Saturday, October 15, 2011

Beer Club (week 14)

From most thematically consistent lineup ever (the Oktoberfest/Märzens) to one of the most diverse ever. Gotta love the Beer Club!

• Headwater Pale Ale (Victory Brewing Company)
• Hobgoblin Dark English Ale (Wychwood Brewery)
• Humming Ale (Anchor Brewing Company)
• Pecan Harvest (Abita Brewing Company)
• Robust Porter (Smuttynose Brewing Company)
• Snake Dog IPA (Flying Dog Brewery)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Punkin Ale (Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales)

According to Dogfish Head Craft Brewery founder Sam Caligione, Punkin Ale is older than the brewery itself. It was concocted as a home brew and entered into the pumpkin-themed recipe contest at Sussex County's famous Punkin' Chunkin' 1994. The brewery opened in '95.

Since then, Punkin Ale seems to have attained legendary status among Dogfish Head's fanbase, and it disappears from the stores pretty rapidly when it is released every September. Me, I don't usually go out of my way to buy it unless my wife happens to ask for it by name (which, come to think of it, she does just about every year). But I recently sampled Punkin Ale in a lineup with eight other pumpkin beers, and now I have a renewed appreciation for what is exceptional about it.

The beer pours a warm amber gold, and quite clear. Half inch of nearly white head settles down to a thin film. The aroma is sweet and mildly spicy, with a clove-like note most prominent (I guess it's actually allspice, since clove is not listed as an ingredient), and a little alcohol detectable.

The taste is immediately sweet, then rises to a clear malt note at the pinnacle of the flavor before the spices enter and swirl together with the pumpkin and the beer base in a very nice blend. Hard to pick out the pumpkin distinctly, but the cinnamon is definitely there, as is the clove-y allspice. But that central, distinct malt note -- that's what none of the other eight beers really had.

The body is of medium weight and well carbonated. There is a distinct tang of alcohol at the end. I've got to admit, that taste evokes many pleasant things about the mellow autumn season -- leaves, abundant food, evenings by the fire, and, of course, various festive libations.

The thing that Dogfish Head seems to have nailed better than the other pumpkin beer purveyors is simple: restraint. The flavor of the additives combines with the flavor of the beer, but never takes the foreground. The result is the sense of drinking a well-brewed ale with a seasonal angle, not drinking a fizzy vehicle for liquified pumpkin pie.

(My runners-up, by the way, were Wolaver's Pumpkin Ale, Post Road Pumpkin Ale, and Saranac Pumpkin Ale.)

From the bottle's label:

A full-bodied brown ale brewed with real pumpkin, brown sugar, allspice, cinnamon, & nutmeg.

Featured beer:
Punkin Ale

Honorable mentions:
Wolaver's Pumpkin Ale
Post Road Pumpkin Ale
Saranac Pumpkin Ale

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Beer Club (week 13)

Very proud of my Brewsroom peeps this week, as everyone entered a seasonal brew. I foresee a head-to-head taste test in my near future...

• Heavy Seas Märzen (Clipper City Brewing Company)
• Hex Ourtoberfest (Magic Hat Brewing Company)
• Paulaner Oktoberfest Märzen (Paulaner Brauerei)
• Punkin Ale (Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales)
• Shiner Oktoberfest (Spoetzl Brewery)
• Stoudt's Oktober Fest (Stoudt's Brewing Company)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Exile ESB (Evolution Craft Brewing Company)

If you thought Milton, Delware (home of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery) was an obscure locale, try Delmar, Delaware. This dinky town of 1,600 hugs the Delaware/Maryland border opposite its comparatively sprawling "twin" city, Delmar, Maryland, population 3,000.

It is in the lesser Delmar that Evolution Craft Brewing Company set down roots in 2009. So far their products are only distributed in Delaware, Maryland, and the DC metro area, but according to a May 2011 post on the brewery's infrequently updated blog, they are having trouble keeping up with demand and are developing expansion plans.

Being a Delawarean, I am used to seeing Evolution beers at my neighborhood liquor store -- although I confess to never having purchased any. This bottle of Exile ESB comes to me, as so many good things have, by way of the Beer Club.

Now, the label on the bottle carries the words "Evolution Style Beer," and I assume that this unorthodox expansion of the initialism "ESB" does not mean that the beer within is anything other than an "extra special bitter" -- basically a stronger, fuller-bodied pale ale. Let's find out.

The beer pours a cloudy amber. Two inches of cream-colored foam came up, and within a minute or two that settled down to an eighth inch film which left practically no lacing. The aroma brings mainly musty and pungent hops -- smells like a pilsner, more or less.

The flavor is dry and lemony tart and stays very high on the palate. The body is medium to light, with carbonation that is low but adequately tingly. The whole thing can be described as mild biscuit malt ensnared by hops bitterness. Any fruit that's there would be in the sweet finish -- if pressed on the matter I might identify a faint suggestion of apricot. There is some black tea flavor and astringency in the aftertaste.

This is a nicely balanced sessioner. It's not a flashy style, but pretty well done. I don't think this is the kind of beer a fledgeling brewery is going to build a reputation on. Hoping there are some other brews in Evolution's portfolio more likely to capture some word of mouth buzz. I seem to hear the most mentions of their Lot #3 IPA, so maybe I'll try that next.

Featured beer:
Exile ESB

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Saranac Black Forest (Matt Brewing Company)

Schwartzbier is sparsely represented in the American beer market. This lager is also known in German as Schwartzpils, or "black pilsner," so that should warn us not to let the beer's color lead us to expect a flavor profile along the lines of a brown ale or a stout. It should be something lighter, cleaner, and not at all fruity. Let's see how the folks at Matt Brewing have expressed the style.

Yes, in my pint tumbler (which, apparently, should have been a tulip glass, but I don't own one) it does appear quite black at a distance, but it is revealed to be ruby-tinged brown when held to light. An aggressive pour raises an inch or so of large-bubbled foam, which quickly settles down to a thin film. The cold aroma is pleasant: bready and herbal accents over a roasted malt base.

My impression from the first sip is of a simple, clean maltiness -- slightly roasty, but not what I would call smoky. Mouthfeel is quite smooth, just shy of creamy, and carbonation is on the soft side. Hops presence is discernible but subdued. The beer is light-bodied with low complexity, so it is very difficult for me to tease out individual flavor components beyond the malt -- maybe a slight nutiness? Finishes up caramel sweet with no bitterness.

Overall, Saranac Black Forest is a tasty if somewhat circumscribed brew. There is certainly nothing offensive in it, and to denigrate its simplicity would be misguided, as I think it actually does a good job of portraying the Schwartzbier style. At 5.3% ABV (and at $6 for a six-pack, I might add), this could be a highly sessionable lager. A decent dark beer for people who don't like dark beer.

From the bottle's label:

Deep in the heart of the Adirondacks, there is a place where even light is scared to enter. The Black Forest! It inspired us to brew this delicious Bavarian style black beer with caramel sweetness, medium body and our trademark rich creamy head. Look for the delicate brownish-red color. Don't be afraid of the dark!

Featured beer:
Saranac Black Forest

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Gunslinger Double India Pale Ale (Crown Valley Brewing & Distilling Company)

The Beer Club brought to my attention another craft beer maker I had never heard of: Crown Valley Brewing & Distilling of Sainte Genevieve, Missouri. The somewhat slick Crown Valley website doesn't give the date of the brewery's founding or any history of it's growth. I gather from their blog that the beer at hand, Gunslinger Double India Pale Ale, has been on the market for less than five months. On the whole, going into this tasting pretty blind, which is fine by me.

The beer pours a light amber with 3/4 inch head. There is a nice rounded nose of yeast, tangerine, a little clove spice.

In the flavor, light, sweet malt and bitter, sappy hops are nicely balanced. I notice a note of mild butterscotch. I am struck by the absence of the huge, dense body characteristic of other DIPAs I've tried (for example the enormous Stoudt's Double IPA). Though noteworthy, that is not necessarily an automatic demerit in my book. The beer is not excessively bitter in the aftertaste, especially for the amount of hops allegedly used in the recipe. Alcohol is noticeable, and that would be an expected DIPA trait.

This would make a very approachable introduction to the "double" style for someone who already likes IPAs. I will have to sample more from Crown Valley's 12 beer lineup before I can form an opinion about their overall prowess. The fact that their brewmaster spent virtually all of his career within Anheuser-Busch makes me a little cautious.

From the bottle's label:

Gunslinger Double IPA is a robust and malty beer, with an intense hop profile. We balanced the rich malt flavor with some powerful hop notes from the use of five different hop varieties.

Featured beer:
Gunslinger Double India Pale Ale

Honorable mentions:
Stoudt's Double IPA

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Beer Club (week 12)

Short by a couple of folks again this week, but here's the lineup:

• Dundee Summer Wheat (Dundee/Genesee Brewing Company)
• Exile ESB (Evolution Craft Brewing Company)
• Old Leghumper Robust Porter (Thirsty Dog Brewing Company)
• Pumpkinhead Ale (Shipyard Brewing Company)
• Saranac Black Forest (Matt Brewing Company)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Hop Head Red Ale (Green Flash Brewing Company)

After a couple of turbulent weeks during which I could not post, I am pleased to be back with a new review of a delicious beer.

Hop Head Red Ale took the gold medal in the American-Style Amber/Red Ale category at the 2008 World Beer Cup®. (The silver that year went to Hyokoyashikinomori Brewery, in case you harbored the delusion that Americans had a lock on American-style ales.)

This interests me for a couple of reasons. First, as a beer enthusiast, I'm always eager to learn about worthy breweries, and this high profile international competition is a great way for dedicated craftsmen to emerge from obscurity into the awareness of the beer-loving community.

The second reason the World Beer Cup competition interests me is because it is a chance to know the precise standards by which a beer has been judged. Below is the criteria for the American amber/red ale style from the 2010 WBC Style Descriptions document (downloadable here):

"American amber/red ales range from light copper to light brown in color. They are characterized by American variety hops used to produce medium to medium-high hop bitterness, flavor, and medium to high aroma. Amber ales have medium-high to high maltiness with medium to low caramel character. They should have medium to medium-high body. The style may have low levels of fruity ester flavor and aroma. Diacetyl can be either absent or barely perceived at very low levels. Chill haze is allowable at cold temperatures. Slight yeast haze is acceptable for bottle conditioned products."

Although I admit with sadness that I did not taste all 53 entries in the category that year, it's clear to me that Hop Head Red nails the standard yet forges its own character, and I'm not surprised it was able to take top honors.

The beer pours a dark amber. Very hazy. It produces dense, frothy root beer float-like foam that lingers all the way to the bottom of the glass, leaving behind entire curtains of lacing. The aroma is of sharp, sappy citrus, with some spice and some breadiness.

The taste very nicely balances caramel malt sweetness against heavy-hitting hops bitterness, with peppery and even slightly savory notes. The mouthfeel is quite substantial. Maybe I have rye on the brain from that delicious Red's Rye P.A. from Founders I recently consumed, but I could swear that grain's signature tang is in this brew. Just loads of flavor, and an interesting construction. I detect a little of that 7% ABV at the end.

Overall: I was sorry I had just one -- I verily nursed the last ounce to make it last. Would have enjoyed draining a few more of these and relaxing with the complexities of its flavor.

Featured beer:
Hop Head Red Ale

Honorable mentions:
Red's Rye P.A.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Beer Club (week 11)

A light week because of a couple of absences, but a nice lineup nonetheless:

• Dead Reckoning Porter (Tröegs Brewing Company)
• Gunslinger Double India Pale Ale (Crown Valley Brewing)
• Porter (Southern Tier Brewing Company)
• Punkin Ale (Dogfish Head Craft Brewery)
• Sisters of the Moon India Pale Ale (Mother Earth Brewing)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Red's Rye P.A. (Founders Brewing Company)

Who is this impish looking feller on the label of Red's Rye P.A.? He looks like a pagan sun gnome, if there is such a thing. Dave Engbers at Founders Brewing Company generously shared that Red is a real person -- a denizen of the streets of Kalamazoo, whose likeness was rendered by artist Justin Bernhardt. The folks at Founders thought the image was a good match for the rye beer they were adding to their lineup.

I've sampled a few rye beers now, of quite different styles. This one is less like Hoss Rye Lager and more like Hop Rod Rye , but it is easily distinguishable from that one as well.

The beer pours a hazy reddish apricot with a fairly modest off-white head. There appeared to be a ring of yeast in the bottom of bottle, making me curious whether any estery subtleties would make their voices heard amid the boisterous conversation of rye and hops. The aroma is spicy and fruity. Dominant is the requisite grapefruit, but I also clearly pick up black pepper and malt.

The taste is big, but more controlled than the rye-heavy beers previously sampled, and not nearly as sweet. There is a short, spicy main flavor, with long, grainy finish. When I say "short," I do not mean to imply that the body is insufficient -- in fact, it is packed with hearty, dry malt and rye flavors; but there is a definite contour to the taste.

The mouthfeel is quite chewy and rich. The only fruit present perhaps a bitter guava. The hops is there, of course, tightly shoring up the grains, and the quantity used is evident in the bitterness of the aftertaste.

Red's Rye P.A. is not to be missed by rye lovers, but I can't predict its appeal beyond that enclave. Personally, I loved it, but I may have lost my objectivity about these bold, spicy brews. Though this Founders offering seems somehow more serious or workmanlike than the frolicsome Hop Rod Rye, it is tasty, well-crafted, and certainly worthy of a spot in the occasional rotation.

Featured beer:
Red's Rye P.A.

Honorable mentions:
Hoss Rye Lager
Hop Rod Rye

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Celebrator Dopplebock (Brauerei Aying)

Yuengling was established in 1829 and claims to be America's oldest brewery. The Weihenstephan Brewery in Bavaria, by comparison, has been continuously operated since the year 1040. I begin this way to assert that Germany's dedication to and mastery of the brewing art is beyond reproach.

The Ayinger Brewery is a relative newcomer at the age of 134, but its roots are sunk in the rich soil of its native Bavarian tradition. Accordingly, you might expect their Celebrator Dopplebock to be one of the most authentic dopplebocks made -- an exemplar and standard-setter of the style. You'd be right.

Celebrator comes in a classic brown bottle with a pure white cap. Making up for this plainness is an ornate, old-fashioned-looking label which depicts two goats embracing a vessel of sudsy dark beer. Slung around the bottle's neck by a red thread is a white plastic trinket of a goat (bock being a word for "goat" in German).

The beer appears almost black-brown, but shows a lovely ruby color when light passes through it. Pouring raises a short, light brown, tight-bubbled head that settles in the glass with the cascading effect usually associated with nitrogen-drawn drafts. It has the aroma of concord grapes and flint.

The flavor of this dark beauty is toasted barley malt all the way. So restrained is the use of hops that you have to ponder carefully what role it plays. Sweet barley malt totally dominates the full body. There is no bitterness, no smokiness, no huskiness, and the taste stops just shy of the impression of molasses. The flavor evades hazards and extremes with the confidence of a BMW negotiating a slalom course.

The mouthfeel is creamy, involving the minimum carbonation necessary. The grape note that was suggested in the nose increases as the beer warms, as does the detectability of the 6.7% alcohol content.

In my opinion, Celebrator Doppelbock is one of the world's truly great beers. It is rich-tasting and focused, and a marvel of craftsmanship. If you ever need a distinct change of pace from the hops avalanche of American craft brews, you can reach for none better.

Featured beer:
Celebrator Dopplebock

Friday, August 19, 2011

Beer Club (week 10)

Great lineup this week, as we bid adieu to Justin and welcome Melissa:

• Burning River Pale Ale (Great Lakes Brewing Company)
• Celebrator Doppelbock (Brauerei Aying)
• Golden Monkey (Victory Brewing Company)
• Hop Head Red Ale (Green Flash Brewing Company)
• Red's Rye P.A. (Founders Brewing Company)
• Shock Top Belgian White (Anheuser-Busch, Inc.)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dale's Pale Ale (Oskar Blues)

This was Justin's final contribution to the TNJ Beer Club before he went off to work at the increasingly legendary Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. As I've said before, I consider starting this biweekly beer exchange one of the best ideas devised by anybody at any time.

The Facebook page for Dale's Pale Ale touts it as "America's first hand-canned craft beer." I've roamed the far corners of this big, scary Internet and I can't find any other brewery contesting the claim. So, what Oskar Blues started (some say as a lark) almost ten years ago has ultimately blossomed into a industry-wide trend with potentially significant environmental benefits. I never would have predicted it, but I guess that's why I'm the amateur blogger and Justin works for Sam Calagione.

I poured this beer into my trusty pint tumbler. It appears a chill-hazed amber, and enthusiastically lofts up three inches of pillowy pumpkin-tinged suds. When cold, the aroma is of pungent citrus hops with cake underneath, becoming more sour and grassy as it warms. There is extensive lacing as the glass is drained.

When sipped, low-key carbonation allows the beer to flow quite smoothly in the mouth. There is a puckering bitterness up front, but after that arrive nice fruity hibiscus and sweet malt flavors before the taste returns to a slightly sticky bitterness in the long finish. Although designated simply as a "pale ale," you could stick the label "India pale ale" or "amber ale" on this and no one would bat an eye.

This is officially the best beer I've had from a can -- and I don't mean that as the faint praise it may sound like. It is not crazy with complexity, but it has full flavor and a nice contour. Recommended for packing to the beach or any other glass-prohibited venue, and even for drinking at home.

Featured beer:
Dale's Pale Ale

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Raven Special Lager (Baltimore-Washington Beer Works)

Wade Malcolm contributed The Raven to Beer Club a while back -- just after another round of layoffs had further thinned the ranks of our newsroom. The ominous symbolism was noted.

This beer has a peculiar background. It was created by a couple of Baltimoreans along with a couple of German partners, and was brewed and distributed in Europe for a year before it ever came to America. It also appears that The Raven Special Lager is the only beer produced by Baltimore-Washington Beer Works, which is why it's a good bet you've never heard of the brewery before.

This beer pours a clear warm gold with half and inch of head. It has a classic lager aroma -- slightly musty with a suggestion of grain. The German part of its pedigree seems immediately evident. Once the modest head dissipates, virtually no aroma rises from the beer.

Amidst its light body and prickly carbonation resides a simple and clean taste. The hops and the malt hang pretty tightly together, with the sweet malt gaining the upper hand just briefly before the flavor ends. Nothing Gothic or poetic on display, despite the label's claim. But a serviceable beer with a familiar taste that would probably have broad appeal.

From the bottle's label:

The Taste is Poetic
"...Open here I flung the shutter when with many a flirt and flutter, In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore..."

Featured beer:
The Raven Special Lager

A Little Sumpin' Sumpin' Ale (Lagunitas Brewing Company)

"Petaluma" is right up there with "Sheboygan" and "Schenectady" in my list of towns that sound like they should be the setting of a 1930's comic strip. Happily, in the here-and-now it is also home to the estimable Lagunitas Brewing Company, whose beers are now distributed in more than 30 states -- one of them not even contiguous!

A Little Sumpin' Sumpin' Ale comes in a squat brown bottle with a cute girl on the label. Jeffrey Gentry contributed this to the week nine round of Beer Club. I drank it a little warmer than I ordinarily prefer, because we were in the midst of a 30-hour power outage and everything in the refrigerator was warming up fast...

Best I could tell by the flashlight's illumination, the beer poured a pale amber and retained two inches of white foam. It left patchy lacing in the glass. The aroma was of fresh ruby grapefruit, peach, and pine resin.

My main impression was of pungent hops flavors splashing against the roof of my mouth along with the carbonation’s crest. Grapefruit and apricot nectar are also there in mellow accord, and give the beer a fairly weighty mouthfeel. A tiny backbone of light grain taste pokes through as the flavor recedes. Surprisingly, the beer is not at all bitter in the aftertaste.

This is certainly very drinkable, and I wouldn't refuse it if offered again. But for some reason I was expecting to be knocked out by it, and I wasn't. Reminds me somewhat of the Breckenridge brews, in that I don’t get a real clear statement of what structure they were going for. There are plenty of agreeable flavors there, but they are not put together in a way that makes me shout “Hallelujah!”

Kind of like the girl on the bottle, actually. Despite the fact that she’s wearing a snug-fitting button-up halter and cowboy boots, it’s not entirely clear if she’s supposed to be a farmer's daughter or a temptress. She's nice enough to look at, though, and the beer's nice enough to drink.

From the bottle's label:

So, we're all on collective disability. That's cool. Let's put some ice on it and keep ourselves elevated for a while. So, what's on the tube..? Honey..? Get me a beer from the frige [sic]... Will ya..? Sweetie..? Please..?

Featured beer:
A Little Sumpin' Sumpin' Ale

(Didn't get a picture of this beer poured because of -- you guessed it -- the power outage.)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Palm (Brouwerij Palm NV)

I chose this sophisticated-looking bottle to drink first from the Beer Club's week eight lineup. I figured I'd be starting off with a solid, classy import. Didn't quite turn out that way...

Palm pours a pale amber. It rushes up to two inches white fluffy head, then settles to one finger or so. Some lacing. The aroma is lemon and musty European hops.

My immediate flavor impression was of corn on the cob. There is not much foretaste; after the slightly lackluster carbonation ping there is basically a single straightforward flavor note of pilsner-like sour malt. The fade out is reminiscent of Bugles corn snacks.

Possibly Belgium's least impressive export.

From the bottle's label:

PALM was originally brewed at the beginning of the 20th Century as a new style of beer, Speciale Belge - taste complexity of an ale brewed to be refreshing like pilsner or lager. It is PALM's perfect balance of flavor and approachability that makes it Belgium's Amber Beer.

Featured beer:

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Hop Rod Rye (Bear Republic Brewery)

Mainly based upon my admiration of their Racer 5 IPA and Red Rocket Ale, I decided once more to chip in a Bear Republic brew to the Beer Club. Another factor was my mild obsession with rye: I like the toast, love the whiskey, and am beginning to fancy it as a beer ingredient, too. Rye imparts a distinctive spiciness to whatever it is included in, be it pumpernickel bread or bourbon or beer.

There is an ancient German brewing style called roggenbier that uses 20 to 25 percent rye in its grain component. In the American market you will see a variety of beers with "rye" in the name, some of them ales and some lagers. It's hard to know how much grain they're putting into these beers. (I got the stiff arm from Great Divide's communication officer when I inquired by email about the percentage of rye in their Hoss Rye Lager. "Unfortunately, all of our malt blends are proprietary...")

I'm sure that someone out there is brewing an authentic roggenbier, but many of the style designations I see are things like "rye bock," "red rye," "black rye," and the perhaps inevitable "rye PA." Anyway, I figured Bear Republic could be trusted to do something good with rye, regardless of what they called it.

The beer pours amber brown, with about an inch of ecru-colored head. It leaves lovely curtains of lace in the glass. The aroma is zesty and floral, with malt in the middle and molasses in the background. As it warms, the molasses note turns to caramel and becomes more predominant.

The taste is sweet and peppery, with a huge spike of dense rye in the middle. The flavor is complex, collapsing inward on the tongue in a swirl of opposing sweet and bitter elements -- spicy sharpness, buffeted by caramel in the wind-down. I do find the aftertaste quite bitter and sticky. I guess that's a consequence of what they needed to do to get this extraordinary flavor. (You know, flying buttresses aren't particularly attractive either, but they allow you to build a cathedral that's magnificent from the inside.)

This is the third brew I've had from Bear Republic that is truly excellent. The hallmarks of all three are well-executed ideas and LOTS of flavor. Impress me once, good for you. Impress me twice, good for me. Impress me three times? I'm gonna tell the world about it! So people, listen up: try this company's stuff. Their success is the beer world's gain.

From the bottle's label:

Hop Rod Rye is a high performance, turbo charged, alcohol burnin' monster ale with dual overhead hops injection, made with 18% rye.

Don't drink & drag. Sediment at bottom of bottle may be a result of the truckload of hops in this non-filtered ale.

Featured beer:
Hop Rod Rye

Honorable mentions:
Racer 5 IPA
Red Rocket Ale
Hoss Rye Lager

Friday, August 5, 2011

Beer Club (week 9)

We're a little light this week, but here's the lineup:

A Little Sumpin' Sumpin' Ale (Lagunitas Brewing Company)
Dale's Pale Ale (Oskar Blues Grill & Brewery)
Hop Rod Rye (Bear Republic Brewery)
HopDevil Ale (Victory Brewing Company)
Satsuma Harvest Wit (Abita Brewing Company)

Punk IPA (BrewDog)

And now for a highly annotated introduction: I was at State Line Liquors purchasing my biweekly contribution to Beer Club, when my buddy Justin (a.k.a. "luckiest dude currently drawing breath") pointed out that August 4 is International #IPADay. He grabbed a 750ML Punk IPA off the shelf, and on an impulse I grabbed one too.

As I observed in my review of Railbender Ale, "Scotland" and "beer" are hardly synonymous. The pointedly iconoclastic founders of BrewDog would love to change that. They are hitting the market with tons of attitude, an interesting lineup of brews (and I even exclude from that statement their "shock value" alcohol bombs of 32% and 41% ABV), and videos of them heartily demolishing bottles of Budweiser, Becks, Carlsberg, and Stella Artois. They describe Punk IPA as a "post modern classic pale ale." Let's try to figure out what in the world they might mean by that.

The pour raises several inches of fluffy and sturdy off-white foam. The beer is yellow gold with a warm orange aura, and it is quite hazy. Large sheets of lacing lined my glass when I was done.

At close range, the enticing nose is of fresh citrus, earthy hops, and butter. Knowing how heavily they've laid on the hops in this recipe, I am surprised that the aroma does not project further.

The first taste is tremendously bitter -- BUT... then comes a surprising wave of fresh malt flavor. (I wonder whether a dimension of that fresh green taste may actually be the hops flowers themselves, rather than their aromatic oils? A non-brewing amateur beer lover speculates.) It is a delicious scarcely-roasted barley taste. So, maybe a "post modern" IPA is one that treats malt as a co-star rather than a mere delivery platform for hops characteristics?

I don't detect a lot of what I think of as fruit flavors in the body, which is a distinction from most of the bigged-up American IPAs. It is a nice difference, actually. After the barley, I taste a trailing note of lilac perfume. Punk's mouthfeel is not particularly heavy for the amount of flavor delivered, and its carbonation is adequate but quite soft feeling on the tongue.

This is an intensely flavorful but hardly outlandish IPA. It is obviously influenced more by the American (and particularly West Coast) style trend than by the English tradition from which it arises, yet it is not likely to be mistaken for an American IPA. I really enjoyed drinking this one, and if price and availability were not major factors I would love to have it on a regular basis. For now it will remain for rare occasions like International #IPADay.

From the bottle's label:

BrewDog: Beer for Punks

Beer was never meant to be bland, tasteless and apathetic.

At BrewDog we are setting the record straight.

We are committed to making the highest quality beers with the finest fresh natural ingredients.

Our beers are in no way commercial or mainstream.

We do not merely aspire to the proclaimed heady heights of conformity through neutrality and blandness.

We are unique and individual.

A beacon of non-conformity in a increasingly monotonous corporate desert.

We are proud to be an intrepid David in a desperate ocean of insipid Goliaths.

We are proud to be an alternative.

Featured beer:
Punk IPA

Honorable mention:
Railbender Ale

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Tripel Horse (River Horse Brewing Company)

There was a River Horse beer in our very first Beer Club lineup. I guess I'll never forget that. I also hadn't forgotten how pathetic and underdeveloped their website was when I went to look up Hop Hazard at that time, so I was sad to discover that, three months later, the brewery's online presence remains unimproved. This is a cardinal sin of marketing in the contemporary era. Seems like someone should be either hired or fired over there...

Anyway, Tripel Horse is the subject of the present critique. I set up a pint glass thinking I would be having an IPA. I changed my mind while my head was in the fridge, then forgot to grab the goblet when I settled on a Belgian tripel. Forgive me, O gods of appropriate glassware!

This pours a very hazy pale orange with foam that is fizzy, not billowy. The head is reluctant to build up and quick to die down. There was virtually no lacing on the sides of the glass as I drank. Very peculiar for the style. There was, however, plenty of yeast at the bottom of the bottle. The aroma evokes mostly tart lemon -- with effort, some sourdough bread.

The immediate impression is shandy-like tanginess, with prickly carbonation. Behind that, the sweetness of pear or white grape juice. Clove rides the warming wave of that 10% ABV. Overall very sweet and only a little sour.

I would expect much more subtlety and complexity from an actual Belgian. This was a bit soda poppy. After reading some reviews around the Web, I can only conclude that River Horse has detrimentally tweaked this recipe over time. For one thing, compare both the label and the pour in this shot versus mine below. There is no way in hell this is the same beer. My bottle couldn't have produced that much foam if I had whisked in a jigger of dishwashing soap.

So, my recommendations to the folks at River Horse: see if you can dig up that old recipe; fix the beer; then, for heaven's sake, fix the website.

From the bottle's label:

The muscles on our Tripel Horse are not from Brussels, but its soul is. Be ready for big flavors of our Belgian yeast, nutmeg and coriander if you decide to ride this horse.

Featured beer:
Tripel Horse

Honorable mention:
Hop Hazard

Monday, August 1, 2011

Red Rocket Ale (Bear Republic Brewery)

I've just tried Red Rocket Ale from our friends at Bear Republic Brewery in northern California. This blog's many devoted readers will recall that Bear Republic's Racer 5 IPA has become one of my current favorite quaffs. I really like this beer as well, so two things about it strike me as a shame: the terrible label design, and the fact that its name calls to mind certain very unappetizing visuals from South Park.

But on to more positive things. The color of the beer is darker than I expected -- not so much red as purplish brown. As I look through the glass I see lots of yeast clumps in suspension, indicative of bottle conditioning and leading me to anticipate some spicy yeast effects in the flavor. This expectation is reinforced by a bright, lemony, peppery, and yeasty aroma.

The taste is extraordinary. This flavor has moves! Supported within the medium heavy mouthfeel is a body of surprising complexity. I can chase out fruity, floral, and spicy threads and be right well entertained while doing so. The flavor starts bitter, dips down into earthy, grainy territory, then up into a lemony finish. As it warms, the underlying musty Scottish ale characteristic emerges a bit more.

This is one of the most distinctive beers I have tried in a while. I would probably limit my recommendation to friends known to be of intrepid palate, but I would drink it again myself without hesitation.

From the bottle's label:

Red Rocket Ale is a bastardized Scottish style red ale packed with distinctive flavors and an aggressive hope character rivaled by none. This unfiltered, bottle-conditioned amber colored ale, breaks all style molds.

Featured beer:
Red Rocket Ale

Honorable mention:
Racer 5 IPA

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Black Hawk Stout (Mendocino Brewing Company)

According to the Mendocino Brewing Company website, the brewery came into being in August of 1983, and bottles of their product started hitting the market in December of that year. Amazingly, it has taken me this long to get my hands on one. But let's forget the past and see whether there is any future for us together.

The bottle at hand is Black Hawk Stout, and its label is illustrated, as are the labels of all Mendocino's "Legend" and "Select" series, with a bold head shot of the eponymous bird. It raises in my pint tumbler two or more inches of structurally sound head. Held to light, the beer is pitch black with ruby fringes. The nose is of buttery malt and subtle minerals.

At first taste it is clear that this ale is more kindred to the dry Irish stout style than to the sweeter Russian imperial stout style that seems to predominate in the American craft brew scene. It is mild and smoky, and not particularly sweet. It is well balanced, with the predominant note being the smokiness of grains that are roasted but stop short of being scorched. Subdued carbonation and glassy mouthfeel make it seem creamy -- though not to the downright slippery extent of that delicious Lancaster Milk Stout I had a while back. Again, dry along the lines of Guinness, but perhaps a bit richer.

Black Hawk Stout is somewhat restrained, but has a very nice overall character. I do like wrestling with the darkness of intense, hard-charging imperial stouts, but I find this lighter stout highly drinkable. Would drink again, and would recommend to fanciers of dark beer.

Featured beer:
Black Hawk Stout

Honorable mention:
Lancaster Milk Stout

Sam Adams samples at Union City Grille

As my usual luck would have it, we were out of town during Wilmington's inaugural Beer Week, but we got a chance to taste some leftover samples last night at Union City Grille.

We tried two offerings from The Boston Beer Company (a.k.a. Samuel Adams): Sample A, an oaked ale, and Sample B, a maple pecan porter. Our waiter explained to us that neither of these beers is commercially available; they are only test batches of recipes that are candidates to go into regular production. This is part of the Samuel Adams® Beer Lover's Choice® campaign.

Sample A was reddish amber with a modest half inch of head and a fairly subdued aroma vaguely suggesting toffee. It was quite sweet and brassy in flavor, almost like a Scottish ale -- not nearly as mellow as any oaked ale I have ever tasted. If anything, the contribution of the wood is in the aftertaste. Good, but not really remarkable.

Sample B, though, was outstanding! It was dense black in color, and sported two inches of fluffy foam. The nose clearly carried sweet maple, a good bit of smokiness, and the suggestion of dark, bitter undertones. Sam Adams has brewed up a delicious porter base. The structure of the flavor shows a judicious hand: this is no novelty beer, rather a highly drinkable porter with creamy mouthfeel and teases of pecan and maple dimensions, mostly towards the end.

My lovely dinner companion and I both hope that Sample B gets the nod and starts appearing on retail shelves sometime soon. Looks like other folks may be feeling the same way, if Facebook "likes" are any indication:

It was fun to feel like we were getting in on a sneak preview. Hopefully we can attend some live events at Wilmington Beer Week next year and contribute direct feedback to the selection process.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Beer Club (week 8)

Black Hawk Stout (Mendocino Brewing Company)
Carolina Blonde (Carolina Beer Company*)
Latitude 48 IPA (Boston Beer Company)
Palm (Brouwerij Palm NV)
Red Rocket Ale (Bear Republic Brewery)
Tripel Horse (River Horse Brewing Company)

* Interesting background on this one -- more to come in beer review.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Brooklyn Summer Ale (Brooklyn Brewery)

On several occasions I have enjoyed Brooklyn Brewery's pricey but delicious Black Chocolate Stout. On one very memorable occasion I had a couple of their Brown Ales over coal-fired pizza at Arturos Restaurant in the West Village. This will be my first time sampling their Summer Ale. I know these cats do good work, and I am at the beach for a week in full summer mode, so expectations are high.

This beer's character seemed to cry out for a pilsner glass, but all I had was a heavy mug. Not that I would let that stop me. So I poured it into my mug, and the beer was a bright yellow gold, with two inches of tight foam that settled down to a half inch. The nose is of lemon and yeast, initially detectable at about ten inches. Lacing throughout the quaff was negligible.

The taste is so much like a lager you'll do a double take. Only the slightly more substantial body -- which, don't get me wrong, is still quite light -- sets it apart.

Brewed from a single barley malt variety, there is a pilsner-like simplicity and directness to the flavor contour, which cuts straight to a light, bright malt taste, supported closely with lemony hops. (The recipe uses Perle, Cascade, Fuggles, and Amarillo, according to the webpage.) The ale features a light body and appropriately crisp carbonation. Just a trace of pungent quality. A delightful subtle floral aftertaste lingers on the palate.

On the whole, the beer tastes and functions exactly as advertised: a perfect light ale for carefree consumption during the months of intense heat. Another success from Brooklyn Brewery.

From the bottle's label:

Brooklyn Summer Ale is a summer refresher with difference. The difference comes from the malt -- 100% British two-row barley, prized for superior taste. Our Summer Ale is gold in color, with a soft, bready flavor, snappy clean bitterness and bright hop aroma, and will taste best before the freshness date indicated.

Featured beer:
Brooklyn Summer Ale

Honorable mentions:
Black Chocolate Stout
Brooklyn Brown Ale

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Copper Ale (Otter Creek Brewing)

I have before me the "flagship brew" of Otter Creek Brewing out of Middlebury, Vermont. This comes to me, as so many delicious beers have, via a mixed six from the Brewsroom Beer Club.

In my glass, the ale is a brownish amber -- or you might say tarnished copper -- with a slight haze. My usual aggressive pour raises two inches of large-bubbled foam that hangs around almost indefinitely. There is a nice clean nose of malt and flint. Very little is signaled in the way of hops.

From the first sip, I must remark from a completely personal perspective, I am pleased by the characteristically "German" flavor that reminds me of so many imported beers I drank in my twenties, long before the craft brew movement brought us the choice of thousands of distinctive, flavorful domestics.

But back to the more empirical approach we try to maintain around here, the first sip reveals a sweet, mild malt body shored up by beautifully balanced hops bitterness. The main flavor is generally high and sweet but not syrupy, and resolves into mineral and nutmeg. Soft carbonation and a medium mouthfeel sustain the general impression of refreshing, thirst-quenching mildness.

Copper Ale is available year-round, but it almost seems like it would be a summer seasonal. It is a highly sessionable ale with 5% ABV and nothing to bog the drinker down or accumulate into offensiveness. Not the flashiest brew you'll come across, but tasty and well-made.

From the bottle's label:

First brewed in 1991, our original ale has proudly become our flagship brew. Inspired by the albiers of northern Germany, Copper Ale™ is an amber ale brewed with six malts, three hops, and our special brewer's yeast. Its well-balanced, robust malt flavor is complemented by a pronounced hop finish.

Featured beer:
Copper Ale

Beers of the 21st Amendment Brewery

My Beer Club brothers are determined to beat out of me every remaining trace of the anti-can prejudice I hold. Two canned beers made it into the lineup this week: Brew Free or Die IPA and Hell or High Watermelon Wheat Beer, both from San Francisco's 21st Amendment Brewery.

My rational side (which I like to consider dominant) understands that aluminum cans block the spoiling effects of UV light better than glass, and they also allow the beer to cool down faster in my fridge. But that side struggles against a lifelong association between cans and cheap beers like PBR, Red White & Blue (also a Pabst product, I find), Milwaukee's Best, and a rogue's gallery of other unsavory swill.

Now is the time to separate container from contents and get comfortable with aluminum cans. The craft beer movement has clearly embraced this compact, durable packaging, with high profile independents like Sierra Nevada, New Belgium (Fat Tire), and Spoetzl (Shiner Bock) on board, and dozens of others following suit in the past year -- some, like 21st Amendment, foregoing bottles altogether and distributing exclusively in cans.

In addition to carrying the aforementioned benefits, cans are cheaper for the breweries to buy and to transport, which means they can concentrate more of their investment into the beer itself. That should be a win-win for producers and consumers.

Brew Free or Die IPA
The can's panoramic label art depicts Abe Lincoln bursting forth from the stifling confines of Mount Rushmore, while Washington and Jefferson appear shocked and Roosevelt grins with hearty approval.

Pours pale gold and clear, producing two inches of persistent, large-bubbled foam. The aroma is quite subdued. What's there is hoppy, in the pine part of the spectrum. There is something ever so slightly funky -- maybe a touch of the dreaded dimethyl sulphoxide?

The taste is mainly of resinous hops, with a slight biscuit malt undertone. There is a light to medium weight to the body, and a slightly oily mouthfeel with medium carbonation. Again -- and I'm tasting very carefully because I'm trying to be strenuously objective about this canned beer -- I pick up a very faint note of something off. It is slightly onion-y, which would support the theory of DMS contamination.

Overall, even setting aside the off note I detected, I don't find much to distinguish this beer from the crowded pack of West Coast IPAs.

Hell or High Watermelon Wheat Beer
The label art depicts the Statue of Liberty setting down her torch and hanging her diadem from one of the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge, upon which she sits, dangling her feet into the presumably cool and refreshing waters of the San Francisco Bay.

In appearance, the beer is a pale straw color, and hazy with yeast. On top sits a half inch of bright white foam that roils like a bathroom cleaning product.

The smell is very sour. That's a note that would not be out of place in, say, a sour ale or a Belgian tripel, but remember we're supposed to be dealing with a wheat beer here. My first impression was of vinegar, but with diligence I corrected this to raw tofu.

I was not sure what to expect of the watermelon part. Mercifully, it is not an intense watermelon Now and Later® flavor, but something a little more subtle. After the light watermelon intro there is a somewhat clumsy hand-off to the wheat beer platform. I found it difficult to judge the wheat beer aspect on normal terms because of the fruit flavor gimmick. The carbonation is mild, and there is some telltale yeasty aftertaste. I think there's an OK beer under here, but I can't be completely sure.

Still, I'm not convinced this brewing experiment was worth the try. If I were going for something light and summery, I might have chosen to float the watermelon essences over a pilsner instead of a weissbier. As it turns out, the sour note, wherever it is coming from, detracts considerably from any refreshing effect this beer might achieve. In its favor I will say that this one did not exhibit any DMS aftertaste.

Featured beers:
Brew Free or Die IPA
Hell or High Watermelon Wheat Beer

Dishonorable mentions
Pabst Blue Ribbon
Red White & Blue
Milwaukee's Best

Brew Free or Die can views: (click to enlarge)

Hell or High Watermelon can views:

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Lucky U IPA (Breckenridge Brewery)

The night President Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden, I was drinking a 471 IPA from Breckenridge Brewery. (It was a Beer Club contribution from Jeffrey Gentry, I believe.) I got distracted by the television coverage and didn't take detailed notes to write up a review. Watching the spontaneous street celebrations build and sharing the bittersweet catharsis of the long-awaited news, this should by all rights have been one of the tastiest beers of my life. In reality, though, I remember thinking that, for a supposed double IPA, it was a bit muted and lacking in structure.

But I can be remarkably forgiving when it comes to beer, so rest assured that I will give a fair shake to Lucky U IPA, which one of my brethren chipped in to the Beer Club six pack this week.

The beer pours a peachy orange color, slightly hazy. I got three quarters of an inch of foam, with lacing. The aroma doesn't project much -- I had to bring my nose quite near to smell it, but then I pick up something like the crust of fresh baked bread.

From there, my experience is similar to the one I had with the previous Breckenridge brew. The flavor never gets as deep as I expect it to, and ends fairly abruptly. The main characteristic is a nice sweet malt body with the suggestion of apricot. Pleasant enough. Any contribution from the hops is a very understated one. But is this really the profile Breckenridge was going for here -- short and shallow, rounded and circumscribed?

There is certainly nothing unpleasant about the beer, but it lacks intensity. There must be a use for it in the grand scheme of beers -- just as there lurks a proper occasion for use of every odd varietal in the grand pantheon of wine -- but I don't foresee this one entering the standard repertoire. I'll give their Oatmeal Stout a try before I write off Breckenridge Brewery as simply "not my bag." Here's hoping!

Featured beer:
Lucky U IPA

Honorable mentions:
471 IPA
Oatmeal Stout

Beer Club (week 7)

This week's round of contributed brews:

India Brown Ale (Dogfish Head Craft Brewery)
Brooklyn Summer Ale (Brooklyn Brewery)
Copper Ale (Otter Creek Brewing)
HopDevil Ale (Victory Brewing Company)
Hell or High Watermelon Wheat Beer (21st Amendment Brewery)
Brew Free or Die IPA (21st Amendment Brewery)
Stone IPA (Stone Brewing Company)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Raging Bitch (Flying Dog Brewery)

The distorted, slightly unhinged artwork on all of the Flying Dog Brewery's packaging is instantly recognizable as the work of Ralph Steadman, and thus instantly brings to mind an association with the legendary journalist/degenerate Hunter S. Thompson. None of it is a coincidence, it turns out. Flying Dog founder George Stranahan was a neighbor and friend of Thompson in Aspen, Colorado where the brewery started (before it moved to Frederick, Maryland in 2007), and thereby became friends with frequent HST co-conspirator Steadman.

This indirect connection between the brewery and journalism is appropriate for the current blog entry, as Flying Dog's Raging Bitch was a TNJ Beer Club contribution from the legendary journalist/very nice guy Phil Freedman.

Flying Dog touts Raging Bitch as a Belgian India Pale Ale, a sobriquet that is nonsensical in historical terms. This is an emergent style that combines characteristics of two styles that are very popular among the craft brew crowd -- basically, it adds the now ubiquitous hops edge to the complex, dry-finishing Belgian ale platform. Let's see what kind of drinking experience this yields. I anticipate something similar to Flying Fish Brewing Company's Exit 4 American Trippel.

Maybe I didn't pour this as aggressively as I could have, but the head was not as billowy as expected. I thought it would blow up with piles and piles of fluffy foam, but it actually only produced about three quarters of an inch. The color of the beer is a hazy apricot. The nose a near perfect balance of Belgian yeast and citrus hops chaser, so that part did hit the mark dead on.

My first impression is that the taste is more like double IPA than Belgian, though there's always that yeasty aroma hanging around as a reminder. The body is nice and big and chewy, with a big alcohol kick. As I drink I keep thinking double IPA, mainly on the basis of the hefty mouthfeel and dense sweetness. It's really toward the finish where some phenolic elements show up to add their signature spiciness.

As the beer warms, it opens up and its Belgian characteristics come to the fore. The character change with temperature is quite dramatic. Though it is unquestionably a bold brew, by the end of the glass this bitch seemed much mellower and less raging -- a fascinating balance of grape and grapefruit flavors. An enjoyable and stimulating ale, recommended for the adventurous palate.

From the bottle's label:

Two inflamatory words... one wild drink. Nectar imprisoned in a bottle. Let it out. It is cruel to keep a wild animal locked up. Uncap it. Release it....stand back!! Wallow in its golden glow in a glass beneath a white foaming head. Remember, enjoying a RAGING BITCH, unleashed, untamed, unbridled -- and in heat -- is pure GONZO!! It has taken 20 years to get from there to here. Enjoy!!
-- Ralph Steadman

Featured beer:
Raging Bitch

Honorable mention:
Exit 4

Friday, July 1, 2011

Railbender Ale (Erie Brewing Company)

Ah, Scotland! Home of... whisky, right? And bless her for that, but this blog is about beer. It's sort of interesting to me that, given the many legendary beers of England and Ireland, Scottish beer is quite obscure in the United States. Outside of maybe McEwan's, most Americans would be hard pressed to name an actual Scottish export ale.

Scottish-style ales are a bit easier to come by. The database at lists 328 beers of this description, the majority of which are brewed in the United States. That said, it is far from a highly popular style. For comparison, the BA database lists 2232 American IPAs.

I happen to like the Scottish ales I've tried -- for some of the same reasons I'm so fond of porters. They are characterized by a sweet maltiness with very little overt contribution from hops, but there is usually a slightly musty quality that carries ancient, almost sepulchral evocations for me. Eager to inflict such odd preferences upon others, my contribution to the Beer Club this week was Railbender Ale, a Scottish ale from Erie Brewing Company of Erie, PA.

When poured into my pint glass, the beer's appears brownish amber and hazy. Half an inch of head is produced and doesn't hang around for long. Minimal lacing is left behind as the level of beer goes down.

In the nose there are aromas of butterscotch, yeast, and pumpkin spices.

Taste: sweet malt with caramel or butterscotch -- or, gosh, could it even be fenugreek seeds? I detect a mildly metallic component, but nothing that reaches offensiveness. (Scottish ales are brewed with a long boil, and this can bring out a lot of strange flavors like smoke and metal. It's part of their charm.) I have had two Railbender Ales this week, and both times I have been stuck by how rapidly the main flavor drops off. It is not entirely a dry effect, as there is still some sweet, sticky bitterness that lingers, but there is definitely a sharp contour to the flavor. I sense, as expected, minimal support from the hops in the form of this slight bitterness in the aftertaste.

This is a pretty tasty brew. Definitely a credible representation of the style. I'm not sure I'm going to go around raving about it to strangers, but it was enjoyable enough that I will be receptive to checking out the rest of the Erie Brewing Company product line -- especially their Drake's Crude Oatmeal Stout.

Featured beer:
Railbender Ale

Honorable mentions:
McEwan's Scotch Ale
Drake's Crude

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Regal Pilsner (Breckenridge Brewery)

  • Rich yellow gold color
  • An inch of ecru foam, with lacing.
  • Delicious apricot and lemon nose
  • Much toothier mouthfeel than any pilsner I've had
  • The cereal malt note that to me characterizes pilsners is present, but obscured by resinous hop flavors. Also alcohol flavor present, which I have never noted in any pilsner.

Featured beer:
Regal Pilsner

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

JavaHead Stout (Tröegs Brewing Company)

This was my contribution last week to the Beer Club. I'm always pleased to share brews from the Troëgs Brewing Company. Their HopBack Amber Ale and Troegenator Double Bock are regular visitors to our refrigerator. In fact, when I think about it, we've probably had more HopBack in the last year than any other single beer.

JavaHead is an oatmeal stout that is filtered through hops and ground coffee beans before fermentation, while that wort is still hot -- "similar to using a huge French press," Troëgs says. The resulting beer pours a nice silky, opaque black, with ruby edges in the glass and an inch of tawny, small-bubbled foam.

The nose is surprisingly sweet and floral, with undertones of malt, powdery chocolate, and a very faint hint of coffee. I find it a very inviting aroma.

When sipped, the first impression is a smooth, creamy mouthfeel. The taste opens into a deep roasty body with excursions of dark chocolate, French roasted coffee, and nutty barley. Nice complexity to sort out as you go. The main body flavor is clearly a malt note, but the coffee and hops are such close neighbors that they blend in and out harmoniously.

What we have here is a very decent stout with a little extra flavor going on, but not to the point of being gimmicky. The java and char and sweetness work well together. This is a nice compromise between a straight, creamy oatmeal stout and a bolder, more intense imperial stout. Definitely recommended, at least to try.

From the bottle's label:

JavaHead Stout passes through a blend of coffee beans and whole flower hops -- akin to a French press -- releasing cocoa, citrus, and java flavors.

Featured beer:

JavaHead Stout

Honorable mentions:

HopBack Amber Ale

Troegenator Double Bock