Review: Chimay Gold, Red, White, and Blue

The monks at Belgium’s Scourmont Abbey have been making Chimay beers since 1862. Today, Chimay is perhaps the most famous of all authentic Trappist ales, which are sold to support the monastery’s operations and charitable functions. Today we look at the four core beers in the Chimay lineup, all of which are also available in larger formats (sometimes much larger).

Chimay Gold Dorée – A Belgian pale ale “brewed with spices,” and one of the lighter expressions of Chimay. Lots of fruit here, with the coriander-driven spice giving the beer a summery character with notes of of orange peel and crusty brown bread. There’s plenty of sweet malt, but the beer never becomes gummy or cloying, remaining brisk and refreshing on to the finish. 4.8% abv. B+ / $6 per 330ml bottle

Chimay Red Premiere – The original Chimay bottling (hence the name), this is a brown double/dubbel, made with twice the usual amount of malt. Loaded with brown sugar sweetness and a smattering of spice, it’s got a kick of bitterness on the back end that provides more balance than the first rush of flavor would have you expect. That aside, some relatively lifeless vegetal notes here and there mar an otherwise perfectly acceptable brew. 7% abv. B+ / $5 per 330ml bottle

Chimay White Cinq Cents – Formerly known as Chimay Tripel, made with triple the amount of malt of a standard Trappist ale. It’s a burly and bold beer, rounded and mouth-filling and a great example of the style, loaded to the gills with apple and pear fruit and with a long and lingering finish that echoes malty cereal, touched with sweetness. The finish offers ripe banana, some baking spice, and lingering vanilla cream. A favorite Belgian. 8% abv. A- / $6 per 330ml bottle

Chimay Blue Grande Reserve – The top of the line of the standard-release Chimay bottlings, this is a strong dark ale loaded with notes of nuts, dates, and some pruny raisin character. The finish offers notes of old wine, sauteed mushrooms, and toasty barley. A real brooding beer, though the very high alcohol content is barely noticeable. 9% abv. A / $6 per 330ml bottle

chimay.com

Review: Breckenridge Brewery Barrel Aged Imperial Cherry Stout

This second entry in Colorado-based Breckenridge Brewery’s Brewery Lane Series is a cherry stout — “aged 50% in whiskey barrels and 50% in Port wine barrels, Imperial Cherry Stout features sweet-sour Montmorency tart cherries which play on the dark fruit flavors prevalent in a traditional Imperial Stout.”

This is a huge beer but quite an enchanting aged stout, offering a richly coffee-laced and heavily nutty approach that quickly winds its way down a rabbit hole of flavors. Chocolate-covered cherries emerge immediately, followed by more of a mocha coffee character. After a moment, the initially sweeter attack fades and lets in an herbal note punctuated by a red wine character — the Port at work — and some lingering bitterness. Quite a complex monster, though it’s so bold on the palate that I recommend enjoying it in small doses. Bring a few friends.

9.5% abv.

A- / $12 per 25.4 oz bottle / breckbrew.com

Review: Guinness Irish Wheat

Guinness’s latest addition to its ever-expanding lineup of novelty brews is, per the company, a first for any brewer: A beer made with 100% Irish wheat malt.

No big surprises then with Guinness Irish Wheat. It’s a Hefeweizen fermented with Guinness’s custom yeast. That makes for a curious combination — malty, fruity with orange peel, and herbal with notes of caraway seed. But most of all it’s got those big, toasty bread overtones. The funny part is that there’s a slightly sour edge to it. Nothing overbearing, just a hint of tart cherry that comes along a bit unexpectedly.

The finish is bready and a bit pungent at times, which makes for a more powerful wheat beer than you might be used to, with a funkier punch than that bottle of Blue Moon.

5.3% abv.

B / $8 per six pack of 11.2 oz bottles / guinness.com

Review: Blue Moon White IPA and Mango Wheat

Blue Moon is nearly ubiquitous in American bars — and it’s about to get even more of a presence via these two new expressions, arriving just in time for summer.

Blue Moon White IPA – Summer beers often prove a challenge to breweries. The humidity and high heat in much of the country preclude people from drinking heavy, high alcohol beers and instead they look for beers that are refreshing, light and ones that can be enjoyed in multiple at a picnic or the beach. This beer deserves a permanent place in your cooler.

Even though it is brewed year round, this White IPA from Blue Moon Brewing certainly fits the bill as a great summer beer. Pale gold in color, the initial nose is citrus and spice, with little of the bitter aroma sometimes associated with an IPA. The first taste is citrus, and as it continues there is a very nice taste of honeydew, present because of the use of Huell Melon hops. The beer finishes with a hint of very pleasant bitterness, and then lingers with a slight taste of honeydew with no bitterness remaining. This IPA is approachable, friendly, and very enjoyable.

This is an excellent beer that really stretches the definition of what the style can be. A style combination of American IPA and Belgian Wit, this beer is free of much of the bitterness often associated with IPAs, and will appeal to drinkers who usually don’t reach for an IPA. Its perfect balance and crisp, citrus flavor make this beer an excellent accompaniment to nearly any cuisine, but is particularly well suited for the food of China and Japan. 5.9% abv. A / $9

Blue Moon Mango Wheat – A seasonal release from Blue Moon, this summer-centric mango wheat beer can easily find a place in your cooler if you’re headed out for a day at the beach. At a very low 19 IBUs, this beer drinks like a soda despite its 5.4% abv. The pale amber color evokes the fruit the beer is made with, even though the beer is slightly cloudy, as it’s still a wheater. The scent of mango is is present even from a distance. At first nosing it deeply, mango is all you sense and this continues through the first taste. There is very little carbonation, and the beer is very sweet with very little bitterness. Because of the low carbonation, the beer feels a little heavy on the tongue and is slightly cloying. The beer finishes with mango and honey; the sweetness lingering without the balance of any bitterness. The lack of balance in this beer is a little surprising, as many other fruit beers seem to balance the sweetness a little more evenly. Despite its faults, this beer could go very well with anything spicy you might be enjoying.

It’s also very sweet and would function as an excellent mixer for shandies and other summer beer focused cocktails. Mango Wheat would also make a great marinade base for fish or poultry, as the sweetness combined with the wheat should develop into a beautiful flavor when grilled. Just be sure to add citrus for balance. 5.4% abv. B- / $NA

bluemoonbrewingcompany.com

Brewery Review: Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers

Jack’s Abby opened its doors in Framingham, Mass. in 2011 and has already had to expand its operation to meet demand as word spread about a brewery that only makes lagers, but ones that break the mold of what a lager is supposed to taste like. I have grown to appreciate Jack’s Abby’s beers and had a chance to visit the brewery and talk with their Master Brewer, Mike Gleason, who has been with the operation almost since it was opened by three brothers: Jack, Eric, and Sam Hendler.

Mike and I met to talk in the brewery’s new Beer Hall, a cavernous, bright, inviting space from which you can see the brewery through a wall of glass, and which includes a bar serving 24 different home-brewed lagers on tap. I tried their beers while eating one of their specialty pizzas: bacon and clams. I was impressed by the beer, enjoyed the food, and appreciated the ambiance. If I lived closer, I’d be here so much that the bartenders would know my name and my favorite lagers.

But on to the beers:

Core Beers

Jack’s Abby Hoponius Union IPL – The single beer most identified with Jack’s Abby is their India Pale Lager. Like an IPA, this beer relies on hops for its flavor, clocking in at 65 IBUs (International Bitter Units), a respectable, but not over-the-top number. But this beer is much more than just a super-bitter lager. On the nose, it shows bright grapefruit citrus, tropical notes, and resin. The flavor follows suit in beautiful fashion and introduces a malt backbone just strong enough to stand up to the hops. I can’t say for certain if I could blindly identify this beer as an IPL instead of an IPA, but I can say it is balanced and bold yet dangerously drinkable. 6.5% abv. A

Jack’s Abby Smoke & Dagger Black Lager – Without introduction, I would have guessed this pitch black beer was a porter. On the nose, it oozes sweet malt, coffee, and smoke. The taste follows, showing malt, coffee, chocolate, and sweetness, but not too much. The smoke is less intense in the flavor than in the smell. With so much going on, this beer somehow manages to be medium bodied. Without setting out to sample Jack’s Abby’s full line of available beers, I probably wouldn’t have tried this one, and that would be a shame, because it is surprisingly good. 5.6% abv. A-

Jack’s Abby Leisure Time Wheat Lager – As the name suggests, this is a light, summertime sipper. The can lists chamomile and orange peel, and both ingredients figure in the smell and the taste. Wheat also figures prominently, giving the beer a yeasty, bready quality. It doesn’t have as much character as some of the best witbiers, but it is worth a try. 4.8% abv. B

Jack’s Abby House Lager – This beer has the smell and taste of corn and yeasty bread. On their website, Jack’s Abby describes the House Lager as “sweet and golden with a full malty body.” I agree, but I found it to be too sweet, with a slightly cloying finish that detracts from a pleasant, everyday lager style. 5.2% abv. B-

Jack’s Abby Calyptra Session IPL – More heavily carbonated than Jack’s Abby’s other IPL offerings and showing a lower abv, Calyptra is an enjoyable session beer. The hops, which do not present as boldly as I typically like, grow fruitier (grapefruit citrus), more assertive, and more enjoyable as I worked my way through the can. The crispness on the finish is ideal to a hot summer day, and I finished the beer ready to start another. 4.9% abv. B+

Jack’s Abby Excess IPL – This beer lives up to its name and offers a serious challenge to the best double IPAs on the market in terms of assertive hoppiness. But this beer is more than a hop monster. It reveals bold, enticing aromas of pineapple, grapefruit, and pine. The palate follows suit, offering more fruit and citrus than bitterness. The malt component just stands up to the hops, offering a beer that is balanced but very hop forward. Love it. 7.2% abv. A

Seasonal Beers

Jack’s Abby Saxony Lager Vienna Style – In a blind taste test, I would guess this was an established German lager. The malt presence is dominant but is balanced by the hops to create a beer with great flavor, but one I could drink all day. Light grass and cereal grains show on both the nose and the palate along with the crisp finish that the style demands. 5% abv. B+

Rotating Beers

Jack’s Abby Framinghammer Baltic Porter – Nearly all popular porters are ales, but this beer proves that a lager can achieve an outstanding example of the style. Framinghammer is a rich, slightly sweet, full bodied porter that exudes dark chocolate, coffee, malt, enticing bitterness, and an impressively long, enjoyable finish. The high abv is entirely hidden by the bold flavor that goes on and on. 10% abv. A

Jack’s Abby Mass Rising Double IPL – This used to be part of Jack’s Abby’s regular rotation but was ousted by Excess, which I like more. But Mass Rising gained a following and now shows up on the rotating list of brews. It is not inferior to Excess, just different. It has a massive 100 IBUs, which show up on the nose in pineapple, pine, and citrus. The flavor also shows serious bitterness with strong resin, which are balanced by nice malt. The beer is a bit hot, showing its high abv, but it is a powerful, dank, uninhibited IPL that demands respect. 8% abv. B+

Specialty Beers

Jack’s Abby Bourbon Barrel-Aged Framinghammer Baltic Porter – I don’t know if I have tasted a better bourbon barrel aged stout or porter. Unlike so many other examples of the style, the porter and the bourbon barrel marry together seamlessly in this beer. The nose and the palate exhibit some sweetness (but not cloying), bourbon, and brown sugar along with chocolate and malt. The bourbon elements never overwhelm the beer, but work with it. This is worth hunting down. Wow. 11% abv. A+

Jack’s Abby Cordon Rouge Barrel-Aged Framinghammer Baltic Porter – This is the Framinghammer, aged in bourbon barrels with orange peel, which add a spicy kick to the otherwise silky porter. I don’t like it more than the regular Framinghammer, but it is very good. 12% abv. A

Jack’s Abby Mole Barrel-Aged Framinghammer Baltic Porter – Flavors of chocolate and spice from the mole are prevalent but don’t mesh perfectly with the porter. I expect there are going to be people who love this beer, but it doesn’t come together for me. 11.9% abv. B

Jack’s Abby PB&J Barrel-Aged Framinghammer Baltic Porter – This was my least favorite of the barrel aged porters. The flavor of peanut butter comes first with just a hint of jelly, and together they hide the outstanding flavor of the porter. 11.8% B-

jacksabby.com

Review: Starr Hill King of Hop Series 2017

Previously encountered in 2015 and 2016, Starr Hill is back with another round of King of Hop releases. Like it did in 2016, four variations are being released, available in a mixed four pack so you can try them all. Naturally, things all get started with the straightforward Imperial IPA bottling, a base from which the remaining trio can build… Thoughts follow.

Starr Hill King of Hop Imperial IPA 2017 – Ultra fruity this year, loaded with pineapple, lemon, and even some coconut notes, all of which serve to temper the hoppy, lightly briny IPA underneath. I love fruit-heavy IPAs, but this one actually takes things a bit too far, dulling the bitterness (and making for a less clean finish). 7.5% abv. B+

Starr Hill King of Hop Orange Imperial IPA – A typical, even expected spin on IPA is to squeeze some orange into it. Here it’s done with a very soft hand, though the orange element isn’t bitter (peel-like) at all, but rather quite sweet and juicy — though compared to what we’re starting with, it already had plenty of that to go around. Ultimately, a somewhat gummy finish makes me like this version a bit less. 7.5% abv. B

Starr Hill King of Hop Mango Habanero Imperial IPA – Last year’s Habanero IPA from this series was a heat-packing bruiser. This version tones down the spice considerably, with both the mango and the chili pepper really just afterthoughts that follow that fruit-forward pale ale attack. It’s actually quite delightful, the touch of spice giving the beer a playful kick. 7.5% abv. A-

Starr Hill King of Hop Coffee Imperial IPA – This didn’t sound like a good combination from the start, and I was right — it’s not. The sweet and syrupy coffee overwhelms the full experience, and the bitterness from the hops just makes the whole experience muddy and confusing. While it’s drinkable in its own way, there are better brews in this box. 7.5% abv. C+

$11 per mixed four-pack / starrhill.com

Review: Deschutes Brewery Swivelhead Red and Hop Slice (2017)

A new duo from our buddies in Bend.

Deschutes Brewery Swivelhead Red India Style Red Ale – Swivelhead Red is a beer designed to keep you guessing. The amber body looks like any classic, brownish-red lager, but one whiff and you know something’s up. India style? That’s right, it’s an IPA with eight different hop varieties in it, which find a foil in a significant amount of burly malt underneath. What percolates through is a greatest hits of two different styles. There are plenty of piney and citrus-forward hops, which attack the palate with ample bitterness before letting the sweet and nutty malt wash it away. The finish is a bit funky with mushroom notes as well as some chewy molasses character. 6.5% abv. B+ / $10 per six-pack

Deschutes Brewery Hop Slice Summer Ale (2017) – A semi-sessionable pale ale infused with lemondrop hops (among others). Quite piney, but not particularly lemony, as some smoldering, earthier elements tend to dominate. Nonetheless it’s a refresher with a surprisingly bold body and a slightly spicy finish — that goes down real easy. 5% abv. A- / $10 per six-pack

deschutesbrewery.com

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