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Brew Review: Hop Henge

25 Oct

Brew: Hop Henge (Bond Street Series)

Brewed by: Deschutes Brewery (Bend, OR)

Style: American IPA/Double IPA (8.96% ABV)

 

Deschutes Brewery is easily one of my favorite smaller breweries in the world.  One of the first breweries I was introduced to besides Summit here in St. Paul.  I worked out in Idaho for a summer and one of the guys I worked with had a connection with the brewery and would also pick up a 6-er of Mirror Pond or Black Butte and I was hooked.  Actually his dad was one of the engineers at the brewery and I should be bothering him probably every day to see if his dad can get me a job or something.   Anyway, since that summer (age unknown) I was stuck on this brewery and since then every time I go back and have a Mirror Pond or Black Butte I realize how solid even their year round beers are.  Thankfully they also take huge amounts of pride and care in crafting their seasonal and limited release beers which is where Hop Henge falls.  This brew is available between January to April.

Hop Henge pours out clear amber.  The amber is mixed with some nice orange tones creating a nice sunset looking ale.  A light fluffy head that is more off-white than white appears rising up a solid ½ inch.  A really solid looking IPA or Double IPA if you want to get technical. 

The aroma that flows off of this beer is dominated by the hops.  Pine resin and floral hops constitute a lighter hop profile with light meaning not syrupy or heavy but airy.  They still dominate but they are like a basketball player quietly getting 25 points a night compared to Carmelo Anthony who will loudly get his 28 points a night (and take about 24 shots to get those 28 points in the process). Along with the hops there is definitely a strong malt backbone that you can detect lurking back there.  I have a feeling that this is going to be a well balanced brew.

The taste is somewhat uninspiring upon the first sip.  The bitterness from the hops is there and in full effect, the malt is present to back up and balance (nicely I might add) the bitterness from the hops.  But past that there isn’t much to write home about.  There aren’t any nice flavors jumping out at me and I don’t get an especially creamy or sharp feel in the mouth. 

I would say that this beer is OK.  It has plenty of potential and delivers somewhat but I don’t think it really took it to the next level like it should have.  The hops have their place but the characteristics of the hops that I like to see come out, juicy fruit aromas and taste weren’t there.  Maybe I had an off day when I cracked this brew, I don’t know.  I know for sure that next year I want to give it another shot to see if it was me or the beer but at this point I wasn’t sold.  I’d rather go back to Black Butte porter and sink into its creamy dark delights.

 

Final Grade: B-

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Brew Review: Old Heathen

24 Oct

Brew: Old Heathen

Brewed by: Weyerbacher Brewing Co. (Easton, PA)

Style: Imperial Stout (8.0% ABV)

 

Weyerbacher has two similar imperial stouts that are pretty much available whenever you want them in the Twin Cities.  Both the Old Heathen and Heresy are imperial stouts with the only difference that I can tell is that the Heresy is aged in oak barrels.  So I picked up both recently and the old Heathen is the one I popped open first.  Still haven’t gotten to the Heresy but that will be coming up soon I think.  Weyerbacher, out of Pennsylvania, has impressed me with what I have experienced from them so far.  Their Blasphemy and Tiny are both really good brews and I was excited to try one of their more regular offerings in the Old Heathen.

The Heathen poured out a solid black.  No light escapes and looks like most other imperial stouts.  A tight head with small compact bubbles rose up from the beer, it was the color of a mocha or dark khaki.  It rose up about a half inch, a bit smaller than I would ideally want but still a really good looking imperial stout.

The aroma of this brew was excellent.  I picked up toffee, vanilla and roasted grains right away.  I could smell this beast from far away, I didn’t even have to get close to it to really smell the goodness.  The right amount of sweet balanced with the char and bitterness of roast of the grains.  There is a faint detection of dark fruits and a hint of hop presence but those are minor players at this point.

The first sip is great.  This imperial stout is thick and chewy.  You can tell there are pounds and pounds of ingredients in this recipe.  Nothing light drinking about it at all.  Just what I wanted.  There is a ton of dark chocolate on the first sip. The chocolate lends in bitterness to the sip and combined with the roasted aspects of the grains that bitterness shines through as well.  Not a ‘bitter’ beer as you might think but there is that presence with every sip that there is a sharper tang hiding in the background waiting for you.  There are also flavors of coffee that come through as well.  Those fruity aromas that I picked up earlier didn’t really go anywhere.  This beer was mainly roast and chocolate bitterness.

The amount of chocolate in the taste was awesome and really took me by surprise and I didn’t expect that at any point until it hit me in the face.  The sweetness of the massive amount of malts was definitely balanced by the bitterness from the chocolate, coffee and roasted grains.  I didn’t pick up much by way of hops.  I don’t know the bottling date or anything about this brew so I couldn’t tell you anything about how old it was in that regard but I would wager it had maybe 3-6 months on it at this point.  Not a ton but enough for the hops to start their decline in power in the beer if there were many to begin with.  Since this is widely available, I can easily see this becoming a beer I always have in my fridge.  If you haven’t had it and not that its getting colder I would try to snag some next time your off to the store.

 

Final Grade: B+

Brew Review: Otto

22 Oct

Brew: Otto

Brewed by: Victory Brewing Co. (Downingtown, PA)

Style: Rauch/Smoked Ale (8.1% ABV)

 

Victory has had plenty of success over the years with their exceptional brews like Prima Pils and Hop Devil. I haven’t had any limited release beer from Victory before, only their year rounder’s and seasonal offerings, so I didn’t really know what to think about a limited beer from them.  I was hoping for the best because of the really good beers that I have had from them in the past.  The style, a smoked beer, or a Rauch beer, has not been my favorite in the past.  I tend to dislike the charred taste and the smoke that ends to dominate.  The label on this beer was the name of the beer in the middle of a campfire looking detail so the smoke I was afraid was going to be a major player. 

Otto pours out a dark amber color.  A deep amber would be another way to describe it.  A big puffy light tan head filled up my glass.  I wasn’t totally sure on the style of the beer before I opened it but it was lighter than I expected since I think I was expecting a porter or brown ale that had smoked malts added.  I think it was more of a specialty ale, but definitely something lighter.

The big up-front smell was smoke.  It was an ember in a glass, well not that bad but close.  There were also some leather smells and maybe a hint of fruit way in there.  Mostly smoke, however.   Not much more by way of smell but it was intriguing. 

The first sip yielded a beer that was smooth and not bitter in any way.  I was surprised that there wasn’t as much smoke and char as I was expecting.  I was thinking that this was going to be a smoldering campfire sitting in my mouth but most of the smoke showed up on the back end.  The same hint of fruit or sweet malt shows up again, making me think that this is probably a Belgian style smoked ale.  It had a feeling like I was drinking an abbey ale of some sort mixed with smoke. 

The beer was light in body and it wasn’t cloying or sticky at all.  A very pleasant mouth feel to it, much lighter than I was anticipating.  Once again though I am not a huge fan of the smoke.  I guess I prefer to have fire cook my food not eat the fire itself.   With that being said it was an interesting brew on its own.  If you like smoked beers give this one a shot as it’s complex and I think if you can get past the smoke there is a ton of stuff waiting for you.

 

Final Grade: B

Brew Review: Zywiec Porter

18 Oct

Brew: Zywiec Porter

Brewed by: Zywiec Breweries PLC (Heineken) (Zywiec, Poland)

Style: Baltic Porter (9.5% ABV)

Came across this brew in my local store and said hey, this one was pretty darn good, why not give this Eastern European porter a try?  The nice this about the Zywiec was that the price tag was considerably less than the Sinebrychoff, I don’t remember exactly how much but I would guess maybe 2-3 dollars for a 500mL bottle.  I don’t know much about Zywiec Breweries other than they are owned by Heineken and that they make only 2 beers total that their website shows.  Not super impressive but hey, its shipped to MN for some reason so there has to be a following or a decent beer in the bottle for that to happen.

Zywiec poured out a dark rich-looking black.  It definitely looked like a Baltic porter or a stout, in my opinion they pretty much look the same anyway.  The beer produced a big light tan head that was comprised of tight bubbles that made it look pretty thick.  A solid looking Baltic porter, I was ready to try this one.

The aroma of this brew is somewhat subdued.  It held the traditional roasted malt aspects nicely and some sticky sweet malt features were there as well.  Not much by way of hops, although I don’t think the style is known for having many hops.  From what I know the Baltic porter was meant to ship across the Baltic sea and therefore had a high ABV content to make the trip which usually ended up just masking any bad flavors or imperfect brewing practices.  So I think the alcohol was the preservative in this beer instead of hops in an IPA, for example.  Either way, I also picked up some vanilla in the brew as well.  For the most part this was a rich smelling beer but nothing really jumped out at me.

By no means was I less excited to try this beer though after smelling it.  Upon the first sip it was smooth and creamy with a slight bitterness from the roasted and burnt grains.  I really liked how this beer tasted right up front.  Once I got into it after a few drinks I found myself wishing for more of a roast character and presence.  The taste was a tad restrained I thought on that front.  I really enjoyed how smooth and creamy it was and there were hints of coffee and chocolate throughout. 

For how much and how big this beer is I liked it a lot.  I actually went out and bought a few more bottles for those nights when I come home and just want something nice to warm me up.  It was a great example of the Baltic porter and it really didn’t push any boundaries with anything.  The roast character was nice and the mouth feel was excellent.   I would go find yourselves one of these if you like dark roasty beers.

Final Grade: A-

Brew Review: Double Trouble

15 Oct

Brew: Double Trouble

Brewed by: Founders Brewing Co. (Grand Rapids, MI)

Style: Imperial IPA (9.4% ABV)

 

Founders Brewing Co., out of MI, is one of the most consistent and top quality craft brewers out there.  They have great year-round releases, excellent seasonals and a rabid following for their one-off releases.  The double trouble is their seasonal double IPA that comes out in late spring or early summer.  Described as an IPA that focuses on the aromatics of the hop and tries to get the most of that aspect of the flower.   

Double Trouble pours out a light golden straw color.  Much lighter than I was expecting since this is a double IPA and clocks in at 9.4%.  Looks more like a pale ale or even a tad darker version of pilsener or lager.  The lighter colored beer is covered by a 1/8th inch white head.  Not the clearest beer but it just might be a chill haze that has shown up on the glass.

The aroma is awesome.   Ton of juicy hops burst out at you.  Pine, fruit, grapefruits and other tropical smells come out at me.  There is a faint hint of malt backbone in there but the hops and all their wonderful smells steal the show in the smell.   An amazing smell if you like hops.

The taste somewhat follows suit to the aroma.  There is a big hop presence right off the bat with bitterness on the sides of your mouth with juicy notes from the hops flowing over your tongue.  Immediately I notice that this brew has no detectable booze whatsoever.   The immense hop presence is balanced by malts but in a way that it just complements and doesn’t try to take over any of the glory that the hops have put forth. 

The immense amount of hops makes this brew maybe a bit hard to approach but if you handle an amazing hop aroma and big juicy hop flavors then this beer has everything you could ever want.  I would compare it to Abrasive except for one thing.  All the hop oils end up making the brew a little sticky or syrupy which made each sip consecutive sip a bit harder to swallow.  Nevertheless this brew is awesome and deserves nothing less than stellar reviews and lots of bottles sucked dry. 

 

Final Grade: B+

Brew Review: Satin Solstice

15 Oct

Brew: Satin Solstice

Brewed by: Central Waters Brewing Company (Amherst, WI)

Style: Imperial Stout (7.5% ABV)

The only other review I have done for Central Waters from Wisconsin has been the bourbon barrel aged stout which makes me wonder if they just took the Satin Solstice and aged it in barrels to come up with that beer.  Legit question that I really have no way to answer.  Could write them a postcard or something I suppose but I’d rather just have another beer.   With the excellent result of the bourbon barrel stout I was hoping that this brew would be top notch as well.  Central Waters has only impressed so far.

Satin Solstice poured out black as night with a hint of ruby red coming through the sides.  A little thin looking for an imperial stout but nonetheless it was a good looking brew.  There was a cap of off-white head that rested lightly on the top of the beer, nothing really impressive about the foam.  Nothing really impressive about the look so far in general, doesn’t look thick or syrupy in any way.

The aroma of the brew was sort of basic.  It had a lot of roast and burnt grains in there followed by a hint of alcohol.  For not being a very high ABV beer I was surprised that I could pick out any booze in the smell.  The malts mixed with some chocolate as well as I got further in there with my nose.  No mention of hops in my notes which makes me think that this bottle might have been a bit older and I have no way of knowing since I don’t know when it was bottled and I opened it in April sometime.  Could have a few months of age could have a few weeks.  Either way no fresh smelling aromas coming off it.

The taste lent a different perspective on the age of the brew. It started off with a lot of roast and coffee but I also picked up some hops at this point.  Not much to say about the hops other than they lent their bittering oils to this brew and gave it a slightly dry and bitter taste.  This wasn’t a very thick imperial stout which I was sort of hoping for, I like full bodied stouts but the medium body was decent.  It also left me wanting more which is never a bad thing.

Overall I would say that this is a benchmark that other companies could judge their imperial stouts.  There was nothing wrong with this beer however it didn’t really excite me in any way.  All the aspects of the style were there with lots of roast and an aspect of hops.  If you can pick it up, definitely worth it especially since its available in 6-packs and the price isn’t terrible but for those of you looking for more of an adventurous stout this might have to be a fall back.

Final Grade: B

Brew Review: Blaecorn Unidragon

12 Oct

Brew: Blaecorn Unidragon

Brewed by: Clown Shoes Brewing (Ipswich, MA)

Style: Russian Imperial Stout (12.5% ABV)

 

Clown Shoes brewing out of MA until just recently was not distributed to MN.  That changed about a week ago but I had the pleasure of picking this bottle up on one of the great trips I took down to Chicago where Clown Shoes has been for a while.  Great to have another brewery with a large lineup coming to MN, although the competition is going to be fierce with the amount of new local stuff that is popping up here.  This is the 2011 release bottled on 9-11-11 and I cracked it open on 4-7-12 so this review is from my notes and the bottle had a solid 7 months of age on it which I am pretty proud of myself of for keeping it around as long as I did without getting into it.  Another Russian imperial stout (RIS), I seem to have an eye for these, must like them.

The Unidragon pours out a thick black and no light escapes from its depths. Looks like a RIS should.  A dark tan or mocha head rises up but fades quickly which creates a thin cap on the top of this inky brew.

The aroma is roasty right out of the gate.  This roast is followed up by big malts and a faint hop aroma.  Right from the start I see that this is sort of a traditional take on the RIS style.  Roasty, burnt, malty with a soft touch of hops.  These flavors flow into dried dark fruit and some toffee mixed with chocolate.  The one thing that I missed was coffee.  It was a good smell, nothing outrageous or anything but balanced and nothing seemed out of place.

I was excited for the taste, the aroma showed that this was going to be a really solid RIS right from the get go so the taste should follow up well with that. Right away I get lots of roast again.  The roasted and burnt grains lend some bitterness, the coffee finally shows up and some light chocolate all rise up from those grains.  The hops are once again faint but present giving a balance to the huge sweet malt flavor that also comes out at you.  The hops also keep the mouth feel from cloying or sickly sweet. The brew is thick in the mouth but those hops cleanse the taste somewhat and leave you wanting more.  A slight bitterness lingers but wraps up the taste nicely.

This RIS is not as ‘big’ as others (Darkness) but it really didn’t fall short of anything either.  I liked the roast aspect a lot.  There wasn’t a ton of depth to the brew but I liked the simplicity, for lack of a better word, and the somewhat traditional take on the style.  Another great or maybe not great piece of it was that at 12.5% I couldn’t pick up any alcohol anywhere.  This is a higher ABV for any beer in any style and masking that much is a pretty nice accomplishment.  A really good RIS, nothing jumps out as great but this could definitely be a backup on any night you want something dark, roasty, and deep.  The price tag keeps it out of the reaches of Old Rasputin but I still recommend it.

 

Final Grade: B+

Brew Review: Bitches Brew

11 Oct

Brew: Bitches Brew

Brewed by: Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales (Milton, DE)

Style: Imperial Stout with Gesha Root (9.0% ABV)

 

This brew is a tribute to the Miles Davis album by the same name, in 2010 it was the 40th anniversary of this historic album and Dogfish Head decided to commemorate as such.  Originally released in 2010 this bottle I have is from 2011 and I believe that Dogfish will release this one once or twice a year at this point because it was greeted with such high praise on the original release.  Their website says that this brew was a fusion of 3 threads imperial stout and 1 thread of honey beer with gesho root.  I have had this brew before once at an amazing beer tasting in WI and loved it but it went fast so I didn’t get to really savor much of it. 

The Bitches Brew poured out a deep thick black.  This was a dark and deep beer.  There was a little, not very impressive, brown head that rose up about a half inch.  Overall looked like an imperial stout, which I guess makes sense if 75% of it is actually an imperial stout.  The honey ale, which I would assume would be a lighter color didn’t have much effect on the look of the beer.

The aroma of the beer is overwhelming imperial stout.  There are big roast smells along with some faint hops.  There is a sweet funk to it as well which I can only imagine would be the honey and gesho root.  The honey, gesho and some chocolate wrap up this pretty complex aroma which translates also to a really good and exciting aroma.  I really want to dive right into this beer after the first whiff.

The taste doesn’t disappoint.  It comes off very smooth with a sweet tang.  There are the obligatory rich robust roast flavors hinting of coffee, chocolate and bitterness.  There was also a little tart off-flavor that I picked up on but it wasn’t really off-putting kind of enjoyable.  It added to the bitter, tart, sweet complexities of the brew.  As I said, the gesho and hops are present.  Actually gesho is used in the same way hops are in Africa for a mead-like beverage so that really doesn’t surprise me at all.  I don’t really know how to describe the gesho, I can only guess that it is what I am experiencing when I think of the tang and tart that I found within the depths. 

This is an excellent beer, I really enjoy how this is a blend of beers, sort of like how Firestone Walker out in CA really excels.  The addition of the gesho is nice, it adds more than what you would except from some gimmicky addition like juniper berries or something.  It drinks like a really good imperial stout with some added characteristics that really push it to great.

 

Final Grade: A

Brew Review: Tiny

9 Oct

Brew: Tiny

Brewed by: Weyerbacher Brewing Co. (Easton, PA)

 Style: Belgian Style Imperial Stout (11.8% ABV)

A Belgian style imperial stout.  That’s a lot right there in the name.  What can you take out of that?  This is going to be a big boozy stout, hence the imperialism.  However with a Belgian style ale mixed with a stout what are we expecting here?  Russian stouts are big and roasty.  Belgian beers could be grouped into a ‘fruity’ family with their lambics and wide variety of tastes that come out of the “Disneyland of Beer.”   So is this going to be a boozy, fruity laden syrup with burnt roast jumping out of the woodwork?  I really have no idea, it seems to be a daunting beer to brew, one that will probably not conform to any style when it’s all said and done.

Tiny pours out pitch black into my glass.  Pretty much all dark, no light coming in through the sides or anything.   There is a small dark tan head that rises up but doesn’t last long, like a poorly planned rebellion or mutiny. 

The brews aroma is a task.  There is a lot going on here.  Immediately I can sense a ton of big heavy malts.  There is also a lot of dark fruit in the nose.  Plumbs, raisins, apples, mixed in with some toffee and a faint coffee and chocolate bit deep down.  Almost too much going on to pick out certain things.  Deep fruits amongst some more traditional stout aromas are the main things.  I think the Belgian yeast provided some of the lighter fruit aspects while the stout quality added its roast and darker themes.

The name Tiny for this brew is ironic.  The taste that rushes at you the second you tip this glass forward is huge.  Not small or tiny by any means.  The brew is thick and rich like a solid stout should be.  The fruity, toffee and big malt flavors all show up again from the aroma.  There is more of a pronounced note of chocolate than before and the roast has faded into the background.  This is super smooth.  Thick and chewy with a hint of hot booze on the end.  After all its hard to cover up all almost 12%.

Weyerbacher definitely did well with this task of a Belgian style Imperial Stout.  They hit some roast, chocolate and toffee but also added fruits from plumbs and raisins to apples.  The Belgian yeast added a layer of complexity to an already thick and chewy imperial stout that really set the brew off.  The added bonus to this brew is that it is brewed year round and has a price tag of about 7-8 bucks for a 750mL bottle.  Which, means you can enjoy this all the time and the price tag isn’t something that will give you cause to pause when you look at it.  Think of it as a really good bottle of wine for 8 bucks and you’ve already saved yourself like 15 bucks.  On top of that its beer = win/win.

Final grade: A

Brew Review: Chipotle Ale

8 Oct

Brew: Chipotle Ale

Brewed by: Rogue Ales (Newport, OR)

Style: Chili Beer (5.5% ABV)

Another chapter in the Rogue Ales story.  Once again this is a brewery that never fails to un-impress me.  They have beers all over the US and are recognized throughout the world.  They are continually pushing crazy beers though their brewery (beard yeast used, maple bacon ale) that only seem to cause a rush to buy them so the aficionados can say they first, bought them and then second tried and either loved or poured down the drain.  This is a great blog forum that talked about these ‘novelty beers,’ the responses are in the comments.  On to the chipotle ale, I don’t know how I am going to feel about a spicy beer.  I don’t really know where this fad came from, I think it started with Stone Brewing in CA and a few of the other big names, like Rogue here, took it up to try and catch another ‘fad’ beer like the black IPA of a year or so ago.  I think spice, like chili spice, belongs on my tacos and not in my drink, maybe this beer will change that idea.

The chipotle ale poured out a clear copper color.  Looked like amber ale, maybe a bit lighter than say an Avalanche Ale but still fairly red with some brown in there.   There was a big pillowy white head that rose up from the beer.  Overall, a really good looking ale. 

The aroma is not as pungent as I was expecting.  I was thinking that this was going to be a beer with a big aroma, with the chilies present that is, but it was fairly tame.  I picked up some faint smoky notes and a bit of spicy pepper.  But that was about it, like I said tame.  A slight bready bit from the malts but that’s about it.

The taste was something different though.  There was a ton going on in this brew.  The smoke and spice are present from start to finish.  Not overpowering but the heat from the peppers is somewhat off-putting.  At the beginning there are some bittering hops but not too much.  The smoke and spice continue on throughout the beer with lingering heat and spice in my mouth. 

I think the beer did what the brewers set out to do, put chilies in a beer.  But really what else were they trying to do?  If you really wanted something spicy couldn’t you just have some salsa?  Couldn’t you just drink Tobasco if you really wanted to drink the heat?  I suppose that you could say that the extreme hop beers are sort of the same thing and the huge roasty stouts are similar as well.  They both take a certain ingredient and exploit it in a beer.  I think in the end it’s my personal preference to keep the chili spice out of my beer and in my food.

Final Grade: C