Soaking up the suds with James Crane
Oh, Weyerbacher, I love you. I love you so much. I know I drink other beers from time to time … or a lot. They’re delicious, and I’ve said as much, but it always has been you that I come back to.
Sure, you’ve always been a bit heavy-handed, but I happen to like heavy-handed. I like how you’re not afraid to be in charge and do what you want with my taste buds. I have no complaints.
Weyerbacher is well known for its big beers. They’re heavy and alcoholic but generally balanced in their own right. The alcohol usually makes no attempt to hide itself, but the Easton-based brewery plays off that alcoholic burn, adding complementary flavors that are just as strong. This is very true of Weyerbacher’s Merry Monks and Blithering Idiot, two beers I’ve been drinking for years now. Their allure has diminished in my eyes.
Weyerbacher actually has made beers longer than I’ve been allowed to drink legally. In fact, the brand recently turned 21 and celebrated by making its 21st Anniversary ale.
It might be the brewery’s birthday, but I’m the one who seems to be getting the presents. This beer promises to be everything I love. First, it is a stout with cocoa and vanilla, which alone would be enough to garner my attention. Then it added some very special words: bourbon barrel-aged.
I don’t know if I’ve ever had a barrel-aged beer I didn’t like, especially bourbon barrel-aged. I feel like I could just find a good barrel and chew on it and I’d be happy. That smoky, charred, alcoholic flavor is like nothing else. It makes me reevaluate the benefits of having splinters in my tongue.
This one poured darker than coffee with a finger’s worth of mocha-colored head. Leaving some light lacing all the way down the glass, it was beautiful and thick, promising a great mouth feel. The brew smelled of roasted malt, vanilla and alcohol. Once it warmed up a bit, notes of caramel and bourbon became apparent, which played well with the alcoholic burn.
The taste was everything Weyerbacher said it would be and nothing more. 21st Anniversary delivers exactly what it promises, with roasted malt stout up front. After the swallow, the flavors linger on the tongue and evolve. The bourbon and caramel slide up and give it a nice, alcoholic, sweet taste. The vanilla is a huge part of that. Then it’s all smoke and bitter roast, with roasted notes that linger a long while and slowly dissipate into the taste of a smokey cigar.
This beer is big, boozy and satisfying. If I needed an example to remind me of why I’m in love with Weyerbacher, this would do it. As I finished the bottle, the hazy warmth of it all set in, making me feel vaguely happy, satisfied and comforted. If a beer cuddle was a thing, this would be it. It slides down the throat like liquid happiness, with the stout’s smoothness and creaminess
taking away any alcoholic burn. This makes it easier to drink than it should be, but the
richness keeps it from going down too quick. With a beer like this, it’s not really necessary to drink too many.
Weyerbacher, I’m all yours. I might still drink other brews, but you’re the one for me. Call me sometime.
Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane
Happy New Year, everyone!
I’m sure you’re knee-deep in resolutions to make a better you. I’m all for it. Run that marathon. Eat better. Learn krav maga. Kick all the ass and take all the names. Go ahead and be that best possible version of yourself. Hip-hip-hooray and all that. I wish you luck, since the deck is stacked against you.
What do I mean? It’s almost criminal that the new year starts in January. You’re expected to make all these wondrous self transformations in the midst of the coldest and darkest part of the year. December isn’t much better, but at least it has all those festive holidays. What does January have? Well, after New Year’s Day, just the ever-present possibility of snow, long nights and short days. Sure, have fun with that.
Of course, I’ve restarted my efforts on the requisite number of pushups and all that. The endorphins are great. But I’ll sip some strong brews to pass time this month as well. This is the perfect time of year for something big and warming at the end of the day, and preferably something thick and chewy. It’s like the comfort food of alcohol.
For me, normally this means a stout, barley wine or something else of that type with dark, thick character. This week, however, I stick with my old fallback: an IPA. The heavy hops are like an alcoholic lullaby for my soul that I have trouble ignoring. This particular brew, Gus by Full Pint brewing, promises an 8 percent ABV, exactly what I want.
The pour was beautiful with a lovely, hazy, golden orange and copious bubbles that continued to surge upward, providing bountiful carbonation. The head was the real prize winner, however. It must have been a full two fingers’ worth of foam, and it never really dissipated. Thick lacing lined the glass all the way down. It was quite impressive.
Pine tree makes up the biggest part of the scent. Whatever hops are in there smell like a distant cousin of pine needles and sap. Then there are the chlorophyll-filled scents of fresh-cut grass and other floral-type notes. Orange-like citrus brightens it up, while some biscuity malt keeps it grounded.
The taste certainly is IPA through and through, though it’s more pine and sap than bitter. The bitterness shows up at the end to round it out, however, accompanied by some black pepper and held together by the caramel-malt backbone. Even the bitter is citrusy, though, like a grapefruit. A slight bit of alcoholic burn turns up at the end, just enough to remind you that you are drinking a boozy beer.
Gus isn’t super unique, but it is quite good. A smooth drink, it goes down quite well, which is great for a beer of this caliber. It lays nicely on the tongue and is delightfully warming, with the hops providing that nice, sedating effect of an IPA.
This is a great brew to sip before bed, almost like the alcoholic equivalent of a cup of chamomile tea. Gus does everything I want it to and does so tastily. I think I’ll go to sleep now. I can get back to those resolutions tomorrow.
Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane
OK, enough of the gourd. Thanks for sticking with me through my pumpkin beer season. It was fun while it lasted, but now it’s on to bigger and better things.
The nights are getting darker, and so it’s time for my beers to do the same. It’s time for my brews to be hazy and boozy, something that comes on like a warm blanket against the winter chill.
It’s also time for me to start my holiday shopping. There are a few people on my list bound to get a bottle. I’d like to say they made the “nice” portion of the list, but I also don’t want to be accused of lying. In any case, this is a yearly tradition of mine. As I pour over the shelves and shelves of beer, my holiday beer shopping needs tend to focus on a certain area: wood-aged beers.
There is something about wood and beer that makes a brew special. Maybe it’s the extra time it takes for the beer to pick up that smoky, wood flavor. Maybe they are just generally complex and delicious. Whatever the case, I love getting them as gifts. Their level of distinction says, “Hey, you’re worth something special and unique.” That’s a great thing for a gift to say.
While out shopping this week, I had to grab myself a gift as well. By way of a local store, B.O.M Brewing in Belgium provided me with Triporteur Full Moon 12, a Belgian strong dark ale that promises a beer brewed on the full moon and aged with oak. If anything about this sounds unappealing, I don’t know what it is. All those words describe exactly what I want in a beer right now.
The pour was quite dark, though not so much as a stout or porter. It was a dark amber, allowing one to almost see their own hand on the other side of the glass. There wasn’t much there in way of head. The slightest bit of foam topped the liquid, but only for a short moment. The syrupy pour of this one explains that. This wasn’t about to be a nice, light, effervescent brew. No, this was going to be more like liquid bread, the type of beer you want to chew your way through.
The scent was great, with dark fruits and cherries as well as sticky malt and wood. There also was something wine-like to the scent, like fermented grapes. The alcohol also was quite noticeable in the nose. This 10.2-percent ABV wasn’t interested in hiding from the world. It was proud of what it was.
The flavor followed suit. The dark fruit was in the forefront, like a sticky, sweet, drying plum. There also were tastes of wine tannins, tons of oak, a slight sweetness, smoke and booze. It all was quite bold but well-balanced. It had qualities of a woody barleywine, making it incredibly satisfying to quaff.
Thick and syrupy with just a little carbonation, Full Moon 12 was boozy, satisfying and toothsome. While I’m sure I have some friends who would have liked it, this one was for me. And I’ve been good enough that I might just have to get myself another.
Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane
I know I’ve been on a bit of a spree here with the pumpkin, and I promise this is the last one this year. It’s just, well, Thanksgiving is almost here and, while this likely will garner a not-so-positive response, I might just love the pumpkin pie more than the turkey. Most of the time, I don’t even bother with any sort of whipped topping. I don’t want anything to mask that pumpkiny goodness. My only regret is that it comes at the end of the meal, after I’ve already stuffed myself with so many other things.
Sadly, however, Thanksgiving also seems to mark the end of pumpkin season. It just doesn’t feature so prominently in the following holidays. Once that leftover pie disappears, you’re pretty much done for the year. Sure, I could bake a pumpkin pie any time. Nothing is stopping me from having some for Christmas, or even on the Fourth of July, for that matter. But I most likely will just pine for one instead.
This means I’m going to get as much pumpkin in me as possible until pumpkin season ends this week. Thankfully, I haven’t even scratched the tip of the iceberg that is pumpkin beers. I regret I can only try so many. This week, I picked up a six-pack of Lancaster Brewing’s Baked Pumpkin Ale. It’s going to be my pie appetizer this week.
The color was a shade of amber not uncommon for pumpkin beers. A half-finger’s worth of white foam topped it. The head wasn’t big, but it lingered on top of the glass for the duration of the drink. A decent amount of bubbles ran through the liquid, promising decent carbonation. It certainly was a looker.
Caramel malt was very up-front in the nose. All the spices came right after that. Then all the usual suspects showed up. Cinnamon and nutmeg are very present with some clove backing them up. The malt transitioned into a graham cracker scent that really was quite pleasing. There also was a bit of vanilla.
To be honest, the one thing I didn’t really catch a lot of was pumpkin. It was more like a supermarket pumpkin pie, with the scent of spice and filler taking over. I don’t necessarily think that is a bad thing, but it does put it in a certain category.
The taste certainly wasn’t any big surprise. It followed the scent pretty well. The crust was right up front with tons of malt and graham. Next up are all those aforementioned spices and vanilla. Some pumpkin held it together, but it was by far not the more prevalent flavor. There also was caramel and a finish not unlike honey. That’s not to say that the beer is overly sweet. It was well-balanced in that aspect.
There isn’t anything that really stands out about this one. It was a good beer and pretty much what I wanted. It did have an ABV of 7.5 percent, which was nice, but there still are stronger ones out there. It’s solid, but it’s not rewriting any history. Then again, I don’t want my pumpkin pie to taste like anything other than pumpkin pie. So I’d call that a win.
Soaking up the suds with James Crane
Go ahead, step outside. Put up your ear to the wind, and you’ll hear it. Your skin very well might tingle in anticipation, as if something you’ve waited for is creeping ever nearer. It like an old friend, or perhaps a lover from a past life coming to call you home. It’s comfortable like a warm blanket or an old pair of shoes.
All the same, it’s bigger than you. It’s bigger than all of us. It’s ancient and looming, promising to be here long after we’re gone. You know it deep in your bones. Its presence is undeniable; its force is irresistible. When it comes calling, you will succumb, perhaps with trepidation, but ultimately, it’ll carry you away into its cosmic bliss.
We’re approaching pumpkin event horizon.
OK, so maybe it’s not that big of a deal. Really, I’m just still excited for my pumpkin beers. While drinking enough of them might give you glimpses of the vast cosmic bliss I just spoke of, having one or two still makes me pretty happy. I know the naysayers will find 1,000 reasons we aren’t supposed to be fans of pumpkin beers, but come on. They never did anything to you. There is no reason to hate on them so much.
If you read my last column, you’ll realize I’m on a little bit of a pumpkin beer streak. Stoudts Pumpkinfest kicked off the party in my mouth. This week, it continues with Alewerks Pumpkin Ale. It was fun to drink with the last beer still so fresh in my mind. While they were both pumpkin beers, there was a good deal of difference between them. For starters, Stoudts was a lager, while Alewerks is an ale. It didn’t end with the yeast, however.
The brew poured a lovely, murky shade somewhere between amber and orange. It wasn’t just the color that was reminiscent of pumpkin flesh, either. The scent definitely carried a good deal of malt and spice. Pumpkin also was quite prevalent as well. And I don’t just mean the seasonings usually associated with the gourd. It smelled just like fresh roasted pumpkin, or the unadulterated puree right out of the can. Alewerks must have used a good amount of it to get that scent.
The taste confirmed that suspicion. Pumpkin was in no way an afterthought. It led from the front, proudly displaying its vegetable nature. This expertly paired with cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and sugar. These ingredients were used in proper proportion, the spices serving to enhance the pumpkin as opposed to covering it up. There also were slightly sour notes as well as vanilla and caramel, though the caramel was not a prevalent as it was in the Pumpkinfest.
The taste did a great job at covering up its 7.4 percent ABV. This brew certainly was a little bit stronger than it let on. Another great side effect of using real pumpkin was its body. The puree gave it a great velvety feel that made it quite pleasing to drink. Alewerks Pumpkin might have been the most pumpkiny pumpkin beer I’ve ever had the pleasure to drink. While it didn’t bring about cosmic-level happiness, it did lead to soft contentment tinged with glee. If that sounds like the type of thing you’re into, grab yourself this beer. It’s the best advice I have to give.
Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane
Haters gonna hate, am I right?
At some point over the last few years, it’s become cool to talk smack on pumpkin spice. Granted, its proliferation might be a little bit ridiculous (pumpkin spice hand soap, anyone?), but it’s for good reason. Pumpkin spice is delicious. It always has been since the dawn of time and will continue to be so long after all its opponents are in the ground and no one remains to remember their existence. Pumpkin spice perseveres. You do not.
I’m sure there are some of you right now silently mouthing your resistance. At least one is whining about how so many pumpkin products don’t even contain an iota of the orange gourd. To you I say the following: I don’t care. If the pumpkin beer I am drinking contains nothing but malt and old, chewed bubblegum, I don’t care. It’s delicious. I’m going to keep drinking it.
Don’t you take this away from me.
If you haven’t caught on yet, this week I am drinking a pumpkin brew, Stoudts Pumpkinfest Lager. While many pumpkin beers rely solely on the spice mixture to give them that pumpkin pie feel, this one promises real roasted pumpkin in the mix. For anyone who ever made a pumpkin pie from real pumpkin, you know what a time-consuming and labor-intensive project this is. Stoudts must really care about us.
The pour had a beautiful amber color with a copious two fingers’ worth of head sitting on top. It managed to leave lacing down the entirety of the glass. The scent was as pleasant as the sight. There was ample malt in the nose, making this brew reminiscent of the Marzen I drank for my last column. It also had the familiar scent of lager yeast. This paired delightfully with the smell of roasted pumpkin and spices such as clove and cinnamon. Everything was as it should be.
The taste brought forth everything in the scent and then some. It tasted as malty as an Oktoberfest brew, exhibiting the qualities of my favorite type of lager. It was heavy with cereal, and the caramel malt provided the experience of pie crust. This mixed with a good amount of spice, heavier on astringent cloves than sugar. This was a great direction to take, as it gave it pumpkin pie flavor without too much sweetness. The roasted pumpkin also came through, giving the brew its dose of authenticity. A bit of hops in the back end finished it off.
One of the great things about this brew is how drinkable it is. At 4.5 percent ABV, this one could qualify as a session beer. It isn’t going to hit you too terribly hard. Some other pumpkin brews out there tend to be really big in character and very dessert-like. They are great on their own accord, but you don’t want to drink too much of them in one sitting. This one is light enough in body and alcohol content to go down easy for a while.
Look, pumpkin pie is right around the corner. You know you’re waiting for it. If you can suspend your all-so-trendy pumpkin hate, grab a pumpkin brew to hold you over. Stoudts Pumpkinfest, a great mash-up of pumpkin and a Marzen-style lager, is a good choice.