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

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Saranac Imperial IPA (Matt Brewing Company)

  • Attractive warm amber color
  • Half inch or so of head, almost no lacing
  • Caramel and slight minty alcohol on nose
  • Caramel and butterscotch
  • Yes, it has requisite largeness associated with "imperial" moniker, but drops off a bit after the main body.

Featured beer: Saranac Imperial IPA

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Racer 5 IPA (Bear Republic Brewing Company)

I was introduced to Racer 5 IPA during the News Journal's 2010 beer bracket. (It suffered what I felt was a disappointingly early ejection in the second round, falling to Lagunitas IPA, which went on to lose to Brooklyn Pennant Ale '55 in the Sweet Sixteen.) I have since purchased Racer 5 three or four times, and it has become one of my top favorite IPAs. It's a little flashier than the house staple IPA, Dogfish Head's 60 Minute IPA, but it has the same masterful balance at its foundation.

The beer pours an apricot-tinged gold in color, with some particulate matter in suspension. The foam is rather white and modest in volume, and it broadcasts a truly delightful aroma of pungent grapefruit, spice, and flowers. If you like American-style IPAs, you will not be able to resist the enticement of this nose!

To the sip, Racer 5 is brightly carbonated, with a medium body. The aromatically foreshadowed grapefruit tartness is there, and rounds beautifully into tropical fruit and biscuit malt body. The taste is big and juicy, approaching the territory of an imperial in flavor dimensions. Within that bigness there is a lot of interplay between sweet malt and bitter hops characteristics, with a satisfying overall balance. The lingering aftertaste is somewhat bitter.

As I say, this has become a rotation beer for me. I'll get to craving the smell of it as much as the taste, then it's all over -- gotta go make the buy. The brewery is out in northern California, but I'm pleased to report that both Total Wine & More and State Line Liquors carry not only Racer 5, but five or six other brews from the Bear Republic line. I look forward to sampling them as well.

Featured beer:

Racer 5 IPA

Honorable mentions:

Lagunitas IPA

Brooklyn Pennant Ale '55

60 Minute IPA

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Spring Fling Copper Ale (Blue Point Brewing Company)

  • Almost amazing.
  • Clear and radiant orange. An inch of fluffy white head that settled down pretty quickly.
  • A really wonderful aroma. Rich grain character. Got me eager for a taste.
  • Slightly sour, compact body, almost reminiscent of Anchor Steam.
  • Ends far too bitter for my taste -- a desiccating, almost chemical bitterness quite unpleasant to me.

Featured beer: Spring Fling Copper Ale

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Chang (Thai Beverage PCL)

Jason chipped this one into the inaugural Beer Club assortment -- the only import of the six, so a welcome addition. Not one I've tried before. In Thai restaurants I have always been steered toward Singha. Phil says the cashier told them Chang was "good with spicy food."

The beer pours a pale straw color, crystal clear, with large-bubbled titanium white foam that quickly dissipates to a ring. There is almost no perceptible aroma.

At first sip, I couldn't tell if I was tasting hops bitterness or carbonation prickle. The sort of corn-like main body taste is gone in a flash, then there is a slightly soapy aftertaste. Overall, Chang could be mistaken for any run-of-the-mill American macrobrew lager -- Miller High Life, maybe? The assertion "good with spicy food" is probably correct, actually.

That's not a very favorable review, but to be honest, Chang was not nearly bad as I was prepared for based on some scathing reviews I've read. In fact, the beer wasn't truly objectionable to my palate, it just offers no complexity to savor and admire. Then again, it doesn't appear that's what the producer is after. The "brewery" website is hilariously devoid of any notion of flavor, passion, or craft. Check this excerpt:

Beer Chang was conceived with the visionary outlook of the top executives to expand the beer market with a Thai taste albeit with international quality, to give the consumers an alternative with the fervent belief in the brewing and production capability of the Thais.
That pretty much says it all. Not exactly "Off-center ales for off-center people," is it?

Hey, and on a side note, what's with the "11.15 fl.oz." bottle?

Featured beer:

Honorable mentions:
Miller High Life

Friday, May 13, 2011

Beer Club (week three)

The third round of beers being consumed:

Racer 5 IPA (duplicate submission) (Bear Republic Brewing Company)
Saranac Imperial IPA (Matt Brewing Company)
JavaHead Stout (Tröegs Brewing Company)
Spring Fling Copper Ale (Blue Point Brewing Company)
Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy (Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Exit 4 American Trippel (Flying Fish Brewing Company)

After I busted on him for not contributing to Beer Club this week, dear Jason came through with Exit 4 American Trippel. This was a great choice. It is an exotic style, yet, originating in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, it has local appeal. It is readily obtainable, in case it happens to catch afire with anyone. It is bold and will probably divide opinions within the group, yet it carries the validating weight of numerous awards (including top honors in the Washington Post's 2011 "Beer Madness" bracket).

This beer comes from Flying Fish's ongoing "Exit Series," which thematically celebrates a unique aspect of each exit on the New Jersey Turnpike. I like this idea, and privately resolve to sample the entire series. They've come up with some intriguing brews, like a stout made with oysters (Exit 1), a Belgian made with rye (Exit 6), and a double IPA made with wild rice (Exit 16).

Back to Exit 4. The beer pours a dull peachy orange. It is slightly hazy and raises about a quarter inch of loose foam. There is very little lacing, surprisingly. The very pleasant nose carries grapefruit, guava, and a faint undertone of malt. The aroma became breadier as it warmed.

The taste is BIG! It kept reminding me of a double IPA. The first impression is of apricot nectar sweetness, followed by a slightly tart grapefruit note. Carbonation is low, which contributes to a chewy mouthfeel. The longer I sipped, the more fruity dimensions emerged from the complexity of the body. Toward the end of the taste I could even make out a chardonnay-like quality of grape or green apple.

There is clearly a Belgian yeast at work in this beer, but I detect a minimum of banana/clove characteristics, even though they are touted on the label. There are also more floral/citrus hops than typical for a Belgian-style ale, and it is denser and less carbonated -- which is why they've dubbed it an "American trippel," I guess. They've certainly put their very own stamp on the style, so points for that.

Exit 4 brings quality craftsmanship and big, big flavor. Not for the daily rotation, but it will be great as a dessert beer or for special indulgences.

From the bottle's label:

This hoppy Belgian-style trippel has a hazy golden hue, aroma of citrus, hints of banana/clove with rich malt character followed by a subdued bitterness in the finish.

Featured beer:

Exit 4

Monday, May 9, 2011

Two Stones Pub (May 4, 2011)

Some friends and I recently checked out a new drinking and dining establishment in Newark, Two Stones Pub. It holds potential as a beer-lovers' mecca not requiring a drive to Philadelphia or Baltimore. The owner and staff are knowledgeable and passionate about beer, and they seem to get the concept of "hospitality." There are 24 craft brews flowing on tap, and a tantalizing menu of "vintage/reserve/large format" bottles. Definitely a positive development for the local beer scene.

You can read a qualified professional's profile of Two Stones here. Below is a humble amateur's rundown of the beers we sampled -- the ones I can remember, anyway.

North Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout
I ordered this on draft, and it was served in a snifter. Even held up to a light, the brew is an utterly opaque black. Mine exhibited minimal head, however I did not see it drawn from the tap, so can't account for the technique used. This is a deliciously dense and complex brew -- right up my alley! Sweet up front, evolving into dimensions of espresso, roasted barley, and chocolate. One of this stout's finest features is its incredibly creamy mouthfeel. The flavor is in no hurry to fade away, either. Right up there with Bell's Expedition Stout as a go-to beer for a massive taste experience.

Ommegang Three Philosophers Belgian Style Blend
I ordered this from the bottle, and it arrived in a goblet. In the glass it has the appearance of a brown ale, tending toward a ruby color. I passed it around and we all remarked at how subdued aroma its aroma was. A little sweet, maybe raisin? Being a quadrupel (!) fermented ale blended with a cherry lambic (!), it delivers bold malt, sweet fruit, and effervescent carbonation in abundance. The predominant flavor to me is the cherry/raisin/caramel sweetness, although within its many dimensions there is also plenty of malt to contemplate. The carbonation and heavy alcohol punch keep things quite exuberant. Lovers of ale in the Belgian spectrum are urged not to miss this one.

Victory Storm King Stout
My taste for Russian imperial stouts was whetted this evening, so my next order was Storm King on draft. Again, the beer was served in a snifter. It displays opaque black with a nice rim of brown espresso foam. This one has an enticing aroma that telegraphs the whole flavor profile and spurs you along to that first sip. Rich, sweet, and dense like Old Rasputin, but with a different character in the aftertaste. I'm not sure what the correct term for it is, but it's something I call "green barley" flavor? Another gem in Victory's brilliant product line.

Evolution Lot #6
Justin and Sara ordered this double IPA on draft through Randall the Enamel Animal packed with grapefruit and mint. It sounded a bit gimmicky, but, man, did that turn out to be a great idea! It was like an ultra magnified IPA, with the additives in Randall picking up and amplifying existing hops characteristics. I've never had Lot #6 "straight," so I don't have a baseline to compare with, and I can only guess about subtleties of the foundation beneath what I was drinking, but I doubt I will ever forget this flavor explosion. (Our server said they had previously offered Dogfish Head's Palo Santo Marron through Randall the Enamel Animal packed with chocolate and chili peppers. I imagine that was pretty intense.)

Dogfish Head Black & Red
This is a limited-availability, draft-only release from Dogfish Head, so I was honored to sample it. Served in a small snifter, the beer was black with a bit of espresso foam around the edge. I got mainly peppermint in the nose. The taste was a desserty swirl of raspberry, chocolate, espresso, and mint. I didn't run this perception past my colleagues, but to me these flavors had sneaky tendency to synergize into something reminiscent of latex paint. As long as I concentrated on the separate components it was enjoyable, but if I just let the flavor happen, I got that disconcerting twang. Strange.

RJ Rockers Son of a Peach
Patty ordered this on draft, and I only got a quick sample. Very fruity, for sure. I believe she said this is the one Two Stones mixes with champagne to concoct a bellini variant, the "beerlini." I confess to having no previous knowledge of this Spartanburg, SC brewery. Their Bell Ringer strong ale was also being served on draft that night.

Allegash White
Justin ordered this on tap and I just got a few quick sips. In all fairness, after a couple of heavy stouts and a quadruple ale, my senses were not calibrated to judge the nuances of this much lighter style. It seemed to conform to the witbier profile, but I can't say much more than that. Must return again to give it a fair shake.

Dogfish Head Poppa Skull
Justin and Sara ordered this elaborately wood-aged ale. I don't think I commandeered a sip, regrettably. Some other time.

Featured beers:
Old Rasputin
Three Philosophers
Storm King
Lot #6
Allagash White
Son of a Peach
Black & Red
Poppa Skull

Honorable mentions:
Expedition Stout
Palo Santo Marron
Bell Ringer Ale

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Stoudt's Gold Lager (Stoudt's Brewing Company)

This Beer Club entry was contributed by Justin Williams -- bless him. The only beer I have previously had from Stoudt's was their Double IPA, which I found to be big-bodied and multi-dimensional, so I am looking forward to this.

I did a little research to make sure I understood the distinction between a beer classified as "Munich-style helles lager" (such as Victory's Victory Lager, and the present Stoudt's Gold Lager) and one classified as "helles bock" (such as Victory's St. Boisterous, which I tasted the other night). Bock is, after all, a subtype of lager. It more or less boils down to this: the helles lager is a malted down version of the bitter hopped pilsner style, and the helles bock is a hopped up version of the malty bock style. The gloriously nuanced spectrum of beer!

On a superficial note before I get down to tasting, I'm not crazy about the Gold Lager label design. To me it looks kind of amateurish, and misses the opportunity to convey the impression of a German-style beer with full-pedigree European ingredients. But will matter much less if the beer tastes good.

This poured a rich yellow-gold, with half an inch of white foam. There was the slightest trace of haze, which surprised me. It's possible the glass was just fogged? The aroma was clean and subdued, but slightly grainy with a trace of citrus.

Sipping, you get a bite of good ol' hop bitterness, then a sting of carbonation, then a fade into delightful flowery fruitiness. There is an expertly struck balance between the floral contribution of the hops and the sweet malt body -- the result of good ingredients, masterfully blended. That taste is definitely worth the price of admission. The main body ends fairly quickly into a not entirely dry finish where the fruitiness lingers pleasantly.

In summary, definitely more flavorful than your average pilsner, but with some of the same crispness and appeal. In this helles from Stoudt's I've found one of the few American-made lagers that I would consider adding to my rotation.

Featured beer:

Stoudt's Gold Lager

Honorable mentions:

Stoudt's Double IPA

St. Boisterous

Franziskaner Weissbier (Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu)

This week, one of my Beer Club brethren kicked in the Franziskaner Weissbier (helles version -- they also make a dunkel). Thanks and kudos to whomever that was. The Munich-based brewery that produces this beer traces its roots back to 1363. Let that sink in for a minute, huh? To put it in perspective, that is 129 years before the voyage of Columbus, and 153 years before the Reinheitsgebot was passed. I reckon these dudes know their way around a mash tun.

The pour brings up two inches of white, meringue-like head. (Special pouring instructions on the brewery website advise dispensing most of the beer into the glass, then swizzling the last eighth or so in the bottle and pouring it in, to ensure that all residual yeast gets included in the flavor.) Lemon, sour apple, yeast, and very faint clove are in the nose. Through the glass, the beer is pale orange and very cloudy, per its unfiltered, bottle-conditioned origins, and per the silt you just added if you followed their pouring instructions.

The first impression upon sipping is of a zesty, brightly carbonated brew. Again the word "lemony" springs to mind to characterize the tart, refreshing flavor. There is almost no phenolic, "banana" component, the note that has put me off many a weissbier. The wheat ingredient obviously contributes to the brightness of the flavor and the lightness of the body. In fact, there's so much going on with the bitter hops, spicy yeast, and seltzer-like carbonation that a mild malt flavor really doesn't appear until the aftertaste.

This is a splendidly brewed beer I find thoroughly enjoyable despite the fact that this style is among my least favorite in the beer spectrum. That says loads about its quality and craftsmanship. A classic in every sense of the word.

Featured beer:

Franziskaner Weissbier

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Yakima Glory (Victory Brewing Company)

According to the website of the Hop Growers of America (, the Yakima Valley of Washington contains 75 percent of the total United States hop acreage. Yakima Glory is obviously intended as Victory's loving homage to this all-important brewing ingredient and the region that supplies it.

The beer represents a very interesting style: Black IPA (a seeming contradiction in terms, since the "P" in IPA stands for "pale"). This style is relatively recent development that attempts to take the hop-dominant characteristics we love about India pale ales and graft them onto a richer malt base. The highly-regarded Heavy Seas Black Cannon is another example of a black IPA.

Let's get down to the tasting experience. The beer pours a lovely dark brown, indeed, and slightly to the reddish side. I got about a half inch of foam which produced very decorative lacing, portending an abundance of oily hops resin. In the nose are fresh floral and citrus notes, with definite malt undertones that I would not expect to be present in a standard IPA.

When sipped, a sappy hop entrance rolls gracefully into a really delicious, sweet, warm malt body. There is an almost nutty quality to the roasted grain. Yes, the beer's name indicates that hops is in the spotlight, but Victory has built an impressive ale platform that is every bit as appealing. And there is harmony in the construction, resulting in a large flavor with dimensions contributed from all ingredients. Finally comes the obligatory bitter hop finish, with a coffee-like roasted grain note lingering afterward.

I declare this particular black IPA experiment a thorough and delicious success. The Yakima Valley's precious harvest is appropriately glorified, and there is also a high quality malt platform that any fancier of brown ales or stouts can appreciate. But Yakima Glory is only part of Victory's winter seasonal rotation, so jot that down on your beer lover's liturgical calendar!

From the bottle's label:

The Yakima Valley of Washington is the heartland of American hops, having contributed uniquely flavorful varieties that have helped to redefine American brewing. Late summer harvest yields the bounty that builds this exciting ale. Vibrant and aromatic, this is their moment of glory as the vines have withered by the time you sip this. Dark malts warm the hops' bright edge bringing harmony to the finish. Rest well, hop roots! Spring will come and we'll be thirsty again!

Featured beer:

Yakima Glory

Beer Club (week two)

The second round of brews being consumed:

471 IPA (Breckinridge Brewing)
Anchor Porter (Anchor Brewing Company)
Franziskaner Weissebier (Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu)
Stoudt's Gold Lager (Stoudt's Brewing Company)
Torpedo Extra IPA (Sierra Nevada Brewing Company)
Exit 4 American Trippel (Flying Fish Brewing Company)

471 IPA (Breckenridge Brewery)

Featured beer: