Category Archives: Beer

Review: Stone Arrogant Bastard Double Bastard Ale

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.

jiahuChateau 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)

theobromaTheobroma – 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)

SAMUEL ADAMS UTOPIAS

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 hullabalooOktoberfest 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-pumpkinsAh, 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 freshiesDeschutes 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 annjubelaleual 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 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

BBXXII_tapWe 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 essenceThe 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

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 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 ipaA 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)Two 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

Review: Stone Farking Wheaton w00tstout

w00tstout 2I don’t want to delve into the deep and sordid story that led to this insane idea becoming a reality, but suffice it to say: Stone Brewing Company has partnered with, of all people, Fark.com founder Drew Curtis and geek legend/homebrewer Wil Wheaton to create their very own beer. The duo actually did time in the brewery, hauling grain and working line at Stone. Then they got their pictures on the bottle.

The beer itself has quite a pedigree. An imperial stout by style, it adds wheat (for Wheaton) plus rye and pecans (from Curtis’s home state of Kentucky) into the mix. It’s then aged in bourbon barrels for 2 1/2 months before bottling at 13% abv. (Whoa.)

It’s a chewy, molasses-forward beer, with a nose that recalls chocolate covered cherries. I get a bit of smoke, too. The body is filling, and a little oily, but amazingly deep. The molasses and chocolate are the most pronounced part of the beer, with some nuttiness from the pecans evident on the finish.

w00tstoutBut those are just my notes. I also asked Curtis (pictured, on the left) for his tasting notes and he enthused endlessly: “Here’s some non-standard description for you: for folks who have ever had a bourbon barrel stout before, most of them have a few similar characteristics: thick and heavy, super sweet, strong bourbon flavor. Stone Farking Wheaton w00tStout has none of those.  I mean yeah it’s not particularly light, but it’s not super heavy or super sweet.  And a friend of mine told me ‘I think maybe I can taste the bourbon in it’ which is awesome because in most bourbon barrel stouts the bourbon flavor is a brick to the face. Treat this like wine folks, it’s 22 ounces at 13 percent alcohol-by-volume.  Drink with friends, and/or plan on not driving or operating heavy machinery afterwards.”

I reserve my favorite tasting notes for the end, which come courtesy of my friend Wes, who enjoyed the stout with me. And I quote, “If your goal is to get hammered, it’s a good beer. I’m drinking 13 percent beer, motherfarker!”

He meant that in the best possible way.

A- / $9 per 22 oz bottle / stonebrewing.com

Highlights from the 2013 California Beer Festival – Marin

Maybe it was the soothing sounds of ’80s hair metal cover band Metal Shop. Maybe it was the 100 degree heat. Maybe it was the BBQ cookoff. Maybe it was the beer. Whatever the case, the hordes descended on Marin County a few weeks ago to sample the best craft beers made in and around California, and enjoy a little pulled pork along the way.

In lieu of printed material and a forgotten notepad for detailed notetaking, I jotted down a few favorites on a coaster or two. Here are my top picks from the event:

St. Florian’s Brewery IPA – Well balanced, a little more caramel than most IPAs.

Stone Levitation Ale - Always a classic, a rich and delicious amber ale.

Stone RuinTen IPA – Hugely bitter and immensely satisfying.

Island Brewing Company Night Sail – Not sure if that’s the actual name of the brew being poured, but this IPA pours black while drinking amber — a feast for the senses with a nutty fninish.

Anderson Valley Summer Solstice – A limited edition brew from this popular local brewer, bready and satisfying.

Ninkasi Believer Double Red Ale – Oregon’s finest had a line around the park to sample its brews, with good reason. Just an all-around satisfying ruddy ale.

Thanks to the CBF for the invitation!

Review: Konig Ludwig Weissbier

konig ludwig weissbierWarsteiner makes this hefewiezen and is making a push for it this year for Oktoberfest. About the ornately-decorated brew (per the company):

Prince Luitpold of Bavaria carries on the great tradition which has associated the Royal Bavarian Family with the fine art of brewing since 1260.  This classic brew uses select Bavarian barley and wheat malt, the finest Noble Hallertau aroma hops and the original brewer’s yeast strain.  König Ludwig Weissbier is a refreshing, well-balanced, flavorful natural weissbier with a lively fruity aroma and fine sense of spiciness.  König Ludwig Weissbier was honored with the World Beer Award for the world’s best wheat beer in 2008.

Malty and bready, this is a beer with lots of pastry character — including graham crackers and gingerbread. Slightly fruity — apples, mostly — as you drink, with just a touch of baking spice on the nose. Ultimately there’s not a lot of nuance on the finish, as the mouth-filling body takes over and muscles everything else out of the way. Interesting heft for a weissbier. 5.5% abv.

B / $9 per six-pack of 11.2oz. bottles / warsteiner.us

Review: Dogfish Head Festina Peche

dogfish head festinaDogfish Head’s Festina Peche is a sour session beer, a “neo-Berliner Weisse” that is brewed with peach concentrate, creating a weird melange of a brew. Sour beers are not normally up my alley, but Festina Peche has charms. The peaches are clear and fruity, and the sour underbelly comes across something like tart cherry juice. The fizzy body gives it the air more of a seltzer or soda than a beer, an effect that is amplified by the very small amount of hops used in its creation. A curious diversion and a fun way to explore a virtually extinct beermaking style, particularly on a hot summer day.

4.5% abv.

B / $11 per four-pack / dogfish.com

Review: Monday Night Brewing Eye Patch Ale, Fu Manbrew, Drafty Kilt

monday night brewing eye patch aleI may have found a new favorite craft brewery. Monday Night Brewing, based in Atlanta, has four beers in its arsenal, and more on the way. We got to sample three of them, with outstanding results. Thoughts follow.

Monday Night Brewing Eye Patch Ale – This India Pale Ale is just about perfect for the style. While a little light on the bitterness (46 IBUs), it makes up for it with class. Lots of nuttiness, solid caramel (not too sweet), very light coffee bean notes on the back end. Modest, with plenty of hops but balanced and kept in check. Most importantly it’s quite refreshing and brisk, a lively summer afternoon brew and friendly to food, also. 6.2% abv. A

Monday Night Brewing Fu Manbrew – Not a style I normally gravitate to, this Belgian-style wit beer actually brings it home. A rush of pastries — pancakes? — is met by a spicy backup, cinnamon and baking spices, gingerbread and more. Very well balanced, with a modest yet silky body — though perhaps too sweet and not bitter enough for some drinkers. Not me, in this case. Surprisingly lush and gone all too soon. Plus, any beer that quotes G.K. Chesterton on the back label is OK in my book. 5.2% abv. A

Monday Night Brewing Drafty Kilt – A chewy Scotch ale, loaded with coffee notes, dark chocolate, and hazelnuts. This is less of an immediate success than the brews above, but plenty charming and rich. It’s more of a fireside brew, with smoky underpinnings and a long, brooding finish, than a summer sipper. Easy to drink, though. 7.2% abv. A-

each $9 per six-pack / mondaynightbrewing.com

Review: Magic Hat Blind Faith, HiCu, Elder Betty

blind faithMagic Hat never met an ingredient it couldn’t turn into a beer, and this week we look at three new brews from the company — one a relatively straightforward IPA and two unique concoctions that you’ll no doubt find intriguing, at least to read about.

Magic Hat Blind Faith – This IPA is described as “well balanced,” but I get a strong coffee character from it, with chocolate on the finish. These flavors are a bit unusual for IPA, but they don’t dampen my enthusiasm for an otherwise chewy and rounded beer that has a solid slug of bitterness behind it. 6.2% abv. B+

Magic Hat HiCu – HiCu? Hibiscus and cucumber. Hmmm. A sniff brings out — miraculously — both of those elements, and I’m still trying to figure out whether I like it. It’s got two components that are bizarre to start with in a beer, and which arguably have no business being together, either. Ultimately, it’s the cucumber component that really takes over and doesn’t let go, channeling the spirit of the veggie tray into an otherwise indistinct English Ale. 4.2% abv. C

Magic Hat Elder Betty – You can probably guess that elderberry is the oddball ingredient in this Magic Hat brew. It’s a strange one, a Hefeweizen that only hints at the distinctively fruit on the nose. Take a sip and the unmistakable sweetness attacks you much more strongly, balancing out the biscuity notes of the beer with a tart and fruity finish that, well, tastes like elderberries. Hard not to like but difficult to love. Reviewed from can. 5.5% abv. B

magichat.net