Tasting Notes: Counter Currant from Rogue Ales

RogueCounterCurrantPour_editedTasting Notes is back to close out yet another week and this time around we are focusing our attention on Counter Currant from Rogue Ales (Newport, Oregon).

Born out of inspiration sourced from the black currants grown at Rogue FarmsCounter Currant is a “ground to glass” Fruit Beer that features “rich flavors of black currant and a dry, tart finish.” Light in body and a “deep purple in color”, Counter Currant (6.4% ABV) is an eye-catching, “food-friendly” brew that will be at home on just about any table during the holiday season.

Counter Currant launched earlier this month and will be available through February 2019.  You can expect to find this Seasonal Release available in 4-packs of 16 oz. cans and on draft at select craft beer establishments located in Alabama, Florida, Oregon and throughout the rest of Rogue’s nationwide distribution area.

Now that we are all a bit more familiar with this beer’s background, let’s dive into these Tasting Notes and see where the Counter Currant takes us!

Tasting Notes for Counter Currant from Rogue Ales

Appearance:  A gentle pour produces a beer that is an incredibly rich purple in color and wearing over two fingers of dense, dark pink foam that rises well above the brim of the glass.  When held to direct light, garnet tones push through to add a pop of vibrancy.  The beer is far too dark to provide any visual indication of the carbonation level.  Head retention is fantastic, falling ever so slowly to a creamy 1/4 finger top cap that leaves some seriously chunky lace patterns on the glass after each sip.

Aroma:  The first thing to hit the nose is an aroma that is strikingly similar to straight up cranberry juice.  This opens further to offer a bright note of black currant and a slightly sweeter presence of blackberry and blueberry.  An earthy and slightly spicy hop character comes in near the end of the profile to attempt some balance, but this beer is all about a sublime level of fruitiness here.

Taste:  Black currant is quick to grab the palate with a sharp level of tartness and a slightly tannic presence.  This sharpness is rapidly tempered with a rush of sweetness that takes the form of blackberry jam and cranberry cocktail.  Earthy hops mingle with those tannic notes to offer equal parts balance and support.  A bit of biscuity malt slides in near the finish but is quickly lost in all this tart and tangy fruitiness.

Mouthfeel:  On the lighter side of medium in body with a middling carbonation level, Counter Currant has a nice weight to it and a silken texture on the palate.  The beer’s tart, tangy and sweet notes all work together to find a sense of balance and achieve a pretty dry finish.  The ABV is nicely masked by the tartness and does not feel anywhere near 6.4%.  The aftertaste is all berry goodness.

Final Thoughts: After finishing off this glass, one thing has become quite clear: Counter Currant pulls zero punches and does all that it can to let every characteristic of the black currant shine.  This beer is considerably tart/sour – almost aggressively – and it does not appear that Rogue wanted to avoid that for the sake of accessibility.  Instead, they put themselves out there, focused on the main ingredient, and just allowed those black currants to do their thing.  This was a risk for Rogue and we could not be happier that they took it.  It shows that a brewery of their size is still willing to take a chance by embracing an assertive ingredient/flavor profile to produce a beautiful and memorable beer.  We may have already used this word in the description above, but “sublime” is truly the best way to describe Counter Currant.  Be sure to give it a shot before its Seasonal run comes to an end in February.  Prost!

 

Advertisements

Tasting Notes: Sparkling Swan Ale from Lagunitas Brewing Company

LagunitasSparklingPourFor this installment of Tasting Notes, we settle in for Thanksgiving by raising a glass of Sparkling Swan Ale from Lagunitas Brewing Company (Petaluma, California).

Introduced earlier this month as the little sister to Lagunitas’ infrequently released Dark Swan Sour Ale, Sparkling Swan is a highly-carbonated beer-wine hybrid “brewed with red wine grapes” that offers a “super bubbly” champagne-like experience, “but with a gentle kiss of hops and a light malt backbone like a beer.”  Coming in at an easy-drinking 6.5% ABV and 28 IBUs, the purple-hued Sparkling Swan is “perfect for any celebration” headed your way this holiday season.

Sparkling Swan is available now and will be hanging around through February 2019.  You can expect to find this Limited Release available in 12-packs of 12 oz. bottles at select craft beer retailers located in Alabama, Florida, California, Illinois, Washington and throughout the rest of Lagunitas Brewing Company’s distribution area.

Now that we are all caught up on the technical data, let’s get into these Tasting Notes so that we can experience the true majesty of a Sparkling Swan!

Tasting Notes for Sparkling Swan Ale from Lagunitas Brewing Company

Appearance: A cautious pour produces a beer that is a shimmering purple in color (similar to that of grape juice) and wearing over two fingers of pink to soft purple hued foam.  When held to direct light, the purple tones intensify and take on a ruby red radiance. Despite its dark appearance, the beer is clear and pulses with a highly active carbonation presence.  The brightly colored head quickly collapses down to a thin ring that occasionally notches the glass with a wisp of lace.

Aroma:  First Impression – Sparkling Swan basically smells like someone filled this glass halfway with a fine Cabernet Sauvignon and then topped it off with some Welch’s . . . and that’s pretty friggin’ awesome.  Red wine grapes and concord grape juice combine to produce a sweet, fruity character that offers added notes of raspberry, cherry and plum. Light, floral and fruity, the hops surface near the end of the profile in an attempt to balance that sweet fruitiness and also act as a pleasant fragrance that rounds off any trace of lactobacillus.

Taste: Very similar to the nose, the flavor profile opens with grape notes that range for red wine complexity to the incredibly approachable and sweet presence of concord grape juice.  The fruitiness open further to present distinct tones of tart cherry and black currant. The beer is nice and tart, but it has a very clean lactobacillus tartness that is completely devoid of funk or added earthiness.  Crackery malt and a touch of floral hops finally turn up near the finish to temper that sour/tart character a bit.

Mouthfeel:  Light side of medium in body with a bright carbonation, this beer is super easy-drinking and has a refreshing effervescence to it.  The tart and sweet characteristics do a good job balancing themselves out and result in a pretty dry experience overall.  The ABV is well hidden but does supply a slight warmth in the throat.  Concord grape juice and floral hops linger a bit in the aftertaste.

Final Thoughts:  In a nutshell, Sparkling Swan Ale is red wine and champagne sophistication meets childhood memories of grape juice boxes.  It has a certain level of complexity while still remaining playful, familiar and approachable.

Full of personality, this beer makes the following claims as to why it is a solid choice for holiday gatherings:

  • Beautiful to look at, it has that wow factor that will definitely grab the attention of everyone in the room.
  • Hand it off to either the wine faithful or the traditional beer lovers at the table and it will most assuredly get a fair share of perplexed but intrigued “That’s a beer?” inquiries.
  • As far as the meal goes, it has the tartness to work alongside any plate that has cranberry sauce on it, the effervescence necessary to cut through fatty meats and rich gravy, and has the staying power to hang out for a cheese course or any desserts that are chocolate or fruit-focused.

That is certainly one hell of a case, but the best attribute of this beer just might be that it does not have to be limited to special occasions and holiday feasts.  Full of daily drinker potential, Sparkling Swan is just a fun, easy-drinking and tasty brew that is absolutely worthy of your attention at any point or time this holiday season.  Be sure to check out this Limited Release while you can.  Prost!

Tasting Notes: 2 Tone Vanilla Porter from Starr Hill Brewery

StarrHill2TonePourFresh off a much needed vacation, we jump start the week by getting back into the Tasting Notes groove with a little help from 2 Tone Vanilla Porter from Starr Hill Brewery (Crozet, Virginia).

Rocking a name that is “a nod to the British music genre that seamlessly combines brassy ska and punk rock”, 2 Tone Vanilla Porter is the latest release from Starr Hill Brewery’s Heavy Rotation Series – a rotating “playlist” that keeps “fresh styles of beer coming your way . . . four times a year.”  2 Tone is a 6% ABV Porter that has “special dark roasted malts unite robust flavors of espresso and bittersweet chocolate with sweet vanilla bean for waves of rich smoothness.”  As is the case with all Heavy Rotation offerings, 2 Tone Vanilla Porter is best enjoyed when paired with the brewery’s mix tape that highlights the songs that inspired the creation of the beer (click here to check it out Spotify).

2 Tone Vanilla Porter is available now in 12 oz. bottles that can be found exclusively in Starr Hill’s Winter Tour Variety Pack (available November 2018 – January 2019). You can find this limited release Variety Pack at select retailers located in Alabama, Virginia and throughout the rest of Starr Hill’s distribution footprint.

Now that the background information is out of the way, what do you say we fire up Spotify and see how well ska fits into a Tasting Notes session?

Tasting Notes for 2 Tone Vanilla Porter from Starr Hill Brewery

Appearance: A somewhat vigorous pour produces a nearly pitch-black Porter that is capped with almost two fingers of airy, khaki-colored foam.  When held to direct light, the stark blackness holds its grip but does allow a touch of cola-like dark brown to sneak through at the extreme edges.  The beer is completely opaque and does not offer any visual hints at the level of carbonation.  Head retention is decent, but those two fingers do eventually fall to a thin, creamy top cap that absolutely coats the glass with wide sweeping sheets of lace.

Aroma:  Roasted malts fill the air with a heavy presence of deeply roasted coffee and bittersweet chocolate that mimics the notes of a beautifully crafted Caffè Americano (an espresso that has been diluted with water).  These notes hint that there is a hefty but pleasant level of roasted bitterness ahead in the flavor, but they are still rounded off here with a soothing presence of toasted wheat, a grace of vanilla and just a slight dose of sweet milk chocolate.

Taste: The roasted malts continue to flex their dominance by presenting notes of dark roast coffee, toasted cereal grains, dark chocolate, and carefully charred wood.  This smooth wave of roasty, toasty bitterness is then nicely balanced by a sneaky undercurrent of vanilla, caramel and cocoa. The flavor profile is further rounded by a closing presence of slightly earthy and fruity hops and an incredibly gentle nuttiness (pecans and walnuts).

Mouthfeel:  Spot on medium in body with a moderate level of carbonation, this Porter is wonderfully dry and cleans up beautifully to result in a highly drinkable, gulp-worthy experience.  Mostly balanced, the beer definitely leans a bit toward the roasty and bitter side.  The 6% ABV is super light and really does not bring much in the way of heat.  The aftertaste is all bittersweet chocolate.

Final Thoughts:  If you are looking for a clean and crushable dark beer to help ease you into the colder months, look no further than 2 Tone Vanilla Porter.  Comforting and approachable, it has plenty of roasty goodness that will pair effortlessly with time spent seeking warmth while huddled around a fire.

The only gripe or concern we could possibly come up with is the decision to give vanilla a title role in the naming of this beer.  The vanilla seems to play more of a supporting role by artfully tempering the bitterness supplied by the roasted malts, but it never really pushes beyond an element of balance to stake its claim to either the flavor or aroma.  That said, this approach does not take anything at all away from the beer . . . in fact, quite the opposite happens. In a craft beer world where Porters and Stouts are regularly dominated by over-the-top, cloying additions of sweet adjuncts, 2 Tone uses a deft hand when it comes to the use of vanilla.  This results in a finished product that is a more beautiful representation of the style, but our only worry is that the designation of “Vanilla Porter” might lead some to believe it is missing something even though it is not.

All in all, 2 Tone Vanilla Porter is a breath of fresh air these days because it is a truly flavorful Porter that is not at all afraid to embrace malt sourced roast and bitterness. Instead of taking the easy way out by being dependent on a heavy dose of sweet vanilla, 2 Tone instead relies on craftsmanship, integrity and a certain level of respect for the style by going against the seductive influence of current trends . . . and – even though we too often enjoy a ridiculously sweet “Pastry Stout” from time to time – we dig the hell of this beer for giving us something different today.  Be sure to check out 2 Tone Vanilla Porter if you happen to cross paths with it this winter.  Prost!

 

Tasting Notes: CBS (2018) From Founders Brewing Co.

foundersCBSpourTasting Notes returns for a double dip this week as we take advantage of the very special opportunity to preview a bottle of CBS (2018) from Founders Brewing Co. (Grand Rapids, Michigan).

Back for the second year in a row and rockin’ some new label artwork this time around, CBS (a.k.a. Canadian Breakfast Stout) is an Imperial Stout brewed with coffee and chocolate – the same base beer as Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS) – and then aged in “bourbon barrels that had previously housed maple syrup.” Once its rest is completed, CBS emerges to offer a “transcendental drinking experience” that features notes of “rich maple syrup, roasted coffee and velvety chocolate.”

The 2018 batch of CBS will debut at Founders Brewing Co.’s Grand Rapids and Detroit taproom locations on November 1 and will begin seeing distribution on November 2.  You can expect to find this incredibly limited Barrel-Aged Series release available in 750ml bottles (suggested retail price of $24.99 per bottle) and on draft at select craft beer establishments located in Alabama, Florida, Michigan and throughout the rest of the brewery’s distribution area.

Now that all the background information has been properly handled, what do you say we get into this bottle and see how this year’s batch of CBS is tasting?

Tasting Notes for CBS (2018) from Founders Brewing Co.

Appearance:  Off the pour, CBS is a polished obsidian black in color and is adorned with nearly two fingers of rich and foamy mocha-colored head.  When held to a direct light source, the darkness holds and completely blacks out any light that attempts to find its way through.  The beer is so opaque, inky and glossy that it is actually highly reflective.  The head retention is pretty fantastic for a stout this big, but it does eventually fall – over a great deal of time – to a slight, almost complete top cap that traces thin webs of lace on the glass from start to finish.

Aroma: Dark, roasty grains billow from the glass and carry with them notes of dark chocolate, chocolate syrup, caramel, and a whisper of smoke.  The barrels then flood the experience with boozy bourbon, oak, vanilla, and sweet maple.  Coffee then works its way in to close out the profile with a character that is both bitter (pure, deeply roasted coffee beans) and sweet/rich (think sweetened café con leche).

Taste:  Rich dark chocolate, milk chocolate, hot cocoa with marshmallows, and straight up cacao nibs immediately stake their claim in the flavor department, but eventually relinquish control to those glorious maple-bourbon barrels.  They create a note that is quite similar to that of a maple doughnut – rich maple and vanilla working hand-in-hand with a sweet breadiness – served with a sidecar of smooth bourbon.  Caramel and toasty grains slip through to lend some support alongside a touch of smoke and char. Pulling up the rear again, the coffee finally surfaces in the finish to wash everything down with a deep roast quality that offers the experience a balancing touch of bitterness and earthiness.

Mouthfeel: Full-bodied with a medium to mild carbonation level, this Imperial Stout is thick, viscous, and coating on the palate.  Although it is mostly sweet, it does find a remarkably subtle balance thanks to its stealthy hops and the light pops of bitterness supplied by the those notes of coffee, dark chocolate, and heavily roasted grains.  For 11.6% ABV, the alcohol presence is beautifully nuanced, has only a hint of heat, and really only surfaces in the form of bourbon flavor and aroma.  The aftertaste leaves behind traces of coffee, dark chocolate and roasty/toasty grains.

Final Thoughts:  This year’s batch of CBS has found an impressive degree of balance on all levels.  Where the 2017 release came across to us as a little overly sweet and hot/boozy, the 2018 version is – to put it simply and ruggedly – just so damn smooth.  The sweet notes – maple, chocolate, caramel and grain – are brilliantly tempered with a lovely contrast found in black coffee, bittersweet chocolate, and just the right amount of smoke/char.  This balancing act most impressively carries over into the ABV that barely has a presence even though it is pulling double digits.  This all results in one hell of an Imperial Stout that . . . yeah . . . it can be a dessert beer, but its incredibly well-managed level of sweetness also earns it a place at the brunch table or at the fire pit while just enjoying a few brews with friends.

Our final word of advice – Just go ahead and grab a bottle or two of CBS (2018) if you can and drink them fresh. No fancy bottle share required.  Simply treat yourself and someone special to a pour whenever you feel inclined.  Don’t wait for a “perfect moment” because this beer – in the state that it is in now – has the capability to conveniently make any moment memorable.  Prost!

Tasting Notes – Dead ‘N’ Dead from Rogue Ales

RogueDeadx2bFor this week’s installment of Tasting Notes, we dig up some Halloween spirit by getting into a bottle of Dead ‘N’ Dead from Rogue Ales (Newport, Oregon).

Developed to be the next “evolution” of Rogue Ales’ long-standing Dead Guy Ale, Dead ‘N’ Dead introduces the brewery’s iconic German Maibock-style Ale to the barrels that once held Dead Guy Whiskey, a spirit “distilled from the same . . . malts as . . . Dead Guy Ale.”  Taking full advantage of being the only brewery-distillery-cooperage in the U.S., Rogue had their brewers, distillers and coopers work together to carefully barrel age this brew for “several months at the Rogue ocean aging room.”  The hard work that went into this treatment pays off as Dead ‘N’ Dead (8.8% ABV) comes together to feature “a strong whiskey nose and added notes of oak and vanilla, with a smooth caramel flavor from the whiskey barrels that balances out Dead Guy Ale’s malty, honey sweetness.”

Dead ‘N’ Dead is available through the end of October in 22 oz. bottles and on draft.  You can expect to find this Limited Release brew at select craft beer establishments located in Alabama, Florida, Oregon and throughout the rest of Rogue’s nationwide distribution footprint.

Now that we are all clued in on how this beer was brought to life, let’s raise some Dead ‘N’ Dead and get into these Tasting Notes!

Tasting Notes for Dead ‘N’ Dead from Rogue Ales

Appearance: A careful pour fills the glass with an apricot-hued, honey brown colored beer that it is topped with just over a finger of creamy, slightly off-white foam.  When held to direct light, that apricot tone intensifies and the overall color shifts to more of a deep amber.  The beer is a touch cloudy but remains mostly clear and displays a dutiful carbonation presence streaming about within.  Head retention falters a bit, falling somewhat quickly to a thin – but lasting – ring that dots the glass with an occasional smattering of lace.

Aroma:  The base beer is first to greet the nose with notes of bready malt, brown sugar, caramel and honey.  The barrel then pushes forward to offer a poised amount of oak and vanilla along with deeper caramel tones.  The profile gracefully closes with gentle notes of earth, leather and just a touch of dark fruit.

Taste:  The whiskey barrel takes lead here as it brings soft notes of oak, vanilla, coconut and booze.  The soul of Dead Guy then rises to support with notes of sweet grain, toasted bread, caramel, honey, and a bit of nuttiness.  The earthiness is a bit more subdued here than it was in the aroma, but tones of citrus (from both the hops and whiskey), leather, and dark fruit (mostly a lovely, deep presence of dates) put in some beautiful work to round everything out in the finish.

Mouthfeel:  On the heavier side of medium in body with a lighter carbonation than expected, this brew has a creamy texture that glides softly across the palate.  The beer works toward balance, but it does end up leaning just a bit in the direction of sweet and boozy.  Speaking of boozy, the 8.8% ABV does supply a building warmth in the throat that reminds you that this is indeed a brew meant for sipping.  Aftertaste is all oak and dark fruit.

Final Thoughts:  All in all, Dead ‘N’ Dead comes together to be a fun and impressive riff on the classic that is Dead Guy Ale.  The Dead Guy Whiskey character is right on point, delivering a citrusy whiskey quality that acts as more of a compliment rather than an overwhelming focus. It is there to enhance the base beer, and it does just that by really drawing out and showcasing the malt bill that it shares with Dead Guy Ale.  Those sweet notes of bread, honey and caramel act as the strong common thread that stitches Dead ‘N’ Dead together to become a seamless, sip-worthy version of Dead Guy that remains just as satisfying and memorable as the original.  Although it comes across as almost effortless, the level of craftsmanship here – like in most Rogue offerings – is remarkable and should be recognized as such.  Be sure to check it out if you get the chance. Prost!

Tasting Notes: Angelica from Lord Hobo Brewing Co.

LordHoboAngelicaPourFixFor this week’s installment of Tasting Notes, we turned to the heavens for guidance and the beer gods led us to Angelica from Lord Hobo Brewing Co. (Woburn, Massachusetts).

Introduced earlier this year as one of the newest additions to Lord Hobo’s Year-Round portfolio, Angelica is an American Wheat Beer that employs the use of the incredibly popular “brewing techniques and ingredients used in ‘New England-Style’ or ‘Hazy IPAs’.”  By uniting “the sought-after haze and juice-like qualities [with] the more traditional characteristics of wheat beer”, Angelica New England Wheat (5.5% ABV) comes together to be “a highly quaffable beer that showcases the bready, tangy, and elegant sweetness of a wheat beer with the juicy, tropical fruit characteristics attributed from the highly acclaimed Mosaic hop varietal.”

Angelica is available Year-Round in 6-packs of 12 oz. cans and on draft at craft beer-friendly retailers, bars and restaurants located in Florida, Massachusetts and throughout the rest of Lord Hobo’s distribution footprint.

Now that we are all a bit more familiar with Angelica’s intentions, let’s get into these Tasting Notes and see how it all translates.

Tasting Notes for Angelica from Lord Hobo Brewing Co.

Appearance: When served in Lord Hobo’s logo Belgian-style tulip glass, this beer resembles a large, glowing Lemonhead (yes, that bright yellow candy from your youth) that is wearing 1.5 fingers of pure white, bubbly foam.  When held to direct light, that bright yellow tone holds and radiates with almost blinding vibrancy. The beer is incredibly hazy, making it almost opaque and nearly impossible to get a visual read on its carbonation level.  Head retention is decent, eventually condensing to a thin, airy cap that occasionally leaves thick slabs of lace behind on the glass.

Aroma:  The aroma is basically just an in-depth meditation on Mosaic hops as it is full of musty mango and peach, pineapple, lemongrass, berry, pine and soft herbal notes. The malts are mild and honestly lost in the all-consuming, juicy hoppiness billowing from the glass . . . not that there is anything wrong with that.

Taste:  The hops take point here as well, leading with lemon and various other citrus notes.  This smoothly shifts to tropical tones of mango, guava, pineapple, and mixed berries.  Lemongrass then blooms and coaxes out gentle notes of pine and herb. The wheat surfaces near the finish to offer a semblance of balance with a little bready sweetness and a slightly tangy character.

Mouthfeel:  Straight-up medium in body with a middling carbonation level, the wheatiness of Angelica really shines here by creating a silky-smooth texture and a pleasant weight.  It is mostly hoppy on the palate, but the wheat does a really nice job balancing things out enough so that the experience is not at all bitter or harsh.  As expected, the 5.5% ABV is not noticeable.  The aftertaste is all citrus-soaked mango.

Final Thoughts: Angelica achieves exactly what it set out to do by finding a comfortable and sensical place somewhere between the worlds of New England-style Pale Ales/IPAs and American Wheat Beers.  It has that clean hop flavor you expect from a Lord Hobo offering, but it has an even more reduced level of bitterness and a silkier mouthfeel than their Pale Ales, IPAs and Double IPAs.  By fully embracing the 40% wheat addition in its recipe, Angelica takes just the right amount of steps toward that American Wheat Beer to set itself apart.  This is not a beer with an identity crisis.  No . . . this beer definitely has an identity and it is all its own. No matter what your allegiances may or may not be to the haze craze, you need to check this beer out.  Prost!

Tasting Notes: Oktoberfest (2018) from Sierra Nevada & Weihenstephan

SNOFest2018PourThis year’s Oktoberfest celebration in Munich may have already come to a close, but we are doing our best to keep the party going by turning the focus of this week’s Tasting Notes to Oktoberfest (2018) from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. (Chico, California) and Bavarian State Brewery Weihenstephan (Freising, Germany).

Back in 2015, Sierra Nevada initiated a new approach to its seasonally released Oktoberfest offering by having its brewers explore the style’s various traditions through collaborations with some of the most respected breweries in Germany (2015 – Brauhaus Riegele; 2016 – Mahrs Bräu; 2017 –  Brauhaus Miltenberger).  For the 2018 release, Sierra Nevada teamed up with the world’s oldest brewery, Bavaria’s Weihenstephan, to create an “American take on the classic German Oktoberfest.”  What they came up with is a “crisp, clean, and drinkable crowd-pleaser” featuring a “malt backbone . . . balanced by subtle hop character.” Oktoberfest (2018) comes in at 6% ABV and 20 IBUs.

Although the 2018 run of Oktoberfest may be nearing its end, it will most assuredly still be pouring at the countless Oktoberfest celebrations that have yet to take place in the U.S. (this includes the one scheduled for October 13 at Sierra Nevada’s Mills River, North Carolina location).  You can also expect to find this Seasonal Release to be available in 6-packs of 12 oz. bottles and on draft at craft beer-friendly establishments located in Alabama, Florida, California, North Carolina and throughout the rest of Sierra Nevada’s nationwide distribution area.

Alright, that’s about enough with the particulars and background data.  It is definitely time to for us to lift some steins, destroy some pretzels and brats, and get into these Tasting Notes!

Tasting Notes for Oktoberfest (2018) from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. & Bavarian State Brewery Weihenstephan

Appearance: This Festbier is somewhere between amber and copper in color and is topped with right at a finger of wispy off-white foam.  When held to direct light, the color intensifies to become more of a rich golden to light copper.  The beer is perfectly clear, displaying the numerous streams of carbonation casually going about their business within.  Head retention is strong, slowly falling to a nearly complete top cap that leaves sporadic streaks of lace behind on the glass.

Aroma: The aromatics lead with comforting notes of bready malt, a touch of honey, and toasty grains.  A reserved and well-behaved mix of spicy, earthy and grassy hops then saunters in to lend some support and balance.  The aromas are beautifully simple and exactly what one might expect to get when putting his/her nose into a stein filled with Märzen.

Taste: Almost mirroring the nose, the flavor profile opens with a pronounced, yet somehow still mild malt character filled with bready notes, light caramel, a dollop of honey, and sweetly toasted cereal grains.  These malts come across as mild because they are expertly balanced by an incredibly nuanced hop presence featuring floral, spicy, grassy and herbal tones.  Incredibly clean and well-integrated, the lager yeast makes its presence known by pretty much not making its presence known (in other words, there are no off flavors or fruity notes).

Mouthfeel:  Medium in body with a slightly softer carbonation level than expected, this Festbier is easy-drinking but is comfortable taking its time when it comes to drying out.  The level of balance here is damn near perfection, riding that line between malty sweetness and hoppy bitterness with ease.  Leaving behind no trace of warmth/heat, the ABV feels much lighter than 6% and further adds to this beer’s overall drinkability. The aftertaste is just a slight amount of earthiness and bready malt.

Final Thoughts: When it comes to making Oktoberfests/Märzens, the goal is to end up with a malt-driven lager that has a level of drinkability suitable for long-haul-level sessions of consumption.  The flavors and aromatics should be malt forward, but they must not be overly sweet or cloying.  As far as the hops go, they should act as more of a delicate accompaniment that equips the beer with balance and that earthy, floral character that just makes you think of autumn.  If all of that falls into place properly, you are left with a beer that can be enjoyed stein after stein during the hours/days you spend celebrating Oktoberfest.

This Oktoberfest (2018) from Sierra Nevada and Weihenstephan exemplifies all the characteristics mentioned in the above paragraph.  It ticks each and every box an Oktoberfest/Märzen should, making it exactly what you would expect to get from two breweries of this caliber.  It is a spot-on representation of the style, and exceptional is a word that just barely scratches the surface when it comes to describing this beer.  Oktoberfest (2018) is absolutely something you need to get your hands on before its limited run is completed, so be sure to make that happen before it is too late.  Prost!

Tasting Notes – The Classics: Brown Shugga’ from Lagunitas Brewing Company

LagunitasBrownShuggaPourFor this week’s installment of Tasting Notes, we kick it old school with a classic by getting into a hearty pour of Brown Shugga’ from Lagunitas Brewing Company (Petaluma, California).

First created back in 1997, Brown Shugga’ is a Barleywine-style Ale that actually came into existence when the brewers at Lagunitas botched a batch of Olde GnarlyWine Ale and attempted to save it by adding “loads of brown sugar.” Although this quick fix made it so they were able to reach the same original gravity of GnarlyWine, they discovered that they ended up with something completely different in terms of flavor and aroma.  What they did get was the “dangerously slammable”, mighty tasty Brown Shugga’ (10% ABV) that has been a hit with the brewery’s fans ever since.

The 2018 batch of Brown Shugga’ is out now and will be available through December.  You can expect to find this Limited Release brew available in 6-packs of 12 oz. bottles and on draft at select beer-friendly establishments located in Alabama, Florida, California, Illinois, Washington and throughout the rest of Lagunitas Brewing Company’s nationwide distribution area.

Now that we have covered Brown Shugga’s history and release details, let’s crack open a few bottles and get all sweet on these Tasting Notes!

Tasting Notes for Brown Shugga’ from Lagunitas Brewing Company

Appearance:  Brown Shugga’ pours up a deep, red-hued copper in color while wearing over two fingers of rocky, tan-tinged foam.  When held to direct light, the copper softens a bit as dark amber tones push their way through.  The beer is pristine in clarity and displays an extremely exuberant carbonation presence.  Head retention is good, eventually falling to just under a finger of pillowy foam that leaves behind some serious sheets of lace on the glass.  Absolutely stunning to look at.

Aroma: Surprisingly, the first thing to hit the nose is a substantial waft of orange zest and pine from the hops.  Caramel, toasted grain and toffee then work their way in and are followed by a smooth note of molasses.  Sugary booze meets a refined, balancing hoppiness? We’ll have a sip of that fo sho.

Taste: The beer sneaks onto the palate with an unassuming biscuity malt presence that steadily builds to sweeter notes of caramel, toffee, brown sugar and molasses.  Lightly floral and citrus hop notes link up beautifully with the caramel and toffee to strike a nice level of balance.  Resiny pine notes turn up late to close out the flavor profile with even more hoppy goodness.

Mouthfeel:  Medium to full-bodied with a medium carbonation, Brown Shugga’ is nice and creamy on the palate, exceptionally smooth, and incredibly easy-drinking.  After a playful bout of push and pull, the sugary sweet notes and the citrusy/piney hops amicably decide to sprawl out together in a relaxed state of balance (not at all cloying, but not overly bitter either). Despite being slightly pronounced in the nose, the 10% ABV is pretty tame overall.  The aftertaste is all caramel and pine.

Final Thoughts:  Now that our glasses are all empty and discussions have been had, the best way we can describe Brown Shugga’ is that it comes across as an American-style Barleywine that strives for balance while maintaining enough of a hoppy bite to keep it from being allowed in the arena of the English Barleywine.  What do we mean by that? Well, it is an experience that features enough sweetness to live up to its name while that big American hop presence dials in the right amount of bitterness to find an inexplicable, almost miraculous level of balance.

Just like in the beer’s origin story where the brewers at Lagunitas ended up with something completely different than they expected, the same could happen to anyone who orders a pour of Brown Shugga’ . . . but in the best possible way.  The name creates certain sugar-filled expectations. The enthusiastic hops then turn up to offer a bit of a surprise.  The initial shock wears off as it all then comes together to form a uniquely balanced beer that is ridiculously drinkable for its size.  That uniqueness leaves a lasting impression from sip to sip, glass to glass, and year to year.  It always keeps you coming back for more, and that is why it is a classic.  Get you some Brown Shugga’ while you can.  Prost!

LagunitasBrownShuggaFeature2

 

Tasting Notes: Dragon’s Milk Reserve – Banana Coconut from New Holland Brewing Company

DragonsMilkBananaPourFor this edition of Tasting Notes, we close out the week by sampling a new spin on an old classic: Dragon’s Milk Reserve – Banana Coconut from New Holland Brewing Company (Grand Rapids, Michigan).

Earlier this month, New Holland Brewing Company unveiled a refreshed look for its fan-favorite Dragon’s Milk Bourbon Barrel-Aged Stout As one might expect, this re-brand also applies to the brewery’s Dragon’s Milk Reserve Series, a Limited Release line of Dragon’s Milk variants that feature complementary ingredients to “showcase the dimension of Dragon’s Milk“.  Surfacing as the first Reserve offering to wear the new look, Dragon’s Milk Reserve – Banana Coconut (11% ABV) takes the “traditional roasted, malty and smooth characteristics of Dragon’s Milk” and infuses it with “hints of real banana, plantain and coconut.”

Dragon’s Milk Reserve – Banana Coconut debuted in mid-September and will be available as long as supplies last.  You can expect to find this Limited Release available in 4-packs of 12 oz. bottles and on draft at select craft beer-focused establishments located within New Holland’s distribution footprint.

With all that background information now out of the way, what you say we take this new Dragon’s Milk snifter out for a test drive and get into some Tasting Notes?

Tasting Notes for Dragon’s Milk Reserve – Banana Coconut from New Holland Brewing Company

Appearance:   A gentle pour fills the glass with a deep, glossy black Imperial Stout wearing two fingers of creamy, brown sugar-colored foam that easily extends well above the brim.  When held to direct light, the darkness holds and the beer remains completely opaque.  The head shows decent retention, falling slowly down to a frothy half finger that lasts throughout the experience.  Each jostle of the glass traces a gorgeous line of lace, but the beer’s slick nature causes most of the foam to slide back down to reunite with the top cap.

Aroma:  The aromatics open with a big surge of banana in various forms: fresh banana, sweetened dried banana, banana ice cream, and banana candies (think Runts).  The character of the original Dragon’s Milk then rises to unleash notes bourbon, vanilla, and roasted grain.  The coconut is light, but it does lend a slight tropical note that pulls the banana to forefront once more.  This beer is incredibly banana-heavy in the aroma department and we ain’t mad at that.

Taste:  Banana takes the lead here as well by laying down sweet notes of fresh banana, banana candies, and earthy plantain.  The coconut is more confident as a flavor as it surfaces with the barrel character of the base beer.  Vanilla, bourbon, toasted coconut, and a gentle nuttiness collide with that substantial banana presence to create what can only be described as a boozy banana cream pie-like quality.  Just as you think this stout is getting too sweet, the heavily roasted grains finally slip through with notes of dark chocolate and dark roast coffee to offer just the right amount of balancing bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Teetering a bit toward the medium side of full-bodied with a medium carbonation level, this big ol’ Imperial Stout drinks much lighter than one might expect from an 11% ABV brew.  It is mostly sweet on the palate, but it does not get anywhere near Pastry Stout levels of cloying.  This thing actually still has a bit of balance.  The previously mentioned ABV does creep up on you, settling into the throat with a gentle warmth.  The aftertaste is all banana and vanilla.

Final Thoughts: Full disclosure – Most of the participants on this tasting panel are longtime fans of the classic Dragon’s Milk.  Since that beer has been around for over 20 years and was one of the first easily obtainable Bourbon Barrel-aged Stouts on the market, it served as an introduction to barrel-aged beers for many of us.

That level of nostalgia had us going into this tasting of Dragon’s Milk Reserve – Banana Coconut thinking there is no way that it could be better than the original . . . but then we were reminded of the fact that the beers of the Dragon’s Milk Reserve Series are not meant to “improve” upon the original.  They are here to make you think about Dragon’s Milk in new and inventive ways, and Dragon’s Milk Reserve – Banana Coconut does just that by taking the Dragon’s Milk experience into the realm of dessert beers.  The sweetness of the banana and coconut tames the roasted and boozy character of the original, and then beautifully melds with those notes to create a sinfully decadent treat.  Every aspect of Dragon’s Milk Reserve – Banana Coconut – from the familiar notes of the base beer to the newly added banana and coconut – effortlessly finds a meaningful place and leaves you craving more the second your glass goes dry.

Sure, it is not better than the original Dragon’s Milk, but nothing is going to be.  That’s why it has been around for two decades and is still going strong.  Even with that being the case, it still does not take away from the fact that Dragon’s Milk Reserve – Banana Coconut is a damn tasty Imperial Stout that left each and every one of us thoroughly impressed. Dragon’s Milk Reserve – Banana Coconut proudly stands on its own while still respecting the beer that made its creation possible, and that’s always going to earn high marks from us.  Be sure to check out Dragon’s Milk Reserve – Banana Coconut before its limited-time run comes to an end.  Prost!

Tasting Notes: Mise En Rose – Table Beer from Brew Gentlemen

BGMiseEnRosePour_editedAnother workweek has come to an end and we are here to close the thing out by taking down some Tasting Notes on Mise En Rose – Table Beer from Brew Gentlemen (Braddock, Pennsylvania).

Mise En Rose, a term meaning “‘setting the rose’ – the stage of the barrel-making process where the barrel first begins to take shape”, is Brew Gentlemen’s Limited Release collection of modern-American Farmhouse Ales that focuses “on mixed culture fermentation, extended aging in oak, and careful blending.”

Mise En Rose – Table Beer is the brewery’s take on the Belgian Tafelbier, a low-alcohol Farmhouse Ale that is traditionally served with meals.  This offering is a “delicate” Saison that has “aged for several months in oak foeders with [Brew Gentleman’s] house culture, then naturally conditioned in the bottle.”

Table Beer is a recurring release that “serves more or less as the flagship beer of the [Mise En Rose Collection].” Brew Gentlemen aims to keep this offering “permanently available” and there were quite a few 750ml bottles of Table Beer in stock when we visited the brewery in late August.

Now that we have properly gone over the necessary background information, it appears that it is finally time to gather round the table and get into these Tasting Notes!

Tasting Notes for Mise En Rose – Table Beer from Brew Gentlemen 

Appearance: Table Beer pours a golden yellow in color and is capped with a finger of brilliant white foam.  When held to direct light, that brilliance dims to a softer, paler hue of yellow.  Although slightly cloudy, the beer remains mostly clear and displays steady streams of carbonation bubbles drifting skyward to feed the head.  Head retention is decent, but it eventually reduces down to a lasting, chunky ring that leaves occasional spots of lace behind on the glass.

Aroma: Equal parts farmhouse funk and citrus tartness open the aromatics with a gorgeous introduction that is both dominant and mesmerizing.  Pear and lemon come through to offer a grace of fruity character while the hops support with some grassy, floral and earthy (think light pepper and damp wood) notes.  Crackery grains and toasted oak hold it all together from underneath.

Taste: A bright, lemony tartness eagerly rushes the palate, but it quickly relinquishes its hold so that a gentle presence of farmhouse funk can settle in.  Notes of pear, lemon zest and white grapes then combine with a gentle oak character to create a distinct white wine/champagne-like quality.  In the background, additional grassy and earthy notes covertly meet with a soothing grain presence to close out the flavor profile.

Mouthfeel:  Light in body with a medium to high carbonation level, this Farmhouse Ale offers an experience that is crisp and refreshing.  The beer finds a nice balance between its tart acidity, fruity sweetness and earthy funk.  The 4.8% ABV is incredibly faint, further adding to the beer’s overall easy-drinking nature.  The aftertaste is a soft, lingering presence of oak and funk.

Final Thoughts: On the surface, Mise En Rose – Table Beer is exactly what it should be and true to style. It is a beer that deserves a place at the table for any meal that is being served for any occasion (ranging from a typical Wednesday night to an elaborate celebratory event). Planning to enjoy a frittata and a side of fresh fruit at brunch? What about a multi-course dinner built around a heavy pork dish? You can rest assured that Brew Gentlemen’s Table Beer will comfortably hold its own in those and a myriad of other pairing situations.

With that said, this beer is far more than what many may expect from an offering that humbly wears Table Beer” as its name.  It is an incredibly nuanced Farmhouse Ale that is wonderfully complex, exquisitely balanced, and somehow still wildly approachable.  It is a fine example of the level of craftsmanship that brewers in the Pittsburgh area and all over the U.S. are capable of, and it is proof that mind-blowing beauty can be found in simplicity and tradition.  Mise En Rose – Table Beer is damn near perfect and easily one of the best beers we have had this year. You absolutely need to check this beer out if you get the chance. Prost!