Review: Innis & Gunn Kindred Spirits

For its latest release, Scottish brewer Innis & Gunn teamed up with Irish distiller Tullamore D.E.W. to produce this collaboration: Kindred Spirits. It’s a simple formula: I&G’s stout aged in Tullamore whiskey barrels, giving a traditional stout a bit of a twist.

Let’s taste!

The beer provides a surprisingly nice balance between the natural punch of the stout and the power of the barrel. On the attack, the relatively light-bodied stout makes a big impact, offering toasted nuts, Port wine, and light coffee notes. As the beer develops, a bitter core develops, with toasty, vanilla-dusted barrel char notes lingering on the back end. Far from overbearing and syrupy in the way that many barrel-aged beers can be, Innis & Gunn’s collaboration manages to draw from the best of both worlds. Try it!

6.1% abv.

A- / $9 per four-pack /

Review: Allagash Belfiüs

Allagash Brewing Company has been busy of late creating new beers with unique profiles. Belfiüs is particularly adventurous, labeled as a Saison Ale Blended with Spontaneously Fermented Ale. The bottle provides a helpful description:

This bottle contains two of Belgium’s well-known beer styles: a spontaneously fermented ale and a saison. The spontaneously fermented ale is also known as our Coolship beer. The name comes from a key brewing tool – the coolship – that allows the beer to be inoculated with wild yeast and other microflora.

After inoculation, the beer ages in oak barrels for up to three years. The second beer in the blend is our Saison, a dry ale defined by its notes of citrus and peppery spice. Blended together, they create a golden beer with an herbal aroma that contains both spice and tart fruit. Its taste is one of restrained sourness rounded out by a hint of oak.

Let’s give it a try. Poured aggressively into a glass, this bright yellow-golden beer presents a large head that quickly dissipates. The nose offers vibrant saison character with notes of hay, grass, citrus, and green apple. The beer’s high carbonation level can be seen in the bubbles that rise steadily from the bottom of the glass. It is a pleasure to note that the carbonation results from the fermentation process that takes place in French oak wine barrels, not other sources.

On the palate, Belfiüs opens with green apple, which is followed by a surprisingly sharp acidity. The acidity makes this an excellent beer to pair with a range of foods, and I was wishing I had some sausage and onions to enjoy with it. The acidity also suggests this beer could improve with aging. Following its bracing attack, the beer presents a mild sourness. The finish is a soft one, as the sour note slowly fades but never turns bitter. For all that this beer offers, it is fairly light bodied and quite drinkable. For those who love saisons, this is an exciting beer to try thanks to its distinctive, sour twist.

6.7% abv.

B+ / $15 per 375ml bottle /

Review: Melvin Brewing TGR Pilsgnar and 2×4 DIPA

Melvin Brewing can be found in Alpine, Wyoming, where some serious hopheads have been turning out brews since 2009. Today we take a spin through our first encounter with Melvin, both of which are available in cans, but only one of which (the big boy) has WWE wrestler Hacksaw Jim Duggan as a spokesman.

Melvin Brewing TGR Pilsgnar – A collaboration of sorts with Teton Gravity Research, an action sports media company, this is a bright and lemony pilsner, light on the malt and crisp on the finish with notes of saltines and a hint of applesauce. Very easy to enjoy, and harmless at a mere 4.5% abv. B+ / $NA

Melvin Brewing 2×4 DIPA – A bruiser of a double IPA, this burly brew is densely packed with the trappings of the IPA world — “a stupid amount of hops,” per the label. Sticky, resinous pine tar is thick on the palate, but there’s complexity here in the form of orange peel and salted caramel notes. The intense bitterness lingers on the finish for days, a reminder that you’re drinking a beer that clocks in at a whopping 9.9% abv. Hello! A- / $9 per 4-pack

Review: Evans Brewing Co. Son of a Beach, Joaquin Dead, Breakfast Black, and Chocolatte

Evans Brewing sent more of its offerings for our consideration. We tasted them all from 16 oz cans, but they’re available in bottles of various sizes, too.

Evans Brewing Co. Son of a Beach Blonde Ale – This foamy blonde ale is bursting with lemon notes, something like a shandy on steroids. Honestly it doesn’t do much to elevate an otherwise simple beer, giving it a sour sharpness that can be a little off-putting against a brew that should be all about freshness and easy granary notes. 4.2% abv. C

Evans Brewing Co. Joaquin Dead Mexican Red Ale – No question, I love the name. The beer, a bit less so: Again it features a heavy citrus element, here coming across a bit like a preservative, which decidedly muddies the freshness and crispness of a typical Mexican-style beer, though some amber-like nuttiness does peek through a salty-sour finish. 5.2% abv. C-

Evans Brewing Co. Breakfast Black Pilsner – A weird little beer, but probably the best in this lineup, it’s malty and (again) heavy on citrus, a crazy disconnect in comparison to the near-black color of the beer. Before too long, the darkness of the beer starts pushing its agenda, with toasty, coffee notes emerging on the finish. Wild. 4.8% abv. B

Evans Brewing Co. Chocolatte Chocolate Porter – Ink-black and pungent, I’m not sold on the “latte” part of the equation, but there’s an ample dark chocolate character here that at least fits the bill. Winey and strong, it’s got a drying finish with a Port-like, nutty character to it. 6.8% abv. B

each $5 per 22 oz. bottle /

Review: Deschutes Brewery Swivelhead Red (2018)

Deschutes’ winter-spring seasonal, the Bond Street Series Swivelhead Red, has undergone little change since its 2017 debut. The “India Style Red Ale” has a malty attack but a bitter undercarriage, but it’s ultimately the sweeter malt that wins out. While a classic piney character hits first, the body quickly finds some raisin notes, a pecan-like nuttiness, and a significant molasses character that gives it a finish closer to, say, a porter. It’s fun as a diversion, but I think the malt remains a little overdeveloped.

6.5% abv.

B+ / $10 per six-pack /

Review: UFO Pineapple

UFO is an offshoot of Boston’s Harpoon Brewery with a specific focus on unfiltered wheat beers. Kinda-sorta spun off as its own thing, UFO (for UnFiltered Offering) has been steadily increasing its output, with a particular focus on canning.

UFO Pineapple is the latest edition, a hefeweizen (of course) infused with its namesake fruit. From its wheat-heavy beginnings, it doesn’t take long for a bold pineapple note to take hold: Think sugary, candied pineapple, not fresh fruit, or perhaps digging into a big Dole Whip — a bit too overblown for my taste, at least up front. The grainy, slightly malty wheat notes don’t stay in the background for long, though, emerging in time for a finish that melds fruit with field.

5.2% abv.

B / $8 per six-pack /

Review: Starr Hill Front Row and Looking Glass IPA

Two new brews from Starr Hill — one a permanent, one a seasonal to get while you can!

Starr Hill Front Row Golden Ale – This brand new offering, which joins the year-round core lineup, is made with Honey malt and Cascade hops, which makes it drink suspiciously like a lager, malty and crisp, but with a distinct honey sweetness. Quite refreshing, with hints of lemon peel and a grassy element, and more malt on the back end. 4.9% abv. B+

Starr Hill Looking Glass IPA – A new seasonal hazy IPA, available in late winter/spring. I loved this one from the start, its mango and pineapple notes perfect foils for a healthy bitterness courtesy of Galaxy, Citra, Mosaic, and Columbus hops. The alcohol is kept in check, which helps the fruit shine more clearly, and which lets some interesting chocolate notes emerge late in the game. 6.5% abv. A

about $15 per 12-pack /

Review: Ninkasi Brewing Yours Truly, Pacific Rain, and Prismatic

Eugene, Oregon-based brewery Ninkasi has a bit of a cult following, and it’s just dropped three new brews, all available in cans (its first canned beers) and on draft. We tried them all. Thoughts follow.

Ninkasi Brewing Co. Yours Truly Easy-Drinking Ale – With loads of malt, this brew is quite lager-like, with a doughy body that pairs interestingly with its notes of banana, rice pudding, and toasted bread. It’s a simple beach beer, as the name suggests, but charming enough for its place in the market. 4.3% abv. B

Ninkasi Brewing Co. Pacific Rain Northwest Pale – Sweeter and spicier than I expected, this interesting American pale ale offers notes of bright malt, golden raisins, and honeysuckle flowers. A crisp bite recalls coriander and black pepper, though the finish is all honey and nougat. 5.4% abv. B

Ninkasi Brewing Co. Prismatic Juicy IPA – Ninkasi gives the hazy IPA a try, and its expression is rather restrained, heavier with bitter hops than most and somewhat less “juicy” than its name might indicate. Notes of bitter orange, roasted almonds, and apricots make unexpected showings on the palate, with malt (a common theme) closing out the finish. 5.9% abv. B+

each $8 per six-pack /

Review: New Belgium Tartastic Raspberry Lime Ale

New Belgium’s latest into its semi-sour fruit beer line, Tartastic, turns to that trusty combination of raspberries and lime. The results are short of impressive, though those looking for an alternative to, say, sangria, might find this combination of flavors enticing. Think earthy notes mixed with malty sweetness, layered with relatively restrained fruit notes — heavy on the lime — on top. This edition of Tartastic is not nearly as sour as some of its predecessors, particularly on the finish. That’s probably a good thing, although it also means the beer isn’t really able to showcase the fruit that makes this otherwise tame brew unique.

4.2% abv.

C+ / $17 per 12-pack /

Revisiting the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, 2018

Back in 2011, I took my first trip to Kentucky, endeavoring to visit every distillery that was open to visitors at the time. Since then, a lot has changed, as bourbon mania has led in turn to bourbon tourism mania. In the last seven years, the region, and the Bourbon Trail itself, has exploded with new distilleries, bigger visitor centers, and enhanced touring experiences.

On a recent visit to Kentucky, I re-toured a few old faces plus one of the new guard, to see how the picture of Kentucky had changed in the intervening years. Fresh thoughts on each of the four distilleries we visited follow — though note, there is plenty more going on in Kentucky beyond this!

Jim Beam

Beam built a new visitor’s center in 2012, tripling the size of its old space (the old center is now the tasting room). It’s also wildly revamped its tour, thanks to the construction of a miniature version of the Beam fermentation tanks and column still. In this mini-distillery, visitors can get the full distilling experience on a more manageable scale — though the setup is fully operational and actually making whiskey. As the lengthy tour continues, visitors get to physically turn out (some of) a barrel of Knob Creek, sanitize a bottle of KC Single Barrel on the bottling line, and put their own thumbprint into its wax seal (presuming you want to actually buy said bottle). Afterwards, well over a dozen of Beam’s products are available for tasting via tricked-out wine bar dispensers: Insert your key card and the dispenser ejects a bit of Baker’s, Knob Creek, or even, god help you, Jim Beam Vanilla — everything but Booker’s, really — into your tasting glass. Three samples max! (That’s the law!)

Wild Turkey

Like Beam, Wild Turkey recently upgraded its visitor’s center, dramatically increasing its size and installing a tasting room that overlooks the Kentucky River from several hundred feet up. It’s a breathtaking space, though you might miss it if you spend too much time chatting with legendary distillers Jimmy and/or Eddie Russell, who are seemingly fixtures here, happy to chit-chat with just about anyone who happens inside. Wild Turkey’s tour is quick and informative, ending with a tasting of four of Turkey’s products — none of which, oddly, is its flagship 101.

Buffalo Trace

Buffalo Trace never seems to stop moving, and though this was my third visit to the distillery, I saw nothing but new features on a private tour. The first stop was BT’s gargantuan new warehouses, which are still being painted as they’re being filled with whiskey. Barrels were being rolled into the ricks right in front of us, trucked up from the distillery just downhill. (Check our Instagram for some video.) The distillery will build a new warehouse every five months for the next ten years, clearly a sign that it thinks bourbon mania isn’t about to let up. The other attraction — and one which regular visitors can actually experience — is the distillery’s “Bourbon Pompeii,” an excavation of the original OFC Distillery, on top of which Buffalo Trace was (much later) built. The ruins of the original fermentation tanks and bits of stills have been unearthed and preserved in a full museum-like experience on the BT grounds. It’s a fascinating journey back to nearly 150 years ago that any whiskey (or history) fan should experience should they find themselves at the distillery.

Town Branch

The young gun of this mix, Town Branch’s brewery/distillery opened only in 2012, and it’s unique because a) it’s in the city of Lexington, not out in the boonies, and b) it started off as a beermaking operation. On a tour here you can see both sides of the street (literally), seeing the (very small) brewery and tasting a number of its products (including its whiskey barrel-aged beers). Next you can visit the distillery, where two copper pot stills are used to create not just bourbon, but single malt whiskey, gin, and, now, rum, which was fermenting on site during our visit. Town Branch’s spirits tasting is impressive, running through all of the above (including an imported rum and Irish whiskey). While the distillery has not won many plaudits for its lackluster rack bourbon, its single barrel bourbon expression is a delight, as are both of its single malts (particularly the reserve expression), which are aged not in new oak but in its twice-used bourbon/beer barrels, proof that new oak makes a tragic mess out of single malt. Best of all, it’s all about a mile from downtown Lexington, making it easy to get in and out of.

A Visit to Taft’s Ale House, Cincinnati

You’ll find Taft’s Ale House in the Over-the-Rhine District of Cincinnati, Ohio, a region still grappling with its rapid gentrification, a place where burned-out buildings will dominate one block, chick boutiques the next. Taft’s occupies the remains of a church here, rebuilt and converted into a working microbrewery/taproom, with long picnic style tables replacing the traditional pews.

Taft’s — named for the last president to come from this town — produces 10 or so beers at any given time, drawn from a rotating collection of recipes in its cookbooks. In our visit to Taft’s, we shot the breeze with GM Keith Maloy and bar manager Kiri Crawford, sampling the brewery’s full lineup as of late February 2018, and later visiting the smaller downstairs bar, where more traditional cocktails are whipped up. Thoughts on all of the beers tasted follow.

Taft’s Gustav – A nicely malty Vienna-style lager, some apple and pear notes; quite chew. 5.5% abv. A-

Taft’s Panic! Do Nothing – Juicy with bold grapefruit character, a classic hazy IPA. 7.2% abv. A-

Taft’s Nellie’s Key Lime Caribbean Ale – A wacky American ale brewed with key lime juice and coriander; you can certainly taste the lime, which gives it a particularly spicy finish. 4.8% abv. B+

Taft’s 27 Lager – A (very) German lager, burly with malt but crisp on the finish. 5.3% abv. B+

Taft’s Gavel Banger – A classic IPA, piney and very bitter, with a bit of a smoky bacon edge to it; chewy orange peel and pine hit hard on the back end. 7% abv. A-

Taft’s Cherrywood Amber – An amber ale brewed with cherrywood smoked malt. The smoke is light, but the cherry notes are bolder, lasting on the finish. 6% abv. B+

Taft’s Maverick Chocolate Porter – An evenhanded rendition of a brown porter, brewed with cacao nibs and husks from a local chocolatier; a lovely interpretation of this style, lightly raisiny at times and surprisingly engaging from start to finish. 5.5% abv. A

Taft’s Skronk Juice – Taft’s session IPA, simplistic and style and gently bitter, slightly green. 5% abv. B

Taft’s Kettle Sour #1 – Bold apple notes hit first on this big sour, along with lemon juice notes; after the first rush of sourness fades, elderflower notes emerge on the finish. 3.5% abv. B+

Taft’s Big Billy Goat – A Helles Bock — a big pretzel beer, through and through. A bit over-malted (or over-alcohol) though, and quite sweet at times. 6.8% abv. B

Review: Yee Haw Dunkel and Pale Ale

Yee Haw describes itself as “Fine Southern Beer,” brewed in Johnson City, Tennessee. Recently it introduced cans to its operation for the first time, and today we look at two of its most popular beers, poured from this very aluminum vessel. Thoughts follow.

Yee Haw Dunkel – A dark Munich-style lager, this chewy brew is built for sausages and fireside chatting, all smoke and spice, cocoa powder and burnt caramel. A sweetness develops as the palate takes hold, the caramel notes really digging in to reveal a chewy, almost bacony character as the finish arrives. It’s not a weighty beer, thanks to a relatively low alcohol level, but the chocolate and meatiness give it a certain level of imposition that definitely stands up to be noticed. 5.5% abv. B

Yee Haw Pale Ale – This is an American Pale Ale (not an IPA), dialed back on the bitterness to just 30 IBUs, which lets the beer’s other elements shine a bit brighter. A chewy cereal note, some forest floor elements, and a significant maltiness — heavy for any pale ale, really — all dominate, giving Yee Haw’s Pale Ale a pungency and a certain gravity. The finish has a bit of a mushroom kick, with notes of sweet red pepper. 5.7% abv. B+

each $NA per six pack /