Well, better late than never. I only learned about Stone’s Vertical Epic Series this year. Each year since 2002 Stone has made a beer for the date that corresponded to the same number as the year (02/02/02, 03/03/03, etc…). I guess they hadn’t thought of it on 01/01/01. Anyway, this was the last of the series. However, the good news is by many accounts it was the best. I would certainly agree. This may rank among the best beers I’ve ever tasted. I really hope they find a way to repackage and market it so it can be sold regularly. This is a dark Belgian abbey style beer with some winter-ish spice. It’s made with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, orange peel, clove and rose-hips. Although it is a Belgian abbey style beer, it is less sweet. It has the familiar slightly fruity ester smell of Belgian yeast and the mixture of spices is nicely blended so that none sticks out overpoweringly. Although it’s not actually present there is a slight hint of banana in the nose. It pours black as night with a large off-white head that hangs on for quite a while. The body is very smooth and it is very drinkable. With a 9% ABV, this one could really sneak up on you if you weren’t careful. I would rate this one 5 out of 5 proper pints. I would not mind being stuck on a desert island with this beer!
Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout takes me back to my roots as a craft beer drinker. I’m pretty sure I have had it fresh from the brewery in Williamsburg, back before their Friday night Happy Hour was popular. I definitely remember having the Pennant Ale and the Brown fresh from the tap at the brewery. I’ve probably had the Black Chocolate Stout at least once a year, most years since the mid-1990s. At that time, it was a pretty extreme beer. Now, it seems relatively tame, but no less formidable than some of its competitors. This one is a classic and a masterpiece by Garrett Oliver. Unlike some chocolate beers, including stouts, there is no chocolate in the Black Chocolate Stout. It gets its name and chocolatey flavor from malts that are chocolatey in nature. This beer is smooth as silk. You would never know it is 10% ABV until it sneaks up on you and hits you in the back of the head. It has very distinct chocolate notes with slight floral hops. It pours black as night and the head is very small and off-white. Although it is very dark and chocolatey, I would not characterize it as heavy. It is a smooth drinking beer, not necessarily light, but not real heavy either. I would say it would pair well with just about any food, but it would probably stand up nicely to some pretty spicy food. I give it 5 out of 5 proper pints.
A friend of mine had been recommending I try the Guinness Foreign Extra Stout for a while. I’ve also read some reviews heralding it as the best of the Guinness line up. However, maybe it was the hype, but I was disappointed. I bought some at the local Total Wine Store. It can be a little hard to find. Anyway, it does have a noticeably large head. I had read that before. The head does not dissolve quickly, but becomes craggy and dissolves slowly. The color is similar to Guinness Stout, total blackness. There is quite a bit more carbonation that in a regular Guinness Stout. The two big things that are most noticeable are the aroma of roasted barley and a much hoppier taste than the regular Guinness Stout. I have to say I really did not care that much for either. The roasted barley gave it a burnt or almost smoky smell and flavor and the hops made it more bitter than usual. The flavors did effectively mask the bigger alcohol content, at 7.5%. Alas, I would still only give it a 2 out of 5 proper pints. I would say I prefer the regular Guinness Stout.
Tonight I tried the Czar Imperial Stout by Avery. Avery is an awesome brewery in Boulder, CO that has a number of very memorable beers. This is certainly one to be included. There is no mistaking that this is a “big” beer. Right from the pour, you can tell. There is very little head and it has a rich smell to it. It has a velvety stout feel to it. It is not as light feeling as some other stouts, yet not really heavy either. This one has strong chocolate notes with some molasses as well. You can tell it is a beer with a big alcohol content, but it doesn’t necessarily taste of alcohol. I highly recommend it. I would give it 5 proper pints out of 5.
I found this needle in a haystack at my local wine store, Grateful Red. They have a small, but very nice selection of craft brews. Sometimes you can really find some great things because I don’t think the store is quite on the radar of other beer geeks. Anyway, Founder’s Backwoods Bastard is like the Founder’s Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale on steroids. Now I’ll start off by saying, I’m not a huge fan of Scotch Ale. I often feel like it’s a tad too sweet. Backwoods Bastard, though, is aged in bourbon barrels. It shows. Maybe a bit too much. It actually tasted a lot like Goose Island Bourbon County Stout. I’m not sure if they did this, but it tasted like they not only aged the beer in bourbon barrels, but actually added bourbon to it. Don’t get me wrong, I did like it, but the bourbon flavor was a little strong. It also had strong notes of molasses and maybe a little caramel. It was hard to detect any similarity to Scotch Ale because of the bourbon flavor. It was also noticeably boozy. The ABV is 10.2%. I give it 4 out of 5 proper pints.
I went to one of my favorite local restaurants for lunch and to try out some beers a couple of days ago. I’m just getting around to writing about it now. I love Rustico. They have great food and a great beer list. Their beer manager also runs the beer list for Churchkey in DC, the local mecca of craft brew. Today, since there were a few entries from Slumbrew on the list I thought I’d try a couple. I tried the Happy Sol, a hefeweizen made with orange peel, coriander and blood oranges, and the Slumbrew Flower Envy, a Saison. These are both summery beers that I was having in mid-December. A bit unorthodox, but I was in the mood and they were available. Both were very drinkable and light. The Happy Sol had a nice orangey flavor that was not overpowering, but gave the beer a nice, refreshing citrusy feel. The Flower Envy was a pretty straight ahead saison. Nothing wrong with that. It was a good entry, but nothing in particular stood out.
Well, I finally found some Great Lakes Christmas Ale. It happened totally by accident. I had a day off from work and wanted to head into downtown DC and find a place with good local brews and good food for lunch. I was looking for beer by 3 Stars, a local brewery in DC that has absolutely fantastic beer, but they are so small it is only sold in restaurants in DC. I looked at their website to find a place and settled on Scion Restaurant in DuPont Circle. It turned out they had no 3 Stars on draft today, but they did have Great Lakes Christmas Ale. I was disappointed and excited all at once! Anyway, I liked the GL Christmas Ale a lot, but I’m not sure it lives up to the hype of selling out in s short time everywhere that gets it. It was an ale with amber color. It had a thick white head that dissipated quickly. The body was fairly light. It had a slight buttery flavor with a little noticeable honey and maybe nutmeg. It was not overpowering on spice. It was similar to Bell’s Christmas Ale, but I would rank Bell’s as better. It had a little bit less creamy and vanilla-y flavor than Bell’s.
There is a small brewery called DuClaw based in Maryland and I’ve tried a couple of their beers at beer shop tastings. They are all pretty good. However their X-1 Chocolate Rye Porter caught my attention when I was looking over winners at the Great American Beer Festival and saw that it won a Silver Medal in the Chocolate Beer category. I decided I wanted to try it, but it has been hard to find. It finally turned up at Grateful Red, a local beer and wine store in my neighborhood and I brought it home. This is a very good beer. Even though it is an “Imperial” Chocolate Rye Porter, which usually implies a big alcohol kick, it was 8%. Still a big beer, but not huge. It was masked very well. The beer is an opaque brown and has strong chocolate and malt flavors with hints of caramel and molasses. It was surprisingly light bodied, but had a slight creamy feel to it. I really enjoyed, but it seems it is only available in 22 oz. bombers. I hope DuClaw makes it in 12 oz bottles at some point. I would definitely have this beer again.
I recently read about Dogfish Head’s new brew, Etrusca, and decided I wanted to try it. I found it this afternoon at International Wine and Beverage on Lee Highway. Etrusca is a collaborative effort with Birreria Brother Brewers and biomolecular archelogist. They researched ancient Etruscan warrior tombs in Tuscany to figure out what they drank and if they could replicate the recipe. They found drinking bowls containing evidence of tree resins, beeswax and honey, whole pomegranates, hazelnuts, grapes and apples. The beer takes this combination and runs with it. I wasn’t sure what to think at first, but it is very tasty. I didn’t detect strong individual fruit flavors, so the fruit was not overpowering. You can taste the honey, though it is not overly sweet. It is very smooth. I would definitely have this beer regularly, but for the $11.99 price for a 1 pint, 9.4 oz. bottle.
As an addendum to my list of Christmas Ales, I would be remiss if I did not add Bell’s Christmas Ale to the list of my reviews. I know this is cheating because I wanted the list to be the 12 Ales of Christmas and I already added one additional one (Trader Joe’s Vintage Ale), but I just had this one tonight and had to write about it. This would be near the top of my list, probably not displacing Mad Elf, but maybe all of the others. This one is a Scottish Ale, not the only one on my list, but a nice representation. It had a very malty flavor, with a bready tone to it. It had a light to medium body with a relatively low alcohol content. You definitely could have a few of these. Overall, very drinkable and satisfying.