Review: Fall 2014 Pumpkin Beer Blowout

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  • red hook pumpkin porter
  • alaskan Pumpkin Porter 12oz_Bottle_WET
  • 21a pumpkin spiced

October is here, and that means everyone and his sister is putting pumpkin into beer in honor of the arrival of autumn. For some, pumpkin brews are something they wait for urgently all year long. For others, a pumpkin beer is something you enjoy precisely once and quietly wait for the season to pass. For me, I’m somewhere in the middle… mainly because it depends on what’s inside the specific bottle.

Here’s a look at four new pumpkin beers vying for your gourdly attention this fall.

Magic Hat Wilhelm Scream Pumpkin Ale – If you aren’t familiar with the Wilhelm Scream, you can read all about it here. I expect that will not alter your enjoyment of Magic Hat’s first ever pumpkin beer in any way, though. This ale drinks with burly, brown, fall-friendly flavors, only one of which is a dusting of pumpkin. Cloves and cinnamon, ginger, and some earthier notes tend to dominate. Overall it’s quite dry, with chewy, nougaty maltiness pushing through to the finish. 5.4% abv. B / $9 per 6-pack

Redhook Brewery Out of Your Gourd Pumpkin Porter – A spiced dark ale made with maple syrup, this is a very dark and brooding brew, quite the opposite of the relatively light bodied Wilhelm Scream. Deeply malty, the maple syrup adds a viscosity to the beer that coats the mouth like a barrel-aged porter. The clove character is on point here, but any sense of pumpkin is pushed well into the background. For fans of traditional, British-style dark brews. 5.8% abv. B / $10 per 6-pack

Alaskan Brewing Co. Pumpkin Porter – Quite bitter, but almost gooey with raw malt syrup notes. The malt overpowers anything else in the beer — including brown sugar and burnt pumpkin notes that don’t quite integrate with the rest of the beer. Difficult balance, with a finish that is not at all refreshing. Save for winter. 7% abv. C+ / $1.60 per bottle

21st Amendment/Elysian He Said Baltic-Style Porter – Collaborative brew project. An epic alco-bomb (and a lager, by the way) with a nose further from anything autumnal than the rest of the lineup here. Lots of malt, wood and cardboard notes, wet earth, mushroom, and some green vegetable notes. No pumpkin character to speak of. 8.2% abv. C / $9 per 4-pack (cans)

Review: Warsteiner Premium Dunkel

warsteiner dunkelOktoberfest is nigh, and that means Oktober-centric brews are hitting the market in force. First out of the gate is this dunkel from Warsteiner, a Munich-style lager brewed in Warstein, Germany. It’s actually a year-round brew but is aimed toward fall/winter drinking.

Roasted malt defines this beer, giving it a toasty, almost smoky character up front. Sweetness builds from there, with the beer developing a juicy. syrupy quality to it, with plum-flavored overtones. The finish is lasting but heavy on mouth-coating jam, with just a touch of bitter hops to add complexity.

Overall, it’s a decent enough beer but nothing I’d go out of my way to experience — even if there are big pretzels, oompah bands, and dancing girls.

4.8% abv.

B / $10 per six-pack / warsteiner.us

Review: Alaskan Brewing Company Imperial Red Ale

Imperial Red Bottle_CLEAR BackgroundAnother new addition to Alaska’s Pilot Series: Imperial Red Ale, complete with an ominous looking snow crab on the front of the label.

This limited edition red ale combines lots of hops with lots of malt, ostensibly to bring you the best of both worlds. It’s certainly got plenty of things to talk about: Bracing, forest-driven hops hit you first (particularly on the almost floral, aromatic nose), then the caramel-fueled silky-sweet malt joins the party. The end result isn’t so much a balanced sweet-n-bitter as it is a bit of a mudball, these burly elements dueling each other so effectively they cancel each other out. What’s left behind is a bit woody and more than a little muddy, a rather unbalanced brew that never quite finds the footing that the initial rush of hops provides.

8.5% abv.

B- / $9 per 22 oz. bottle / alaskanbeer.com

Review: 7 Beers from North Coast Brewing Co.

north coast Pranqster.750mlFort Bragg, California-based North Coast Brewing Co. isn’t your typical Cali brewer. Its focus on fruitier, malt-heavy, European-style ales is a far cry from the traditional west coast style IPAs that dominate its region. It’s particuarly ironic since North Coast is actually situated directly on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. You don’t get much more “west coast” than that.

North Coast makes a plethora of brews. We turn our attention to a lineup of seven — all of which are available in 12 oz. bottles instead of just 22 oz. bombers, so typical for high-abv rarities like some of these listed below.  (750ml bottlings of many of the higher-end beers are also available… like the one pictured here.)

Thoughts, as always, follow.

North Coast Old Stock Ale 2014 – An old ale made in the English style, with all-imported, English ingredients. Starts off fresh and fizzy, then the chocolate, coffee, and toffee notes come rushing at you like a freight train. The beer quickly turns into a burly, brooding monster with moderate sweetness and an epic finish that knocks you down with its notes of wine, figs, and intense malt character. Could use a touch more bitterness (or maybe some time in the cellar) to balance all of the above out. Ageable. 11.8% abv. B+ / $14 per 4-pack

North Coast Brother Thelonious Belgian Style Abbey Ale – A Belgian strong dark ale, this is a chewy, malty brew that brings a lot of fruit to the forefront. Raisins, figs, and plums are all amply represented here, with a dense, almost chocolate-driven core. Minimally hopped. The various components come together after a time — let it warm up a tad — creating a surprisingly harmonious whole. This drinks a bit more cohesively and less aggressively than the Old Stock Ale (at least without it seeing considerable cellar time). Ultimately it proves surprisingly silky and pleasant. 9.4% abv. A- / $12 per 4-pack

North Coast Le Merle Saison Belgian Style Farmhouse Ale – Slightly sour, this fruity saison offers notes of cherries and rhubarb, balanced with some yeast character. Dark caramel and coffee notes emerge on the finish, punching down some of this beer’s initial fruit notes. The overall impact is a little muddy, but compelling enough for enjoying on a hot day. 7.9% abv. B+ / $12 per 4-pack

North Coast Pranqster Belgian Style Golden Ale – Another strong Belgian ale, but not a dark ale — a pale ale. Initially a bit sour, this beer settles down with a strong granary character plus mild notes of apricots and peaches. A more modest dosage of hops give Pranqster a better balance than Brother Thelonious without requiring any aging time at all. Ultimately, the silky mix of bitter hops, chewy malt, and seductive fruit is a winner. 7.6% abv. A- / $10 per 4-pack

North Coast Scrimshaw – Even North Coast’s pilsner is burly and malty, a chewy, grain-heavy brew that is rounded and mouth-filling. Light citrus notes give it some complexity, but on the whole it’s a relatively simple brew with an Old World backbone. 4.4% abv. B+ / $8 per 6-pack

North Coast Blue Star Wheat Beer – A pale wheat ale, this Americanized hefeweizen drinks crisp and clean, lightly grainy (probably the least grain-forward of all the beers reviewed here) with a touch of juicy lemon and a hint of pine needles to it. As it warms, the wheat becomes more prominent, which makes things even simpler — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. 4.5% abv. B+ / $8 per 6-pack

North Coast Old No. 38 Stout –  As stouts go, this rendition is dry and restrained, hoppier than most while nodding only gently toward those Old World notes of coffee and chocolate that are traditionally part and parcel of this category. No. 38 starts off with a gentle bitterness before fading into a sort of sweet-and-sour character that is only modestly dusted with notes of hot cocoa (er, cold cocoa), walnuts, and some lighter vegetable notes. A very pleasing and more easy-drinking (vs. dark and brooding) rendition of stout. 5.4% abv. B+ / $9 per 6-pack

northcoastbrewing.com

Review: Guinness Blonde American Lager

GUINNESS Blonde American Lager Bottle Shot-0

Bar the doors and shutter the windows. Hell’s freezing over and it’s starting with the world of beer, of all places.

What happened? Guinness, the mother of all black-as-night stouts, is releasing a standard, pale, American lager.

Made in Latrobe, Pennsylvania(!), Guinness uses American Mosaic, Willamette, and Mount Hood hops plus its Dublin-born Guinness yeast to create Guinness Blonde, a chewy blonde lager that’s unlike anything else the company has ever produced. (That said, this is the first volley in the new “Guinness Discovery Series,” so it’s possible a cranberry lambic is coming up next.)

As for the beer, it is awfully good. Thick and rich, this malty brew drinks like a Czech style pilsner, with a core of buttery biscuits and a very mild nuttiness underpinning it. The body is moderately creamy, which balances the mild fresh-baked bread character quite well, and it offers a curious touch of brown sugar and cinnamon on the back end. Guinness Blonde American Lager is both filling to the stomach and pleasing on the tongue. It’s hardly the deep dive into the abyss that standard Guinness Stout is, but it makes for an interesting foil to the standard Guinness bloodline — and an obvious choice for the bottom half of a Black and Tan.

5% abv. Available September 2014.

A- / $9 per six-pack / guinness.com

Review: Deschutes Brewery – Doppel Dinkel Bock, Foray IPA, Black Butte XXVI

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Bend, Oregon’s Deschutes Brewery keeps pumping out new, seasonal and special edition beers, with these three dropping in time for some last days of summer sipping. All are are available in 22 oz. bottles. Thoughts follow.

Deschutes Brewery Conflux Series No. 3 Doppel Dinkel Bock – This double bock is made with a “generous amount” of spelt in lieu of wheat; it’s a collaboration between Deschutes and Distelhäuser in Germany. A monstrous beer, it is redolent of bubble gum and ripe bananas, before fading into a cauldron of coffee and chocolate, tree bark and baking spices. The finish is lasting and mouth-filling, and at 10.7% abv, something you’ll want to prepare for assiduously before cracking it open. / $11 per 22 oz. bottle

Deschutes Brewery Bond Street Series Foray Belgian Style IPA – This is a sizable IPA made with five kinds of hops… and Belgian yeast. That yeast makes Foray a heavily fruity brew, loaded with apple and pear notes. That really wipes out the hoppy bitterness, though. While it shows its face here and there, the tart fruit character washes over you and hangs on to the finish. This is an unusual and, indeed, Belgian-style brew — summery and fresh, but a bit too undone by its juiciness to embrace its bitter core. 6.4% abv. B / $6 per 22 oz. bottle

Deschutes Brewery Black Butte XXVI 26th Birthday Reserve – The 26th release of Black Butte Birthday Reserve sees this annual special edition porter brewed with Oregon cranberries, pomegranate molasses, and Theo Chocolate’s cocoa nibs, then 50 percent aged in bourbon barrels for 6 months. As with prior editions of Black Butte Reserve, this is a highly sweet porter, dripping with notes of figs, molasses, maple syrup, and chocolate sauce. Coffee notes build as it develops before reaching a jammy — as in actual raspberry jam — finish. Depending on your tolerance level for sweet stuff, this can be nearly overpowering. The inclusion of cranberry and pomegranate are a little strange (and that shows a bit in the finished product), but maybe after 26 years of making different beers in this series you start reaching toward the back of the pantry? It’s not my favorite of the Black Butte reserve series, but it’s a fun departure from the usual fare — even the usual craft beer fare. (Pro tip: Let it warm a bit before consuming.) 10.8% abv. B+ / $18 per 22 oz. bottle

deschutesbrewery.com

Review: Beachwood/Heretic/Stone Unapologetic IPA and Stone RuinTen IPA 2014

These days, Stone Brewing Company is a juggernaut of new releases, with new brews sometimes arriving at the pace of one every couple of weeks. Here we have two of Stone’s latest, including a relaunch of one of the company’s most famed IPAs, and a three-way collaboration among some California brewing icons.

Thoughts on both follow. Get ‘em while you can!

Stone_Unapologetic_WEBBeachwood/Heretic/Stone Unapologetic IPA – This collaborative brew is from the California-based trio of Beachwood Brewing (Long Beach), Heretic Brewing (Fairfield), and Stone (Escondido). It’s a big IPA crafted with Magnum and Chinook hops, plus four new Washington-grown strains (HBC 342, Hopsteiner 06300, Azacca, and Belma), giving it a truly unique makeup (and a bit of a new flavor profile, too). The beer is a hop monster but it’s also loaded with fruit flavors. After the initial rush of bitterness dies down, look for notes of lemon and peaches, almost like a fruit custard has been blended into the classic, piney notes of the IPA. The finish is sweet and tropical, hinting at coconut milk, making for an unusual IPA that is both intensely hoppy as well as dessert-friendly. 8.8% abv. A- / $9 per 22 oz. bottle

Stone-RuinTen_Heroshot_WEB 2014Stone RuinTen IPA 2014 – “A stage dive into a mosh pit of hops” is about right. This is the 2014 release of Ruination, which Stone originally launched to much fanfare in 2002 and which was released as an even hoppier version in 2012 for the 10th anniversary of the company. The recipe here is the same as the 2012 bottling; only the name has changed. (The name is intended to be suggestive of what this beer will do to your palate, given its 110 IBUs — and, at over 10% alcohol, what it will do to your mind as well, I presume.) RuinTen features ample hops (five pounds of Columbus and Centennial hops (then dry-hopped with Citra and Centennial), per barrel of brew), but presents itself with class and finesse. The nose and body are resinous with pine tree sap, bitter orange peel, and cloves. Ultra-ripe fruit comes on strong as you sip it, culminating in a somewhat malty, syrupy, and lightly smoky combination of flavors. The finish offers hints of marshmallows and canned fruits, pine trees and applesauce. All kinds of flavors going on, and firing on all cylinders. 10.8% abv. A / $8 per 22 oz. bottle

stonebrewing.com

Visiting Harpoon Brewery – Boston, Mass.

Headed to Boston? Take a little trip to Harpoon Brewery, which is now the 14th largest brewery in the U.S. but which still feels like a happy, family operation. Harpoon built a massive beer hall here in South Boston last year, which you can take in after spending 30 minutes or so strolling through the production facility and hearing a little bit about how Harpoon makes its various brews.

If you’ve been on one brewery tour you probably know what to expect, though being able to taste the barley that Harpoon uses to make its beers is a fun little touch. Of course, everyone’s favorite time is the tasting room, where you get about 20 minutes to essentially drink all the Harpoon beer you can from little 2 oz. glasses. I managed to sample a very broad selection of what was on tap that day, from the perfectly credible (and well-stocked) Harpoon IPA to the limited edition Citra Victorious Barrel Series, made exclusively with orangey Citra hops. The Leviathan Double IPA (at 10% abv) is a true monster — though maltier than you’d expect — but my ultimate favorite, by far, was Harpoon Rich & Dan’s Rye IPA, a spicy/piney beer with nice bite and good balance of fruit and hops.

Definitely recommended — and don’t miss the pretzels, which are house-made with grains used to make the company’s beers.

harpoonbrewery.com

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Review: Bear Republic Cafe Racer 15

racer 15Bear Republic’s Racer 5 is one of the west coast’s most iconic IPAs. Cafe Racer 15 is its bigger, burlier, limited-edition brother, a monstrous Double IPA that fans of Racer 5 will definitely want to check out.

Named after a type of motorcycle (and not speedy coffee), Cafe Racer 15 uses Citra, Amarillo, Cascade, and Chinook hops to create a bruising hop regimen that hits over 100 IBUs. Up front watch for lots of ultraripe fruit and those trademark piney notes. This fades into a rather malty, mouth-coating character, ripe with notes of orange sherbet and applesauce. The finish is fruity and brings out more of the base barley’s cereal character. While the attack is brisk, the finish is less mouth cleansing than your typical IPA. That malty character positively demands the next sip be taken to clear things out and get you ready for the next pull… and the next… and the next…

9.75% abv.

A- / $8 per 22 oz. bottle / bearrepublic.com