Two major winter seasonals from Bend, Oregon-based Deschutes are here, including the new Abyss aged Imperial Stout and Red Chair, Deschutes’ northwestern spin on an IPA.
Deschutes Brewery The Abyss Aged Stout 2015 Edition – For the 10th installment of The Abyss, there are no major recipe changes — although the beer has seen some additional aging. This special release is brewed with blackstrap molasses, licorice, cherry bark, and vanilla as always, then 21% is aged in oak bourbon barrels, 6% aged in oak barrels, and 21% aged in oak wine barrels. (Altogether 50% of the beer is aged for 2015, but last year only 28% of the total brew saw barrel time.) Note that to commemorate the 10th anniversary of The Abyss, two additional versions were created — one aged in rye casks, one in Cognac casks — though we did not receive these for review. The “regular” version of Abyss, however, is a real standout. As always, pungent licorice hits the nose first, but the treacle-and-fig-jam notes that often follow close behind are tamped down here, replaced instead with bracingly bitter hops, very bitter chocolate, and wood barrel notes. The Abyss is always a beer that sticks around for ages, but this year that finish is seemingly unending. Fans of this style — and just about anyone else — should seek out a couple of bottles. One for now, one to keep in the cellar for next year. 12.2% abv. A / $15 per 22 oz. bottle
Deschutes Brewery Red Chair NWPA (2015) – A December-released seasonal, this year’s Red Chair “Northwest” Pale Ale doesn’t seem to have rocked the boat when it comes to its recipe — but nonetheless the beer seems more fully-realized than some of its forebears. Bitter but not aggressively piney, Red Chair uses citrus notes and some late-arriving florals to punctuate its malty base with style and structure. Quite a pleasure. 6.2% abv. A- / $8 per six-pack
A late December arrival makes for a late February review, but you can still find this holiday release on shelves if you look for a bit. This is a light saison designed for winter consumption — an unusual combination in the world of holiday brews. It offers a malty and fruity combo up front that slowly segues into notes of baking spice. Things wrap up with notes of nutmeg, coriander, and lemon peel, plus a light slug of hops. On the light side for a winter brew, it’s a pleasant enough Christmastime sipper for those who prefer a little restraint in their “holiday” beer spices.
B / $10 per six-pack / peakbrewing.com
Our first foray into alcoholic root beers met with mixed results — but now we have a third option to add to the mix. The company behind Wild Root makes an alcoholic ginger beer that we’ve previously reviewed. This is their foray into a more soda-like concoction.
The flavor of this beverage is heavy on the sweetness to the point where it initially comes across more like a cola. It isn’t until a flick of malty alcohol hits and begins to fade that the more traditional bittersweet sarsaparilla notes of root beer really arrive in earnest. They remain relatively muted — but give the beverage some time in the glass and they’ll start to percolate into the aroma, courtesy of that carbonation bubbling up.
This is a solid product, but it’s one that could use a somewhat punchier level of flavor to really seal the deal.
B / $9 per six-pack of cans / wgbrewing.com
Colorado-based New Belgium is out with a winter special called Accumulation, a seasonal, Belgian-style IPA.
This combination of pale malt and wheat offers a a malty, bready attack that fades into a chewiness that loads up some crisp apple notes, chocolate, caramel, and a hint of pineapple. The body is moderate in weight and backed by ample hops character — finishing off with a bit of a lemon kick.
All told, it’s a nice way to give IPA a bit of a kick and a seasonal spin.
B+ / $7 per six-pack / newbelgium.com
I had the good fortune of visiting the Troegs brewery, in Hershey, Pennsylvania, last summer. (You should go, too — the cafe is amazing.) Recently the company sent a couple of new releases to Drinkhacker HQ for us to formally review. Let’s give these a go!
Troegs Perpetual IPA – Initially rather dusty and mushroomy, the hefty bitterness brings this into stylistic focus after a time. The finish remains entrenched in notes of leather and tobacco, with layers of malt and even bitter chocolate and coffee on the finish. A curious spin on the IPA, but what do you expect from a brewery out of Hershey, PA? 7.5% abv. B / $10 per six-pack
Troegs Blizzard of Hops Winter IPA – What sounds like a curious combination — IPA with traditional “winter beer” spices — is in reality something a little more straightforward. Blizzard of Hops is really a fairly straightforward IPA, bringing pine and citrus notes into a core that seems just a touch scented with cloves. Perfectly palatable, winter, summer, or fall. 6.4% abv. B+ / $9 per six-pack
Two new winter brews from the tireless innovators at Starr Hill — in two wildly different styles. Let’s dig in.
Starr Hill Snow Blind Doppelbock – A burly brown monastic-style lager, toasty at first, with lots of caramel and chocolate notes coming up behind. The beer is so dense and bold it’s a little off-putting at first, but with time (and a touch of warmth) it becomes quite charming in a winter wonderland sort of way, showcasing gentle, sweet spices alongside the toasty notes. An excellent beerhall selection; pretzels are a must. 7.7% abv. B+ / $9 per six-pack of 12 oz. bottles
Starr Hill Hopfetti Triple IPA – A 16th anniversary celebration beer, featuring six types of hops (and more of them than any other Starr Hill bottling to date). IPAs don’t come much bigger than this, a syrupy, resinous, and unctuous brew that is loaded with alcohol, pine notes, and ample juicy oxidized citrus. As an IPA lover, even I find this about at the limit of my enjoyment — not because it is overly bitter (at 72 IBUs it’s almost mild in comparison to some out there) but because it is so syrupy on the palate. Is it the texture that’s throwing off maple notes or is that really a side-effect of one of these hops? The finish reminds me of carrot cake — tons of cream cheese frosting included. 10.2% abv. B+ / $10 per 22 oz. bottle
See if you can guess where Bronx Brewery is based. Not sure? Check out their website, then consider these two offerings from the company’s collection of (all canned) beers.
Bronx Brewery Belgian Style Pale Ale – A bit musty and earthy from the get go, with muddy hops and overtones of forest floor. The finish is sharp, with heavy notes of bitter herbs. The beer doesn’t much improve as it aerates, and while I could tell some sweeter, malt-driven notes were trying to break free, they could never quite hit escape velocity. Ultimately it lands with a rather lifeless thud. 6.7% abv. C+
Bronx Brewery Rye Ale – A better balanced brew, with notes of toasty, roasted grains, some cinnamon spice, and a fresh baked bread character. The finish has some of the muddy-earthy elements of the Belgian Pale Ale, but they’re kept in check by a more rounded grain bill and better-integrated bitterness. 6.3% abv. B+
each $11 per six-pack of 12 oz. cans / thebronxbrewery.com