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