Thursday, June 30, 2011

Emptying the notebook

Allentown Beer Works Hop'solutely, Score: 5
at 11.5% you should know better than to come looking for well-polished hop flavor.

Anchor Summer Beer, Score: 6
your prototypical lawnmower beer as a sessionable american wheat.

Avery Anniversary Ale - Seventeen, Score: 9
a schwarzbier, and an excellent one at that. the rise of black ipa's has been fun but don't sleep on this classic style!

Avery India Pale Ale, Score: 8
a very good ipa if you can find it fresh.

Cape Ann Fisherman's Sunrise Saison, Score: 6
use of rhubarb and strawberries put this squarely in the fruit beer style, not farmhouse. unique.

Cisco Indie Pale Ale, Score: 7
smooth with big flavor.

Coronado Islander IPA, Score: 7

De Proef Signature Les Deux Brasseurs Ale, Score: 6
a splurge purchase ($25) that has been in my crosshairs for sometime. disappointing overall with an incongruent medicinal note. sour brett part grew on me though.

Great Divide Hoss, Score: 4

Great Divide Titan IPA, Score: 7
aggressively hoped with robust malt backbone. nice.

Harviestoun Ola Dubh Special Reserve 30, Score: 8
wanted this since the tap kicked early on at Beervana. whiskey barrel component is interesting, but i have to drop this a letter grade for overly steep pricetag.

Innis and Gunn Rum Cask Oak Aged Beer, Score: 3

Notch Session Pils, Score: 6
not bad, if no better options.

Pretty Things November 15th, 1901 KK, Score: 8
labeled an english strong ale by BeerAdvocate rather than black ipa. quality by any name.

Russian River Redemption, Score: 7
very pleasant beer, but definitely not worth the hefty price tag.

Samuel Adams Coastal Wheat, Score: 3
i did not enjoy this beer. very dull.

Samuel Adams Longshot Blackened Hops, Score: 6
better than expected.

Sea Dog Apricot Wheat Beer, Score: 2

Smuttynose Belgian Stout, Score: 6
belgian yeast didn't quite jive.

Watch City Tick Tock Golden Ale, Score: 2
let's assume i got a bad batch but this was really hard to drink.

White Birch Tripel, Score: 5

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

ProPho: Beers worth waiting for

Patience, rewarded
By Josh Smith | June 7, 2011

Most people agree that fresh is better. The same is true in the world of craft beer. Except when it isn't.

Generally speaking, hops and malts are more flavorful, carbonation is spot-on, and beer just plain tastes better when fresh. Lighter beers in particular can begin to decline in quality after only three months, so consumers should always check the born-on date (and more brewers need to provide
said date). Oxidation (where oxygen slowly seeps into the bottle), prolonged exposure to room temperature, or even direct sunlight can make your beer taste stale, flat, sour, or skunky.

That said, some beers don't need to be consumed right away, and could even be better if aged. Barley Wines, Old Ales, Imperial Stouts, Bocks, many Belgian styles, and other beers with high alcohol content can mellow and gain character when aged. Highly hopped beers can also be aged since hops are a natural preservative, but personally I don't want that delicious hop flavor to fade and prefer them fresh. More and more brewers are experimenting with specialty barrel aging (NEWPORT STORM just debuted their CYCLONE SERIES QUINN, a porter aged in rum barrels), but aging is something any beer lover can attempt.

The first step after identifying a beer that should age well is to buy two, drinking and taking notes on the first with which to compare later. Ideally the beer should be stored in cellar-like conditions — consistently cool without contact to direct sunlight. Obviously, waiting is the hardest part; to enjoy the benefits of aging, you'll have to exercise the willpower not to drink the beer for a year or more.

I caught my first glimpse at the potential of vintage beers last year at a STONE BREWING beer dinner at Julian's in Providence. They brought several big beers that aged well, but my favorite was the 2006 IMPERIAL RUSSIAN STOUT. By drinking this alongside the 2009 version, you could see how three years had made it mellower, with a balanced flavor, and very drinkable. Similarly, a highlight from last fall's Beervana Fest in Cranston was BROOKLYN BREWERY's delicate and flavorful 2006 LOCAL 1, a Belgian Strong Pale Ale.

Now a believer in the power of aging, I tracked down a bottle of 2001 GALE'S PRIZE OLD ALE at the British Beer Company restaurant in Walpole, Massachusetts. Sadly, time wasn't kind to the carbonation since it poured almost entirely flat, with an alcohol that was still chocking. I had much greater success with a dusty bottle of 2007 J.W. LEES HARVEST ALE that I found tucked away at my local package store. Four years of aging produced a wonderfully complex, creamy, and sweet Barleywine that demands to be sipped.

Of course, if you want to age beers right, do it yourself. My own ex-beeriment started three years ago when I purchased a pack of DOGFISH HEAD'S IMMORT ALE, an American Strong Ale. I drank the first two immediately, discovering a beer that is copper-ruby in color with a minor head and aroma dominated by raisins, hops, and alcohol. Notes of maple and vanilla join dark fruit and alcohol in the flavor. Mouthfeel was smooth and considerably livelier than I expected.

Skip forward three long years. The final bottle had that same thin beige head, but the "pop!" on opening told me that the beer was still carbonated. Hooray! Hops took on a reduced presence in the aroma, with a brown sugar sweetness taking its place. The maple seemed to be a pillar of the flavor this time around, with a note of oak mixed in. Most amazingly, the alcohol was barely detectable! Supernatural smoothness was still present with hops finally emerging from the background to tickle the tongue.

The mellowing of the alcohol and melding of different flavors allowed the Immort Ale to exceed the initial round of high marks. Three years was just right for this beer while others might peak at 20 years — not knowing what you're going to get is half the fun. So if you'll excuse me, it's time to pick up a few more beers — I'm thinking ALESMITH OLD NUMBSKULL, NORTH COAST OLD RASPUTIN, and TRAPPISTES ROCHEFORT 10 — and throw them in the time capsule. It'll just require a little patience.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

ProPho: Beer Geek Nirvana

Deconstructing Latitude 48 + Best of Beer Camp
By JOSH SMITH | May 25, 2011

While it's been said you can't teach an old dog new tricks, two pioneers of the craft beer movement have just released new and exciting mix packs.

SAMUEL ADAMS, or Boston Beer Company, has enjoyed a meteoric rise from Jim Koch's kitchen in 1984 to the distinction of being the largest craft brewer in America. Their success is due to lots of good ideas like this one: take the LATITUDE 48 IPA and release it along with five other versions of the IPA, each using only one of the original hops throughout the brewing process. By "deconstructing" this IPA and showcasing a single hop in the aroma, flavor, and bittering, Sam Adams is providing a tutorial in hops that would make any beer geek proud.

The Latitude 48 IPA uses German, English, and American hops all grown around, you guessed it, the 48th latitude. Copper in color, the beer has a nose balanced to the point of being muted. Notes of citrus, grapefruit, and pine emerge, but hop bitterness is overpowered by sweet biscuity malts. The result is a smooth and well-balanced beer, but a slightly dulled IPA.

From this starting point, five other IPAs were born. I started with the HALLERTAU MITTELFRUEH, which uses a German Noble hop that produces a mild floral aroma amidst the healthy dose of breadiness. The bitterness is of raw pine and lemon, joined by an unmistakable note of pepper. England's EAST KENT GOLDINGS provides an unusual aroma that ranges from sweet and fruity (think apricot) to earthy and grassy. Given the malty bend, this feels a lot like an English IPA. In the end, both of these hops seem better suited to bittering than flavoring.

Fortunately, things improve once you get to the real IPA hops from the Pacific Northwest. AHTANUM starts with an odd potpourri on the nose but has a nice light, floral bitterness in the flavor. Caramel malts again rise to the top, resulting in a sweet, simple IPA. ZEUS has a powerful piney aroma and taste, so much so that the herbal bitterness bests biscuity malts. SIMCOE too has a big grapefruit nose that is a little musty at the finish. Taste is mainly of citrus zest with an earthy bitterness. As the most bitter and tasty hops, I thought Zeus and Simcoe really stole the show. And while these may not be the most polished IPAs ever, this is an exbeeriment every beer lover should try (the 12-pack costs about $16 in most stores).

Our country’s second largest brewer, SIERRA NEVADA, is also making a splash related to its annual contest for several lucky fans to go to Beer Camp in Chico, California. Participants tour the brewhouse and fields, learn the secrets to brewing some of their favorite Sierra Nevada beers, and get to create their own boundary-busting batches (if you’d like to apply for this year’s events, go to The release of the BEST OF BEER CAMP VARIETY PACK gives everyone the chance to try four of their greatest creations.

I jumped right to the CALIFORNIA COMMON, an obscure style better known as Steam Beer. Brass-colored, this beer smells of floral hops and sweet bread. The flavor follows with some alcohol at the finish and a lively carbonation and bitterness. The WEIZENBOCK is just as attractive with a huge aroma and golden-orange appearance. It tasted much more like a Hefeweizen, with lots of fruity banana and cloves. Very tasty though.

JUNIPER BLACK ALE is a Winter Warmer in the vein of a robust porter or Black IPA. The flavor is mainly heavily roasted malts with a hint of juniper in the background, but only if you search for it. There is also a solid bitterness and enough potent flavors that I probably wouldn’t drink more than one in a sitting. The DOUBLE IPA has a slightly muted aroma and taste incorporating pine, citrus, and even a little of that 8.5% ABV. It is bitter but far less intimidating than most Imperial IPAs. With four unique and expertly brewed beers, this is the best mix pack I have ever purchased (and it’s a relative bargain at $20 for a limited release). Get one (or more) before it’s gone.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Special delivery

I was looking forward to tonight since it was the Bruins Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. And then I received a package in the mail from Laura and the crew at Newport Storm of their two newest beers! So yeah, it is going to be a pretty good night.

The first bottle I unwrapped was their Summer Ale. Ho hum, another light and fruity summer brew. And then I realized that this was no ordinary summer ale, but an IPA! Fantastic! I knew what was coming next too: the Cyclone Series Quinn, a rum-barrel aged porter! Bourbon and whisky barrel aging is becoming fairly common, but I can't think of any other breweries with a rum distillery in their midst! There are no words for my excitement.

Newport Storm Summer Ale
pours a light copper with patchy white head. aroma is as citrusy as promised, but a little bready too. roles are reversed in the flavor where the floral hops come in second to the bready malts. bitterness does work stealthily in the background though. the result is a very balanced IPA. smooth, dry, and medium-bodied, this summer ale is not for the timid... but it is for me.
Score: 7

Newport Storm Cyclone Series Quinn
for some reason, i don't think i have ever encountered a rum-barrel aged porter before. why hasn't anyone else thought of this yet?! dark brown in color and murky with a thin mocha-like head. the aroma is very complex, and takes some serious unpacking. caramel, burnt malts, and sweet... what is it, what is it... maple! one of the best smells i have encountered in a while. taste of burnt coffee comes first, followed by rich lactose, some bitterness on the tongue, with rum coming at finish. interestingly, aging seems to have produced a beer most closely resembling a fine milk stout (think southern tiers creme brulee...) smooth but with very lively carbonation. a unique, fascinating beer. let's hope this is one storm that rages on.
Score: 9