Beer Reviews

Dogfish Head 75 Minute IPA

75 Minute IPA Tasting Notes:

  • Appearance: Clear gold with huge fluffy head, excellent lace.
  • Aroma/Flavor: Aromatic hops, very floral with touches of citrus fruit. Sweet.
  • Mouthfeel: Soft carbonation,  very drinkable.
  • Overall: Even better than on draft, a must try.

Rating: A+

For the first time ever Dogfish Head has released their fabled 75 Minute IPA in bottles. Previously, this was a brewpub exclusive (though a regular one). Once a week a single cask was tapped and ran until it was gone (usually within a day). The cask version – sometimes referred to as Johnny Cask – was a special blend of 60 Minute and 90 Minute IPA’s, and then finished and carbonated with maple syrup. Past beer events and festivals were able to occasionally procure a keg of “75 Minute IPA” which at the time was only the blend sans the maple. As such, Dogfish Head purists would scorn the 75 Minute kegs in favor of the more unique Johnny Cask. I was delighted that the bottled version would follow the Johnny Cask blueprint of using the maple syrup addition.

This is also one of the first Dogfish Head beers to use their new logoed 750ml bottles (the old ones had no logo and were shaped more like a bottle of champagne).

As a homebrewer I suppose that I preferred the old bottles, but as a fan of the brewery I am delighted with this new touch. The bottle is also slightly smaller at the base which ought to make these  easier to transport.

I have made the pilgrimage to visit Dogfish Head twice now, and both times the very first beer I ordered at the pub was the Johnny Cask. As such I have some experience with how this beer ought to taste, so let’s see how the new bottled version compares!

The most striking thing about this beer is the carbonation. Even with a gentle pour I was rewarded with 3 fingers of soft pillowy head. The white foam floats weightlessly atop a clear golden brew, and the retention is epic – I literally had to wait close to five minutes before drinking lest I don a foam mustache. Sticky thick lace gathers around my Duvel tulip beautifully. Yeah – the maple syrup is working its wonders on the carbonation here.

It is important to be aware that this beer is bottle conditioned – meaning that there will be some yeast sediment at the bottle of the bottle. So pour carefully, and leave the last ounce or two of beer in the bottle to prevent all of that yeast from spilling into your glass.

The aroma is definitely a blend of 60 and 90 Minute – you get the assertive citric punch that 90 Minute garners, as well as the more subtle and balanced malt-driven aspects of 60 Minute. With the addition of dry-hopping, this all Cascade brew is really rich in complexity. For those who don’t brew beer you may not realize that the timing of when hops are added during the boil of a beer will impact three elements: bitterness, flavor, and aroma. The earlier hops are added the more bitterness they will impart. Towards the middle of the boil flavor becomes the predominant quality the hops bring to the table. Finally, the hops added during the last minutes will impart mostly aroma. It is the skillful science of knowing just when to add your hops that make your favorite IPA’s so great. The philosophy at Dogfish Head is that if hops are added in small amounts throughout every moment of the boil, you’ll extract every possible nuance that the hops are able to impart. And, while it may not be entirely evident to some, I truly feel that the Dogfish Head IPA’s exhibit complexity that few, if any, other beers can match.

So, when you dig into the aroma of 75 Minute IPA you begin to notice all of this wonderful complexity. Very floral – the hops have imparted a bouquet of soft and delicate sweet honeysuckle and clover honey. The beer is awash with citrus notes as well. Faint sweet grapefruit and tangerine are predominant, as is a much more subtle lemon aspect. The malt has a crackery white bread aroma to it. Definitely a wonderful beer to just stick your whole nose into the glass and savor the aroma.

The flavor is every bit as wonderful as the aroma is. Floral hops dance over the palate along side a bitterness that I can only describe as juicy and balanced. Sweetness is deliciously evident, and it is terribly difficult to pinpoint the source. I truly feel that the hops are adding some amount of the notion of sweetness, but most of it ought to be derived from the malts. The maple syrup is also a possible contributor, though most of it ought to have fermented out during the bottle conditioning phase. In any case, combined with the soft creamy carbonation, 75 Minute IPA is proving to be a delightful beer to enjoy.

Overall I am sincerely impressed. I actually want to say that this is even better than I remembered it at the brewery (though I do feel that cask beers lose out somewhat in the aroma department given the large lack of carbonation to help carry it to the nose and over the palate). My biggest complaint, well, my only complaint, is that this is sold in 750ml bottles. I was really anticipating this being sold as a 4 pack when it was announced last year that it would be bottled. And while $7.99 is the cheapest 750ml bottle that Dogfish Head sells, I do feel that it ought to be slightly cheaper. In any case – a truly excellent beer and well worth the effort to find one (or three). Well done Dogfish Head.

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Texas Brown Ale – aka TBA

This afternoon I am sitting down with a collaborative effort by three breweries: Bear Republic and Stone out of California and Fat Head’s out of Cleveland, OH. The beer is called TBA which stands for “Texas Brown Ale.” As I understand it, this beer is a throwback to the early days of craft brewing, and stems from a recipe that used to be brewed by home brewers. The beer was so uncharacteristic for any style at the time it kept losing in competitions despite being popular (and quite tasty). It finally was accepted into the newly formed “California Dark” category in a Houston, TX competition.

If you’re looking for more info on the history and making of this beer please check out Stone’s blog on the subject.

The back of the bottle describes a Christmastime brew day between the three brewers full of the whimsy of nostalgia and new ingredients (apparently this is the first time that Stone has brewed with Cascade hops, which are typically one of the most prevalent varieties in most modern American breweries today.

In addition to various other hop additions and specialty malts, TBA was brewed using molasses and brown sugar. Don’t let the brown color or molasses/malty descriptors fool you though – this was brewed at Stone, and is meant to be an all0American style brown ale. As such, expect this bad boy to be richly hop-forward and much more bitter than that Brooklyn Brown Ale or Newcastle that you might be enjoying this St. Patty’s Day at home.

For now freshness shouldn’t be a question: it’s only been brewed once and was released just a couple weeks ago. That said, I do believe that there is a typo or oversight on the bottle. On the back there is a signature from Mitch Steele (Brewmaster of Stone). Underneath it is dated “January 2011). Either it was supposed to say “January 2012” – the likely time of bottling/label approval, or it’s just an old quote/old format from these collaborative releases. Either way, I find it a tad conflicting when you consider that on the side of the bottle it states “Drink fresh. Do not age.”

TBA Tasting Notes:

  • Appearance: Hazy appearance, the color of muted sarsaparilla. Tall creamy head.
  • Aroma/Flavor: Molasses is strong, as is a fruity yeast element with pine hop presence.
  • Mouthfeel: Muted carbonation, thick, lingering bitterness.
  • Overall: A fun beer, well priced for a specialty single, worth a trip down memory lane.

Rating: B/B+

The Review:

Poured into a Stone Ruination Pint glass. I know that pints are typically taboo for the most serious of craft beer nerds, but I prefer to serve a beer in a brewery-specific glass whenever possible, and as far as pints go – this one is pretty damn bad ass.

On the pour the beer quickly produces a huge head. From my own homebrewing experience, I’ll chalk that up to the usage of brown sugar – which can be difficult to control if it doesn’t ferment out completely before bottling. At 3 fingers it took a while to empty the entire bottle into my pint.

The foam cap is creamy and dense (what I often liken to a meringue). Lace is minimal, but does follow each sip on the inside half of the glass. The color I am comparing to is sarsaparilla and the beer showed some considerable chill haze which clear up rather well as the beer warms. Once clear, this brown ale takes on a bright garnet hue when held to the light.

The aroma is striking. From a distance, after popping the cap but before the pour I was already smelling the dark sugars of the molasses. In the glass, the beer is semi-sweet with aromas of snickerdoodle. Add in the fruity esters from the yeast and fruitcake isn’t entirely out of the question in the list of aromas one might discover. The hops are very bold in the taste, but take time and warmth to truly show their colors in the aroma. Once warm though, green leafy hops and pine bough present themselves.

After the first sip however, you won’t doubt the hop schedule again – very forceful hop flavors rush at you from the onset. Bitter pine and spruce flavors mingle with greener grassy notes. Very minimal white grapefruit pith character on the back end. The malt is not nearly as apparent as the bottle description might have you believe, but it is there. I imagine without the stronger darker malts this would be bitter enough to teeter on Double IPA territory perceptible IBUs. There’s some mild roast and a sweet breadiness.

The mouthfeel is fairly creamy with subdued carbonation. The green hop flavor lingers as does some residual bitterness. A tad sticky and coating on the palate.

Overall I liked this beer. TBA starts off unique, carries a large hop punch midway, and ends even better than it began if you can stand to wait long enough for it to warm. Priced reasonably ($2.99-3.99 for the single). Definitely worth a shot if you come across this fresh.

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Sixpoint Bengali Tiger

Earlier this month Sixpoint Brewing Company out of Brooklyn, NY announced that they were entering Ohio. Since then all of the bars and stores that I follow have been flooded with Sixpoint brews. Happily, they have been sending Ohio a large portion of their portfolio as well as a few enticing one-off kegs here and there. Perhaps even more interesting to some people is that fact that Sixpoint is one of the few craft breweries that cans all of their lineup.

To add some insight to those who think that they prefer bottles: cans are cheaper for the brewery if they have the equipment and the demand to justify ordering large supplies of aluminum. More importantly, cans mean that the beer never is exposed to light until it is opened. Light (especially sunlight and florescent light) is the biggest factor in “off” flavored beer – I’m sure that everyone is familiar with the skunky flavor and aroma of Corona or an imported European  lager. Why is this? These beers are typically packaged in clear or green glass – both of which allow a significant amount of light to penetrate the bottle and react with compounds in the beer (namely the hops).

As such, cans should taste fresher. The beer ought to keep longer too, as there is no risk of leakage/oxidation. Plus, cans don’t break as easily, and are more portable for those that hike, camp, or golf. Ready to love the can yet? Well, I’ll admit that knowing all of the above, I still prefer the aesthetic of a bottle. However, let the beer do the real talking. If it tastes good, ultimately who cares what vessel it was poured out of?

So… onto my review for tonight: Bengali Tiger. This is arguably their best-known beer – and as an IPA, it very well ought to be. Dry hopped and bittered to the tune of 62 IBU’s (a little on the bitter side of an IPA). Poured into a pint as this tall boy wouldn’t all fit into a smaller vessel.

The Review

Best by Date: 5/07/2012

Perhaps what I miss most with a can is the lack of the crisp hiss of escaping carbonation that comes with a bottle. While pouring the beer appears relatively clear with a slow-rising head of off-white foam. The golden liquid in my glass isn’t cloudy, but does have the unfiltered look that is welcome in a heartily hopped brew. Leaves excellent lace. Just watch when you pour as there will be some sediment at the bottom of the can.

The aroma is wholly unique for the average American IPA. There’s a very apparent malt backbone – but rather than the caramel/bready notes that some IPA’s exhibit, Bengali Tiger is chock full of moist sourdough and white bread. Then the hops push through in the form of mild pine resin and white grapefruit.

As you sip on this heady IPA you’ll find Bengali Tiger to be quite bitter, but well balanced with heavy golden malt additions. Crackery with a huge pithy kick to it from all the hops. Mild grassy undertones likely from the dry-hopping schedule. The mouthfeel is chewy for the style, with lingering bitterness and thick, tongue-coating hop oils.
Overall this is a fine beer. People discuss the merits of the West Coast vs East Coast style of IPA – but this one doesn’t seem to fit the bill for either. I enjoy the uniqueness here, but after the first can of my 4 pack I was wishing this were one of my Midwest favorites instead.

Well worth a shot for the hop heads out there though.

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Columbus Brewing Company – Bock Bier

Columbus Brewing Company has a new winter seasonal out this year – Bock Bier (just listed as “Bock” on the label). This is the first time the beer has been bottled. Brewmaster Eric Bean falls back on his roots as a classically trained German-style brewer and brings us a traditional German Lager in the form of Bock Bier.

For 2012 there will be a total of five batches brewed; the brewery has already finished the first three. Packaging is limited to 1200 cases total, so if you’re looking to try this one out don’t wait too long! It’ll be a while before we see Summer Teeth in stores.

Currently the beer is only available in the Columbus area, but as of next week the brewery will begin distributing to Northeast Ohio. Sadly, Columbus Brewing’s offerings will be draft only for the first few months as they await the delivery of new fermentation and brewing equipment which will double their production ability. By the time bottles make their way up north Bock Bier will be long gone most likely.

If you live in Cleveland and want to try it, my suggestion is to try to make it to one of the launch parties Columbus Brewing has scheduled around town. Each night the party starts at 6pm, and they will be at Winking Lizard’s Lizardville Tuesday (2/7), Kent’s 101 Bottles on the Wall on Wednesday (2/8), and then on Thursday (2/9) the biggest party will be at Buckeye Beer Engine. These parties are a great way to meet the brewers, ask some questions, and hang out with the people who make partying worthwhile in the first place. Be sure to let them know how much you like their beer, and be sure to ask for some Bock Bier – this is one of their better recent brews and my favorite seasonal offering from the brewery thus far. I definitely plan to be buying this constantly while it’s around.

Bock Tasting Notes:

  • Appearance: Rich chestnut color with a thick creamy head. Great clarity.
  • Aroma/Flavor: Nutty, very bready/malty. Toasty and chewy with mild sweetness and strong yeast esters.
  • Mouthfeel: Creamy, soft, quaffable.
  • Overall: Wonderful compliment to the cold. Pair with food or enjoy a few as a meal in itself.

Rating: A

Poured into a Kirta-Halbe stange. My wife hates this glass but i think it’s awesome. Never trust a goose unless he’s holding a beer, I say!

Rich color here, deep cherry wood and chestnut colors with bright ruby hues in the light. Excellent clarity. The head rises easily to just under 3 fingers and showcases excellent retention. Lace is droopy and inconsistent.

The aroma starts off a bit soapy, but quickly yields great depth of malt character. Toasty bread crust and warm dough invite one to dig in with reckless abandon. Things turn towards nutty at times. And if you dig even harder mild aromas of  toffee and what I can only describe as butternut also present themselves. Mild sweetness pervades the aroma, and later the flavor.

So, how does this Bock taste?

Wow, I typically dislike bocks precisely because many seem to be too light in color and malt flavor – but not here. This easily has the best malt profile of any Columbus Brewing Company beer I can recall. Flavors of browned whole grain bread and fresh baguette wash over the palate, while the finish demands further attention by way of assertive, yet balanced, hops. The hops are earthy with a bitter spicy finish. There’s a very subtle hint of fruit sweetness, perhaps currant, and a nice honey-like profile that develops over time.

Creamy smooth mouthfeel and highly quaffable. I actually wish this were a tad weaker on alcohol (7%) so I could even more easily drink this in quantity. Bock Bier definitely becomes quite dry by the end of the glass, though while slightly distracting, it is only just so.

Overall I wasn’t expecting this to be my cup of tea, and in fact I feel that I will be wanting to keep this stocked in my fridge throughout the season. Very nice. Well done CBC, I love the fact that you’re proving that you aren’t just hop Wunderkind, but able to showcase some prowess with classic malty styles as well.

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Samuel Smith’s Organically Produced Lager Beer

Tasting Notes

  • Appearance: Bright golden yellow, very clear
  • Aroma/Flavor: Noble hop aromas – herbal and a bit vegetal, notes of lemon and white bread
  • Mouthfeel: Crisp, clean, refreshing, quaffable
  • Overall: Great value, quite satisfying, and organic to boot!

Rating: B+

 

On my way home from work tonight my wife sent me on a run to the grocery store for some last-minute ingredients for some cookies she was baking. Of course, this was a perfect excuse to grab myself a beer. I was in the mood for something lighter, as I have mostly stouts and high abv beers sitting at home. I chose this as a suitable option to meet my needs for something lighter.

On the plus side here, Samuel Smith is distributed to the majority of the country, and is typically easy to find, and quite affordable. My local Giant Eagle sells 8-10 different Samuel Smith beers. Currently, this, the oatmeal Stout, and the Nut Brown are on sale for $2.99 a bottle (550ml or ~18.5 oz). Not a bad deal at all.

The Review

I poured most of the bottle into a stein simply because I get so few opportunities to actually use a stein – let alone one in which a stein is called for. Happily the large format bottle and the lager style lend themselves perfectly to using a large glass like this.

Organic Lager pours with excellent clarity to a bright golden brew. The head isn’t particularly tall, though I got the feeling that if you wanted a full 4 fingers a little effort might have produced it. The 2 fingers of height I did get are bone white and once receded, remains as a short cap atop the beer. Very consistent bubbles visibly rise up through the beer.

At first the aroma seems a little musty and vegetal the way many lagers can be. It’s definitely not skunked, but similar. Pushing past this, one can also pick out a bit of lemon zest and noble hops.

Crisp and refreshing, Organic Lager tastes full of noble hops – above and beyond the average lager – just as the label claims. The malt is smooth and bready. Very clean finish.

Overall a simple but surprisingly enjoyable beer. This pleasantly scratched my itch for something more quaffable.

Now I am thinking that I’d like to pit this beer against Noble Pils in the spring. Samuel Smith vs Samuel Adams. I could easily see myself preferring this beer.

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Cigar City Brewing – Marshal Zhukov’s Imperial Stout

Tasting Notes

  • Appearance Thick and oily. Dense. Dark frothy head. Black as night.
  • Aroma/Flavor Fudge and char are supreme. Very sweet. Rich like a dark chocolate dessert.
  • Mouthfeel Thick and viscous. Moderate carbonation. Sticky, with well-hidden alcohol but still a sipper at 11%.
  • Overall Satisfying. Serve as a dessert beer with friends or late in the lineup at a tasting.

Rating: B+

Tonight I opened another bottle from Cigar City Brewing down in Tampa, FL. Presented in a 750ml size bottle with a brief description of the beer on the label.

This Russian Imperial Stout is dedicated to Georgy Zhukov, arguably one of the finest generals of World War II. Opaque black in color, with notes of espresso, chocolate, dark toffee and hints of backstrap molasses. The English hop varietals provide a subtle herbal dryness, and finishes with a hearty slap of roasty espresso. Pair Marshal Zhukov’s with Mushroom Solyanka, dark chocolate, cherries and ground wars in Russia.

 

Each year they release their acclaimed Russian Imperial Stout – Marshal Zhukov’s. The release at the brewery has grown in size and proportions, culminating in a very special party this summer in which 30 customers got to have a traditional Russian dinner in the brewery freezer. They walked away with some special beer and a sweet-ass hat.

Marshal Zhukov’s release party, Aug. 3, 2011.

So, the brewery seems to have a lot of fun with this one. Let’s see how much enjoyment I can find in this Iron Curtain in a bottle…

The Review

Poured into a Cigar City snifter, Marshal Zhukov’s is as thick as they come.  With the consistency of the unchanged sludgy oil of an obsolete model WWI-era tank, this Russian Imperial Stout promises to be a slow sipper already. The head cascades upwards with the pour to produce a wonderfully dark foam cap the color of fudge. This slowly fades back into the blackness of the brew beneath. The foamy head is thicker than the ranks of the Russian infantry. Lacing is intermittent but thick – a wall of opposition rushing to meet the opposing perfection of the glass. But glass grows brittle in cold; the Germans are being staved off with the aid of Marshal Zhukov.

The aroma on this behemoth brew is deep and robust. Roast is like careening grapeshot – explosive and devastating. Hidden within that grapeshot is the seed of fruit aroma – berry and raisin. There’s an interesting mustiness lingering in this beer, one that makes one think that there are some English counterparts to the Red Army pent up inside the bottle. There is also a ton of sweetness to consider here – coffee cake and fudge and all of the sweet sticky residuals of unfermented body-enhancing malt sugars.

If the aroma is the artillery clearing a path to victory, then the flavor is the general infantry’s sound to charge. Dark fudge and bitter char render your palate a wasteland – just as any long-used battlefield becomes through history. There’s some ashiness going on, but the density of the beer helps to mediate an attribute that can be a bit drying and gritty in other beers. The biggest thing of note though, is the sweetness. It’s a great treat to sip on, but it can be a bit much to take in at times as well. The mouthfeel is thick and silky with moderately low carbonation. The alcohol – clocking in at 11% – is never as oppressive as the Axis opposition, but it does creep up on you and also adds as another limiting factor on the beer’s drinkability.

Overall a really nice Russian Imperial Stout, this Marshal Zhukov’s… I highly recommend sharing with comrades; it’s big, bold, heavy, and sweet. I would really enjoy trying this barrel aged though!

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Olde Hickory Brewery – Weizen-Bock

Tasting Notes

  • Appearance: Clouded peach color with a short head and nice lacing.
  • Aroma/Flavor: Heavy banana and clove spiciness – akin to a hefeweizen. Sweet.
  • Mouthfeel: Moderate to high carbonation, sticky, a tad boozy.
  • Overall: A slightly different take on the style, but tasty nonetheless. Give it a try and share with friends.

Rating: B

 

Weizenbock is a German style of wheat beer. While bock is a style that is traditionally a lager, a weizenbock is often an ale. This example is presented in a waxed 22oz bottle. The wax exudes class and a hand-crafted touch – stamped on top of the bottle is the brewery’s initials and on the front is the year (2011).

The label portrays a horned goat atop a mountain – traditional symbolism in a German style beer – I am reminded of Spaten. The label description reads:

“Our Weizen-Bock was inspired by the rugged majestic beauty of the Alps. Brewed with malted wheat and barley, select German hops and a special Bavarian yeast. This handcrafted beer is best enjoyed in the company of good friends.”

So far I am liking what I see. Sadly, Olde Hickory’s beer does not get out very far from home – Hickory, NC. For a brewery more readily known for its stouts, Weizen-Bock is shaping up to be a nice treat. And at 8% abv, this will help to stave off the chill of the encroaching onset of winter.

The Review:

The green waxed bottle does not pose too much difficulty in relinquishing the prize sealed within. While some wax is so brittle it will chip infinitely all over your rug, or so pliable that it creases rather than peels, the wax used here is easy to remove with the blade on a wine corkscrew.

I appropriately poured the majority of the bottle into a large stein. The ensuing cap of foam never gains much height, but it is thick and sticks around long enough to appreciate the view. The beer itself is an unfiltered ripened peach color. Lacing is inconsistent but is also something worth appreciating at times.

The aroma is possibly the best part of Olde Hickory Weizen-Bock. Immediately one is reminded of all the best hefeweizens out there. While this aspect might be somewhat beyond the scope of the weizenbock style, I really enjoyed it nonetheless. Clove spiciness is really big in the aroma, as is an orgy of super-ripe banana. I didn’t order any hefeweizen, but hey, somebody’s gotta drink it! There are also nice floral notes of honey and sweet, chewy biscuit malt.

Once you really dig into the beer, each sip rewards the palate with waves of clove and bright orange blossom sweetness. The yeast and wheat combine to create a very traditional olde world Bavarian style beer. The aftertaste is sticky and coats the mouth with notions of boiled corn and noble hops. The alcohol starts off rather muted, but towards the end of the glass some warmth builds steadily in the back of the throat.

Overall this is a pleasantly drinkable beer despite the 8% abv. Quite sweet at times, but this plays well off of the estery yeast used. It may be difficult to track down unless you live in North Carolina, but definitely worth a try when you’re looking for a more simple offering next to all of those more hyped up Double IPA’s and Imperial Stouts out there.

Recommended.

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Cigar City Brewing – Guava Grove Saison

Cigar City Brewing Company out of Tampa, FL is one of the hot new rising stars in the craft beer world. They prolifically brew and bottle more new beers than virtually any other brewery of its size. Their beer is so popular it is tough to find within the reaches of Florida, let alone the market or two outside of the state that see Cigar City’s distribution.

Tonight I decided to finally crack open my bottle of Guava Grove Saison. A saison is a Belgian/French style beer that is typically light in body and color, higher in carbonation, and full of estery funk. Now, “funk” may sound like a bad word to some people, but in the beer world it can often be a good thing. In a proper saison, the funk would entail bready peppery notes, as well as some banana esters commonly associated with many Belgian styles (also very common in Hefeweizens). Funk in saisons may also include descriptors such as: dry, dusty, spicy, fruity, cheesy, grassy, etc.

There have been reports that this beer in its older forms had begun to go sour – usually a sign of infection – meaning that some element of yeast or bacteria got introduced into the beer causing unwanted effects. However, in this case, the infection wound up being a positive. Most reviews seem to agree that the older bottles (and aged bottles of the more recent batches) are better. I believe that this bottle was brewed sometime in the winter/spring of 2011, and has been in my cellar since I received it in a trade box this summer.

The Review

One of the more elegant-looking labels from Cigar City, Guava Grove is sold in 750ml bottles.

I popped the cap and was almost immediately greeted by a steadily rising rush of foam. I wiped it off, and it was replaced even faster than before. Uh, oh… looks like a gusher here. Once I managed to reign in the foam enough to pour some of the beer the pressure still managed to force some beer onto the floor. Not the best way to start things off… Later, upon closer inspection I could see corrosion on the inside of the cap. How old is this bad boy?

I poured Guava Grove appropriately into my Cigar City snifter. The beer is now very cloudy due to the roused yeast sediment from the gushing pressure. Nevertheless, the beer isn’t all that bad to look at. It’s a nice ruddy apricot color, and a hay-hued head is quick to rise and very slow to subside. Pillowy formations were easy enough to force above the edges of the glass without risking spillage. Both a good and bad sign in my book. The fear at this point, is severe over-carbonation. And at first, this was precisely the case. However, if you allow this one to sit and settle for a few minutes before you drink it, and if you take things slowly, the carbonation does eventually settle back into a more tolerable level. Finally, by the time I was midway through the second pour, I was starting to see some really nice smearings of lace on the front of the glass.

The aroma immediately starts to redeem any negative aspects of the beer’s appearance. While faint, the aroma of guava is never far off. It certainly made me think of rum punch and the Caribbean initially. As the beer warms however, a large dosage of bretty funk wades in. It’s a sort of mineral/dusty type of aroma. The saison aspects are there in spirit, but never shine through like they would have when the beer was fresh. Other than brett, the yeast is playing little role in the aroma of this beer. I don’t think this was brewed with all brett, so I must assume the saison yeast strain is dying off with age. What we are left with, interestingly enough, is something mildly tart with nice fruity undertones and a smooth sweetness.

As you sip Guava Grove the beer impresses even more. Where the aroma was just starting to show the beginnings of tartness, the flavor embodies actual sourness at times. It’s never biting or overwhelming, mind you, but the sourness is assertively present. Notions of tangerine and bitter pomelo mingle with the guava. However, all through the experience the heavy carbonation rears its ugly head. As I type this the bottle has been open nearly two hours and still I am experiencing discourteous carbonation issues with each sip. While not detracting enough to keep me from finishing the bottle, it is enough to reduce my appreciation for all of the nuance a beer like this might have had in its glory day.

Overall – a fun beer to drink, and without the brett infection/over-carbonation, the beer might have been a real gem. Worth trying, but maybe not quite enough so to seek out actively.

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Hoppin’ Frog B.O.R.I.S. #100

Recently Hoppin’ Frog Brewing Company out of Akron, OH announced their limited release of B.O.R.I.S. the Crusher Oatmeal Imperial Stout batch #100. This batch is different from other batches of the beer. In celebration of the 100th production run of Hoppin’ Frog’s flagship beer, Head Brewer and Owner Fred Karm decided to play around with the base malt used in the beer.

Instead of the American malted barley that is typically used in B.O.R.I.S. Fred decided to use “the finest English Pale Ale malt” to celebrate batch #100. While changing the malt’s country of origin might not sound like much of a difference, bear in mind that each maltster uses their own unique methods for kilning, drying, and processing the grain. It should be of no surprise that English malts bear the weight of centuries of tradition and time-honored perfection of methodology. Most brewers would readily concede that an English Pale Malt will produce a different beer than an American or Canadian Pale Malt.

When I stopped by the brewery to pick up my bottle over the weekend, Fred Karm was present and he described the beer as being more sweet than the original and perhaps also lending some body to the beer as well. I also caught him make an off-hand remark to an employee about how they ought to try playing around with the base malts of some of their other beers. I like the sound of that…

With all of this said, it should be noted that this beer will still largely resemble the regular B.O.R.I.S. the Crusher. This is a good thing though, because the beer has won Gold at the Great American Beer Festival twice in the last four years.

The Review

The beer was meant to be a playful riff on the normal Russian Imperial Stout. As such, I poured it into a playful glass – a Parra Duvel tulip. This is actually my first time using the glass – what a nice way to christen it!

As with the regular B.O.R.I.S., batch #100 pours extremely thick and straight black like crude oil. A tall slow-to-rise head reaches to the edge of the glass and halts is ascent.

The beer is awash with aromas of bittersweet chocolate and ashy roasted coffee. There’s a slight notion of hard water minerals, and the beer is generally very smooth. Things begin to really shine once you take that first sip. Suddenly you are keenly aware of why this stout is called a Bodacious Oatmeal Russian Imperial Stout. A wonderful helping of hops bring the IBUs to 60, which is IPA territory, but also very necessary for providing balance to all of the malty sweetness going on in this beer. There’s also a really big hit of roasted barley in the flavor – which adds bitterness as well, and a dry coating mouthfeel to the beer.

Speaking of sweetness, lots of rich sweet dark chocolate and gritty fudge really assert themselves as the beer warms. One might also detect flavors of dark bread and caramel. But again, the roast is huge here, bigger than I remembered from the regular B.O.R.I.S.

Batch #100 drinks very smoothly, with a silky texture that is in no small way due to the oats used. However, the English malts are also playing into this somewhat I bet. Overall I really enjoyed this beer, but that can be said of any B.O.R.I.S. variation out there. It’s not hard to do though when the base beer for all of the various incarnations is a world-class award winning stout. Buy Batch #100 while you can, because it’ll likely be a one-time deal! I look forward to seeing something even more unique come about when B.O.R.I.S. hits the batch #200 mark!

I bought my bottle at the brewery for $10.99. While releases like this often wind up being distributed somewhat if the beer doesn’t sell out at the brewery, Batch #100 doesn’t seem to be leaving the brewery. So get on down to Hoppin’ Frog and give this wonderful brew a whirl. You’ll likely get to meet Fred Karm. If you do so, shake the man’s hand and congratulate him on his recent Gold medal for B.O.R.I.S. the Crusher at Great American Beer Festival (GABF). If you’re into this type of thing, he’d also likely be willing to sign your bottle, and possibly give you a brief tour of the facility.

Finally, if you’re looking for cool beer to try or gift someone this season, Hoppin’ Frog also has a cooler stocked with tons of great beer. All of their normal offerings can be bought fresh from the source, as well as some seasonals and rarities:

  • Fresh Frog Raw Hop Pale Ale – their “wet hop” beer from the recent hop harvest
  • B.O.R.I.S. Royale – this is BORIS aged in Crown Royal Canadian whiskey barrels
  • Barrel-Aged B.O.R.I.S.  – a personal favorite
  • Barrel-Aged Naked Evil – a bourbon barrel aged barleywine aged on Belgian yeast. This beer won a Bronze medal at this year’s GABF in the wood-aged strong ale category.
  • Frog’s Hollow Double Pumpkin Ale – a GABF Gold medal winner in 2010

No matter what Hoppin’ Frog has something to satisfy. If you buy a case (12x 22oz bombers) you get 10% off. They also sell a limited amount of merchandise as well, and recently this was on sale for 20% off. If you mention the discounted price to Fred I’m sure he’d honor that if you were looking to buy a T-shirt or something.

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Sierra Nevada & Dogfish Head – Life and Limb

Two years ago when Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head breweries teamed up for the collaborative beer Life and Limb, the beer literally flew off the shelves. There was an unspoken hysteria, and an apparent lack of planning for the demand the beer would incite. As such, I distinctly remember hearing stories where a store was allocated 2 bottles for sale (and then promptly either kept those bottles for themselves, or charged people $50 to buy the $12 beer. I believe that Ohio was given something on the order of 4 cases for the entire state (a mere 48 bottles). I had hoped to try it on tap at Winking Lizard, but the keg blew in under an hour and I missed out.

Much to the joy (and chagrin) of many in the craft beer scene, the two brewers teamed up again to brew batch two of this beer. Only this time, they made a lot of it. Panic stricken when I heard reports that the beer was reaching shelves across the country this summer, I started asking around about where to buy some in Columbus. A friend offered to pick up a couple bottles for me while he was at a bottle shop carrying the beer. I later found some myself, and bought two more bottles. Then, I saw it on tap, and ordered it a few times. What does this all say? Well, first off, they did a wonderful job of meeting demand. Secondly, the beer is just damn good.

I regret that I am blogging about the beer months after the release, however, I fully expect this to become an annual release going forward. And maybe, just maybe, if you get lucky, you may still stumble across a bottle of this at a lesser traveled bottle shop of liquor store. If you happen to find some, buy it. The price is excellent – $10.99 for the 750ml size bottle (same as a bottle of wine).

So, what is Life and Limb?

“LIFE-This beer is naturally carbonated to enhance complexity  refinement, and shelf-life; the family of yeast cells in every bottle working in vibrant unison.

LIMB-The two syrups used in making this beer, (Maple and  Birch) contribute to its unique and earthy flavor and symbolize the collaboration between Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head.”

The beer is 10.2% abv, and a style that’s a bit of an oddball. Slightly stout, slightly strong ale, and mostly a combination of those two styles plus a half dozen others. Maple syrup from Vermont and Birch syrup from Alaska mingle with the combined house yeast strains from both breweries to create something truly unique.

The Review:

I wanted to pour this into a Sierra Nevada or Dogfish Head glass, so I selected the globe I have from Dogfish Head that I received with a glass of their Zeno saison earlier this year.

The cork was easy to remove, and the pour showcases a dark caramel colored beer with amazing clarity collecting into a deep molasses brown color in the bowl of the glass. The head is easily controlled, and I decided to keep this one shorter. the foam is airy and a light balsa wood color. A short cap of tight bubbles is always present, down to the last sip.

The aroma showcases all of the ingredients. There is an initial alcohol bite to the beer, and an interestingly fruity aroma I must attribute to the yeast used. Then comes the aroma of molasses and sweet dark Belgian-kilned malts. The birch is very woody and dry, while the maple – though more subtle – adds a bit of sweetness to the brew. There’s a nice nuttiness to the aroma as well, akin to toasty candied pecans.

I love how all of the aromatic elements come together in the flavor. The brew is sweet and woody. Though no wood was used in this version of the beer, one could easily be fooled. I wish it were though, as Dogfish Head makes some of the best wood-aged beers around (Burton Baton, Palo Santo Marron, and Wrath of Pecant). Sticky and drier than one might expect given the sugars used in the brewing process, Life and Limb is a tasty treat. The bottle recommends sharing it with friends and family. A good bet given the high abv. However, this is the third bottle I have savored alone, and while maybe a tad guilty, I am happy to have spent so much time to intimately enjoy what this beer has to offer.

There’s a website dedicated to this beer with a little more info and some cool pictures from the original brew day in 2009. Check out: Life-Limb.com

Below is a video (also on Life-Limb.com) where Sam Calagione from dogfish Head and Ken Grossman from Sierra Nevada discuss the beer.

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