Category Archives: Beer

Review: Band of Brewers Third Shift Amber Lager (2013 Bottle)

third shift amber lager 259x300 Review: Band of Brewers Third Shift Amber Lager (2013 Bottle)MillerCoors is getting the creative juices flowing with a new brand straight out of the company think tank. The Band of Brewers, a collaborative group of brewers spanning across the MillerCoors network, have joined together to release to release Third Shift, an amber lager within the Märzen style. While February marks the first month that this beer is available for distribution and release to the masses, it has enjoyed success in the past by winning a gold medal at the Great American Beer Fest in 2010. It also has seen limited, tap-only allocations in the past year, of which Chris had the pleasure of testing last August.

Third Shift is dedicated not only to the brewers who worked throughout the nights to create this beer, but to all those who put in the effort and long hours in their pursuits and careers. And to these workers go the spoils, as their reward comes in the form of slightly buttery and toasted malt, a light honey-like sweetness, and earthy, spicy hops. An obviously German influence permeates throughout this beer, both in malt and hop selection, and everything is tied together with a crispness that leaves a smooth aftertaste in the finish.

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Review: Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA

120 minute ipa Review: Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPAWith Dogfish’s fan loyalty, this Imperial IPA from Dogfish Head can be a challenging bottle to find. The brewing process for this expression in the Dogfish lineup is quite intense, and so goes the flavor and the alcohol content.

120 Minute IPA goes through a unique brewing process that incorporates a massive amount of hops. The boil is continuously hopped for two hours, hence the name, with high-alpha American hops used. It is then dry-hopped daily for a month and finally aged another month with whole-leaf hops.

The nose on 120 Minute is quite strong, with the hoppy aroma slightly masked by the caramel, malt, and hints of vanilla. This Imperial IPA pours a relatively cloudy gold to amber color with a light head. As you first sip it you get a prominent amount of alcohol, and the strength of the brew becomes obvious immediately. The malt and citrus help tone the alcohol down, which accounts for the surprisingly sweet follow-through. The higher the alcohol content in a beer, the more residual sugar is left behind, making the beer sweeter.

The complex brewing process behind 120 Minute ultimately produces a quite delicious yet very strong Imperial IPA. Try holding out and letting this bottle age for a year or two, it will help bring out the complexities in flavor.

Between 15% – 20% abv

A- / $9 per 12 oz. bottle / dogfish.com

Review: Dogfish Head Rhizing Bines Imperial IPA

DFH RhizingBines.preview 300x165 Review: Dogfish Head Rhizing Bines Imperial IPAThis curious Imperial IPA is a collaborative project, the third in the “Life & Limb” series, between Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada, though the Dogfish DNA is more prevalent on the bottle and label. From the companies, you’re getting the best of both worlds: “Carolina-grown red fife wheat and Dogfish Head’s continual hopping from the East and Sierra Nevada’s estate-grown caramel malt and Torpedo dry-hopping from the West.”

The hops used here are Bravo (Dogfish Head) and #644 (Sierra Nevada), an experimental strain that has yet to be named.

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Review: Bell’s Hopslam Ale

hopslam ale Review: Bells Hopslam AleEach year Bell’s Brewery releases its version of a double IPA, and luckily for everyone the Michigan-based brewery makes an aggressive effort to get its beers out to as many people as possible.  Even some of Bell’s limited beers are not terribly difficult to track down.

This year’s Hopslam unleashes beautiful aromas of pine, citrus, honey, and lastly hops. The first thing you’ll notice about Hopslam is its nose; with six different hop varieties used, they add a surprisingly earthy aroma to the overall flavor profile. The nose of  this year’s batch starts with the beautiful aroma of pine needles, next is the wonderful accompaniment of grapefruit and citrus, and lastly you get the hops and honey.

The pour is a nice beautiful color of gold to orange/amber and the flavor is all there, right up front, very bitter and hoppy to start.  A very front-loaded beer, you get a ton of grapefruit/citrus notes to start it off then a lot of hops.  Like the name suggests this is not for those that do not enjoy a titular slam of hops and floral tones.

Even with its abv of 10%; it goes down exceptionally smooth, with a nice clean finish. During fermentation honey is added to the batch. This wonderful addition increases the alcohol, yet creates a nice, smooth follow-through.

A- / $3 per 12 oz. bottle / bellsbeer.com

Review: Shock Top Honeycrisp Apple Wheat

Do you like apples, like Will’s blonde friend? If so, you’ll love Shock Top’s latest brew, a Belgian wheat ale brewed with honeycrisp apple cider and spices.

Shock Top Honeycrisp Apple Wheat 112x150 Review: Shock Top Honeycrisp Apple WheatIt smells and tastes exactly how you imagine it will: Tangy apple juice on the front of the palate, then a very lightly bitter, quite sweet finish. Long and lasting, it’s hard not to describe this beer in terms that don’t invoke the word “Mott’s.” I say that out of all the love in my heart, but this is the kind of beer that will require a drinker with a very specific point of view.

5.2% abv.

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

The Evolution of Canned Beer: Samuel Adams Joins the Can Parade

sam adams concept can 200x300 The Evolution of Canned Beer: Samuel Adams Joins the Can ParadeEarlier today, Samuel Adams announced that it would start distributing beer in cans. As of now, only the flagship Boston Lager and Summer Ale are slated to hit the market in time for beach excursions, but it would not be a surprise to see Samuel Adams’ other popular offerings roll off the canning line, especially after the Boston Beer Co. already sunk millions into strategic planning, designing, and implementing the new format. In terms of design, Samuel Adams bucks the trend of normal 12 oz. cans in favor of a brand new vessel that features a wider mouth and an hourglass shape below the lip to help facilitate smooth liquid flow and ease of drinking, changes that were received favorably during consumer testing. (See concept at right.)

There has been no indication that Samuel Adams will discontinue the normal bottling line for the brands set to be canned, but initial reaction to the news has been mixed at best and surprisingly harsh from some fronts. After announcing the plans on Facebook, followers of the brewery chimed in with opinions ranging from hesitant to enthusiastic to sadly ignorant at times.

Two specific ideas strongly resonated in regard to the canning process and the image of canned beers. Many people posted concerns that the beer inside the can would simply taste different than that which is bottled, but advances in canning technology have led to a food-grade lining within the can that does not create any flavor differences. Basically, the fear that canned beer would taste metallic is simply unfounded, since the beer never touches aluminum either during the canning process or after it is packaged.

However, the second assumption about canned beer is easily the most egregious; the notion that only inferior or “cheap” beers are canned. This is a truly bizarre statement in today’s marketplace. Look at who’s canning now. Big-name heavy hitters Sierra Nevada and Brooklyn Brewery recently started selling their signature beers in cans (as well as continuing bottle production), Oskar Blues exclusively distributes cans, Surly from Minneapolis and Sixpoint from Brooklyn specialize in 16 oz. pounders,  and even smaller, but still respected, breweries like Anderson Valley have experimented in canning.

But perhaps the most damning evidence against the shaming of cans shines from a brewery that isn’t a household name, but is widely heralded amongst the craft faithful. The Alchemist, a small, family-run brewery located in Waterbury, Vermont, rose to fame from the success of its double IPA, Heady Topper. Once a beer that was only seen on tap at the brewery, it eventually received a very limited bottle release before transitioning to year-round-available beer that is only distributed in – you guessed it – 16 oz. cans. The kicker? Heady Topper is currently the #1 beer (and best double IPA) in the world according to Beer Advocate, beating out beers such as Russian River’s Pliny the Younger (and Elder), Westvleteren’s 12, and Founders’ CBS and KBS.

As long as Samuel Adams keeps its bottling line, the addition of cans can only be lauded. Not only are cans easier to recycle and transport, they are also accepted on the beach and on camping grounds, unlike glass bottles. If you are enjoying a beer at home, it shouldn’t matter if the vessel is a can or a bottle, since the final resting place for a beer is a glass. (You are drinking your beer from a glass, right?) With the implementation of linings that don’t affect the taste of the beer, cans should receive a warm welcome in your refrigerator or cooler this summer.

Review: New Albion Ale (2013 Reissue)

New Albion 6 Pack 200x300 Review: New Albion Ale (2013 Reissue)We didn’t always have Dogfish Head and Deschutes. Back in the day, you really only had the major beermakers to choose from.

Founded in 1976 in Sonoma, California, New Albion Ale was a real anomaly of the era. The company made just a few barrels of beer ever day, using small, craft techniques instead of mass market processes. New Albion shut down by 1982, but it in part opened the doors for a new industry of microbrewing.

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Review: Brewery Vivant Brewer’s Reserve Big Red Coq

big red coq Review: Brewery Vivant Brewers Reserve Big Red CoqIt takes confidence to step up to the bar and order a delicious Big Red Coq, a surprisingly hoppy red ale. That’s right, a hoppy red ale. Brewery Vivant’s Brewer’s Reserve Limited Release series is always something to pick up if you see it. A hoppy Belgo-American red ale, Big Red Coq is one of the most delicious red ales ever to grace these lips. Go ahead and laugh, the jokes are endless — as is this beer’s flavor.

After pouring into a nice tulip glass, the color is an opaque red to copper, with a hint of gold and a nice inch-high head to top it off. What is most surprising is the nose and flavor, more of a borderline IPA than a red ale. Again, it’s very floral, very hoppy, and slightly bitter with a good amount of citrus fruit that shines through and creates a great aromatic red ale.

The initial taste is very malty, a total juxtaposition to the nose of this beer. At 6.25% abv, the follow-through is a bit citrusy and only slightly hoppy. Truly the only downfall to this beer is the lack of hops in the body, especially for something with such a great aroma. With every sip, remembering that this is not an IPA is difficult. This deceptively floral nose leaves you wanting more, with a flavor profile more malty, slightly bitter and a bit more citrusy than you would expect. I do suggest tasting this Big Red Coq, if you can get your hands on one. It’s quite delicious and aptly labeled as a “Hoppy Belgo-American Red Ale.”

B / $3.50 per 16 oz. can / breweryvivant.com

Review: Crabbie’s Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer

crabbies ginger beer 248x300 Review: Crabbies Original Alcoholic Ginger BeerThe whole “ginger ale/ginger beer” thing is extremely misleading. As any partaker of the occasional can of Canada Dry can tell you, there’s no “ale” in there — it’s really just ginger-flavored 7-Up.

Ginger beer and ginger ale aren’t the same thing (The difference between the two is simple: Ginger ale was actually invented as a soft drink. Ginger beer is actually fermented and brewed.) But in reality, even high-end artisan ginger beer products like Fever-Tree don’t have alcohol in them.

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Review: Guinness Generous Ale

Guinness Generous Ale 134x300 Review: Guinness Generous AleThis seasonal English Dark Mild Ale slipped through the holiday cracks at Drinkhacker HQ, but we’re trying to atone and get a quick review up while it’s still on the market. (It should be readily available for at least another month or so.)

Surprisingly mild-bodied, it’s somewhat woody on the nose, exhibiting some mild baking/Christmas spice — a touch of cinnamon and clove, but very restrained. The body offers roasted nuts, a rounded maltiness with a restrained bittersweet finish. Surprisingly easygoing, with only a touch of cocoa powder and coffee grounds in the end to recall anything to do with Guinness as most of the world knows it.

5.6% abv. Sold in 11.2 oz. bottles (that’s generous?).

B / part of the Guinness Winter Variety Pack ($14 per 12 bottles) / guinness.com

Review: Newcastle Winter IPA

Newcastle Winter IPA 97x300 Review: Newcastle Winter IPAThe latest in Newcastle’s seasonal releases is this cold-weather brew, a Winter IPA designed for celebratory tidings.

The amber beer doesn’t come across as particularly IPA-like. It’s not particularly bitter or hoppy; in fact, it’s on the sweet side. Perhaps that’s what makes it “winter” — some vague baking spices in the finish that play with a malty body. Easy to drink, but also easy to forget in the end. It’s not exactly the winter warmer you might be expecting, but hardly a summer thirst-quencher, either.

5.2% abv.

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

Tasting the Craft Brews of Hangar 24

Not to be confused with Hanger One, Hangar 24 is a beermaking operation in Redlands, California, where it creates some 30 different brews. The company sent us 6 of its beers — in various size bottles — to check out. Thoughts follow.

Hangar 24 Amarillo Pale Ale- Straightforward American pale ale, hoppy but not overwhelmingly bitter, and sweeter than most pale ale styles. Some nuttiness on the nose leads to a modest orange character on the finish. In between: tasty hops. I’m not sure they drink anything like this anywhere near Amarillo (yes it’s named for the hops, not the town), but I’ll take it. 5.5% abv. A- / (12 oz.)

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Review: Magic Hat 2012 Winter Brews

Magic Hat is back with more seasonal beers, these designed for winter partaking. Thoughts on the three, available as part of the brewery’s Winter Variety Pack, follow.

Magic Hat Wooly ESB with Spruce – I was expecting a forest-fueled bomb but got, well, a fairly standard ESB, a mildly bitter brew with solid hops to it. Spruce? Tiny, tiny touches of it on the finish. Fine, nothing unique, though. 4.5% abv. B

Magic Hat Heart of Darkness Stout – A lovely chocolate stout, dark as night and flavored lightly with coffee grounds. Moderately rich finish, with ample sweetness and just a touch of the bitter stuff. 5.7% abv. A-

Magic Hat Encore American Wheat IPA – Another wheat-imbued IPA from Magic Hat, combining bracing hoppiness with bready wheat beer flavors. Brisk and hardly short of hops, it’s a lightly malty brew with plenty of kick. Solid IPA. 6.4% abv. A-

magichat.net

Review: Samuel Adams Utopias (2012 Release)

samuel adams utopias 10th anniversary edition 2012 300x200 Review: Samuel Adams Utopias (2012 Release)Our third look at Sam Adams’ Utopias — we also reviewed it in 2007 and 2011 — brings fresh eyes and fresh palate to one of the world’s most extreme beers.

A blend of ultra-boozy liquids, some aged up to 20 years old, this wild brew is a mixture of Triple Bock beers, sweetened with maple syrup, aged in Buffalo Trace Bourbon casks, and finished — unique to this 10th anniversary edition — in a combination of Tawny Port, Ruby Port, and Nicaraguan rum casks. It’s bottled — at 29% alcohol — in a one-of-a-kind decanter.

This year’s Utopias has a distinct Tawny Port character to it, on the nose and the tongue. Malty undertones are also hefty as you sniff this potent concoction. The body, as with other Utopias bottlings, is difficult to describe. It’s unlike anything else — and not akin to any beer you’re likely to have encountered. Huge malt, syrupy in consistency, is the driver, backed by deep raisins, roasted nuts, maple syrup, and chewy mushroom notes. My notes are similar to prior years, but I think the special barrel finishing has given this year’s version something unique — better balance, more nuance, and a clearer direction. However, that said, comparing this to the 2011 release (which I still have on hand in small quantities), I find the less syrupy 2011 somewhat more fulfilling.

Either way, it’s a one of a kind experience… at least ’til next year.

15,000 bottles made.

B+ / $190 / samueladams.com

Review: Dogfish Head Chicory Stout

dogfish head chicory stout 223x300 Review: Dogfish Head Chicory StoutWhen I drink beer, I rarely drink stout, and so it came as a real shock to me how much I’ve been enjoying Dogfish Head’s Chicory Stout, the utter antithesis of the lighter style beers I’m more likely to find in hand.

Brewed with organic Mexican coffee, St. John’s Wort, licorice root, and roasted chicory, Dogfish Head’s latest sounds a little insane. Yet all of this really works together, and quite wonderfully at that. Continue reading

Review: Pilsner Urquell (And Its New Cold-Shipped Delivery)

Pilsner Urquell is firing a new salvo in the battle for fresh beer. Light-struck, or “skunked” beer is a rampant problem for breweries, especially those overseas that need to ship product over a longer distance than domestic brewers. Pilsner Urquell is packaged in a distinctive green bottle, but, while attractive, it doesn’t do much to prevent ultraviolet and fluorescent light from penetrating it and reacting with the hops to cause those off-flavors and aromas. It’s not uncommon to hear consumers say that Pilsner Urquell and other beers in similar bottles, like Heineken and Grolsch, taste better in their native lands than what is offered on shelves in America, and light exposure is a big reason why.

But Pilsner Urquell has recognized this problem and is taking proactive steps to deliver a fresher beer to its fans. The brewery will be keeping the same green bottle, but redesigned its entire packaging to shield it from light and will use refrigerated trucks to cold-ship across the country. While expensive, the goal is to provide fresher beer that will attract a brand new segment of customers.
 Review: Pilsner Urquell (And Its New Cold Shipped Delivery)
However, faithful drinkers of Pilsner Urquell can rest easy. Besides the new shipping and packaging, what is inside the bottle has not changed. It still pours the familiar shade of light straw, clear and clean, topped by a tall, billowing ivory head. The cap has decent retention, but the lacing is somewhat meager.

Grassy, floral, and somewhat spicy hops are apparent in the nose, as well as a strong malt grain smell. The hops are fresh and crisp and really do provide a sharp contrast to bottles shipped under the old method. The aroma is also ripe with pilsner malt that ties everything together.

The overall flavor, while not overly complex, is traditional. Not much has changed within the brand from its original recipe in 1842, but there isn’t much to fix when it’s not broken. It starts with a bready flavor reminiscent of biscuits that gives it a rich texture to build off of, while the hops follow to seal the deal. The biggest notes come from these fresher hops, especially an earthy grassiness, subtle lemon, and even a somewhat bracing spiciness.

Time-tested flavors and ingredients combine to make this an easy-drinking pilsner that is a joy to drink. Pilsner Urquell is going the extra mile to make sure their beer is delivered in a cool, dark environment, so if you are new to the brand or looking for redemption from an off-bottle, seek out the new, cold-shipped packaging.

B+ / pilsner-urquell.com / $9 per six-pack

Review: Shock Top End of the World Midnight Wheat Beer

Shock Top end of the world 135x300 Review: Shock Top End of the World Midnight Wheat BeerOn December 21, 2012, the world will end. Drinkmakers are taking advantage of this by producing special tipples to get you through the apocalypse. Shock Top is wearing the End of Days right on its paper label, with its End of the World Midnight Wheat limited edition beer.

This just shipped last week, and it’s an unfiltered wheat beer made with chocolate malt and Mayan chili spice. This brew is pungent, a dark and ruddy red/brown with an appropriately hazy look to it. There’s big wheat and rye here, with lots of coffee notes. The body offers chewy bread, hay, and a barreled whiskey flavor. Slightly sour on the finish, just like the apocalypse.

6% abv.

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

Review: Tecate Michelada

tecate michelada 122x300 Review: Tecate MicheladaThe Michelada is one of those drinks with a million variations (The New York Times has a lengthy discussion about it here), but the essence of it is beer and spice — and often tomato juice.

Tecate has now released a pre-mixed Michelada, the first of its kind in the U.S. This one is of the non-tomato juice variety. It is a relatively simple blend of Tecate beer, natural lime flavor, and spices.

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Review: Limited Edition Beers of Magic Hat

Magic Hat is a new brewery to me, and the ungodly number of beer varieties it produces is challenging to get one’s head around. Packaged individually and in a number of variety packs, here’s a look at three of the newer offerings — all limited releases — from this South Burlington, Vermont operation. You can find all three of these, along with Magic Hat #9, in the company’s “Participation Variety Pak,” composed of brews selected based on a tally of votes from the company’s customers.

Magic Hat HI.P.A. -Traditionally styled India Pale Ale, with bracing bitterness, plenty of hops, and a slight underlying sweetness. Not at all heavy, despite the higher alcohol level. Nice fruitiness underneath: Citrus, with some orange peel and a touch of coriander. 6.7% abv. A-

Magic Hat Hex Ourtoberfest – A yummy, mild brown ale, caramel notes which open up with some orange notes in a wide-mouth glass. Maltiness is the key element here, lending a touch of sourness to the finish. Quite easy-drinking, though, at 5.4% abv. B+

Magic Hat Hocus Pocus – Not brewed since 2008. This lighter wheat beer was my least favorite of the bunch, but is still refreshing and enjoyable. Lemony with a malty body, it’s a hazy brew with plenty of mouthfeel behind it, but the very short, crisp finish is more reminiscent of simpler, summer beers. 4.5% abv. B+

magichat.net

Review: New Belgium Lips of Faith Spotlight – Cocoa Mole and La Folie

lof cocoa beer prodshot Review: New Belgium Lips of Faith Spotlight    Cocoa Mole and La FolieOne would assume that I had learned my lesson regarding chile beers after tasting Twisted Pine’s Ghost Face Killah. One would be wrong.

While Twisted Pine touted GFK as the hottest beer in the world, New Belgium instead takes a more subtle route. Although still spiced up with ancho, guajillo, and chipotle peppers, Cocoa Mole is balanced with caramel and chocolate malts to help relieve and complement the impending burn.

In terms of appearance, Cocoa Mole actually doesn’t look too out of the ordinary. Its color borders a dark, ruby red and brown, but it’s still translucent. I was expecting a big, thick, stout-like look, but even the sandy head is light and fizzy.

The initial whiff brings a very strong cinnamon note mixed with a little brown sugar, but soon afterward there’s a lot of earthy, gritty pepper. The spicy heat mixes with the vegetal aroma to hit home the message that this is chock full of chiles. As such, the malts are a little subdued here and I only got a pinch of cocoa.

Bold, flavorful ancho and chipotle peppers pace the taste, but the heat doesn’t kick in until a few seconds later, giving the full range of flavors time to settle in. This is where the cinnamon and brown sugar return; their sweet and spiciness serving as a cooling foil to the burning sensation that is now building. This isn’t mouth-ruining hot, but it does have a pretty big kick to it. As in the nose, the cocoa isn’t as big as I was hoping, but I did have my expectations for the chocolate set high. The finish is long with heat and flecks of caramel and bready malts interspersed within.

Overall I like this beer quite a bit as it isn’t afraid to bring the heat, but doesn’t rely on it entirely. There’s a nice composition of flavors here, and my only meaningful gripe against it is that there isn’t as much chocolate as anticipated. I enjoyed the cinnamon, but I felt some more malt could go a long way in making the mouthfeel more full and thick.

B+ / $8.99 per 22oz bottle / newbelgium.com

la beer prodshot sm1 Review: New Belgium Lips of Faith Spotlight    Cocoa Mole and La FolieStanding in stark contrast to the spice-laden Cocoa Mole, La Folie is a wood-aged, sour beer. Brewed in the Flanders style, these types of beers are typically somewhat fruity, acidic, and come with varying degrees of tartness.

In terms of this spectrum, La Folie easily approaches the extreme end. The first sip brings a huge huge amount of lactic sourness that overwhelms the palate. I have had the 2010 release of this beer and don’t remember that vintage being quite so mouth-puckering. After the tartness fades, a ripe fruit note follows to give a pinch of sweetness as condolences for how sour it was at first. Green apples and tart cherries form the bulk of the flavors, with a kiss of grape and oak that almost gives this a wine-like quality. There is some vinegar acidity, but it doesn’t detract from the overall flavor (as some red Flanders are wont to do).

Even when poured into the thick New Belgium goblet, La Folie still has an enchantingly dark mahogany tint to it and is just barely transparent. Both the head formation and lacing are solid and make it easy to fully enjoy the aromas spilling out of it; the soured fruit, wooden barrels, and pinch of vanilla enticed me the most.

A- / $8.99 per 22oz bottle / newbelgium.com