Tag Archives: beer reviews

Grimm Artisnal Ales Double Negative Imperial Stout

It could be easy to make fun of Grimm as the epitome of hipsterism.  It is a brewery headquartered in Brooklyn started by artists and musicians who strive to use locally sourced ingredients and the official name of the brewery is Grimm Artisan Ales (italics mine).

However, then you taste the beer and you understand they are serious beer makers.  While the brewery is best known for its double IPAs and sours, the Double Negative Imperial Stout is my favorite of their beers and highlights how serious Grimm is about making good beer.

Weighing in at 10 percent, Double Negative isn’t as inky black as you would expect.  It is a deep brown almost black color like that of a good French roast coffee with no cream.  I had a slight haze and good carbonation.  You get a nice tan almost light brown head on the pour that dissipated quickly in my glass (I’m assuming it was beer clean since I cleaned it.)

On the nose, my bottle had a slightly leathery aroma up front that turned into dark fruit and bitter chocolate as it warmed in the glass with little hop aroma.

I immediately got the taste of coffee up front followed by bitter chocolate as the beer worked through my palate.  I got very little hop bitterness.  All the bitterness comes from the dark malt giving the coffee taste but there is just enough dark chocolate sweetness to offset it.

My bottle had a surprisingly medium mouthfeel.  It didn’t cling to my tongue and palate and finished nice and clean.  The chocolate and alcohol linger a bit and there is a nice alcohol warmth in the beer.  The carbonation helps keep it crisp and provides for that clean finish.

This is an overall excellent beer and serves as a good base for its barrel-aged variants.

Beer Review: Blackberry Farm Brewery Tripel

What does a beer make you think of?  Not in the malt, yeast, hops, water sense but in the “I remember when” sense.  What do you think of when you smell freshly cut grass?  For me, playing soccer in the summer. Where do you go when you hear Pearl Jam’s “Black”? Hanging out in Morrison Dorm at UNC my freshman year.

When I was a kid, I was not that into candy.  Other kids would always have Now or Laters or Jolly Ranchers and I would eat one or two, but I didn’t crave them.  I was into cake and cookies.  Especially cookies. If I brought my lunch I would always get my mother to pack Oreos or Lady Fingers or chocolate chip cookies.  I was partial to the Keebler Soft Batch cookies. I also liked sugar wafer cookies.  Not the Nilla Wafers.  Those were saved for banana pudding.  I mean the little 2-3 inch long and ½ wide wafer cookies that looked a little like ice cream cones that had a little frosting between them like a sandwich.  I loved those things and I could devour them.

The Blackberry Farm Brewery Abbey Tripel reminds me of those cheap wafer cookies with a lemon frosting.  This is a beer you should seek out to drink.

First, it pours a nice golden color.  It has the classic Belgian head that forms foamy and white and as you drink gives you good Belgian lace down the side of the glass.  It also pours crystal clear giving you a good view of the characteristic Belgian effervescence.

The first thing I noticed on the aroma was the citrus and pepper.  You also get the malty almost grainy aroma at the front followed by a hint of clove.

Then you taste the beer and it is wonderful.  It is crisp and citrusy with a hint of alcohol and pepper.  The maltiness and high carbonation accents its crisp and dry nature.  It is light and effervescent with a clean dry finish.

Great beers like all great art should transport you.  That is what we all look for when we chase the next whale.  We want the experience of drinking this special beer to take us back to a wonderful memory or to a new place we have never experienced before.  The funny thing it doesn’t have to be a whale that does that.

The memories that surround a beer aren’t just about the beer.  They include who, what, when, and where.  That is why when I sit down to critique a beer I do it in the same place the same way every time.  However, when a beer creates a real memory and a wonderful experience for me it is always wrapped up in where I’m drinking and whom I’m drinking with at the time.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is a great beer, but it tastes infinitely better sitting outside at the Sierra Nevada Taj Mahal in Fletcher, NC watching the sunset on a Spring day than it does in my living room.  That is one of the things that makes critiquing or reviewing beer hard.  You try to objectively describe and interrogate something that is so subjectively enjoyed.

That challenge has been why I enjoy trying to critique and review beer so much.

One Beer Article You Need To Read And Why, 1/10/17

Paste Magazine has a repository of well-written beer reviews by writers who really know their beer.  Here is an example of one.  This review of the Deschutes Red Chair NWPA is clear and solidly written.  There are other examples on Paste’s website and you can find still others at All About Beer magazine.    They are all examples of what modern reviews look like across a spectrum of disciplines.  From movies to books to television to beer, good reviews in the internet age are tightly written explanations of what the reviewer liked or disliked about the object.  If it is on the higher end of the quality scale, they go on to describe why they did or didn’t like it in a quick entertaining way.

There are times I don’t think I’m meant for this age. I have little to no interest in the things most people do in today’s world.  I listened to one of my favorite podcasts yesterday as they talked about the Golden Globes ceremony from the night before.  There was a little talk about the awards themselves, but mostly it was about the gossip and the celebrity of it.  Somewhere around the talk about Tom Hiddleston and whether he really dated Taylor Swift, I realized I could not give less than two damns about that stuff.  This obsession with celebrity and fame is how we ended up with the president-elect we have.  The elevation of celebrity is a symptom of people having a superficial understanding of competence and skill.

Another symptom is how we review art and craft.  While I like reading reviews like the one for Red Chair, they seem superficial.  Now, I understand they must be for the needs of most magazines in the internet age.  A review is an attempt to express to a hurried reader whether they will like a movie or a book or a television show or a beer.  A good writer will explain quickly and clearly why or why not.  A critique is different.  It is an attempt to explain to the reader and the wider world whether this thing was successful at being what it attempts to be and why or why not.

A good beer critique will do exactly what this review of Red Chair does.  It will go over the appearance, the aroma, the flavor, and the mouthfeel/finish and tell you whether those things added up to a pleasurable experience.  Then it must go further with two questions.  First, is this beer a good example of a beer of this style according to the guidelines?  Second, does this beer achieve what the brewer set out to achieve when the recipe was created? Why or why not?

I haven’t written any reviews in a while because I got tired of writing the same thing as everyone else.  I have taken a step back the last couple of months and now I think I am ready to try to do something different with my reviews.  We’ll see if it works.

Quick Review: 2016 Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout

My thoughts on chasing whales are documented.  I’m not a fan of the concept, but after drinking my first Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout, I understand the impulse.

My very own BCBS bottle

My very own BCBS bottle

First, it looks scary in the glass.  It is a dark brown almost black color and looks viscous.  It is like a glass of old used car oil.  As soon as you crack the bottle cap you get the nice aroma of the barrel aging.  I don’t like saying bourbon, there is that, but it is the accumulation of the aging that you smell.

Where this beer wins is the taste.  The first thing I got was chocolate with big alcohol heat.  As I drank more I got more of the vanilla and caramel tastes along with a plum/dark fruit taste.  Then at the back end, there was even more alcohol heat.  However, for as much alcohol as you taste and the ABV of 15% it is ridiculously smooth.  Almost easy to drink.  It actually reminds more of a chocolate based cocktail except a lot thicker.

I’m still not going to camp out or wait in line for this to come out next year, but I will do what I can within reason to snag another bottle to drink.

I did this review as quick as I could so I was still sober enough to get the words out and in some kind of readable order.

One Beer Article You Need To Read And Why, 10/26/16

A couple of days after the GABF awards came out, I saw a thread on Reddit or Beer Advocate where commenters talked about the awards.  Many believed the awards were rigged.  That goes with the territory.  Your favorite whatever doesn’t win a subjective award, the awards were rigged.  What was more telling or annoying or both to me was the number of commenters who said that they would rather look at the ratings on Untappd, RateBeer, Beer Advocate, or other such sites then the results of a judged contest.  I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding of a) what judging a contest with guidelines is and b) what reviews are supposed to do.

First, judges notes and beer criticism are not the same as comments made on Untappd or RateBeer or other sites.  On those sites, you do have commenters who are thoughtful and interesting in what they write, especially on Beer Advocate.  However, those sites are mostly to say, “I like this beer” or “I dislike this beer.”

Judging a beer contest that adheres to BJCP or GABF guidelines doesn’t necessarily tell you the beers that everyone will like the most.  They tell you the beers that are the most technically proficient and well made.

A review also should not necessarily concern itself with whether the reviewer likes the beer.  It should be an inquiry into how all the parts of the beer work together to give an overall impression.  If at the end the reviewer does or does not like it, you must explain why or why not and explore the highlights and/or deficiencies.  Whether the reviewer personally likes it or not, it is that last part that is important because it is what will tell the reader whether they will like it or not.

It also tells the brewer what they have done right or wrong.  Judging and properly done critical reviews are more for brewers than they are for regular consumers.  I think critics should be in conversation with the brewer with the drinkers eavesdropping.

This article is the perfect example as to how this is supposed to work.  The writer wrote a critical, but fair review.  The brewer read the review.  Here is the critical point, the brewer had enough self-awareness to look at the review and say, “what do we need to do better?” The brewer fixed the problems and the brewery has taken off.

Like many creatives, brewers cannot always separate themselves from their creations enough to see them clearly or let others criticize them fairly.  The successful ones, like successful artists, have the ability to step back and accept criticism.  The very best can self-critique in a way that is harsher than anyone else can. They see the I love this beer or I hate this beer comments as nice, but not helpful.  I have sold lots of beer that customers say they love but isn’t good.  The wisdom of crowds will tell you what’s popular, not necessarily what is quality work.

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.

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.