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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Black Friday and Holiday Season Brews

So, today is Black Friday. One of the most horrendous and potentially rewarding days to shop all year. Whether you are looking to buy that special rare beer for your boyfriend or home-brewing cousin, or simply in need of a beer to ease off the tension of waiting in line in the cold at 4am only to discover the item you were in search of has sold out, I have the beer for you!

BLACK FRIDAY

I really don’t believe you’ll see much (if any) Black Friday-specific beer sales, but you never know. What I would expect is to possibly see a few bars offer deals today. If you have a favorite watering hole that serves up fresh craft beer, I highly encourage you to “like” them on Facebook or to follow them on Twitter to get up-to-the-minute details on specials for the day.

That said, for those in Northeast Ohio Hoppin’ Frog Brewery is selling two special beers today and tomorrow. They’ll be open from 10AM to 5PM both days.

  • The first beer is a returning holiday special: Barrel-Aged Frosted Frog Christmas Ale. The base beer is really spicy in all the ways that remind you of Christmas – ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Add several months in bourbon barrels and the beer mellows on the spice a bit, and gains oaken vanilla complexity and a bit of sweet whiskey heat. $12.99 for a 22oz bottle.
  • The other beer is a first-time brew: B.O.R.I.S. the Crusher Batch #100. While not extensively different from the regular brew, this batch was brewed with all English Pale Malt instead of American malt which is typically used. The English malt will add a sweeter flavor and fuller-bodied finish to an already award-winning beer (which won Gold at the Great American Beer Festival again this year). I am really excited for this myself. $10.99 for a 22oz bottle.

Both of these won’t last long, so it might be a smart idea to include a trip to the brewery amongst your holiday shopping throughout the weekend. I’ll be drinking my BORIS #100 soon after purchase, but both beers would also make fine gifts.

The next beer may not be quite as easy to track down, but as a gift idea, this beer is pretty cool: Thirsty Dog, also out of Akron, has produced a very limited quantity of 1.5 Liter bottles of their own Barrel-Aged 12 Dogs of Christmas. These bottles were hand numbered and signed by the brewers. Check with the brewery too, but last I heard they had some bottles left at Lizardville bar and bottle shop in Bedford Hts. I believe they were going for $40 a bottle – but consider that 1.5L is close to 50 ounces (4x 12oz bottles). Certainly a beer to share, but a cool gift idea or implement of holiday cheer at a party! If Lizardville is out, the store itself should suit your beer shopping needs anyway, as they sell a few hundred different beers there.

BEER GIFT IDEAS

Glassware: Every beer drinker likes a cool beer glass to drink out of, and these days it’s very easy to find some awesome glassware to suit anyone’s needs. I recommend having different glassware styles on hand to pair with the appropriate brew, and some people just like the cool or sophisticated look of an expensive glass. Maybe you just want to support a local brewer… there are many great reasons out there, and most glasses are relatively cheap, and are a functional and lasting gift. A few choice pieces:

  • Duvel

Duvel does a great job of providing awesome glassware to the world. The pictured tulip style glass can hold more than 12oz of beer with plenty of head space to spare. It’s an awesome way to focus the aroma of a Belgian style ale or your favorite pungent IPA. This time of year gift sets show up in many stores, seek them out. The “Parra” glass has quickly become very sought after, and offers the most unique artwork Duvel has to offer:

  • Lost Abbey


Their abbey-style tulip is one of the most jarringly impressive glasses out there. This can only be bought on site (in California) or online. With shipping a single glass costs roughly $12. Buy one before they run out (which happens often).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Founders

Recently their CBS beer (Canadian Breakfast Stout) caused quite a stir in the craft beer community when the much sought-after beer sold out in hours across the country. People waited in lines outside their local liquor stores just for a shot at buying a bottle. While the beer has all been sold, the brewery still has limited edition CBS snifters for sale. These sleek glasses will hold a sizable amount of your favorite brew, in my favorite fashion. Snifters really allow a beer to settle, open up aromatically, and focus all of the senses into a small area between the nose and the lips. At $8 this is a bargain. Sold on their website, along with a few other cool glasses to boot.

Finally, if you want something specific, just look for your favorite brewery’s website: most breweries offer a selection of pint glasses and other more unique pieces with their logo on it. The best option, where possible, is to gift not only the glass, but a beer to go with it. If you could give that special someone a bottle of CBS and its very own snifter that is a gift that would really stand out.

Gift sets:

I already showed you a Duvel gift set. These are convenient gift ideas that usually won’t break the wallet or force you to scour the city in search of multiple pieces of a gift that are not sold together. My one suggestion here: please look over the contents of the gift set. The thought may count for something, but no one wants to open a gift of beer, only to discover that it contains beers that the person doesn’t like. Some sets showcase many different styles by the brewery, and others contain 1, 2, or 4 bottles of the exact same beer. All of this should be taken into account.

The Trappist style brewers are known for their gift sets, and often have very fun glassware included, but more and more I am seeing American craft beer gift sets pop up during the holidays as well.

SEASONAL BEERS TO ENJOY OVER THE HOLIDAYS

Ohio Brewed:

  • Great Lakes Christmas Ale, Blackout Stout
  • Thirsty Dog 12 Dogs of Christmas
  • Hoppin’ Frog Frosted Frog Christmas Ale
  • Columbus Brewing Winter Warmer

Other terrific beer’s to seek out:

  • Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout
  • Samuel Adams Black Lager
  • Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale
  • Bells Expedition Stout, Hell Hath No Fury Ale
  • Dogfish Head Chicory Stout
  • Founders Breakfast Stout, Backwoods Bastard
  • Stone Smoked Porter with Vanilla Bean
  • Left Hand Fade to Black

Finally, if you’re so-inclined, many serious beer drinkers actually trade beer through UPS or FedEx with people on the other side of the country who get beer that doesn’t normally get sold in your home state. If you want to locate something with some serious oomph to it, I recommend these new and upcoming beer releases:

  • Firestone Walker 15th Anniversary Ale
  • Goose Island King Henry Barrel-Aged Barleywine
  • Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout
  • Pelican Mother of All Storms
  • Bruery Black Tuesday, Barrel-Aged Four Calling Birds

I could go on forever, so to shorten things up, please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or want more info on any of the suggestions I have made. Have fun shopping for beer this weekend. Stay safe, and try not to kill the idiot who’s going to steal that gift out of your hands at Walmart or Best Buy. Beer heals all.

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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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Samuel Adams Tasman Red

This beer is described as a “Red IPA” on the label. While not actually a unique style, it’s not tough to imagine what to expect here. Hopefully the brew will deliver both as an IPA and a nice malty beer.

6.5% abv

The malts used are listed, but unless you are a brewer they won’t tell you much. Special B and Caramel 60 are among those listed, suggesting a mild fruity/raisin flavor along with light caramel/toffee notes, though these are likely in smaller amounts that will impart more color than flavor.

Of greater interest to me are the hops: Galaxy and Topaz from Tasmania. Both are newer varieties to the scene of craft brewing, and few brewers seem to have openly experimented with them yet. I have found Galaxy hops to be very floral and elegant with hints of mild fruit and pine.

I bought this beer while at The Andersons in Columbus, though I imagine it will be showing up all over (I hope at least). When the label approvals for this series went through earlier this year I was more excited for trying new Sam Adams than I have been in a long while. I have not yet found this at a regular grocery store. Look at places like Whole Foods or Heinens that typically carry a broader beer selection, or even better, at a dedicated bottle shop (a beer and wine centric location, sometimes doubling as a liquor store). The value was excellent, $4.99 for the 22oz bottle (called a bomber).

The beer comes in an elegantly unique bomber with one of the best Samuel Adams labels to date. Listed as Batch No. 1. Not sure if that means batch 1 of Red IPA or batch 1 of the limited series.

Poured into a Duvel tulip (though this would be a perfect beer for the over-sized Perfect Pint glasses that are floating around out there).

Pooled in the glass the beer is a deep purple color (and very nearly brown porter territory). However, held in the light the Tasman most certainly is red. Well, at least a dark glowing shade of garnet. The head is aged-linen white and tall. Head retention is minor but the lace is thick and plentiful.


The aroma is swath with the elegant floral bouquet of the galaxy hops. Underpinnings of pine and citrus are found digging deeper into the tulip. Caramel malts provide a nice counterpoint without ever getting sweet.

More bitter and hop forward than I first guessed, Tasman Red is a formidable beer. And perhaps appropriately so, I found that the malt flavor is nowhere near what the color would suggest. I was hoping for a better marriage of malt and bitterness. That said, pine resin is checked somewhat by dry fruity maltiness. As the beer warms, the pine hop flavor is also accompanied by some twiggy spiciness.

Strong carbonation with a dry finish. Quite bitter with fairly obvious alcohol notes.

Overall an impressive beer and at a great price. I have more hope for the others in this series now. Seek it out.

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Downtown Cleveland’s Winter Wine & Ale Fest Next Weekend

One of the things I plan to do with my blog is to provide insights and reviews on beer-focused events – something that the beer reviewing websites currently do not offer. Tonight I thought that I’d explore the upcoming Winter Wine and Ale Festival in Downtown Cleveland next Saturday the 26th. I’ll be attending, and maybe I can convince some of you to do the same.

Apparently it is slated for 7:00, which is directly after the lighting of the Public Square Christmas Tree. What a great way to kick off the season!

The fest will be held in the lobby of 200 Public Square (the former BP building). Plan to explore various local beers and wines, all while enjoying a dizzying array of food offerings from local chefs and restauranteurs. There’s not a ton of info on precisely which foods will be served, but I am sure there will be plenty to fill you up and new and fun things to sample. Food will be provided by:

Whole Foods, Harry Buffalo, Zoup, StrEat Mobile Bistro, Bar Louie, Zachary Bruell Restaurants: Parallax, Table 45, L’Albatros & Chinato and Pura Vida by Brandt

But I am more concerned with the beer menu. Happily this info has been released, and the beer list is as follows:

1. Great Lakes: Christmas Ale, Pumpkin Ale & Edmund Fitgerald
2. Thirsty Dog: 12 Dogs of Christmas Ale, Twisted Kilt, Labrador Lager and Cerberus Belgian Trippel cask conditioned with cherries
3. Indigo Imp: Winter Soul, Gatekeeper
4. Fat Heads: Happy Holidays, Head Hunter IPA, Head Trip, Voodoo Monkey Chocolate Stout
5. Ohio Brewing: Jingle Bell Ale, Verich Gold, Warrior Pale Ale, O’Hoppy Ale IPA
6. Willoughby: Wenceslas Christmas Ale, Peanut Butter Cup Coffee Porter, Moonshadow IPA, and Aramis Pale Ale
7. The Brew Kettle: White Rajah, Spalt Bomb Pils, Chocolate Milk Stout and Winter Warmer
8. Cellar Rats: Festivus Ale, Rat Tail Ale
9. Lager Heads: Winter Mischief, Barnburner Lager, Half Moon Heffe
10. The Rivertown Brewing Company: Hop Bomber and Seasonal

I have highlighted the beers to really look out for. Let’s break it down…

Great Lakes Pumpkin Ale: Great Lakes produces some of the most consistent and well-balanced beers in the country. Everyone knows Christmas Ale around Cleveland, and if you don’t yet, you should know that Edmund Fitzgerald is one of the best porters in the world. No kidding. At any rate, it is one of my top 10 beers of all time if you prefer a personal endorsement. But my anticipation first peaks at their Pumpkin Ale. This brew is normally a pub exclusive, meaning if you don’t live in NE Ohio and frequent the brewery, you’ve likely never had the chance to try this beer – let alone even know that it existed. Expect a well-spiced beer with lots of nutmeg and clove aroma and cinnamon and caramel sweetness in the flavor department. Also expect this beer to showcase balance where many brewers spice their pumpkin ales to their detriment.

Cask-conditioned Cerberus Triple with Cherry: Cerberus is a Belgian style Tripel, which means you ought to be expecting something sweet, a bit boozy, with light fruit notes and strong carbonation. It is a great beer. Put it in a cask with cherries and it promises to be a very interesting beer. The cask will lend a more subtle, softer carbonation, while cherries will either add tartness or sweetness (though typically not both).

Fat Heads Head Hunter IPA & The Brew Kettle White Rajah: Simply put, these beers are in an arms race for the title of best IPA in Ohio. Their only other competition is Columbus Brewing Company’s IPA. All three beers are full of juicy sweet tropical fruit aroma (see if you can pick out melon, mango, and pineapple). In my opinion, Head Hunter is the second best of the three after Columbus IPA – but all three are among the top 25 IPA’s in the country according to Beeradvocate:

Top 50 American IPA’s

The only thing better for a hop head like myself than having a favorite IPA at a tasting, is having another of my top IPA’s at the same tasting. I am a huge fan of doing side-by-side comparisons, and I strongly urge you to compare Head Hunter to White Rajah. Decide for yourself which IPA is king.

 

Willoughby Peanut Butter Cup Coffee Porter: Just like it sounds, this beer has been garnering a lot of buzz around town this year. Expect a coffee-forward porter with pleasing undertones of chocolate malt and peanuts. This is likely to go fast, so make it one of your first pours at the event.

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If anyone is unfamiliar with such events, you are typically given a certain number of tickets to exchange for beer samples. This event allots 20 tickets – which should be plenty – but if you start running out take comfort in the fact that many times the people pouring do not enforce the ticket rule very stringently.

My main recommendation for a successful and fun time is to take advantage of all the free food and drink plenty of water. When you mix a dozen or so different beer styles all together, even in limited quantities, the end result can often lead to hangover or worse.

If you’re traveling with non-beer drinkers, feel good knowing that there will be nearly a dozen Ohio wineries on had pouring their finest as well. Because I cannot speak to the wines in any sort of detail I will refrain from giving any misleading opinions.

There will be give-aways going on, as well as a silent auction for charity that will include special items from the participating brewers and vintners.

Finally, in case you are thinking of attending, here is the link to the event page:

Winter Wine and Ale Fest

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Big Beer Marketing Offers Big Laughs

Driving home from work tonight I stumbled upon the following billboard:

I couldn’t help but laugh… and then I had to pull over to snap a quick photo to share with you.

But this is all just part of an ever-increasing trend of bad gimmicks the big brewers are using to try and save plummeting sales. Coors is likely the worst player in this game however. First they invent the label that changes color when cold – does a person really need this to make a determination on the temperature of their beer? Seriously?

Soon enough the cold indicator label wasn’t a good enough way to dumb things down. Anyone remember this game-changing invention?

Boy did I think the color changing label was pointless. How lazy are people? But wait – they’re not all lazy. You can verify this by going to the Coors Light Project Cold website. Watch video “experiments” in which people come up with idiotic ways to chill their beer. The best (worst?) shows a guy in a lab coat immerse a can of beer into liquid nitrogen for 6 minutes, only to eventually proclaim that, yes, indeed his beer is now cold enough to drink. Thank…. you…? I never would have guessed that a half-frozen, sub-freezing temperature beer was cold.

Fail.

So, what is my big argument here? Well, despite my Coors bashing, my real intent isn’t to simply make fun of a beer and advertising that I dislike. Rather, I wanted to discuss one of the reasons I started drinking good beer to begin with – positive advertizing. Years back when I was first testing the waters of beer and drinking Guinness and Harp almost exclusively, I started taking notice of Samuel Adams beer commercials. The contrast between their ads, and those of Big Beer, is astounding. Every single Samuel Adams commercial discusses a quality product: the flavor and types of ingredients used, the passion and dedication that goes into their product. Samuel Adams is selling quality beer, and their marketing is geared towards this. Budweiser, Miller, and Coors sell an image. The closest these breweries come to discussing the actual product is to create a panic over serving temperature or making claims of “triple hops brewed,” which, by the way, is a completely superfluous claim. Hops are typically added at three points in nearly every beer. So maybe the slogan should just be:

“Brewed with hops, just like everyone else does. Only we use so few hops that we have to tell you that they’re in the beer to begin with.”

So, please don’t buy into the hype, the hysteria, or the senseless claims. Look for a quality product and leave the gimmicks, catch phrases, supermodels, and football references behind. Oh, and in the time it took you to read this, the article was able to fully chill down to:

C!O!L!D!

COLD! COLD! COLD!

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Great Lakes Brewing Co. – Blackout Stout

The wait is finally over. At last those lucky enough to live within the breadth of Great Lakes’ distribution can once more buy Blackout Stout. One of the most highly acclaimed beers by the brewery, Blackout Stout went over a year between bottling runs due to an odd change in the seasonal release time tables for Great Lakes. To be honest, as much as I – a Cleveland native – adore Christmas Ale, I was looking forward to the release of this even more than the holiday brew.

THE REVIEW

Reasonably priced at $9.99 a 4-pack, Blackout Stout is priced typically for their seasonal lineup. I recommend chilling this well first, and then allow it to slowly warm as you sip it. You’ll notice that it feels thicker and the aroma/flavor is more roasty and sweet while cold, and warmer the carbonation opens up – as do the hops. Either way, I strongly urge anyone to savor this beer fresh. In true Russian Imperial Stout form, it is well-hopped, and meant to be so. The bold fresh hop flavor here is unbeatable.

I poured my Blackout Stout into a snifter – the glass of choice for a prized stout. The shape of the glass allows the aroma to build and focus as you inhale. A sizable dark graham cracker colored head rises swiftly atop a beer as dark as the nights of the 2003 blackout for which this beer takes its name. Excellent cracked patterns of lace plaster the sides of the glass after each sip.

The aroma is rich with roasted barley and dark chocolate richness. Earthy hops manage the difficult task of reigning in all of the malty goodness of Blackout Stout. Creamy and silky, this beer begs to be inhaled both literally and figuratively.

Great Lakes once again proves its mettle with this beer. An exercise in both balance and bold flavor – explosive hops battle with the rich weighty malt. Chocolate flavors grow in intensity with warmth. Sweet and citrusy hops kiss your palate before leaving a wallop of lingering bitterness. Roasted grains and char add a different level of bitterness, as well as a dry and full mouthfeel. The body of the beer is slightly thin for a Russian Imperial Stout, but you’d never miss it given how much is going on here. The finish reminds of me cocoa powder and is pleasantly coating. The textural depth of Blackout Stout serves to offset the body, and where I felt the beer seemed thin the other night, after a few bottles I am settling into the resolution that the beer’s mouthfeel is perfect as is.

One of my favorites from Great Lakes, Blackout Stout is back. Look for it in stores now. It ought to last longer than Christmas Ale will, but given the extensive absence of the beer last year, I don’t expect to be still seeing this mid-winter.

CELLARING BLACKOUT STOUT

Last year at the Barrel-Aged Blackout Stout release I had the privilege of doing a side-by-side tasting of a 4 year vertical of Blackout Stout. The vintages were 2007-2010. My notes:

2010 (fresh): Most hoppy/bitter, but most bold flavor. This is my favorite way to drink the beer.

2009: The hops are fading, and the beer is in a weird intermediary stage where the age hasn’t had enough time to improve anything.

2008: The best of the vintage versions. The hops are all but gone, and the beer is sweeter, more balanced, and very smooth without losing all of the roasty goodness that the malt brings to the table.

2007: Tasty, but extremely sweet. Vanilla and oaken flavors abound. This is showing the beginnings of oxidation. The roast has gone the way of the hop – it is disappearing.

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I hope to do a full review of the Barrel-Aged Blackout after the next release of it, so I will save my notes for then. But I will say that it is highly recommended. One of the most balanced barrel-aged stouts out there. So if you like some bourbon flavor without all of the alcohol burn, seek out a bottle or two next year.

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Fun New Feature for Tracking Your Beer

I am a big proponent of using the website Beeradvocate.com. It is a wonderful resource for networking with fellow beer enthusiasts. I cannot tell you how many times I have learned of a new beer release, met new friends at beer releases/fests via the website, or simply furthered my own knowledge while using Beeradvocate.com.

Well, for those who don’t feel like taking the time or effort to write up a full beer review, the site owners have just debuted a new feature that allows you to track the beers you have had. All you need to do is search for the beer, give it a letter grade (A+ through F) and select that you have had it. Wow! This is really simple, and I find that it is a great new way to attract people to the website. If you’re beer-curious, I highly recommend that you take a few minutes and sign up for a free account. After that you can start tracking which beers you have had and whether you like them or not.

This is what it will look like:  Beers I have had but not reviewed.

I plan to enumerate other advantages of using this and other beer-centric websites in the future. Hopefully you can find something fun or informative that might encourage you to delve deeper into the goodness that is beer! If you wind up signing up for Beeradvocate please message me here, I would love to share some pointers on using the website and can add you to my buddy list.

 

**And for the beer nerds already among us, here’s the link to the original announcement.

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Bottling Day – Pilgrim Porter

Tonight I bottled my pumpkin porter – to be named Pilgrim Porter. This beer was brewed using the flesh of 4 pie pumpkins, floor malted marris otter malt, as well as a good amount of biscuit and chocolate malts. At the end of the boil I added molasses and the spices typical to pumpkin pie.

Last week I steeped cinnamon sticks and whole vanilla bean in the secondary fermentation for a few days. The beer seems to have cleared out well, and has settled into a nice dark ebony color, nearly black. Just where it ought to be.

Half of the beer was bottled as is, while the other half was filtered through a pound of coffee and espresso beans while bottling. The bottles were primed with brown sugar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I took a sample of the beer after the coffee addition and so far it smells very pleasant – lots of vanilla aroma, as well as molasses. Cinnamon is there as well. It smells and tastes sweet and it has lots of really nice chocolate flavor to it. The coffee is subtle, but also adds a nice degree of complexity to the brew.

I’m really excited to try the finished product, which should be finished conditioning right around Thanksgiving weekend.

Categories: Blind Pirate Brewing Originals | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Left Hand Fade to Black Vol. 3 – Pepper Porter

Fade to Black Vol. 3 is a Porter brewed with a conglomerate of chiles, ranging from smokey/chocolatey varieties up into more spicy varietals as well. I first got to try this shortly after the initial release at the brewery in Longmont, CO (see picture). Later I picked up a six pack of this in Ohio a couple of weeks later.

The brew is black and thick for a porter. A tall creamy head floats atop the beer leaving some spotty lace. If you’re drinking from a bottle pour more roughly than you might normally if you like some head. The carbonation is lower on this than the average porter – possibly due to pepper oils.

The aroma is rich and malty. I love the Fade to Black series and Vol. 3 is already off to a nice start. There’s a wonderful earthiness to the brew that I attribute to the chiles. Roasty yet smooth.  There are plenty of savory bread crust and mild smokey aromas to contend with as well. A nice dark chocolate aroma grows as the beer is given time to warm up a bit. The peppers are very mute on the nose, though I think much of the chocolate and smoke aroma is due to the chiles. There’s just no heat here – which seems to be the intent (see the video below).

While the malt-driven flavor of this volume is tasty, at first the chiles seem to have checked out. There’s still plenty to appreciate: clean and crisp flavors of coffee and browned grains. But over time the chiles make themselves much more apparent. What I at first mistook for prickly carbonation and alcohol heat, I suddenly realized was actually the peppers. They are mostly earthy, but do leave a mild residual smokiness on the palate.

The mouthfeel is smooth and velvety, but also very crisp and refreshing for the style. The heat, while never strong, definitely does grow with each sip until a mild tingling mounts in the back of the throat (but this never grows into a burn the way some chile beers do). By the time I am midway through a glass of Volume 3 I am starting to associate mole-type flavors with the beer.

While I did prefer last year’s volume more, this year’s is still awesome. It’s a solid porter that becomes extremely deep and complex if you give it time to open up. The brewers never intended this to burn off your taste buds; don’t go into this beer looking for such heat and you’ll learn to appreciate all of the nuance and finesse that went into making Fade to Black Vol. 3 a great choice to savor over the impending winter nights.


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