Deschutes’ Hop Henge continues its run of being “just OK,” with this year’s special edition — well, late 2015’s special edition — of its “experimental IPA” incorporating Mandarin Bavaria and Centennial hops (among others). Bitterness is ratcheted quite a bit down from last year to just 66 IBUs, the overall impact of all this being, well, not all that much.
There’s a citrus note here that west coast IPA fans will find familiar, but a burlier character forest floor character quickly takes hold. Notes of mushroom and licorice persevere, then a familiar piney character becomes evident. Here, though, it has more of a solvent note than I’d like. The finish is clean but, unfortunately, just a bit watery.
As always, this is a fun beer to try, but it just doesn’t add much to the IPAverse.
B / $6 per 22 oz. bottle / deschutesbrewery.com
A 50:50 blend of Warsteiner Pilsener and “grapefruit flavored drink” is what makes up this special edition concoction — marketed, oddly, as a special edition for winter drinking.
The results are largely as expected: lightly sweetened but largely sour citrus notes come in up front, followed by malty, somewhat musty, German beer character. Both manage to endure on the finish, giving the brew a strange schizophrenia, albeit one that isn’t wholly unpleasant. Sweet, sour, earthy… it’s got everything. For better or worse.
Update: Now arriving on shelves in April 2016.
C / $9 per six-pack / warsteiner.us
“The Unofficial Beer of Montana” is actually made in Wisconsin, but I doubt anyone’s checking the fine print in the Great White North.
What we have here is a lager as pale as the folks for whom it’s made, sold in 16 oz. cans emblazoned with a white horse and pastel mountains. Inside the can is nothing particularly noteworthy, though on a hot day or after sufficient exertion it will offer sufficient refreshment to pull you through til dinnertime. Both lightly sweet and malty, it’s a breakfast cereal in beer form, just chewy enough to come across as a touch heavier than a light beer.
The finish is fairly clean but unmemorable, though a beer like this clearly doesn’t have designs on overthrowing your favorite IPA or stout in your refrigerator. It’s picnic and party beer, built for summers by the pool or lake or what-have-you, the kind of places where beer in 16 oz. cans work really well.
B- / $8 per six-pack of 16 oz. cans / montuckycoldsnacks.com
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
Newcastle, in another collaboration with Caledonian, keeps hacking away at the IPA-brown ale hybrid. This time it’s a Foreign Extra, which means more hops, more alcohol, and more of pretty much everything. As with the prior experiments, this one comes across with that big nutty, malty character up front, lightly smoky at times with an element of mushroom and forest floor. The bitterness on the back end — at 65 IBUs it’s the most bitter Newcastle ever made — isn’t so much a refreshing piney character but rather an indistinct root-driven bitterness that only moderately refreshes. Fair enough on the whole, though. 6.5% abv.
B+ / $8 per six-pack / newcastlebrown.com
BridgePort’s latest is this IPA, which uses Centennial, Crystal, and the exotic Styrian Golding hops to give “CandyPeel” a “candy-orange” character. A dash of actual orange peel is added to the beer as well.
The results aren’t bad, though up front it’s less orange and more woodsy-mushroomy. The finish brings up more of those promised citrus notes, though, and though they are fun to experience they are a bit at odds with what has come before — which is all in all less bracing pine and more muddy waters. Fair enough, but not my favorite.
B / $8 per six-pack / bridgeportbrew.com