Review: Deschutes Brewery Jubelale Winter Ale 2015

Jubelale 12ozIt’s the time of the season for Jubelale, Deschutes’ highly regarded winter sipper. This year’s Jubelale has a familiar profile, with notes of Mexican coffee, baking spices, fresh hops, and a mildly earthy and woodsy core. 2015’s installment has a nice balance among its constituent components, playing up the coffee the most this year while tempering it with hops and a modest slug of sweetness. It drinks more like a coffee stout than a traditional winter warmer — I expect some will still be sipping it well after the jubelizing is well over.

6.7% abv.

B+ / $8 per six-pack / deschutesbrewery.com

Review: Wild Ginger Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer

Can RenderingNashville-brewed Wild Ginger isn’t the first alcoholic ginger beer on the market, but it’s a solid selection nonetheless if you’re looking for a Dark & Stormy with a bigger kick — or simply (and more likely) a pre-mixed ginger cocktail of sorts straight from the can.

Wild Ginger is on the sweet side from the start, offering some marshmallow character that mixes with the gingery bite to offer a character that starts off like a standard ginger ale but quickly elevates into a proper ginger beer experience. The finish isn’t racy hot, though. Rather, it fades away quickly, leaving behind something of an oatmeal-like “malt beverage” overtone. It’s not offensive, but it does put a modest damper on things when they should be hitting their highest high.

4% abv.

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

Review: Cerveza Modelo Especial

Modelo Especial_ Bottle with GlassQuick: What’s the best-selling imported beer in the U.S.?

Too easy. What’s the #2 best-selling import?

No, not Heineken. Not any more. Now it’s Modelo Especial.

Celebrating its recent rise to the second from the top, Modelo sent out samples to see what all the fuss is about. I have to say, I don’t much see it. This is a classic, lower-end Mexican bottling, light as gold and loaded with malty notes up front. The body then turns somewhat skunky and mushroomy, with light citrus fruit and vegetal overtones. The finish is at first clean but ultimately turns a bit gummy and not entirely satisfying.

4.4% abv.

D+ / $15 per 12 pack / modeloespecialusa.com

Review: The Traveler Beer Co. Seasonal Shandies

illusive traveler grapefruit aleThree crafty shandies from Burlington, Vermont-based Traveler Beer Co., each using a wheat ale for a base and with a variety of fruity/sweet additives for spin. Each is fairly low alcohol and, of course, a bit different than your typical suds.

Thoughts follow.

The Traveler Beer Co. Curious Traveler Lemon Shandy – Slightly sweet, with juicy lemonade notes up front. The beer itself is rather innocuous, just a hint of malt and caramel, but it does pair fairly well with the citrus, at least at the start. 4.4% abv. B-

The Traveler Beer Co. Illusive Traveler Grapefruit Shandy – Considerably more bitter/sour than the lemon shandy, this bottling provides a somewhat muddy attack, but it does offer a better balance of fruit and malt. The finish is quite bitter, playing off both the grapefruit and the wheat ale elements. While the lemon shandy becomes a bit overwhelming, this one tends to grow on you. 4.4% abv. B

The Traveler Beer Co. Jack-o Traveler Pumpkin Shandy – Take your gingerbread/pumpkin spice latte and dunk it into your hefeweizen and you’ve got this concoction, which is better than you think it will be but not much. Quite sweet and overwhelming with ginger, cinnamon, and cloves, this is a true seasonal in every sense of the word. 4.4% abv. C-

each $7 per six-pack / travelerbeer.com

Head to Head: Alcoholic Root Beer! Not Your Father’s vs. Rowdy

nyfTwo makes a trend for us today, with a duo of alcoholic root beers hitting the market at the same time, one from La Crosse, Wisconsin-based Small Town Brewery, the other from Stevens Point, Wisconsin-based Berghoff. Both are not root beer soda with alcohol added but rather flavored beers/malt liquors with the spices integrated into the production process. Here’s how they stack up!

Small Town Brewery Not Your Father’s Root Beer – Per the label, a flavored beer. My father doesn’t drink root beer, but he would probably find this concoction palatable. The palate offers a classic root beer structure, but with a muddier, earthier body that tends to linger on the finish. On the whole, tastes like a glass of root beer should, just with a kick! 5.9% abv.  B+ / $11 per six pack of 12 oz. bottles / smalltownbrewery.com

rowdy-root-beer-canBerghoff Rowdy Root Beer – Per the label, a malt beverage with artificial flavor added. Doesn’t immediately come across like a root beer, including some bitter, traditional beer-like elements on the nose, with some herbal notes dusted on top, particularly cloves and burnt sugar. These flavors integrate relatively poorly on the palate, which is a bit too sweet and a bit too thin, again letting some of those raw beer notes seep through. The finish loads up indistinct caramel and a sharp, saccharine conclusion. A major letdown next to Small Town’s rendition. 6.6% abv. C- / $10 per six pack of 12 oz. cans / berghoffbeer.com

Review: Alaskan Brewing Company Imperial India Pale Ale and Pumpkin Ale

alaskan imperial ipa pilot seriesTwo new brews from Alaskan — another large format IPA in the Pilot Series and, of course, a new, seasonal Pumpkin Ale. Thoughts follow.

Alaskan Brewing Company Imperial India Pale Ale – This new Pilot Series offering pours a dusky light brown. Crisp and plenty bitter, it’s got loads of freshly baked bread plus a backing of light citrus and spice notes. These are washed away by the piney overtones that quickly come to the fore, but the breadier elements linger — something you don’t often get with IPAs. It’s a nice combination, and one that tempers the hops well enough to make it accessible to non-IPA fans. 8.5% abv. A- / $9 per 22 oz. bottle

Alaskan Brewing Company Pumpkin Ale – This is not the same beer as Alaskan’s Pumpkin Porter. Indeed, it’s a far different experience, made in a sweeter style that features rich malt laced with cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. Brown sugar sweetness sticks with you, along with some hoppy, almost leathery notes that emerge on the finish. A better style of beer to pair with pumpkin spices. 6% abv. B / $8 per six pack

alaskanbeer.com

Review: Starr Hill Boxcarr Pumpkin Porter

Boxcarr_BottleAs pumpkin beers go, Starr Hill’s Boxcarr Pumpkin Porter is a pretty good rendition. Or, at least, it’s a non-awful rendition that manages to shy away from an over-sweetened, gloppy mess while also not attempting to do something insane like actually brew pumpkin pulp and turn that into beer.

Rather, Boxcarr is a lightly spiced porter, and the holiday spices pair nicely with the malty, bready brown brew. Some clove/allspice notes hit first — then are rapidly replaced by the main event, which is quite a bit more bitter than the 20 IBUs would indicate. On the finish, some (very) dark chocolate notes emerge, evoking an amaro at times.

Smells like Halloween to me!

4.7% abv.

B / $10 per six-pack

Oh… and also out now again as a seasonal is Starr Hill’s Whiter Shade of Pale, which is just as awesome as it was last year.

starrhill.com

Review: Sonoma Cider The Crowbar, The Washboard, and Dry Zider

sonoma dry ziderTwo limited edition ciders and one very limited reserve release from Sonoma Cider. These ones aren’t exactly my favorites, but maybe the descriptions will entice your palate…

Sonoma Cider The Crowbar – Dry cider, flavored with lime and habanero. Surprisingly spicy, with intense lime notes and quite a peppery punch behind it. It’s altogether a bit much for this otherwise simple beverage, but for the novelty factor it might be worth a look if you’re a heat-seeker. 6% abv. C / $9 per 4-pack

Sonoma Cider The Washboard – Dry, flavored with sarsaparilla and vanilla. This sounds — root beer cider!? — a lot better than it actually is. More sweetness would help to balance out the intense herbal character, and the vanilla is quite extracted. If you’ve ever tried to consume vanilla extract on its own, without some form of sugar to temper things, you can fathom where this cider is headed. 5.5% abv. C / $9 per 4-pack

Sonoma Cider Dry Zider – An organic, bone-dry cider that’s aged for three months in oak barrels that previously held Sonoma County zinfandel wine. A true oddity, with notes of dry red wine that pair with a crisp and clearly dry, tart apple character. Not a combination that I would have imagined — try blending your zinfandel and sauvignon blanc together and you’re on the right path — but it works better than expected. Again I can’t help but think stylistically it would be improved by some sweetness, but that’s just me. 6.9% abv B- / $NA per 22 oz. bottle

sonomacider.com

Review: Magic Hat Ale, Electric Peel, Miss Bliss, and Belgo Sutra

magic hat Electric Peel Bottle JPGA quartet of brews from Vermont’s Magic Hat, including two seasonals, a new full-time release, and limited edition available only on draft. Let’s go!

Magic Hat Ale – Seasonal for fall. A simple name for a simple beer, an Irish-style red ale with ample malt and a slightly fruity, caramel-heavy palate. Magic Hat Ale serves up some chocolate notes and a bit of caramel apple on the finish, but it’s nothing too get too excited about in the end. 4.6% abv. B- / $8 per six-pack

Magic Hat Electric Peel Grapefruit IPA – Year-round. Grapefruit is rapidly becoming the “it” beer ingredient, but it gets a bit lost in this chewy, resinous, and otherwise standard-bearing IPA. Lots of piney notes mixed with a strong but less distinct citrus character give this a pleasant balance without blowing you off your barstool with the hops. A slightly sour tang on the finish nods in the direction of the Ruby Red, but if you didn’t know what was in the bottle in advance, you’d probably never realize it was there. All in all, quite enjoyable on its merits. 6% abv. A- / $8 per six-pack

Magic Hat Miss Bliss – Seasonal for fall. This is a lightly spiced ale made with malted rye and dusted with coriander and orange peel. I’m normally not a fan of spiced beers, but Miss Bliss really surprised me. It’s delicate on the tongue with lightly floral notes, then kicks up ample caramel as the body picks up steam. As it develops, the sweetness remains in check while the herbal notes take over. The finish is soothing and nostalgic, reminding the drinker of dry autumn leaves, Halloween, and Thanksgiving baked goods all at once. Refreshing as hell, too. 4.5% abv. A / $8 per six-pack

Magic Hat Belgo Sutra – Very limited. A Belgian dark ale, available on tap only, made with six different malts and fermented over figs and dates. This could be a sugar bomb, but Magic Hat keeps it in check with a bit of Apollo hops to balance things out with some bitterness. That said, it’s still strong, dark, and teetering on the edge of being syrupy, but the malt is big and bold, silky with caramel notes, while the figgy fruity element manages to shine through. Drink one with your fez on. 8.2% abv. B+ / $NA (tap only)

magichat.net

Review: Gordon Biersch SommerBrau and Zwickel Pils

gb-zwickel-pils-limitedTwo new summery brews from our friends at Gordon Biersch — one ready to go in six-pack form, the other an oversized bottle designed for sipping and sharing.

Gordon Biersch SommerBrau – A delightfully refreshing Kolsch (made with 80% malted barley and 20% malted wheat), this German-style beers balances its malty beginnings with a touch of citrus — almost reminiscent of a witbier. Soothing, bread-heavy notes dominate the finish, but the overall impact is light and, indeed, summery. 4.6% abv. A- / $8 per six-pack

Gordon Biersch Zwickel Pils – This one’s a limited edition, bottom-fermented unfiltered pilsner “made by tapping directly into an aging tank of pilsner via the Zwickel — German for ‘sample valve.'” Previously only available at the GB brewery, it’s a fresh and fizzy brew that’s part of the Uberbier Series at Gordon Biersch. Pilsner fans will love this bottling, which seems extra-carbonated and celebratory in the way Champagne does. The character otherwise runs to simple grains, with gentle barley notes, easygoing bitterness, and just a touch of herbal character to give it a hint of spice. Note: It will continue to age and mellow out in the bottle. 5% abv. A- / $7 (750ml bottle)

gordonbiersch.com