Thursday, April 23, 2009

Southern Star Blonde Bombshell Ale Review

Brewery: Southern Star Brewing Co. | Beer: Bombshell Blonde Ale
Style: American Blonde Ale | ABV: 5.3% | IBUs: 20
Serving Method: 12 oz. can poured into pint glass

Southern Star Blonde Bombshell AleBack in January, I posted a review of the first beer brewed by the upstarts at Southern Star, their Pine Belt Pale Ale. The brewery is actually about ten miles from my apartment, so I was very excited to try some beer brewed so close to home. Pine Belt turned out to be a great beer, and now has a recurring role in my rotation. I've been patiently awaiting their next retail release, and now the time has come.

The second offering to make it to the shelves from Southern Star, Bombshell Blonde Ale is (rather obviously) a Blonde Ale. This style is relatively new, and is essentially an invention of American craft brewers. Many times, a brewery's Blonde Ale serves as the entry-level, or gateway, beer in the lineup. They're typically in the straw to golden range with a medium-light to medium body and good drinkability. As for balance, these are malt-forward beers with lighter flavored malt profiles (think bready and biscuity) and light to medium hoppiness.

As for ingredients, Bombshell's malt backbone is constructed of Rahr Special Pale and Wyermann Viennaa varieties, while German Tradition Sterling is the exclusive hop variety used. California Ale yeast is employed once again. Here's how Southern Star themselves describe Bombshell:

A rich, creamy golden colored ale fermented at a cool temperature to give a clean finish. Hints of yeasty bread and a touch of hops combine to make a beer that is truly more than the sum of its parts.
By the way, I mentioned in my last review that I was going to try to make it up to the brewery to check it out, and I finally made the trip last weekend. Dave has really got a great thing going, with an impressive brewery and some great beers on tap (you have to try the Buried Hatchet Stout). I thoroughly recommend that anyone in the Houston area that cares about great beer make it to one of their Saturday tastings. You can find more info on the Southern Star website.

Appearance: Hardly blonde in color, this is a lovely shade of golden-amber. There are a million particles of sediment suspended in the body, living up to the "clarity is overrated" slogan on the can. The finger of craggy head is off-white in color and features great retention and lacing. I could stare at this all day.

Aroma: Sweet, bready and biscuity malt with a few hints of citrus and earthy hops.

Taste: The same solid malt backbone is firmly in charge here. The profile runs the gamut from husky, to bready, to biscuity, to caramel-like. There's a splash of citrus and mild hop bitterness in the finish for balance. The aftertaste keeps the malt chorus going.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied and smooth with mild carbonation. It finishes clean.

Drinkability: Top-notch, I could drink this all night.

Verdict: Perfect for sessioning, Bombshell is just a mild and friendly beer. Every brewery has to have an offering or two in their lineup that appeals to the fans of "lighter" beers, luckily this one has soul and flavors in abundance. A perfect companion for a hot Summer day here in Texas.

Grade: A-

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Samuel Adams Double Bock (Imperial Series) Review

Brewery: Boston Brewing Co. | Beer: Samuel Adams Double Bock (Imperial Series Version)
Style: Doppelbock | ABV: 9.5%
| IBUs: 25
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into tulip glass

Samuel Adams Double BockA few weeks back, I reported the exciting news that Sam Adams was adding an Imperial series to their lineup. Well, I was able to secure a pack of each of the three varieties and I'm ready to start reporting my findings. First up, I decided to review the established member of the team.

This is the only beer in Sam Adams' new Imperial Series that isn't totally new. There has been Sam Adams Double Bock for 20 years now, it was actually their first seasonal offering. However, this isn't just a relabeled old timer, the recipe has been revised heavily, with almost a full percent of alcohol added in the process. I never had a chance to try the old version, it would have been interesting to see how it's changed.

The label reads "Enjoy this beer now or age to develop unique flavors" and has a message from Jim Koch:

Samuel Adams Double Bock is brewed with a half pound of malt in each bottle, almost enough for a loaf of bread. This intense, rich lager reveals a deep mahogany color and velvety smooth flavor. Samuel Adams Double Bock is one of our most sought after brews. Enjoy!
On a bit of a tangent, the label also reads "Lager (Ale in TX)." What is is about out state lines here that can magically change the classification of a beer once you cross them? We really need to repeal a lot of the arcane liquor laws around here. Anyway, enough ranting about the wacky world of Texas law, how's the beer?

Appearance: A clear, dark red-brown body with a finger of caramel-tinged head that leaves spotty lacing.

Aroma: Lots of caramel malt dripping with sweetness and booze. No hops to be found here.

Taste: Sweet caramel malt with dark fruit, smoke, chocolate, and Scotch notes. Pleasant alcohol in the back, playing a perfect supporting role. Certainly one of the most complex Sam Adams beers I've tried. The aftertaste is malty and boozy.

Mouthfeel: Full-bodied and velvety smooth with moderate carbonation. Coats well, but never too syrupy. A lovely subtle burn in the throat.

Drinkability: Above average for a beer with this level of alcohol, but still very much a slower beer. Great for savoring after a meal.

Verdict: This is just about what I expected when I first head "Sam Adams" and "Imperial Series" in the same sentence. A solid, though not earth-shaking, beer that's head-and-shoulders above the rest of the Sam Adams line. The Imperial version of Double Bock is a complex and satisfying beer, and a great companion for after-dinner contemplation.

Grade: A

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Saint Arnold Elissa IPA Review

Brewery: Saint Arnold Brewing Co. | Beer: Elissa IPA
Style: American India Pale Ale | ABV: 6.6% | IBUs: ~60
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Saint Arnold Elissa IPAA few Summers ago, I spent a Labor Day weekend with my family in Galveston. One of the highlights was looking out at the water and seeing an interesting dark shape on the horizon (in a scene very close to the one depicted on the bottle). After a few seconds, it dawned on me that I was staring at a tall ship. Seeing something so ancient looking juxtaposed against the modern world was something really special. I'm sure if I had been 15 years younger, that I would have thought it was a pirate invasion for sure.

The tall ship was the Elissa, a barque from 1877, and a major Galveston attraction. When Saint Arnold decided to try their hand at brewing an IPA a few years ago, they decided to name the beer after the Elissa. Not only was it a perfect tribute to a local landmark, but the Elissa was exactly the kind of ship that transported IPAs to India in the first place. Saint Arnold also donates a portion of their proceeds from this beer to help preserve the Elissa.

Released back in 2004, Saint Arnold's first IPA was finally able to exist once a reverse osmosis system was installed in the brewery to strip out the high levels of calcium carbonate levels here in Houston's water supply. They decided to use only one hop variety in the beer, my favorite hop variety, the Cascade. The Cascades are added three times throughout the brewing process and then once as a dry-hopping in the fermenter. The beer is unpasteurized and contains no additives or preservatives. Every now and then, the brewery takes a portion of Elissa, dry hops and cask conditions it for a traditional Real Ale experience in local pubs.

Back when I was first experimenting with good beer, this was the first IPA I tried. At that point, I had no idea what an IPA was - I just knew that the Elissa was awesome and every Saint Arnold beer I'd sampled up to that point was brilliant. I took the six-pack home and promptly poured a glass. BAM! It hit me in the mouth with a massive bitter punch, the hoppiest beer I had ever had by far. To be perfectly honest, it was quite unpleasant at first, and it took quite a while to finish that first glass.

As I slowly worked my way through the six-pack over the course of a few weeks I got somewhat used to it, but it was still rather extreme. Of course today, it's just a good session beer for me; something to pick up when I'm in the mood for hops but not after a big beer. This beer is a constant reminder of how much your palate changes on this journey.

Appearance: An ever-so-slightly hazy, bright golden-amber body with a mass of bubbles working their way up. On top, a finger of dimpled and fluffy off-white head with brilliant retention and good lacing.

Aroma: Citrusy, floral, and piney Cascade hops over a solid biscuity caramel malt base. Inviting.

Taste: In the flavor profile, the hop character is made up of mild bitterness and leafy notes with a good bit of the citrus stripped out. I'd like to see more of the perfumey citrus flavors you usually get from Cascade hops, but what is left is nice. The malt backbone is biscuity and mildly roasted. This is a very balanced IPA, but I'd be happy to see a bit more focus hop character. The aftertaste is bitter and biscuity.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied with a good amount of carbonation. Mildly dry.

Drinkability: Well above average for the style. One of the most sessionable IPAs I've tried.

Verdict: Elissa is just an easily drinkable, moderately hoppy beer. It's certainly not the hoppiest IPA out there, and I'd like to see more of the traditional Cascade character, but it makes for a brilliant session beer for hop fans. A Houston institution in the making.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

New Belgium Mothership Wit Review

Brewery: New Belgium Brewing | Beer: Mothership Wit
Style: Witbier | ABV: 4.8% | IBUs: 12
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into globe glass

New Belgium Mothership WitSustainability is a matter near and dear to my heart, so I always like hearing about brewers thinking about the future. Colorado-based New Belgium Brewing has always had a reputation for being one of the greenest breweries, so the fact that they produced the first organic beer I've ever tried is not surprising. Their first USDA certified organic beer is a Witbier named Mothersip Wit.

This is also my first time reviewing a Witbier on PintLog, so let me take a minute to explain the style. Witbier, or White Beer, is a Belgian style wheat beer usually spiced with coriander, orange peel, and various other spices. Also usually slightly sour, due to the presence of lactic acid. They are very pale in color and hazy in appearance (due to being unfiltered). Known for their refreshing qualities, these are a summertime favorite.

According to the brewer, Mothership is brewed with "wheat and barley malt, as well as coriander and orange peel spicing resulting in a balance of citrus and sour flavors held in suspension by a bright burst of carbonation." That sounds just about perfect for the style, so this should be a good starting point.

Appearance: Hazy and amazingly pale lemon-drop yellow body. This almost looks like lemonade as it pours out of the bottle. Nice finger and a half of white head that recedes quickly and leaves decent lacing. Great presentation.

Aroma: Intense. Tangy wheat, lemony citrus, and lots of spicy coriander and cloves. With the lemon, wheat, and spices this almost reminds me of a lemon meringue pie in a weird (and good) way.

Taste: Zesty lemon, coriander, and cloves still dominate over a wheat/pale malt base. Thin even for this style, I'd like to see just a little more intensity in the backbone. Not particularly bitter or sweet, Mothership is pleasantly mellow.

Mouthfeel: As you'd imagine as you watch it pour, this is very much light-bodied. Good carbonation and a clean finish.

Drinkability: Suburb drinkability, would quench nicely on a hot Summer day.

Verdict: Although a little thin, Mothership Wit is so smooth, drinkable, and very mellow that it works. With a nice mesh of flavors and brilliant quenching potential, Mothership is another solid New Belgium brew. The fact that it's organic is just icing on the cake.

Grade: B