Review: Deschutes Brewery Jubelale Winter Ale 2017 and Black Butte XXIX

Two highly-anticipated beers from Deschutes are now hitting the market: the Oregon brewery’s annual winter beer, Jubelale, and its large-format, barrel-aged Black Butte, celebrating the brewery’s 29th birthday.

Deschutes Brewery Jubelale Winter Ale 2017 – Deschutes jumps straight from summer to winter with the release of its latest Jubelale, and this year’s expression is a big winner. The spices are present but played down enough to give the brew a toasty and warmly Christmas-like character. Fig notes are particularly strong, and they are complemented by notes of dates, spiced almonds, toffee, and ample malt. There’s plenty going on, but the beer is amazingly well-balanced, finishing with soothing notes of baked bread and a distant smokiness. 6.7% abv. A / $9 per six-pack

Deschutes Brewery Black Butte XXIX 29th Birthday Reserve – The 29th edition of Deschutes’ experimental porter always includes some oddball ingredients. This year it runs to cocoa, Saigon cinnamon, and cayenne, 50 percent of which is aged in bourbon and rum barrels. The cayenne isn’t readily apparent here, but the chocolate/cinnamon notes sure are. These bold flavors build on top of a core of plum, rum raisin, and dark caramel sauce. The finish sees more Christmas spice, chocolate cake, and a hint of bitter amaro. As with the Jubelale, there’s tons going on here, but the interplay of flavors and balance are excellent. 12% abv. A- / $17 per 22 oz. bottle

Review: Drake’s Aroma Coma IPA and Aroma Therapy Triple IPA

Two new IPAs from Drake’s Brewing Co., located just around the corner in San Leandro, California — both monster IPAs worth a look.

Drake’s Aroma Coma IPA – Atypical of IPA, with immediate coffee and gentian notes up front in the palate. It builds on that with dark caramel notes and an intense note of salted licorice that really attacks the palate on the finish. The typical citrus of IPA is missing here, replaced with a heavy earthiness and occasionally vegetal note that does not feel entirely IPA-like, but which, at least, changes the conversation around the beer style. 8% abv. B / $8 per 22 oz. bottle

Drake’s Aroma Therapy Triple IPA – An aggressive and equally unusual brew, this IPA includes rye and orange blossom honey and is massively dry-hopped with Citra, Nelson Sauvin, Motueka, and Idaho #7 varieties. Heavy with citrus notes and surprisingly sweet with honey, the intense bitterness is almost a requirement to make Aroma Therapy manageable. Perhaps, though, I have that backwards: Maybe it’s the sweetness that’s needed to balance out all the hops. Either way, the beer is a bruiser that offers notes of pungent gentian, roasted carrots, amaro-like licorice, and plenty of citrus peel to keep things dancing on the palate. Complex and worth exploring, it evolves considerably in the glass as it warms up. 11.3% abv. A- / $NA per 22 oz. bottle

Review: Beers of New Belgium, Late 2017 Releases

New Belgium seems to crank out more beer than anyone this side of Sam Adams. Here’s a look at five new releases, including a new Fat Tire bottling and our first pumpkin beer of the season.

New Belgium Voodoo Ranger Passion Fruit IPA – The newest special release of New Belgium’s Voodoo Ranger brand doesn’t need much introduction: It features Citra and Galaxy hops, backed up with passion fruit. It’s not a very compelling blend at all. Something in the juicy, floral passion fruit just doesn’t jibe with the bitterness from the hops, giving the whole affair a cacophonous character that feels at once artificial, candylike, and gooey. 8% abv. C- / $7 per 22 oz bottle

New Belgium Voodoo Ranger Atomic Pumpkin – The pumpkin spices pour right out of the bottle here, tons of cinnamon and nutmeg and autumnal sweetness. Take a sip and the “atomic” becomes clear: This brew is spiked with habanero peppers, giving the otherwise sweet body a fiery kick. I’m not quite sure what to think of this bizarre mix, but somehow it works better in the bottle than it does on paper. Tabasco on your pumpkin pie? I might have to try it this year, just to see. 6.4% abv. B / $8 per six-pack

New Belgium in Collaboration with Oud Beersel Transatlantique Kriek – This is a 50-50 blend of a tart cherry lambic from Belgium with New Belgium’s own golden sour ale (aged 1 to 3 years in oak). The results are intensely flavored with sour cherries, but it’s never overwhelming, coming off almost as refreshing as a bold cherry soda. Beyond that, not much, making this a one-note brew, to be sure, but one that’s so unique it’s worth exploring. 6.5% abv. B+ / $8 per 22 oz bottle

New Belgium Fat Tire Belgian White – This is the first ever addition to the Fat Tire brand, a wheat ale flavored with Seville oranges and Indian coriander. The spice thankfully isn’t overdone here, leading the bready core of the beer show itself more clearly, the coriander dusting the finish like cinnamon on toast. Overall it’s a well-made, if unsurprising, addition to the lineup. 5.2% abv. B+ / $8 per six-pack

New Belgium Sour Saison – This is a blended barrel-aged farmhouse ale, and not nearly as sour as I’d expected. The combination of sourness with a spicy saison style really works, those dusky herbs mingling well with notes of sour apple and some cherry on the finish. Lightly tart but incredibly refreshing, it’s easily the best brew in the mix this month. 7% abv. A- / $NA (12 oz bottles)

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 /

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 /

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

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 /