Liquid: June 30, 2016

Liquid: June 30, 2016

Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane

Hey, did you know Stone put out a new edition of their Ruination? Apparently, it happened over a year ago. How did I miss this? This is one of my favorite breweries of all time, yet I somehow dropped the ball on this one. I totally understand if you, fair reader, do not want to talk to me any more out of sheer embarrassment. I’d be embarrassed to be seen talking to me too.

Brewing techniques have evolved since the first Ruination IPA. There is more you can do with hops now that ever before, and Stone is obviously capitalizing on this. According to the bottle, Ruination 2.0 employs dry hopping as well as hop bursting. Sounds fancy, right?

What do these terms mean? Dry hopping involves putting hops into the brew after the wort has cooled. Basically, after the malt has been boiled and has become the foundation for beer, hops are added to the cask where the beer ferments. The lack of heat means none of the hops’ subtler flavors dissipate. Hop bursting, which is new for me, involves adding massive amounts of hops late on in the boil. While this doesn’t give the hops a lot of time in the boil to impart flavor, the copious amount of hops makes up for it. In other words, there are a lot of hops ready to kick down the door and come on in.

In truth, it has been a while since I’ve had a Ruination. From what I remember of the original, it was strong and overbearing — a standard Stone philosophy. It didn’t play nice. It didn’t ask questions. It just rolled into your mouth and got its hop on. By the time it was done, you were glad that it did.

Runination 2.0 poured the color of golden straw. It was topped by a creamy head of about a finger’s height. I’d like to say it dissipated slowly, but that would be misleading. In truth, it never totally dissipated, with the beer always being topped with a thin layer of foam. It also left ridiculous amounts of lacing down the sides of the glass.

The scent just blasts the nose with hops in all their varied glory. It smells of lemon and pine trees and chlorophyll. There is a little bit of juicy fruitiness to it, bringing forth images of crushing hops in your hand as they ooze resin. The sweet maltiness is present, but certainly isn’t a star in the nose.

You’ll spend the entire glass figuring out the taste of this brew. First, it’s just all hops. It’s like a grapefruit is using your tongue as a trampoline. Then other hop flavors come around. There is the citrus, orange peel and pine. Then, finally, there is sweet malt and a bit of nuttiness like one might find in a brown ale, but without the brown sugar sweetness to accompany it.

How does it compare to 1.0? It’s hard to say. If memory serves, it’s not quite as belligerent, consisting of a bit more refinement and complexities. It lingers on the tongue with a slight bitterness that is quite welcome without being overbearing. At 8.5 percent, it’s not out of control, but it does pack a punch. This brew does what it does, and it does it really well. It might have taken me a while, but I’m glad I got around to this one. If you haven’t, you should too.

Liquid: June 16, 2016

Liquid: June 16, 2016

Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane

Hey, do you all remember warheads? I’m talking about that hard candy you’d find at the corner stores. I want to say it was like a nickel apiece, but that might just be some sort of weird nostalgia talking. While there were different flavors, in my mind there were truly only two main kinds: Hot and sour. Each one was an exercise in self abuse.
It might be unfair that I speak of them in past tense, as they do still exist, but my time with them is over. It may be because I’m not hanging out with a bunch of grade-schoolers whose main criteria of cool is how many of these candies one can put in their mouth. Not that my current group of peers is that far off, but we do tend to avoid the burning scars of whatever citric type acid was pumped into those sugar bombs.

What does this have to do with beer? Cuvee Des Jacobins Rouge, obviously. What is Cuvee Des Jacobins Rouge? It’s a Flanders red ale. This isn’t to be confused with an American red ale. It’s not the sweet and roasted malt that gently goes down. No, it’s more of a warhead.

That wording might be a little strong. Flanders red ales are in large part known for their tartness. It’s like a lambic, but with more sour. They use special yeast strains and age the brew in oak casks. All of this creates a complex brew that will leave its mark.

Cuvee Des Jacobins Rouge comes straight out of Belgium. It pours a beautiful ruby red with a small, white head. Copious little bubbles continue to rise throughout the liquid. It really was a striking pour with an incredibly vibrant color that stopped short of looking artificial. It looked delicious.

There were a lot of fun things going on in the nose. There was certainly sour. There were also cherries, a bit of funk and vinegar. While I could catch some of the yeast, I didn’t smell any of the oak. I was looking forward to it, but there were so many other inviting scents that it didn’t seem needed.

At first, the taste was all sour. Like those candies of my youth, my tongue was awash in tartness. As with many strong beers, the tongue eventually acclimated, and the more subdued flavors came out. The cherries in the nose were certainly there, providing a nice fruitiness that paired well with the sour. There was a bit of lemon and sweetness. It could also be compared to cranberries and balsamic vinegar. The flavor nuances were rather varied and subtle. After it had warmed up a good bit, I could even catch just the slightest amount of wood on the tail end of the swallow.

While it was not terribly thick or strong, I don’t know that I’d want to make this a session beer. The acidity of it limits the quantity that I’d want to drink. That said, it was delicious. It’s a bit different than my standard, heavily hopped or dark malt fair, but it was a nice change up because of this. It certainly woke up the taste buds and stimulated the appetite. If you like sour beers, I’d give it a go. It’s everything you like about warheads without the third-degree tongue burns. It’ll certainly fill that sour need.

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Liquid: June 9, 2016

Liquid: June 9, 2016

Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane

I’m not normally one for food pairings. I think they are largely based on personal bias and oftentimes made up. Sure, certain brews are heavy on certain flavors, which could tend to overwhelm certain subtle dishes, but people don’t need to reach as far as they do. The whole thing could be simplified as follows: don’t pick a beer with heavier flavors than what you’re about to eat.

I felt a little inspired in the kitchen tonight. This culminated in a ravioli dish laden with herbs, prosciutto and garlic-scapes. It tasted just like spring was supposed to. Obviously, I wanted a beer with this meal. While I had all sorts of dark and heavy brews in the fridge, something more subtle was called for. With all this spring going on lately, it just seemed reasonable to crack a saison.

Saisons are light, effervescent and slightly fruity. They cleanse the palate and go down nice and easy. They are also known as a farmhouse ale. This was a summer beer by farmhands in Beglium drank during hot days in the field. For many, this was part of the agreement with the farm owners. Aside from any other stipend, they were allotted a certain amount of saison per day.

This week, I popped the cork on Vieille Provision Saison Dupont, brewed by Brasserie Dupont in Tourpes, Belgium. After the satisfying cork pop was a beautiful pour. The liquid was the color of a pale golden peach with sediment in it. There was just the slightest tinge of red within it, giving it that peach-like quality. The scent was perfect for a saison; yeast, malt and black peppery spice. There was just a hint of citrus. While none of this was surprising, it was promising.

This brew was quenching. The big picture is that of malt and lemon with a nice, dry finish. It was perfect to cut through the herbalness of the food and leave the tongue waiting for the next bite. With inspection, more of its qualities became apparent. There was certainly the black pepper and yeast. It was a bit grassy as well with just the slightest hints of coriander, though I don’t think any of that herb was actually in the beer.

None of this was really unique or outlandish for a saison. All of those qualities are generally expected in the style. Basically, there weren’t really any surprises here. What it did, it did rather well. It is a solid brew, being exactly what it should be. It also had a nice, drinkable body, thin with ample carbonation. This added to its satisfaction factor. These things also seemed to stimulate the appetite, though I had cracked the bottle while I was still flipping things around in the skillet. It’s hard to really say if it was the smell of cooking food or the beer, but I’m sure the brew didn’t hurt.

If you want to put a lot of thought into the beer you serve with your food, more power to you. I’ll certainly dabble with it from time to time, but I’ll generally leave the idea of pairings to others than myself. I will, however, make this dish again, and when I do, it’ll be washed down with another saison.
It might just be an excuse to drink more farmhouse ales, but I’m OK with that.

Liquid: May 19,  2016

Liquid: May 19, 2016

Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane

Okay, 21st Amendment brewery, what are you doing? The first of your beers I ever had was your Hell or High Watermelon. You actually brewed a beer with watermelon. It didn’t even taste like the sickly, sweet wine cooler version of a watermelon. No, it tasted like real, honest, subtle watermelon. It was quite the novelty. I’ll admit, I thought you might have been a one-trick pony.

Then came Fireside Chat. It was a spicy, malty brew with a lot of complexity. It was a great early winter beer, warming and fortifying. Next was Monk Blood. It was dark and thick, full of hearty oats and dark fruits. Both of these brews were really good, surpassing the watermelon by far. It got me thinking that maybe 21st Amendment really had something.

Its been doing this for 16 years now, meaning it must be doing it right. It’d been awhile since I’d checked in on what new beers it had put out into the world, so this week I went out intending to pick up a 21st Amendment brew that I hadn’t had yet. What I found was toaster pastry.

No, I’m not talking about those jam-filled biscuits in the foil packaging. Toaster Pastry is an Indian Red Ale from 21st that pays homage to those early morning sugar bombs. While not terribly fond of their namesake, how could I pass up this beer? Sure, I worried that it might fall back into that novel category, but it would be worth drinking it at least once.

The pour was beautiful. The liquid was a translucent ruby red topped with a finger of thick head. It lingered on top of the brew before dissipating, leaving much lacing. The liquid itself wasn’t overly thick and was full of copious amounts of bubbles rising through it.

The scent contained a good amount of biscuity malt up front, which I imagine to be the “crust” of this concoction. Secondly comes a great hop back, proving that this brew is indeed an IRA. They provide a great mix of fruity and bitter, creating just a bit of a strawberry experience in the nose.

The taste, at first, was subdued. There was malt and there was hops. This evolved as the beer warmed and my tongue became acclimated to its many tastes. Those malts were caramel and toasted biscuit, backed by the slightest of strawberry vibes. It was sweet, sure, but only as sweet as a malty red ale should be. This was followed up by the bitter of the hops, which acted as a great palate cleanser. It was in no way cloying and was quite drinkable, which is a great bonus as the brew weighs in at a 7.6 percent ABV.

This brew is quaffable, savory, slightly sweet and slightly creamy with enough body to be pleasing without being thick. At its heart, it’s just a solid red ale with a nice hop kick. You can find all those subtle nuances if you spend the time looking, but you don’t need to. They’ll serve to accentuate the malt and hop chorus, but it is the same malts and hops that really are the star of this show. Toaster Pastry is a great example of what 21st Amendment can do. I’m pretty sure it’ll be around for a good while more.

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Liquid: May 5, 2016

Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane

Look, guys. Victory Brewing Co. has been doing its thing for a good while now. How long? Twenty years. Some of its beers are almost drinking age themselves. I’ve been a pretty big fan ever since I tried my first Golden Monkey. It was a delightfully overwhelming experience of flavors and booze. There was nothing small about it.

Since that time, I’ve tried a good number of its other big beers: Hop Devil with its oppressive bitterness, Storm King Stout with its dark sweet alcohol, and even Dirt Wolf with its myriad of hop flavors. They are all distinct, satisfying and decently boozy. Its old Horizontal Barleywine? Aptly named and appropriately delicious. Victory’s track record is impeccable in my eyes.

I’ve noticed something, however. Victory hasn’t remained stagnant. The Co. has continued to produce new brews year after year. It isn’t just more of the same either. It continues to be unique. More so, Victory seems to be … well … evolving?

While I’m still a really big fan of its big, over-the-top brews, the Co.’s offerings in more recent years seem to be embracing a bit more subtlety. I first noticed it with the Dirt Wolf. There was something different. There was more to it than over-the-top madness. It seemed like a certain refinement that comes with age. I am noticing it again today as I drink their Vital IPA. It’s almost like Victory has grown up.

The pour was beautiful. It was a golden, effervescent straw shade with a copious white head. Bubbles rose quite seductively through the liquid. Fresh-cut grass was the first thing I noticed in the nose. I imagine it was the chlorophyll in the hops giving it that quality. There was also citrus and sweet, grainy malt.

The taste was incredibly satisfying. Up front, there was a bit of sweetness. This is followed by grainy malt, lemon and grapefruit flavors, caramel malt and a great hop kick that was equal parts bitter, pine and grass. There is a lot going on in here, and it’s a lot of good.

I don’t mean to give the impression that Victory’s early brews were any less complex. That would do them a serious disservice. The brews are all rather varied with multiple levels of depth. With each swallow, more of their character comes to light.

Complexity isn’t what has changed. What has changed, perhaps, is subtlety. It’s the difference between a screaming metal band that unleashes intense feelings in the moment and an old poem that induces quiet contemplation hours after you finish the last word. It doesn’t shock, but it’s not lessened at all for it. It does what it does without the need to tout it too loudly. It’s done it all before.

To reiterate, I don’t dislike a beer that shoots first and asks questions later; just the opposite. I can certainly appreciate a brew that stomps across your tongue in well-worn combat boots and slaps your palate until it begs for mercy. Vital IPA just goes a different route. It whispers and seduces with a myriad of flavors that play off each other in ways one can examine with every sip.

Grab this brew. It’s incredibly drinkable for how good it is. A six pack of cans just serves to heighten the experience. At 6.5 percent ABV, each one will do you pretty well. Thanks, Victory.

It’s nice to see a brewery that continually improves upon its craft.

Liquid: April 14, 2016

Liquid: April 14, 2016

Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane

We’re under the two-week mark for the premiere of season six of Game of Thrones. Are there any characters left you remotely care about? It’s time to wait for them to meet an inglorious and grizzly fate, breaking your heart and reminding you that life doesn’t care and neither does George R.R. Martin. All men must die, and HBO is going to make sure you know it.

If you plan on going forward with this masochism and subjecting yourself to all the eventual heartbreak, you might want to find something to dull the pain. While milk of the poppy is generally frowned on, beer is not. What kind of beer would be appropriate for a foray into Westeros? Don’t worry, Ommegang has you covered.

Ommegang has been doing Game of Thrones-inspired brews for a few years now. Each year, a little bit before the premiere, they release a new brew. This year brings us Seven Kingdoms Hoppy Wheat Ale, a traditional Belgian ale married to an American hop-centric beer to bring something that is hopefully greater than the sum of its parts. I have not yet managed to procure one of these yet, however. This week, I’m sipping on last year’s brew, Three-Eyed Raven.

Three-Eyed Raven is a dark saison, which are words I never knew had any business being together. Dark beers usually get that way from roasted barley, which is what gives porters and stouts their distinctive color and roasted coffee-like notes. Saisons are farmhouse ales, brewed with Belgian yeasts to provide a certain amount of funk and character. While normally such a combination would sound like a car wreck, Ommegang’s reputation says it can pull it off.

The pour was a dark black with a big, robust, tan-olored head of two whole fingers. The brew was thick and syrupy, leaving copious lacing down the sides of the glass. This later translated into a great mouthfeel and a satisfying swallow.

The roasted malt I had suspected came through in the nose, right in the forefront. It was followed very closely by that funk of the saison. This melded together with a certain kind of brown sugar sweetness, like the kind found in sticky dried fruits such as figs or plums. It brought forth visions of summertime juiciness and stone fruits. There was also a bit of astringent citrus contrasting the rest of the scents, which only helped to bring out their character that much more.

The taste was everything that was in the nose and more. That funky yeast came right to the forefront, reinforcing the idea that, above all, this beer was certainly a saison. Then there were the roasted malts and something akin to rye. Notes of banana and dark chocolate melded with the spicier flavors of black pepper. This was held together by funk and subdued sweetness and finished with herbal and citrusy hops reminiscent of grapefruit.

This brew was wonderfully complex and delightful, a perfect counterpart to beloved character death. At 7.2 percent ABV, it’s ready to wash away your tears and leave you numb inside. If you can still find some of this brew, grab a few. It’s another great offering by Ommegang. More so, it makes me look forward to the company’s next season of brews. If Seven Kingdoms Hoppy Wheat Ale is half the beer this is, it’ll be great indeed.

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Liquid: April 7, 2016

Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane

It won’t be too much longer before planting season hits NEPA. I have a few friends who are already getting a bit stir crazy, barely waiting to dive into the dirt to get their seeds in the ground. Fresh vegetables are probably my favorite part about the warmer seasons. You’ll never get a better tomato than one from a plant right outside your door.

Did you know that you can also grow your own hops? Humulus lupulus is a vining plant that will crawl up most anything. Give it a string to follow and it will curl right around it. They can grow to an absurd height. I find them to be a rather attractive plant, personally. When they fruit, they smell great and give you a bunch of sticky hops to play with.

What do you do with the hops? Well, the obvious answer is brew some beer. Fresh hops in beer give them a distinctive grassy character. An IPA with fresh hops makes for an interesting brew. Its also fun to garnish a beer with a little hop flower. Crush it between your fingers and drop it into the bottle for a little extra resinous hop burst.

Hops are also purported to have many medicinal qualities. Can’t sleep? Maybe you need some hop tea or a hop pillow. Yeah, that’s a thing. It’s also said that hops can help with appetite, arthritis pain and general digestive woes. Apparently, you can even eat the new tender shoots. Why have I not tried this before?
Anyway, all this talk about hops has gotten me into the mood for an IPA. This week, I’m drinking Rogue’s Brutal IPA, which promises a good amount of hop flavor. I have my doubts about anything Rogue brews truly being able to be called brutal, but we shall see.

The pour was really nice. The color was nothing out of the ordinary. It was a nice shade of straw, just what I’d expect. The head, however, was pretty amazing. It was about a finger and a half. It took forever to dissipate, and it never really disappeared all together. It left lacing down the entirety of the glass as I drank, kissing the lips with its foam on every sip. I don’t know what unholy magic they wove to keep the head on the beer for that long, but it was worth it.
The brew smelled of citrus and malt with a bit of piney hops and yeast, which was a decent introduction to its taste. Up front is biscuity grain and citrus, just like in the scent. This is followed up by a bitter pine tree. It makes good use of the different aspects of the hop flower. It is pleasant and a pretty solid IPA, though I feel like Brutal is a bit of an over statement.

Like most things Rogue, it’s a decent beer. It does what it came to do and then goes home at the end of the day. When I read the word Brutal on the label, however, I’m fairly certain there is a stone brew somewhere threatening to beat it up and take its lunch money. That said, it does a decent job at showcasing the prolific hop flower. Until your hop vine blooms, it’s a decent way to get your fix.

Liquid: March 24, 2016

Liquid: March 24, 2016

Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane

Pale ales for me are always hit or miss. I like my beer to have a bit of character to it, something that makes me think twice. I like a good drinkable brew, but not at the expense of flavor. Because of this, it isn’t a style I gravitate toward.

There is something about German malts, however. It’s a bit like drinking a liquid pretzel. There is something so intensely satisfying and savory about it. It’s a bit reminiscent of really good bread, so much so that I almost want to chew it as I swallow. Combine this with a pale ale, and it’s something special all of a sudden.

This week, I’m drinking Pyramid’s Hopfen Spring, their seasonal Pale ale. It’d been a good while since I had a Pyramid brew. I do appreciate their apricot brew in the hotter summer months, but it is an occasional treat. While I had tried some of their other beers, none of them really stood out. I thought it might be time to give them another try.

“Hopfen” is German for “hops.” Hopfen Spring promises to make good use of them, which also isn’t terribly commonplace in a pale ale. In particular, it promises noble hops, which tend to not be terribly bitter, but a bit spicy. It should keep it from getting into the bitterness of IPA territory.

The beer is the color of straw, topped by a two fingers of white head. Copious amounts of bubbles rise through the liquid, promising a good deal of carbonation. The scent is that of bread, heavy on the yeast. The malt presence is certainly noticeable in the nose. That’s really about all that’s happening in the scent. It isn’t a lot, but it is rather appealing.

The taste has a bit of spice to it, like black pepper. The German malts come next, giving it that bready character that I was looking forward to. It finishes with a slight hop bitterness, just enough to balance the malt. After that, there is something a bit like bubble gum. I can’t explain it, really, but there is a small burst of sugary sweetness like cheap bubble gum would have.

Honestly? This beer was about what I’d expect from pyramid. It’s not a bad brew for the cost, but it’s not exactly mind blowing. All in all, it’s pretty standard fare. There was something a bit artificial about the beer, something that holds it together well, but brings one out of the immersion of the experience. That might be a strange way to describe a brew, but it seems the most appropriate way I can put it.

I want it to be slightly more bold than it is, but that’s not really Pyramid’s modus operandi. They shoot for drinkable, and they’ve done that well. The body is light and there isn’t anything offensive about the taste. That is really all that can be said about it, however. While I don’t want to insinuate that it’s a bad beer, it’s not exactly memorable. It does its job and goes home at the end of the day. Who can’t relate to that?

Ultimately, it’s a decent enough beer for the price. It’s drinkable, and it won’t bore you to tears. If you’ve had any other pyramid brews, you know what to expect. It’ll give you that malty experience you’re looking for.

Liquid: March 17, 2016

Liquid: March 17, 2016

Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane

You know what I’ve never done? A lot of things. I’ve never been to Europe. I’ve never been sky diving. I’ve never been in a fight in my adult life. There are a whole host of things I’ve never done.

I’ve also never reviewed Rogue’s Hazelnut Nectar Brown Ale. I’ve been drinking this beer for more than a decade and never once thought to write a column about it. I’ll admit — I’ve kind of taken it for granted. It’s always been there for as long as I can remember, lurking in the background. Sure, I would go out and have flings with more exciting and bold brews, but I’d always eventually make my way back around to the hazelnut.

Looking at its iconic label showcasing the bald, bearded man with a stein, I remember the job that made me fall in love with beer. I was working at a pizza shop. At the time, I really didn’t know anything about beer, but I would restock the massive cooler at the end of my shifts and wonder.

There was a lot of Rogue beer. Chocolate stouts, Miromoto Soba, Dead Guy; all the classics adorned the shelves. Eventually, curiosity got the best of me. I tried a few brews and found myself quite pleased with everything Rogue that I drank, the Hazelnut Brown amongst their number. My tastes have varied a lot since then, but one thing remains true. Rogue produces solid beers, great for new craft beer drinkers and familiar to most of the rest.

The beer poured a beautiful color that could truly only be described as Hazelnut Brown. The head was small and white. It left a little bit of lacing as it dissipated. The nose was similar to a lot of browns in that it gladly showcased a good amount of sweet malt in the nose as well as brown sugar and caramel. It added to this, unsurprisingly, the scent of hazelnuts. This brew made no moves to hide what it was going after. This was all rounded out by some roasted malt.

The taste follows the scent. There are sweet caramel malts with a moderate amount of roasted flavor kicking in after the swallow. It’s no where near as roasted as a stout or porter or even a red ale, but it is enough to change the quality of some of those sugars and remind one slightly of coffee. The hazelnut and sweetness is all throughout, but not so much that it’s artificial seeming. It’s really packed in there, but just on the good edge of balanced. Molasses makes an appearance, as does some bittering and floral hops. The bitter is just enough to cut the sweetness.

All of this is showcased in a nice, creamy body. It makes it rather dessert like, but in a grown up and balanced sort of way. It goes down rather well, making it a decent choice if you feel like having more than one. It has an ABV of 6.2 percent, putting it higher than your standard lagers but not enough to make it a heavy hitter. This is another quality that will let you get away with having a few of them in a sitting.

Ultimately, this is a good and solid beer. For as many years as I’ve been drinking it, I’ve never tired of this brew. That is a testament to its quality.

I’ll skip the skydiving, but I’m glad I wrote about this beer.

It deserves it.

Liquid: Feb. 18, 2016

Liquid: Feb. 18, 2016

Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane

I have a thing for historical beers. I love the idea of a brew based on recipes from long ago. Beer has been brewed differently over the ages, depending on the technology and ingredients available at any given time. While we’re used to malt and hop laden liquids today, it wasn’t always this way. All manner of things were used to preserve and flavor beer before hops were common.
This week, I’m drinking Stone’s homage to Monty Python —Your Father Smelt of Elderberries. This is not the first beer to reference the classic movie, however. Black Sheep Brewery in the United Kingdom produces Monty Python’s Holy Grail Ale. It is a pale ale of 4.7 percent ABV. Stones brew packs a whopping 10.3 percent ABV into this drink. Though I have yet to try Black Sheep’s offering, I imagine them to be quite different. Then again, most everything Stone does is quite different.
Stone classifies it as a medieval ale, suggesting that the inspiration for this brew predates our modern day ideas of hops and barley. Elderberries, while sweet, can be likened a bit to cranberries, as they exhibit some tartness. I’m a bit excited to see what kind of quality this imparts to a beer. While tart and sour brews are certainly a thing and have a good following, it is not something that Stone often does.
The pour did not yield much head. What little foam did top the beer quickly dissipated, leaving little lacing. The liquid itself was a Ruby Red color and thick enough that the lack of head wasn’t a surprise.
There were a good deal of things going on in the scent. First came a smell reminiscent of cherries. It’s hard to tell if that was more a byproduct of the yeast or of the elderberries. There was also lemon citrus notes that were rather prevalent as well as caramel malts, providing the nose with a little sweetness. The alcohol was not well hidden, it’s double digit ABV being rather apparent in the sniff. The booziness melded with some sort of medicinal smell that also circulated in the beer.
The taste followed suit with the scent, but contained so much more. The cherry taste was there, though it was more like the cherry taste of cough syrup than actual cherries. There was a delightful bit of malt as well as some oats and a slight sweetness. That alone was a great mix on the tongue. This blended incredibly well with the subtle sour and tart flavors which, in turn, were cut by smoke. As with many Stone brews, it was quite complex and certainly bold though unapologetically lacking that hop blend Stone is so well known for.
The body of the brew was down right velvety. It was creamy and incredibly pleasing on the tongue. Its moderate carbonation kept it from getting too cloying and weighing down the palate with too much heaviness. I would have loved some more information as to the inspiration for this brew. Was it modeled after an old recipe? Were Elderberries commonly used to flavor beers before hops were widely cultivated? The beer nerd in me would love to know more, though it appears I’ll just have to be content with visions of a rabbit with sharp pointy teeth. That, and the knowledge that your mother was most likely a hamster.

Liquid: Feb. 4, 2016

Liquid: Feb. 4, 2016

Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane

I’ve never much been one to pay too close attention to food pairings. I’m not saying they don’t have their use; a well chosen beer can certainly compliment and enhance a meal. For me, however, eating and drinking are usually two different things. When they do happen to coincide, there usually isn’t much in the way of planning.

At the moment, I am eating some spicy fried noodles. Obviously, the perfect pairing to this dish is a Bourbon Barrel Aged Stout. The dark roasted malt really brings out the subtleties in the ridiculous amounts of chilis and garlic in the dish. At least both are strong enough that neither one overpowers the other. While I wouldn’t actually recommend this pairing to anyone, neither one knows anything about delicacy. They both lay on the tongue nice and heavy, scrawling with a big black marker onto your taste buds to let you know they had staked their claim.

What beer is it that matches up to all that heat? It’s Anderson Valley Wild Turkey Bourbon Barrel Aged Stout. Yes, you read that right. This brew was aged in wooden barrels that had been used to make Wild Turkey. The distinctive characteristics of that liquor certainly linger on in this brew, but more about that later. I’ll get to the taste in a little bit.

It poured a deep mahogany-color topped with a beautiful tan head. The beer was nice and thick — evidenced by the residue it left in the glass as I drank it. The scent was sweet with a good deal of vanilla up front. This was backed up by the roasted malt and a sort of oatmeal scent. I couldn’t help but wonder if there maybe were some actual oats used to brew this one or if it was just a byproduct of the roasting.

The taste very much followed the scent, though it added a good deal more complexities. My first thought, oddly enough, was of ice cream. The brew was really creamy and led with strong vanilla bean on the tongue. The roasted stout flavors followed it lightly in the back ground, making sure my tongue didn’t get too bogged down by the heaviness that can be apparent in some stronger stouts. As I drank more of it, it’s true distinguishing characteristics started to emerge. There was no doubt that this had spent a good amount of time in a wild turkey barrel. It was full of wood and smoke with a distinctive bourbon burn lingering in the mouth long after the swallow. It was a nice cap that helped any lingering sweetness subside, readying the mouth for the next swallow.

I may just have a weakness for barrel aged beers, but I thought this one was great. It has such great vanilla flavor without being overly sweet. Add into that the smokey cigar bourbon goodness and it’s a little hard to put down. I don’t know that I would pair it with stir fry again, but it would make a hell of a beer float with a quality vanilla ice cream. It would be the perfect balance between refinement and sweetness. The 6.9 percent ABV imparts just the right amount of alcoholic burn without being strong enough to divert attention from all the charms of its flavor. I’ll certainly grab a few more bottles of this one.

Next time, however, I’ll save the beer for dessert.

Liquid: Jan. 21, 2016

Liquid: Jan. 21, 2016

Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane

American craft beer has a fascinating love affair with hops. If there was one thing that truly set our brews apart, it would he the homage they pay to that cone shaped resinous flower. Every year, it seems that more and more beers come out with new and inventive ways to showcase that versatile ingredient. Germany has their malts. Belgian has their yeast. America? We have Humulus Lupulus.

Though it might be a little early for such thoughts, many spring beers tend to showcase this ingredient by loading up brews with tons of fresh hops. The taste difference between fresh hops and otherwise is certainly palpable. They are more resinous, imparting brews with a pine tree-like quality. When the hops used were fresh enough, one can almost feel their sticky sap on the tongue. While not necessarily better or worse than other hopped beers, they are distinct.

Troegs has released their spring offering a bit early. Despite this, I urge you not to wait for the pale sun of March or April to grab a bottle, because freshness is key. I’m speaking of Troegs Nugget Nectar. It is an Imperial Amber ale, words you don’t hear often together, that promises copious notes of pine, resin, and mango all nestled together in a boozy brew of 7.5 percent ABV. With six different types of hops, it is certainly assured to have some character.

It should be noted that hops can be added during different parts of the brewing process to produce different tastes. Nugget Nectar makes a good of use of dry hopping. This means that the hops are added after the wort is cooled so that the hops are not boiled at all. This tends to add more herbal and piney flavors to the brew. What it doesn’t add is bitterness, as the heat is needed to release the bitterness of the flower. That same heat tends to boil away the more subtle flavors, however. Hence the dry hopping.

The beer poured a light orange color with about a finger’s worth of head. The scent was all hops. Sure, I could pick out the malt if I really looked for it, but what was really apparent was pine and citrus. There was a bit of sweetness in the nose too, like honey, or perhaps mango. Without a clear way to express what I mean, it smelled “juicy” in the manor that stone fruit such as a peach or nectarine would be “juicy.” All of this combined to make it rather inviting.

After sniffing the beer, the taste really didn’t hold any surprises. All of those scents were extremely present on the tongue. While there is some bitterness to it, this is not the focus as it is in other hoppy brews. This is more like chewing on a mouthful of big juicy hops with all of its strong resinous characteristics leaking out to coat your tongue and dribble down your chin. This is a really fun brew.
You should grab a six pack. You should not wait to drink it. While it might not yet be spring, this beer might just be the next best thing. Somehow, during January, these hops are bursting with sunshine and freshness.

Seems like the perfect cure to the winter blues to me.

Liquid: Jan. 7, 2016

Liquid: Jan. 7, 2016

Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane

When January hits, I automatically want a rather specific style of beer. I want it to be big and strong, with a good alcoholic burn. It needs a good dark sweetness and more malt than should fit in a bottle. There should be warmth, a bit of thickness and just a slight amount of chewiness. What I want is a barley wine.
The idea of the barley wine stretches back to ancient Greece, though it’s certain that they would bear little resemblance to the barley wines of today. At present, there are two main styles of barley wine, those being English and American. English tend toward more traditional brews, being balanced with a slightly lower alcohol content. They are a testament to subtlety and nuance. American barley wines are a little different, concerned with being big and rowdy, containing enough hops to leave a lingering bitterness you won’t soon forget. These are obvious generalizations, but are worth repeating.
The name itself gives some people cause for confusion. A barley wine is indeed a beer. The name refers largely to the alcohol content of the brew. Some have even used wine yeast strains to ferment them, as many beer yeasts can’t survive an ABV that high. It does not contain fruit, however, instead relying on malted barley. That is what makes a beer a beer.
This week, I’m giving Southern Tier’s Backburner a go. It promises hints of molasses and maple syrup, perfect compliments to a deep, rich barley wine. Southern Tier handles big brews really well. While not as boisterous as some of the other big beer breweries, their beers are uniquely satisfying, providing a perfect mix of sweet and savory. I had hopes that Backburner would follow suit.
The brew poured a dark amber color with a small tan head. It was thick and hazy, promising the perfect body for a barley wine. The scent was predominantly caramelized malts and dark fruits, though the molasses were lurking in the nose as well. The scent wasn’t heavily nuanced, but it didn’t need to be. It was doing exactly what it needed to do.
The taste was everything a Southern Tier barley wine should be. There were copious amounts of bready caramel malts. There was a subdued syrupy sweetness to it as well, though the molasses lent itself nicely to the dark fruit flavors and kept it from being too sugary. On the back end, there is a pleasant alcoholic warmth paying tribute to its double digit ABV. This all finishes with some hops to cleanse the palette, preparing the tongue for the next sip.
While the maple syrup and molasses do make their presence felt, they don’t exactly revolutionize the style. That said, this is a really solid barley wine. I don’t know that I can describe it in a better fashion than saying that it is exactly what a Southern Tier barley wine should be. Its texture and even certain taste elements are reminiscent of other Southern Tier brews, but there is no mistaking the big boozy character of this malt laden beer. It is certainly worth picking up this winter to keep around for when you need something big, warm and comforting. One thing I can say for certain is that it left me feeling nice and toasty.

Soaking Up the Suds

Soaking Up the Suds

Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane

 

The holidays have a flavor. It starts during Thanksgiving with heavily-herbed stuffings and gravies. Traditionally, many types of fresh produce would be a short supply this time of year. Things would be flavored with the herbs that would still be available such as Rosemary and winter thyme. It progresses into Christmas when woody, easy-to-store herbs would be used. Nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves make their way into all types of confections. These flavors, originally present because of necessity, have become traditional staples of the seasons.
Holiday brews have capitalized on this, with many Christmas beers and Winter Warmers exhibiting quite the spice profile. Thankfully, high alcohol content pairs wonderfully with these flavors, adding a good deal of warmth with each sip. Winter Warmers are called that for a good reason.
This week, I’m drinking Southern Tiers 2XMAS, a spiced beer from one of my favorite New York breweries. They brewed it in the style of Glogg, a Swedish mulled wine. Glogg capitalizes on a lot of the same spices mentioned earlier. Red wine is heated and the herbs are steeped in it. The whole concoction is drank hot, providing a good deal of boozy winter comfort. I wouldn’t suggest heating the beer, however. It doesn’t work the same way.
The brew poured a light chestnut color and was topped with about half a finger of foam on top. The head did not stick around terribly long, but I can forgive it for all that. I wasn’t drinking this one for its looks.
The spices were certainly apparent in the scent. They combined to create the scent of gingerbread in my nose. There was also a bit of citrus and dark fruits, like figs. It smelled thick and sticky, if a scent can truly be described in that manner. Most importantly, I could smell the booze. The beer makes a strong showing at 8 percent ABV. I’m glad it didn’t try to hide it.
It tastes just like I’d expect from the scent, providing no surprises. There was spice — oh so much spice! Nutmeg and ginger were apparent, as well as anise and cinnamon. Brown sugar sweetness and figs make an appearance, but it’s tamed nicely by the alcohol that rears its head in the back end. Instead of becoming too sweet or cloying, it just leaves you wanting more.
Its also not super thick either. The lack of carbonation and medium body make it go down really smoothly. Personally, I wouldn’t mind if it was a bit thicker, but I get a desire to drink beers thick enough to chew on around this time of year. 2XMAS is tasty enough that I can certainly overlook this. That also might be the holiday cheer talking, however. Somehow, the more of this one I drank, the more cheerful I became.
Southern Tier does some really good work. They have made some delightfully big beers that are incredibly satisfying. From their Pumking to their Krampus, they make some awesome brews. 2XMAS is certainly included in that description. It’s every bit as big as it needs to be with a good deal of strong flavors that won’t let you forget what it is you are drinking. Go ahead, grab a few and get your holiday cheer working in overdrive.
Tis the season, right?

Liquid

Liquid

Soaking up the suds with James Crane

 

One of my favorite beer styles this time of year is the Imperial Stout. I’m fairly certain they are brewed with some sort of magic. It starts with just a regular stout. Then, rare herbs are burnt around it and forgotten words are chanted. When it is done, there is a bottle of thick, syrupy, high octane, dark stouty goodness. It obviously must be magical, as I don’t know that science can possibly come up with something as amazing as this.
In truth, it is said Russian Imperial Stouts were originally brewed in England and made to be a higher ABV both to survive the cold trek to Moscow and because the Russian court preferred them that way. Perhaps the best well known, Old Rasputin, attests to this, paying homage to the mad monk of lore.
This week, I’ve picked up Clown Shoes Brewing Blaecorn Unidragon. What’s with the name, you ask? Apparently, they could not decide between Black Unicorn or Soul Dragon. They made the most metal of decisions and combined the two together. The graphic it inspired on the front of the bottle is a testament to this, a beast that has the back half of the dragon and the front half of a smoke snorting black unicorn. With a promised 12.5 percent ABV, the brew promised to be every bit as ferocious.
I thought I knew what black was, but I was incorrect. When this beer poured out of the bottle into my glass, I learned exactly what black is. No light passed though it. This brew is the stuff shadows are made of. It was topped by a very slowly dissipating thick earthy brown head of at least two fingers. A bit of tan continued to sit on top, never quite dissipating. A decent amount of lacing was left down the sides of the glass as I drank it.
The scent was not surprising. It was actually a bit more subtle than I expected, but it smelled just like an Imperial Stout should. First and foremost was the roasted malt, giving the nose hints of coffee, chocolate and bread. To make a brew this strong, there has to be a lot of those malts to give it enough sugars for that high ABV. If I tried hard enough, I could also detect hints of vanilla and hops. All in all, it was rather inviting.
The taste meant serious business. There was a bitter chocolate sensation up front. Don’t take this to mean it was sweet — it was certainly more of the savory aspects of the cocoa bean that was showcased. There was a good deal of roast like one would find in a cup of coffee. The malts were present as well, just adding to the savory experience. There was a bit of smokiness, a bit of hops and a bit of alcoholic warmth that tied it all together. As the brew warmed, all of these flavors only intensified. In other words, the more I drank, the better it got.
Clown Shoes makes good beer. Everything I’ve ever had by them has been exemplary — Blaecorn Unidragon being no different. They do big beers and they do them right.
If I were you, I’d grab one of these and ride this mythical beast into Valhalla. If there was a beer that could take you there, this would be the one.