Review: The Traveler Beer Co. Jack-O Traveler Pumpkin Shandy 2017

The unofficial post-Labor Day arrival of autumn ushers in things people look forward to all summer long: college football, campfires, and everything consumable blessed with a generous infusion of pumpkin. The beer world is not immune to this trend. One trip down a local beer aisle presents a plethora of pumpkin flavored beers around this time of the year, ready for consumption in every style imaginable.

Burlington, Vermont’s Traveler Beer Company joins in the chorus with its latest offering: The Jack-O Traveler Pumpkin Shandy. The front-end is heavy with typical autumnal notes of gingerbread, clove, and little bit of nutmeg. This combo can be a bit potent on the first sips, so if a mouthful of pumpkin pie happens to suit your palate, this will do the job nicely. Over time the rough edges smooth out and there’s a splendid aftertaste of vanilla and ginger.

In a previous review two years ago, Chris found this particular offering too sweet and overwhelming. I can see where he would reach that conclusion. Perhaps the recipe has changed a bit, because as pumpkin beers go, there are far worse to be found lurking in the great pumpkin patch.

Pairs well with a dollop of Cool-Whip.

4.4% abv.

B / $7 per six-pack / travelerbeer.com

Review: Lexington Brewing Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale

The gateway to whiskey obsession for fans like myself tends to be beer, usually craft beer. So it’s no wonder that breweries the world over are aging beers in whiskey barrels. While whiskey tends to best complement very dark beers, like stouts, there are a number of lighter barrel-aged beers on the market today. One of the easier to find brews in this category is Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, produced by Alltech’s Lexington Brewing and Distilling Company in Lexington, Kentucky.

While the increase in barrel-aged beers has not coincidentally seen the demand for used bourbon barrels skyrocket, the folks at Lexington likely have their neighbors in the Bluegrass State keeping them in good supply. Their Kentucky Ale ale is aged for up to six weeks in freshly decanted bourbon barrels from unnamed Kentucky distilleries, and that bourbon influence is not at all subtle in this ale.

It pours with a light head and a golden amber color. The nose is all rich vanilla and oak, a predominance of aroma somewhat unusual even for barrel-aged beers. The approach is crisp and filled with caramel and toffee under a light, malty body. It’s immediately refreshing, which is unexpected given those big bourbon notes. Alltech has been making this beer since 2006, and my first sip of it years ago blew me away. The latest releases haven’t quite lived up to those first impressions, though. Despite the robust whiskey influence, it’s a little thin overall, and the flavor up front is sometimes fleeting.

8.2% abv.

B / $12 per 4-pack / kentuckyale.com

Review: Stone Ghost Hammer IPA and Farking Wheaton w00tstout 2017

Two new releases from Stone — one a spin in an IPA with an unusual hop strain, one a revival of the mother of all collaborations, the last version we encountered way back in 2013.

Stone Ghost Hammer IPA – This unfiltered, seasonal IPA features Loral hops, a strain which lends a distinctly floral character to the brew. This is a bit hit and miss, in the end. Aromatically, the florals — potpourri and heavily perfumed — totally dominate, reminding me a bit too much of grandma’s bathroom. The palate finds a much better balance, with boldly bitter notes melding well with grapefruit peel, classic piney notes, and a more subtle undercurrent of (fresher) flowers. 6.7% abv. B / $11 per six-pack of 12 oz cans

Stone Farking Wheaton w00tstout 2017 – This collaboration between Stone, Fark’s Drew Curtis, and actor Wil Wheaton launched to great fanfare in 2013, and it’s been updated regularly — with little tweaks here and there — ever since. This one seems to be much in line with the original, a mega-stout brewed with pecans, flaked rye, and wheat, and aged in bourbon barrels for good measure. A monster through and through, this year’s w00tstout won’t disappoint. As expected, it is quite sweet, with a focus on its very nutty, heavily Port-like character that winds its way toward dates, dried figs, and loads of Christmas spices. The finish meanders toward syrup — of the maple variety — but is more refreshing than you’d expect. All told, it’s one to share and savor with friends. Mind that abv, of course. 13% abv. B+ / $10 per 22 oz bottle

stonebrewing.com

Review: Woodchuck Gumption Citrus Freak Hard Cider

Gumption Citrus Freak is a spin-off of Woodchuck’s standard, circus-themed Gumption cider, which here blends apples with grapefruit and Cascade hops to create a unique and surprisingly refreshing combination.

The grapefruit is an impressive pairing with the crisp apple notes — this is a semi-sweet cider, a real crowd pleaser when it comes to sweetness — but it’s the addition of hops on the back end that turn this into something different and unique. The bitterness is subtle, earthy, and intriguing, clearly hoppy but not bracing in the way, say, an IPA might be. This cleanses the sweetness from the palate without washing it away entirely — letting the slight sourness of the grapefruit linger. Well done, despite the crazed monkey on the label.

5.5% abv.

A- / $9 per six-pack / woodchuck.com

Review: Firestone Walker Adversus

Firestone Walker’s latest release in its “Leo v. Ursus Chronology” is Adversus, a big, unfiltered IPA made with lighter European-style pilsner malt.

The malt surprisingly comes through right away despite the fact that Firestone was “hopping the bejesus out of this beer.” On the front of the palate that caramel sweetness hits first, lingering with notes of orange blossoms until, after a few seconds, the hops kick in. The piney bitterness doesn’t dominate though; it fades in short order as notes of flamed orange peel and gingerbread come back into focus.

8.2% abv.

B+ / $13 per four-pack of 16 oz. cans / firestonebeer.com

Review: Starr Hill Summer 2017 Releases – Resinate, Festie, Sublime, The Hook, Warehouse Pils, Grateful, and The Love

Starr Hill’s (late) summer beers are now in full effect — today we look at a full seven varieties, including four appearing in a mixed case of cans for the first time. Let’s take a spin!

Starr Hill Resinate Imperial Red IPA – If “resin” is the operative term here, Starr Hill sure got this one right. Sticky, almost syrupy, this beer offers a maple, raisin-soaked attack before hitting you with a slug of bitterness — chewy, almost chocolaty, resin with a whiff of pine needles behind it. A hearty beer that will fit better come cooler weather. 7.7% abv. B

Starr Hill Festie Oktoberfest Lager – A classic German-style amber lager, fairly heavy on the carbonation with notes of dates, nuts, and a mash-up of baking spices. Warming and toasty, it’s by and large a hit for a beer of this style, though the malt feels a bit overdone on the finish. 4.8% abv. B+

Starr Hill Sublime Citrus Wit – If you like your wheat beers nice and orangey, Citrus Wit is for you. Lots of coriander back up a healthy dosing of citrus peel, giving it an intensely spicy, almost middle Eastern feel. Whether it lives up to its name is up to you. 4.7% abv. B

These four were all reviewed from cans (though they’re also available in bottles).

Starr Hill The Hook Grapefruit Session IPA – Not my favorite session IPA, this is a weak entry into an increasingly crowded field that comes off as watery and only hinting at any fruit, let alone grapefruit. Rather bready, with an herbal edge, the characteristic pine resin and citrus are decidedly lacking. Not there yet. 4.9% abv. C+

Starr Hill Warehouse Pils – A classic German pilsner, this burly lager goes beyond the typically barley-led basics and offers overtones of roasted meats, coriander, and green vegetables. A nicely dry finish helps even things out a bit. 5.5% abv. B-

Starr Hill Grateful Pale Ale – “Remastered” for 2017 with a new recipe to modernize the beer with a revamped hop bill and more malt. Good decisions all around: The new version of the beer bursts with hops without being overwhelming, with lemony citrus, gentle caramel, a dusting of spice, and some amaro notes all adding complexity. 4.7% abv. A-

Starr Hill The Love Wheat Beer – A moderately bodied hefeweizen, this isn’t the most distinguished of wheat beers, very heavy on the grain, with a subtext of apples and a significant amount of coriander. Fine, but “love” might be too strong a term. 5.1% abv. B-

each about $15 per 12-pack / starrhill.com

Review: Monday Night Brewing Serrano Eye Patch Ale

We haven’t heard much from Atlanta’s Monday Night Brewing in a few years, but at last the company is out with a new release: Serrano Eye Patch Ale, and IPA brewed with serrano peppers.

The brew is actually a reissue of a beer that went off the market in 2015, and the company is finally bringing it back after fans clamored for it. How its made is fairly self explanatory: An English-style IPA (its Eye Patch Ale) is infused with fresh cut serrano peppers to give it some heat. Well, in theory: I found the beer quite approachable, with only a touch of burn to it as the finish fades. If I didn’t know there were serrano peppers in the mix, I might never have thought this was anything other than a well-crafted IPA — well balanced between loads of chocolaty, caramel-laden malt and bitter hops, leading to a rustic, nutty finish.

Super stuff, though come to think of it, it might taste just fine with some fire in its belly…

6.2% abv.

A / $9 per six-pack / mondaynightbrewing.com

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