Review: Guinness 200th Anniversary Export Stout

In 1817, the first barrels of Guinness beer — a porter at the time — made their way across the Atlantic and to the U.S., marking the beginning of 200 years of Guinness being sold in our country.

As Guinness notes, “The anniversary this fall is a celebration of a 200-year love affair between a brewery and a people: Guinness and America.” To commemorate it, the brewery has released this limited-edition Guinness 200th Anniversary Export Stout, which was inspired by an old recipe that Benjamin Guinness – the son of Arthur Guinness – originally developed in 1817. It’s brewed with Black Patent Malt and Golding Hops and is bottled with traditional, not nitro, carbonation.

Note that for a while you will also find classic Guinness Draught stout in “limited-edition cans depicting everyone’s favorite toucans flying across the iconic American monument of Mount Rushmore from a rarely seen Guinness ad from the 1950s.” This and the 200th Anniversary Export Stout are also available as part of a mixed 12-pack.

As for Guinness 200th Anniversary Export Stout, I like it quite a bit. This is bit of a different animal than Guinness Foreign Extra Stout (with considerably less alcohol), though as with many a glass of Guinness, it is a black-hued brew loaded with roasty-toasty malt, lightly nutty, and both round and mouth-filling. The 200th Anniversary expression feels more balanced than most Guinness special editions, with a lighter hand to the carbonation giving its grain bill a chance to shine more clearly. The finish even sees a touch of fruit to give some acidity to what could otherwise be a heavy experience.

On the whole: Plenty of reason for celebration!

6% abv.

A- / $8 per six pack of 11 oz. bottles /

After California’s Fires, a Brewing Community Comes Together

Fogbelt Gose

Sonoma and surrounding counties survived the worst fires in California history in October of 2017. Immediately after, local brewers banded together to raise money for displaced fire victims. It was truly spectacular to see.

Fieldwork Brewing, which had fires with a mile of its doors, was the first to hold a fundraiser. People from all over Santa Rosa gathered for good beer, good food, and giveaways with the proceeds going to fire victims. The sense of community was palpable in the air as people who had never previously met shared tables, stories, and toasts.Sonoma Pride

Most impressive in all of this has been the Sonoma Pride movement, started by Russian River Brewing, with Bear Republic joining in. The story: Each participating brewery releases a special edition beer under the Sonoma Pride label, with 100% of proceeds going to the recovery effort.

The number of breweries who have added their beer and support to this fundraiser for fire victims has grown to over 50 now, and they have also been joined by the King Ridge foundation. So far, over $424,000 has been raised.

Each participating brewery determines what style of beer their Sonoma Pride offering will be. Many opted for a blonde ale because it has the shortest brewing time, though IPAs and Gose styles are beginning to appear.

St Florian

The tale of St. Florian is unique in that you go to its tap room to enjoy its Sonoma Pride brew, where you’ll discover it is a brewery owned by a Captain in the fire department. He was on duty the night the fires broke out. (By the way, St. Florian is the patron saint of firefighters.) Just to be a part of the support and community, it was worth standing in some long lines.

Try as we might visit every participating brewery, they are located far and wide — with two in countries outside of the United States. For a complete list of the participating breweries , visit the Sonoma Pride website.

Review: Samuel Adams Utopias (2017 Release)

The thing about Samuel Adams’ Utopias — the extreme barrel-aged beer that drinks more like a Port or sherry than a can of Boston Lager — is that although they constantly tweak the recipe, the beer itself never seems to change that much. Variations on a theme, really.

2017 marks the 10th release of Utopias (and our sixth encounter with it, which began with the 2007 installment), with 13,000 bottles made. The twist this time: the “2017 recipe includes Utopias aged in a variety of barrels including new Scandinavian Aquavit barrels as well as a portion of the final blend aged in Muscat barrels, a first for the beer.”

Some extra data on this release:

The 2017 release is a blend of batches, some having been aged up to 24 years in a variety of barrels. A portion of the freshly brewed beer is then aged in hand-selected, single-use bourbon casks from the award-winning Buffalo Trace Distillery while the rest is aged in a variety of barrels including Bourbon, White Carcavelos, and Ruby Port. New this year, Utopias aged in Aquavit barrels, a Scandinavian spirit with distinct flavor from spices and herbs, primarily caraway or dill. Throughout the year, the brewers practice “barrel turns,” meaning beer is moved from one barrel to another, to continually impart complex flavor from the barrels to the brew.

Then, the brewers carefully create the final blend by sampling and blending barrel-aged beer on its own including 24-year-old Triple Bock and 17-year-old Millennium aged in the Samuel Adams Bier Keller, as well as previous Utopias vintages and a variety of barrel-aged blends. The Samuel Adams Bier Keller, the former bier keller of the historic Haffenreffer Brewery, is the new home for aging Triple Bock, Millennium, and experimental barrel-aged beers at the Boston Brewery. This year’s final blend included a touch of Kosmic Mother Funk, a one-of-a-kind Belgian ale that ferments for two years in Hungarian Oak foeders to add dark fruit and slightly tart notes.

After the blend is finalized, the brewers “finished” some of the 2017 Utopias in Moscat barrels, a wine known for its slightly smoky character. “Finishing” is a creative way for the brewers to impart additional flavor from a barrel before the beer is bottled.

In tasting Utopias 2017, as previously mentioned, my tasting notes don’t depart too wildly from what I’ve said before. That said, some differences are in store for the Utopias fanatic, starting with the nose, which is more bitter and wood-heavy than the typical Utopias, giving it more of an old sherry character than a Port-like one. Rye-like notes of caraway (aquavit-driven, perhaps?) and some bitter amaro aromas are particularly evident.

The palate is bittersweet, with that caraway/bitter root note leading to some notes of dried figs and dates, burnt coffee and toasted nuts — all classic Utopias flavors — before hitting a more sour cherry note on the finish (though this year’s is less overwhelming than in 2015). All told, I like the conclusion of Utopias 2017 much more than the attack, a surprising reversal of prior years’ comments.

Utopias is always the same, I think I said at the top of the review? Huh, what do I know?

28% abv.

B+ / $199 /

Review: Vermont Cider Ingrained

Vermont Cider Co. is the producer of, well, most of the cider you’re likely to find: Woodchuck, Gumption, Magner’s, Blackthorn… they’re all out of Vermont.

Vermont Cider also produces occasional bottlings under its own label, including this special edition: Ingrained. The name is a play on words, because the cider is aged in WhistlePig rye whiskey barrels before bottling.

A semi-dry cider, it’s got a punchy apple core that evokes notes of sweet-and-tart cinnamon-dusted applesauce, Butterfinger candy, and a little vanilla in the mix. It’s on this lattermost note that the barrel influence makes itself known, that vanilla ceding the way to hints of cocoa, graham crackers, and burnt toffee. Filling and well-rounded, it’s a cider with an impressive depth of flavor and a beautiful balance from start to finish.

Highly recommended.

6.9% abv.

A / $11 per four-pack /

Review: Breckenridge Brewery Oak Aged Saison

Oak Aged Saison is part of Breckenridge’s “Brewery Lane Series,” a line of specialty brews that aim to be adventurous in style and approach. This particular beer is made with French Saison yeast and Gewurztraminer grape juice. The beer is aged for 55 days in oak barrels and clocks in at more than 10% alcohol. The beer’s abv is particularly surprising when you realize that many Gewurztraminer wines aren’t much higher than that.

Poured into a pint glass, Oak Aged Saison presents a rich, clear, copper color. The nose abundantly expresses the wild yeasty notes one expects of a saison along with a mild sweetness that likely comes from the grape juice. On the palate, the beer diverges significantly from other saisons and establishes Breckenridge’s unique take on the style. The Gewurztraminer juice blends with the saison into what tastes like a lovely hybrid of beer and wine. The beer flavor takes precedence, but the juiciness and spice of the Gewurztraminer grapes complement the saison beautifully. The high alcohol content is fairly well-hidden in the rich flavor of the Saison yeast and the bright acidity of the grape juice.

I applaud all efforts to push the envelope and see what can be accomplished with creativity and audacious brewing. Breckenridge’s Oak Aged Saison is a fine example of what happens when experimentation goes well. I can only imagine how well this beer would accompany spicy jambalaya, Indian food, or Szechuan Chinese.

10.3% abv.

A- / $NA per 750ml bottle /

Review: Firestone Walker Helldorado Blonde Barley Wine Ale (2017)

Barrel aging has become wildly popular in the craft-brewing world, but it remains, for the most part, a process almost exclusively applied to darker beers like porters and stouts. No strangers to pushing the envelope with their brews, California-based Firestone Walker Brewing Company bucks that trend with its Helldorado Blonde Barley Wine Ale, which is brewed solely with English and American pale malts. It’s a risky move given how well the caramel notes in whiskey (and whiskey barrels) complement darker styles of beer. So how does this lighter beer fare with barrel aging?

Helldorado pours a great rose gold color. There are subtle tropical fruit and raw honey notes on the nose and less of the roasted cereal aroma typical of darker barrel-aged beers. It’s deceptively refreshing. Where darker boozy brews caution patience, this thing begs to be gulped. It’s initially crisp but with a huge body. On the palate, there are sticky sweet biscuit notes, vanilla, dried coconut, and more honey. Many darker beers slowly develop a slightly bitter finish, but Helldorado’s sweetness lingers like cream soda. Don’t get me wrong. I love my barrel-aged stouts and dark barley wines, but it’s very exciting to see lighter beers that barrel-age so well.

12.8% abv.

A / $15 /

Review: Lawson’s Finest Liquids Sip of Sunshine IPA

Vermont is pretty serious beer country, and brewers in the state have managed, in a few short years, to make New England style IPA a unique and respected variety across the USA. Whereas West Coast IPA is usually clear and shows piney dankness and a strong, bitter finish, New England IPA appears hazy and presents tropical fruit flavors with far less bitterness at the end. Sip of Sunshine is one of the most popular and coveted examples of the New England style. Lawson’s recently expanded production, which means that instead of waiting in long lines to get the beer in Vermont, people can wait in long lines to get it at stores throughout New England, where it sells out in hours and sometimes sooner.

Sip of Sunshine is a bold, assertive New England-style IPA, somewhere between an IPA and a double IPA. There is balance and complexity in this beer, but not subtlety. Poured into a glass, the beer appears hazy and bright orange-gold. The nose offers an array of tropical fruit including lots of fresh pineapple and grapefruit. There is a touch of malt as well. The palate follows the nose, with a burst of tropical fruit, but there is a fair amount of bitterness as well, which contributes to the beer’s crisp finish. The malt introduces a little sweetness, adding complexity.

There is a lot of hype surrounding this beer, and I have to say, Sip of Sunshine manages to impress. It is bold, balanced, fresh, and flavorful. Some people who enjoy this beer recommend that it be enjoyed soon after purchase since the flavors can fade if it languishes in the closet or in one’s refrigerator for too long. But if you like IPA at all, I don’t think you have to worry.

8% abv.

A+ / $15 per 16 oz. four-pack /