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Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane

Fact of the day: It’s generally accepted that we salivate more when we think of food or even alcohol. This makes sense, right? When you pour the perfect pint of beer or smell a pie baking in the oven, the juices start to flow. I bet you even notice it now just from reading about these things.
Believe it or not, this is an incorrect assumption. In truth, your mouth is always watering. Your saliva does all kinds of wonderful things, from protecting your teeth to keeping disease at bay. You just notice it more when the thought of ingesting something enters your mind. For instance, I just cracked open my first ever Stillwater Artisanal Ale and I’m fairly certain a waterfall is cascading down my tongue.
I’ve seen Stillwater Artisanal Ale bottles around for a while now. The art has always been captivating and the descriptions interesting, but I’d not yet picked one up. In retrospect, I now realize what a mistake that has been. If its Folklore Stout is any indication, I’ve been missing out.
Upon doing some research, I found out that it is not only a brewery, but also an art collective. This explains the allure of the bottles. Each one is done in a very distinctive style. The labels are always worth a look just as the brews themselves are worth a taste. Its nice to see Stillwater is continuing the long relationship between alcohol and art.
The pour was smooth and flat. This surprised me a bit. There was little head that didn’t bother to stick around long. While this is not at all uncommon for a stout, that fact that it didn’t look overly thick was. There was little to no lacing left on the glass. The brew was the customary black color of roasted malt, however. That gave me hope.
It smelled pretty sweet and boozy — qualities that reminded me of an imperial stout with chocolate notes to it. There was more to this brew, however. Aside from the alcoholic burn, there was definite yeasty notes, such as one finds in a Belgian-style brew. The scent of roasted malt was certainly there, but so were dark fruits such as figs and the like. It was that sweet, sticky brown sugar scent that makes me think of molasses.
The taste was surprising, though most of it followed suit with the scent. While it was certainly still a stout, there was a great deal of deviation from the standard formula. Up front were notes of sour cherries, chocolate and booze. That is an amazing combination in a beer. This was followed by deep flavors of roasted malt and dark fruit that settled nicely on the tongue. There must be some Belgian yeast in there to give it such character. That would explain the sourness, dark fruit and spicy nature of this brew.
The feel of this brew also differentiates from that of your standard stout. It was not thick or cloying, nor was it syrupy. The body was thin, leading to a bit of an increase in drinkability. I still would not want to drink a great deal of this brew, as it is quite intense. It certainly is not a session beer, but at 8.4 percent ABV, it doesn’t need to be.
Folklore has me interested in more brews from Stillwater Artisanal Ales. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. I’ll let you know how the search turns out.

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Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane

Some beer styles are better defined than others. An IPA is characterized by its use of hops. A red ale is known by its malt, roasted until it takes on a red hue. A stout or porter is much the same, except the malt is roasted until it is black. If one were to have one of these beers, it would be easy to guess at which style the brew was.
Other styles are not so easy to pin down, however. Saisons are farmhouse ales, and while many of them do use a specific yeast, it does not need be so. A winter warmer really only needs to be drank during the winter. A quadrupel, which characteristically shares certain flavors and alcohol percentages, isn’t all that defined. Oddly, though, you tend to know when you’ve had one.
They generally clock in at around 10% ABV, putting them in the Imperial beer range. One can expect a dark brew with a spice levels characteristic of a Belgian beer and hints of fruit. These are more generally agreed upon terms than strict guide lines. In truth, the name “quadrupel” really is just an homage to La Trappe Quadrupel, an abbey brewed beer out of the Netherlands. Anything else is sort of fair game.
This week, I’m cracking open a bottle of Boulevard Brewing’s Sixth Glass, a self proclaimed quadrupel-style ale. I tend to take Boulevard’s beers seriously. Each one that I’ve had has been nothing less than distinct. The last brew I’ve had by them was the Dark Truth Stout, a deliciously thick and dark brew. It was so roasty and malty that the mere thought of it sets my mouth to salivation. Just based on that brew alone, I have high hopes for The Sixth Glass.
The pour was amazing. The head towered above my glass, a slight dribble of beer going down the side. It took a good while to dissipate, eventually leaving a fingers worth that lingered while I drank it. The murky reddish liquid left lacing all the way down the glass.
It smelled of yeast and dark fruits such as raisins or figs. There was also a good amount of alcohol in the nose. This was woven in with spicy scents as well as those of sweet malts. In the smell alone, there was a lot of depth.
The taste was big. This beer was certainly more aggressive than I expected, the first sip bringing forth a rather noticeable alcoholic burn. You can drink some strong beers and not even notice how strong they are. The Sixth Glass is not one of them as it makes little to no attempt to hide its strong ABV. This is paired well with the brews spiciness, providing a really bold first impression.
In subsequent swallows, more flavors rose to the surface. The yeast and dark fruit was certainly there. There was also hints of banana and clove. The malt reminded me of chocolate and caramel. This was finished with the perfect amount of bitterness that blended beautifully with its subtle sweetness.
This beer was a lot of fun. While bold, at no point did I feel it to be overpowering. The quadrupel style ale may not be very well defined, but The Sixth Glass certainly captures the spirit of it. Just like anything else from Boulevard, it is certainly worth a go.

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Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane

 

IPAs and session beers do not go together. Everyone knows this. The purpose of a session brew is to be drinkable in quantity without getting too sloppy or heavy.  Most IPAs go for high alcohol and high levels of hops. While that is a wonderful combination, its rare that one wants to drink a lot of them. While its certainly not the only school of thought concerning IPAs, the “lets see how far we can take it” does perhaps seem to be the most popular.
This is why I was surprised to find a bottle of beer purporting to be a session IPA. That’s like claiming to be a healthy cheeseburger or dry water. Its just not the way things are done. More surprising to me was who was brewing it. Stone, who is responsible for a chili pepper porter and their infamous Arrogant Bastard Ale, has released Go To IPA. This was my favorite brewery doing something that had the potential to turn out horribly. I would lie if I said I wasn’t just a little bit scared.
Obviously, I had a lot of questions and doubts about this one. A  lot of them started to abate immediately when I poured the brew into a glass. This was one good looking beer. It had the color of translucent gold with a magnificent amount of bubbles rising through the liquid. It was topped with a head of at least two fingers width that took forever to dissipate. As I drank, it left lacing all the way down the glass. If nothing else, it sure was a handsome beer.
My fears lessened even more as I sniffed it. Many Stone brews have a certain scent they share that I attribute to whatever hop blend is so prevalent in them. They smell of bitterness, citrus and grass. The Go To IPA shared the scent, as well as a nice sweet biscuit malt. I had my doubts that it would classify as a session beer, but I was willing to wager that it would be delicious.
White the first sip was pretty good, it seemed to just improve on every subsequent swallow. Somehow, I was drinking a nice light crisp beer that was loaded with hoppy goodness. I don’t know what sort of unholy bargain they struck to bring this beer to fruition, but I’m fairly certain that it was probably worth it. There was sweet malt, grapefruit-like hops, bitterness and just a little bit of fruity yeast flavor. While that sounds like a lot, it was somehow incredibly refreshing and finished so clean that you couldn’t help but want to drink more. An IPA like this has no business being so satisfying to swallow. All that carbonation provided excellent mouth feel, making it a joy to drink.
It clocks in at a lowly 4.5% ABV. This means you can drink a few without going overboard. Though I initially had my doubts, Stone had somehow done it. They made a session IPA. When summer finally rolls around, this might just be my brew of choice. Go To IPA is incredibly appropriately named. Its a session brew for the IPA fan. If that’s you, grab one as soon as you can.

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Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane

 

When I have a beer, I go for quality over quantity. This was not always the case. While presently I’d rather just have a single beer that’s memorable, I used to have enough beers to not remember anything, let alone what I drank.
Now, after one heavy and strong beer, I’m ready to call it a night. Sometimes, however, quantity is important. If I find myself at a party or out on the town, chances are I’m going to have more than one beer. This presents unique problems. The beers I usually enjoy are rich and full of character. Sometimes they are incredibly dark, other times incredibly hoppy. While delicious in their own right, they aren’t made for the long haul. The days where I could pound down multiple stouts is long gone. If I’m in it for the duration, I need something drinkable.
Enter the idea of the session beer. While not a distinct style in and of itself, the session beer does have certain characteristics. They generally are not too strong and value drinkability over complexity. While it is possible for a beer to score high in both of those areas, its not necessary for a session beer. Ultimately, you just need to be able to swallow a lot of them and not feel bad about it.
This week, I’m drinking Red Hook’s Audible Ale, produced in collaboration with sportscaster Dan Patrick.. I’ve had a few other Red Hook brews, all of which I would consider session worthy. I’m especially fond of their ESB. This one in particular claims to be crushable and easy to drink. I was willing to put that to the test.
The beer poured a hazy copper color. There was minimal head that dissipated with little proof that it was there. A big thick robust beer isn’t something I look for in a session brew so this was okay with me. A thick head generally points toward a great mouth feel but is also generally accompanied by a lot more heavy. With its slow rising bubbles, this one looked easy enough to put down.
The scent was predominately sweet malt with some citrus hints. There was some toastiness there that boded well. Some mild hop presence appears in the nose too, but it was the malts I noticed most of all.
There isn’t much taste at all when it first hits the tongue. There is a slight metallic flavor, but that’s it. As it swallows, it releases a little lemon sensation followed by light bittering hops. All of this was rather unimpressive. In its wake, however, there is some magic. Seconds after you’ve finished swallowing and are ready to write this brew off, the sweet biscuit cookie malt taste sets in. Its grainy and savory and sweet. The brew leaves a pleasant sensation in the mouth.
If a session beer can be qualified by its lack of offensiveness, this one certainly makes the cut. At 4.7% ABV, its not overly strong and goes down rather easy. The carbonation feels good in the stomach while the brew itself is pleasant and incredibly easy going. Audible Ale won’t blow your mind and nor was it meant to. Its a good beer to drink and share, however, beer is always better with friends anyway.

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Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane

 

The Big, Bad DirtWolf
Somewhere along the way, IPA’s became kind of a big deal. First brewed in England, these beers were generally well hopped. They were also meant to age for a while. Even before they were drank domestically, they were meant to be cellared for a year or more for the flavor to mature. This made them perfect to ship from England to India, the sea voyage taking around six months. Brewed with pale malt and popular on the Indian continent, they were termed IPAs, also known as Indian Pale Ales. From these humble beginnings, a monster was born.
No longer content to be just another type of Pale Ale, IPA’s have become ever stronger, the concentration of alcohol always rising.  At some point, it became necessary to coin the term Double IPA or Imperial IPA to refer to beers that boasted an ABV of 7.5% or larger. This was paired with an ever increasing amount of bittering hops. It suddenly seemed that the stronger and more bitter a beer was, the higher regard in which it was held.
Don’t get me wrong. I love me some big bold bitter brews. I enjoy a beer that kicks ass and takes names. On the down side, the trend has managed to remove some of the variety of the style. Hops come in many kinds, each contributing different flavors. Where bittering hops are certainly important, there are hops with much more floral and fruity characters. There can be more to IPA’s than just bitter, right?
On occasion, I have managed to come across an IPA that celebrates the other side of the hop. The pale malt flavors are chased with citrus and varying other tastes, including the bitterness most associate with the style. These beers generally rely on combinations of different strains of hops to provide their flavor profile as well as assertive yeasts. This is just what I’ve run into today.
Enter Victory Brewing’s DirtWolf double IPA. From the moment it poured, it seemed I was holding onto something special. It was a beautiful shade of translucent amber with only a little bit of head. The scent was completely unexpected. It smelled grassy and spicy with plenty of citrus floating throughout. There was something reminiscent of a pine tree as well and perhaps clove, though I imagine it was the yeast coming through.
The taste was amazing. In opposition to most IPAs, this one wasn’t heavy in the least. It was a bit like drinking a cup full of flowers mixed with grapefruit. There was a large grassy presence that rose above the malt. This was followed by a slight bitterness that accentuated its nice crisp end. It’s a taste that manages to be big and complex without being overwhelming.
This was not your standard IPA. It has a great depth of flavor. It’s spice and very present yeast flavors are reminiscent of an Belgian style brew, yet it is certainly an IPA at heart. This is one I’d suggest to people who aren’t fans of the style as it really shows a different side of it.  Its got a great hop presence, full of more character than bitterness. I don’t know if Victory is shipping any of these from their Downingtown, Pa. brewery to India, but this one would make the trip.

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Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane

 

EC23LIQUID_5_WEBFor me, there is something special about barrel-aged beers. The wood imparts certain qualities on the brew that are incredibly distinctive and generally pleasing. They’re almost like a whole other monster, the end result sharing the qualities of the original beer and that of whatever was in the barrel before it.
Various types of barrels have been used in this process. There have been beers aged in wine, gin, and even used tabasco barrels. The type of wood in the barrel also plays greatly into the flavors it imparts. A brew that sits around in an oak barrel for a few months will certainly pick up different characteristics than one that sits in birch. The options barrel aging provides are staggering.
This being said, there is one barrel I prefer. When it comes to spirits, whiskey is my king. This is why I was excited to pick up Boulevard Brewing’s Smokestack Series Imperial Stout 2013. This is one of my favorite beer styles essentially being paired with one of my favorite spirits. If Boulevard’s past offerings were any indication, I was in for a robust beer that would hit the mark perfectly.
The pour was dark. So dark, the word dark doesn’t do it justice. It was dark like midnight on a moonless eve. It was dark like thick old coffee with the lights off. It was dark like Requiem for a Dream. It was down right pitch black.
Its head was slight but nice. The liquid itself was thick coming out of the bottle, so much so that I almost expected it to start bubbling like a pot of cooked-down tomato sauce. The beer looked gorgeous.
The scent was mostly that of sweet and roasty malt. There was some smoke and alcohol in the nose as well, but the predominant feel of it was that of a sweet and savory cup of coffee. The smell wasn’t anything overly complex, but it was rather gratifying.
The taste was incredibly full and robust. It came across like a stout on steroids. It was more “stout” than most any stout I’ve had. That is not to say it was more creamy or bitter. I don’t know that I can describe that concept any more than to say it was more “stout.”
There is a lot of grain in this one, the oats and rye adding incredible depth of flavor to the numerous malts inside. There is a beautiful sweetness thats cut by the smoky wood. This leads to a slight alcoholic burn that is exquisitely accentuated by the whiskey flavors. There is a lot happening in each sip, but it’s not abundantly clear at first as its blended so well. This is not a beer that makes you pause to think. It’s incredibly complex and full of big flavors, but it’s been put together so skillfully that you don’t even notice.
Whiskey, cigars, coffee, chocolate and rye … these are all things I associate with this brew. I broke out my bottle when I had some friends over and poured us each a small glass. Throughout the time that followed, we would all pause occasionally in our conversation to remark on what a good drink it was. If you grab one for yourself, I’m pretty sure you’ll be doing the same.