Anytime I see Dogfish Head in the store, I am sorely tempted to try it. This was especially intriguing because of the use of red rice and wasabi(?) in beer. I was thinking there is no way this is good, but I have to try it anyway. It poured a slightly rosy copper-ish color. The name comes from the rose color derived from the combination of malts with some red rice. The nose is mild floral hop with a little essence of wasabi, along with some bready malt. The mouthfeel is creamy. The taste is devilishly smooth and malty. It is an Imperial Ale and clocks in at 8% ABV. The wasabi is not super spicy or even super strong it just adds a slight essence of wasabi that compliments the floral notes of the hops. If anything it makes the beer taste a little bit lighter than it is. I really enjoyed this beer a lot and can see myself buying lots of it to have around. Five out of five proper pints. Sam you did it again!
Each year Samuel Adams sponsors a homebrewed beer competition. The prize at the end is that your beer will actually be brewed at Samuel Adams and sold in six packs along with two other winners’ beers. I actually competed in it in 2012, but didn’t make it past the first round. I may be biased in my review, but full disclosure is important. I noticed the six pack in my local Total Wine store and decided to try it out. It comes in a blue six pack holder labeled as “Longshot.” There are three different beers in the six pack. The three winners this year were Cesar Marron with a Grazter, Russ Brunner with an American Stout, and Teresa Bury with a Pineapple IPA. Gratzer is a smoked wheat beer from Poland that up until 1993 was only produced commercially by one company in Poland. In 1993 the company went out of business from lack of profitability. I can appreciate the effort and the research that went into making this beer and I do think some people will like it. However, it was overpoweringly smoky with almost more of a burnt flavor. There was also a hint of sour. I can’t say I cared much for this one, but more power to you if this is your thing. It was light bodied and could be refreshing if you could get past the smokiness. I would give it one out of five proper pints. The American Stout poured a nice dark brown with a small off white head. It had aromas of roasted malt and a little chocolate, but it also had a faint metallic or solvent-y flavor to it. There was a bitter coffee like after taste. It was a decent stout, but not my favorite. I would give it two out of five proper pints. The Pineapple IPA was by far the best of the three. It wasn’t as pine-apply as I was expecting. It was a bit malt forward, which I actually prefer in an IPA. I would describe the hop profile as more like mango than pineapple with a slightly earthy feel to it. It was medium bodied and very drinkable. I could see myself actually buying this one on its own. I would give it three out of five proper pints.
Unfortunately, I missed the First Annual Kolsch Cup, so I made it a point to come to the Second. It’s hosted at the Gordon Biersch brewpub near the National Stadium in Washington, DC. Kolsch is a light summer beer, originally from Cologne, Germany. It tends to be a little hoppier than other light German lagers and can sometimes have a bit of fruitiness to it. Since it is a German beer, it is not a surprise that Gordon Biersch makes one as their seasonal summer beer. As part of the launch of the summer beer, they put it up against a number of other breweries to see which is best. Three are judged as best by certified beer judges and three are voted the crowd favorites. For $20 you get a free tasting glass and tickets for 20 samples of beer. You can try all 20, or you can have 20 samples of the same beer, if you like. Of course, Gordon Biersch also serves food and their own regular beers. The photo shows the lineup. The breweries were from as far away as St. Louis (Schlafly) and Michigan (New Holland), but most were local to the DC area. In a dubious sort of way Gordon Biersch’s entries were by separate location. I know they have brewers at each one, but it meant 6 out of 20 were from Gordon Biersch. The ones I thought stood out the most did not win any recognition. Of course, that can happen, people’s tastes are different. Out of the 20 entries, I admittedly did not get to try all of them. For example, I only tried two of the six Gordon Biersch entries. I also did not try the two Rockbottom brewpub entries. I would have if I’d had more time, but I arrived a bit late and had to get to what I could. I would recommend the Schlafly Kolsch. It was just slightly sweet and a tad fruity, but seemed like it would drink perfectly on a hot day. I also really liked the Blue Mountain Kolsch 151. This one was light and airy, but with a nice little hop bite to it. The two Gordon Biersch Sommerbraus I tried (one from the Navy Yard location and the other from the main DC location on F Street) seemed very similar to me, but they were both very good. The one I liked best though was from a new brewery near Charlottesville called Champion. Like others it was light bodied and easy to drink, but it had a little hops and a slight hint of peatiness or smokiness to it that I thought added a little more complexity. The winners from the Judges were Vintage 50 (1), Gordon Biersch Annapolis (2) and Gordon Biersch Tyson’s Corner (3). The winners among the crowd who voted were Gordon Biersch DC (1), Bluejacket (2) and a tie for third among Mad Fox and Gordon Biersch Annapolis. Thus Gordon Biersch beers dominated four of six of the top spots. I do think the Judges were tasting blind, so it’s not likely they were playing favorites. The Gordon Biersch was good, I will admit. It just wasn’t my favorite.
Well, a friend of mine happens to have a connection to New England where you can buy the famous Heady Topper IPA that gets 100 on Beer Advocate and they can’t keep enough of on the shelves. It comes in a cool silver can. Canning is apparently better on multiple fronts than bottling because it’s lighter than glass, thus the outdoors crowd likes it for backpacking and biking trips. It also uses less packaging material and is better for the environment and it also lets no light in to spoil the beer. Also, it’s cheaper. Anyway…back to Heady Topper. I drank it from the can so it was a little hard to tell about the head and the color. It appeared to be a light golden color. Very bright aromas of floral and citrus hops. This is followed by a complex attack of hop flavors on your tongue. The citrus catches you first, and is sharp. That is followed by a more floral or piney flavor in the midst of the flavor wave. It has a kind of creamy mouthfeel to it as well. There is some malt backbone, but the hops are way out front. This is clearly a well made beer with very complex flavor. I’m not a huge fan of the sharp citrus bite of this and West Coast style IPAs. I will give it four of five proper pints for being very good and well made, but I will stay shy of five because I’m not a fan of IPAs with a really sharp hop bite.
I’ve recently become aware that a few breweries are trying out mixing the American IPA with the Belgian yeast and coming up with a nice combination. I’m not sure how popular the trend is because not all of the well known craft breweries are doing it, but I have had some I’ve really liked. I decided rather than reviewing them piecemeal I would combine them and let you know which ones I liked best. I tried a total of 8 for the taste test and I decided to recommend 4. When I started I thought I’d find more labels doing this, but there really weren’t that many. I think you can find more sometimes at a brewery tasting room where they serve the more experimental beers that don’t go to the stores. I tried the following eight, in no particular order: 1. Coronado Brewery Hoppy Daze; 2. Stone Cali-Belgique; 3. Lickinghole Creek Magic Beaver (yes, there is actually a Lickinghole Creek and there is also a Magic Beaver Pond); 4. Clown Shoes Tramp Stamp; 5. Flying Dog Raging Bitch; 6. Houblon Chouffe Dobbelen IPA; 7. Piraat; and 8. Devil’s Backbone Cattywompus. One observation I made right away is that, for whatever reason, Belgian IPAs seem to be named more frequently with less kid-friendly names and/or art work on the labels. I probably only noticed because I have three daughters. That has no affect on the beer, of course. The other thing I noticed is that the style is a little free-style. There are ones that are more like West Coast IPAs, with a very bright, citrus hoppiness to them. There are also ones that are more mild on the hops and the fruitiness of the Belgian yeast is more noticeable. There is also an “other” category where neither characteristic is particularly noticeable. In the West Coast IPA category, Coronado and Stone are the main representatives. They both have a bright citrus hop bite, which is followed and, I would say complemented by the banana-like fruit flavor of the yeast. In fact, the two are very similar in appearance and flavor. I would put Clown Shoes Tramp Stamp in this category as well, but the hop bite was milder and more balanced. The ones that were milder on the hops, but accent the yeast flavor more were Houblon Chouffe, Piraat and Lickinghole Creek. I noticed after beginning the taste test that Lickinghole Creek Magic Beaver is listed as a Belgian Pale Ale rather than an IPA, but it nevertheless does have a noticeable earthy hop tone to it in addition to the Belgian yeast flavor. Houblon Chouffe had a noticeable fruity aroma and banana flavor to it, along with an slight piney hop flavor. Of all, I would say this one was best tasting. It was nicely balanced and hid the 9% alcohol very well. Piraat was also an excellent beer. It had a much less noticeable hop profile than others, but it was still present. The fruit of the yeast was definitely well represented. This was a crisp and light bodied beer that hid the 10.5% alcohol almost too well. The other two, Cattywompus and Flying Dog Raging Bitch, fall into the “other” category where neither the hop nor the yeast flavor profile is dominant. Cattywompus is generally mildly flavored in comparison to the others and is not distinctly an IPA. It drinks like a mild pale ale. Flying Dog was unique in that it had a distinct earthy/piney hop aroma and flavor to it, but it also had a toasted hazelnut aroma and flavor, that came through in the middle of the flavor profile. It was interesting combination, but not one I expected. I usually expect a nutty flavor in a darker beer. The Raging Bitch was on the lighter side of the beers in this style. Of the batch, the four I would recommend trying in reverse order of my preference are 4. Stone Cali-Belgique (four proper pints); 3. Clown Shoes Tramp Stamp (four proper pints); 2. Houblon Chouffe Dobbelen IPA (five proper pints); and 1. Piraat (five proper pints).