big apple cider notes, then positively pours on notes of pineapple and peaches. Some hints of lemon and grapefuit — traditional in many IPAs — come around, but by then the rugged, bitter hops have come to the forefront, lingering and pushing towards a woody, earthy finish. This is fun for a while, but eventually the rollercoaster of fruit-bitter-fruit-bitter becomes a little overbearing. It’s just a bit too far in left field to be a big hit.

5.8% abv.

B / $8.50 per six-pack / alaskanbeer.com

Review: Hermitage Brewing Company Belgian Blonde, Hermit Ale, and Boysenberry Sour

Hermitage Brewing Company Belgian-Style Blonde

Three limited release beers from our friends in San Jose at Hermitage Brewing Company. Thoughts follow.

Hermitage Brewing Company Belgian-Style Blonde – A chewy, malty brew, this Belgian blonde is drier than most beers of this style, offering restrained notes of fresh barley, just a touch of dried fruit, and gentle hops on the back end. The finish is leaner than I’d like — while it offers a crisp and mostly refreshing conclusion, it fades away too fast to leave much of an impression. 6% abv. B / $NA (22 oz. bottle)

Hermitage Brewing Barrel Aged Hermit Ale – An old-school pale ale inspired by a late 19th century style of beer (akin to a strong ale), aged in bourbon barrels for 6 months. Thick and brooding, this intensely bitter ale offers notes of tree bark, licorice, and burnt toast before turning to a slightly sweet, somewhat pruny body. The finish is lasting and mildly syrupy, offering light vanilla notes driven by the bourbon barrels mingled with a lasting bitter edge. It grows on you. 7% abv. B+ / $NA (500ml bottle)

Hermitage Brewing Boysenberry American Sour Ale – This sour, boysenberry-infused beer spends two years in California wine barrels before bottling. Indeed, it tastes like a lot like a young wine, huge with tart fruit, but tempered with a yeasty fizz and intense notes of sour fruit candies — think mouth-puckering raspberry and strawberry sours. More instantly drinkable than many sour beers — in an old-school soda fountain kind of way, with quite the punchy pop on the backside. 6.5% abv. B / $NA (750ml bottle)

hermitagebrewing.com

Review: Bear Republic Apex Special IPA (2015)

apex ipaAh, another fine seasonal release from our NorCal neighbors at Bear Republic. Apex, an Imperial IPA, isn’t made every year, but 2015 marks two years in a row that it has. Each year the beer’s profile changes, reflecting seasonal varieties of hops available and new strains that are developed. Apex is a beer that is intended to be “forward looking.” For this 2015 release, Apex — the name connoting the pinnacle of beermaking — includes Cascade, Columbus, Centennial, Chinook, Simcoe, Citra, El Dorado, Azacca, and Lemondrop hops. Some familiar names in there, and some obscurities, too.

If you like bold, piney IPAs, this is one not to miss. Take the crispness of Racer 5 and weed out some of its burlier, almost lumber-like elements and what you have left is Apex. Intensely bitter, it melds evergreen notes with grapefruit and orange peel, lingering notes of roasted grains, and some surprising floral character on the finish. As it lingers, a touch of mushroom on the back end takes you back to the earth.

Gorgeous from start to finish.

8.25% abv.

A / $NA (22 oz. bottle) / bearrepublic.com

Review: Deschutes Brewery Zarabanda

zarabandaWhat’s this? Acclaimed chef Jose Andres slumming it in the beer world? In Oregon?

Believe it or not, Andres and Deschutes have been collaborating for three years to come up with this: A spiced saison brewed with lemon verbena, pink peppercorns, sumac, and dried lime. Made with Vienna and Spelt malts (among others) along with Saaz hops, the beer is designed as a farmhouse-style brew. The name is inspired by the Spanish Saraband dance, which makes sense if you drink a sip or two.

Immediately exotic and funky, Zarabanda gets started with some mustiness that speaks more to earth and mushroom than to its intriguing aromatics. As the beer warms up a bit, it reveals some more of its fruity, herbal underpinnings. The pink peppercorn is a fun element, adding a gentle, smoky spice and some woodiness to the body. The citrus peel is the other noteworthy element here, adding not sweet lemon or lime notes but rather an additional herbal character that rolls around on the palate, seemingly for days.

Big, grassy, and loaded with oddball, avant-garde flavors — it’s exactly the kind of thing you’d expect Andres to be involved with.

6.7% abv.

B / $NA (22 oz. bottle) / deschutesbrewery.com

Review: Deschutes Brewery Red Chair NWPA (2014) and Hop Henge Experimental IPA (2015)

Winter/spring seasonals from Deschutes have arrived — both can likely be considered 2014/2015 releases, but we did our best on pegging them to a release year in order to keep things organized for those searching through the archives. Thoughts follow.

Deschutes Brewery Red Chair NWPA (2014) – This heavily malted Northwest Pale Ale is immediately sweet from the start, with an almost maple syrup character to it. Less blatantly sugar-focused than I remember from prior bottlings, this expression also features slightly less alcohol, which helps to liven up the body a bit. Some orange flower and candied grapefruit notDeschutes-HopHengeIPA-Labeles emerge on the finish if you give it some time to warm up a bit. 6.2% abv. B+

Deschutes Brewery Hop Henge Experimental IPA (2015) – This classic “IBU escalation” brew is now engaging in a bit of “abv escalation,” too. Last year’s Hop Henge was a “mere” 8.8% alcohol. Now it’s pushing 10%. Dropping from 99 IBUs to 90 hasn’t hurt: This year the beer is drinking with a nice balance of piney notes, grapefruit, and a touch of caramel sauce on the back end. I catch faint notes of baked apple and incense, as well, making this a more complex and, frankly, enjoyable beer than it’s been in recent years. 9.5% abv. A-

each about $6 per 22 oz. bottle / deschutesbrewery.com