Tag Archives: craft beer reviews

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.

Porter/Stout Tasting Series: Boulevard Brewing Imperial Stout X – Aztec Chocolate

This is the first of daily porter and stout reviews this week.  I know, that is a lot of beer to drink, but I am willing to sacrifice for my art.

I think Mexican food has done one very important thing for American cuisine:  Made it OK to turn up the heat on any food you desire. We put chilies and sriracha on anything and everything right now.  So why not beer.

I have had beer with jalapenos, ghost chilies, and sriracha.  I can say some of them have been good, some of them have been bad, and some of them have been virtually undrinkable for me. The key to using chilies, sriracha, or any adjuncts, including fruit is to use them sparingly to keep the base flavor of the beer.  What you want is the flavor of the beer to complement the flavor of the adjunct you are adding.  Two good examples of this for the sake of this review are Birdsong Jalapeno Pale Ale and Ska Brewing’s Mole Stout.  For these beers it is more about the taste of jalapenos and the mole then the heat that is added.

20150810_133511You can say the same thing about the Boulevard Imperial Stout X – Aztec Chocolate.  This is one of those dark beers people tell me they won’t like because they are dark.  Anyway, it is a very deep dark brown.  It poured clear and had a nice foamy brown head.  The first thing you notice besides the color when you pour it is a chocolaty aroma.  On further inspection you not only get chocolate but a bit of cinnamon and an undercurrent of prune or dark fruit.

Looking at the ingredients I expected to get a lot of heat when I tasted it.  I did get heat, but it was mostly from the alcohol present.  What I did taste initially was chocolate with a bit of plum sweetness and hints of cinnamon.  As I’m drinking, I’m thinking, “Where is the heat?”  You get the heat as it slowly builds on the back of your tongue.  It is subtle at first, but it is very noticeable by the time you finish the bottle.  This stout is pretty thick and sticky on the palate, but it is well balanced and drinkable.  It is however a sipping with friends beer.

One sentence review:  This is a good sipping beer with a subtle but noticeable heat kicker at the end.

There is going to be one big Spotify list on Friday for this whole endeavor.  In the meantime, listen to Jason Isbell’s new album Something More Then Free.

Growler Taste Test: Railhouse Brewery KA-BAR Brown Ale

I like knives.  Other people like guns, but I like edged weapons better.  I’m never going to accidentally shoot myself in the foot with my knife.  Though I have sliced open a finger or two through carelessness with a really sharp blade.

While I am partial to folding blades the one fixed blade that I want is the old school USMC KA-BAR.  The KA-BAR is like blue jeans, specifically Levis.  Why?  They are not the flashiest or the newest product out there, but they have survived and become iconic because their simple design is timeless.  Say what you want but you put on a white dress shirt with a pair of good jeans and nice shoes and you can just about go anywhere.  Or I should say anywhere I really want to go.

The same is true of the KA-BAR.  Its simple design has not changed significantly since World War II because the design was so good and so simple as to be timeless.  Like Levis every other design by every other manufacture is based on that original.

The owners of Railhouse Brewery in Aberdeen, NC are all US military veterans so it seems fitting that they would name a beer after the KA-BAR and it is even more fitting that is of a classic English style.

20150722_183441The KA-BAR Brown Ale is an American interpretation of the southern English-style brown ale.  The Southern or London style brown is a darker, maltier, and stronger version then the Northern style whose primary exemplar was Newcastle until the classic recipe was changed.  The London style is still less hoppy and not quite as strong as its American counterparts.

The KA-BAR pours a deep dark brown color and develops a thick foamy off-white head.  The head has good lasting power and develops a malty chocolate/coffee aroma.  There is little hop aroma to be had.

There is also little hop taste evident.  The bitterness in the taste mostly comes from the bitterness of the chocolate and coffee malts.  The chocolate taste in particular has more in common with bakers chocolate then with any chocolate bar you will buy in the grocery store.  It has a quick soft feel on the palate.

The KA-BAR is a great interpretation of a London-style brown ale.  Incidentally, if you are lucky and find KA-BAR on tap, you might get to see the tap handle produced by KA-BAR Knives like this one here.  Apparently, this is one of those tap handles that manages to disappear when the wholesaler reps come to collect them.  I wonder why?

A classic knife and classic beer deserves a playlist of equally timeless and classic music.  I present The Man In Black, Johnny Cash.

Five Beer Articles You Need To Read And Why, 7/26/15

Today’s five articles are a lot about the explosion of craft beer outside places named Asheville, Portland, and Denver.

  • Will Gordon does a side by side comparison of the two main craft lagers sold in the US: Brooklyn Lager and Sam Adams Boston Lager.  They are both fine beers that will do in a pinch when you are at one of those chain restaurants or sports bars whose craft selection includes Shocktop and Blue Moon.  Gordon’s verdict:  They are essential the same quality, but Brooklyn Lager gets the slight edge in taste.
  • Quick name the place in North Carolina with great craft beer. OK, now name another one besides Asheville.  Let me save you the time:  Charlotte.   Fortune Magazine takes a look at Charlotte and its craft brewing scene.  I will say this Charlotte-centric pride can make Charlotte a bit of a closed shop when it comes to other beers from North Carolina.  I run into too many customers who can name their 4 favorite Charlotte beers and 3 favorite Asheville beers, but have not heard of Mystery Brewing or Fullsteam Brewing.
  • Richmond, VA is having its own brewing renaissance. Breweries are gaining national recognition and growing in size and distribution.
  • Here is the other side of some of that growth Richmond. This is an interesting question:  how much should states pay individual companies to stay in the state?  We in North Carolina are having this discussion now in the state legislature with many of the incentives ending.  What North Carolina found in many cases was that the amount of money given away in incentives was greater than the ancillary tax revenues created (jobs, other additional industries spurred, etc.).  Of course, many of the people who say that are the same ones who will tell you building a sports stadium will spur the economy when every economist will tell you that is at best a case by case argument.
  • We’ve come a long way. Now a public library in the South is holding home brewing classes.  The changing attitudes towards alcohol in the Bible Belt South is the part of the reason the region has some of the fastest growing craft beer areas in the country.  It is also why some of the biggest fights over changing alcohol laws related to craft beer are some of the fiercest as older elements fight to hold on to a quickly changing code.

Growler Taste Test: D9 Brewing Froggy Night IPA

20141107_093756When I was in college and my craft beer education was beginning, I purchased a book called America’s Best Beers:  A Complete Guide To The More Than 350 Microbreweries and Brewpubs Across America.  I happened upon this book last night looking for something else and started flipping through it.  The section on North Carolina contains, 6 breweries (none of which are Weeping Radish, NCs oldest craft brewery started in 1984).  Of those only one still exists and that is Spring Garden Brewing Company which now goes by Red Oak.  By the way, I actually went to Spring Garden when it was a brewpub on Spring Garden Street in Greensboro.

Anyway, a lot has changed in craft brewing, particularly in North Carolina, since this book was published in 1994.  Depending upon your definition of the Charlotte area, Charlotte has 21 breweries alone.  One of those is D9 Brewing which began in 2009.  D9 has a full line up of beers and now has its brewery tap room in Cornelius about a 25 minute drive north on I77 from uptown Charlotte.

20150608_162832The D9 Froggy Night IPA pours with a good pale golden color and off-white fluffy head.  The aroma comes across as fruity particularly grapefruit and pineapple and a bit piney.  There is also a mellow malty sweetness to the aroma.

The taste starts with a medium body and mild alcohol flavor. Again the hops come across as citrusy and piney.  You also get a nice malt sweetness mixed with a pineapple flavor.  This is a very balanced IPA with the hops at the forefront but not overly dominate.

Froggy Night is an easy drinking American IPA. It isn’t quite at the low ABV officially to be a session IPA, but it is very drinkable and at 6.5% you can have a couple or three pints and not get into too much trouble.

Did you think this play list was going to start with any other song?  We are going deep 70s soft rock.  We have your organs, fuzzy bass lines, and the most un-bluesy guitar solos in the history of music.  Behold and enjoy. This is simultaneously the best and worst playlist I’ve ever created.   I’m going to go and watch WKRP In Cincinnati now.

Growler Taste Test: Sunken City Crooked Road Cream Ale

In some circles the concept of the lawn mower beer is one to be sneered at and derided.  In their mind the term connotes the mass produced American light lagers.  If that is all you think of when you think of lawn mower beers, you are sadly missing out on many good craft beers.

The cream ale is one such style that could be called a lawn mower beer. It was created by ale brewers to compete directly against the American light lager in pre-Prohibition and is an ale brewed and fermented the same way the American light lagers are including using corn as adjunct.  The style took a bit of a backseat after Prohibition ended with only a few brewers continuing to make it, but like many styles the craft beer boom has seen its return.

20150706_181701The Sunken City Crooked Road Cream Ale is a good example of the style.  It pours with a nice pale straw color with a foamy off-white head that hangs around for a while.  The aroma is very malty with little hop presence and a corn sweet back end.

The taste is close to the aroma with a very malt forward attitude and a corn sweetness in the back end.  It also sits light on the tongue and has just enough bitterness to make you want to take another sip.  It is a very drinkable light summer beer.

We Southern craft beer drinkers are always looking for a good lighter beer to drink on those many hot summer days.  Crooked Road is a beer made to drink after you finish cutting the grass or sitting out on a boat pretending to fish as you drink beer when the sun and humidly are high.  In other words, it is a great summer lawn mower beer that has a great and somewhat complex taste.  Just watch out, it has a pretty good ABV.  If you drink too many and fall asleep on said boat you may wake up with a bad sunburn.

A summer time beer deserves a summer time playlist:

Growler Taste Test: River Rat Brewery Hazelnut Brown Ale

The 21st Amendment of the US Constitution allows manufacture and sale of alcohol, but it leaves the regulation of the manufacture and sale to the states.  Most states in turn leave the details of enforcement up to counties.  It is possible that within one county with multiple municipalities you can have an equal number of differences in law for the sale of alcohol (when, where, and how much).  It gets confusing.

If you follow this blog to any extent you know I have spent a lot of time reading and writing about alcohol laws in the US.  It started off as studying all the beer laws and expanded to all alcohol laws.  US alcohol laws are often stuck in Prohibition era thinking.

It has taken many states a long time to change those laws in a way that helps craft brewers.  That is in part because of a continued conservative mindset towards all alcohol and in part because big beer and large wholesalers give lots of money to people running for spots in state legislatures.

South Carolina is one of the states along with North Carolina whose craft beer industry exploded with changes in the law.  North Carolina passed its Pop The Cap Law in 2005 and has seen craft brewing explode in the intervening time.  South Carolina was later to the party and did not pass laws to help craft brewers until 2013 and again in 2014.  In 2012 (according to the Brewers Association) there were 16 breweries in South Carolina.  There are now 31.

20150630_221039One of those new breweries is River Rat in Columbia.  The River Rat Hazelnut Brown Ale pours a dark reddish brown color almost like that of an old penny.  It leaves an off-white fluffy head that dissipates pretty quickly.  This is more English-style brown, making it more malt forward than most America-style browns giving the beer an aroma of chocolate, hazelnut, and bit of toast with floral and herbal hops in the background.

The beer is very easy to drink and malt forward with a nutty, hazelnut taste and low hop bitterness.  This is a beer that is meant for multiple pints or bottles over the course of the night.  It has a light feel on the tongue and low ABV making it easy to drink and very sessionable.

With this tasting, I tasted the growler and then I tasted the same beer from a bottle.  The one caveat is the growler was two days old.  There was not a significant difference in taste except that the bottle was a little brighter and more assertive.  I think that has more to do with the growler being a couple of days old.  Next time I try this, it will be with a growler less than a day old to get a better gauge.

This beer being from Columbia made my mind go immediately to Hootie and The Blowfish and all the rest of the bands that toured the Southern college music circuit back in the mid-1990s.  Here is a playlist of music from that glorious time.

This Time I Have Something That Resembles A Plan

Part of it was self-imposed and part of it was a distinct lack of sleep (I do have a day job), but I have taken over a week off from the blog.  I feel bad not writing, but I used the time to asses and refine my goal for this space.

I have two primary goals with the changes I want to make.  The first is to post a new review or other piece at least five days a week (I may never sleep).  The second goal is to try to do something to enliven the beer review.

First, the Five Articles will be written every day, seven days a week.  I want it to set the agenda for the day and get out a few quick hit thoughts.  I just like reading about different aspects of the craft beer world.  I do read every article that I link to plus at least another five that I don’t link.  Reading all this stuff educates me and helps mold the perspective I want to achieve on the website.

Second, I want to write more Beer Counselor pieces.  Maybe change the name or do more then one type of column/blog pieces.  I have thoughts on how I see the beer business from the perspective of someone who works in the retail portion of the business (and by business I mean the industry) and not for a brewer or as a distributor.  I want to put those thoughts out there for agreement and derision.  Not only do I want to write more of these pieces I want to have fun with it.  I don’t want a set structure.  I want to experiment and take chances with what shows up in this part of the site.

Finally and maybe most importantly, I want to concentrate more on the reviews.  I want to try and figure out a way to do them differently. I want to do reviews in a way that entertains me and is slightly different than anyone else’s perspective.  I am trying to make it more narrative in structure.  I have a couple of other ideas I will work into the reviews beginning next week.

Actual reviews of the beer are not hard to write.  If you have any tasting experience and ability to express what you taste in complete sentences, you can write a review.  In fact, the actual review of a beer should not take up more than 200 words.  How it looks, smells, and tastes is not that difficult to describe.  The best reviewers and reviews give you more than that.  They tell a story or evoke a place or time in your mind.  I want to write reviews that have a narrative structure and a little added value (I am going to hold off on letting you know what my planned added value is until the first review of next week).  These first reviews will be rough as I circle around what I’m trying to get at in the writing.

Here is the new plan:

  • The Five Articles – Every Day
  • Beer Counselor (or some other bloggy piece) – 2 or 3 times a week
  • Beer Reviews – 3 or 4 times a week

That means you will be getting at least 500 words of new content a day (just what the internet needs more noise) 5 days a week not counting the Five Articles.  The more I think about it, the less sleep I see in my future.