Category Archives: Beer Reviews

Tasting Notes: Durty Bull Baltic Porter

What is the point of barrel aging a beer? In my mind, it is too alter the taste of the beer naturally. This brings forth different flavors then you get when the beer comes from the fermenter. Different types of barrels give you different taste additions. New barrels give a different taste then second or third use barrels. Those barrels will add notes from the liquor they were originally used to age.

You the most common beers are the big dark beers like imperial stouts and Baltic porters. Those beers are high enough in ABV to stand up the notes added by the barrels. The alcohol taste also mellows over time letting other flavors come through. The danger with barrel aging is two-fold. First, will you must choose the correct barrel to add notes that will enhance the drinker’s experience. Second, are you gilding the lily?

Durty Bull Baltic Porter
Photo by Ryan Moses

The Durty Bull Baltic Porter is aged in bourbon barrels. Baltic porters are malty, high ABV beers indigenous to the countries bordering the Baltic Sea. They are one of the original winter warmers. The Durty Bull version clocks in at 10% abv. Beer gets very little alcohol from the remnants of the bourbon in the barrels. That is a misconception many make about barrel aged beers. The beer starts with a high ABV so that it can age and develop.

This Baltic Porter is a very dark brown bordering on black beer that develops a good foamy tan head when poured. The aroma is a good combination of breadiness, pruniness, and hints of floral hops and sherry. Hints of cinnamon from the bourbon soaked barrels are present.

The alcohol taste is well-hidden when one considers how high the content is. The hops are restrained in a good floral way. The highlight of the taste is the dark fruit, caramel, and sherry taste you get from the aging. Pro tip: when the beer is good, it isn’t oxidized it is aged. That is why brewers use beers high in alcohol in the barreling program. There is also a touch of coffee in end. The beer has a short and dry finish that encourages further exploration.

This is a solid Baltic Porter with good flavor accentuated by barrel aging. A beer this flavorful needs a food that can stand up to what it brings. A few good food possibilities are Bibimbap (with chili paste), roasted root vegetables, or a red snapper prepared in a tureen.

Durty Bull recently signed with a distributor for NC, so you should be able to find it at a bottle shop near you.

Tasting Notes: Bourbon County Barleywine 2017

Barleywines are interesting beer styles. They are high in alcohol and thick and mouth-coating. Yet, they are not dark (at least too dark). Those new to craft beer often suffer the misconception that all dark beers are heavy and full of alcohol. Conversely, they think all lighter color beers are hoppy. Those things are often true, but not enough to be anything resembling a rule. Barleywines are one of the beers that confound that thought process. These beers are sometimes difficult to make well.

Goose Island has had an interesting time since its purchase by Anheuser-Busch InBev. First, the brewery took the brunt of craft beer enthusiasts fury who labeled them as sell-outs since they were the first ABI purchase. Then their flagship beer line, Bourbon County Stout, shipped with bottles infected by bacteria. This is a brewery that has forced into a lot of damage control.

Bourbon County Barleywine 2017
Photo by Ryan Moses

Since its introduction, Bourbon County Barleywine has often been seen as the ugly stepchild of the Bourbon County lineup. Barleywines have often been underappreciated by many in craft beer and all the sturm and drang surrounding Goose Island and their corporate ownership has not helped.

This is a good version of an English barleywine. It hits all the notes of being a barleywine. The color is a dark amber/copper color almost brown. Then the aroma is a dominated by dark fruit and a combination of sherry and leather. There is also a good amount of caramel and a floral hop presence lurks underneath.

When you taste it, the alcohol is noticeable. This is helped along by the aging in bourbon barrels. Additionally, the barrels lend the bourbon qualities of caramel and touch of vanilla. That is where many people turn on this beer. Barleywines and old ales, when done right, have a lot of character on their own and to add bourbon barrel aging to them can push some drinkers past their comfort level. Besides the bourbon notes, you get all the rest of what a good barleywine provides: molasses, sherry, and a hint of leather. That can be a lot going on in any beer.

This is a sipper. It hides its 14.4% ABV well, but it is also a luscious mouth-coating, warming beer. It should be shared with friends and paired with food. Some food pairing suggestions are a traditional pot roast, a hefty pasta with a vodka sauce, or a date and ginger scone with a marmalade drizzle.

Tasting Notes: D9 Kingsbridge Barleywine

Does how we perceive a brewery or its staff alter our perception of their beer? Or, does the name on the bottle affect whether you consider a beer good?

Every craft beer fan has a brewery blind spot. Sometimes a brewery will use a house yeast that doesn’t particularly fit your palate. Sometimes the brewer concentrates on styles your palate does not naturally gravitate to. This is a people business. One night you and the head brewer met at a bar didn’t like each other. That could affect your perception of the beer. It could be as simple as you do not like the packaging for their beers.

Whatever the reason, you are predisposed to dislike their beers.

One of my blinds spots is in my own backyard with D9 Brewing out of Cornelius, NC. I have no animosity towards anyone who works there. In fact, I like everyone I’ve met from the brewery. Yet, I am not a particular fan of their beer. I don’t hate their beer, I look forward to their Systema Naturae sour beers releases every year. Yet, outside of those beers, I normally don’t find their beers appealing. That makes this review of the Kingsbridge Barleywine interesting.


D9 Kingsbridge Barleywine
Photo by Ryan Moses

Kingbridge pours a clear amber color with a thin head with a short retention span.


A bready malt and dark fruit sweetness is the primary aroma. There is also leather, clove, and hints of vanilla present. Alcohol also comes through on the nose, but it is not overwhelming.

In fact, the alcohol is the first flavor you perceive on the taste. It provides a little heat, but nothing too intense. The rest of the taste is a good sweet malt showcase. There is a breadiness followed by a vinous and pruny sweetness. It coats the mouth, but the taste doesn’t cloy or linger. The taste ends with a classic barleywine taste of honey and sherry.

This is a quality offering from a brewery whose style and quality has grown since I first encountered them. I look forward to their beer and my palate growing and evolving side by side as I continue to try all of their offerings.

Tasting Notes: Stone W00T Stout 2017

2017 W00T Stout from Stone has many things going on from the aroma to the finish. A lot of

Stone W00T Stout 2017
Photo by Ryan Moses

thought and planning went into creating this beer. That is apparent from the first whiff as you pour it into the glass.

It is a dark, dark, dark, dark brown bordering on black, like the oil from your car if you don’t change it regularly. There is no haze and it has a thin brown head and good visible carbonation.

There is a lot to the aroma. You first experience a strong whiff of alcohol. Then all the different malt aromas envelop you: chocolate, coffee, and smoke. Next is all the nuttiness from the pecans and spiciness from the rye. The beer closes with aromas of plum and raisin with the vanilla from the barrel aging.

As with the aroma, there is a lot happening with the taste. You would imagine the taste would knock you out with alcohol based on the aroma. The alcohol is definitely present, but not overpowering. Then you move into the chocolate, caramel, and smoke from the malt. Next, the combination of the rye and alcohol mimics the taste of cinnamon on the back of your palate. The pecan nuttiness and vanilla from the barrel aging close out the beer.

The wonderful thing about W00T Stout is that it does not overwhelm. With all these things occurring, it still drinks with a comfortable easiness. This beer that is crafted to be enjoyed. Not as an experiment to break ABV records or see how many weird ingredients can be included and still be palatable.

Food recommendations start with late night pancakes served with real maple syrup. If you want a more traditional meal, go with a pot roast with roasted parsnips and carrots as the root vegetables.

Tasting Notes: Founders Backwoods Bastard 2017

The Founders Backwoods Bastard will become a year-round offering in April.

Founders Backwoods Bastard
Photo by Ryan Moses

This makes me happy. This means more opportunities to enjoy this beer without buying as much as I can when it arrives in November.

My question becomes, how will this change affect both its actual taste and its perceived taste among the craft beer blogosphere.

I trust Founders to make a move like this. Their beer’s high quality remains consistent with every bottle and keg. I expect that this decision is carefully planned and will occur with minimal disruption to the beer. The question begs, will the response to Backwoods Bastard in April, hold the same intensity as a core item as it did in November when it was special. The stories we tell ourselves about a beer carry more weight than the actual facts of the beer.

Yet, I digress. We are here to praise Backwoods Bastard not bury it.

Backwoods pours with a reddish brown/chestnut color and a thin off-white foamy head. It has a slight haze and nice carbonation.

Alcohol and a plum/pruny sweetness are upfront on the aroma. For an aged beer, it carries less leathery/oxidized hints then I expected.

The alcohol, while present and noticeable, does not overwhelm and is not as intense as the aroma indicates. There are two “woody” tastes. The first is a restrained old-world hop woodiness and the second is on the backend and comes from the barrel aging. The rest of the taste is a classic scotch ale with a malt-focused sweetness with enough hop bitterness to balance out the sweetness of the malt and barrel aging.

This is a great beer whose year-round presence I welcome. I hope the general beer drinking population joins me in that sentiment.

Food pairing recommendations: Rotini pasta with a vodka marinara sauce or a nice slice of apple pie topped with cheddar cheese.

Tasting Notes: Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome

Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome
photo by Ryan Moses

Where as the Fortnight Vintage Ale 2016 is a well done modern version of an Old Ale, the Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome is a pure classic as one of the first winter warmer beers available in the US. 

The beer pours a dark gold/brownish amber color.  It is pasteurized and has a nice clarity and moderate carbonation.  It pours a moderately foamy off-white head.

The aroma is reminiscent of a cookie or a dessert bread.  You get bread, caramel, prunes and maybe a hint of apricot. There is a slight herbal hop aroma.

The taste is a good reflection of the aroma.  The alcohol isn’t detectable which makes sense, as it only weighs in at 6%.  That is rather light in comparison to modern interpretations of the winter warmer which are made for sipping.

The hop flavor leans on the herbal nature of the flavor and just enough bitterness to offset the sweetness of the malt.  There is a bready and caramelly comfort to the beer that again reminds one of a nutty snickerdoodle or a gingerbread cookie.

Adding to the cookie idea the Welcome has a nice creamy mouthfeel.  It isn’t thick as much as smooth and slightly mouth-coating.  That in combination with the prickly carbonation and dryness makes this an easy drinking beer.

Two good ideas for a pairing are a granny smith apple pie.  The tartness of the apples should balance with the caramelly breadiness.  Almost like getting two doses of the filling and the crust.  Another idea is a tomato bisque.  The tomatoes should provide just enough tartness to play off the beer’s sweetness.  The only issue maybe the creamy to creamy taste from soup to beer, but this is such a good beer that should not matter.

Yes, Christmas is past, but it is still winter.  Also, as we enter January and people are thinking about drinking less after a very busy Thanksgiving to Christmas food/drink period, the Winter Welcome with its low ABV and bold taste is just the beer you should enjoy.

Tasting Notes: Fortnight Vintage Ale 2016

In the modern craft beer, when you think of a winter beer you think of something like the St. Bernardus Christmas Ale or the Thirsty Dog 12 Dogs of Christmas.  It is a beer that is a lot.  A lot of alcohol, a lot of “winter” spices, a lot of sugar.  However, one of the original winter beer is the simple Old Ale.

The Old Ale is an aged, referred to as “stale” back in the day, beer with a higher ABV.  It is a beer that should warm you as you drink it on a long winter night either by a fire or cuddled next to the one you love.

Fortnight Vintage Ale 2016
Photo by Ryan Moses

The Fortnight Vintage Ale 2016 is a great example of an old ale.  Clocking in at a nice 9.2% ABV, this amber beer provides a good warming feeling as you enjoy it.

It pours a nice hazy dark amber color and shows a good amount of carbonation.  The head is off-white and holds itself well.

The Vintage has a nice aroma.  It is all dark fruit, molasses, and caramel.  There isn’t much hop presence on the aroma however, there is a little leather and oxidation, which is to be expected from an intentionally aged beer.

Once you taste it, you notice the alcohol.  It isn’t overwhelming, but it is present and noticeable.  There is a little bitterness coming from the hops.  Not a real hop flavor, but just the bitterness to add a little balance to the sweetness.  That sweetness is dark fruit, molasses, and caramel.  It isn’t cloying sweetness, but a well-balanced sweetness that makes you think of cookies. You also get a little leather and oxidation, but again in just the right amount to be expected.

There is still a good amount of carbonation in the beer.  It also nicely attenuated staying relatively light on the palate as well as a nice dry finish.  This is a big beer that is easy drinking and smooth.

For food pairings, you should go with something big like roasted beef or lamb.  If you wanted to go with a dessert, I would try something creamy, but sweet like cheesecake with a cherry glaze.

Tasting Notes: Rodenbach Alexander 2017

Flanders reds are considered sours.  When you look them up in the BJCP style book there they set under the European Sour category.  Tasting the Rodenbach Alexander 2017 makes me question the nomenclature used to describe these beers. This was beer tasted off draft and not from a bottle.

When well made, Flanders reds aren’t sour.  They are tart and maybe slightly puckering like a wine, but they aren’t sour.  At least not sour in the way people expect sours to be after the introduction of kettle sours to the American craft beer landscape.

The Alexander pours a nice reddish-brown color.  It has a little haziness to it and a thin off-white head.  The carbonation is not obvious on the pour.

The aroma wraps around you.  I get cherry, oak, and hints of vanilla, apricot, and apple.  There is enough vinegar in the aroma to remind you it is supposed to be a sour, but it doesn’t overwhelm the nose.

This isn’t a beer trying to hide anything, so the taste runs right along with the aroma.  There is the cherry, oak, vanilla, plum, and hints of apricot and apple.  The acid gives it a tartness, not a puckering sour taste along with a welcome dryness that works with the carbonation to make you want to explore the complexity in the next sip.  That is the beauty of a complex beer like this, each taste provides you something different.  This is a beer that benefits from “breathing” outside of the bottle.  It changes ever so slightly as it warms in the glass and in your mouth.

This is one of the beers you drink to remember how wonderful and interesting this thing we call craft beer is.

Suggested food pairings from my trusted tasting partner:  anchovies, spicy ramen, dashi broth, or Korean barbecue.

Tasting Notes: Maine Beer MO Pale Ale

I love the creativity and risk-taking of craft beer brewers.  Without it, this thing we call craft beer would not be as important or as vital.  However, I think sometimes brewers (as with all creative types) get too caught up in recreating the wheel and pushing the creative envelope and they forget to just make a quality product. No bells and whistles, just something good, consistent and tasty.

I like NE-style IPAs and big sugary stouts and hibiscus, rosehip, honey goses.  I love to taste the crazy things brewers try to come up with to set themselves apart.  Yet, there are times when all I want is a good well-balanced beer.  A well made Irish Stout has become my go-to beer.  Something dry and easy drinking.  One of the original session beers.

Another well-balanced sometimes forgotten style that I’ve found myself coming back to again is the pale ale.  One of the best made today is the Maine Beer MO.

This is a beer that immediately looks beautiful in the glass.  It has a nice light golden color and a thin white head.  The head doesn’t last long but it does leave a good lacing on the side of the glass as you drink.

The aroma is equally as beguiling with citrusy hop aroma and a bready malt backbone.

It is the taste, however, that really highlights MO’s balance.  As it should.  You get the characteristic American Pale Ale hop flavor: bright and citrusy.  However, there is little to no hop bitterness.  Just enough to give it a nice dry finish that begs you to take another sip, but not something overwhelming.  You also get a bready malt sweetness with, to my palate, a hint of apple/apricot.  MO is soft and medium on the palate with good carbonation and finishes dry and clean.

A good pairing for this beer would be an “adult” grilled cheese sandwich with a nice sharp cheddar on sourdough or rye bread.  If you are looking for a more meat-focused pairing you could also go with a lean pork dish.  (Don’t worry the meat recommendation comes from a very close friend who eats meat.  Not me.) You can also drink it with a fig based dessert where the crisp hoppiness cuts through the natural sweetness of the fruit.

I am recommending Maine Brewery’s MO even though I know a lot of beer geeks who may read this, already love it.

Tasting Notes: Baltika Russian Imperial Stout

What makes a good beer? Is it one that follows the style guidelines to the letter?  Can a beer be bad if it hits every checkmark in the BJCP or Brewers Association style books?  Is being a good beer something more?  Something ineffable?  Can a slavish devotion to style a detriment?

The Baltika Russian Imperial Stout hits all the markers of what a Russian Imperial Stout should be.

Color:  Dark brown with a slight opacity/chill haze.  Check

Aroma:  Roasted with slight dark fruit and low floral hops. Check

Taste:  Malt bitterness, a taste of alcohol, and dark fruit. Check

Mouthfeel:  Chewy and medium to heavy mouthfeel. Check

Here is the problem.  While it hits all the check marks it is still not a good beer.  There is no subtlety or art to the beer. This is a brusk, harsh beer.  Russian Imperial Stouts should be roasty and forceful, but here it blows past roasty into charred.  Combined with the very noticeable alcohol flavor and warmth, it makes this beer borderline undrinkable.  I know a baker who loves using this beer in her cakes and cookies.  The over the top nature of the malt flavor combined with the distinct alcohol presence makes this a good beer for using in cooking and a bad beer for everyday drinking.

For the ABV, this beer is a ridiculous value.  You will find it for less than $4 almost everywhere and it clocks in at 10% ABV.  This may be the sole reason for its existence.