Sunday, January 31, 2010

Founders Brewing Co. - Breakfast Stout

This is the last of three installments in the Founders Weekend series. I saved what I anticipate will be the best, for last. 

Breakfast Stout, aside from being named after two of my favorite meals, is a seasonal brew from Founders Brewing Co. (which, if you haven't been paying attention this weekend, is quickly rising to become one of my favorites). It is an imperial stout that Founders labels a "double chocholate coffee oatmeal stout".

Let me repeat that... double chocolate... coffee... oatmeal stout.

Beer porn, right there... hardcore beer porn. 

8.3% ABV

Right out of the bottle, I can tell this stout means business. It pours a completely opaque, deep brown-black color. The head is thick, dense, foamy and a dark mocha color. It leaves a hearty root beer float lacing.

The nose is filled with rich, roasted malts. A soft smokiness nicely complements the chocolate and coffee notes.

Taste & Feel
It has a thick, smooth mouthfeel and full body. Robust, toasted coffee malts lead the flavor parade, followed by a sweet, tangy molasses middle. It has a nice bitter, chocolate finish and a dry, smoky aftertaste.

I'm regretting only bringing two bottles home this weekend. Both went down far too quickly.  This is a fantastic stout, everything I imagined it would be. It also went well with the coffee ice cream I was having for dessert.

I'll definitely stock up before the season ends.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Founders Brewing Co. - Dirty Bastard Scotch Style Ale

Founders Weekend continues...

Moving on to the second of three Founders' brews in this weekend's lineup. Dirty Bastard is a malty, Scotch ale. 

8.5% ABV

Dirty Bastard has a rich , deep, mahogany brown color that emanates a warm, ruddy glow. It has a dense, foamy tan head and light lacing.  There doesn't appear to be much carbonation.

The aroma is light and sweet. Caramel malts stand out the most, but there is also a hint of smooth banana and just a touch of raisins.

Taste & Feel
Sweet, roasted malts are prominent all the way through. A nice blend of brown sugar and dark fruits... primarily plums and cherries. It has an earthy finish, with a very subtle peat smokiness and a lightly hoppy aftertaste.

This beer has a medium body, smooth mouthfeel and mild hops bite.

Founders is two for two today. I thought this was a thoroughly enjoyable beer. I really like Scotch Ales, and this was no exception.

Founders Brewing Co. - Red's Rye PA

On Thursday, I stopped in to East Wake Wines & Craft Brew to check out their ever-expanding selection of beers. Ken was excited that his delivery of Founders had arrived. I, of course, was equally excited since I had been dying to try the Breakfast Stout. I ended up grabbing all three varieties they had, making this a Founders weekend.

I'm leading off with the Red's Rye, partly because I think it's the one I'll enjoy the least, but mostly because the wild-eyed curmudgeon on the label was glaring at me with a look that says, "if you know what's good for you, you'll drink this one first."

Part of Founders' year-round selection.It is a rye-malted pale ale.

6.6% ABV

Looks good. It has a bright, copper color and translucent appearance, capped by a foamy tan head. It's heavily carbonated and leaves modest lacing.

The aroma is loaded with strong, grapefruit hops, with some pine notes. It mellows and takes on a caramel sweetness as it warms.

Taste & Feel
Red's Rye has a medium body and crisp flavor. Aggressive hops up front, with grapefruit dominating. Between the hoppy start and finish, some caramel malts sneak through. It has as spicy and citrusy bitter finish.

Remember back when I said I thought this would be the one I liked the least? Well, The crazy old man on the label knows his stuff.  This is an awesome beer... bright, hoppy, flavorful. A solid A. 

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Fort Collins Brewery - Chocolate Stout

Part of Ft. Collins' year-round offering. It's available on the East Coast, parts of the Midwest and, of course, Colorado.

Extremely dark brown, almost black. Thick and opaque.Dense, pillowy mocha head.

Roasted, malty aroma. Mildly smoky and a
dry, almost dusty, dark chocolate character.

Taste & Feel
The flavor is mostly an intensification of the aromas, roast and. malty. A touch of an earthy hops bitterness sneaks through before ending with a dry, bitter chocolate finish.

Medium body and an active carbonation provides a somewhat acidic feel.

A pretty good beer.  Not surprisingly, it goes great with chocolate, as I discovered during my second bottle.

Weyerbacher Brewing Co. - Blithering Idiot

Here's another one that I picked up on my most recent trip to East Wake Wines & Craft Brew. When I was there, I discovered that they had actually posted a couple of my reviews in the store. Cool deal.

Blithering Idiot is an English-style barleywine ale from Easton, PA's Weyerbacher Brewing. It is available year-round and can be found on the East coast and in Ohio, Nebraska and Wisconsin.

11.1% ABV

It has a bright amber-orange color and hazy appearance.Pours with a dense, creamy head that dissipated quickly but left a good amount of lacing.

Strong and sweet. The aroma is loaded with honey and dark fruit scents. Give it a good sniff, but be careful... if you draw too deep, the high alcohol content gives the inside of your nose a little burn.

Taste & Feel
It has a medium body and sweet, sticky flavor. Dates, raisins and honey are most prominent. A distinct alcohol taste cuts through some of the other flavors, especially as it warms. Not surprising, since it has a hot finish and an alcohol aftertaste.

Decent. I struggled a bit with this because it pulls me in opposite directions. It's a barelywine with a high ABV, so I really want to let it warm and savor it because, quite honestly, the flavor is pretty good. However, it's better off enjoyed cold, which doesn't really work for what I would call a sipping beer.

I've had several other beers in this ABV range that hid the alcohol nicely. Blithering Idiot almost embraces it, regrettably at the expense of other flavors. Almost all of the other barleywines I've had taste better as they warm. This one is the opposite. It's at its best 10-15 minutes out of the refrigerator.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Hirschbräu - Doppel Hirsch

There are a number of reasons why you might try a beer. Perhaps, you saw it advertised somewhere. Chances are, if you're a beer geek, a friend recommended it or you read about it on somebody's blog.

Or, maybe you just thought the bottle was cool.

Yep. That was me, bought it for the bottle. There's something about two stags trading headbutts on the label of the 500ml swingtop bottle that somehow lends credibility to a beer. To be fair, I was sold at just the swingtop.

I had a bit of trouble finding information about this beer. I know it's a Bavarian doppelbock, but haven't found much about the brewer.  Their website is in German and doesn't appear to have an English version. Everything else I came across were other beer review sites.

I found it at East Wake Wines & Craft Brew. They had a few other varieties from the same brewer, but I haven't seen it carried anywhere else. 

7.2% ABV

This beer has a dark, mahogany color and is topped with a foamy, tan head. The deep red hues and crystal clarity give it a jewel-like appearance.

Banana bread... rich, roasted malts heavy with essences of bananas and walnuts. It's also filled with sweet, dark, prune notes.

Taste & Feel
Medium body and silky mouthfeel. The flavor was sweet and plummy up front, with earthy malts and some piney hop notes coming through later. It provided a mild, hoppy bite at the top-back of my tounge, and gave way to a warm, dry finish. It has a raisin aftertaste, which became nutty as it warmed up.

It's good. I'd definitely like to try it again.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Left Hand Brewing - Deep Cover Brown Ale

Deep Cover is a simple brown ale from Longmont, Colorado's Left Hand Brewing. It's part of their year-round selection and appears to be available in 26 states, but across the country. I hadn't tried this one before, but have had a few other Left Hand beers and liked what they offered.

4.4% ABV

A bit lighter than I expected. It has a bright copper color and a translucent appearance. Significant carbonation bubbles up into a
foamy, cream-color head which thins quickly and leaves light lacing.

It has a sticky malt aroma rich with raisins and brown sugar.

Taste & Feel
Despite the strong aroma, the flavors are a bit mild.  It has a thin body, but very energetic carbonation. The malts are light and sweet, with some apple and caramel flavors up front and a nutty  character in the finish.

This is an OK beer. I'm not blown away by it, but it's easy to drink and won't intimidate a craft brew rookie. Serve it to your friends that still drink the fizzy yellow stuff, and they just might transition to more flavorful ales.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sierra Nevada - Old Cantankerous Stock Ale

Tonight I had the opportunity to try a rare beer that I can't imagine I'll ever have again. Tyler's Taproom in Durham played host to the debut of Sierra Nevada Old Cantankerous Stock Ale, a limited edition that was brewed once and only once. It is the product of collaboration by 12 homebrewers invited to the brewery's beer camp this past fall.  Among them was Durham's Jimmy VerVaecke.  He was on hand at Tyler's, along with a decent sized crowd who turned out to taste his masterpiece.

I somewhat regret not sitting down and giving it a proper review, but being able to enjoy a beer over  conversation with fellow beer enthusiasts is a great consolation. So, here's the short version, a collection of mental notes...

Dark color, sweet aroma, terrific flavor. Sweet caramel malt flavors were prominent and accompanied by toasted, nutty notes. The malt was balanced nicely by a slight hops bite. It had a smooth moutfeel, medium body and a slightly dry finish. 

Overall, an awesome beer.

Skybox Manager Embracing Local Brews as Keys to Success

Last week, I attended the Mother Earth Brewing beer dinner hosted by Skybox Grill & Bar at the North Raleigh Hilton. In the days since, I've had an ongoing conversation with manager Chris Allen about his efforts to bring in more local and craft beers and break free from the perception that Skybox is "just another hotel bar".

Working across the street, I've been to Skybox for countless lunches, but never really spent time at the bar. So, I decided to pay him a visit on Monday to see what was on tap.

I was pleased to see a good local selection. On the day I visited, they had beers from Big Boss, Mother Earth, Red Oak and two from Foothills ( the Hoppyum IPA is fantastic). They also had other craft favorites from Bell's and Brooklyn Brewing.

Chris said that offering a good mix of local beers makes sense for a bar that gets most of its business from the hotel.

"People who are traveling always ask for something local" and having a variety on tap (and in bottles) lets him showcase some of the quality beers that North Carolina has to offer.

Aside from exposing local beer to out-of-town visitors, he wants to make Skybox an attractive place for the hometown crowd to get great beer at reasonable prices. Because the bar is owned by the hotel, he has less overhead, which means he can sell drinks at lower prices.

He pointed to the Mother Earth Weeping Willow Wit I was drinking, and said, "You can get that same beer downtown, but it'll cost $7.50 for a bottle."

"And look at all these TVs. We're a serious sports bar. You can come in on any Sunday and watch every game."

What he left out was the ample, free parking.

So what's next? Chris says he's planning more beer-pairing events like the one I attended and he's actively working to expand his local and craft selection, hoping to soon double the number of beers on tap and offer 20-plus new bottles.

I certainly hope he's successful in doing that, because the only thing I like better than a good local craft beer is one that's conveniently located and relatively cheap.

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Bell's Two Hearted Ale

Breaking out of the sweet and malty streak that I've been on this month, I'm switching gears for a moment and trying an IPA.

Two Hearted Ale is a floral, hoppy India Pale Ale from Michigan's Bell's Brewery. Their beers are widely available throughout the Midwest and Southeast.

This is one that I haven't tried before, but Bell's hasn't disappointed me before, so I'm optimistic.

7.0% ABV

Two Hearted Ale has a bright, brassy color. It pours with a partially cloudy appearance and ample carbonation.

The head is pillowy and eggshell colored and dissipates quickly, leaving moderate lacing.

It has an enjoyable, perfumy, floral and pine hops aroma, with some lemon notes.

Taste & Feel
The medium body is smoother and less carbonated than I expected.

It starts off with aggressive grapefruit hops, and then the perfume quality of the nose comes through strongly the in flavor. Mid-taste, a sweet, honey malt peeks through before giving in to a mildly bitter finish. It has a strong lemon aftertaste that became more perfumy as it warmed.

Overall, Two Hearted Ale is an outstanding IPA. I really expected it to be more bitter, but it was more citrusy than anything. Very drinkable.

It would pair well with a light, summer fare. Personally, I'd like to try it as an accompaniment to Caribbean food.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Samuel Adams - Double Bock

Last week at work, one of my co-workers and I were discussing beer styles and he asked if I had tried any of the Sam Adams Imperial Series. I hadn't, which gives me a great excuse to try a few for H&H.

Double Bock is part of Sam Adams' Imperial Series. It is a malty lager that was initially offered as a seasonal brew but is now part of their year-round selection.

9.5% ABV

The first thing you'll notice about this beer is its incredible presentation. It has a rich copper-brown color. A thin, steady stream of bubbles rises through it, settling into a soft, foamy, cream head that leaves heavy lacing.  The clear appearance and slow bubble action give it a very thick, resin-like appearance.

Smells good. Give it a quick whiff and it has a strong, bready malt aroma. Draw deeper, and you'll pick up smooth and sweet caramel and banana scents. Even deeper and you'll find an essence of dark liquor.

Taste & Feel
This is definitely a sipping beer. The malt flavors are very well-blended, and if you don't savor it slowly you might have trouble picking them out. It has a sweet caramel and dark stone fruit taste, but also offers up a subtle nutty character and a very mild hops bite.

The medium-full body is exceptionally smooth. It has a syrupy, coating mouthfeel and a warm, slightly boozy finish.

I'm torn between saying that I enjoyed this beer and being incredibly embarrassed that I hadn't tried it until now. Fortunately, that's why I usually drink two. I can cast my shame aside after the first and fully indulge in the second.

Sam Adams has proven time and again that you can grow in size without giving up your craft brew values. This beer is a great example of that. It's not the best I've ever had, but it is certainly among the most attractive and well-crafted.

I insist you try Sam's Double Bock, but don't dare drink it straight from the bottle. Slowly pour it into a glass and admire the gorgeous color and aroma.  Sip it, savor it. You won't be disappointed.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Dogfish Head - Chicory Stout

I usually have to bring my own drinks to family gatherings because no one else shares my love of dark and flavorful beers. Yeah, I don't get it, either... but it's true. No one will touch my beer.

I think they're intimidated.

This Christmas was a bit different, though. I brought Dogfish Head Chicory Stout to dinner and made Mom try one. Much to my - and if I had to guess, hers, too - surprise, she liked it. She even kept a bottle to have later!

Fortunately, I managed to salvage a couple to review.
Chicory Stout is a winter seasonal from Dogfish Head. It's made with roasted chicory and organic Mexican coffee.

5.2% ABV

It  looks like a typical stout. Deep mahogany color, nearly opaque appearance. Where it differs is the head. This one has a dense, foamy tan head instead of a creamier one. It looks stiff, like a root beer float.

An aggressive aroma. It has a rich, strong, dark roasted coffee smell coupled with a smoky, almost charred, scent. Beneath that, there's a sweetness, with faint bitter chocolate undertones.

Taste & Feel
It starts off with a smooth, creamy mouthfeel. After that, it sets the pleasantries aside and gets down to business as a serious stout. There's a strong coffee flavor, and I'm definitely picking up the chicory. For those who haven't tasted chicory before, it's similar to a strong coffee, but has a woody, more roasted character.

Like many stouts, this one has a full body and a dry finish, with a strong espresso aftertaste.

I like it. If you're not a stout fan, you might find the malts to be a bit too aggressive. But, if you're like me, you'll find this to an enjoyable beer.

Monday, January 11, 2010

EVENT: Mother Earth Beer Dinner... Tomorrow!

I just learned of this event this afternoon, but I plan to attend. If you're in the Triangle area, I'm passing the invitation on to you, as well.

Mother Earth Brewing: Beer Dinner!
Skybox @ the North Raleigh Hilton
Tues., January 12
7:00 PM

Four Courses paired with all four of the beers from Kinston, NC's Mother Earth Brewing:
$30 per person. For tickets, please call the Skybox at 919-878-4917.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Highland Brewing Co. - Gaelic Ale

I'm always eager to try new beers, but every once in a while I have to revisit an old favorite, especially if I haven't added it to the blog. I like Highland Gaelic Ale because it has an excellent balance of flavors and aromas. It's flavorful, but not so overwhelming that it limits its opportunities for enjoyment.

An American amber ale from Asheville, NC's Highland Brewing Co.

5.8% ABV

Pretty much a standard amber ale. It has a slightly cloudy appearance and a bright, coppery color. The frothy cream head leaves light lacing.

Harmonious. The sweet and yeasty malts smell like biscuits and caramel and are balanced against hops that are somewhat spicy and have a subtle pine essence. Less prominent is a slightly sour aroma.

Taste & Feel
The medium body provides an active carbonated tingle at tip of tongue. 

It starts with a tart and mildly bitter hops presence, balanced with sweet, bready malts and hints of sour autumn fruit. The flavors mellow into a creamy finish and nutty, toasted aftertaste.

This is a good, reliable beer. It offers up a great flavor and has the versatility that makes it easy to pair with a variety of foods or simply enjoy on its own.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Dogfish Head - Palo Santo Marron

Palo Santo Marron is a wood-aged brown ale from the the wizards at Dogfish Head brewery. OK, that's the boring version... this beer is actually aged in the largest wooden brewing vessels in the country, which are built from the exotic Palo Santo wood from Paraguay.

12% ABV

I don't know why, but I expected this to be much lighter. Instead, it pours thick and is a dark, black-brown color. It looks much more like a porter than a brown ale, with a nearly opaque appearance and a mahogany hue around the edge. My first bottle had thin, tan head, but my second poured with a thicker, denser head.

If you prefer a thick head, pour slow and hold your bottle high. A standard pour nets a thin result with this beer.

Palo Santo has a warm, rich, boozy nose. Notable aromas include banana bread, raisin, toffee, black cherry and an exotic, aromatic woodiness that reminds me of trip to World Market.

Taste & Feel
Whoa! This is absolutely mindblowing.  The flavor is deep, rich and complex. Very little hops flavor makes room for plenty of roasted malts... vanilla, toffee, caramel, raisins, banana and a subtle smokiness.

Looks aren't deceiving... it has a full body and a smooth, soft, creamy mouthfeel that's accompanied by a mild carbonated tingle that builds into a boozy, coating warmth.

Sweet on the lips, virtually no hops bitterness and an earthy, wood finish. 

Liquid pleasure, plain and simple. I already had a not-at-all-secret crush on Dogfish's brews, but this one raises the bar. Dogfish never disappoints Simply fantastic.
Drink this one slow and savor every sip. The high alcohol content sneaks up on you halfway through the second glass.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Big Boss Brewing Co. - Big Operator Belgian Black Raspberry

Tonight was Tap Night at Flying Saucer and they were serving a cask conditioned batch of Big Boss Brewing's Big Operator. I didn't feel like going out, but Big Boss is pretty much infallible and I desperately wanted to taste this batch of beer. So, I took a detour on my way home from work to have a glass. 

Big Operator is a full flavored black ale infused raspberries. According to the server, this particular batch was cask conditioned especially for the Tap Night event.

This beer is dark, but not fully opaque. It has a nice dark brown color with a slightly scarlet tint and a thin tan head. 

Roasted malts and a fruity, berry essence dominate. At times, the two combine to create an olive scent, but not in an unpleasant way. 

Taste & Feel
Tastes very much like it smells, delivering a strong roasted malt flavor heavy with raspberry. It's a full-bodied beer that starts off smooth but has a very dry finish. This is another beer that feels like a red wine.

I'm glad I ventured out to try this beer. It's beautiful. You've missed your chance to have the cask version for now, but go find it on tap and I'm certain you'll like it.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

New Belgium Brewing - 2° Below Ale

I had my eye on 2° Below for awhile, but kept putting off trying it. Fortunately, my wonderful wife picked up a six pack for me while we were spending New Year's weekend in Boone, NC. 2° Below sounds cold, but in reality was several degrees warmer than the icy wind chill outside. Temperatures were in the single digits and the wind chill was well below zero. When I called the property manager on Sunday because our water stopped, she said. "oh sweety, the well is probably frozen. It's six degrees down here, and you're 1,000 feet higher up. I can't imagine how cold it is there." Encouraging.

What better way to warm up than with a 2° Below? I enjoyed most of them up on the mountain, but made sure to save a couple specifically for reviewing.

I finally got around to having one today (in one of my new beer glasses!)... 

2° Below is a winter seasonal ale from New Belgium Brewing

6.6% ABV

For a beer with such a frosty name, 2° Below has a very warm, bright amber color. It has a crystal clear appearance and a pillowy cream head that leaves a decent amount of lacing. 

Pretty straightforward. I enjoyed the spicy and floral hops aroma. It was strong, but not overpowering.

Taste & Feel
Light body, but full of flavor. It starts off with an energetic hoppiness that gives way to a nice spice flavor. I enjoyed it because it wasn't as heavy or spicy as many of the winter seasonals I've had in the past. On the contrary, this one drinks clean and leaves only a mild bitter aftertaste.

A good beer that I'd encourage you to try. If you can get New Belgium beers, this one should still be available near you.