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Monday, March 29, 2010

The Lost Abbey Angels Share

Angels Share
Style: American Strong Ale
Serving Type: Bottle
Purchased at: 99 Bottles

Aroma: Heavy Bourbon and Brandy aroma’s upfront followed by some light vanilla and oak notes. Alcohol spice kicks in with quite a bit of presence in the nose, nearly vinous at first but seems to settle down, or your nose gets used to it. No hop aroma. If you search for malt character you’ll find a hint of caramel, but this could be coming off the oak as well.

Appearance: Pours a charred wood color coming off deep brown at the top and edges but black through the middle. Looking through the sides the beer appears to pour with good clarity. Next to no head forms with even a moderate pour. Some bubbles form along the rim of the glass, but after a few minutes these have all faded to nothing. No lacing.

Flavor: A smack of vanilla coats the tongue at first before a very strong bourbon and brandy flavor kicks in. If I knew more about these liquors I could describe it better, but there’s something more going on here than just bourbon oak. High alcoholic spice becomes present in the middle and toward the finish where you’ll also find some dark fruit playing into the mix. Finishes with stickiness on the tongue and lingering vanilla.

Mouthfeel: Medium body with light carbonation. Alcohol warms the mouth and back of the throat, and burns just slightly as you swallow. Malt sweetness leaves just a bit of stickiness on the tongue but the alcohol presence dries out the beer in the finish.

Overall: The Bourbon and Brandy flavors are so strong in this beer that it’s nearly an example of a slightly carbonated Bourbon. That said, it’s extremely warming and pleasing on the tongue with flavor complexities ranging from vanilla oak, to bourbon and some dark fruit. There is no indication of hop presence and barley malt character is dominated by the barrel aging. Ultimately, a great beer for a Brandy lover but a bit biased in that direction for a beer lover.

Note: Only after logging into BeerAdvocate to rate this beer did I realize it has in fact been aged in Brandy barrels. I guess that explains all that brandy flavor. I rated this beer a “B+” on BeerAdvocate.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Unibroue Quelque Chose

Unibroue Quelque Chose
Style: Fruit/Vegetable Beer
Serving Type: Bottle
Purchased at 99 Bottles

Heated this beer up to 160ºF on my stove, then poured into two glasses which my wife and I split. Initially 160º is too hot to hold on to, so the glass sat on my desk while a breathed in the aromas.

Aroma: Rich dark cherries dominate the aroma of this beer. The thick cherry aroma has almost a syrup quality, and in part smells not unlike cough medicine. Though not completely. Absolutely no hop aroma. Malt character pushes through slightly with some biscuit notes.

Appearance: Deep ruby red to burnt copper with brilliant clarity. A frothy head forms after being poured from my cooking pot into the glass. The head holds fairly well with airy white bubbles, though fades to a ring around the glass after a brief period.

Flavor: Initial bite of fusel alcohol up front on the palate with deep cherries quickly following. Tart cherry juice blends with dark fruits of prunes moving into the middle flavor profile, while the alcohol adds a touch of spice as well. Alcohol spice may be confused with the cherry tartness, it’s somewhat hard to tell. Finish is dry with another acidic visit from the cherries.

Mouthfeel: Medium to light body with no carbonation. Cherry complexity add to the body with the perception of a syrupy feel, but this fades reasonably quickly into the dry finish when the beer bites the back of the throat with a small alcoholic sting.

Overall: The first sip of this hot beer, and you really do have to sip it slowly at 160º, causes you to take a step back because it’s such a unique flavor and means of serving a beer. What other beer calls for a serving temperature of 160ºF? While the cherries make up most of the flavor, it comes off a bit unbalanced and lacking some malt complexity. Though as you warm up to the beer and take time to consider what it really has to offer, the tart cherry aroma and flavor blend well with other dark fruit complexity. The alcohol spice cleans up the beer well in the end, but be prepared for some medicinal qualities to this warmer.

I rated this beer a “B” on BeerAdvocate.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary

Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary
"Fritz and Ken's Ale"
Style: Imperial Stout
Purchased at 99 Bottles

Aroma: Light hint of dark fruit up front in the nose with some lingering chocolate. Hop aroma comes off the beer as floral, and there is some slight roasted grain in the background. Overall nose is generally light.

Appearance: As expected this beer pours ink black and easily forms a rich nut brown head with good retention. Some foam lacing clings to the side of the glass as you drink it down, and the alcohol seems to provide some legs to the beer as well.

Flavor: Hard hitting dark chocolate smacks the mouth right away. The chocolate comes off as nearly burnt as roasted character blends into deep chocolate sweetness. Alcohol spice enters the labyrinth of flavors as dark fruits find their way through to your tongue. Hop bitterness bites the back and top of your mouth before the beer finishes off with yet more roasted bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Full bodied with medium carbonation. All the roasted and burnt chocolate flavors play on your palate with nearly puckering dryness, but there is just enough sweetness to leave slight stickiness behind. Hop bitterness tingles the back of the throat toward the finish.

Overall: The aroma doesn’t compare to the deeply complex flavor profile of this beer. Incredibly dark, roasted chocolate create almost a battle between the alcohol spice and dark fruit inside your mouth. Palate fullness warms the mouth throughout and the hop bitterness is just enough to show a noted presence. While it lacks some aromatic beauty, this is an engaging beer to behold.

I rated this beer an “A” on BeerAdvocate.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sierra Nevada/Dogfish Head Life & Limb

A collaboration between Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head breweries.
Style: American Strong Ale
Purchased at 99 Bottles

Aroma: Surprisingly peppery upfront with some dark fruit and cherries blending in. The aroma is quite light overall with only subtle hints of chocolate and caramel trying to come through. Not a whole lot in the nose on this one.

Appearance: Initially you’ll think this beer pours a jet black, but hold it up to the light and you’ll find a deep cherry red with nice clarity. Head easily pours creamy off-white with good retention. Some small lace down the glass forms as the beer disappears.

Flavor: Ripe cherries smack your palate first off before the flavor dashes between prunes and sweet candi sugar. Moving to the middle there is a distinct bite of alcoholic spice and hop bitterness, but the cherries come back again as Maraschino Cherry sweetness before the alcohol finishes the beer with a peppery spice at the back of tongue.

Mouthfeel: Medium body with high carbonation, the carbonation has an effervescent and tingling quality on the tongue. Alcohol bite is quite noticeable here, into the middle and through to the finish you’ll get almost a sting of alcohol heat that is bordering unbalanced but the flavors back it up.

Overall: While the beer lacks aroma characteristics, the real payout is in the flavor and body. Rich cherries and candi sweetness really set the beer off well against the alcohol, which always seems to be playing into the mix. An excellent late night quiet sipper that I would try to categorize as a Barley Wine, but the candi sugar throws it into a style all it’s own.

I rated this beer an “A-” on Beer Advocate.

Puget Sound Porter

Harmon Brewing Co Puget Sound Porter
Style: Brown Porter
Purchased at the brewery

Aroma: Fairly rich and smooth aroma of sweet chocolate up front with a yeast phenolic hint in the background. Not strong phenolic, but just enough to notice. Low to no hop aroma and thankfully no vegital smell either, which I seem to pick up from a lot of commercially brewed porters. This beer focuses in on the chocolate no doubt.

Appearance: Pours an ink black with maybe just a hint of ruby highlights along the side of the glass. With a moderately aggressive pour there is an off-white to light nut brown head that forms. The head fades fairly quickly however to but a ring at the outside of the glass. Some light lacing.

Flavor: First to hit the tongue is a quick touch of sweet chocolate, this holds for a moment before giving way to roasted malt and light hop bitterness. The roasted bitterness holds through the middle, but the beer finishes clean with a hint of bitterness to the end. There is a lingering hop presence after the mouth clears.

Mouthfeel: Medium to light body with light carbonation. The roasted presence gives somewhat of a grainy texture to the overall beer, but there is still a bit of wateriness on the tongue. Finish is drying with an earthy hop bitterness on the tongue and back of the throat.

Overall: Despite my descriptors of chocolate and roast, don’t feel that this is a huge porter. It’s a very nice example of a Brown Porter with excellent chocolate aroma and a clean roast flavor. This is a nicely drinking Porter that would pair well with a Halibut fillet dinner. The yeast phenolic, while lightly present in the nose, does not transfer to the flavor. I wouldn’t mind seeing a touch more body, but just a bit too much would throw this beer off balance.

I rated this beer a “B+” on Beer Advocate.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Lost Abbey Serpent Stout

Lost Abbey Serpent Stout
Style: Imperial Stout
Serving Type: Bottle
Purchased at 99 Bottles

Aroma: Massive sweet chocolate upfront with some roasted barley blending into the mix. No real dark fruit character as I sometimes expect with higher alcohol brews (this one is 11%) though there is a hint of spice coming off the top.

Appearance: Perhaps this beer was named after some black snake because it pours the color of used motor oil. And I mean that in the best possible way. Black as the night with a nut brown head that pours thin and fades to a ring around the top of the beer. Somewhat sticky to the sides of the glass, but it holds for only a moment with no lacing.

Flavor: Heavy roasted malt and dark grain bread up front. Dark Chocolate enters the complexity with bitterness, though retaining just a touch of sweetness as well. Subtle hints of prune and alcohol spice play in while the roasted barley and chocolate malt define this massive stout.

Mouthfeel: Full body with medium carbonation. Somewhat grainy on the tongue and all that roast really dry’s out the palate, but there is just enough sweetness and malt complexity to keep things in balance. Alcoholic warmth enters in the middle and retains its presence through the end. This is certainly warming but not hot.

Overall: An incredible example of how to brew with heavy focus on roasted barley balanced out with alcohol spice and warmth. With all the chocolate in the aroma I was really expecting more in the flavor, while it is there it’s anything but a sweet stout. Some dark fruit character would be welcome here, and I’d love to see an Oak Aged version (which exists), but it’s not lacking complexity or body by any stretch. Overall a rich, roasty, full-bodied sipper to enjoy on a quiet evening.

I rated this beer an A on BeerAdvocate.

Maredsous 10 - Tripel

Style: Belgian Tripel
Serving Type: Bottle
Purchased at: Community Co-OP Arcata, CA

Aroma: The first scent off the beer is a quick lick of orange peel and dark candy sugar. There is a continual underlying smell of cardboard from some oxidization. It isn’t very strong, but certainly noticeable and doesn’t appear to ‘blow off’ in time. Other aromatics suggest caramel and light fruit.

Appearance: Pours a brilliantly clear caramel to amber color with a rich and creamy white head. The beer displays excellent head retention and a nice lacing along the glass. Strong and lively carbonation bubbles race to the top of this beer, sustaining the head nicely.

Flavor: First to hit the tongue is a vinous alcohol character that is quickly followed by a wet paper oxidized flavor. Some subtle notes of raisin and caramel, though these only last for a moment through the middle before the alcohol takes over again. The malt fades to the back as the alcohol heats up through the finish, leaving the beer rather hot and dry. If you look for it you can find some light candy sweetness trying to work it’s way into the mix, but the oxidation and alcohol dominate the flavor.

Mouthfeel: Light to medium body with high carbonation. Strong alcoholic warmth and heat create a drying and almost puckering effect on the palate. Carbonation is lively on the tongue, which contributes to the body, though overall the malt character does not hold up well. The beer finishes quite dry and hot at the back of the throat.

Overall: Regretfully this beer comes off quite unbalanced, with heavy emphasis toward the 10% alcohol. Despite the fact that the bottle says the beer should be good until 2012, I’d say it’s well past it’s prime in the first part of 2010. This beer may have been mishandled somewhere along the way. Somehow oxidization got a hold of this brew taking away all but subtle hints of pleasing Belgian aroma and flavor. I’ll probably shy away from this in the future, though I am curious to try another perhaps fresher example.

I rated this beer a D+ on BeerAdvocate. Overall the beer is rated a B+, so I suspect I simply got a mishandled bottle. Storing a beer in excessive heat can cause such oxidization issues.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Southern Tier Back Burner

Back Burner
Style: Barley Wine Style
Serving Type: Bottle
Purchased at 99 Bottles

Aroma: Dark fruits of raisin and plum enter the nose first with an alcoholic spice following it up. Malt character displays a grainy and bread-like character, while there seems to be little if any hop aroma.

Appearance: Deep mahogany brown to red with a slight haze. Light at the edges forms a ruby hue, though the beer doesn’t allow a whole lot of light through. The head pours a billowy off-white but fades fairly quickly to a thin coating along the top of the beer. Some lacing down the sides of the glass.

Flavor: Deep dark fruit hits the tongue, along with just a hint of hop bitterness that stings your palate with rich complexity upfront. Alcoholic warmth moves in quickly and lingers into the middle where hop bitterness comes back quite strong with earthy tones. The malt profile takes on a dark toasty personality with some melanoidins as well. Though the flavor is generally defined by the alcoholic spice and hop bitterness, malt complexity is robust enough to back everything up.

Mouthfeel: Medium to full body with medium carbonation. The alcoholic warmth coats the mouth with heat and spice while hops play into the back of the throat with just a slight sting of bitterness at the finish. Finish is warming and mostly dry, though there is some residual malt sweetness left around the edges.

Overall: A very nicely balanced barley wine style ale with a certain focus on alcoholic warmth and spice. While I think additional hop aroma would further help this beer stand out as an excellent example, it is quite well rounded in it’s bitterness. Malt richness and balance are just enough to add complexity, but it doesn’t get in the way of warming alcohol and biting hops.

I rated this an A- on Beer Advocate.

I have enjoyed the sweeter beers from Southern Tier such as their Choklat and Pumking. Though I wasn’t sure what to expect from them regarding such a monster brew as a Barley Wine. I have to say I am quite impressed with the quality and focus of this beer. It stands up as one of my favorite examples of the style. Still behind Hair of the Dog Doggie Claws, but certainly in the running.

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Beer enthusiast and advocate. Recognized beer judge and traveler of west coast beer destinations.