Tag Archives: beer review

Taste Test: 2015 Up All Night and 2015 Up All Night Bourbon Barrel Aged

One of the trends that has taken hold in craft beer over the last few years is barrel ageing beers. They have become so ubiquitous that the Beer Judge Certification Program, the primary style definer of American craft beer, has two new categories for the 2015 edition of the style guide.

I find barrel aged beer interesting because they are usually a version of another beer the brewer already makes.  How the ageing changes the beer via the time spent in the barrels and the properties the barrels themselves provides the beer are both fascinating.  Depending on the type of barrel used, i.e. bourbon, gin, rum, scotch, tequila, or wine, what the barrels provide the beer is different each time. Bourbon barrels provides additional sweetness and caramel and wine barrels provide tart or buttery notes depending on the wine.

Despite the common misconception, the ageing does not provide more alcohol to the beer.  There are two reasons why this misconception persists.  The first, many times the beer aged in the barrels is a high ABV beer in order to stand up to the ageing.  The second is the beer usually takes on some of the taste characteristics of the liquid that was originally in the barrels.  The taste of bourbon often makes people think of alcohol.  I make a bourbon pound cake that people swear gets them a little drunk even though the alcohol cooks off as the cake bakes.

20160113_101339Weighing in at 10% the Triple C Up All Night and Up All Night Bourbon Barrel Aged start off big and flavorful.  Let’s begin with the Up All Night.

Up All Night is a breakfast porter, which means it is brewed with coffee.  Using a strong taste like that as your base for a bourbon barrel aged beer is important.  The bourbon tastes can overwhelm the beer taking away its unique qualities.  A

After pouring a nice dark brown with a good fluffy head, you get the clear aroma of coffee when you take a sniff.  There are also hints of vanilla and honey once it warms a bit.

When you taste it, its big coffee flavor matches the aroma with notes of honey on the back end.  As a fan of both coffee flavors and honey, I enjoy this beer immensely.  For a beer with as big an ABV and use of honey, it is still a porter which makes it comparatively light on the tongue and dangerously easy to drink.  High ABV beers often have what is termed a boozy taste, meaning the taste of the alcohol is present and honey often gives a beer a cloying heavy taste.  Neither is present in these beers.

The bourbon barrel aged version differs slightly.  As it should.  It is a little inkier and thicker in appearance.  That may be the psychological effect of knowing it is a bourbon barrel aged beer.  The aroma also changes in that the coffee is shunted to the background by bourbon and hints of caramel.  It isn’t as light on the tongue and has a more velvety feel on the tongue.  Interestingly, to my palate, the roasted nature of the coffee is more pronounced and give it a little more bite. Again, that is why coffee is a good match for barrel ageing, it is a strong flavor that stands up to the bourbon, in this case.

The bourbon barrel Up All Night does what a barrel aged beer should do:  It adds different flavors and highlights ones already present in the original version.  Both Up All Night and Up All Night Bourbon Barrel Aged are well worth your time if you can still find them.

Here is another cool thing, this time, next year, I will do a vertical tasting of 2015 and 2016 bourbon barrel aged versions.  I’m already looking forward to it.

Beer Review: Wicked Weed Tyranny with Wicked Weed Brett Tyranny

Endless possibilities.  That is why I love life and love beer.  Beer is basically just four ingredients and changing anyone of them can change the taste of the beer.

One of the things that have happened in the last 12 months or so in beer is making a second version of your beer using Brettanomyces and aging the beer to bring out different flavors and characteristics.  Although, it is popularly thought of as only being used in sour beers, brett does not provide sourness necessarily.  Brett does often produce a taste similar to that of balsamic vinegar.  However, as more brewers use it, they are learning to control it better and use all the flavor profiles that it can provide.

One of the breweries really using brett in all of its flavors and attributes is Wicked Weed in Asheville.  Wicked Weed while famous for its sours is a good brewery that makes many different types of beer.  One of which is a good red India pale ale called Tyranny.  It has a nice balanced taste.  Wicked Weed then put out a version with fermented with brett yeast.  First, I’ll look at Tyranny.

20151109_171241Tyranny is a red India pale ale.  It pours a nice light garnet/ruby color in the glass leaving a thin but persistent off-white head.  The first thing you nose catches is the dank, piney, resinous aroma of the hops.  Then you notice the caramel and bready aroma of the malt.  There is also a slight fruity aroma from the hops that works with the sweet caramel to make the aroma more appetizing.

The best way to describe the taste of Tyranny is the oft overused beer review word: balanced.  The piney, resinous hop taste doesn’t overwhelm and interacts really well with the nice caramel, bready taste from the malt.  Tyranny is a good clean tasting, easy drinking IPA.

Now, the Brett Tyranny is similar in many ways to the regular Tyranny.  It has a similar color but is slightly lighter because of the use of cherries during fermentation.  The medium mouthfeel is also very close to the regular Tyranny.

Where they differ is in the aroma and the taste.  The aroma has the horse blanket, barnyard smell that Brett has become famous for in its use in beer.  The Brett also changes the taste in an interesting way.  This combination of Brett with caramel malts and dank, piney hops creates a taste of earthiness. It almost comes out as an old-world noble hop taste.

I can’t say I prefer the Brett version of Tyranny over the regular Tyranny, but I can say that if I had tasted the Brett version first I would still list as a really good easy drinking IPA.

Taste Test, Double Barley Double Dubbel

One of the best ways to study is beer, is to go by country. Breaking up beer into categories to makes it easier to study. One of the ways I like to see beer broken up is by country. Studying one of the three traditional European brewing traditions, British, German, and Belgian breaks beer down to digestible bites.

I have rotated my explorations between these three traditions over the years.  Yet, the most interesting and most vexing is the Belgian style. The reason for that is the Belgian styles are usually not governed by guidelines.  They are general attributes of a beer family.  Then there is the Dubbel.

The Dubbel is one of the few beer styles that has a definitive origin story. It was created in the mid-19th century at the Trappist Westmalle Brewery as a brown ale. Then tweaked just after World War I to become the somewhat sweet, dark, high ABV beer we know today.

As I said, the Dubbel is one of the few Belgian styles that have an actual style definition.  Dubbels are dark copper with a malty sweet, slightly dry, strong beer with dark fruit esters. Most descriptions of Belgian styles are like this one for witbier in the 2015 BJCP guidelines: “Overall Impression: A refreshing, elegant, tasty, moderate strength wheat-based ale.”  That tells you nothing.

20150916_110940American brewers are famous for fluctuating between devotion to the traditional style and pushing the edges to find something new.  The Double Barley Double Dubbel is a beer that seeks to celebrate the original Belgian Dubbel.

The Double pours a dark coppery color with a thin quickly dissipating head.  It has the aroma of sweet white bread with little hop presence.  You get a lot of dark cherry and dark fruit esters that kind dominate the malt aroma.

For a beer that checks in at 8.8% ABV, the alcohol taste is rather mild.  There is a slight herbal, earthy hop taste.  There is a nice sweetness from the malty white bread sweetness.  It also gets the sweetness from the candi sugar providing a dark cherry, pruny taste.  It has a slight carbonation and has a dry medium length finish.

This is a well-made representation of the Belgian Dubbel style. I prefer my Dubbels to have a little more sweetness at the front to balance out the dry finish. If you’ve never had a Dubbel before this is a good beer to make your first because it is such a good version of the style.

Porter/Stout Tasting Series: Heretic Brewing Porters

I have finished the week-long experiment of reviewing one beer a day for a week.  What didn’t happen was me falling out of love with beer.  However, I did a day to not even look at a beer and I’ll probably spend time drinking a lot of IPAs and Saisons.

What did happen was I crystallized something that I’ve been ruminating since I got really serious about beer.  I went through the same thing most do when they start getting into craft beer. Most people enter into craft beer by being fascinated by a particular beer and/or beer style.  Then you get into everything imperial.  All the big taste and ABV beers out there, you find and drink.

I’ve been through that phase for a few years now.  I’ve been in the play the field mode, drinking whatever good beer I could find.  As I started working in craft beer something happened.  I started moving away from the bourbon barrel aged stouts made with orange peels, cocoa nibs, chocolate, chili peppers, and whatever else brewers put in their beers to set their beers apart.

My favorite beers now are the simple beers that show skill as well as creativity.  All brewers are creative and the idea of using chili peppers with orange peels takes creativity to pull off successfully.  However, the marketplace has made the creative more important than the skillful.  My favorite beers from the last week (Coronado Blue Bridge Coffee Stout and Heretic Brewing Hazelnut Chocolate Porter, were the simple ones and not the complicated one-off/special releases filled with stuff.

I’m going to keep honing this idea here and in other places (Gravity Magazine coming soon), so I’ll move on to the last of the reviews.

This whole thing started when I was in a big box wine/beer retailer and saw these two bottles of Heretic Brewing porters right beside each other and thought, “Hey, why don’t I do a side by side tasting comparison with these two.”  Then I got home and noticed I had a lot of porters and stouts in my fridge and why don’t I do a tasting on all of them.

20150817_171912The Shallow Grave Porter pours a dark brown and has a thin/interrupted head that dissipates rather quickly.  The aroma is a good roasted chocolate and coffee smell with little hop presence.  I expected a little more nuance with maybe a caramel or a touch or smoke with the roasted aroma.

The taste is of coffee with touches of roasted chocolate.  That’s it.  It is a nice simple beer.  There is no adornment with Belgian candy or any other adjuncts.  It is really just water, malt, hops, and yeast.  It also has a smooth taste that makes it easy to drink and its ABV is just above the mythical sessionable limit meaning you can have a couple or three without worrying about getting too drunk.

20150817_211942The Hazelnut Chocolate Porter pours a dark brown and has a nice foamy head with a good long retention.  The aroma is a roasty chocolate with hazelnuts, basically it smells a lot like Nutella.  The bitterness comes from the roasted malt and the chocolate taste.

When you taste this beer, it is one of the best-constructed beers you will ever drink.  The roasted malt adds a touch of bitterness along with the bitterness and sweetness of chocolate along with the nice nuttiness of the hazelnut.  It is a beer with the taste of hazelnut and chocolate instead of a beer with brewed with a bunch of Nutella dumped in the brew kettle.  It has a nice smooth and easy finish.  Like its Shallow Grave brother, it is an easy drinking, sessionable porter.


Porter/Stout Tasting Series: Southern Tier Choklat Oranj

Beer is wonderful.  I know.  Of course, I think beer is wonderful.  I have a blog dedicated to it.  I have a job dedicated to it.  It is what is paying my rent.

However, beer is wonderful because you can taste 7 beers from the same style and they can all be similar, yet still distinct.  If you follow this blog I have tasted in the past week:  Boulevard Brewing Imperial Stout-X Aztec Chocolate, Red Brick Thick Silky, Left Hand Wake Up Dead Nitro, Stone Chai-Spiced Russian Imperial Stout, Coronado Blue Bridge Coffee Stout, and Stone w00tStout 2015.

These are all porters or stouts.  All similar yet distinct beers.  That’s why I love beer.

20150816_222347The Southern Tier Choklat Oranj Stout is yet another distinct type of stout.  It is a sweet dessert beer.  It is one of a group of dessert beers Southern Tier makes called The Blackwater Series.  Basically, dessert beer is one that is made to taste like candy, cake, or Crème Brulee.

Choklat Oranj looks like a stout.  It is a dark brown color bordering on black with touches of garnet when the light hits it just right.  The head was thin with little retention making the beer look almost like black coffee.

The aroma jumps right at you.  It is all chocolate and orange.  This is a beer that does not hide from its name.  Besides the chocolate and orange, you get a little caramel and malty roasted taste on the backend.  There is a hint of bitterness to it that I attribute to the roasted malt and the use of bittersweet Belgian candy.  It is lighter on the tongue and in the mouth then you would expect making it much easier to drink then is safe at 10% ABV.  However, it is so sweet that after the first one goes down so easy, the second one will be a problem.  The sweetness just becomes too much.  This is a beer made for sharing.

After a good meal with good beer, sit down with a quality vanilla ice cream and pour this over it.  You and your guests will enjoy it.

Your play list:

Porter/Stout Tasting Series: Stone Farking Wheaton w00tstout

What makes a good beer?  Is it the simple joy and skill needed to take a basic simple recipe into a quality beer? Or is it the creativity and skill it takes to craft a recipe that produces a beer of almost infinite complexity?

In the context of this week, do you want a good dry stout or do you want an imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels brewed with cocoa nibs and what not?  I want both.  It just depends on the context.  Every beer has a time and a place where it fits.

If I’m going to have a few beers with friends at a bar, a sessionable beer like a dry stout is welcome.  I can have a few of them, not get trashed, but still have a great beery time.  On the other hand, sitting around at home with either a good friend or a good book (two not too dissimilar things) a big complex imperial in a snifter is a great time.

20150815_222229One such complex stout is the Stone Farking Wheaton w00tstout.  This is the third year of w00tstout and this year’s version is not only bourbon-barrel aged but it is also blended with some of last year’s edition.

This beer pours a brown that is virtually black.  It forms a nice mousse like creamy tan head with great retention.  The aroma is where the fun begins.  I experienced a lot of cocoa and coffee.  There were also touches of dark fruit, vanilla, and hints of bourbon.

On the taste, you get a subtle but noticeable touch of alcohol on the back of the tongue.  The initial taste is a lot of cocoa and coffee plus vanilla and touches of bourbon.  This is a beer that coats your mouth with a nice creaminess and warms you all the way down.

You will want to take your time drinking w00tstout.  This is the kind of beer made to sip while you’re sitting around with a friend or two when you have no place you would rather be.

I guess because of Wil Wheaton’s involvement, here is some They Might Be Giants for your listening pleasure.

Porter/Stout Tasting Series: Coronado Brewing Blue Bridge Coffee Stout

Here are the other reviews in the porter/stout series.

There is something to be said for being exactly what you say you are.  Some of the best coaches in all sports were great because they were great teachers and they taught what they did better than anyone else.

They didn’t feel the need to recreate the wheel with each coming season.  They knew what they were going to coach and you knew what they were going to coach, and you still couldn’t beat them.

Now these coaches did adapt certain things, but at their core you knew what they were going to do.  Their players were so well drilled that even knowing what was coming wouldn’t let you stop them.  Dean Smith shifted with the times and adapted to players, but you always knew the secondary break with backdoor cuts was coming.  Yet, you still couldn’t stop it.

Sometimes you know what a beer is going to be because it tells you in the name.  There is no mistaking it.  Some breweries like to come up with interesting names to mostly entertain themselves.  However, some of my favorite breweries just name a beer what it is: IPA, brown ale, hefeweizen.

20150814_210354The Coronado Brewing Blue Ridge Coffee Stout is exactly what it says it is:  a coffee stout.  There is no filigree or adornment.  You pour it in the glass and it has a clear dark brown color with hints of garnet.  The tan head is rather thin and has a medium retention.  It smells of coffee with a little roasted malt also coming through.  Often with a coffee stout or porter you will also get a little chocolate, caramel, or coffee.  Not here. It is all coffee.

This is a light beer when you drink it.  It almost has the texture of a porter actually coming off a little watery.  Again, there is no pretending as to what this is with taste.  You get coffee with a little roastiness from the malt.  Any bitterness you get from this beer will primarily come from the coffee and roasted malt and not hops.  It finishes dry actually encouraging you take another sip.

When I first started this beer I was unimpressed.  After three days of stouts and porters with fifteen different things going on, a simple coffee stout seemed a little weak and pedestrian.  I was wrong.  This is a good sessionable stout.  It is light on the tongue and dry with a low ABV (5.4%).

Since I can’t really think of a playlist to create here is a lot of Justin Vernon.

Porter/Stout Tasting Series: Stone Brewing Chai-Spiced Russian Imperial Stout

This is review 4 in the Porter/Stout Tasting Series.  Here are the first three reviews.

I started this little project by accident.  First, I bought a porter and specialty porter from the same brewery and decided to do a side by side comparison. Then, I looked at all the beers I had in my fridge and in my beer cooler and noticed I had a bunch of porters and stouts.  So, why don’t I taste one a day for a week and see what happens.

What has happened isn’t that I have stopped liking stouts and porters, but that I have started to hone my palate and have a much better idea of what I like and dislike.

For instance, I like Russian Imperial Stouts, but I prefer to drink more subtle beers.  Also, with stouts being as big and bold as they are when they are just normal stouts, the addition of bourbon barrel aging and additional flavoring can sometimes be overkill.

20150812_211646Take tonight’s taste subject the Stone Brewing Chai-Spiced Russian Imperial Stout.  This is part of their “Odd Beers for Odd Years” series.  This is a beer I honestly like, but I would be hard-pressed to say I would just sit down and have one of these.  I definitely would have it at the end of a dinner with dessert or with a bottle and sitting around with a couple of other friends so that we all get a glass, but I don’t think I would just sit down and have another at a bar.

However, that is not to say it is a bad beer. Quite the opposite it is a good bordering on a great beer and I would recommend it to most people.

It pours an almost black dark brown and has a nice foamy off-white head.  A not so secret thing about me, I love tea.  I drink loose leaf tea almost every morning and as the days turn colder, I will be drinking chai-tea, so I know the smell and taste of chai spice and this beer has a lot of it.  The aroma is full of a slight chocolate aroma with cinnamon, ginger, and cloves.

The initial taste is very similar to the aroma.  You get a lot of chai-spice up front:  cinnamon, ginger, cloves and chocolate.  As you finish it you get more of the cinnamon and cloves.  Not much hop presence on the taste, but it has a high-enough IBU to help me earn a level up on my Hopped Up badge on Untappd.  This goes to my growing theory that IBUs only matter when comparing IPAs and pale ales to each other.  The actual bitterness and the effective taste bitterness are not always equal.

It also a pretty light beer on the tongue.  For all the spices and ABV (10.6%), this is a pretty easy drinking beer.  If you aren’t used to chai-spice it might be a chore to get through, but if you are, it is almost like sitting in a coffee shop sipping on a chai latte.

I take it back, there is something wonderfully complex to this beer that is very interesting. I could and will try to get this beer again and hold it until I am in the coldest night of the winter.  Then I’ll crack it open and sip on it until the sun comes up the next morning.

Porter/Stout Tasting Series: Left Hand Wake Up Dead Russian Imperial Stout Nitro

Here are the other two reviews in the series so far.

Goin to leave this Broke-down Palace
On my hands and my knees I will roll roll roll
— Grateful Dead, Broke Down Palace

I have no idea what made me think of that song while drinking this beer, but it works.  This should also give you a bright shiny clue as to what the Spotify Playlist will be to accompany this beer and review.

Nitro beers are growing in popularity as well as diversity.  Until recently the only beers you could find on nitro taps in a bar were Guinness or some other stout.  Today, you can find anything from stouts to IPAs to fruit beers with varying results.  For instance the Founder’s Rubaeus works really well as a nitro because the nitro takes some of the sweetness out of the bottle or regular draft version.  On the other hand, most IPAs I’ve tasted as nitro beers don’t have enough of a malt presence to stand up the additional nitrogen for my tastes.

One of the brewers who have been on the forefront of making nitro beers a regular part of their lineup is Left Hand Brewing.  Their Milk Stout Nitro is one of my favorite beers to drink anytime, anywhere.  They now have added a Russian Imperial Stout to their nitro lineup.

20150811_220456The Wake Up Dead Russian Imperial Stout Nitro pours in the classic nitro fashion.  Vigorously pouring it from the bottle produces the cascading waterfall everyone likes to watch as their beer settles.  It produces a healthy off-white head that hangs around for the duration of the beer.  It has the aroma of cocoa or semi-sweet dark chocolate with hints of cinnamon and dark fruits.

When you taste it, initially you get the dark chocolate with a distinct but not overwhelming alcohol presence.  As you drink it the dark chocolate begins to remind you more of cocoa and then you start tasting the dark fruit near the end.  It finishes with a pleasant roasty bitterness.  Being a nitro it has a smoothness that helps belie its high ABV.  Again, the nitro keeps it from becoming too clingy and cloying on the palate.

This is a beer that I liked better with each sip.  It is a well put together beer that you should seek out on nitro tap or in your local bottle shop.

I present the Grateful Dead.

Porter/Stout Tasting Series: Red Brick Brewing Thick Silky Double Chocolate Oatmeal Porter

“He think he’s bad and ain’t got no class! I’m gon’ rock this shotgun up his muthafuckin’ ass!” – Dolemite in The Human Tornado

This is the second in a week long series of reviews of porters and stouts.  Here is the review from yesterday.  

There is a thin line between offensive mockery and creative imitation.  Brewers and their beer names and labels have come under fire recently for names and labels that are borderline offensive.

I went through a wonderful period just out of college where I watched a lot of Blaxploitation movies.  The allure in part was due to the ironic detachment I fancied myself having, but I really started to like the movies and what many of them were trying to say.  The movies went from the sublime to the ridiculous and where a movie sat on that spectrum depended upon the day I watched it.  Needless to say the movies either celebrated blackness in the 1970s or were half-assed attempts to exploit blackness in the 1970s to make a quick dollar.

My two personal favorites from the era, depending on how you define Blaxploitation are The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings and Uptown Saturday Night.  Bingo Long has some of my favorite Richard Pryor movie work and Uptown is in my favorite crime movie sub-genre, the conman/heist movie.

20150810_151253Red Brick Brewing out of Atlanta has a beer that is on the sublime end of the beer spectrum.  Thick Silky also has a bottle label wonderfully reminiscent of the movie poster of Dolemite and many other Blaxploitation movies.  It also happens to be a really good beer.

Thick Silky pours in a nice dark chestnut brown color and has a good, but interrupted off-white/tan head.  It has the nice aroma of chocolate with a touch of vanilla.

It has pronounced chocolate taste.  It isn’t an overly sweet taste leaning more on the semi-sweet end of chocolate with a bit of vanilla to set a great taste.  The smoothness of the oatmeal holds until the back end of the beer making it a very easy drinking beer.

This is a beer that lives up to its name.  It is a thick silky oatmeal porter perfect as a dessert beer or a good a beer you can relax and take your time sharing it with a friend.

Again, there will be a curated playlist for the whole series coming Friday, in the meantime, listen to this.