Monday, September 28, 2009

Samuel Adams Announces Barrel Room Collection

Samuel Adams Barrel Room CollectionAfter the success of the Samuel Adams Imperial Series earlier this year, the Boston Brewing Company has announced another new premium collection, the Samuel Adams Barrel Room Collection. There's not much concrete information yet, but what we do know so far is that the beers will all be aged in oak barrels and sold in big 750ml bottles.

Here are the confirmed beers for the launch:

  • Samuel Adams American Kriek - 7% ABV
  • Samuel Adams New World Tripel - 10% ABV
  • Samuel Adams Stony Brook Red - 9% ABV
I have to say, the Imperial Series was rather accomplished, and I'm expecting big things from this collection. Samuel Adams can clearly brew up big, character-filled beers when they choose to, and I'm looking forward to what they're going to do with the added complexity derived from barrel-aging.

While there hasn't been a timeline released yet, I think it's safe to expect more details in the coming weeks.

Bud Light Golden Wheat Review

Brewery: Anheuser-Busch, Inc. | Beer: Bud Light Golden Wheat
Spice/Herb/Vegetable Beer | ABV: 4.1% | IBUs: ~5
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into Weizen glass

Bud Light Golden WheatBrewing goliath Anheuser-Busch has recently started adding line extensions to it's core brands—Budweiser and Bud Light. Compared to the old model of setting up faux-microbrew brands, the new practice of expanding the company's existing brands really ends up as a win-win. There's no perception of shenanigans for beer geeks, and the Budweiser/Bud Light customer base is probably more likely to venture out to try news styles when they are offered by brands they are familiar with.

The first of such extensions, Bud Light Lime and Budweiser American Ale, have worked out quite well for the mega-brewer and they're eager to keep expanding. Pitched as "one of the most highly anticipated new product launches of 2009," Bud Light Golden Wheat is the second line extension for the Bud Light brand (not counting the god-awful Cheladas).

While wheat-themed brews are usually ales, this is (from what I can tell, at least) a lager-based excursion. It seems that the brewers were shooting for something resembling a Witbier/Light Lager hybrid, as the beer is brewed with coriander and citrus peel. Since Witbier/Light Lager is not a recognized style, I've gone ahead and listed it as a Spice/Herb/Vegetable Beer, as that seems to be the closest match listed in the BJCP style guidelines (BeerAdvocate agrees with me).

According to Bud Light brand manager Bruce Eames:

Bud Light Golden Wheat has all the personality of Bud Light and appeals to light beer drinkers who seek a little more flavor from their beer. Consumer interest in a more flavorful light beer drove our decision to develop Bud Light Golden Wheat, and we are pleased to offer brewery tour guests the unique opportunity to sample the beer before its nationwide launch.
I'm a little skeptical about this one, but let's twist it open and see what's inside.

Appearance: A nicely hazy, golden-amber body with a big white head that features decent retention and lacing. Lo an behold, there's even some sediment at the bottom of the bottle. Not much wrong with the way it looks.

Aroma: A neutered wheat body with some definite notes of citrus and spice. It's a little thin, but that's hardly a surprise.

Taste: Things quickly go south in the flavor profile—there's just not much here. It's predictably crisp, with mild citrus and just a hint of mixed spice. In a bizarre fashion, wheat only really shows up in the tangy aftertaste, and what's left of the malt is extremely watered down. At times, you can't find much of a malt backbone at all—and with the low (or totally absent) hop presence, all you're left with is a little citrus.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied with sharp carbonation and a crisp, clean finish.

Drinkability: Clearly, this beer was built for rapid consumption, and it delivers on that promise.

Verdict: Golden Wheat is almost totally devoid of flavor—imagine drinking a Witbier while you have an extreme cold—which is, frankly, a better result than I had feared. Here's hoping it somehow helps push some more people into exploring the world of beer.

Grade: D

Friday, September 25, 2009

Shiner Bohemian Black Lager Review

Brewery: Spoetzl Brewery | Beer: Shiner Bohemian Black Lager
Style: Schwarzbier | ABV: 4.9% | IBUs: 18
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into Pilsener glass

Shiner Bohemian Black LagerBack when I was just starting to explore the world of beer, Shiner was my go-to brand when I wasn't in the mood for Guinness. Local, cheap, and available everywhere with a relatively wide portfolio of un-challenging beers, it was the perfect gateway brand.

After sampling the whole lineup, a strange new Shiner brew showed up on the shelves one day: Shiner 97. I picked it up at first sight, excited as all hell to try a new Shiner, and fell in love at first sip. Compared to what I had been drinking, the brew was full of depth and character. It was a Schwarzbier, also known as Black Lager, and the second beer in a series of five yearly beers counting down to Shiner's 100th anniversary.

I bought a hell of a lot of Shiner 97 when it was out, and mourned deeply when it disappeared from the shelves. I eagerly picked up every single Shiner anniversary brew after 97, but none of them really lived up to the first. Though it's not a style to meant to be aged, I still have a small stash of 97, and every now and then I chill a bottle down. I have to say, it's holding up remarkably well, and really takes me back to those few months when Shiner 97 was my constant companion.

To my great surprise and excitement, Shiner "re-released" Shiner 97 as Shiner Black Lager a while back. It's available year-round and sports a significant marketing presence all around Houston. I guess I wasn't the only one who fell in love with the first incarnation.

Shiner claim it's the same beer as before, and I might be crazy (or just in possession of a more experienced palate), but it just doesn't seem the same to me.

Appearance: A murky, dark brown body capped by a thin, tan head that burns out quickly and leaves no lacing.

Aroma: Roasty and bitter malt with mild chocolate and coffee notes.

Taste: Much the same in the flavor profile. Roasted malt with chocolate, coffee, and nut-like character makes up the bulk of it with not much in the way of hops. The aftertaste is roasty and nutty.

Mouthfeel: A thinnish body with sharp carbonation; rather unsatisfying.

Drinkability: Drinkable enough, but you'll get bored before you get full.

Verdict: I remember Shiner 97 when it was fresh having quite a bit more character and depth than this, but that might be because my palate wasn't quite as advanced as it is now. As it stands, Bohemian Black Lager is an inoffensive, but generally unexciting brew.

Grade: C+

Osakr Blues Mama's Little Yella Pils Review

Brewery: Oskar Blues Brewery | Beer: Mama's Little Yella Pils
Style: Czech Pilsener | ABV: 5.3% | IBUs: ~35
Serving Method: 12 oz. can poured into Pilsener glass

Oskar Blues Mama's Little Yella PilsMama's Litte Yella Pils is a Czech-style Pilsener and Oskar Blues position it as "the perfect antidote for the watered-down, cornfed versions of pilsner clogging America’s shelves." I'm shocked they got the name approved (especially here in Texas), though their tagline "take two and call us in the morning" didn't make the cut.

As for ingredients, the backbone is built from pale malt and "German specialty malts," while bitterness is provided by Saaz and "21st century Bavarian" hops varieties. An American all-malt Pils in a can? How long has it been since that happened?

Speaking to RealBeer about Mama's, brewery founder Dale Katechis noted "There are very few all-malt pilsners made in the US anymore—and the concept of ‘America-made pilsner’ has taken a beating over the past few generations. Especially when it comes to pilsners in cans." He went on to add: "You can’t hide flaws in a pilsner. With this beer our brewers get to showcase their expertise at making an unforgiving, classic style of beer.”

It's sad to say, but Mama's Little Yella Pils is the last regular release from Oskar Blues I have left to review. Each of the previous four beers have received a grade in the "A" range, making Oskar Blues one of the top breweries on PintLog. So, going in there's a lot of expectations placed on this little yellow can.

Appearance: A clear, pale golden-straw body. On top, a bubbly white head that fades quickly and leaves very patchy lacing.

Aroma: Lemony and grassy Saaz hops over relatively rich grainy malt. Hints of white grape.

Taste: Up front, a crisp, lemony bitterness takes charge. Underneath, the backbone is close to the traditional Pilsener body, but with a bit more rich sweetness than usual. The aftertaste is short-lived.

Mouthfeel: A medium-light body with moderate carbonation. Dries a bit in the finish.

Drinkability: As you'd expect from this style, this is highly drinkable.

Verdict: In Mama's Little Yella Pils, Oskar Blues have created a straightforward, tasty, and very drinkable Pilsener - in fact it's one of the best Pilseners I've tried yet. If you're looking for a highly refreshing Pilsener sold in a can, this is certainly the beer for you.

Grade: A

Note: While this review is being published in September, the tasting notes contained within were taken when the beer was fresh this past April.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Duvel Review

Brewery: Brouwerij Duvel Moortgat NV | Beer: Duvel
Style: Belgian Golden Strong Ale | ABV: 8.5% | IBUs: ~30
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into tulip glass

DuvelThe Flemish Moortgat brewery essentially created the Belgian Golden Strong Ale style when they released this incarnation of Duvel back in 1970, and the beer is still the definitive version of the style today. Duvel has become one of Belgium's most popular beers and is exported to over 40 countries.

Originally, Duvel (Flemish for "Devil") was a rich, malty beer somewhat resembling a Scotch Ale. As time went on though, the world started to favor lighter style beers, and the brewery decided to make some changes to the recipe. In the process, they ended up creating a whole new kind of beer.

In the new brew, the backbone is built of lighter Pilsener malt and white sugar, while bitterness is provided by Saaz and Styrian Goldings hops. One of the key ingredients is a special strain of ale yeast originally derived from a bottle of McEwans the brewery studied just before the Second World War. As for the actual brewing process, the beer endures two fermentations at the brewery before it's bottled and undergoes bottle conditioning.

Don't be fooled by surface appearances though, while the recipe may call for Pilsener style malt and it has a Pislener style look, this is hardly a Pilsener style beer. It's built quite a devilish reputation for biting those that fail to treat it with the proper respect over the years, due to its deceptively high alcohol content.

With that in mind, let's pop the cap and take trip over to the dark (light) side.

Appearance: A beautifully hazy, golden-straw body topped with a mile of pillowy white head. The head looks like a dollop of meringue, lasts until the end of the glass, and leaves brilliant lacing. Simply gorgeous.

Aroma: Yeasty, spicy, and fruity with a whiff or two of booze. Thoroughly Belgian.

Taste: Intense. Lots of fruit (mainly apples and light citrus), bready yeast, and spices (pepper and clove). All of this over a tasty pale malt backbone. That over eight-percent alcohol content is there, but it's masked remarkably well and what does manifest itself is nothing but complimentary to the rest of the flavors. The aftertaste is complex, with many of the bready and spicy flavors in full effect.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied and creamy with a terrific carbonation and occasional hints of alcohol. Dries a little in the finish.

Drinkability: Certainly more drinkable than the alcohol content would suggest, this is surprisingly quaffable.

Verdict: Duvel is truly a brilliant beer and thoroughly stands up to it's rather lofty reputation. If you're looking to start your journey through the fascinating world Belgian beers, you certainly won't go wrong with this as your first step. A classic in all regards.

Grade: A+

Guinness 250 Anniversary Stout Review

Brewery: Guinness Ltd. | Beer: Guinness 250 Anniversary Stout
Style: Irish Dry Stout | ABV: 5.0% | IBUs: ~45
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Guinness 250 Anniversary StoutToday marks 250 years since Arthur Guinness signed the legendary 9000 year lease on the St. James Brewery. To help mark the occasion, Guinness has brewed up 250 Anniversary Stout, a new beer available in America, Australia, and Singapore.

The first new Guinness in the American product line since Guinness Draught first showed up on our shores in 1967, Guinness 250 Anniversary Stout is the biggest Guinness-related news here in quite a while. It's not meant to be a permanent change though, as Guinness only plan to brew the beer for a limited time only.

Unlike big brother Guinness Draught, 250 gets it's bubbles purely from carbonation, with no nitrogen. This makes for a sharper mouthfeel. Guinness describe 250 as "a distinctive carbonated stout with a clean, smooth finish." Why the change? According to master brewer Fergal Murray, this beer "is more about refreshment and zing" than Guinness Draught. Other changes include a different mix of malts, a higher alcohol content, and a new "triple hop regime."

There's no better day than today to raise a pint of the black stuff, so let's get to it.

Appearance: A dark brown, nearly black body with laser-red highlights. Up top, two fingers of creamy, dusty-tan head that sticks around for a while and leaves good lacing on the way down.

Aroma: Cocoa and a little dark fruit over a mild roasted-malt base. It's rather similar to Guinness Draught, but with a little more fruit character.

Taste: Roasted malt with nutty, chocolaty and dark-fruity notes. It's not exactly the most complex brew out there, but it was never meant to be. The aftertaste is nutty and roasty.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied and creamy with a drying finish. There's certainly more carbonation than you get in nitrogenated Guinness products, but what's here is still rather smooth.

Drinkability: Like it's big brother, this goes back rather quickly.

Verdict: A decent enough brew, and a fitting tribute given the source material that is Guinness Draught, but not exactly an earth-shaker. If you are (or used to be) a Guinness fanatic, this is worth the price of admission. Congratulations to Guinness on 250 years!

Grade: B-

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Harvest Ale 2009 Review

Brewery: Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. | Beer: Southern Hemisphere Harvest Ale 2009
Style: American India Pale Ale | ABV: 6.6% | IBUs: 66
Serving Method: 24 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Harvest AleSierra Nevada, a brewery known to many for it's use of hops, brews up a series of fresh-hopped beers known as the Harvest Ale Series. Harvest Ale, available in early fall, was the first beer in the series and features un-dried Cascade and Centennial hops from the Yakima Valley in Eastern Washington. Chico Estate Harvest Ale, which features Cascade, Centennial and Chinook hops grown at the Sierra Nevada brewery, can be found in late summer.

Last year, Southern Hemisphere Harvest Ale, which features fresh hops sourced from New Zealand, became the third beer in the series. It's actually the only American beer to feature fresh hops from the Southern Hemisphere, which makes it the only American fresh-hopped beer available in the spring. All other examples on the market use hops from the Northen Hemisphere, where hops are harvested in the fall.

As soon as the hops are picked in New Zealand, they are dried and flown to the brewery in Chico, California. The whole process, from fresh on the vine to the brewing kettle, takes about a week, ensuring the freshest hop aromas and flavors possible. As for the specific hops employed, Pacific Halertaus are used for bittering, while a mix of the New Zealand Southern Cross and New Zealand Motueka varieties are used for finishing. The malt backbone underneath is built with pale and caramel varieties.

Well, this is a beer meant to be enjoyed as fresh as possible, so let's dig in!

Appearance: A slightly hazy, orange-amber body with some very fine particles in solution. Up top, a generous, fluffy off-white head that features excellent retention and lacing.

Aroma: A bright blast of citrusy, floral, and spicy hops. There's a caramel malt base underneath to keep everything together.

Taste: Similar bright hop characteristics up front. They're grapefruity, piney, floral, and slightly resiny. You can taste the 66 IBUs, and they probably put this somewhere between Pale Ale and India Pale Ale. The caramel malt backbone makes a much bigger impact in the flavor than in the nose, making this a very balanced Pale Ale. The aftertaste is moderately bitter and toasty.

Mouthfeel: A lightly creamy, medium body with good carbonation and a dry finish. Top marks.

Drinkability: The big 24 oz bottle goes back with no trouble at all, very sessionable.

Verdict: Southern Harvest is a nicely bitter, yet well-balanced Pale Ale. I love the idea of having a beer hopped with fresh hops in the Spring, and it's a real treat to try some of the best hops that the Southern Hemisphere has to offer in near-optimum condition.

Grade: A

Note: While this review is being published in September, the tasting notes contained within were taken when the beer was fresh this past May.

Guinness Celebrates 250th Anniversary Tomorrow

It's not every day you get to celebrate a 250th anniversary, especially in the world of beer—though tomorrow, you can do just that. Guinness has dubbed tomorrow, a date marking 250 years to the day since Arthur Guinness signed the legendary 9000 year loan on the St. James Brewery, "Arthur's Day."

Events have been planned across the globe from Dublin to Malaysia, with acts including Kasabian, Estelle, Black Eyed Peas, and Tom Jones. Check Guinness' site for details.

So raise a pint tomorrow in honor of Arthur and the brand he created a quarter of a millennium ago. Cheers!

In the interest of full disclosure, I feel it important to mention that Guinness decided to include me in their "Guinness 250," and that as part of this program, they have sent me a collection of promotional items.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lagunitas Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale Review

Brewery: Lagunitas Brewing Co. | Beer: Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale
Style: American Strong Ale | ABV: 9.7% | IBUs: 72
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into tulip glass

Laguintas Undercover Investigation Shut-Down AleUndercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale takes its name from an incident in 2005, when undercover California Alcoholic Beverage Control agents busted the brewery on charges of "disorderly house" and "moral turpitude" when they found people smoking weed on brewery premises. The organization revoked the brewery's license, and they ended up enduring a three week suspension (during which they installed a new bottling line).

Lagunitas refer to all of this as the "2005 St. Patrick's Day Massacre." This beer is a nice little middle finger the California ABC, and yet somehow won label approval from them. If you end up trying this one out, I recommend you read the ramblings on the bottom of the six-pack holder, though they might make more sense if you read it after drinking some of the contents.

Undercover is categorized by the brewery as an "Imperial Mild," which they freely admit is an oxy-moron. Since that style doesn't really exist, I (as most others) have classified this as an American Strong Ale. The American Strong Ale style is a bit of a catch-all, but I think it works for this beer. You could probably make a case for this being a Double IPA, as the lines can be pretty blurry. But, with just 72 IBUs, I'm sticking with American Strong Ale.

But that's all just splitting hairs—what really matter is how it tastes.

Appearance: A beautiful red-orange body with two fingers of off-white head that leaves good lacing.

Aroma: There's a flood of hops the second the bottle is opened. The hop profile is intense and smells grapefruity, piney, and almost candied. Underneath all of this there's lots of sweet, almost syrupy, malt.

Taste: It's much the same in flavor. A hardy does of grapefruity and piney hops over a big, sweet malt backbone. Most of the alcohol is hidden rather well, and what remains is pleasant. The aftertaste keeps the hop-fest going.

Mouthfeel: Medium-full bodied with good carbonation and a little alcohol in the throat. It coats the mouth well, allowing for some great aftertaste retention.

Drinkability: Despite the high ABV and large flavor profile, this still goes back relatively fast, giving this above-average drinkability for the style.

Verdict: Since Laguintas has quite a full lineup of American Strong Ales, one would expect them to be pretty good at crafting them by now. So, it's no surprise that Shut-Down is a solid example of the style. It's may not be the most intense or interesting Strong Ale out there, but it's tasty, quite drinkable, and features an interesting focus on hops.

Grade: B+

Note: While this review is being published in September, the tasting notes contained within were taken when the beer was fresh this past March.

Stone 13th Anniversary Ale Review

Brewery: Stone Brewing Co. | Beer: 13th Anniversary Ale
Style: American Strong Ale | ABV: 9.5% | IBUs: ~90
Serving Method: 22 oz. bottle poured into tulip glass

Stone 13th Anniversary AleThis year, Stone Brewing Company celebrates their 13th year of serving up world-class craft beer. In that time, they've grown into the 18th largest craft brewery in the nation, which is no small accomplishment. To mark the occasion, they brew up an anniversary beer each year. This is the first time we've seen a Stone anniversary brew here in Houston, and I couldn't be happier to finally get in on the party.

Stone describe 13th Anniversary as an Imperial Red Ale, though I've listed it as an American Strong Ale. It took them three iterations to get the beer to the level demanded of a Stone anniversary release. The brewery claim this is the hoppiest beer in their history, with more pounds of hops per barrel (4.5 lbs. to be exact) than anything they've ever released.

Chinook hops are used during brewing, and the beer is dry-hopped with a 50/50 blend of Simcoe and Centennial varieties. It's dry-hopped again just before packaging, making this the first double dry-hopped Stone beer available in a bottle. The backbone is built with pale, crystal and amber malts with just "a touch" of chocolate.

Stone intend you to enjoy this beer fresh, and have marked the bottle "do not cellar, enjoy in 2009." I recommend you follow their advice, though I'm still going to age a few bottles, just for the hell of it.

Appearance: An exceedingly dark brown body with just the barest red highlights. Up top, three tannish fingers of head featuring great retention and fantastic lacing.

Aroma: A pungent blast of piney, resiny hops on top of a rich caramel malt base. Based on aroma alone, I'd mark this as a Double IPA every time.

Taste: Up front, a brawny and bitter hop character composed of herbal, pine, citrus, and resin components. Underneath, there's a substantial toasty caramel malt backbone keeping things pretty balanced. There is plenty of spicy alcohol throughout, but the bulk is masked well. It all ends up somewhere in the Imperial Red/Double IPA/American Strong Ale region. The aftertaste is resiny as all hell and lasts well into your next gulp.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied and creamy with good carbonation and a dry finish.

Drinkability: Slower due to the big hop character and alcohol content, though not quite a sipper.

Verdict: Stone 13th Anniversary Ale is a big, brash beer that's brimming with character, which makes it a fitting memorial to 13 great years of Stone brews. Cheers to Greg and the rest of the Stone team!

Grade: A

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sierra Nevada ESB 2009 Review

Brewery: Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. | Beer: ESB
Style: Extra Strong/Special Bitter | ABV: 5.9% | IBUs: 45
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Sierra Nevada ESBIn the last few years, the Sierra Nevada lineup has been steadily expanding. A year ago, they introduced ESB, aka "Early Spring Beer," the brewery's take on the British Extra Special Bitter style. While I didn't try the 2008 vintage last year, my source at the brewery says that this year's version was superior.

The ingredient list is certainly very British sounding. Two-Row Pale, Maris Otter, and Crystal malt varieties make up the backbone. As for hops, English Challenger, East Kent Goldings, U.S. Challenger, U.S. Goldings, & Crystal varieties are employed. As a twist, Sierra Nevada leave the beer unfiltered, which founder and owner Ken Grossman claims "enhances mouthfeel and hop aroma creating a slightly reddish-copper hue."

Here's how Sierra Nevada describe the resulting brew:

Our ESB combines the best of English tradition with West Coast style. A blend of malts featuring British-grown Maris Otter is balanced with the earthy spiciness of hand-selected English and US hops. The ale is left unfiltered, which enhances mouthfeel and hop aroma creating a slightly reddish-copper hue.
Sounds like it's exactly what I'm in the mood for, so let's dig in.

Appearance: Amber-orange body with an off-white finger and a half of head with good retention and brilliant lacing.

Aroma: Earthy, herbal, and citrusy hops over a lightly toasted caramel malt body.

Taste: Sharp citrusy, herbal hops right off the bat. You can really taste that they're using different hops than usual, although they share some characteristics with the usual suspects. The hops ride over a solid caramel malt backbone, strong enough to not be drowned out. Once again, the boys from Chico deliver superb balance. A lingering bitter aftertaste lasts well into your next sip.

Mouthfeel: Medium body with moderate carbonation. Dries a bit in the finish.

Drinkability: Absolute top-notch drinkability makes ESB a brilliant session beer.

Verdict: Another solid and balanced beer from Sierra Nevada and pretty on the mark for the ESB style. Not the most exciting beer in the Sierra Nevada stable, but I think that's part of the point. Immanently drinkable, yet complex enough to never be boring, ESB is worth a try for sure.

Grade: B+

Note: While this review is being published in September, the tasting notes contained within were taken when the beer was fresh this past February.

Saint Arnold Announces Divine Reserve 9

Hot off the heels of the release of their Divine Reserve 8, Saint Arnold has announced the next brew in the exclusive series. Divine Reserve 9 will be brewed today and tomorrow for release in either November or December. It will be an "Imperial Stout Pumpkin Ale," which sounds pretty interesting, if nothing else. The Divine Reserve series is the perfect time to experiment, and I'm happy to see Saint Arnold getting creative again. Here's what founder Brock Wagner has to say about DR9:

It's like a chocolate pumpkin pie, and 10% ABV. My complaint with pumpkin ales is typically the body of the beer doesn't carry the spice. It was a challenge to come up with enough pumpkin too. Apparently, when it's not Thanksgiving, stores don't stock much pumpkin!"
With all of the excitement and disappointment we saw a few weeks back with DR8, I wish you the best of luck getting your hands on DR9 later this year.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Victory Storm King Imperial Stout Review

Brewery: Victory Brewing Co. | Beer: Storm King Imperial Stout
Style: Russian Imperial Stout | ABV: 9.1% | IBUs: 75
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into tulip glass

Victory Storm KingTwo Victory beers, HopDevil Ale and Hop Wallop, have been reviewed thus far on PintLog, and both garnered very high scores. Those brews were similar styles (India Pale Ale and Double India Pale Ale respectively), so it remains to be seen if the amazing quality they exhibited carries through the rest of the range. Hopes are high then for Storm King, their Russian Imperial Stout.

Storm King has become a heavyweight in the American beer scene, consistently showing up in "best beer" lists and winning the title of "Best American Beer of the Year" from the users of BeerAdvocate in 2003. The beer has a reputation for being more hop-focused than most Russian Imperial Stouts, and with how well the brewers handled hops in the beers I've tried already, that bodes very well.

Here's how Victory describe Storm King:

With a huge, Pacific Northwest hop aroma & character upfront, Storm King subsides into massive, roast malt complexity. More flavor than mere words can adequately describe. Rich and substantial, it will warm your heart.
Sounds pretty damn appetizing—let's see how it measures up, shall we?

Appearance: Just about solid black with a two finger tall caramel head that leaves great lacing. It certainly looks the part.

Aroma: Lots of roasty malt, as you'd expect. But unlike many stouts, there are definite hop notes to be found here.

Taste: Huge roasted malt body with lots of big semi-sweet chocolate and roasted coffee notes. Definite hop splashes at times, a very welcome addition. The alcohol is hidden rather well under the big malt body, but raises its head from time to time. Lots of coffee and some nice hop bitterness in the finish.

Mouthfeel: A very thick body, almost reminiscent of a milkshake. Perhaps a little chalky at times, but it works. Medium carbonation with nice alcohol warmth in the mouth.

Drinkability: As you'd expect from a Russian Imperial Stout, this is firmly in sipper territory. A beer to be savored.

Verdict: A very solid Imperial Stout with a unique hop flourish that really sets it apart. Well worth the hype, this is a beer that delivers (especially at this price point). As hard as it is to not drink them now, I'm cellaring a few bottles to see how it ages and how the hops hold up.

Grade: A

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Saint Arnold Divine Reserve 8 Review

Brewery: Saint Arnold Brewing Co. | Beer: Divine Reserve 8
: Strong Scotch Ale/Wee Heavy | ABV: 9.3% | IBUs: ~25
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into tulip glass

Saint Arnold Divine Reserve 8Saint Arnold's single batch Divine Reserve series has become the stuff of legend here in Houston. There are no set rules for the series and it's proven to be quite the opportunity for experimentation, so it's always a bit of a surprise when the newest release is announced. Previous releases include an Imperial Stout, a pair of Barleywines, a Double IPA, a Quadruppel, and a dark Weizenbock.

Divine Reserve 8 is the second Strong Scotch Ale in the series, but the recipe is all new. It was inspired by homebrewer Phillip Kaufman’s winning entry in the 2009 Big Batch Brew Bash. Philip purchased many of his ingredients from Brew-It Yourself, the same store I use for my homebrewing supplies and ingredients, which really gives me the itch to dust off the brew kettle.

As for the version that hit the shelves, the malt backbone is composed of a mix of 2-Row, Biscuit, Dark Crystal, Amber, Peated, Caramunich and Wheat varieties while Hallertau Tradition hops are added early in the process and Hallertau Hersbruckers are added towards the end. A traditional Scotch Ale yeast is employed and the beer is unfiltered.

Here's how Saint Arnold describe the resulting brew:

The taste opens with sweet malt and spice, then the alcohol comes up with a light residual sweetness on the finish. A balanced smoky flavor is in this beer from start to finish, although it never is the dominant character.
Unfortunately, not everyone was able to get their hands on DR8. Despite this being the biggest batch of the Divine series thus far at just over 1500 cases, many seekers went home empty handed. The current brewery simply doesn't allow for more Divine series to be brewed without cutting into the production of other Saint Arnold beers. Until the move to the new brewery takes place, it appears demand will surpass supply.

Appearance: A murky, nearly opaque orange-brown body capped by about a finger of tan head that dissipates in a minute or so and leaves little in the way of lacing.

Aroma: Rich caramel malt accompanied by lots of booze and lovely smoky notes.

Taste: A complex malt body with lots of toffee, caramel, and brown sugar notes. There's a subdued peaty smokiness throughout, adding lots of character. The alcohol content is reigned in masterfully, leaving just the right amount to add depth without ever getting in the way. It's bitter and smoky in the aftertaste.

Mouthfeel: A medium-full body with good carbonation and a little warmth from alcohol.

Drinkability: Certainly a beer meant to be savored, though not a full-blown sipper.

Verdict: Divine Reserve 8 is a solid example of the Strong Scotch Ale style, something that's sorely lacking on the shelves here in Houston. Hopefully now with two Scotch Ales from the Divine series under their belts, Saint Arnold will brew one up on a more regular basis. I'm looking forward to how this release ages and evolves over the years.

Grade: A-

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Session 31: Summer Beers

The Session is a monthly project where a bunch of beer bloggers all blog about the same topic. You can read more about the project here. This month's host is Peter Estaniel of the Better Beer Blog, and the topic he has chosen is Summer Beers, a meditation on the brews of summer.

As a concept, summer is rather redundant here in Houston. Generally lasting from March to October, the Bayou City's hot months really hit their stride in July an August—a period that could fairly be referred to as "Summer²" or "Holy Shit, It's Hot!" With such an aggressive climate, we require a lot of quenchers here, making summer seasonal beers very welcome additions to our shelves.

With that in mind, I've gathered a group of five different summer-themed beers. Represented are breweries from all three coasts, along with both ales and lagers. Some I have tried before, and some I have not—but this is the first time for any of them to be reviewed here on PintLog. Hopefully, I'll find a new favorite summer refresher. Here's the lineup:

Brooklyn Summer AleFirst up, Brooklyn Summer Ale,what Brooklyn describe as a modern interpretation of the now obsolete English Light Dinner Ale style that died off about 70 years ago. Essentially an English-style Pale Ale, Summer Ale is a tasty and straightforward beer that refreshes nicely without being too bland. You can read my full Brooklyn Sumer Ale review here.

Harpoon Summer BeerNext, we have Harpoon Summer Beer, a Kölsch-style beer from the boys in Boston. This year marks the beer's ten year birthday of Summer Beer, so they must be doing something right. It's a crisp, Pilsener-like, and easy-drinking brew that really fits the bill on a hot afternoon. Not terribly exciting, but sometimes that's not a problem. You can read my full Harpoon Summer Beer review here.

Rogue Somer Orange Honey AleFrom Oregon comes Rogue Somer Orange Honey Ale, which is an unfiltered wheat beer brewed with (you guessed it) oranges and honey. Unfortunately, it's lacking some clarity (pun not intended) in the flavor department, but it's still a sold beer that's a welcome company during the dog days of summer. You can read my full Rogue Somer Orange Honey Ale review here.

Saint Arnold Summer PilsPlaying the part as local favorite today is Saint Arnold Summer Pils, a Czech Pilsener with a solid German malt base. A nice hybrid of the the two Pilsener styles, Summer Pils is highly drinkable and a great showcase for noble hops. This tie-dyed local favorite is almost as good to enjoy after mowing the lawn as the brewery's Fancy Lawnmower. You can read my full Saint Arnold Summer Pils review here.

Sierra Nevada Summerfest LagerLastly, we have Sierra Nevada Summerfest Lager, which happens to be the only lager in the Sierra Nevada lineup. Also a Czech Pilsener, this is a crisp and refreshing beer that you can easily drink all day. A great beer for barbecues and the like, Summerfest is a craft-brew that anyone can enjoy. You can read my full Sierra Nevada Summerfest Lager review here.

With such a diverse group of Summer seasonals, how do they stack up against each other?

  • In fifth place, Harpoon Summer Beer—tasty enough and very appropriate for the season, but just a little too forgettable.
  • In fourth place, Rogue Somer Orange Honey Ale—great on paper, a little plain in the glass.

  • In third place, Brooklyn Summer Ale—a nice alternative to all of the Lagers crowding the shelves and a rather good quencher, though not quite good enough to top the list.

  • In second place, Sierra Nevada Summerfest—a masterfully hopped and satisfying brew, this is one of my favorite American lagers.

  • In first place, today's winner (by a very narrow margin) is Saint Arnold Summer Pils—at the end of the day, this is the beer I'd be reaching for on a muggy Houston summer afternoon.
Well, they shook out into two distinct and very narrow clusters. The ales all received a "B" grade, while the two lagers both garnered an "A-." It may be tempting to arrive at the conclusion that I prefer lager-style beers for summer, I don't necessarily think that's the case here. While I think the style is perfect for the season, I think that the two I happened to pick for this comparison were just better constructed beers than their ale counterparts.

Brooklyn Summer Ale Review

Brewery: Brooklyn Brewery | Beer: Summer Ale
Style: English Pale Ale ABV: 5.0% IBUs: ~25
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Brooklyn Summer AleThis review is a part of an article on summer seasonals as part of the monthly beer blogging project The Session.

Brooklyn describe their summer seasonal, Summer Ale, as a an modern take on the "English Light Dinner Ale" style that was popular from the 1800's until the 1940's. I've listed it as an English Pale Ale here, as that seems like the closest match (if you think there's a better fit, please let me known in the comments). I love when a brewer chooses something other than a lager for their summer brew, and I love it even more when brewers try to bring a defunct style back to life, so I'm pretty excited about this one

As for ingredients, Summer Ale's body is made up of two-row British malts while bitterness is provided by Perle, Cascade, Fuggle, and Amarillo varieties. Here's how Brooklyn pitch Summer Ale's flavor profile:

A light-bodied golden beer [with] a fresh bready flavor, a light crisp bitterness and a citrus/floral aroma, resulting in a beer with a very sunny disposition.
Sounds like just what I need in this crushing Houston heat, so let's give it a whirl.

Appearance: A crystal-clear golden-amber body with two fingers of off-white head. The head recedes slowly and leaves decent lacing. There's just something about the tone of amber that's very satisfying.

Aroma: Grassy mild hops, biscuity malt, and perhaps the barest hints of alcohol.

Taste: Clean and crisp. Up front there's a wave of earthy, grassy, and slightly citrusy mild hops. Underneath, the mild bready malt backbone is almost wheat-like in it's lightness. The aftertaste is a mix of grains and a little lemon.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied with crisp carbonation, almost approaching soda levels (but it works). A dry finish.

Drinkability: Everything is right here to make for a very quaffable brew.

Verdict: Summer Ale is a solid enough mild beer that works as a great warm-weather alternative to all of the Lagers and wheat beers out there. It's not the most complex or interesting beer out there, but it's not meant to be. Certainly worth a try.

Grade: B

Harpoon Summer Beer Review

Brewery: Harpoon Brewery | Beer: Summer Beer
Style: Kölsch ABV: 5.0% IBUs: 28
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Harpoon Summer BeerThis review is a part of an article on summer seasonals as part of the monthly beer blogging project The Session.

Harpoon was founded back in 1986 by a trio of Harvard classmates in Boston. In the 20-plus years since, Harpoon has established itself as a major player in the New England craft-brewing scene, with a portfolio of year-round, seasonal, and special releases.

Their summer seasonal, Summer Beer, was inspired by a trip to Germany by master brewer and co-founder Rich Doyle. Released in 1999, this year marks the ten year mark for the beer. A Kölsch-style ale, here's how Harpoon describe the beer:

The hopping levels provide a crisp, dry finish that make this beer particularly refreshing. Harpoon Summer Beer is a beer brewed to be enjoyed with summertime activities. It is light, refreshing, and crisp.
All of the Kölsch-style beers I've tried so far have been awesomely refreshing, and with the summer sun beating down on me here in Texas, I'm ready to dive in.

A crystal-clear, pale straw body with two fingers of creamy white head that feature good retention and patchy lacing. The clarity here is brilliant, I could read a book through this beer.

Aroma: Grainy malt with lemony and slightly spicy noble hops. Reminiscent of a good Pilsener.

Taste: A grainy, lightly toasted malt backbone. The mildly bitter and spicy hops come back in towards the end to dry the malt slightly. A crisp finish with a grainy and slightly spicy aftertaste.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied with good carbonation. Dries a little in the finish.

Drinkability: Quite the thirst quencher, this goes back rapidly (as you'd expect from a Summer seasonal).

Verdict: Harpoon's Summer Beer is a straight-forward, light, and easy-drinking beer that makes for a great Summer seasonal. If you had told me this was a Pilsener, I don't think I would have questioned you, but that's rather acceptable for Kölsches.

Grade: B

Rogue Somer Orange Honey Ale Review

Brewery: Rogue Ales Brewery | Beer: Somer Orange Honey Ale
Style: American Pale Wheat Ale | ABV: 5.2%
| IBUs: 10
Serving Method: 22 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Rogue Somer Orange Honey Ale ReviewThis review is a part of an article on summer seasonals as part of the monthly beer blogging project The Session.

Rogue is a Oregon-based brewery that's been producing great beer since way back in 1988, making them one of the oldest micro-breweries in the country. Best known for their Dead Guy Ale and awesome silk-screened 22 oz. (or bomber) bottles featuring the "Rogue" character, they've become one of the most ubiquitous and visible craft-brew brands around.

Somer Orange Honey Ale is a new addition to the Rogue lineup this year, though similar beers have been available at the brewery for a few years. Here's how Rogue describe Somer: "this unfiltered beer flavors of orange and honey with a nice medium-sweet malt character."

Northwest two-row and wheat malt varieties make up the body, while Crystal and Rogue Farms Willamette hops provide the bitterness. The rest of the ingredient list is a little more exotic, and includes chamomile, coriander, sweet orange peel, Oregon wildflower honey, and oats. This is shaping up to be quite the unique beer.

Appearance: A brilliantly hazy, golden-orange body capped by two fingers of off-white head that quickly fade into minimal lacing. It's worth noting that the last pour is far hazier than the first pour.

Aroma: Fruit, mild coriander, and mild bitterness over a wheat base; it's lacking just a little as far as intensity goes.

Taste: Golden fruit, citrus, and spicy hops on top of a pale malt and wheat backbone. I'm not picking up too much in the way of honey, but it's there if you go looking. The aftertaste is toasty and grainy with a hint of bitter citrus.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with moderate carbonation and a drying finish.

Drinkability: As a summer seasonal, it's no surprise that this is refreshing and highly drinkable.

Verdict: Somer Orange Honey is a tasty and refreshing summer seasonal that works nicely on a hot day, though it would probably benefit from more citrus and honey. Ultimately, a little too plain to really capture my attention.

Grade: B

Saint Arnold Summer Pils Review

Brewery: Saint Arnold Brewing Co. | Beer: Summer Pils
Style: Czech Pilsener ABV: 4.9% IBUs: 41
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into Pilsener glass

Saint Arnold Summer PilsThis review is a part of an article on summer seasonals as part of the monthly beer blogging project The Session.

Well, it's officially hot here in Houston, and has been for quite some time now. With such a stifling climate, it's no surprise that our local brewers over at Saint Arnold brew up an immensely popular summer seasonal.

Summer Pils, released back in 1997, was Saint Arnold's first ever lager. The recipe has varied a little over the years, with the final formulation settled upon in 2006. Tie-dye is featured prominently on the label, and has become somewhat of a calling card from the brewery, even showing up on their 1957 Bentley (which can be yours for the price of just 200,000 Saint Arnold six-pack holders).

I had a bit of a task in deciding what style of Pilsener to list this beer under, as the malt backbone is provided by German Pils malt, but the hops are Czech Saaz and Hallertauer. I ended up settling on Czech style, mostly due to Saint Arnold describing Summer Pils as "a true bohemian-style" Pilsener. Here's how they describe the flavor:

Crisp and refreshing, this beer is perfect for a hot summer day. Saint Arnold Summer Pils has a delicate, sweet malt taste complemented by an abundant hop aroma and flavor.
Well, it's not getting any cooler just sitting here, so let's crack a bottle and try to beat the heat.

Appearance: A clear, pale straw body with a thin white head that disappears rapidly and leaves no lacing.

Aroma: Classic Pils in the nose. Grassy, lemony noble hops over a pale, slightly grainy malt base.

Taste: Up front, the same grassy, lemony noble hop profile found in the aroma. Saint Arnold claim 41 IBUs, but I never would have guessed that high. Underneath, the German Pils malt backbone provides a little body and sweetness, but ultimately knows its place. This really showcases the noble hops well. The aftertaste is grainy and lightly bitter.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with crisp carbonation. Clean and dry finish.

Drinkability: Excellent, as you'd expect from a Pilsener.

Verdict: Saint Arnold have brewed up a great Summer seasonal for Texas. It's kind of a mix of the German and Czech Pilsener style, and the result is an tasty, highly drinkable hybrid.

Grade: A-

Sierra Nevada Summerfest Lager Review

Brewery: Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. | Beer: Summerfest Lager
Style: Czech Pilsener ABV: 5.0% IBUs: 32
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into Pilsener glass

Sierra Nevada Summerfest LagerThis review is a part of an article on summer seasonals as part of the monthly beer blogging project The Session.

Sierra Nevada only brew one lager-style beer, and that's their summer seasonal, Summerfest. To go through all the work necessary to brew and condition lagers and then crank just one beer that is available just three months a year may seem a little crazy, but I prefer to think it of it as a testament to how uncompromising Sierra Nevada are.

Unlike some of their seasonal releases, the brewers at Sierra Nevada strive for each release of Summerfest to be perfectly consistent. As for construction, bitterness is provided by Saaz and Perle hops while the backbone is constructed with two-row pale and Munich malt varieties. Summerfest is subjected to an "extra-long" lagering period, which the brewery credit with the smoothness of the flavor profile. Here's how they pitch the beer:

Lighter in body than our ales but just as complex in character, Summerfest quenches your thirst with big aroma and a tangy hop bite.
Sounds like just the thing to help fight the summer heat here in Houston, so let's get the liquid refreshment flowing.

Appearance: A clear, golden-straw colored body with a generous and bubbly white head on top that leaves good lacing. This certainly looks the part.

Aroma: Grassy, herbal, and lemony Saaz hops over pale malt. Quite crisp.

Taste: Much the same story here. Classic Saaz hop character over a pale malt body with some wheat-like flavors added to the mix. The aftertaste is not long lived, and tastes of pale malt.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied with moderate carbonation. Crisp and clean with a dry finish.

Drinkability: Quite the quencher, this would be excellent on a summer's day.

Verdict: Summerfest is just a solid, tasty American version of the classic Czech Pilsener. I'd love to slip one of these to one of my macro drinking buddies and see what they thought of it.

Grade: A-