Category Archives: Beer

Hands on With Miller’s “Punch Top” Can

miller lite punch hole 300x218 Hands on With Millers Punch Top CanFirst came the wide mouth. Now comes the punch top.

By now you’ve seen the ads touting Miller’s newest beer can technology: A little hole opposite the can’s mouth designed to prevent the “glug” effect, caused by air rushing into the can to replace the outgoing beer through the same orifice that the beer’s coming out of. Give air another way in — the way you do when you punch a hole in a can of tomato sauce or Hawaiian Punch (ah, the old days…) — and things go a lot smoother.

I tried out the can and it works as advertised. Don’t punch the hole and beer glugs out the way you expect it would. Punch it and the pour is smooth… and faster. You can see it for yourself in Miller’s own video (below). There’s no video trickery there. It really pours much more smoothly. The only real trick is figuring out how to punch the hole (Miller sent me a special device to do it but suggests you can use just about anything, even a carefully folded dollar bill if you’re in a pinch).

Now why would Miller do such a thing? Because they want you to have a cleaner pour of your beer, smoother, faster, and less messy. They absolutely, categorically, positively do not want to make it easier for these cans to be shotgunned. Period.

Review: Red Brick Old Stock Ale and Wee Heavy

Brewing out of Atlanta, Georgia, Red Brick offers the Brick Mason series alongside its year-round core brands. This series focuses on higher abv beers with more unique ingredients (such as the smoked vanilla beans in Vanilla Gorilla). This week, I was able to get the chance to review two beers from this series.

Red Brick’s Old Stock Ale starts as a blend of three different ales — one that’s been oak-aged, one that’s been heavily malted, and one brewed with citrus and star anise. These beers mix together to create a transparent, albeit dark, cherry color. The nose is complex and has a lot of different components to it, but the ones that pop the most are the ones that I wasn’t expecting to see in this style of beer. Rather than the malts driving the aroma, it is more sugar-coated fruits that are the focus. Orange peel, plums, and raisins are the most noticeable, and a kick of alcohol astringency draws this into an almost Belgian-esque territory.

A bittersweet cocoa component appears on the palate that isn’t there in the nose. The fruits return here again, especially the orange, but they are kept in check and now they enlist the ranks the star anise. Encompassing all of these characteristics is a mild, toasted oak note that is more of an additional complexity rather than a full-fledged flavor, but it adds more depth to an already loaded taste. As it warms, a surprisingly potent punch of vanilla arrives which isn’t present at all at lower temperatures. The one drawback to this beer is the amount of alcohol heat in this; although I’m not a total stranger to the style, the alcohol just didn’t play well with the orange for me. But to be honest, that is some fine nitpicking, as the rest of this beer is a unique twist on an Old Stock ale. 7.9% abv. B / $3 per 12oz bottle

The newest entry into Red Brick’s Brick Mason series is its Wee Heavy. Normally, Scottish ales have a signature, strong caramel note to it and may use a specialized type of yeast, but the first thing I immediately noticed from the aroma in this is the addition of peated malt so that you really get that Scotch connection. It’s smoky, salty, and has a twinge of iodine in it, and then the caramel comes in to give it a rather robust, almost herbal, nose.

In the taste, the caramel does play a bigger role and there’s also a slightly spicy note from the hops. The peat is still the biggest factor, sweeping in about midway through and carrying the flavors to new levels. The smokiness is prominent, but there’s also an oceanic angle to this as well, with some saltwater, seaweed, and iodine, all drawing from the peated malt. The biggest and most unique advantage that Red Brick’s Wee Heavy has over its competition is the peaty smokiness. Not only does this help curb the sweetness that is usually prevalent in this style, but it helps it live up to the Scotch Ale name. 6.5% abv. A / $3 per 12oz bottle

Brewery Spotlight: Epic Brewing Company (Part II)

Continuing from our recent Brewery Spotlight, today we are rounding out the last few beers from Epic Brewing Company.

Hopulent IPA looks every much the part of an imperial IPA, with a dark amber body, snow white head, and cloudy appearance, but despite this and the name, this isn’t your run-of-the-mill hop bomb. I wasn’t sure if this was on account of it being a relatively old bottle for an IPA (this was from Release #27, brewed on August 18, 2011) or if Epic brewed it as such, but this has a balanced aroma full of caramel sweetness. That isn’t to say that the hops don’t come through completely, but they are muted and veiled.

If the nose let on that this wasn’t a hop-forward beer, the taste certainly tries its best to fight that notion. The initial sip brings a rather strong bitterness that is only accentuated as one continues to drink. It’s times like these that I am thankful that the malts are so present, as they really help to cut that bitterness. Much like in the nose, the hops fall off shortly after the strong rush, leaving the tropical fruits in favor of a sweet, rich caramel and toffee, and this comes across prominently. In fact, at the current age of this beer, this could pass as an aggressively-hopped American barleywine. I don’t really consider myself an ‘IPA-purist,’ where if an IPA is older than a month that it is past its prime, but I can’t help but feel that this would be a lot better if fresher. Right now, the malts dominate this beer outside of the first few moments, with a sweet finish. That being said, if you like a more ‘balanced’ IPA, then this may be right up your alley. C+ / $8 per 22oz bottle

Amber ales are sort of a grab bag in terms of what kind of qualities you can expect from them. Some, like Troegs’ Nugget Nectar, is essentially an IPA wrapped up in ruby wrapping paper, while others focus more on the malts and their sweetness. Epic’s Imperial Red Ale is more along the lines of the former, but exhibits a pleasant balance. The first whiff of the nose brings a slightly spicy quality mixed with a somewhat astringent alcohol smell. I lent the spiciness to the hops, but there’s also a fairly strong caramel presence here as well. As it opens up, these blend together smoother, which helps cover the alcohol.

Initial tastes are pleasant mixtures of hop and malt, with a focus on hop resin. There is a clear distinction between the spicy, and at times fruity, hops and the toffee-like sweetness of the malt, as the hops start and end the flavor with the caramel sandwiched in-between to serve as a distraction. The hops do have just a pinch of fruitiness to it, with the usual Cascade influences, but for the most part it is more earthy and spicy, which both compares and contrasts the malt in a good way. The alcohol comes in about midway through and lingers, hampering the overall taste. Overall, I would’ve liked to see some more direction. The hops and malt are in constant conflict, which keeps the mouth guessing as to where this is going, but at the same time it’s nice to have a balanced beer. The one major flaw I can find with this is the amount of alcohol presence. B / $10 per 22oz bottle

Of all the Epic Brewery beers I’ve reviewed, Spiral Jetty is probably the most ‘ordinary.’ There are no exotic ingredients or unique fermenting techniques and it is released under the Classic Series line, which Epic describes as the ‘not so basic, basic brews.’ But even with the lack of fanfare, I actually really enjoyed this beer, and at times, more so than some of the limited offerings. Despite the bare-bones approach to an Indian Pale Ale, Spiral Jetty’s aroma brings a clean hop influence which is fruity and floral, and even has some notes of resin without being overly abrasive. There’s a decent amount of malt here as well, but it’s essentially hop-forward most of the way.

The hops continue to be the focal point in the flavor, with a grassy, lemony citrus taking the stage for most of the taste. It’s overall a fairly mild flavor, with the hops giving off their fruit and floral notes without being overbearing. The malts swoop in during the finish to add a touch of sweetness. I have to admit that I really enjoyed the simple, yet flavorful view towards this beer. It’s not amazingly complex, but what it does, it does well with a no-frills type of enjoyment. B+ / $6 per 22oz bottle

Moving away from the hoppy spectrum, Epic’s Imperial Stout is an exercise in roasted malts. Straight away, the nose opens to an aroma that is more reminiscent of this morning’s coffee rather than a beer, but after letting it air out, I got a lot more dark chocolate and star anise underneath the roast. There’s even a slight waft of fruit that fleetingly comes into play, reminding me of a Terry’s Chocolate Orange, but it leaves just as swiftly as it arrives.

The pitch-black body precludes that this imperial stout is brimming with flavor and it doesn’t disappoint. Roasted malt floods the palate and if you had any doubts about it, some more comes after that. It’s almost like a burnt roastiness, like over-steeped coffee grounds mixed with real pure cocoa. The licorice comes through strongly as well. The hops and fruit are nearly completely absent here, with perhaps a very slight tint in the finish. This was my favorite Epic beer to date; its Imperial Stout is an unabashedly malty beer that doesn’t mince its bitterness and roast.   A / $12 per 22oz bottle

Although the season for pumpkin beers has come and gone, Fermentation Without Representation isn’t your typical beer for the style. Epic teamed up with D.C. Brau for this collaboration, which uses a porter as a base to help give some complementing features to the pumpkin, such as chocolate and some coffee. Speaking of the pumpkin, Epic and D.C. Brau stuff over 200 pounds of the gourd into each batch as well as adding five different spices and Madagascar vanilla beans. This is a beer that is more at home on the dessert table after Thanksgiving dinner rather than celebrating the pumpkin harvest!

The aroma is interesting and awkward at once. I was hard-pressed to find much pumpkin in this as the malts and spices dominate the nose. Ginger, vanilla, and cinnamon contribute the most, and they aren’t afraid to border on overpowering. Similarly, roasted malts and a bittersweet chocolate follow the spices to help curb their effects.

In comparison to the nose, the taste actually mellows out the spices in a way, as the chocolate plays a bigger role that helps this beer overall. The spices are still integral to the overall profile, but they flutter in the background as they should. I’m not one to invoke the purity of the Rheinheitsgebot, but I wanted to actually experience some pumpkin in a pumpkin porter and this beer finally delivers on that front in the finish. That being said, I would still file the pumpkin as a tertiary thought at best, mingling among the malts and spices. B / $10 per 22oz bottle

Review: Shock Top Lemon Shandy

From now until the end of July, our friends at Shock Top are offering this seasonal release, a classic Lemon Shandy reminiscent of the classic beer and lemonade combo.

It’s not my favorite from this brewery: The base beer is a lightly spiced Belgian wheat brew, which is harmless enough with a bit of coriander to offer intrigue, but the lemon flavor — which comes on in the finish — feels fake, or rather more like bottled lemon juice than lemonade. The aftertaste is sour and leaves a chemical impression. A real shandy should be sweeter and more refreshing. While this concoction is light enough for pre-summer drinking, it’s not really any more interesting than grabbing a bottle of Bud Light.

4.2% abv.

B- / $8 per six-pack / shocktopbeer.com

shock top lemon shandy Review: Shock Top Lemon Shandy

Brewery Spotlight: Epic Brewing Company (Part I)

This week I’m going to start a new series of entries called “Brewery Spotlight.” These posts will look at multiple beers from a brewery’s portfolio with the hope of comparing, contrasting, and pointing out characteristics that are common among different beers, either because of water, house yeast, or preferential hop strains by the brewers.

Our inaugural spotlight will focus on Epic Brewing Company out of Salt Lake City. While Utah isn’t exactly a hotbed for all things alcoholic, you wouldn’t realize that by looking at its offerings. Encompassing three different product lines titled Classic, Elevated, and Exponential, Epic Brewing’s beers cover an extremely wide style range of beers and even some unique twists!

Brainless on Peaches combines the yeasty effervescence of a Belgian with the oakiness of wine, Brainless of Peaches starts as a golden ale before receiving a dose of peach puree. After fermentation, Epic Brewing funnels the beer into French Chardonnay casks from Sawtooth Winery for aging. I could recognize most of the base notes and the beneficial qualities of the peach and barrel-aging when I smelled this, but none of it exactly jumped out at me. Sugary peaches, Belgian yeast, oak, grape, and white wine all vie for position with bit of grain and breadiness to go around as well.

Much like the nose, the flavor doesn’t have one particular note that resonates above the rest. Even before the peaches hit I got a grainy yeast flavor, probably from the champagne yeast, which helps with the body but isn’t exactly a tasty flavor. Even the peach isn’t a front-runner, as it is content to sit back, reveling in its sweetness. The barrel is pretty noticeable, though, as the oak is subtle yet distinct, along with the chardonnay grapes which combine surprisingly well with the champagne yeast and has the added benefit of imparting a wonderful body and mouthfeel to this beer. B- / $12 per 22oz bottle

Brainless on Cherries has a similar life story to Brainless on Peaches in that it uses the same base Belgian golden ale base and undergoes secondary fermentation and aging within French Chardonnay casks. Obviously, this version substitutes the peach puree for cherries. This has the additional effect of giving it a nice, ruby appearance. However, similar to Brainless on Peaches, the fruit doesn’t take over the way I wanted it to, as the cherries give a pleasant tartness, but the smell is a combination of oak, cherries, grain, and even a touch of vanilla.

Usually when you think of cherries added to a beer, you expect a somewhat sour flavor,  but don’t be surprised when this doesn’t taste like it. The cherry comes across more as earthy, as if the skin was mixed in with the puree. I actually think the Chardonnay grapes are the most distinguishable flavor in this beer, along with the barrel. As in the nose, I’m getting a fair amount of grain and malt, but unlike Peaches, not a ton of alcohol.  B- / $12 per 22oz bottle

Hop Syndrome Lager is one of Epic Brewing’s summer seasonals and is brewed with the expectations of quenching thirsts while still delivering on the promise of big flavor and bold hops (unlike some lagers out there…). While the appearance isn’t too far out of the ordinary for a lager, consisting of a pale straw body, it does build a giant, clumpy head that lasts almost as long as the beer does. Not only does this look great, it gives the beer an ample springboard to release its aromatics. Epic Brewing got the name of this beer just right, as the nose is full of pungent hops that run the gamut from floral to spicy to fruity. I got a lot of black pepper, pear, and apple, and as strange as it sounds, even a touch of cinnamon.

On the palate Hop Syndrome is a little tamer, as a floral grassiness takes over that would make this beer seem like the perfect “lawnmower” beer, but it’s also complex enough to sit down with to enjoy the flavors. The fruits tend to fall away a little here as the hops become more bitter, but a kick of lemon zest helps cut through it.  B+ / $8 per 22oz bottle

The Sour Apple Saison is a unique twist on the Saison style. Typically classified as yeasty, grassy, and dry, saisons can also bring notes of funk or spiciness. Epic Brewing crafts Sour Apple Saison in the latter fashion and loads it up with more kinds of spice than I have ever encountered within the style. The beer is officially brewed with coriander, grains of paradise, anise, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger, and nearly all of these come across on the nose. Immediately after pouring, I could smell this beer and the copious amount of spices present. Coriander and ginger are easily the most aromatic of the group, with pinches of nutmeg and clove following. In a first for a saison, I actually am not getting a whole lot of grain or yeast in the nose, as the spices carry this from start to finish.

Despite the name, the taste doesn’t really have a whole lot of sourness to it… in fact I am hard-pressed to even say it’s tart. It does have a bit of apple to it which isn’t so apparent in the nose, but again, much of the flavor is derived from the spices. Here, the cinnamon seems to relax in favor of star anise, and the ginger is just as prominent as before. I am also getting more of the typical saison notes in the form of yeast and grain breadiness. I couldn’t really discern much of the other spices, but that’s probably for the best, as too much spice would’ve derailed this beer.  A- / $12 per 22oz bottle

Smoked & Oaked is the off-spring of a Belgian beer after mating with a Colorado whiskey barrel. Even the appearance looks daunting, as a thick liquid with a small head slowly fills the glass as it’s poured. The nose brings a lot of different characteristics and it takes a few minutes to actually digest what they are. A mild yet forward smokiness comes out first, mixing with the whiskey to help cut some of the sweetness that wants to explode. This gives the effect of imparting a strong sweetness without it being cloying, so the yeast and caramel can develop without fear of overburdening the senses.

Epic hit the nail on the head by using adjectives for the name of this beer, because the flavors all relate to the smoked and oaked aspect. The initial tastes are almost exclusively smoked malts and wood which makes it enjoyable especially during the colder months as I just think of a warm, smoldering fireplace. There is a logical transition here as the whiskey brings a sweetness that leads to the more sweet malts and yeast, so you get a smoky, alcoholic, sweet fruit quality that exudes an alcohol-soaked raisin quality. All the while it is smooth and balanced so that one facet of Smoked & Oaked doesn’t define it, but rather it’s the sum of the parts.   A / $12 per 22oz bottle

epicbrewing.com

We Review George Killian’s Irish Red: New Recipe, Packaging

Killian’s was a big hit around when I was in college. I’m sure I drank plenty of it then, but haven’t even thought about it in the last 15 years or so.

Now, as we head into St. Patrick’s Day, Killian’s Irish Red is revamping its recipe and repackaging the beer. The new recipe, per the company, “results in a rich, roasted, full-bodied, well-balanced lager that maintains the beer’s deep ruby red color, but links it more closely to the beer George first brewed back in Enniscorthy [in 1864].”

I obviously have no “original” Killian’s for comparative purposes, but my memory of it isn’t particularly exciting. I remember the red-hued beer as relatively thin and unremarkable, but certainly a more savory option than Miller Lite.

The new Killian’s is indeed a bolder beer, with a mouth-filling nutty and malty character studded with caramel notes that together certainly scream power, while not exactly offering much balance, just a somewhat muddy hodgepodge of malt shop tones. Killian’s remains perfectly acceptable on game day or when there’s a big special at happy hour, but those seeking something more refined won’t likely be wowed.

B- / $8 per six-pack / georgekillians.com

george killians irish red 2012 bottle We Review George Killians Irish Red: New Recipe, Packaging

Review: Shock Top Wheat I.P.A.

Our mohawked friends at Shock Top are experimenting again with something new: A wheat beer made in an India Pale Ale style. Can that be done???

I won’t pretend to be the beer expert that our resident beer guy Greg Bruce is, but Shock Top’s Wheat IPA really is as curious as the company says it is. An unfiltered IPA brewed with wheat, citrus peel, and coriander, it’s got the best of both worlds. The cloudy amber brew needs no squeeze of orange or lemon on the glass, but the citrus peel character isn’t particularly overdone in the bottle. Like the coriander, it’s more of a hint and an essence that lingers in the finish than a heavy flavoring agent.

And then there’s the flipside of the brew, that bracing bitterness that’s part and parcel of the IPA experience. It works, surprisingly well, in the package. The wheat gives it a much bigger body than you often get with IPAs, and those citrus notes prove to offer a perfect counterbalance.

I’d drink this any time.

5.8% abv.

A- / $8 per six-pack / shocktopbeer.com

Shock Top Wheat IPA Review: Shock Top Wheat I.P.A.

Review: Newcastle Founders Ale

Newcastle has been on a tear lately with limited edition releases. A whopping four more are on the way for 2012. Here’s the first: Newcastle Founders Ale.

This English-style ale is light in body, in keeping with the Newcastle house style. Designed for Spring drinking (on sale through April), it is lightly sweet and lightly hopped, offering toasty bread, light caramel, and easy malt notes. Honestly, it’s a pretty mild brew, a bitter sweeter than off-the-rack Newcastle but not full of a lot of definition beyond that. Certainly the least bitter of the Newcastle brews I’ve sampled to date, it has an interesting fruitiness to match its barely-there burnt sugar finish.

4.8% abv.

B / $8 per six-pack / newcastlebrown.com

newcastle founders ale Review: Newcastle Founders Ale

Review: Avery IPA

Avery alludes to the traditional objective of IPAs (English breweries used to load their beers with hops to help preserve it during the long journey to India) with the rustic, global label on this brew, and one gets the idea that this could probably endure the journey across a few oceans. Thankfully, this Colorado brewery is close to home for many states in America.

Pouring a clear amber color, Avery’s IPA is capped with a bubbly head, which leaves behind thick clumps of white foam as it recedes. The nose on this exudes hops from the start, with a strong grapefruit and citrus beginning with traces of pine as well. I was taken aback by the potency of the malt bill in this, as you get a brown sugar-esque sweetness in the finish.

The taste brings on a two-sided attack on the palate. At once you get a strong sweetness from the malts which serves as an excellent foil to the bitterness that come sweeping in shortly after. The Cascade and Centennial hops are the most prominent, delivering a triple threat of spicy, floral, and citrus flavors, all the while piling on more and more bitterness. The finish seems to blend a nice proportion of both sweet and bitter, with a subtle alcohol heat.

This finishes pretty clean, but leaves a bitterness on the palate and the hops numb the tastebuds after a while. This is an IPA that doesn’t focus on being a hop bomb, but is still able to promise a lot of hop flavor while balancing it nicely with the malts. One of the downsides of Avery’s IPA, however, is that as you drink, the bitterness begins to pile on and take away from the drinkability.

B / $9.99 per 6-pack / averybrewing.com

Avery IPA Review: Avery IPA

Review: Twisted Pine Ghost Face Killah

Touted as “the hottest beer this side of Hell,” Twisted Pine’s Ghost Face Killah takes a style of beer unknown to many (chile beers) and smashes any semblance of tame spice. Ghost Face Killah is brewed with six different types of peppers – including Anaheim, Fresno, Jalapeno, Serrano, and Habanero – but the calling card (and allusion to its name) is the inclusion of the Bhut Jolokia / Ghost Pepper. For those who don’t know, the Ghost pepper is about 170 times hotter than a jalapeño and 8.5 times hotter than a habanero and is more commonly used as a weapon within hand grenades and pepper spray than an actual culinary ingredient. Full disclosure: I am not much of a spice lover… When wanting to actually enjoy my food, the hottest I’ll go is probably Tabasco Habanero in terms of commonly available sauces, though I always enjoy trying spicier offerings.

Straight out of the bottle this couldn’t look less unassuming as it appears much like a mass-marketed light lager would with a pale yellow body and relatively meager head and retention. It is even surprisingly clear despite having a wheat base to it. It isn’t until you get your nose closer to the glass that you remember that this isn’t just any beer. A smorgasbord of chili and vegetal matter fills the aroma and obviously it is predominantly spicy, with the habanero and jalapeno surprisingly easy to pinpoint (although if I were more familiar with the other varieties here, it’d probably be possible to target them as well). I get maybe just the slightest notion of wheat and citrus, but I can’t say for sure if it’s my imagination or not.

This isn’t my first beer brewed with chili peppers, so I’m not exactly a stranger to heat in beers, but the first thing that comes to my mind when drinking this is “wow.” I don’t even have time to actually swallow my first sip before the heat kicks the door down. While other beers are a bit more subtle about it, the image on the label should tell you what this beer is all about. Any salvation the wheat could promise is swept away along with my tastebuds. The positive about this beer is that you can actually taste the peppers, although they sort of blend together rather than being easy to distinguish. But I hope you like heat because that and some pepper is all you’re getting here.

The impression left on the palate after this is both impressive and terrible. Impressive that such a small sip of this beer can leave such a lingering effect on the tongue and throat, and terrible because said effect is a vast amount of burning and numbing. The impression of this isn’t just a mouthfeel, but also a chestfeel and bodyfeel as even your extremities feel the power of the ghost pepper.

This is a beer in which a little goes a long, long way. I’ve had this glass in front of me for almost 30 minutes and I probably drank maybe 3 oz. The heat is intense, but after letting it mellow on the mouth, it gradually fades into a dull heat throb which isn’t so bad, actually. Honestly, I couldn’t imagine drinking a whole bottle of this solo. I am probably going to put the rest back into the bottle and either cook with it or disinfect the bathroom.

5.0% abv.

D+ (A for originality) / $3.50 per 12oz bottle / twistedpinebrewing.com

Twisted Pine Ghost Face Killah Review: Twisted Pine Ghost Face Killah

Review: Samuel Adams Alpine Spring

Spring is nowhere near in the air just yet, but Samuel Adams gave us a sneak peek at its latest brew, Alpine Spring.

Sounds (and kinda looks) more like a shampoo or a body wash, but let’s not judge on name alone.

Sam Adams describes this unique brew thusly: “This beer has the balanced maltiness and hoppiness of a helles, the strength and smoothness of a bock, and the unfiltered haze of a kellerbier. Although it’s categorized as an unfiltered wheat lager, this one-of-a-kind beer transcends any one style, and the crisp, citrus flavor notes make it a perfect offering for spring.”

Ultimately it comes across mostly as a relatively traditional (albeit unfiltered — Sam Adams’ first) German-style lager, light in body and modest with the hops. Lots of flavor in here, citrus on the nose, with a moderately sweet body reminiscent of honey and caramel. The finish is lasting, recalling milk chocolate and gingerbread, with more orange peel bringing up the rear. Not so much refreshing as it is filling and almost dessert-like.

5.5% abv.

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

samuel adams Alpine Spring Bottle Review: Samuel Adams Alpine Spring

Review: Brooklyn Winter Ale

Foregoing the path of spiced holiday ales, Brooklyn Brewery instead approaches the blustery weather as a way to promote its Scottish-styled offering, Winter Ale. This seems to fit perfectly with prototypical Scottish forecast of rain and dreary cold, so who am I to complain?

A burnished copper liquid with ruby highlights greets you in the glass which culminates in a frothy, tan head. The head retention is nice, and as it fades it leaves streaks of lacing. The aroma brings an undeniable Scottish influence, as the malts bring a caramel smell first and foremost. It is slightly fruity and bready as well, with a dried-fruit quality and hints of raisins and tobacco. Overall it’s somewhat sweet, and the breadiness comes across as shortbread.

The taste continues the sweet profile, but it’s kept in check with the earthy hops. The malts once again shine here, as caramel, brown sugar, and a little grain take over the beginning of the flavor. As it opens up and develops in the mouth, the hops add an earthy, woody, and leathery quality that seems to fit in nicely with the Scottish landscape Brooklyn Brewery is trying the paint here. The intermittent fruit in the form of apples, pears, and raisins helps the flavors pop that much more.

To be honest, I didn’t read up much on this beer before drinking it and was expecting another run-of-the-mill, overly spiced winter warmer. What I get instead is a top of the line, readily-available Scottish ale.

A- / $9 per 6-pack / brooklynbrewery.com

Brooklyn Winter Ale Review: Brooklyn Winter Ale

Review: He’Brew Genesis 15:15

Serving as the next installment of Shmaltz’ fifteenth anniversary series, Genesis 15:15, this robust barleywine stands at 13.4% abv and has two distinct characteristics that immediately make it pop amidst the competition: firstly, it’s aged for over 8 months in Sazerac 6 Year Old Rye whiskey barrels, and secondly, juice from pomegranates, figs, dates, and grapes are added as allusions to prominent fruits referenced in the Torah.

It looks pretty intimidating out of the bottle, as well. Genesis 15:15 shimmers a bold mahogany which fails to provide any sort of glimpse into its inner workings, but without much delay the smell slowly creeped towards me. The nose is heavy on the barrel and rye whiskey. I was expecting a lot of sweet fruits due to the juice additions to this, but it’s actually somewhat bitter and I found I was getting more roast and rye spiciness than anything. It’s pretty malty all-around, with a bit of grape in the background. In the mouth, this beer definitely explores the ingredients more comprehensively, as each fruit is clearly present, with the pomegranate and grape leading the way while the figs and dates serve more as a way to flesh out the back-end. It’s interesting to note how the barrel was so present in the nose, but seems to fall away in the body, as the oak isn’t well-defined, but the rye whiskey is still noticeable. This creates an interesting split of flavors; the fruit juices impart a tart tanginess, while malts and whiskey cut this with a bitter spiciness.

I enjoyed how the barrel-aging impacted this beer, as it adds a nice rye kick without dominating the other aspects. I thought the fruit would’ve been the main focus of this beer, but the malts seem to have the lasting appeal in flavor as well as the strong alcohol presence. A thicker, chewier body also helps accentuate these details.

B+ / $13 per 22 oz. bottle / shmaltzbrewing.com

Hebrew Genesis 15 Review: He’Brew Genesis 15:15

Review: He’Brew Jewbelation Fifteen

Commemorating fifteen years of brewing, Shmaltz and its He’Brew line of ‘Chosen Beers’ unleashes a Frankenstein-esque monster of a beer with the latest release of Jewbelation. Jewbelation follows the significance of this anniversary by incorporating 15 different malts, 15 types of hops – which are added at 15 scheduled times – and reaches an abv of 15%.

Given the cluster of ingredients in this, it’s hard to pinpoint specifics in the aroma as many different smells come into play at varying times. I am getting more of a malty profile rather than hoppy, with a strong focus on sweet, earthy notes in the form of molasses, brown sugar, leather, and coffee grounds before transitioning into a lighter, fruitier note on the back-end. There is a surprising amount of pine in here as well which seems to serve as a nice bridge between the grittier malts and citrus.

My first sip leaves me a bit torn as to which side this beer is pulling me towards. It is certainly full of rich, hearty malts, but right when I think it’s going to lead to a crescendo of sweetness, it pulls back suddenly into a rather bitter mid-palate where the espresso, chocolate, and flaked oats take over. This actually seems to be the strongest part of the taste, forsaking the noticeable dichotomy presented in the nose in favor of a taste that hits me all at once. The finish incorporates alcohol-soaked cherries, raisins, orange, pine, and some herbal qualities with a nice amount of booze present; not overbearingly so but enough to let you know that this packs a punch.

Coming into this beer, I was expecting the ‘15’ motif to essentially be a gimmick; a brewery wanting to commemorate its anniversary by going all out, but not in hopes of creating a drinkable beer. However, I was wrong in that regard, and it uses the ambitious recipe to deliver a beer that evolves and develops constantly. So while it’s hard to track how each ingredient impacts the beer, I can certainly appreciate that the overall profile undergoes multiple changes throughout drinking the bottle.

B+ / $6 per 22 oz. bottle / shmaltzbrewing.com

Hebrew Jewbelation 15 Review: He’Brew Jewbelation Fifteen

Review: Harviestoun Brewery Ola Dubh Ale Special 18 Reserve

 Review: Harviestoun Brewery Ola Dubh Ale Special 18 ReserveWhile I defer most of our beer coverage to Greg, this new, limited edition release was too close to my heart to pass up. It’s an ultra-dark ale that is aged in barrels that used to house Highland Park 18 Year Old Scotch whisky — one of my perennial favorite Scotches.

Gaelic for “Black Oil,” Ola Dubh is a whopper of a brew, thick with chocolate, roasted nuts, and big malt character. It looks like coffee, with a lasting, foamy head, and it tastes like it too, long with the kind of flavors and aromas you’d expect to experience at Starbucks. There’s also a lot of wood here, which adds a bit of bitterness to the finish. While the flavors of Highland Park whisky don’t exactly make it to the finished product, there’s a pepperiness in the middle of the beer that I’d like to think is imbued by old HP.

Definitely one to try if you’re a fan of darker beers and, of course, Highland Park.

8% abv.

A- / $13 per 12 oz. bottle / harviestoun.com

Review: New Belgium Ranger IPA

Utilizing three different types of hops and a dry-hop cycle, New Belgium’s Ranger is an affordable and readily available IPA that promises to satiate any hop-head’s appetite.

Pouring a pale straw goldenrod color with a surprising clarity, Ranger looks the part of a solid IPA. The clear body is what really intrigues me given the dry-hopping schedule, which normally tends to impart cloudiness. A ton of carbonation can be seen in the body, with multiple streams of bubbles creating a torrent. The lacing is great as well, with thick, generous foam covering nearly every inch of glass.

The aroma brings a vivid, fresh hop burst, which focuses mainly on the grapefruit and citrus, but also brings pineapple and a dank pine smell as well. It’s almost entirely hoppy, with only the slightest bit of caramel malt in the finish. However, given the amount of hops in the nose, I was expecting an equal amount of contribution to the flavor, but was left with a little less than what was promised. It is pretty bitter, taking a page from the hops, but the flavor seems to fall beyond the wayside. If the aroma gave the impression of a citrus-forward beer, the taste essentially discards that, instead leaving a touch of fruit and pine, replaced with malts and a strong, floral bitterness.

The body and nose on this are nice and enjoyable, but the flavor falls a bit short. Rather than extracting the rich, juicy flavor of the hops, New Belgium brings a bitterness that is not faithful to the nose.

B / $4 per 22 oz. bottle / newbelgium.com

DSCF5006 Review: New Belgium Ranger IPA

Review: Bell’s Winter White Ale

While some breweries use the holiday season as an excuse to release heavily spiced or cloying sweet beers, Bell’s deviates from this track with its Winter White Ale. Styled as a Belgian-yeast fermented witbier, Winter White pours cloudy and straw-colored before being capped by snowy head.

The yeast imparts the strongest aspect to this beer as the banana and distinct grape bubblegum are at the forefront of the aroma and taste. There is a surprisingly potent wheat characteristic to this as well that complement the bready malts. In the finish, lemon zest and cloves battle it out and for all intents and purposes it ends up as a draw. Although it is a little spicy, despite what Bell’s set out to do with this beer, the style inherently comes with some bite, so it gets a pass on that front.

A more phenolic take on the style, this isn’t going to blow any minds, but it’s definitely solid. I’m not sure how I’d feel drinking this in the dead of winter, especially given how light-bodied, crisp, and dry it is on the palate, as I seem to enjoy these beers more in the warmer months, but this serves as a nice alternative for those who can’t stand the cinnamon- and nutmeg-laced styles during the winter.

B / $2.50 per 12 oz. bottle / bellsbeer.com

Bells Winter White Ale Review: Bells Winter White Ale

Review: The Bruery Black Tuesday

Drawing allusions to the Stock Market Crash of 1929, The Bruery experienced its own “Black Tuesday,” which eventually led to the naming of this massive imperial stout. While brewing, one of the assistant brewers left a mash paddle in the tank, causing scalding water and grain to slowly flood the brewery and burn those trying to contain it. Like the stock market, though, The Bruery was able to recover and salvage the remains of Black Tuesday.

Living up to its name, Black Tuesday is a glossy, foreboding black. A surprising amount of carbonation and bubbles can be seen slowly rising up the sides of the glass, continuously feeding and resupplying the tan head. Black Tuesday comes across as bold and brash in the aroma, as dark chocolate, anise, roasted malts, and alcohol all battle for top marks. For being aged in bourbon barrels for fifteen months, Black Tuesday doesn’t display as much as the barrel as I would’ve expected. The bourbon is buried underneath most of the sweetness and alcohol heat, but there is a noticeable amount of vanilla that helps cut through some more of the abrasive flavors. As it settles on the palate, it continues to develop and evolve, and the sugary sweetness of the malts lends it an alcohol-soaked fruit flavor.

It is no surprise that at 18.3% abv, this beer is pretty hot in terms of alcohol presence, but I have to say that the flavors go a long way in covering it. However, that aspect coupled with a sweet profile makes this a sipper and I would highly recommend splitting this at least two ways!

A / $30 per 750ml bottle / thebruery.com

The Bruery Black Tuesday Review: The Bruery Black Tuesday

Review: Founders CBS (Canadian Breakfast Stout)

Nothing quite signifies the change of seasons so strikingly as the tendency for breweries to release thicker and heavier beers in the colder months. It therefore seems fitting that Michigan-based Founders chose this time to release its Canadian Breakfast Stout, or CBS as it is affectionately abbreviated on the bottle. Formerly a draft-only offering, this release marks the first time CBS has been commercially bottled and is the third entry into the “Breakfast Stout” line, alongside Founders Breakfast Stout and Kentucky Breakfast Stout, which is aged in bourbon barrels. CBS takes this progression even further by filling these bourbon casks with maple syrup, and after letting it impart its flavor to the wood, drains them and fills them with the beer. What we are left with is a 10.6% abv imperial stout which is brewed with chocolate and coffee and absorbs the bourbon and maple notes from the barrels in which it was aged.

Straight out of the bottle, the liquid looks exactly as I was expecting; thick, ebony, almost sticky. A mocha-colored and frothy head helps open the bouquet, which delivers that same bold espresso note that is so prominently featured in the other Breakfast Stout beers. Likewise, the bourbon is rich and sweet to help cut this roast and is aided by the chocolate. The biggest surprise is the apparent lack of maple syrup, which should be the calling card for this beer. I’m not sure if it’s the more robust characteristics of the beer overshadowing the maple, but it’s faint and only comes in around the finish. In the taste, the maple shines more so than in the nose, but I can’t help but say I would’ve wanted more. The full body is spot on for the style and huge flavors, with active carbonation to keep it from getting too heavy.

I haven’t tried this on tap, so this is my first exposure to the famed CBS, and I have to say it has lived up to my expectations. The adjectives that immediately come to mind are ones of high praise, from decadent to gourmet. The only fault I can levy against it is the somewhat muffled maple syrup characteristic, but it improves in the flavor. These bottles sold out quickly, so it may be difficult to come across one, but definitely seek one out if you can!

A / $25 per 750ml bottle / foundersbrewing.com

Founders CBS Review: Founders CBS (Canadian Breakfast Stout)

Review: Weyerbacher Insanity

How can a brewery improve on its already successful barleywine? Weyerbacher suggests throwing it in some bourbon barrels. Weighing in at 11.10% abv, Insanity is Weyerbacher’s twist on the English Barleywine style, letting its normal Blithering Idiot age in oak casks to pick up a slew of new, complex characteristics.

Upon first sniff, Insanity seems to struggle as if it wants to come across as an actual beer or whiskey. Strong aromas of bourbon, vanilla, slightly charred oak, and dark cocoa fill the air to complement the caramel and malts from the base beer. Insanity doesn’t fail to deliver on the palate, either, delivering a range of flavors balanced between sweet and boozy. The bourbon continues to play a prominent role, but doesn’t dominate, allowing the rest of the notes to develop and evolve. Expect the vanilla to be the focus with burnt sugar, toffee, and chocolate rounding out the taste.

While bourbon barrel-aged beers are quickly gaining popularity within the craft beer scene, being able to keep the beer balanced and drinkable is a difficult exercise that Weyerbacher seems to have figured out. Despite bursting with bourbon qualities, Insanity fails to take on the alcohol heat from it. What we are left with is an amazingly smooth ale that drinks much easier and more enjoyably than the 11.10% abv would have us believe.

A / $4.50 per 12 oz. bottle / weyerbacher.com

insanity Review: Weyerbacher Insanity