Review: Virtue Cider The Mitten

This new release from Virtue Cider is, as always, a Michigan-born cider, made from a blend of last season’s pressed apples. The cider is “aged in Bourbon barrels for up to one year, then back sweetened with this year’s fresh pressed apple juice.”

This is one of Virtue’s more interesting ciders, offering caramel and butterscotch notes that complement dried apples and cinnamon. It’s like a carbonated apple-flavored whiskey from the start, but the finish finds the fresher fruit notes enduring and hard to shake. Candylike on the back end, some lightly herbal notes linger here, along with a touch of bitter quinine, which helps balance out the sweetness.

6.8% abv.

B+ / $13 per four-pack / virtuecider.com

Review: Stone Jindia Pale Ale

Look closely at the bottle of Stone’s latest release: There’s an extra “J” in front of the India, making this a Jindia Pale Ale. What’s a Jindia Pale Ale? It’s a Double IPA infused with juniper, ginger & lemon peel.

It’s a kooky spin in IPA. Instead of citrus and piney notes, the beer is instantly floral and loaded with clear gingerbread character — literally like biting into a cookie. There are pros and cons to this, as the notes of rose petals, which hit first, give the beer a feminine quality, while the ginger makes it taste more like dessert. The most elusive property here is actually the juniper — though when mixed with hops it seems to be responsible for giving the beer its floral notes. The finish isn’t so much bitter as it is lightly bittersweet, here showing off a squeeze of lemon, but with those florals hanging in for the long haul.

This is a one-off from Stone, and while it’s worth sampling once, it’s probably nothing you’ll be knocking down the doors to get again.

8.7% abv.

B / $16 per six pack / stonebrewing.com

Review: Modelo Chelada Tamarindo Picante

Modelo’s latest release is a spin on its long-running canned Chelada, a new flavor that adds tamarind and chipotle peppers to the classic chelada recipe of beer, tomato juice, salt, and lime.

I tried the new product, rimmed with Halo de Santo spicy/citrusy salt blend that Modelo conveniently sent along.

All of the extra flavors in the Chelada have a really light touch here. The primary character is Mexican lager, crisp and lightly malty, with some brightly citrusy flavors driven by the lime. The tamarind is more noticeable than the tomato even (despite the ruddy brown-orange color), and the Chelada isn’t particularly picante unless you sip it with a chunk of rimming seasoning. I highly recommend this approach, as the spice really elevates the beverage into something festive. Straight from the can, it’s fine, but too boring to get excited about.

3.3% abv.

B+ / $3 per 24 oz can / modelousa.com

A Brief History of India Pale Ale

Though sours and goses have been making strong headway into the craft market recently, IPAs remain kings of the mountain. High in alcohol, swelling with hops, both tart and bitter, there’s a lot to like about the crisp, bracing taste of a good craft IPA. But whether you’re a dedicated hop-head who can recite the IBUs of any given beer, or a more casual fan of the pine and citrus taste of a good IPA, you might wonder where the name “India Pale Ale” actually came from. Everyone knows what a pale ale is, of course, but what does this beer, which is the hallmark of American craft brew more than anything else, have to do with India?

Ale is one of the oldest styles of beer, with references being found in ancient archaeological sites in modern-day Iraq. But there are few cultures that are as synonymous with ale as the English. By the time of the various pagan conquests of England by the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, the meadhall with its mead and its ale was firmly entrenched in the culture of the English. In addition to ale, another thing the English were once fond of was colonizing, in order to grow what was once the mightiest empire in the world. The British East India Company began running operations in India in the 1750s, and from the 1850s to the 1940s the British crown laid claim to the whole subcontinent. Throughout this almost 200-year stretch of British rule, both the government and the army of India were both filled with Englishmen.

All of these Englishmen pined for English beer of course, but the brewers back on the British Isles were having trouble getting their beer to last on what was a six-month voyage from London to Kolkata, then known as Calcutta. The solution was hit upon by a London brewer called Hodgson, who formulated a strong, heavily-hopped ale in hopes that the hops and the high alcohol content would serve as preservatives and keep the beer drinkable for longer. The plan worked better than anyone could have guessed, and soon India was importing strong, hoppy ales by the literal boatload.

Though IPA was of course immensely popular in India, the strong, hoppy quality didn’t develop a following at home, and with the advent of refrigeration and faster transportation methods, standard English ales could then survive the trek to India. These original IPAs, for the most part, faded away… for a time. Leave it then to the American craft brewers in the 1970s to pick up the style as they searched for an unusual type of beer that could help them stand out from the crowd. These American IPAs became the alcohol- and hop-monsters that we know and love today, no longer developed for preservation reasons but just for their taste. In a funny turn of events it was then the English brewers who began copying American IPAs to fill a niche market at home that just kept getting bigger and bigger.

So when you crack open a bottle of Bear Republic Hop Shovel or something similar, you’re drinking a beer with a history that has crossed oceans, crafted from the influence of three different nations. Talk about a glass of history!

Tasting Report: RateBeer Best Festival 2017


2017’s RateBeer Best Festival, benefiting Ales for Autism, recently arrived in Santa Rosa, California for the second year. Brewers from across the globe brought their brews here to compete in both beer and food competitions. Attendees were able to sample them all.

Craft Beerd--vendorThis year’s festival was double the size from the previous year, with the general admission line wrapping around the block. Once everyone was inside, it was shoulder to shoulder. Food vendors — some with beer based offerings — beer app providers, beer tour guides, drawings for beer related cruises, and beer related paraphernalia could be found among the many booths. We came away with a poster of original art used on a label, playing cards featuring the breweries in San Jose, a number of pins, and a really handy guide for rating beer.

Because so many breweries represented were already familiar to us (not to mention it would be a long article to cover all 42 breweries and their 169 brews), we decided to focus on a few brewers outside of the U.S.: Brazil, the UK, Belgium, Canada, and Japan. Some of these beers are retired, though specialty importers may still have some stock.

Yellow Belly SundaeFirst up is Petroleum from Dum Cervejaria out of Brazil. True to its name, the oils from the coffee beans and cacao nibs give this a nice surface shine. This imperial stout has a very dark brown, nearly black body, with a head made up of large bubbles. At first the cocoa is prevalent in both aroma and palate, with a deep chocolate which enriches the beer throughout. Very strong, this is a sturdy beer to savor. 12% abv. B+

Seguin BA Biere Brut from Cloudwater Brew Co. is brewed in Manchester, England. These guys specialize in seasonal beers. Seguin BA Biere Brut is a 2016 light beer with a sunny yellow clarity and a light fizzy head. The champagne notes on the initial nosing are bright; the palate has a slight tang which intensifies for a moment. The brewer told us that’s from the champagne and saison yeasts, and that the beer is aged in white wine barrels. 6% abv. B

Yellow Belly Sundae from Buxton comes out of England as well. They also have a nice porter. From the immediate and recurring long lines, this was a favorite of attendees. It does indeed taste like an ice cream sundae in a glass. The chocolate body is topped with a caramel head and a sweet ice cream scent. Notes of peanut, vanilla, and chocolate come through nicely. Technically, Yellow Belly Sundae is a barrel aged stout, however, the stout steps back to allow the creamy sweet treat to shine through. 12% abv. A+

Ypris (2011) is from De Struise Brouwers in Belgium. This is a sour with a nice, inviting scent and a medium brown body. The sour immediately lightens to a nice tartness on the second sip. 30% of this beer is barrel aged with 70% new beer added. 8% abv. B+

Also from De Struise is Obetis Saison. This saison had a bright taste. The body was golden yellow; the head white and fizzy. It was our favorite of the two beers from this brewer. 8% abv. A

Another saison we tried came from Canada. Assemblage No. 7 is from Brassere Dunham in Quebec. This is also a barrel aged blend of saisons treated with brettanomyces, with a slightly cloudy light yellow body. The white head is bubbly. The hops are bright at first and linger through to the end. 6.6% abv. B

3 DaysPerhaps the most interesting beer in both flavor and history is 3 Days from Japan’s Kuichi Brewery, which has been in business for over 190 years. This beer is called 3 Days because the initial brewing process was started just before the tsunami hit in March of 2011. They were unable to get back to it for three days, in which time a natural souring process had begun. 3 Days is a witbier made from all Japanese ingredients, including the hops. It is an amber ale with a nice, clear ruby body and a caramel frothy head. The hops are light and the maltiness not overdone. We found it very refreshing. 6% abv. A

If you’re interested in knowing the top 100 beers named the Best in the World at the 2017 RateBeer Best Festival, check out RateBeer here.

Review: Two New Chocolate Ales from The Bruery: Share This O. C. and Chocolate Rain

Chocolate Rain and Share This O.C.
This month The Bruery released two ales, first through their Bruery Preservation Society and then to the public. Both are imperial stouts with heavy cacao nib flavors. We couldn’t resist opening a couple of bottles.

First up is Share This O.C., the third in the brewery’s “Share This” series of brews, meaning one dollar of each bottle sold is donated to Food Forward charity. Besides the Tcho cacao nibs, this stout also has orange zest and vanilla beans added. The chocolate fills your nose instantly as you tilt the glass of this ale toward your lips, with its dark chocolate body and creamy caramel head. It continues to dance across your palate, lingering thorough to the end. The orange is there but remains a muted partner, like a thin veil. The vanilla, as it does in cooking, nicely rounds out the other flavors. This ale is very smooth and would pair nicely with a mandarin orange cheesecake. 11% abv. A+ / $15 per 750ml bottle

Chocolate Rain is heavier on the chocolate than Share This O. C. It is also a bourbon barrel aged imperial stout, which is immediately evident at the first sip. If you like The Bruery’s It’s Black Tuesday, you’ll be pleased to know this is similar, previously released as a single casked version in 2011. Chocolate Rain’s body is very dark; even black in low light. The head is nice but vanishes in seconds. The cocoa nibs used here are Tcho cacao nibs, and the flavor is followed by vanilla bean. The non-sweet cocoa scent fills your nose like sniffing cocoa powder but then intensifies on a second pass. It is strong, as are the bourbon notes, from first sip to last. It may be too strong for some folks. The vanilla does its job of bringing the flavors together without taking center stage, and the back end reveals a hint of pepper, which could be a product of the charring process on the barrel. This would go wonderfully with barbeque ribs. 19.6 abv. B+ / $40 per 750ml bottle

thebruery.com

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

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