Category Archives: Beer

Review: Magic Hat G-Thing and Heart of Darkness

magic hat gthing 106x300 Review: Magic Hat G Thing and Heart of DarknessTwo new/seasonal brews from Magic Hat, both with winter on the mind…

Magic Hat G-Thing – A ginger spice ale that’s light on the ginger, balanced with a solid ale backbone and touched with just a bit of spice (ginger and cinnamon). Mind you, it’s more ginger than gingerbread — the spicy addition offers ginger’s characteristic bite, not the more sweet-and-savory character you get with a baking cabinet full of gingerbread spices. Additives aside, the beer offers caramel, toasted bread, and light coffee notes, with a modestly bitter finish. Nods at the holidays without overdoing it. 5.7% abv. B+ / $NA

Magic Hat Heart of Darkness – A winter-themed English stout. Black as night, with relatively traditional character for the style. The nose is coffee-inflected, with some cocoa powder behind it. The body has more of the same, with some woody tannic notes underneath. Hard-edged and bitter on the finish. Nothing much new in the stout world here, but it’s representative of the style — neither breaking new ground or messing up a well-trod formula. 5.7% abv. B / $NA

magichat.net

Review: Lake Champlain Milk Chocolate Apple Cider Caramels

lake champlain happy valley orchard citizen cider caramels 300x257 Review: Lake Champlain Milk Chocolate Apple Cider CaramelsWhiskey chocolates? Been done. How about chocolates studded with caramel and apple cider?

Lake Champlain Chocolates’ latest concoction brings in apples from Happy Valley Orchard and cider from Citizen Cider to create an all-Vermont seasonal confection sensation.

These dense caramels start with silky milk chocolate and burst open to reveal intense apple pie flavor inside, rich with cinnamon/allspice notes and fresh apple puree. If anything’s missing it’s the “cider” element — though it seems impossible to get the real essence of tart, fresh cider into a package this small.

Delicious stuff, though perhaps a bit pricey….

A- / $15 per sleeve of 7 caramels (2.4 oz. total) / lakechamplainchocolates.com

Review: Mission Brewery El Conquistador and Shipwrecked Beers

mission shipwrecked 300x282 Review: Mission Brewery El Conquistador and Shipwrecked BeersForget your 25.4-ounce Foster’s “oil can.” San Diego-based Mission Brewery is putting its craft brew into 32 oz. “cannons,” enough for two full pints of suds. So grab a friend, because you’ll need ‘em to polish off a full quarter gallon of beer.

Of course, Mission also does beer in bottles and kegs, but these monsters are coming to two of its popular offerings. We tasted them — as poured from the can into our own glassware — and offer thoughts below.

Mission Brewery El Conquistador Extra Pale Ale - A mild gold pale ale. Initially quite hoppy and bitter, this settles down to reveal a more classic, piney pale ale profile. There’s more malt in the middle than most beers of this style exhibit, with a kind of chewy, coconut-husk bitterness on the back end. Ultimately a relatively easy, and surprisingly sessionable IPA. 4.8% abv. B+ / $7 (32 oz. can)

Mission Brewery Shipwrecked Double IPA – Shipwrecked is a bruiser, a monster of a beer with lots of malt, lots of hops, and some citrus thrown in. And alcohol, nearly 10% by volume, so thick you can taste it from the start. This is a big beer that demands quiet attention, offering power and balance while coming in a little short on nuance. Start a fire and pour a glass… and don’t think about trying to drink this whole thing alone. 9.25% abv. B+ / $8 (32 oz. can)

missionbrewery.com

Review: Shock Top Ghost Pepper Wheat Experimental Beer

Earlier this year, Shock Top didn’t release its experimental Campfire Wheat Beer, a balls-out brew meant to taste like s’mores. Like Campfire, Ghost Pepper Wheat is destined for service at beer festivals only, so you’ll have to keep tabs on Shock Top’s website or Facebook page to figure out where it can be found.

Fortunately, unlike Campfire, Ghost Pepper Wheat is a far more successful (if less ambitious) experiment. An unfiltered wheat beer brewed with ghost pepper chiles — the hottest chile pepper in the world — plus a touch of blue agave and citrus peel, it’s a bit of a spin on tradition, combining the cereal notes of a wheat beer with the crispness of a Mexican lager.

The inclusion of the ghost pepper is of course the unique part of the draw here, and unlike many pepper-infused beers, Ghost Pepper Wheat doesn’t overplay this aspect of the beer. In fact, the spiciness is just barely present — just a hint on the tongue and the cheeks, so little that there can’t be more than a few drops of ghost pepper extract in an entire batch of this beer. In fact, it’s so mild that it’s one of the few times I’ve encountered a spicy beer (generally a bad idea in my book) where I actually thought it could use more heat.

Aside from the spiciness (or lack thereof), the beer is worthwhile. The citrus peel element is noticeable, but not overdone, giving the wheat beer base a little balance. Could you get the same effect by dropping a squeeze of orange and a dash of Tabasco into your standard grade Shock Top? Probably, but where’s the fun in that?

5.2% abv.

B+ / not for sale / shocktopbeer.com

Review: Newcastle Cabbie Black Ale

Newcastle Cabbie bottle 100x300 Review: Newcastle Cabbie Black AleThis latest release in Newcastle’s limited edition series is definitively its best, a black ale called Cabbie. Seductively dark, the brew is surprisingly mellow, with chocolatey malt notes and a nutty finish. Think coffee — but freshly picked berries, not dark roast. Cabbie’s got enough bitterness (just 25 IBUs) to keep it mouth-cleansing, but has a big enough body to keep things interesting, rumbling, and fireside-friendly.

Watch for point of sale displays that feature a $5 credit toward Taxi Magic cab fares. Not a bad deal!

4.2% abv.

A- / $8 per six-pack / newcastlebrown.com

Review: Guinness Red Harvest Stout

guinness rhs 144x300 Review: Guinness Red Harvest StoutNot quite a red ale and not quite a stout, the seasonal Guinness Red Harvest Stout looks far more enticing than it tastes. The reddish-coffee brown beer pours with a thick, Old World head, but from the start something is off. The nose is weak, with light roasted grain notes atop thin malt. The body fares worse, watery (canned at just 4.1% abv) and vegetal at times, with wispy malt and notes of decidedly weak coffee. This is a beer that looks like it’ll be a great fireside brew but drinks like a dull and watery mainstream beer. An unfortunate misfire.

C- / $8.50 per four-pack of 14.9-oz. nitrogenated cans / guinness.com

Review: Stone Brewing Arrogant Bastard Double Bastard Ale

double bastard ale 226x300 Review: Stone Brewing Arrogant Bastard Double Bastard AleAs the back label copy of this brew states, “this is one lacerative mother of a beer,” and that’s not far from the truth. The burly American Ale begins with loads of malt and plenty of citrus backing it up. Breathe deep for some evergreen character, too.

On the palate, it’s loaded with malty baked bread, intense citrus oil, some leather and tar, and touches of Skor bar (chocolate + toffee). The finish reminds you how much alcohol there is here, yet it’s not heavy or stifling like many overproof brews. Rather, the clean finish keeps things level and interesting, the malt and chocolate taking things to an almost dessert-like level in the back of your throat… Hard to put down.

11.2% abv.

A- / $5 per 22 oz. bottle / arrogantbastard.com

Review: The Ancient Ales of Dogfish Head

“Not to know what happened before you were born is to be a child forever. For what is the time of a man, except it be interwoven with that memory of ancient things of a superior age?” – Cicero

Thankfully, there are modern day custodians of history keeping the past alive and well, presenting long-silenced voices in time and framing the act of rediscovery as an innovative art. Such is the case with magazines like Lapham’s Quarterly, podcasts like Hard Core History, and Dogfish Head’s Ancient Ales series.

Working in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania’s Director of Biomolecular Archaeology for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages and Health Dr. Patrick McGovern, Dogfish CEO Sam Calagione revives long lost recipes and brings to light traditional beermaking methods that folks in the United States would consider highly exotic (you can see their discovery and process in action on their reality show Brewmasters, now streaming on Netflix). More often than not though, the efforts pay off.

jiahu Review: The Ancient Ales of Dogfish HeadChateau Jiahu – A variation on the world’s oldest fermented beverage recipe, this is an incredibly sweet beer made with hawthorn fruit, sake, barley, rice and honey. The majority of these ingredients are more than evident throughout the experience. Took a bit to get used to, but once invested, I thoroughly enjoyed it. 10% abv. A- / $12 (25.4 oz.)

Midas Touch – “Indiana Calagione” and Dr. McGovern found the molecular evidence of this recipe in a Turkish tomb that was allegedly the property of one King Midas. Incredibly sweet, and as the story goes it’s actually somewhere on the scale between a wine and mead. I’m inclined to believe it. Leaves a bit of a dry finish with a few faint herb notes. 9% abv. B / $12 (12 oz. four-pack)

theobroma Review: The Ancient Ales of Dogfish HeadTheobroma – Wham bam, thank you ma’am! Taking its recipe cues from a chemical analysis of Honduran pottery over 3,000 years old (it feels kind of ridiculous just typing that), this is a chocolate beer recipe filled to the brim with cocoa, a bit of bitter honey, and a bit of chili spice on the back end. The deceptive light coloring (you’d think a chocolate beer would be a bit darker) teases and lets the chili and cocoa do their dance. Excellent stuff! 9% abv. A / $12 (25.4 oz)

Ta Henket – Bread bread and bread… which makes perfect sense because this recipe comes from Egyptian Hieroglyphics. The yeast stands out with traces of the chamomile and other herbs listed as secondary ingredients. Probably my least favorite of the bunch, but being the weak link in this chain could be the strongest on any other lineup. 4.5% abv. B- / $11 (25.4 oz)

The company also offers a variety of special brewpub only editions, including one involving a whole mess of human-masticated corn and saliva. Hopefully these other experiments will see mass production shortly, but given the time and effort it takes to make them happen, it may just require a visit to Delaware instead.

Dogfish Head has a tendency to sometimes enter the realm of the comically absurd. In keeping with the spirit of the company’s mantra, that’s a risk that unconventional brewing must take in order to stay innovative and interesting. For this series it’s an investment that pays off handsomely and provides an enjoyable education into the complexity of beer history for those willing to pay the cost of admission.

dogfish.com

Review: Samuel Adams Utopias (2013 Release)

sam adams utopias 2013 525x525 Review: Samuel Adams Utopias (2013 Release)

Sam Adams continues its annual release of Utopias, a barrel-aged, mega-alcohol, highly expensive brew that stands as one of America’s longest-running “extreme beers” (and which is made without the freeze-and-skim technique that most other high-booze beermakers rely on.

For 2013, Utopias has been “blended with Samuel Adams Kosmic Mother Funk (KMF), a Belgian-style ale barrel-aged for at least nine months (and up to two years) in Hungarian oak tuns,” per the company. This is a big shift for Utopias, and one which is supposed to bring a whole new dimension to the mega-beer. The beer is partly aged in ex-Bourbon barrels, and partly aged in ex-Port casks. It borrows a bit from prior releases, as well as pulling off some new tricks.

Utopias 2013 immediately offers a sweet, maple syrup nose when it’s poured, but this quickly fades, revealing a more brooding, savory character beneath. After a few minutes in a snifter, Utopias 2013 gives off aromas of chestnuts, coffee grounds, and very dark chocolate. The lattermost of these is most prominent in the body, which features a pruny, stewed-fruit character that is much deeper, and more bittersweet than prior versions of this beer. The nose is more Port-like, but the body is all leather and bitter spice, turning almost astringent at times. I do like the added complexity, but the whole affair ultimately starts to fall out of balance, particularly on the mouth-puckering finish.

28% abv. 15,000 bottles made. Also can be paired with a special Utopias-seasoned cigar (which I didn’t review), purportedly the first craft beer-infused cigar ever made ($13).

B- / $199 / samueladams.com

Review: Hangar 24 Hullabaloo Winter Beer

hangar 24 winter beer hullabaloo 300x234 Review: Hangar 24 Hullabaloo Winter BeerOktoberfest is gone, winter brews are new arriving.

One of the first to hit is Redlands, Calif.-based Hangar 24′s Hullabaloo, a Scottish style ale made with European and American malts. It’s a rich and burly brew, driven by thick malt, coffee and cocoa powder notes, and bitter root notes. The overall impact: Relatively muted and restrained. Toasty and slightly smoky, it recalls more the fireside of the hearth than the Christmas tree proper, but seems fitting enough for winter celebrations… or casual imbibing.

6.5% abv.

B / $8 per four-pack / hangar24brewery.com

2013 Pumpkin Ale Roundup

in bottle with pumpkins 200x300 2013 Pumpkin Ale RoundupAh, Halloween approaches, and that means pumpkin-based beers are hitting the shelves en masse. We’ve had a fridge-load show up at Drinkhacker HQ in recent weeks, which can mean only one thing: Roundup Time!

Here are some thoughts on three new, and wildly different, pumpkin brews.

Hermitage Brewing Company Fruit Crate Pumpkin Ale – A standard pumpkin ale brewed with no additional spices, just organic pumpkins. Strong malt on the nose, big body, moderately bitter on the palate. There’s a very minor baking spice component driven by the gourd itself, and present mostly on the back end. But as for pumpkins? I don’t really get them at all in this weighty, wintry brew. 9% abv. B / $4 (16.9 oz)

Dogfish Head Punkin Ale – Brown ale brewed with pumpkin, brown sugar, allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Those looking for a more festive brew — where the spicy components are more at the forefront — will enjoy this one. The cinnamon sugar notes are pronounced, particularly on first pour. The sweet stuff works well with the modestly malty body, and the hops on the finish offer a respite from the sugar. 7% abv. A- / $3 (12 oz.)

Hangar 24 Local Fields Gourdgeous – Imperial porter brewed with pumpkins, molasses, and spices. Very dark color, quite exotic on the nose. The molasses makes itself known right away, heavy and dense on the nose. Beneath that, ample nutmeg and allspice notes… more clove-oriented than the Dogfish Head. A somewhat dense beer, it takes things to a curiously chocolaty place in the finish… but leaves the pumpkin behind along the way. 8.5% abv. B+ / $8.50 (22 oz.)

Review: Deschutes Brewery Hop Trip (2013) and Chasin’ Freshies (2013)

chasin freshies 300x221 Review: Deschutes Brewery Hop Trip (2013) and Chasin Freshies (2013)Deschutes Brewery’s new limited releases are out, both part of its anticipated Bond Street Series of brews. They’re both made with fresh hops, freshly picked then turned into beer pretty much immediately. As such, it’s important to drink these brews right away. Having them sit around in a pantry for months will do them a great disservice. Thoughts follow.

Deschutes Brewery Hop Trip (2013) – This year’s Hop Trip offers, as one would expect and hope, plenty of hops, but the bitterness is shorted out (for better or worse) by tons of malty caramel character and a finish that offers bitter orange peel notes. Appealing, but by the end of the glass I was finding the body to run on the watery side, particularly as it warmed up. 5.4% abv. B+ / $9 per six-pack

Deschutes Brewery Chasin’ Freshies (2013) – Fresh amarillo hops give this IPA a slight lemony kick, with a bracingly bitter backbone to keep things on the right and narrow. Some evergreen character adds nuance, but the fresh hops and citrus notes do most of the talking. Slight touch of malt on the finish. 7.4% abv. A- / $6 per 22 oz. bottle

deschutesbrewery.com

Review: Deschutes Brewery Jubelale Winter Ale 2013

Ho ho ho, Merry, uh, Halloween?

Deschutes annjubelale Review: Deschutes Brewery Jubelale Winter Ale 2013ual winter brew release, Jubelale, is is here… a tad early, but who’s complaining? We missed the last couple of releases of this seasonal beer, but like an old glove it still fits well. This year’s release is nutty and malty, with a chocolatey core that wavers between milky and bittersweet. The finish drives toward a coffee character, with chewy, woody notes to it (Deschutes’ tasting notes use chicory as a reference, which I think is just about spot on). I could use a little more sweetness in the mix, but overall, as usual, this is a satisfying and warming “festive” brew.

The only problem is that as I sip on this here in Northern California, it’s 90 degrees outside. Should I drink it now in the heat or wait a couple of months til things chill down? Ah, decisions…

6.7% abv.

A- / $8 per six-pack / deschutesbrewery.com

Review: Hermitage Brewing Company India Pale Ale Single Hop Series – Calypso

hermitage calypso 300x170 Review: Hermitage Brewing Company India Pale Ale Single Hop Series   CalypsoOur third review in San Jose, California-based Hermitage Brewing Company’s Single Hop Series of IPAs brings us to the Calypso hop, “a dual purpose hop that was originally bred from the Nugget hop varietal.”

The nose is extremely fruity — big apples and some light citrus notes. On the body, waves of warm caramel sauce and a big, malty back-end take hold. Here you’ll find a more burly, campfire-style brew, not nearly as bitter as its 70 IBUs would indicate, mouth-filling, warming, and surprisingly creamy. Ultimately a crisper and more bitter brew is more to my personal taste, but as experiments go, this is one of the more interesting ones out there.

7% abv.

B / $6 per 22 oz. bottle / hermitagebrewing.com

Review: Deschutes Brewery Black Butte XXV 25th Birthday Reserve

deschutes black butte xxv 239x300 Review: Deschutes Brewery Black Butte XXV 25th Birthday ReserveWe haven’t encountered Deschutes’ Black Butte since its XXI release in 2009. It’s time for a fresh look at this annual, limited-edition aged porter from one of Oregon’s premiere breweries.

This experimental release is a bit different every year. For 2013 it’s brewed with dates, figs, and cocoa nibs, and half is aged in bourbon barrels. 1/8th has black currants added to the ingredient bill.

As always, this is a complex brew, and the dates and figs come through extremely clearly. After that, you get a one-two punch: Lots of hoppy bitterness, and a sweet vanilla character driven by the bourbon barrelling. The fruit is a little too far forward in this release, but at the same time the quite bitter finish is surprisingly drying. Fortunately, these two polar opposites tend to balance each other out as you sip the beer, inviting continued drinking and, over time, building to a refreshing and happy medium. (Mind the alcohol level, though.)

Fans of barrel-aged brews will eat this up. Nab it if you can still find a bottle.

11.3% abv. Best in mid-2014.

A- / $14 per 22 oz. bottle / deschutesbrewery.com

Review: 3 Seasonal Beers from Hangar 24

hangar 24 essence 77x300 Review: 3 Seasonal Beers from Hangar 24The seasonals from Hangar 24 just do not stop coming. Here’s three more for summer and fall.

Hangar 24 Oktoberfest Fall Lager – Can Oktoberfest be upon us already? This classic Oktoberfest-style brew is malty with plenty of chewy caramel to go around. Very light baking spice notes — think gingerbread — interact with the sweetness and give some curiosity to the finish. Those looking for bracing bitterness need not apply. 5.7% abv. B+ / $8 per four-pack of 12 oz. bottles

Hangar 24 Local Fields Polycot Wheat – A seasonal wheat beer brewed with apricots. (Poly = many apricots.) Better than I was expecting, with more of a peachy note to it and a touch of white grape juice on the back end. Quite winey, as that description would imply, with the bitterness held firmly in check. Fans of wheat beers will probably gobble this up. (It’s Hangar’s best seller in the Local Fields series.) 7.2% abv. B+ / $9 per 22 oz. bottle

Hangar 24 Local Fields Essence – A double IPA brewed with navel oranges, blood oranges, and grapefruit. This works, and remarkably well. All that citrus is kept well in check by bracing bitterness, and none of the three fruits dominates the others. I think the addition of grapefruit is what really makes this, a touch of puckering sourness that balances out the earthy, piney hops character, giving Essence loads of complexity — plus easy drinkability. The lovely, light copper color only adds to the appeal. (“Peel,” get it!?) 8.5% abv. A / $7 per 22 oz. bottle

hangar24brewery.com

 

Review: Magic Hat deVEILed and Seance

Yes, even more new beers from Magic Hat, these two mercifully devoid of flowers and odd vegetables being used as flavoring agents. Alas, neither of them really floated our proverbial boat.MHT DEVEILED 12oz3D 2013 106x300 Review: Magic Hat deVEILed and Seance

Magic Hat deVEILed - An amber ale. Muddy and indistinct, with loads upon loads of malt that drown out the hops. Twigs and earth are the primary characteristics here, with a bit of tobacco and ash. Not much under the veil, alas. Not my style. 5.2% abv. C-

Magic Hat Seance – A dark saison. Slightly smoky up front, with a rich, bittersweet chocolate note that comes on after. Malt and hops are more in balance here, but it’s still skewed heavily toward the former. The promised fruit doesn’t really materialize except for a whiff of dates in the end. 4.4% abv. B-

$NA / magichat.net

Review: Mammoth Brewing Company EPIC IPA

EPIC ipa 187x300 Review: Mammoth Brewing Company EPIC IPAMammoth Brewing Company is one of the centerpieces of CANFEST, a beer festival with a twist: All the beers are poured not from taps or bottles but from cans. I couldn’t attend the Reno-based event (which happens tomorrow), but the organizers were kind enough to send me one of the event’s top offerings. Thoughts follow.

A canned IPA from the “highest brewery on the west coast.” Pours a darkish honey color, with a minimal head (and only modest carbonation). Hoppy nose, with some pine needles for good measure. On the palate, more of the same, with ample malt and a light citrus element that builds in the finish. Simple, amply bitter, and lightly sweet on the back end to give it some curiosity. Overall quite a good and refreshing brew.

6.5% abv.

A- / $NA / mammothbrewingco.com

Review: Casey Jones Imperial India Pale Ale

casey jones ipa Review: Casey Jones Imperial India Pale AleA fruity, citrus-infused IPA from Iron Springs Brewery in nearby Fairfax, California. Piney on the nose, it quickly leads into a brisk and bracing bitterness, full of orange peel, peppery spice, and tons of hops. The fruit character balances things out, but the bitterness does not release its hold easily. The finish is long and lasting, offering more of an orange oil character as it mellows out, making things enticing for continued drinking despite the hefty alcohol level.

9% abv.

A- / $7 per 22 oz. bottle / ironspringspub.com

Review: Samuel Adams Little White Rye and Blueberry Hill Lager

samuel adams Little White Rye Hi Res 79x300 Review: Samuel Adams Little White Rye and Blueberry Hill LagerTwo new entries into Sam Adams’ “craft brew” lineup. No introduction needed, really. These beers speak pretty well for themselves.

Samuel Adams Little White Rye – A white witbier. Spicy, with clear citrus and coriander notes. That burly, Asian-inflected character builds more and more until that hefty herbal character — namely the sage used in the brew — hits the forefront. Quite a powerhouse, and far from the semi-sweet refresher you might be expecting from a late summer seasonal. (Hence the name, of course.) 5.3% abv. B

Samuel Adams Blueberry Hill Lager – I thought I would hate this. It’s lager with blueberries, of course. Turns out it is surprisingly drinkable, at least for one bottle. The blueberry is strong on the nose and on the finish, but the middle part is a rich and creamy, unfiltered lager with plenty of heft. Refreshing and fun, especially on a hot day, but one is probably plenty. 5.5% abv. B+

samueladams.com