Vermont-based Woodchuck makes well over a dozen ciders. Recently we received this sample of Hopsation, a traditional apple cider that is infused with Cascade hops. As someone who’s hardly a cider fanatic, Hopsation is a surprisingly drinkable concoction. Some of that bitterness from a dosing of hops is just what that overly sweet-and-sour cider character needs, tempering things into a more balanced brew. While it’s not traditionally, overwhelmingly bitter in the way an IPA might be, it does have enough of a foresty/citrusy kick to elevate it above more typical, sugary, cidery fare.
B / $8 per six-pack / woodchuck.com
This Gordon Biersch seasonal is sold from November to January, a dark, double bock that’s just about perfect for the winter season. Rich and malty with subtle notes of cocoa and coffee, it’s a nicely balanced beer despite a relatively hefty 7.5% abv, which makes the finish a touch winey. Rounded and lush, it offers an almost chewy body that complements its burly flavor profile in impressive fashion.
A- / $7 per six-pack / gordonbiersch.com
Hey, it’s new editions of Hop Trip and Chasin’ Freshies — limited edition IPA seasonals from our friends at Deschutes. Here we go with reviews!
Deschutes Brewery Hop Trip (2014) – A hotter (and more full-bodied) beer than last year’s edition, this pale ale starts off piney but then reveals some chocolate and almond notes, adding an interesting counterpoint to the typical citrus/evergreen character. Quite enjoyable, with a curious touch of cardamom on the finish. 5.9% abv. A- / $9 per six-pack
Deschutes Brewery Chasin’ Freshies Fresh Hop IPA (2014) – This year’s release features Mosaic hops, an “It Hop” if there is such a thing, which gives this seasonal IPA a slight nutty edge to the usual, hoppy pine tree character. Resinous but balanced with notes of grapefruit, cinnamon, and gingerbread, this beer starts out gentle then builds to a bitter, crashing finish. Lots to like here if you’re an IPA nut. 7.4% abv. A / $6 per 22 oz. bottle
Georgetown Trading is the company behind John L. Sullivan Irish whiskey and James E. Pepper “1776” whiskey — and now the company has decided to get into barrel-aged beers, too. Proprietor Amir Peay explains:
We had been selling our whiskey barrels to some great brewers and always loved the beer they had been making, and wanted to do some type of collaboration but nobody was interested – so I found a contract brewer and we developed our own recipe and aged it in freshly dumped barrels from our James E. Pepper 1776 Straight Rye. We wanted to try something a bit different so instead of a porter or stout we went with an imperial brown ale. And the really great thing about this beer is that we have complete control over the supply / age / type of whiskey barrels we use because we have large stocks of whiskey and lay down our own stocks for aging. And even better we time it so our barrels get filled with beer no less than 30 days after the whiskey has been dumped – so you really get that great Rye whiskey finish.
James E. Pepper 1776 Ale is technically a barrel-aged American brown ale in line with other barrel-aged brews of its ilk. Thick and winey, this hefty ale piles on the chocolate and coffee right from the start, alongside some notes of smoked meats, molasses, and plenty of malt. There’s a moderate whiskey influence here — it comes across mainly in vanilla, cinnamon, and gingerbread touches on the finish, hallmarks of rye whiskey (though not particularly James E. Pepper rye whiskey, which I sampled again for this review). Otherwise it’s as powerful and punchy as almost any other barrel-aged beer, long on malty syrup and all but absent on the bitter side of things. Full of flavor, but super-boozy, so tread with caution.
A- / $NA (22 oz. bottles) / jamesepepper.com
Cross a chocolaty stout with a fresh IPA and you might get something akin to this, an odd but quite drinkable ale that comes across like a hybrid of two classic styles. Malty up front, the beer’s chocolate and coffee notes go toe to toe with some piney, lightly citrus-dusted hops, but in the end it’s the burlier, dessert-like chocolate malt that wins the day. The beer starts to pull its disparate components together in time for the finish, which is creamy and chewy, but just bitter enough to keep everything in check. Hell’s bells!
B+ / $NA (22oz. bottle) / starrhill.com
More and more consumer products are using beer and spirits in their creation, including these two artisan offerings, both of which rely on Victory Brewing’s Storm King Imperial Stout in their ingredient list. Some thoughts on eating your beer instead of simply drinking it follow.
Victorious B.I.G. Beef Jerky is an artisanal, all natural jerky made with Victory Storm King Imperial Stout. This is amazing stuff, tender and peppery and full of flavor… but nothing I could peg as any type of beer, much less an Imperial Stout. That’s not a slight — maybe the stout does its job behind the scenes, tenderizing and flavor-boosting the meat without leaving behind a specifically stouty character? Or maybe it’s just blown away by the natural flavor of the meat. I don’t much mind. Either way, it’s really delicious stuff. A / $8 ( 2 oz.)
Punch Drunk Hot Sauce – I liked this hot sauce, which marries ghost peppers with Storm King Stout and raw cacao, considerably less. Meant to give the impression of a mega-fiery mole sauce, the chocolate isn’t pumped up enough to offset the searing heat. Instead, the chocolate appears briefly at the start, but the heat promptly overwhelms things completely and, particularly, leaves no room for any sort of stout character. I’d love to see this in either a milder version, where the chocolate can shine more clearly, or in a version that just omits the sweet stuff altogether and goes straight for the heat. B- / $6 (5 oz.)
Any product that tries to pull off the play on words by subbing “cinn” (meaning cinnamon) for “sin” is already off to a bad start, and Angry Orchard’s cinnamon-infused apple cider doesn’t do much to change directions. The light touch of cinnamon on this cider — evident primarily on midpalate as just a dusting of Cinnabon flavor — ultimately does little to change the overall impact of the cider, which presents itself as a typically appley/muddy concoction that just tastes too much like Spring Break for me.
C / $8 per six-pack / angryorchard.com
2014’s winter brew from Deschutes is upon us, and this year’s Jubelale is a bit of a smoother operator. It’s got the standby nut and malt core, plus notes of licorice, coffee bean, mushroom, and mild hops. That isn’t a surprising lineup of flavors for Jubelale, but this year things feel restrained a bit, making this a more introspective beer, almost like a coffee stout, rather than the flavor bomb it can sometimes be. The finish isn’t so much creamy and mouth-filling as it is soothing and — almost — refreshingly wintry.
A- / $8 per six-pack / deschutesbrewery.com
The final round of BridgePort Brewing Company’s 30th anniversary line of beers is finally here: Trilogy 3 Brewers’ Class. This is a truly interesting beer, made in collaboration with the Fermentation Science Program at Oregon State University. (Did you know? My book on film criticism is a textbook at OSU!) Given little direction, the students and profs dreamed up a brown ale that’s been dry hopped, a nifty spin on an old standard.
Trilogy 3 is easily my favorite beer in the lineup. Tasting all three beers side by side, Trilogy 1 is now drinking a little strangely — too nutty and too corny on the finish. Trilogy 2 is faring better, but still suffers from a dearth of fruit or evergreen notes, essential for a big IPA win. Trilogy 3 stays a little closer to established beer “rules,” but the dry hops work surprisingly well as an adjunct to that classic nutty, slightly chocolaty brown ale. Giving it some pop and a piney bite on the finish, rather than that typical, muddy-sweet character that brown ales so often lack.
BridgePort will bottle the beer that consumers pick as their favorite as a year-round release starting in 2015. Consider my vote cast!
A / about $8 per six-pack / bridgeportbrew.com
It’s breakfast for happy hour with Stone’s latest, a limited edition beer that was previous bottled as a pilot project called Gallagher’s After Dinner Stout. Stone tinkered and reformulated Brian Gallagher’s brew to bring it to the masses, and here it is, a stout brewed with milk sugar lactose and coffee beans from San Diego’s Ryan Bros. Magnum hops and mild ale malt are the other primary components of the beer.
It’s a gentler expression of stout, made creamy, slightly sweet, and studded with ample (but not overwhelming) coffee bean character. The name is apt. If you take your coffee with plenty of milk and sugar in order to knock the bitterness of the coffee back, this beer’s for you, balancing a sweetness up front with stronger coffee and hops notes in the back. As it warms up and develops in the glass and on the palate, some interesting licorice notes emerge in the back of the mouth. All told this is not a style of beer I gravitate to in general, but in this format I find it easy enough to enjoy as these days start to chill down.
B / $11 per six-pack / stonebrewing.com