Review: The Fruit Ales of Redd’s

Last year Redd’s introduced as its limited edition “pick” (pun intended) a Blueberry Ale. Like all good things, it has returned for another full season along with new sidekicks, Redd’s Raspberry and this year’s limited edition, Peach Ale. Not wanting to leave the other fruity siblings out of the loop, a full flight tasting was in high order.

One thing to remember: These are not ciders. This cannot be stressed highly enough. This is beer flavored with fruit, and should not be placed in the same category as cider.

Redd’s Apple Ale – Delivering well on its promise, the brand’s flagship serves up the tartness of crisp apples with faint traces of beer notes. It’s quite light and tart with a mild bitterness, like an incredibly mild cider. Complexity is minimal, and this is incredibly straightforward; what you see is definitely what you get. It’s a nice alternative to heavier ciders or beers, and could compliment a nice cookout on the beach this summer. 5% abv. B+

Redd’s Blueberry Ale – A lovely blend of apples and blueberries on the nose, reminiscent of candies from childhood – always an enticing plus. Those two notes stay consistent throughout, with lots of sparring back and forth between the sweetness of the blueberries and the tartness of the apples. It’s pretty well balanced until the end, when the blueberry sweetness becomes a bit overpowering. In a prior review, Chris awarded this a “B” rating. I’d stand by that, and if there was a way to tone down the sweetness a touch, I’d even go one mark higher. 5% abv. B

Redd’s Raspberry Ale – Redd’s found this edition working part time at a five and dime, its boss was Mr. McGee*. It carries a wonderfully strong raspberry aroma on the nose right from the onset, with not a lot of apple accountability happening. The raspberries are front and center stage the entire time, strutting their stuff. There’s a little bit of malt peeking about, and combined with the sweetness and apple tartness, it brings out sharp notes commonly associated with ginger. This is easily my favorite of the bunch. Wouldn’t change a stroke, ’cause baby it’s the most. 5% abv. A-

Redd’s Peach Ale – Lots of lovely peach cobbler and brown sugar on the nose, with a slightly medicinal bent. The taste is supremely floral, and a bit syrupy, but not to the point of irritation like some peach-flavored ales. There’s really not much apple presence in this one, as the hops and ripe peaches go back and forth all the way to the short, punchy finish. Easy sipping, it’s just in time for the long (drinking) days of summer. Go to the country, drink a lot of peaches. 5% abv. B+

each about $8 per six-pack / reddsapple.com

* with profound apologies to Prince Rogers Nelson

Review: Mikkeller Black Hole Imperial Stout

The enigmatic minimalism of Mikkeller’s Black Hole label cleverly disguises the complexity of what lies within the bottle.

As promised, this Russian imperial stout is as dark as its gets in color, with a beautiful nose of roasted chestnuts, coffee, and dark chocolate. That perfect storm trio carries on throughout the palate with faint wisps of honey, vanilla, molasses and campfire smoke. The vanilla takes has a stronger presence in the finish, which is wonderfully long and lingering.

At over 13% alcohol it most certainly has a kick to it, and it is definitely not a beer built for rapid consumption. This one demands your full time and attention.

13.1% abv.

A- / $12 per 12oz. bottle / mikkeller.dk

Review: Country Boy Brewing Nacho Bait Habanero Blonde Ale

While Kentucky is largely known for its bourbon (and rightfully so), not much has been made of its contributions to the beer world. Breweries from around the nation travel to my old Kentucky home to pick up used barrels for finishing purposes.

That said, for the last several years there has been a quiet movement to increase the quality (and quantity) of local breweries. Like many other places around the nation, the number of startups in the area has increased exponentially over the last several years, one of which is Country Boy Brewing. We took a trip around the track with its Nacho Bait Habanero Blonde Ale.

The nose is deceptively built on notes of grass, hay, and a little bit of yeast for good measure. However, one sip and there’s a strong bite of habanero that is wonderfully relentless. There’s a beautiful onslaught of pepper and heat carrying through to the finish which leaves a bit of a tingling sensation on the throat and lips. The warmth makes for a well-balanced chili ale that’s ideal for summer’s inevitable arrival.

4.9% abv

A- / $8 per 1 pint 9.4 oz bottle / countryboybrewing.com

Review: Bear Republic Hop Shovel and Cafe Racer 15 (2017)

California’s Bear Republic has moved Hop Shovel into the year-round lineup, and is now releasing Cafe Racer 15, formerly only available in 22 oz. bottles, in regular six-packs. Nothing much has really changed with these brews (though this is our first real review of Hop Shovel), but let’s give them fresh looks nonetheless.

Bear Republic Hop Shovel IPA – A wheat and rye hybrid IPA made with Mosaic, Meridian, and Denali hops — and what a combination it is! The beer is beautifully balanced, offering loads of fresh citrus fruit to mellow out the piney evergreen notes that otherwise dominate the beer. A touch of salted caramel elevates the finish and gives it a nuance that IPAs don’t often exhibit. A near-perfect IPA! 7.5% abv. A

Bear Republic Cafe Racer 15 (2017) – The 2017 version of Cafe Racer (see 2014 review here) hasn’t changed much at all, and still offers the bold, chewy, resinous double IPA character that fans of this style adore. A malty attack leads to overtones of orange-laden syrup, hemp rope threads, toasted pine nuts, maple, and green apples. It’s a complex beer that finishes with a mix of cloyingly sweet and intensely bitter — which somehow manages to come off as oddly refreshing. 9.75% abv. A-

each $13 per six pack / bearrepublic.com

Review: Samuel Adams Rebel IPA (2017), Rebel Juiced IPA, Fresh As Helles, and Hopscape

It’s time for a quartet of brews from our friends in Boston, including two new releases (Fresh As Helles and Hopscape), plus a fully reformulated and rebranded Rebel IPA, along with a new spinoff of that line. According to Sam Adams, the new Rebel IPA marks the first time that the brewery has “completely reformulated a popular flagship beer” — which is weird, because the Rebel line is only three years old.

Here’s how the new Rebel IPA tastes, along with the new “Juiced” spinoff, and the company’s two new offerings.

Samuel Adams Rebel IPA (2017) – The new Rebel is a clean IPA (made with seven hop varieties) that starts off with ample notes of pine and some mushroom, then slowly fades out to gentle leather and a squeeze of orange oil on the very back end. A workable IPA that muddies up a bit as it warms, but is on the whole it’s still without a whole lot of character to call its own. 6.5% abv. B+

Samuel Adams Rebel Juiced IPA – A new version of Rebel, made with a “tropical twist of mango and citrusy hops.” Dry and bitter, it does indeed have a tropical bent that comes across mainly like pineapple, with lemon and orange notes following. (Hey, just like the label says!) The finish is quite dry and a bit earthy/woodsy, coming across largely as expected for a simpler IPA. 6.2% abv. B

Samuel Adams Fresh As Helles – Sam Adams’ new Helles style brew is a lager brewed with orange blossoms. It drinks relatively simply, the malt taking on the character of honey-roasted nuts, cut with lightly aromatic citrus notes. The finish is on the muddy/earthy side, though some crisp lemon peel emerges with enough consideration. 5.4% abv. B

Samuel Adams Hopscape – This is a wheat ale that is, unusually, heavily hopped with four types of west coast hops. The interplay between lemony wheat and brisk, piney hops works pretty well here, allowing the beer to drink with the freshness of a wit but also with the bracing bitterness of a milder pale ale. They fight with one another til the very end, where the prove to be oddly apt bedfellows. Definitely worth sampling. 5.5% abv. A-

each about $9 per six-pack / samueladams.com

Review: Breckenridge Brewery Dry Irish Stout

Get ready for St. Patty’s tomorrow by picking up a four-pack of Breckenridge’s nitro-charged Dry Irish Stout, a fun Guinnessesque brew that will take you straight back to old Eire. Made in partnership with Boundary Brewing of Belfast, it’s a silky and appropriately creamy ale that offers up a rich and toasty oatmeal character before getting into some fruitier notes of apples and peaches, plus hints of dried banana chips. Gentle coffee and nutty aromas emerge as the beer warms up — all the better to entice you to actually eat that corned beef and cabbage.

4.8% abv.

B+ / $12 per four-pack of 15.2-oz cans / breckbrew.com

Review: Starr Hill Warm Up and Double Bass

Two new seasonals (actually wrapping up their residency this month) from Starr Hill. Check them out while you can!

Starr Hill Warm Up Winter Ale – This amber ale is spiked with cinnamon, cocoa, nutmeg and vanilla for wintertime drinking, but the proportions feel all wrong on my palate. Slightly sour and desperately lacking in malty sweetness, the beer showcases all the spices but is missing the backbone on which to place them. 6.1% abv. C-

Starr Hill Double Bass Double Chocolate Stout – For a stout that’s dosed with cocoa beans and features chocolate bars on the label, Double Bass is awfully tame. The body has more acidity than you’d expect, laced with relatively mild chocolate notes and some vanilla. A very light dusting of hops add a touch of bitterness, but the finish evolves from a pure chocolate character to something more akin to chocolate orange. No matter, I like it all the same. 7.8% abv. B+

about $15 per 12-pack / starrhill.com

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